WHEN Dr Peter Metcalfe arrived to teach at Settle High School 40 years ago, he found many of his ancestors were from Craven. While researching his family tree, he came across a remarkable relative who touched history in several ways.

THE Reverend Henry Ellershaw was vicar of Chapel-le-Dale for 32 years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

He also held brief appointments as vicar of Hornby and headmaster of Bentham Grammar School and was widely noted as a progressive farmer and landowner. He featured in the Craven Muster Roll of 1803 and will have welcomed JMW Turner in 1808 when the artist made his sketch for the famous painting of the church.

Henry married Elizabeth Sedgwick, who had three brothers as vicars, and the couple gave rise to three more generations of Reverend Henrys. Their daughters made excellent matches, Agnes to a gentleman of Scotforth, Mary to a Lancaster tradesman and Ellen to a farmer and miller. But the greatest catch was made by Elizabeth who married Conyers Norton of Sawley Hall, near Ripon.

Conyers Norton had started a legal career at the Middle Temple before taking a commission in the 1st Guards Regiment, but this was cut short by the death of his father and inheriting the Sawley estate. He then lived as the landed gentry did, was part of the local hunt, travelled widely and served on the grand juries in murder trials. Unusually for his class, he took an active part in Liberal (Whig) politics, attending meetings with reformers such as Lord John Russell (later to be Prime Minister).

The unlikely connection between the wealthy Conyers Norton and Daleswoman Elizabeth Ellershaw is worthy of a Jane Austen novel and can be traced to an 1805 announcement in the York Herald. In it, the Duke of Buccleugh, the owner of the moors on Whernside, Newby Head, Blea Moor and Ingleborough, gave game rights to Conyers Norton. Norton must have made contact with Henry Ellershaw as the local vicar and become acquainted with Elizabeth over the years.

Their son, Edward Norton, was born in 1821 and baptised at Chapel-le-Dale, but Conyers died six years later, leaving the widowed Elizabeth and her son to quit the luxury of Sawley Hall for the family home at Scales, above Chapel-le-Dale.

When Elizabeth herself died aged 31, Edward was heir to a great fortune and was put in the care of a guardian who sent him to Rugby School. He was a pupil under the headship of the legendary educationalist Thomas Arnold and was a fellow student with the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which describes life at Rugby at the time, with Edward no doubt among the first ever to play rugby football.

At the age of 18, Edward Norton purchased a commission in the 88th Regiment of Foot (the Connaught Rangers) and was posted to Malta where he lived the comfortable life of the officer class of the period. Much time was given over to sport and entertainment and Edward provided the guard of honour for visiting French and Egyptian royalty.

The outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 put an end to this existence as the Connaught Rangers set sail for the conflict with Russia with Edward a newly promoted captain. He fought in the Battle of Inkerman and was later taken ill, but his condition was noticed by the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Raglan, fresh from the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade. Remarkably, Raglan installed Norton in his own quarters and personally brought him food and drink to aid his recovery.

After then leading his infantry company in the Battle of the Alma, Edward Norton was promoted to the rank of major on merit and joined the camp for the Siege of Sebastopol. In April 1855, Roger Fenton, the world’s first war photographer, took the iconic ‘Band of Brothers’ picture of the Connaught Rangers officers with Edward among their ranks.

But Edward only had weeks to live. Regimental records state: “Dropping cases of cholera occurred; men that had passed through the bullets of the enemy unharmed were suddenly cut off or smitten by this fell disease. Amongst those most lamented was Major Norton. He had been the life and soul of the division horseraces, loving the sport solely for its own sake, and his sudden death was much felt, casting gloom throughout the division.”

His death was reported in The Times by the pioneering war correspondent, William Howard Russell, lamenting the loss of “a young and promising officer.” In the same report, Russell went on to draw the nation’s attention to the terrible conditions: “The cases of cholera generally occur in the trenches, the heat and nastiness of which are inconceivable. The smell of the precincts of the batteries is overpowering and horrible.”

Edward was buried in the military cemetery outside Sebastopol, but all the graves were bulldozed on Stalin’s orders a century later.

The Reverend Henry Ellershaw was my four-times great-grandfather, with Major Edward Norton my first cousin four times removed. In his will, drawn up on the ship Orient on the Black Sea, Edward left large sums to several cousins, already prosperous children of vicars, merchants and millers. Sadly, the only cousin not to inherit was the one who needed it most, my direct ancestor! The forgotten man was the widowed Thomas Ellershaw who worked as a farm labourer in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and died while lodging at Gearstones Inn, near Ribblehead.

Elizabeth Ellershaw is commemorated in an elaborate marble plaque, strangely out of place in the austere simplicity of Chapel-le-Dale church. It stands to the left of the altar, “erected by direction of Edward Norton Esq”, a brave man who gave up the life of a country gentleman to serve his queen and country and perished in Sebastopol in the worst circumstances.