Maria Louisa and Alphonsine Sarah Jarry, born in 1818 and 1822 in Halifax, were daughters of Frenchman Etienne Jarry, also known as Stephen, and his wife Sophia Milbourn. In 1851 the family were still living in Halifax, where Stephen taught French and provided an excellent French library for his students, but this hid an incredible past.
Etienne was born at Versailles in 1775, where his father was a steward for King Louis XVI. Young Etienne performed as a chorister in the Chapel Royal. This lifestyle was to come to an abrupt end with the French Revolution in 1789. People associated with the King were hunted down and many were slaughtered. Etienne often found himself begging for bread, but he survived and, being an able man of good character, became a secretary to a general, travelling through Europe. Then he became a soldier in the French army and saw active service. Eventually wounded by a British sabre in Spain in 1809, he was brought to England as a prisoner of war and was released at Northampton at the end of hostilities.
In 1812, aged 36, he married 20 year old Sophia within the Church of England, having converted from Catholicism. Etienne’s occupation was given as a ‘French Prisoner of War’. Sophia had been orphaned at the age of six and her siblings were agricultural labourers. Etienne and Sophia settled in Halifax. Etienne was listed in an 1818 trade directory working in ‘British Lace manufacture, wool shops’, before teaching French.
Despite all his adventures, Etienne lived to be 82 years old. He clearly moved in high circles. One of the executors of his will was Sir James Stansfeld from Halifax, who was the first cousin of George Stansfeld and a “radical” liberal MP (or possibly his father James, also an MP, JP for the West Riding and High Court Judge).
In the 1840s, the sisters worked as governesses. Maria worked in Settle for John Birkbeck at Anley. Alphonsine worked in Halifax where she taught John Lister, who lived at Shibden Hall and first deciphered the code to Anne Lister’s famous diaries, as portrayed in the series ‘Gentleman Jack’. After the death of both of their parents in the 1850s left them with a sizeable inheritance, the sisters moved to Fern Hill, on Constitution Hill, in Settle, with their aged aunt Sarah Chapman who died in 1863 at the age of 75. They remained there, unmarried, for the rest of their lives. The sisters were rarely seen without one another.
Maria died in 1893 and left her estate to Alphonsine who died in 1912, aged 89, leaving the equivalent to over £1.1million today. Three-quarters of that went to charity. Alphonsine helped with the work of the church and Sunday School for over 40 years. When she retired, she was presented with a purse containing more than 50 guineas with letters from over 80 people. She donated to the Settle church endowment scheme for pew rents, and to a charity set up by Rev. John Robinson, to benefit the aged and infirm of Giggleswick. She also left a legacy to the Halifax infirmary where her father died, together with a portrait of him.
A William Morris stained glass window and plaque in the church reads: ‘To the memory of two sisters devoted to kind and good works. Louisa Mary Jarry died (aged 75) April 17, 1893, Alphonsine Sarah Jarry died November 6, 1912 (aged 90). RIP. Erected AD 1913 by parishioners and friends.’
Their graves lie next to one another by the door of the church.