Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Rev Canon George Ornsby MA, FSA.    1809 -1886.



Vicar of Fishlake -1850 to 1886 35 years.

The Dictionary of National Biography describes George Ornsby as an antiquary, born on 9 March 1809 at Darlington, Durham, was the eldest son of George Ornsby, of the Lodge, Lanchester, in the same county, where the family had been settled from the time of Henry VIII.

His mother was Margaret Askwith of Ripon. Robert Ornsby (1820 – 1889) was his younger brother, a classical scholar and biographer. His father, an accomplished scholar, instructed his sons at home until his death in 1823. George was then sent to Durham grammar school.

After practicing for a time as a solicitor in Durham, he entered University College, Durham, as a theological student in 1839.

In 1841 he was ordained, and held in succession the curacies of Newburn, Northumberland (1841-3); Sedgefield, Durham (1843-4); and Whickham, in the same county (1845-50).

In1850 he was appointed to the vicarage of Fishlake. The Fishlake register says a graduate in theology at the collage of Durham was inducted on 17 August 1850 and read himself in on the Sunday 18 th August.

The charge of this small parish left him much leisure for literary work. In 1872 the University of Durham conferred on him the honorary degree of M.A., and on 29 May 1873 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

He was collated by the Archbishop of York to the Canonry of Prebend of Ampleforth in the Cathedral church of York instituted 13 January 1879 and installed 15 February and read himself in 9 March.

Rev Ornsby was a model parish priest and an accurate, painstaking antiquarian. He was the lifelong friend of James Raine, the historian of North Durham.

Published works.

In 1846 he published an excellent little topographical work called ‘Sketches of Durham.’ For the Surtees Society he edited Dean Granville's ‘Remains,’ in two volumes, 1861 and 1865; Bishop Cosin's ‘Correspondence,’ 2 vols. 1869–1872; and ‘Selections from the Household Books of Lord William Howard of Naworth,’ 1878. He likewise undertook for the same society an edition of Dean Comber's ‘Correspondence,’ but never finished it. In 1877 he supplied the historical introduction to the volume of sermons preached at the reopening of Durham Cathedral, and in 1882 appeared his admirable ‘Diocesan History of York.’




In summary according to he published 44 works in 102 publications. His last and major work Diocesan histories York 1882 went into 5 editions and was critically acclaimed. All his writings were ecclesiastical histories of Durham and York. Most of his writings were undertaken at Fishlake vicarage.

He married Ann Wilson 1 May 1843 daughter of John Wilson, J.P. and D.L., of The Hill, Brigham, Cumberland. They had three children, Frances Gertrude 1845, George Radcliffe 1850 and his twin John Arthur 1850.

As mentioned earlier an active member and prolific editor at the Surtees Society (The Surtees Society is dedicated to the publication of manuscripts illustrative of the history of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, principally of County Durham and Northumberland in North East England). He was a founder member of the Society joining on 27 th May 1834.

He was Vice President on several occasions; 1836 and again 1873. After his death the secretary of the Society expressed to his son their regret at the disease of "a true friend of the Society through a series of years". It was said that he was one of those unambitious scholars who was content to combine devotion to their parochial duties with sound historical research.

According to the Barnsley Chronicle, some time before 19 July 1863 his dwelling house in Fishlake was burgled when 2 pair of drawers, shirt, 3 foreign coins and a farthing were stolen.

The Ornsby achievements and legacy.

His historical research and collections regarding Fishlake Church and Parish.

During his incumbency he researched and collected much historical material on the history of Fishlake which he put together in a bundle of records entitled “Collectanea quaedam ad pochia de FISHLAC Spectantia” (now in the Doncaster Archive). This contains translations and transcripts of old documents wills and deeds etc. Also correspondence with other historians of his day, Joseph Hunter, Daniel Rock, John Tomlinson, Charles Hatfield and Charles Best Robinson of Snaith.

His researches were shared with the public at a meeting of the Yorkshire and Lincoln Architectural Societies at Doncaster on 23 September 1857 and published in their journal. However, this had been forgotten until Rev Kenneth Arthur, a later incumbent, took an interest in the churches history and published an edited version of this paper in a booklet called ‘St Cuthbert:  Historical notes on Fishlake Church and Parish’ in 1961, now out of print.

Major restoration of the Church. Hardwick's (a distinguished firm of London architects) reported of the church fabric, 1853. The work was undertaken by Mr Kyle.This involved restoration of a neglected building, installing a new heating system, a new pulpit and lectern. The tenor bell was recast and new pews installed. An organ was purchased. Although there were grumbles on the part of some about reckless expenditure in fact two thirds of the funding came from the private means of himself and friends.

During restoration of Fishlake church in 1854, Rev Ornsby found in the sepulchral arch recess on the south side of the chancel near the priest door, objects from a medieval clergyman’s burial, probably a former rector, consisting of a Chasse or reliquary case, part of a chalice and 2 brass Lombardic letters E R. They were returned to this church by George Edward Jannings of Darlington, Co Durham the grandson of the George Ornsby in September 1926.

Officiated over the separation of Sykehouse Parish in 1860, with improvements to the facilitates in that place.

He not only restored Fishlake Church to its medieval glory but was also the instigator of the new church (1869), vicarage and school at Sykehouse.


In 1856 a new school was built by subscription and the old one became a village hall. In 1863 a new vicarage was added and at the beginning of December 1867, Canon Ornsby laid the foundation stone of the new church.

Canon Ornsby died at Fishlake after a short illness on 17 April 1886 aged 77. He was buried along with his wife in the church yard opposite the priest door. The stone memorial can still be seen.


See his memorial plaque on North wall of Chancel.

After his death an important portion of his valuable library was put up for sale in July 1886 at the De Gray Rooms, York.


gravestone ornsby

Gravestone of Canon George Ornsby with his wife Ann in Fishlake Churchyard.





The Rev. J. T. Fowler in Durham University Journal, 29 May 1886; Mr. Fowler has kindly supplied additional information; Biograph for July 1881; Proc. of Soc. Antiq.; Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1885, p. 895. Newspaper archive and Fishlake parish records.

Rob Downing 3 March 2018.

Rob Downings research at