Textures Of My Ancestral Landscape


These are some of the landscape textures that my maternal ancestors, the Fox family of Derbyshire’s High Peak would have known well – windswept moors and weathered scarps of millstone grit. They were yeoman farmers and lead miners, and they made a living from this bleak and beautiful country for hundreds of years.

Family legend has it that the Foxes arrived in England with William the Conqueror, but Fox is a name with Germanic origins so they may well have been Saxons, belonging to the conquered rather than to the conquering forces. The earliest records for Foxes in the Hope Valley, and Offerton in particular – where my Foxes farmed until the end of the nineteenth century, are around the thirteenth century, although I and my fellow Fox researchers are yet to establish direct lineage from these times.

There were centuries of prosperity when various family members lived in large stone farmhouses, made ‘good’ marriages, and owned land and lead mining concessions, but by the early twentieth century there was only one member of my Fox line left in the area, and he was living modestly in Eyam. The family farm of Callow where he was born, and by then owned by the Duke of Devonshire had been relinquished with a farm sale in 1892.   High rents were besetting many Derbyshire farmers at this time. The Mr Fox mentioned in the sale advertisement is my great great grandfather, George Brayley Fox:


The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent

Saturday 29 October 1892

Callow Farm Sale

Important Sale of 23 cows, heifers, steers and calves, two horses and foal, 30 sheep, hays stack, three wheat stacks, seven oat stacks, farm implements etc.

Mr Hattersley has been honoured with instructions from Mr Fox who is give up the Farm, to sell by Auction on Wednesday, Nov 3, 1892, the very superior LIVE and DEAD FARM STOCK, as briefly enumerated below:

Black Mare, believed to be in foal, excellent worker;

Valuable Brown Horse, six years old, with splendid action, believed to be sound, and quiet in all work;

Roan foal by Bedford;

One Cow in calf for December 25th, four in-calf cows for April, two barren cows in milk, four very choice heifers in calf for April, two barren heifer stirks, five strong bullock stirks, five spring-reared calves, 11 superior stock ewes, six fat sheep, one two-shear ram, 12 strong lambs, two very fine ducks, one fine drake.

Samuelson’s 2-horse combined mower and reaper, nearly new with additional shafts; wood tippler, horse rake, Cooke’s wood plough, set of wood harrows, nearly new; set of three harrows, swingtrees, fallow drag on wheels, stone roller, with shafts, horse turnip hoe, sheep troughs, joiner’s bench and tools, quarry tools, hay rakes and forks, 2 1-horse carts, winnowing machine, wheel chopper, with rising mouth, in excellent condition; corn chest, cart gears, stone cheese press, lever ditto, cheese rack and boards, nearly new; vats, garths etc, cheese pan, two brewing tubs, two oak chests, and a portion of furniture.

One stack of very prime new hay, three stacks of wheat, five stacks of white oats, two ditto of black oats and a quantity of table and other turnips.

Sale to commence 12 noon.


Every item here tells of great intimacy with the land. Just to read this notice gives me a painful sense of roots yanked up. I feel the touch and then the loss of the fine ducks, the strong lambs, the black mare in foal, the oats and the stone cheese press; even the turnips and the quarrying tools. But I would like to think, too, that somewhere in my bones are still traces of that High Peak millstone grit, the hardiness and courage that it took to carve a living from these uplands, and in my lungs the sharp, clean air of the moors of Longshaw where earlier generations of my family, so it is said, grazed four hundred sheep on their own run, and also owned the shepherd’s byre, that dating from 1399 was later sold and expanded into a handsome house for the Duke of Rutland’s agent, and is now the well known inn, Fox House, just outside Sheffield. Somewhere within this sturdy stone carapace is the earlier shepherd’s dwelling of quite another texture.


copyright 2016 Tish Farrell


This week at Black & White Sunday, Paula has given us the theme of ‘texture’. She also included a quotation by novelist British Paul Scott, which is very much responsible for my take on the challenge:

“The past becomes a texture, an ambience to our present”

P.S. Paul Scott served in the Intelligence Corps of the British Army in India during the World War Two. He wrote the phenomenal Raj Quartet, set in India during these years, and which was made into a very excellent TV serial back in the 1980s. The TV version is available on DVD, and with its all star actors is well worth watching. But read the books too.

35 thoughts on “Textures Of My Ancestral Landscape

  1. Chills up the spine with your family history Tish. Fancy being able to go back so far. I can see you seething with all the characteristics of your ancestors and their land. I love the way you’ve expanded the quote from Paul Scott. I’m off to seek out the Raj Quartet.

  2. What a great story, including photos. Wouldn’t everyone love to have something like this link to their ancestors. My assistant teacher is from Sheffield. I will have to share this with her. Thanks!

  3. I’ve no doubt that grit lives on in you, Tish, no doubt at all. Thanks for the nudge about the “Raj Quartet.” I’ve heard of it for years but never got around to reading it, although I very much enjoy M.M.Kaye’s books about India as well as her three-book autobiography. Rumer Godden is also excellent for things Indian.


    1. Such a lovely remark re grit, Janet. I like M M Kaye too, and there is some common ground between her and Scott. I haven’t read much Rumer Godden so thanks for the return nudge.

  4. How beautiful to be able to go back in history like this with your own family and what a marvellous, albeit sad, reminder of the times. My great-grandfather bred shire horses somewhere in Yorkshire, but unfortunately I know hardly anything about my family history.

    1. Oh what a pity not to know about the shire horse history. I bet these days you might be able to unearth some info. You’ve more pressing things to do just now though 🙂

    1. It’s an extraordinary list isn’t it. Those different types of oats too. The High Peak daily diet was apparently home-made oat cakes, cheese, and doubtless some home brew. There are reports of the Fox men being rather fond of their beer and going in for some bare-fist fighting. Some lived into their 90s.

  5. I’m touched by the sadness of the auction list. I find these mundane traces of ancestors’ lives affect me quite a lot. Your story and images fit so well with the theme, and the Paul Scott quote is going to stay with me for a long time. Thanks.

  6. Tish, this is fascinating! How remarkable that you have such extensive and detailed knowledge of your family history. Well told, and artfully textured. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I went to school and played sport with a Fox…bit older than me though. The clearing sale notice is intriguing. LIVE and DEAD FARM STOCK, Do you know what is meant by ‘Dead Farm’…or have I missed something….I did read twice, but a bloke’s read!!!!! Interestingly, many of the items could be found in today’s clearing sales.

  8. That is a very comprehensive list for the farm sale, even selling some of the furniture, and yes it is very sad to think of them selling up and having to then start life over again in some other work or a smaller farm. Do you know what happened to the family? I admire how you have managed to go so far back with your family history. I’m sad to say I don’t even know anything about my Grandparents as they had died before I was born.

    1. There’s more to the family story in posts about my Great Grandmother Mary Ann Williamson Fox, and her son Giles Rowles who died at Gallipoli, aged 19. I’m afraid their story did not end well. Apart from the Eyam great uncle mentioned in this post, all his siblings, Sophia, Mary Ann and George died very young. Gt gt grandfather went to live with Mary Ann at her inn in Cheshire, and I think that was where the family resources ended up. Mary Ann was widowed the first time around the year of the farm sale. She was only in her late 20s, and her husband had died bankrupt, so her father secured the inn for her so she should have an income and somewhere to live with her 3 children and step son.

  9. I remember the TV series but never read any of the books. 😦 Seeing the figures on the tops reminded me that I’d meant to comment on the lady passing through the gate on your leafy post. I love her! And this is, as Paula so rightly says, inspirational, Tish. 🙂

      1. True, as quantum mechanics is true. For me, I’m grounded in my family, but my there’s no geography to lean on. A hundred years ago my grandfather’s people lived in Scarla, a small town in Poland – and who knows where before that – and then each generation since, there’s been a lot of movement. Even in my generation, most have moved out of New York.

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