Horncastle vs Walker

Marlene Oliveira, Lívia Labate, Jude DobsonPublished on 2 January, 2020Last updated on 4 February, 2020
This case represents active research and the facts and details included have been and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. Refer to the Twitter threads at the bottom for a summary of what was known at specific points in time.

Case summary

At the end of September 1842, Samuel Washington signed an agreement for the purchase of land adjacent to the Walker estate from a Mr. Charles Horncastle. The land itself was bequeathed to Horncastle by a Mr. Radcliffe. Per the correspondence from the period, Ann Walker had already bought sections of this land, though it isn’t clear if that purchase was made by Washington or by Ann herself.

The agreement Washington signed stipulated that Ann was to pay £3750 for the land and the purchase had to be finalized in 2 months from the date of the agreement. If this 2 month period expired and the purchase wasn’t completed, Ann was to pay a 4% interest (per month) over the price of the land for the duration of the delay until the purchase was finished.

The properties listed in the Purchase Agreement that Samuel Washington signed, the Hoyle House estate and the Smithouse estate, were both owned by the Radcliffe family. Mr. Charles Radcliffe, by then deceased, had bequeathed them to Charles Horncastle (a first cousin). However, Mr. Radcliffe’s heir, William Towne Radcliffe, had a life interest in the estate and was entitled to live at Smithouse until his death. The property wouldn’t be passed onto Horncastle while Mr. William Radcliffe lived and, in the event that he had issue, the properties would then pass onto his descendants. This meant this land was not Horncastle’s to sell at this point in time.

There was, however, another important detail: Mr. William Towne Radcliffe had by then been declared a lunatic. At the time, it was necessary for a lunatic to have a Committee who would be in charge of managing his estate. Mr. Radcliffe’s Committee was a Mr. Charles Robinson. So, even though Mr. William Radcliffe was unlikely to produce an heir, Horncastle would still need to contend with his Committee.

The difficulty with Mr. Charles Radcliffe’s heir doesn’t go unnoticed. Samuel Washington obtains a copy of the Will of Mr. Radcliffe, which he then forwards to Ann. Washington mentions that he didn’t agree with “words” that Horncastle wanted to have added to the Purchase Agreement. Fenton and Jones (solicitors) are then to write a “fresh agreement” that is in accordance with Mr. Radcliffe’s will. Washington also mentions that, in the unlikely event that Mr. William Towne Radcliffe produces a lawful heir, Ann would lose the purchase money.

Charles Horncastle writes to Ann Walker on the 24th of June 1843 complaining about her delay in paying for the purchase of the properties and how the situation is putting him in a difficult position regarding another purchase he negotiated.

On the 30th of June 1843, Ann Walker writes a reply to Horncastle’s letter: she lets him know that she had seen, for the first time, the Deed of Purchase of the Smithouse estate on the 24th of June. Ann refuses to pay the value agreed before a few new clauses are added to the agreement. These are fairly straightforward and mostly connected to the state of the buildings, the woods, and the interest (Ann wishes the interest to be 4% per annum, instead of 4% per month). She reminds Horncastle that it is not right for him to demand money for the purchase of an estate that isn’t yet his to sell.

Horncastle’s reply from the 1st of July 1843 is adamant: he considers that he has done everything he should and, since Ann refuses to pay, he will direct his Solicitor to enforce the contract. He is now taking Ann to court to force her to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Meanwhile, on the 17th of July 1843, Robert Parker (Solicitor, Halifax) is writing to Elizabeth Sutherland regarding Ann’s “unfortunate situation”. The Horncastle deal is mentioned to Elizabeth as something that, at that point, probably cannot be stopped.

On the 19th of July 1843, Ann is served a Writ of Subpoena requesting her presence in Court. 

On the following day, 20th of July 1843, Ann writes to Barker and Rose, the solicitors named in the document, inquiring about the reason for the subpoena served to her by Mr. Jones (of Fenton and Jones, Solicitors). The reply comes a day later to inform Ann that the Writ was issued in connection to the lawsuit Mr. Horncastle, their client, had in Chancery with the purpose of compelling Ann to pay what was stipulated on the Purchase Agreement.

Ann’s reply of the 23rd of July essentially lets them know that it isn’t her fault that the Deed of Purchase hasn’t been executed. She asks them to calculate the interest over 20 years, which is how long she figures that the current heir and possessor of Smithouse and Hoyle House, Mr. William Towne Radcliffe, is likely to live. She mentions that Mr. Horncastle will receive his payment when the property is his to sell, that is, after Mr. William Radcliffe is deceased. Ann refuses once again to pay the agreed sum before the terms she mentioned to Horncastle are included into the Purchase Deed. She is adamant that her request for the interest is paid per annum should be included and considers that she is the one incurring into a good deal of risk with this purchase.

It is then, on the 24th of July 1843, that Barker and Rose decide to stop their conversation with Ann for fear of infringing “professional etiquette” on the matter. They urge Ann to pay the agreed sum and mention that the terms of the purchase had been approved by both parties. The lawyers insist that Ann should meet with her Solicitor and inform her that, if she doesn’t attend to the Chancery proceedings in a timely manner, “the consequences will be serious”.

Later, on the 12th of August, William Gray (solicitor, York) writes to Robert Parker (solicitor, Halifax) and inquires if he heard anything from Mrs. Sutherland. He fears that a Writ of Attachment against Ann is soon to be issued in connection to Horncastle vs Walker.

On the 14th of August 1843, Gray’s fears are proven correct: Barker and Rose write to Ann to inform her that, since she didn’t comply with the Subpoena to appear in Court, they were now entitled to issue a Writ of Attachment to the Sheriff to direct him to arrest Ann for contempt of court.

However, Ann wasn’t arrested. She would only leave Shibden Hall on the 9th of September 1843, when she was removed and later placed in a private asylum in Osbaldwick, York.

Horncastle vs Walker wouldn’t stop being an issue after Ann’s removal and subsequent Commission and Inquisition of Lunacy. The case itself ran for a few years and, in 1845, it was decided that the purchase of the land mentioned in the Horncastle agreement was beneficial for Ann Walker’s estate and that her Committees (at the time, Captain and Mrs. Sutherland) should pay the agreed sum.

In the end, Mr. Horncastle walked away with the purchase money even though Mr. William Radcliffe was still alive. The properties, Smith House and Hoyle House, would remain as part of the Walker estate until Evan Charles Sutherland auctioned them in the late 1860s.

It’s important to note that, despite being faced with serious legal proceedings, Ann Walker remained consistently reasonable in asking for more favourable terms. Ann understood that Horncastle was trying to sell properties that weren’t in his possession, which would likely lead to her losing the purchase money. Then, when faced with threats from Barker and Rose, Ann stood her ground and insisted that she would only pay Horncastle for the purchase when either her terms were added to the Deed or when he was indeed entitled to sell the properties. From her point of view, Horncastle wasn’t dealing in good faith, so she was trying to protect herself as best as she could. Unfortunately, Ann Walker’s reasonable argument fell into deaf ears. 

Glossary of legal terms

Writ of Subpoena a legal document that commands a person to whom it is served to appear at court, as a witness. If the person doesn’t comply, there is a penalty. 

Writ of Attachment a court order issued to a law enforcement officer that can be used to bring to the court’s presence a person who has been held in contempt of court. 

Committee of a Lunatic people or persons that are responsible for a lunatic and/or their estate. 

Purchase Deed a deed for the sale of land. 

Timeline of events

6 July 1842 read transcription

Ann Walker writes to Robert Parker (Solicitor, Halifax) asking him to send her several documents connected to the management of the Shibden Estate. She mentions her health and that she is better at this time.

27 September 1842read transcription 

Samuel Washington signs an agreement for the purchase of land from Charles Horncastle. 

8 October 1842read transcription

Samuel Washington writes to Ann Walker regarding the Horncastle Agreement. He states that he had been to the offices of Fenton and Jones and that he is forwarding the Will of Mr. Charles Radcliffe. Washington also mentions the heir of Mr. Radcliffe and the possibility that, if the said heir has issue, Ann would lose the purchase money. 

17 November 1842read transcription

Washington receives a letter which includes abstracts of titles purchased and is instructed to pass those to Ann’s Solicitors so that the purchase may advance. 

24 June 1843read transcription

Horncastle writes to Ann complaining about the delay in her payment.

30 June 1843read transcription

Ann replies to Mr. Horncastle with a small list of terms she wants to see added to the agreement. She doesn’t think it right for Horncastle to sell a property that he doesn’t have in his power. 

1 July 1843read transcription

Horncastle replies to Ann’s letter from the previous day. He mentions that “everything has been fairly and properly adjusted” with her people (Solicitor and Agent). Horncastle mentions that what remains is for Ann to pay him what he’s owed (money from purchase and interest). He mentions that his Solicitor is to write to Gray. 

July 1843

Horncastle vs Walker enters Chancery.

19 July 1843

Ann is served a Writ of Subpoena in connection to Horncastle vs Walker. 

20 July 1843 read transcription

Letter from Ann Walker to Barker and Rose (Horncastle’s Solicitors). Ann wants to know why she was served a Writ of Subpoena with their signature. 

21 July 1843 read transcription 

Reply from Barker and Rose to Ann Walker’s letter. Mentions a lawsuit in Chancery and a Writ of Subpoena for Ann issued in connection to it. Horncastle sued her so she was compelled to pay what was agreed. It is mentioned that Ann removed the matter from her Solicitor’s hands. 

23 July 1843 read transcription

Ann Walker writes to Barker and Rose insisting for a change in the terms of the purchase agreement. She insists that the terms she sent to Horncastle must be included in the Purchase Deed. Ann mentions that she will pay for the properties once Horncastle is entitled to sell them. 

24 July 1843 read transcription 

Reply from Barker and Rose mentioning that this is the last time they do so. They mention the fairness of the value Ann is to pay for Horncastle’s land and that her own lawyers worked on the documents sent to, approved, and signed by Horncastle. 

12 August 1843 read transcription 

Letter from William Gray (solicitor, York) to Robert Parker (solicitor, Halifax). Suspects an Attachment will be issued against Miss Walker at the suit of Mr Horncastle. 

14 August 1843 read transcription 

Letter from Barker and Rose to Ann Walker. Mentions that she hasn’t complied to the Writ of Subpoena and that they are now entitled to have her arrested. This letter is a notice sent out of courtesy.


The Law Times publishes an article that mentions that the Committee should complete the purchase. A supplemental bill against the Committee is mentioned, with the purpose of enforcing the contract. The Commissioner considers that the purchase money must be paid out of the lunatic’s personal estate, since the contract was entered after Ann was declared insane (which would render it void in normal circumstances) but was allowed since it benefited the estate. 

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Oliveira, Marlene, Lívia Labate, and Jude Dobson. 2020. “Horncastle v Walker.” Packed with Potential. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/stories-articles-writeups/ann-walker-versus-horncastle-lawsuit. (accessed MONTH DAY, YEAR). 

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Summary timeline

See also the author's talk at the Anne Lister Research Summit from 15 October, 2023:

The first Twitter thread from @moliveiradev with commentary on Horncastle vs Walker from 2 January 2020.

The update Twitter thread from @moliveiradev with more commentary on Horncastle vs Walker from 4 February 2020.