Sean Bean


The many faces and characters of Sean Bean from some of his most famous roles in Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Goldeneye, Sharpe and the TV series Accused, in which he played a transvestite

In the noughties, Sean Bean has been most closely associated with fantasy TV series and films like Game of Thrones, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Percy Jackson & the Lightning ThiefMirror Mirror and Silent Hill: Revelation3D. But his vast army of fans surely revere the rugged Yorkshireman for, above all else, his portrayal of Richard Sharpe, the heroic British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars.

Bean played Sharpe in 14 episodes between  1993 and 1997, rising from the ranks as a humble sergeant to Lieutenant-Colonel, and again in two more episodes in 2006 and 2008. Along the way, he played a Bond villain in GoldenEye and, for those who collect statistics on such things, he has been killed off in more than 20 films!

Not that the Sheffield-born actor, referred to by many women fans as their “favourite bit of rough”, has achieved Hollywood fame without a certain amount of notoriety. His turbulent love life – four times married and four times divorced – has often attracted tabloid headlines. The story has also been told of how a childhood argument in which he smashed a door left him with a lump of glass embedded in his leg, impeding his dream of playing professional football for his beloved Sheffield United.

My researches into Sean Bean’s direct male line ancestry produced no hint in his background that he would ever become an actor. Nor did I turn up any controversial ancestors unless you count a great great great-grandfather who went bankrupt in the 1860s and ended his days in an asylum. I did discover that, though the Bean family have been in Sheffield for getting on for 150 years, their 19th century origins were in the adjoining county of Lincolnshire.


Sean was born on 17 April 1959 as Shaun Mark Bean at Handsworth, a suburb in the south-east corner of Yorkshire’s steel city. Inevitably, many of his ancestors worked in that industry. He changed his first name to the Irish version, Sean, when he became an actor. His parents, Brian K. Bean and Rita Tuckwood, were married in the first quarter of 1958 at Wortley, a Sheffield registration district.

Brian Bean ran a metal fabrication shop which employed 50 people, including Sean’s mum Rita as a secretary and, for a time, Sean himself as a welder until he took a college drama course and got a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.


Sean’s dad, Brian, was born in the July-September quarter of 1935, the son of Harold Bean and Anne Clarke, who were married on 2 March 1935 at Sheffield Register Office. The marriage certificate showed that Harold was 20 and a wire rope splicer, while his bride was only 17. Harold Bean’s father was also Harold, a labourer in a stud rolling mill, and Anne’s father was Tom Clarke, a steel stud grinder.

Marriage cert of Harold Bean & Ann Clarke

Marriage certificate of Harold Bean jr and Anne Clarke, Sean’s grandparents

Great grandparents

Sean’s grandfather, Harold Bean, was born in Sheffield on 7 June 1914, according to the General Register Office death indexes when he died in July 2001. His parents – Sean’s great grandparents – were Harold Bean and Emma Rishworth, who were also married at Sheffield Register Office on 14 April 1914, a few weeks before Harold junior’s birth.

Again, I obtained the marriage certificate which showed Harold Bean senior was 20, a bachelor and a lead smelter, while Emma was 21 and a spinster. Harold’s father was Bryan Bean, a forge labourer, and the bride’s father was Richard Arthur Rishworth, a spring fitter.

Marriage cert of Harold Bean & Emma Rishworth

Marriage certificate of Harold Bean sr and Emma Rishworth, Sean’s great grandparents

Great great grandparents

Harold Bean senior was born in the last quarter of 1894, the GRO birth indexes show. The family appear in the 1911 census at 33 Freeborough Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield. Head of the household was Brian [sic] Bean, 47, a forgeman in a steel rolling mill, born at Doncaster, and his wife was Caroline Bean, 48, born at Sheffield. The schedule showed the couple had been married 28 years and had had 11 children, eight of them still living and three of whom had died. Five of their children were living with them in 1911: Ernest, 24, a roller; Harold, 16, puller up; William Henry, 11; Caroline, 8; and Frank, 5; all born at Sheffield.

A decade earlier in 1901, the Bean family were at 68, Edward Road, Attercliffe cum Darnall. Father Brian, 37, was an iron worker, his wife Caroline was 38 and they had four sons: Ernest 13, Albert 11, Harold 6 and William 1. In the census of 1891 Brian and Caroline Bean were at the same address, 68, Edward Road, Attercliffe cum Darnall. In this census they had three sons: Joseph 7, Ernest 3 and Albert 1, all scholars, all born at Sheffield.

From the GRO marriage indexes I learned that Bryan Bean married Caroline Swinden at Sheffield in the last quarter of 1882. Though the first name of the groom was spelt slightly differently to the spelling in the censuses, I had no doubt this was the right marriage, firstly because it was the only marriage of a Bryan or Brian Bean to a Caroline anywhere in the marriage indexes and, secondly, because it fitted exactly with the fact stated in the 1911 census that they had been married 28 years.

This couple were the great great grandparents of Sean Bean. Brian Bean died in 1932, aged 68, and Caroline in 1937, aged 76.

Great great great grandparents

Thus far, everything was going smoothly and fairly easily. However, I hit a snag when I went back another 10 years and looked at the 1881 census, hoping to discover who were Brian’s parents. Knowing he had been married in 1882 and that in all the censuses from 1891-1911 his birth place was given as Doncaster, with the birth year about 1864, I expected to find him without much difficulty. In fact, I did – but the household lineup was somewhat unexpected!

At 42 Bradford Street, Attercliffe cum Darnall, was a household whose head, unusually, was a female of 18, Elizabeth M. Bean, with no occupation shown, born at Eagle, Lincolnshire. Also there were her two brothers, Joseph H. Bean, 20, an iron works labourer, also born at Eagle, Lincs, and Brian,. 17, who was an iron works labourer also, born at Doncaster.

A fourth member of the household was a boarder, Thomas Starmer, aged 29, another iron works labourer who was born at Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire. I discovered from the marriage indexes that Elizabeth Mary Bean married her lodger later in 1881 and by the 1891 census they’d had four children.

But who were the parents of Elizabeth, Joseph and Brian? To find the answer I had to go back a further 10 years to the census of 1871. This revealed at an address, 131 Hill Top, Attercliffe cum Darnall, the family of Joseph and Elizabeth Bean and their five children. Joseph Bean was 40, a grocer, born at Swinderby, Lincolnshire. His wife was also 40 but I had some difficulty in making out her birth place. From earlier censuses I eventually established it as Hykeham or North Hykeham, a small town south-west of the city of Lincoln. Their children were: Thomas, 17, a forgeman; John Edward, 11, scholar; Joseph H, 10, scholar; Elizabeth M, 9, all born at Eagle, Lincs; and Brian, 7, born at Doncaster.

But where were the parents in 1881? The mystery was partially solved when I discovered in the GRO death indexes a record for Elizabeth Bean who died at Sheffield in 1879, aged 46, then another for a Joseph Bean who died at Wortley in the first quarter of 1882, aged 53. His age fitted with what I subsequently discovered about his birth year but I was initially unable to find Joseph with any certainty in the 1881 census.

However, the possible earlier death of the mother and absence of the father would explain why the three Bean children were found living alone, with an 18-year-old female as head of the household, in that census. From the ages and birth places of the children in 1871, it was apparent that Joseph and Elizabeth Bean and their family must have moved from Lincolnshire to Doncaster some time between 1861 and Brian’s birth in 1864, and then on again to Sheffield. I speculated that the three Bean children, aged from 17 to 20, must have found life hard without their parents, though it is possible that Thomas Starmer, who subsequently married the younger Elizabeth, may have acted as a surrogate father.

Again looking at the GRO marriage indexes, I found a potential marriage at Newark Registration District in the April-June quarter of 1851 of a Joseph Bean to Elizabeth Woolhouse. The Newark RD straddled Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and included the parish of Swinderby where Joseph senior was shown as being born in the 1861 and 1871 censuses.

In 1861 he and Elizabeth were shown in the census with five children, living at Barnsdale, Eagle, Lincs. In fact, this was probably a rural place called Eagle Barnsdale which lies between the parishes of Swinderby and Eagle, a few miles south-west of Lincoln. Joseph Bean was aged 32 and a farmer occupying 22 acres, born at Swinderby. His wife Elizabeth was 31, born at Hykeham, and their children were Sarah Ann, 12, and Thomas, 7, both born at Swinderby, then Tamar, 6, John Edward, 1, and Joseph Holmes Bean, 7 months, all born at Eagle.

Joseph appears to have had some financial problems, which may have accounted for the family moving from Lincolnshire, first to Doncaster and then Sheffield. I found in the online London Gazette, the official government newspaper of record, a notice announcing his bankruptcy on 6 January 1865. There was no doubt this was the same man because the notice described him as “Joseph Bean, formerly of Eagle Barnsdale, in the parish of Eagle, in the county of Lincoln, Farmer, and now of No. 24 Bridge-terrace, Doncaster, in the county of York, Labourer…”

Joseph Bean, who was Sean Bean’s great great great grandfather, was still a bankrupt in 1873, for another notice in the London Gazette on 10 October of that year called for creditors to send details of their claim to the Trustee. This time Joseph was described as “of Hill Top, Attercliffe Common, Sheffield, Labourer and Shopkeeper”, Hill Top, Attercliffe, being the address the family were at in 1871.

London Gazette 1873

Notice of Joseph Bean’s bankruptcy in the London Gazette in 1873

I began to sense that some tragedies had struck the Bean family when I discovered from the Parish Records Collection on the Findmypast website that five members were all buried in the same grave (Plot K113) at Hyde Park Cemetery, Doncaster. Two girls, Harriet aged 11 and Tamar 9, were buried on the same day, 1 October 1863, followed by an infant boy William, aged 7 months, on 22 December 1868. Elizabeth Bean, 46, was buried on 6 October 1879, and Joseph was buried on 30 March 1882, aged 53. But as I discovered that both Elizabeth and Joseph died in Sheffield, why were they buried in Doncaster? I can only think it was because they had expressed a desire to be buried with their unfortunate children.

Armed with this new information, I went back to the 1881 census to see if I could solve the mystery of where Joseph Bean was then. This time I focused on an entry I had earlier rejected. This was for a Joseph Bean, aged 46, laborer, born at Sheffield, who was a “pauper patient” in the Ecclesfield (Sheffield) Lunatic Asylum. His age and birth place didn’t fit with the details in the 1871 census, but some fascinating evidence emerged when I discovered online at the website of Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information some admission registers for the asylum.

These showed that Joseph Bean was admitted to the institution on 11 October 1879 – just five days after the burial of his wife. A further column showed the date of his discharge or death as 25 March 1882, which tied in very neatly with his death record in the first quarter of that year and his burial at Doncaster five days later.

Lunatic asylum

Joseph Bean (second entry from the top), appears in an online database as a patient in the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum

Death certificate of Joseph Bean

Certificate of Joseph Bean’s death in the South Yorkshire Asylum, aged 53

It is often dangerous to speculate in family history, but it seems likely that poor Joseph had been admitted to the asylum following worries over his financial state and then grief over losing his wife. The fact that the details of his age and birth place in the 1881 census didn’t quite fit with earlier information is hardly surprising, given that it may have been difficult to get the right information from him.

Going further back to the 1851 census, Joseph, not yet married and aged 22, was a farm labourer at Swinderby, working for a farmer called John Noden. Joseph’s work career was certainly an interesting one! Seemingly, he started out as a farm labourer, became a farmer in his own right, then a labourer again and then a grocer. Could these changes in occupation have caused his financial difficulties?

Great great great great grandparents

There was an interesting census entry in 1851, also at Swinderby, for John and Ann Bean who turned out to be Joseph’s parents. John Bean, 50, was a farmer of 50 acres, born at Swinderby, his wife Ann was 47, born at Lincoln, and they had two children, a daughter of 10 called Tamar and a son, Bryan, 7, both born at Swinderby.

However, what particularly struck me was that also living with John and Ann Bean was a child of two called Sarah Woolhouse, described as a visitor and born at Swinderby. Although Joseph Bean and Elizabeth Woolhouse didn’t marry until 1852, it seems likely that Sarah was in fact the daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth, born before the marriage. Elizabeth Woolhouse was found in the 1851 census working as a servant at Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

Finally, I looked at the 1841 census and found John and Ann Bean, with five children, at Swinderby. Remembering that the ages of adults over 15 were rounded down in this census, John was shown as 40 and his occupation as cottager (a smallholder who leased a small plot of land). Ann was also 40 and their children were: Sarah, 15; Joseph, 12; Harriet, 8; Eliza, 6; and Thamar [sic], 10 months.

My last piece of research into the ancestry of Sean Bean was to look at the Lincolnshire parish records on the Findmypast website, which produced the marriage of John Bean and Ann Cooper at St. Mary le Wigford, Lincoln, on 5 January 1824. Bearing in mind that Ann Bean’s birth place was given in the censuses as Lincoln, I feel it likely that this couple were Sean’s 4-times great grandparents and the marriage was in Ann’s home parish.

John Bean was buried on 8 February 1858 at Swinderby, aged 56,  but Ann outlived him by many years and was buried at Swinderby on 16 November 1885, aged 81 (sources, the National Burial Index and Lincolnshire Family History Society).

Finally, I found Joseph Bean’s baptism in the International Genealogical Index on the FamilySearch website at Swinderby on 28 July 1828, son of John and Ann. Knowing Joseph’s father John was born around 1800, this meant I had managed to get Sean’s ancestry back more than two centuries and followed his ancestors from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum

The grim-looking South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum, Sheffield, where Sean Bean’s great great great grandfather Joseph was incarcerated and died, was opened in 1872, later became Middlewood Hospital and was finally closed in 1996

Sources of research include:

FreeBMD ( which has many millions of birth, marriage and death records from the General Register Office for England and Wales.

Findmypast ( a major genealogical website which carries all the census records and images from 1841 to 1911, also the US censuses.

FamilySearch (, the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The London Gazette, the official government newspaper of record.

Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information, Register of Patients, South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum;

Photo of the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum: Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information.

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