Burgess House

Burgess House Farnsfield

Sarah Burgess née Thornally  1754 – 1823

Sarah Thornally was born in Palterton, Derbyshire in 1754, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Thornally. William was a farmer and at his death in 1804, he is recorded as ‘of Riley’, the former name of Rylah, near Palterton, where there was a farm and a croft or crofts.

When Sarah moved to Farnsfield is not known, but legend has it that she became mistress to King George III and that he bought Burgess House for her as a grace and favour residence.

This photograph, in the Farnsfield Local History Society archives, has the caption:

‘Portrait reputed to be of Sarah Thornally in 1774, the year Burgess House was bought for her’

The origin of the portrait is not known so we cannot be certain this is Sarah or that the date is correct. Sarah would have been just 20 years old. Being mistress to a King makes a good story, however it seems more likely that Sarah was mistress to a very wealthy Farnsfield man called John Watson, who left her a great legacy when he died in 1789 and that this is how Burgess House came into her possession.


John Watson Esquire, inherited Farnsfield Hall when his father William died in 1755 and he added the 18th century wing to the house in 1760.  John was also the major individual beneficiary of the 1777 Enclosure Act for Farnsfield which made him the largest landowner in the village.  In his will, John left the largest part of his land and property to Sarah Thornally, who was also named as his sole executrix. The reason for this can be assumed from the parish register dated 28th August 1795 when William Thornally Watson, base born child of Sarah Thornally, was buried in St Michael’s churchyard in Farnsfield. 

In 1790 Sarah sold two acres of the land she inherited, complete with dwelling(s) and outbuildings, to the Trustees of the village school for four hundred pounds. This was ‘for the use of a school for the teaching of poor children in the Parish of Farnsfield’.

Sarah’s older brother William, a farmer, and his wife Ann also came to live in Farnsfield sometime between 1783 and 1790.  Three of their 4 surviving children were born in the village and William became Churchwarden and Overseer in the Parish. The Land Tax Register of 1799 shows that Sarah owned at least 2 properties in the village, one of which she lived in and one that was the residence of her brother William.  Sarah’s sister Martha, married George Pursey who farmed land on Greaves Lane also owned by Sarah.  It appears that when she inherited land and property, Sarah was generous in providing support for members of her family.

On 18th January 1802 Sarah Thornally was married to Benjamin Burgess, a widower and gent of Farnsfield, at St Michael’s Church.  Benjamin died in 1811 and in his last will and testament he records: “and whereas my dear wife Sarah Burgess is amply provided for by the settlement made previous to my marriage with her Now I so give & bequeath to my said wife Sarah Burgess all my household goods & furniture, plate, linen, china, books, watch & all other my effects whatsoever at Ffarnsfield aforesaid (monies & securities for money excepted) for her own use & benefit

Sarah Burgess died on 21st June 1823 aged 68.  In her will she left generous legacies to her family, in particular her sister Martha Pursey and her husband George Pursey who inherited the land, farmhouse and buildings on Greaves Lane.  To her niece, Sarah Pursey, she left: ‘all that meesuage or dwellinghouse at Ffarnsfield aforesaid wherein I now reside’

Burgess House then became the home of Sarah Pursey who married Richard Hall on 1st January 1827. Richard was a farmer and had been a Methodist preacher in Newark. In 1829 he gave land which was part of the orchard at the back of Burgess House to build a new Methodist chapel.  Access to the chapel was from Back Lane, now called Chapel Lane.

Tomb of Benjamin Burgess. The tomb is located in the front section of the churchyard of St Michael’s, Farnsfield.

Tomb of Sarah Burgess, located in the front section of the churchyard of St Michael’s, Farnsfield.

References consulted

Parish BMD records & Land Tax Registry records accessed through Ancestry.co.uk

Nottinghamshire Archives 

The National Archives

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapels & School Farnsfield, 1799 – 2012 by Philip H Marsh

Indenture of 1790 between Sarah Thornally and the named Trustees of the School. Copy in the Farnsfield Local History Society archives.