October’s Changing Seasons

Our October began bathed in the rosy glow of ancestral landscapes, the farm fields and vistas of four generations of maternal grandfathers, the millstone grit uplands of Derbyshire’s High Peak District. It would have been a hard life on Callow Farm, and especially for the grandmothers who would have managed a never ending round home and farm duties while rearing six or even eight children (the parish records suggest that many more Foxes survived into adulthood than were lost in infancy, but then yeoman farming folk would have been well nourished and well aired by comparison with most town dwellers down the centuries).

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By the time we returned home, summer was definitely on the wane in our Shropshire garden although many flowers were still holding their own. Even now, the front garden beside the road is bright with helianthus, sedum, Michaelmas daisies, purple toadflax, small pink roses and the stalwart geranium, Rozanne. And out back in the guerrilla garden there are sunflowers and dyer’s chamomile with its bright yellow daisies. There are also Japanese anemones, hesperantha, zinnias, snapdragons and the shrubby convolvulus still on the go. So kind of the garden to ease us so gently into autumn.

 

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Meanwhile, around the town and farm fields the change of season is more apparent:

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And finally a glimpse of the priory ruins and the little tower on the Prior’s House:

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The Changing Seasons: October 2018

Back To Chatsworth And A Bad Case Of Over-gilding?

I promised some interior views of Chatsworth. So here they are – not easily taken I might add, what with much penumbral gloom and spot lights where the camera least wanted them. But you will get the idea.

Much of what you will see was the work of the 4th-Earl-made-1st-Duke by the imported protestant regime changees, William and Mary, at the end of the 17th century. The earl certainly forked out for his dukedom. First among his creations to welcome the new monarchs is the Painted Hall. It replaced the original Elizabethan Great Hall, its walls adorned with scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. (Painted by Louis Laguerre who had the Sun King Louis XIV for a godparent.)  It seems the intention was to flatter William III, although it is suggested the included scene of Caesar’s murder was a hint for him not to overstep the mark.

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The next glimpse is of The Chapel built between 1688 and 1693, and little changed since then apart from the addition of Damien Hirst’s creation of St Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain – upon which I pass no comment other than to say that the Devonshires continue to take pride in the commissioning of contemporary art for the house. On a general note though, the chapel struck me as a touch lacking in what one might expect of Protestant self-restraint.

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And now for a few hints of grandeur from the State Apartment with its drawing and withdrawing rooms and state bedchamber and closet – all laid on for the monarchs’ great good comfort, with the exception of the gilded leather wall covering (next photo) which was added much later by the 6th Duke during a redecorating spree. (Apologies for the spotlight flares).

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By now I’m overstuffed with the extravagance, and we’ve not even looked properly at the art piled up in every room or reached the Library:

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And then there’s still the Great Dining Room to see. It is being set out for a grand private banquet on the day of our visit. The guide book says that until 1939 and the outbreak of war, this room was used by the family whenever there were more than six to dine. A thirteen-year old Princess Victoria also enjoyed her first grown up dinner here. To ensure nothing went wrong, her host, the 6th Duke, ordered a fully cooked banquet dress rehearsal the day before.

As we gawp passingly at the 6th Duke’s silver (the surtout de table  commissioned from silversmiths Paul Storr and Robert Garrard) I am amused to see two women pressing the damask cloth’s long skirts over their respective ironing boards.

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But now for the case of gross over-gilding that caused me much mental frothing at the mouth. Way back in the Chapel Corridor that I haven’t shown you, and where artworks from 4 millennia are displayed, I happened on some notices attached to the windows. They referred to the £32 millions’ worth of renovations carried out at Chatsworth over the last decade.

This is what the current Duke, Peregrine known as Stoker’ has to say of one particular restoration venture – the breathtakingly expensive (demented?) gilding of exterior window frames:

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And this is what the gilder had to say:

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And here’s a segment of the finished product:

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And here’s what was running through my head: What are we doing here, encouraging these people, and paying £21 each, plus parking fee, for the doubtful privilege of witnessing this ludicrous waste of money when an artist’s impression of how the windows once looked would have done just as well?

So: we were more than a bit aggravated after the two-hour-trek wherein we only scratched the surface of the opulence on show, and were further forced to grit our teeth as we were allowed to view the family’s still much used cosy salon, a room where one whole wall was taken up depicting The Rape of the Sabine Women.

Yet it wasn’t all overbearing. There were some things in the ducal collection I did like – Lucien Freud’s portraits of the late duke and duchess, a Clarice Cliff coffee pot, some earthy ceramics, the name of whose maker I could not find, the Cornelis de Vos portrait of his daughter, a monster sized foot belonging to a 3,000 year old Greek goddess, Barry Flanagan’s Leaping Hare in the Inner Court, the silk wall covering in the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom and a fossil fern. And then there was the very nice man, rather surprisingly playing Eric Coates compositions in the Ante Library. He told us the composer was much undervalued:

But the undoubted prize for self-regarding humbug has to go – not to the artist Jacob van der Beugel for his extraordinary creation and execution, but to the Cavendish conception of the work in the North Sketch Gallery. The whole corridor is installed with 659 ochre ceramic panels that provide, in abstract form, portraits of the present duke and duchess and their son and his wife, Lord and Lady Burlington. The portraits’ composition derives from the mitochondrial DNA sequences taken in swabs from each of the four individuals.  A fifth portrait depicts Everyman, showing the DNA common to all of us. Meanwhile interspersed mirrors allow passing (in our case bemused) visitors to place themselves fleetingly amongst these family ‘portraits’. The whole is described as ‘the most significant single art installation at Chatsworth since the creation of the 6th Duke’s Sculpture Gallery in 1832.’

Or an ill conceived stab at faux inclusiveness?

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Phew. Enough already. Time to take a break and go out into the garden – more of which another time.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

To Chatsworth And How Mary Ann Went To The Ball

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So here we have a fine contrast between the Fox family’s tenanted property at Callow Farm, a few miles uphill and upstream in the Derwent valley, and the landlordly premises that ate up farm rents and lead mining royalties and employed armies of local craftsmen and servants.

This, then, is Chatsworth House, the place called home by the Cavendish family, otherwise known as the Dukes of Devonshire. It is one of England’s most imposing stately piles, these days run by the Cavendish family as a charitable trust, and caught here so flatteringly in the October sun. The setting alone is magnificent.

And so how does it come to be here. Whose money built it?

The answer is somewhat convoluted – successive generations of royal patronage is part of it. But so too is Henry VIII’s desire for a male heir and his subsequent break from the Catholic Church, one result of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

If you have ever wondered what happened to the amassed wealth of some 900 monastic estates during Henry’s big 1530s campaign to liquidate holy assets and usurp papal domination, then Chatsworth is one place to look. William Cavendish, courtier and royal employee was a man with a good head for figures and a strong survival instinct, though he did slip up badly in the end.

For a time he held a post in the  Exchequer. In 1530 he was also one of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners who visited the monasteries to audit their wherewithal and demand its surrender to the Crown. This included the lead off the roofs, which would have been worth a fortune by itself, and its stripping key to the physical dissolving of monastic edifices, which disintegration happened pretty soon after the weather got in.

It is said William took unfair advantage of this appointment. On top of this he was officially rewarded by the king with a knighthood and estates in Hertfordshire. He continued to enjoy royal favour even as his former boss, Cromwell, fell from grace (and was beheaded). Cavendish was despatched to Ireland to repeat the property assessing exercise. When Henry died he remained in the young Edward VI’s court and was granted still more monastic land. He even managed to hang on when Mary Tudor succeeded (he having paved the way by sending the Lady Mary tokens of loyalty before her accession). When she returned the nation to the Catholic Church he conformed and so gained a post as her Treasurer of the Chamber (1546-1553). It was here he rather over-reached himself. In late 1557 when the auditors arrived in Westminster to discover what he had been doing while in office all those years, they found the accounts in a shambles. Sir William was accused of embezzlement. He then died pretty much at once thereby avoiding further unseemly exposure, but begging for clemency for himself and his family.

It was during his years of service to Mary Tudor that he married for the third time – a rich young Derbyshire widow, Elizabeth Barley. She would later become [in]famously known as four times married ‘Bess of Hardwick’. She wanted to live in her native Derbyshire and so Sir William sold up all his monastic acquisitions and in 1549 bought the then lowly manor of Chatsworth for £600. Thus began the massive building of the first Cavendish family seat, which was only completed by Elizabeth after Sir William’s death. She would later go on to build the even more astonishing Hardwick Hall. She also the founder of the Cavendish Chatsworth dynasty, bearing 8 children during her marriage to Sir William.

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Thereafter the heirs sought and bought titles, including the Earldom of Devonshire, and it was the 4th Earl who gained a further step up by being rewarded with the dukedom (1694) – this for his part in bringing Protestant William and Mary to the English throne. It was also  the 1st Duke who went in for some massive rebuilding, including most of what we see today. He began by adding more family rooms and the extravagant State Apartment for receiving the new monarchs. Once started, however, no frontage could be left untouched. He also had the formal gardens laid out on a jaw-dropping scale. This included the famous Cascade, though he lived to enjoy its creation for only four years after its completion in 1703.

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The 4th Duke (1720-64) decided the house should have westerly approach, which meant demolishing the 1st Duke’s stables since they interfered with the view. He also relocated the village of Edensor where his staff and tenants lived, so it too did not spoil the view. Architect James Paine was commissioned to build the new stables we see today plus a new bridge upstream of the house.

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And Capability Brown was engaged to make the now enclosed park look more ‘natural’. In the meantime the Duke found a vastly rich heiress to marry and acquired  even more property and family titles.

The 5th Duke was famous for marrying celebrated beauty and socialite, Lady Georgiana Spencer. They lived in London but had lots of jolly house parties at Chatsworth. They also lived happily in a menage a trois with Georgiana’s best friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. The 6th Duke never married, but nearly bankrupted the estate with all his ‘improvements’. These included funding plant expeditions around the globe and having his head gardener Joseph Paxton construct the Emperor Fountain (85 metre/280 feet of jet). The fountain meant draining the upland moor into an 8-acre man-made reservoir on the high ground above the house.

On the day we visited the jet was on short measures due to the high wind.

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The 7th Duke (1808-1891) was apparently a sober successor to the Batchelor Duke, a sad widower who lost his wife when she was only in her twenties. For thirty years he maintained strict economies in the running of the estate. Our family legend has it that my great grandmother Mary Ann opened the tenants’ ball with him one year, she as the eldest daughter of the oldest tenant family on the estate. He is said to have remarked to her on her family’s long presence in the locality, far longer than his own, he said. He would have been quite elderly at the time, and Mary Ann perhaps in her late teens or very early twenties. The blue silk covered  buttons from the dress she wore were apparently kept down the generations, and still in my grandmother’s sewing basket when my mother inherited it. I’m not sure if I have a real memory of seeing them or not. Anyway, it was not long after this that Mary Ann ran off with the Bolton spindle manufacturer, and had her more usual  bright print country dresses scoffed at by the dark clad women of Farnsworth.

When we went around the house we had hoped to see the ballroom, but when Graham asked the attendant she said it was in the family’s private quarters and had been turned into a theatre. And as for the interior rooms we did see, and the severe outbreak of aggravation they induced in me, they and it will have to wait till the next post. For now, here’s the Emperor Fountain making a rainbow, which we very much enjoyed.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Places People Visit

The Derbyshire Gate Post Mystery Explained?

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In the last post I queried the large perforations to be found in the tops of some Derbyshire stone gate posts or stoops. I thought they made handy viewfinders, but could find no other explanation. Then I found some more photos I’d taken at Callow Farm. These are a pair – one with a partial orifice, the other without.

And it’s at this point things may become as clear as Derbyshire mud. But I have found an explanation. The only problem is I don’t wholly understand it.

It comes from a worthy volume published in 1813 and available for free from Google. (How I hate it that they have laid claim to all the old books in the universe, but how I love being able to access such works without leaving my desk, this despite the fact that much of the scanning is often execrable.)

The book in question is volume 2 of General View of the Agriculture of Derbyshire by John Farey senior, Mineral Surveyor of Upper Crown Street, Westminster. This is what he says. I’ve increased the font in hopes comprehension might strike:

Anciently, the Gates in the Peak Hundreds were formed and hung without any iron-work, even nails, as I have been told; and some yet remain in Birchover and other places, where no iron-work is used in the hanging: a large mortise-hole is made thro’ the hanging-post, perpendicular to the plane of the Gate, at about four feet and a half high, into which a stout piece of wood is firmly wedged, and projects about twelve inches before the Post; and in this piece of wood, two augur holes are made, to receive the two ends of a tough piece of green Ash or Sallow, which loosely embraces the top of the head of the Gate (formed to a round), in the bow so formed : the bottom of the head of the Gate is formed to a blunt point, which works in a hole made in a stone, set fast in the ground, close to the face of the Post. It is easy to see, by the mortise-holes in all old Gate-Stoops, that this mode of hanging Gates was once general.

From this it seems clear that any iron hinges and latches were later additions to such old stoops. John Farey goes on to praise this kind of improvement:

A great contrast to these rude Gates, is exhibited, on the Farm of Mr. Thomas Harvey of Hoon Hay, who has four sets of hooks and catches, all adjustible by nuts and screws, fixed in his Gate-Posts, which are very stout, in the line of a private and bridle Road thro’ his Farm ; so that from whichever quarter the wind may come, in blowing weather, the Gates can readily be shifted, so as to be shut too by the wind, instead of being forced open thereby : there is also a screw for adjusting the top thimbles of these Gates, for making them shut more perfectly.

So there we have it – a loopy length of ash or willow used to do the job of a gate, though I still can’t quite picture it. But then instead of wondering about that, I found myself distracted by Mr. Farey’s genuine enthusiasm for more efficient gatery with all its iron trappings.

In this modern era we all assume a well functioning gate is a good thing – guarding property, keeping out vagrants and cold callers. But this notion of privately controlled land is fairly new. And to my mind it has had every one of us hoodwinked. Simon Fairlie puts it succinctly at the start of his very enlightening essay A Short History of Enclosure in Britain  from The Land magazine:

Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain’s land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our “property-owning democracy”, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.

He then explains that from Saxon times, and continuing under Norman rule into the Middle Ages, the Open Field System was the norm. It was also the norm in much of Europe until modern times, wherein each family had its own plot within a communally managed ecosystem.

The notion of one man possessing all rights to one stretch of land would have been unthinkable to British medieval smallholders. The king or lord of the manor owned an estate, but not in the way we understand ownership. The peasant population also had rights and, at specified times of the year, could graze stock, cut wood or peat, draw water or grow crops on various pieces of land, often in a number of different places.  English farmers also met twice a year at the manor court where land management issues were discussed, and those taking more than their fair share of communal resources challenged.

The benefit of the Open Field System is explained as follows:

A man may have no more than an acre or two, but he gets the full extent of them laid out in long “lands” for ploughing, with no hedgerows to reduce the effective area, and to occupy him in unprofitable labour. No sort of inclosure of the same size can be conceived which would give him equivalent facilities. Moreover he has his common rights which entitle him to graze his stock all over the ‘lands’ and these have a value, the equivalent of which in pasture fields would cost far more than he could afford to pay. CS and C S Orwin The Open Fields, Oxford, 1938

A group of peasant farmers could also share equipment such as a good plough and a full team of oxen to haul it, a facility that would benefit them all. One herdsboy could supervise the daily grazing of the community’s cattle, taking them out after family milking, bringing back in for evening milking at their individual homesteads, so leaving farmers free to carry out other income producing pursuits. Everyone’s sheep could also be driven out to the common moorland to graze, each animal identifiable to their owners by a sheep mark.

Somewhat strangely I have learned that the sheep mark of my Callow Fox ancestors was still in existence in 1930s, when the fiery right-to-roam campaigner G H B Ward, editor of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Handbooks went to interview my great uncle Robert Fox about the history of the Callow Foxes. Ward visited him in his cottage at Foolow and there saw the sheep mark belonging to an earlier Robert Fox (1780-1863), who used it to mark the horns of his sheep communally grazed on the Longshaw pasture. Enclosure took place there during the early 19th century, the Inclosure Act commissioners awarding the Duke of Rutland nearly 2,000 acres. And so the former sheepwalk used by William and Sarah Fox of Callow during the 18th century, and by their son George and grandson Robert into the early 19th century was turned into the headquarters of the largest grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District (David Hey The History of the Peak District Moors).

For nearly a century this former common land was policed by gamekeepers, and the general populace denied age-old rights including access to paths and bridleways. It was only with the mass trespasses of ramblers like G H B Ward during the early 20th century that the countryside began to be opened up once more. One cannot help but cheer when one learns that the decline in Rutland fortunes led to the sale of the estate in 1933. Ramblers and other members of public raised the necessary funds to buy the park and then handed it over to the National Trust. Sheffield Corporation bought the moors, which are now part of the Peak District National Park. Humanity is now free to roam there once more, as we saw on our recent visit – hundreds of families striding out in the fresh upland air.

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The fact remains though that Britain’s big landowners exploited the Inclosure Acts to enrich themselves by taking for their own use alone (and still hanging on to them) thousands of acres that were once communally used for centuries by their tenants.  But I leave the last words on the Commons land rights to Simon Fairlie. At the risk of sounding totally reductionist I contend that this is how we ended up where we are now; the wretched state of the planet; and the current tax-haven millionaires’ mortal fear of any notion of communal rights or shared resources. If we continue to let such people control and grow rich on resources which should benefit all – more fool us.

Britain set out, more or less deliberately, to become a highly urbanized economy with a large urban proletariat dispossessed from the countryside, highly concentrated landownership, and farms far larger than any other country in Europe. Enclosure of the commons, more advanced in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, was not the only means of achieving this goal: free trade and the importing of food and fibre from the New World and the colonies played a part, and so did the English preference for primogeniture (bequeathing all your land to your eldest son). But enclosure of common land played a key role in Britain’s industrialization, and was consciously seen to do so by its protagonists at the time.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

A Gate-Post Eye’s View In Derbyshire

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I took these photos a week ago as we were exploring the footpaths around Callow Barn. I have no idea why old Derbyshire stone gate posts often have holes at the top of them. I have considered that they might have once been used as slots for a wooden bar, but then why at the top; what function would it perform? The holes would have taken much effort to drill too. And so in the absence of knowing, I used this one to peep through. Looking up the path to Offerton Moor, and down the path towards the River Derwent, Hathersage and Stanage Edge and Higger Tor.

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And just so you can get a gist of the gate posts, here’s a one in the garden of Callow Barn where we were staying. There’s a sturdy iron hinge embedded on the left hand side of it, aligned with the hole, presumably to take a gate, so making my notion of a pole-bearing slot unlikely. Explanations welcome.

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Lens-Artists #14 Windows This week Ann-Christine gives us windows as the theme. Please pop over to see her wonderful examples.

So What Did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox Keep In His Barns In 1892?

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Here we were then staying in the ancestral Callow barns and in the greatest comfort, each day looking out on the fields farmed by four generations of our Fox family, and wondering what it must have been like to have lived a life in these remote uplands above the Hope Valley, to have worked this land in all weathers.

The name Callow perhaps says it all – deemed to mean cold or bare hill in Old English. A hard life then, and especially for the women who mostly died in their forties and fifties after giving birth over and over. By contrast the Fox men tended to be long lived 2x, 4x and 5x-great-grandfathers all lasted into their eighties, and George Brayley’s grandfather, George, was 93 when he died. Tough old birds the lot of them, and some of them prone to a bit of competitive fist fighting, a pursuit that was illegal but much favoured and therefore well supported by the gentry.

In the last post I said that many of Derbyshire’s yeomen farmers were also much involved in lead mining and processing. This dangerous trade could make your fortune or kill you. The Barmote Court that regulated the industry’s practices was an ancient institution going back to 1288 when 115 square miles of Derbyshire’s High and Low Peak was established as the King’s Field, a free mining area. Surprisingly the construct pertains today, the last surviving Barmote Court still meeting at Wirksworth once a year.

According to Peak District Online the rules of the King’s Field were as follows:

Anybody was allowed to set up as a miner and work by very liberal rules permitting them to search for lead ore anywhere but in churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways. The miners had right of access, water and space to mine and dump their waste without regard. They did however have to pay a royalty on all ore mined, of one thirteenth to the Crown( known as a lot ) and one tenth or tithe to the Church.
The Barmote Court was established to deal with disputes and claims arising from lead mining and to collect the royalties due.

In other words, the lead miners were likely to be tough, free-booting individuals and, although answerable to the Barmote Court in the staking and working of their claims, their pursuit of lead gave them the chance to break free from feudal obligations as tenant farmers and manorial employees.  One 16th century yeoman, Arthur Mower, also bailiff to the Lord of the Manor of Barlow, became so rich from lead mining and exporting he soon outclassed his lordship in terms of wealth and property. Not so the Foxes, at least not the Callow clan. But then George Brayley Fox did have quarry tools in his barn. And many more things besides.

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The 1891 census shows that George is seventy years old and  a widower. He is living at Callow with his son George (22 years) and daughter Louisa (25 years). His 9 year old step-grandchild from Farnsworth, Bolton in Manchester is also staying there at the time of the census, and this may be a clue as to the real reason why George B had announced his intention to sell up by the following year.

Giving up the tenancy of the farm where he was born must have been a wrench. It was certainly newsworthy, and reports of the Fox family finally leaving Callow were published in regional newspapers as far away as Leeds. The reports made much of the family’s connection with Callow’s environs since Norman Conquest days, a claim that was part of the Fox family narrative, much repeated down the generations, but so far lacking verifiable substance. The report below also says that the reason for selling up was due to the high rent, which was very much a common complaint of Derbyshire farmers at this time. But I still wonder if this was the chief reason, or the one meant for public consumption.

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

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So back to facts.

On Saturday 29 October 1892 the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent newspaper listed items in the upcoming Callow Farm sale. It is a vivid snapshot of life on the farm, and the picture it gives is of a well-managed enterprise using up-to-date technology, not of a farm that is failing. Much of the equipment is stated to be new, and the livestock of good quality.

First there are the horses – a black mare in foal, and an ‘excellent worker’; a valuable six-year old brown horse with ‘splendid action’; a roan foal by Bedford. There are 23 cows including 5 strong bullocks, a cow in calf for 25th December, and 4 cows due to calf in April. Then there are ‘11 superior stock ewes, 6 fat sheep, one two-shear ram, 12 strong lambs’. Finally in the farmyard there are ‘two fine ducks and one fine drake’.

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And now for the barn contents.

These included some pretty high-tech (not to say cutting edge) gear of the day, including a nearly new Samuelson 2-horse combined mower-reaper complete with spare shafts. This was the sort of pioneering equipment that was shown off at national trade exhibitions of the day, produced by the Britannia Works, Banbury.

Samuelson mower reaper

There was also a plough, several sets of harrows, a stone roller, a horse turnip hoe, 2 horse carts, a winnowing machine, a joiner’s bench and tools.

Then there are clues as to what the farm was producing. There is a stone cheese press, rack and boards (nearly new), five stacks of white oats, three stacks of wheat, two brewing tubs, a quantity of eating turnips – all of which reflect the standard staple diet of Derbyshire farming folk. For the animals there was one stack of ‘prime new hay’ and two stacks of black oats – probably horse fare.

The whole lot up for auction at 12 noon on the 3rd November 1892.

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And the reason for the sale – well my big guess is that it has much more to do with his eldest daughter, my Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Fox. According to my aunt she was engaged to the Squire of Abney (just over the hill from Callow), but at the age of 22  she ran off and married a young widower, a shuttle and flyer manufacturer from Farnsworth, Bolton. And not very long after that, it was all downhill for the last generation of Callow Foxes. But that story will have to wait for another time.

Mary Ann Fox

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Looking Back: Traces Of The Past

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I took this photo on a whim, just to see how it would turn out. This old farm-field post was one of several on the footpath to the Hathersage stepping stones that cross the River Derwent just outside the town. For those of you who read my earlier Derbyshire posts, you’ll know I was on a quest to follow in my great grandmother’s footsteps, taking the path that she once took from Callow Farm and into Hathersage.

I don’t remember ever seeing stone posts like this before, and don’t know how old it is. But I think it’s safe to say that this and others were there in the late 1880s-90 when Mary Ann Fox passed by to do her shopping.

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You can read more of her story at Stepping Stones Through Time and Stronghold – The Telling Of Family Tales

There was also another idea running through my head when I took the photo – a far cry, too, from Derbyshire and my ancestors. When I saw the hole in the stone I was reminded of the 1960s young adult novel The Owl Service by Alan Garner. It is set in Wales and explores the rival affections between three teens through a parallel tale from the Welsh medieval story cycle of the Mabinogi.

It’s a great story, both the original and Garner’s use of it. Here’s a quick version of the myth.

The magician Gwydion makes a woman, Blodeuwedd, from flowers. She betrays her husband Lleu with a man called Gronw who tries to kill Lleu with a spear. He turns into an eagle and escapes. However, rough justice allows Lleu to have his turn to throw a spear at Gronw who may only use a stone for protection. Lleu throws the spear so hard, it passes straight through the stone and kills Gronw, and to punish Blodeuwedd for her part in all this, the magician Gwydion turns her into an owl.

So the first shot is my photo version – the stone of Gronw.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

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If you want to post some of your own ‘Traces of the Past’ please visit Paula at Lost in Translation

#ThursdaysSpecial

Clandestine Capture & Ancestor Sleuthing In Derbyshire: Thursday’s Special

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This was where I was last Thursday morning – not posting on Thursday’s Special, but trying to find a good spot on a field path outside Hathersage so I could photograph Callow Farm. This was the place where four generations of my Fox family ancestors were tenant farmers from around 1700 to 1892. Before that, during the late 1600s, they rented another Duke of Devonshire farm, The Oaks, up on the wilder heights of Offerton Moor, not far from Callow.

As you can see, the house (centre) is covertly situated, in the lee of the hill beside the wood. I had to use a lot of zoom, hence the hazy look, though such haziness is perhaps fitting for this piece of ancestral snooping. The more readily visible buildings on the right are the farm’s barns, now an upscale holiday let.

If you go to the previous post Stepping Stones Through Time you’ll find more of the story behind this photo. This was the reason why I  had hoped to cross the stepping stones, to achieve a closer view than this one. Ah well. Maybe next time.

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There’s still time to take part in last week’s Thursday’s Special. Paula says ‘Pick a word in September’. Choose from: populated, time-sensitive, companionable, burgeoning, clandestine, but first go and see her gallery of photos and be inspired.

#thursdaysspecial

 

Stepping Stones Through Time

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This photo may work better as an idea than as an actuality, but this week Paula at Black & White Sunday gives us the prompt of ‘layers’, and here (for me at least) there are many layers, not only of light and shadow, surface reflections and leafy river bed, but also of present and past, the stones that my maternal ancestors may well have stepped on for nearly two centuries.

So goes the family tale anyway, the story my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, passed on to my grandmother, Lilian Hickling, who passed it on to her daughter, my aunt, Miriam Wilkinson, who passed it on to me. The photo, then, could be taken as a physical rendition of Chinese Whispers since, and as with all such family histories, there are bound to be distortions as word passes from generation to generation – omissions, elaborations.

But there are certainties too.

Mary Ann was born and grew up at Callow Farm on the hill above the River Derwent, just outside Hathersage in the Derbyshire Peak District. (The field path from the farm house to the stepping stones is still marked on the Ordnance Survey map). And so in later life, perhaps as a young wife and mother living in the close and gloomy streets of industrial Manchester, she conjured her old life, telling her three town-born children how, if she wanted to go to the shops she would have to cross the Callow fields and take the stepping stones over the Derwent to Hathersage.

Other scraps of tales have also reached me: my grandmother’s pronouncement to my aunt that her mother was ‘a sad woman’ (she was widowed twice: at 30 and at 41); that the waft of her black silk dress as she moved about the inn that she kept after the death of her first husband carried the scent of lily of the valley to cover the smell of gin.

My feeling is that as a young woman, Mary Ann, called Merian by her family, was headstrong and passionate, and in consequence made bad decisions. At twenty she went against family wishes and married Thomas Shorrocks, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, and widower with a young son. How she met him is still a mystery to me, although I have my grandmother’s acid remark etched in my mind: that her mother fell for the first man she saw wearing a stove-pipe hat, that she was a country girl swept off her feet by a townie. Grandmother said she scarcely knew her father, intimating that he kept away from home until they were asleep, staying on at his works or at his club. In 1893-4 his family firm went bankrupt, and he died aged 39.

Mary Ann’s first married home on Kildare Street, Bolton – a modest terraced villa with a small front garden – was a far cry from the sweeping high moors vistas around Callow. She did have a servant girl, however, to help with the children, but it is hard to imagine how she adapted to the dramatic change in circumstances. Did she try to fit in? Probably not. Grandmother related that the ever darkly clad Bolton women looked askance at Mary Ann’s bright print dresses. In my mind’s eye I see the colourful flash of free-spirited obstinacy that brought her to that place. It’s like the light flickering through the trees and onto the Derwent stepping stones.

The death of Mary Ann’s first husband coincided with her father’s decision to leave Callow Farm where his family had been tenant farmers for four generations. Derbyshire farmers were having a hard time in the early 1890s: prices for crops were low, and rents were high, and landowners unwilling to compromise on the rents. It seems likely that some of the proceeds of the farm sale of stock, crops, horses and household belongings were used to secure the licence for the inn in Hollinfare, Cheshire, where Mary Ann began a new life as innkeeper.

My aunt said the Fox family had decided that taking the inn was the best means of securing a home and living for her with three young children and an adolescent stepson. It  stood on the south bank of the great Manchester Ship Canal, which linked the vast industrial heartland of northwest England with the port of Liverpool. It was only recently opened in 1895 when she took over the inn, and doubtless the Foxes thought they had made a wise move, anticipating plenty of passing trade.

Mostly what it brought, it seems, was another marriage to another widower – one Charles Rowles, a ship’s pilot on the canal and a former sea captain. My grandmother disliked him, although she adored her young stepbrother, Giles, born a year later. She said that it was only once her mother had married, that Charles Rowles produced two teenage daughters from his first marriage, the said young women moving into the inn and thereafter trying to rule the roost. This would not have gone down well with my grandmother. If there was any ruling of roosts to be done, she was the person to do it.

For various reasons I’ve tried to discover more about the Rowles family. Scouring the census returns, I discovered that it rather looks as if Mary Ann’s younger brother, George Fox, eloped with one of his sister’s new stepdaughters. Louisa Rowles was possibly only 15 when she married George, although she claimed to be older. He owned a large pub in Manchester, but she, too, was left a young widow, and in the 1911 census is listed as a servant, working in another Manchester pub. What happened to her remains to be discovered.

As for Mary Ann, in 1905 she was widowed for the second time after ten years of marriage, and she herself died at the age of 46. So, as grandmother said, a sad woman indeed. As I took this photograph, these were some of the thoughts running through my head. It is all too easy to look back to Mary Ann’s growing up at Callow Farm and see a rosy past. It’s how we tend to view things: the glamour of an imagined rural idyll – the stepping stones back to happier days. I had hoped to be able to cross here too, and get a closer view of the farm, but there had been a heavy rainfall in the night and there was too much water in the river to attempt to cross without rubber boots and a stout stick. A quest, then, for another time? Perhaps.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox of Callow b.1863

Mary Ann Fox (1863-1909) sometime before her marriage, and before her father sold her pony. He had threatened to do this if she persisted in jumping the farm gate on horseback. She did not listen.

Copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

 

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B & W Sunday ~ Stronghold ~ The Telling Of Family Tales

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Most families tell tales about their origins: legends of high-born connections, of inheritances lost or missed-out on, of forebears famous or notorious somewhere in the family tree. These stories, the ideas of who we are become strongholds of sorts; a defence against times when others make us feel ‘not good enough’, or just plain dull.

I seem to remember when I was eight or nine telling one very competitive school friend, and as a piece of deliberate one-upmanship on my part, that one of my ancestors was a well known poet and buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Mother had told me so.

Indeed, Mother told me lots of family stories about her Derbyshire Fox and Bennett antecedents, and because a) she still had her own childhood interpretation of what her own mother had said, and b) was framing them in a way she thought I would also understand, the ensuing narrative, much like Chinese Whispers, came out more than a little garbled. In other words, our family connection to the poet ancestor is probably so much tosh.

From time to time I have little delving sessions on the internet in a bid to clear up the maternal myths, and last year came across two fellow searchers into the Fox family of Derbyshire’s High Peak. It turned out we were each descended from three siblings William, Robert and Deborah Fox, all born at Callow Farm in the manor of Highlow, in the 1770s. And it’s odd, but I find I treasure this present-day, albeit tenuous blood connection, almost more than anything I might find out about our mutual family past. I mean, well, who would have thought it; without the internet, we never would have found each other.

The Fox siblings’ father, George Fox, came from many generations of farmers. Over the years the family appears to have owned several pieces of land in the parishes of Hathersage, Longshaw, Eyam and Abney (one was a sheep run, others were possibly both farms and lead mine workings), but the Foxes, certainly in recent centuries, were mostly the tenants, first of the Eyres at Highlow Hall (pictured above), and later of the Dukes of Devonshire who came to rule much of Derbyshire from their own dynastic stronghold of Chatsworth.

If the Eyre name rings bells, well it is true (just to add another story thread) that Charlotte Bronte was staying with her friend Ellen Nussey in Hathersage in 1845, around the time she was writing Jane Eyre. Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall is said to be drawn from another Eyre family stronghold, North Lees Hall. She and Ellen went visiting there. Other local features are also present in the book, including Hathersage itself, which was apparently the model for Morton, the village where Jane Eyre ends up after running away from Edward Rochester.

My Fox ancestors, it seems, were also good storytellers – fact mixed seamlessly with fiction. When Robert Fox’s son, my great, great grandfather George Brayley Fox was forced to sell up his possessions at Callow Farm in 1892, this piece appeared in the Derbyshire Courier:

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

My own feeling about this ancestral yarn is that it was a bit of a face-saving exercise for a family that had indeed been part of the local scene for generations. Some of the details may well be based on some misremembered version of reality. Early medieval charters of the 12th and 13th centuries certainly have Foxes farming in pretty much the same location. Now, I and my two fellow Fox hunters are trying to tease the facts from the myths.

But one thing I do know (because I have the photo), my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, rode her pony along the winding lane from Callow Farm. She would have ridden past Highlow Hall on one of her regular missions. Grandmother said she went to Chatsworth Hall to deliver the farm tithe in eggs to the Duke of Devonshire. Here she is c1880s in her late teens, before she was silly enough to run off with a Manchester spindle manufacturer and, at thirty, end up the widow of a bankrupt with three young children and a stepson to support:

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And here is Callow farmhouse, the photo taken by a family researcher in the 1970s. It sits on a hillside below Highlow Hall, and looks down on the River Derwent and the small town of Hathersage. If there is a house of 1391 here, as the newspaper article suggests, then it is very well hidden inside a very much later exterior:

Callow Farm, Hathersage c 1970s

But if I said that these images and family tales have not affected how I see myself, then this would not be true, although it is only recently that I have seen this. For some reason, too, in my later years, these particular maternal ancestors seem to mean more to me.

The thing that speaks most loudly is not so much the gentry connections – real or imagined – but the sense of landscape, of the bleak uplands, the rugged scarps of millstone grit, the arcane, but tough world of lead-mining in which all classes toiled from the Eyres downwards; the fact that men and women worked so hard in this land, lived on oat cakes and homemade butter, cheese and ale, reared often very large families, and (in a surprising number of cases) lived into their eighties and nineties.

Somehow the more I uncover of my ancestors’ world, the more it becomes my stronghold, the mental hinterland wherein I am truly rooted.  I stand up more strongly, look out across those moors with their prehistoric stone circles, and ancient burial cairns, the stone walls, and the sheep fields. The wind is in my face. My gaze broadens and lengthens. It is like standing on top of the world, looking down the endless spiral of time of which I am a part, and forever will be.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Reference: For more about the Peak District

Black & White Sunday: Stronghold  Go here to Paula’s to her and others’ strongholds