Cuthbert Ritson was a Highbridge Timber Merchant who took up residence in Ravensworth House in Burnham during the latter half of the 19th century and became a major influence in the civic life of the town.
Cuthbert was born around 1820 in County Durham, the third child of William and Elizabeth Ritson. (1841 census). The census appears to give his father’s occupation as ‘farmer’ but is a little hard to interpret. The 1851 census shows him as living as a householder with a growing family in Bridgwater and list his occupation as a timber merchant employing 100 men and 23 boys. At age 31 he was already a substantial businessman. Auction records show that by 1865, at age 48, he was running a timber importing business at Highbridge Wharf and that this business continued through the 1870’s.
The map above (o.s. 1844-88) shows the site of the timber works. Note ‘Ritson Row’ on the right of the map.
Cuthbert is shown in the Freemasons Rural Philanthropic Lodge Register of 1866 for Highbridge, with a joining date of May 25th that year. This indicates his rising status.
The Western Gazette and Flying Post of July 9th 1869 reported on the opening of the Burnham Town Hall and Market House (now the Princess Hall). It lists C.Ritson as one of the Directors.
The 1871 census shows the Ritson family as now resident at Ravensworth House in Burnham, of which Cuthbert was now owner. Cuthbert Snr. was by now 54 years old. The family is listed as: Wife Elizabeth; sons William (22), Cuthbert Jnr & John (both 21), Frederick (11); daughters Ellen (15), Margaretta (13) and Alice (9). A live in cook and housemaid are also mentioned. A separate section of the census refers to the area of land on which Ravensworth House then stood as ‘Ritson’s Corner’.
The census of the same year also mentions an address by the name of ‘Ritson’s Buildings’ in Newtown, Highbridge, suggesting that Cuthbert owned this property (see ‘Ritson’s Row’ on map above).
John Ritson is noted in the records of the just re-formed Burnham Cricket Club as captain for 1871. The club record for the year mentions Cuthbert Snr as the largest patron:
On January 10th 1873 The Western Gazette reported that “The Lifeboat Committee held their annual meeting on Saturday at the residence of Mr Cuthbert Ritson, the hon. secretary of the Burnham branch of the National Lifeboat Institution.” It went on to say “Mr Ritson stated that at a committee meeting held on the 2nd November, a resolution was agreed to, affirming that the present position of the boat [Cheltenham] was a most inconvenient one for launching in an emergency, at certain states of the tide, and it was highly desirable to change it. Suitable sites near the pier and the railway station were mentioned as likely to be procured.”
Below is a letter of invitation to a committee meeting in 1875, hand written by Ritson:
The report below indicates that by 1878 Ritson was now both a J.P. and Chairman of the Local Board of Health.
The following year this report appeared in the Taunton Courier:
This seems to indicate that Ritson owned the land in College St opposite the entrance to the grounds of Ravensworth House. An obituary for his eldest son William in January 1879 indicates the family still resident at Ravensworth House.
On July 30th 1879 the Taunton Courier reported on a special meeting of the County Commissioners of Sewers to consider concerns about the dangerous condition of the sea wall at Pillsmouth near the Parrett and Brue confluence. It reported “Mr Cuthbert Ritson (chairman of the Burnham Local Board of Health) urged the importance of adopting greater precautions than at present to prevent the threatened inundation of miles of country extending inland as far as Glastonbury, and asserted that if this was not done soon a much larger deputation would wait upon the commissioners on the subject.” Later in the report it was noted that there were fears that groins provided to help, by diverting the current from the northern bank, would interfere with navigation. In response to this “Mr Ritson, timber merchant, said his vessels would be more affected than any others, and for his own part he thought such apprehensions were groundless.”
In January 1880 it was reported in the Western Gazette that at the Railway Hotel, Highbridge, Cuthbert Ritson had been presented with a gold ring “as a small token of the respect and esteem in which he is held by the merchants, traders and other residents in Highbridge.”
The Taunton Courier reported in July 1881 that Cuthbert Ritson J.P., now referred to as chairman of the Highbridge market Company, was one of a number of local tradespeople holding discussions about the possibility of reviving steamer services between Cardiff and Burnham.
Ravensworth House was advertised for sale or lease in 1880 and the April 1881 census shows Cuthbert at 64 as a “timber and coal merchant” now living as a “lodger” and sole occupant of a property in Turnpike Rd (now A38), in the parish of Huntspill. The census information about enumeration district and neighbouring properties seems to put his address close to the very centre of Highbridge and near to the cattle market. Despite his apparently still substantial status, he was a lodger and his neighbours are listed with relatively lowly occupations. Therefore it may be that this was temporary accommodation. His children would by now have been all old enough to have left home. His wife may either have been deceased or absent.
It appears that by 1881 John Bland & Co, timber millers from Cardiff, had taken over Ritson’s business (see https://capturehighbridge.wordpress.com/industry/john-bland-co/)
The Probate Register for 1889 records Cuthbert Ritson’s death as being on 18th June 1888 at Highbridge.