The pages that follow contain accounts of those Sayer families that can claim to be descendants or kinsfolk of the Sayers of Worsall, or at least are known to have originated on Teesside. These families have been given the following descriptions: "Richmond, Surrey", "London" and "Middlesex", denoting where each settled after leaving the North. There are also accounts of two other Sayer families, one first heard of at Croft-on-Tees and the other at Lartington, near Barnard Castle.
These separate narratives are prefaced by some notes on the position of Catholics from the Restoration onwards and by a general description of conditions in the North Riding during the 18th century and of the Sayers who lived there.
With the return of Charles II the treatment of Catholics became more lenient; so much so in fact that Protestant suspicion and resentment were aroused and gave rise to Titus Oates 'Popish Plot'. As a result of this, there were a number of executions, Catholics were excluded from both Houses of Parliament and country gentlemen, especially in the North, were debarred from all Government posts.
James II did his utmost to have the Catholic religion legalised but after he was deposed in 1688 every possible obstacle was put in the way of Catholics educating their children in their faith, inheriting or buying land or holding any public office. It was not until after the collapse of the second Jacobite rebellion in 1745 that Catholics at last began to obtain some slight relief from some of the handicaps under which they had lived for so many years.
Among (1) the recusants of the North Riding in 1690 were James Sayer of Hutton Rudby, his wife Elizabeth and their son James, also of Rudby. Two of the elder James brothers, Francis and Robert and their sister Susanna of Rudby were also listed. No Sayers in this area are known to have been recusants after that date although two at Skelton are mentioned in 1733-1735; nor are any Sayers found among the North Riding registrations made under the Act of 1715 whereby every Catholic owner of property was required to declare its annual value for land tax purposes. It follows therefore that such Sayers as were still Catholics were not owners of property. Some at least are known to have held to the old religion but the total number of Catholic Sayers found in (2) Archbishop Blackburnes's Visitation of 1735 and in Fr. Hervey's registers (3) of about the same date was something under thirty including children. All these lived in Cleveland; about a third of them near Rudby.
In 1745 (4) among the Catholic Sayers were Thomas, Anthony, George and James of Moorsholm near Guisborough, Joseph and Thomas at Rudby, John at Hutton Rudby and also John Sayer at Stokesley. These refused to subscribe to the Declaration but undertook "to abide and perform the laws" then in force against papists, reputed papists, non-jurors, etc.
It has been asserted, probably with some truth, that during the 18th century life in the rural areas and small towns was pleasanter, more prosperous and less subject to outside disturbances and alarms than at any time since the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses in 1455. Thomas Richmond in his "Local Records of Stockton" quotes the following passage written in 1703: "All things was very cheap; butter was but 10/- a firkin [56 lbs]; best wheat 2/6- a bushel, best beef 18d a stone and all things both for back and belly was so cheap as was never known by any now living."
The country south of the Tees – Cleveland and the plain of York – has been called the land of the yeoman farmer and it was here that many of the 18th century Sayers were to be found. Its wide acres, adequately watered and sparsely populated, had become valuable as farming land and as a fattening ground for upland sheep and cattle. The only industry, apart from farming and weaving, that the area had ever known was the manufacture of tiles. To the west, however, among the dales, lead-mining had been carried on since Roman times or even earlier. In 1609 the London Lead Company began mining operations in Teesdale and there was also private enterprise; as mentioned earlier the Sayers and the Bulmers had lead mines near Marrick in the early 17th century. Mining continued on a diminishing scale until about 1913 but all the workings are now abandoned.
The parish registers for Aysgarth, Bowes, Romaldkirk and Rokeby show many Sayers settled in that north-western corner of Yorkshire. The group in the Bowes area was particularly extensive, the entries covering six generations and showing a few links with the Sayers at Rokeby.
Most of the Sayers in this region were farmers but there were a few lead miners (near Aysgarth), an innkeeper or two, some tradesmen and one who appears to have combined shop-keeping with farming. William Sayer was Parish Clerk of Bowes for forty-seven years and after his retirement – he lived on to be ninety – his grandson held the post. There are descendants of the Sayers at Aysgarth and Bowes farming in the North Riding today.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries there were Sayers living near Barnard Castle. An account of them and their descendants can be found in the section headed Sayers of Barnard Castle.
Turning to the area South of Yarm, three or four generations of a Sayer family can be traced in the Northallerton parish registers between 1680 and 1770. They included James Sayer, labourer, and his son John, a weaver. In Yarm itself the registers have a number of Sayer and Sawyer entries between 1658 and 1862 but these refer only to small isolated groups or to individuals and show little continuity of descent. The same applies to entries in the registers of many other parishes such as Thirsk, South Kilvington, Stokesley and Kirklevington.
The existing parish registers of High Worsall, which are kept in the church of All Saints at Low Worsall, start in 1720. They contain no Sayer entries except the marriages of Martha and Jane Sayer in the last decade of that century. The pre-1720 registers are unfortunately missing. They are said to have been destroyed in a fire and we are thus deprived of evidence that might have shown which members of the family lived there after the death of John Sayer of Worsall in 1635 and whether any of them stayed in the parish after the manor was sold in 1670. No Sayer is found in the lists of tenants of the manor between 1725 and 1800.