What Sixth Great Uncle William Fox Had In His House And On The Farm In 1710

Stocking frame  in William Fox inventory 1710



Oh the thrill of finding a will and household inventory belonging to a long-dead ancestor. This particular find lists the possessions of one William Fox, a farmer, who died in Great Hucklow, Derbyshire in December 1710. The village itself is little more than a hamlet and sits below Hucklow Edge between Tideswell, Bradwell and Foolow. It is a sparsely peopled land of pasture, dry stone walls, bleak moorland, ancient trackways, Neolithic burial mounds and lead.

The lead vein both outcrops and then runs deeply into Hucklow Edge and has been mined since at least the 1300s when the area was ruled by monks. Many of my Bennet ancestors worked (and farmed) on this lead field from at least the 17th century. The Fox family, too, like most High Peak farmers, also had interests in or connections with lead mines.

Map bradwell-great-hucklow-highlow-map


This particular great uncle (if the Fox hunt sleuthing is on the right track) is one of too many William Foxes in my Derbyshire ancestry. Evidence suggests he was born in 1667, son of William and Elizabeth Fox who were tenant farmers at the Oaks, an isolated farm on the Highlow Estate near Hathersage. He had an elder brother, Robert Fox, a yeoman farmer and lead miner in Foolow, between Great Hucklow and Eyam, a few miles from the Oaks.

Photos kindly supplied by Geograph, and may be reused subject to this creative commons usage licence Oaks Farm


In 1689 William married local lass, Mary Hoyle. The record at Hope Church says they are both ‘of Highlow,’ as do the baptismal  records for their first and second/third child: Sara (1690) and George (1693). It is impossible to know from these vague references whether William stayed at the Oaks after his marriage, or took up the tenancy of another Highlow farmstead. But by 1699, when Robert is born, the family is at Callow Farm and the christening is in Hathersage rather than at Hope. Then there is a gap in definite records until 1707 when William, the couple’s last child is born at Callow. Somewhere in between, Mary and Martha (possibly a 1702 baptism at Hathersage) were born.  Also in 1707 Mary Fox’s widowed mother dies at Callow.

That’s a lot of family in one farmhouse. And that’s possibly not all. I also suspect William’s niece Mary, and nephew William could have been living there too. In his 1699  will (written in 1690) Robert Fox of Foolow had entrusted the care of his four children to his ‘well beloved brother William Fox the younger of Oaks’ and brother-in-law, Thomas Mower.

In any event, some time shortly after 1707, it looks as if William and Mary Fox moved to Great Hucklow, leaving  William’s nephew, William Fox (5th great grandfather) to take over the tenancy at Callow. In 1711 the Callow William then married and had his first child, also named William, and so began the Fox dynasty at Callow farm.

P1080998 Callow Farm


But  back to the will and inventory. What can they tell us about the lives of William and Mary and their six children after they moved to Great Hucklow (actual home location unknown apart from the use of a barn and grazing on Stanley Moor)?

W Fox Gt Hucklow will 1710

William was around 43 years old when the will was made. The content is notable for the lack of standard clerical waffle. Unusually, it also omits William’s station or occupation in life, e.g. husbandman, yeoman, miner, gentleman etc. In fact he may have written it himself.  He certainly signs and seals it, thereby leaving all his goods to his wife and executrix, Mary, on the ‘condishon’ she will pay all his debts and manage the funeral arrangements. He then leaves the equivalent of £25 to each of his six children, to be received when they reach the age of twenty one. It perhaps reflects on his state of health that he initially omits son Robert from the list of his children’s bequests, and pops him in right at the end.

Now for the inventory. The appraisers were usually two or more neighbours, and inventories were made for the purposes of proving wills.

To begin with, it should be said that William Fox was not exactly a poor man. His clothes and money in his purse amounted to  £4, around £400 in today’s values. He was quite well turned out then. Also his household goods and farm stock were assessed at £135 10s 5d which according to the National Archives currency converter was equivalent in value to £14,000 – or 1500 days’ wages for a skilled tradesman.

Wm Fox 1711 Inventory page 1 top third

The inventory also gives us an idea of the sort of house the family was living in (and I’m assuming the house and farmland were rented from some big landowner e.g. the Bagshaws). Four specific rooms are mentioned: the house, which is the main living area or hall in the medieval sense of the word, the parlour, and the two upstairs chambers. So we are basically talking about a yeoman’s dwelling of the ‘middling sort’, two large rooms downstairs, and two rooms above, probably stone built as most High Peak houses are. Or if it was an old cottage, possibly half-timbered atop low stone walls.

The furniture listed in the house/living room includes a cupboard, 3 tables, 2 benches, 2 dozen cushions, 8 chairs, a long settle, and a small table, three trestle tables. There is a cooking hearth with a range and two spits, 4 iron pots, a brass pot, a kettle, skillet, saucepan and a warming pan, scales and weights and a lantern. The family had 20 pewter dishes, 5 plates and 18 spoons for eating. There were assorted tankards and beakers for the drinking of ale (most probably brewed at home).

The parlour served as both a place for private business and as the master bedroom. This was customary into the 18th century. William and Mary’s parlour includes a bed with bedding, four tables and, most fascinating of all – ‘a frame for weaving of stockings’. This would have been a highly valuable item and its presence perhaps surprising in an isolated Derbyshire community.

The stocking frame

The stocking frame was invented in 1589 by Nottinghamshire vicar, William Lee – apparently to save his wife the labour of hand knitting this most essential foot wear (worn by both sexes and all classes). He tried to patent his revolutionary device, but successive English monarchs, including Elizabeth 1, to whom he gave a personal demonstration, and James 1, would not countenance putting the hand-knitters out of business. Lee tried his luck in France, but the enterprise failed. He died in 1610 and the frames were repatriated and sold in London. It wasn’t until late that same century that frame knitting took off, first in London, but later back in Nottinghamshire where the technology began.

The frames, being costly items, were usually bought by wealthy businessmen who hired them out to knitters, while also providing the yarn and buying back the finished product.

But it seems the Foxes owned their own frame since it appears on the inventory (?).  Three pairs of stockings at 5 shillings are listed among the upstairs goods. That’s about £9 a pair. So it seems likely that this was more than the means of domestic self-sufficiency, but a significant family business. It was usual too for the women of the house to spin wool and then weave cloth for family use; 14 yards of woollen cloth (‘stuff’) is also listed along with the stockings.

Wm Fox 1711 Inventory page 1 bottom


The chamber over the house looks to have been the Fox childrens’ sleeping quarters, and a place for household storage. There are four beds with coverlets and a ‘bed hilling’ (quilt or eiderdown); 6 pairs each of blankets and sheets plus pillows, towels and other linen. There is ‘one great ark’, i.e. a large storage chest, and 5 cheeses. (Cheese and oat cakes – an oatmeal pancake made from fermented batter were staple Derbyshire fare). There is also a cloak bag, used by travellers on horseback, and a pillion seat.

And here it is the pillion seat that particularly caught my attention. Further down the inventory we can see that the family had two mares, essential  means of transport in the Derbyshire uplands before the advent of turnpike roads. The pillion was a padded saddle, either used by a wife riding on the same horse behind her husband, or for riding alone. Either way she would of course be riding side-saddle. From at least Elizabethan times, the pillion included two pommels for hooking the legs securely and enabling the rider to jump obstacles.

My only photo of Callow 2nd great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, shows her pillion-equipped and wearing a rather smart riding habit. Legend has it that 3rd great grandfather George, confiscated her pony because she persistently disobeyed him by jumping the five bar gate at the end of Highlow Lane instead of stopping to open it. Here she is some time in the late 1870s/early 1880s.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox of Callow b.1863

Mary Ann Williamson Fox born at Callow Farm in 1863


Moving on to the chamber over the parlour we find a motley collection of possessions, including 66 trenchers. These were the square wooden plates that most people ate from before pewter came along for those who could afford it. It’s interesting that they are being kept. There is also a desk, another storage chest and 3 more cheeses, a salting vat and several lids and measures, scales and weights, corn and coal sacks.

Now out on the farm.

The first items on the list are ‘3 stocks of bees’.

bee skeps wikipedia public domain image

Traditional bee hives or skeps. Public domain image Wikipedia


This item provides several insights into the Fox family’s household management. Bee keeping was a highly skilled activity, and therefore not as common as might be supposed. The swarms were kept in baskets called skeps. It’s important to note here that the inventory was taken at the end of December, and that the presence of ‘three stocks of bees’ implies live bees. However, at the time it seems that only highly competent bee keepers kept their swarms through the winter since to do so involved the painstaking and likely painful operation of moving the swarm to a new skep so that the year’s store of honey and wax could be harvested from the old skep.

Due to the hazards involved, it was more usual for keepers to kill their bees (by digging a pit and placing the skep over burning sulphur paper which gassed them). The skep contents could then be drained, strained and stored, and a new skep prepared in  hopes of capturing a passing swarm the following spring (also a hazardous pursuit).

Crops and animals

There seems to be a considerable stock of oats in a barn on Stanley Moor, around £2,000 worth in modern terms. Also a good amount of hay. There are 4 cows, 2 bullocks, 2 pigs, 4 calves on Stanley Moor, 2 calves at the farmstead (presumably to ensure the cows kept producing milk), and 30 sheep.

Farm equipment includes a cheese press (an essential item), 3 carts with harness, ‘all husbandry gear’, and ‘all hustlements’ which is a handy (if annoying) term covering ‘the usual odds and ends’  not considered by the appraisers to be worthy of individual listing.

Finally there is list of debts owed and payments due.

Wm Fox 1711 Inventory part3


There is nothing obvious in the inventory to suggest William Fox was engaged in lead mining, though he does have three carts and two lots of weights and measures. On the other hand, his brother was a yeoman farmer-miner in nearby Foolow, and owned the rights to several lead rakes at the time of writing his will in 1690. Farmers, as free miners, operated under the jurisdiction of the barmote courts, which were answerable to the monarch under the auspices of the Duchy of Lancaster, and they often had claims to mineral rights on or near their farms, working them in the winter months when there was no other farm work. Some farmers also provided transport services, shifting ore to local smelting mills.

Otherwise, these brief documents of William Fox’s worldly possessions give a picture of busy and enterprising farming life – not rich by any means, yet with all necessities well covered; the potential to live well enough and maybe make some money too.

And so what happened to Mary and her family after William’s death in 1710?

Skimming the Hope parish records provides a few glimpses, the first being another sad event following William’s death. In April 1711 George died. He was 18 years old. Then in September 1712 there’s a marriage between Sara Fox and Joshua Marshall, and in 1714 in Great Hucklow this same couple have a son, Thomas. This could well be Mary’s eldest daughter. Robert, the last remembered in his father’s will, married Sarah Bagshaw in June 1724 at Bakewell (both of Great Hucklow) and then lived a long life, dying twenty years a widower at the age of 86.

I’ve found no further records relating to Mary and Martha after their mention in the 1710 will, but the youngest brother William appears in a legal document drawn up by his mother Mary in 1731, not long before her death. In it she hands over to William all her worldly possessions in return for a yearly annuity of £5 paid to her at Michaelmas and on Lady Day. The agreement is signed and sealed by Mary, and proved by the delivery of a napkin to William. It’s annoying there isn’t an inventory accompanying this property transfer.

Presumably Mary continued to live in the family home with William. (He in fact only got married in the month following her death – a breach of decorum perhaps). And of course I’m itching to know more of her domestic circumstances after twenty years a widow. Was she the careful bee keeper in the family? Was it she who worked the stocking frame? Or rode the mare to Hope or Hathersage markets, taking the latest batch of stockings, carefully stowed in the cloak bag? We’ll never know. She died in Great Hucklow in November 1733, aged 67,  and was buried some miles away in the quietness of Hope churchyard along with a host of ancestors and the rolling Derbyshire uplands all around.

St Peter's Church, Hope

Derbyshire uplands

copyright Tish Farrell 2022

More Ancestor Sleuthing In High Peak: The Hatter Of Smalldale . Robert Jackson . 1786-1857


You can waste spend hours, days, weeks pursuing long-dead forebears. I think we might call it obsessive compulsive distraction disorder. On the other hand, on the plus side,  the activity can present very particular lenses through which to glimpse hitherto unthought-of aspects of our past. But more of this later.

In the meantime, my current pursuit has turned up a host of great grand elders, down to the 10th generation, the result of following only one branch of a great great grandmother’s tree. She, by the way, was Mary Ann Bennett of Bradwell, married to George Brayley Fox of Callow Farm, Highlow. And one of the odd things I’ve discovered is that her grandfather and the 4th great grandfather I never knew I had, one Robert Jackson, hat maker and native of the lead mining village of Smalldale, Bradwell (1786-1857) spent his last years as tenant of an isolated farm in the rugged uplands between Highlow Hall and Abney, a next door neighbour in fact of fellow Duke of Devonshire tenants, my Callow Fox farming ancestors.

Robert Jackson wasn’t alone at the Oaks. John and Mary, children from his second marriage to Hannah Eyre were living with him, both around the thirty age mark in the 1851 census. Whether their mother ever lived there is unknown. In 1841 the family still had the hat business in Smalldale, but by 1848 Hannah was dead, having seemingly died in another place altogether, several miles from either Oaks or Smalldale. I’ll come back to that.


Bradwell in the late 1800s


For geographical reference, the nearest city to High Peak is Sheffield, only a few miles north east of Hathersage (top right corner); Manchester to the north west:

Bradwell Grat Hucklow Highlow map


This next photo, looking across to Highlow from above Hathersage, shows the general lay of the land between Callow and The Oaks (Offerton Moor above Callow).

P1080998 Callow Farm

And a closer view of The Oaks farm taken from the web:

Photos kindly supplied by Geograph, and may be reused subject to this creative commons usage licence Oaks Farm

So: a remote quarter to hive off to after 60 odd years of living and working in the fume ridden, busy industrial environs of Smalldale and Bradwell. The lonely farm that the hatter took on was only 32 acres, presumably all grazing in that exposed location, and although it was by no means unusual for Derbyshire folk have at least two principal occupations: e.g. farming and lead mining; farming and butchery; farming and millstone cutting or scythe-making or joinery or running delivery services, the late-day switch from hat making to upland  stock-raising at first seems surprising.

But then what about the famous Bradda Beavers!

On the other hand, one of Robert’s mainstay hat lines would have been the Bradda Beaver, a sturdy, brimmed hat made from thickly felted sheep’s wool. Their manufacture began in Bradwell and Smalldale the 17th century, and for a time the export of this highly durable headgear to London for further shaping and finishing was extremely lucrative. The trade supported several Smalldale and Bradwell hat-making families over many generations (In particular the Evans and Middleton families).

The hats were also sold in large numbers to local miners since they were both water resistant and stalwart enough to support a tallow candle for deep-mine prospecting. Robert’s own father, Christopher Jackson, was a lead miner, but his mother, Sarah Middleton, may well have belonged to Smalldale’s hat-making Middleton dynasty, and perhaps it was through her that he took up hatting rather than mining.

Bradda Beaver Peak District Mining Museum

Bradda Beaver Photo: Peak District Mining Museum


The Bradda Beaver in the photo is a rare survival and now to be found in the Peak District Mining Museum in Matlock. The felting process apparently involved many rounds of heavy labour – carding and steaming and planking the fleeces. It is likely, then, that Robert Jackson knew his sheep. It is also likely, in the face of declining business, that he wished to secure the farm tenancy with his son’s future in mind. And sure enough, after Robert died in 1857, the records show that John remained at the Oaks until his own death in 1888.

Interestingly, father and son both put this address on their respective gravestones: ‘The Oaks, Highlow’, albeit in different graveyards (Great Hucklow and Hope). It makes me wonder if there isn’t just a touch of ‘social climbing’ by association – even in death? Highlow with its gentry and aristocratic connections was a location with cachet – both of status and romance. And there was always the annual tenants’ ball at Chatsworth to attend. Family legend has it that one year, around her eighteenth birthday, my Great Grandmother opened the ball with the Duke of Devonshire.

But back to gravestones and other odd discoveries.


In the midst of ancestor searching a week or so ago my external hard drive died. It was while I was trying to assess the extent of file loss that I came across the photo above, taken several years ago on a ramble round Derbyshire. For some reason I’d opted to go to the small hamlet of Great Hucklow, halfway along the lane between The Oaks and Bradwell. I’d  simply wanted to get the gist of the village where I knew Fox family members had been lead prospecting in the early 18th century.

When we got there it was all surprisingly rural and, in search of something particular to explore, we’d ending up pottering around the redundant Methodist Chapel’s tiny burial ground, and that’s when I found this prominently placed stone, thought the addition of the Oaks address noteworthy as I also knew the Callow Foxes had farmed there in the 17th century, and so taken the stone’s photo. It is thus rather strange to now find I’d had passing ‘communion’ with the remains of an actual ancestor, though why he and Hannah chose to be buried there is a mystery. Until that point, as far as I have discovered, all family rites had taken place in Church of England parish churches; but now here was a non-conformist element (much in favour in mining communities). And what was Hannah’s connection with Great Hucklow. Had she died while visiting relatives there and her burial become a matter of some urgency?

Then I discovered Robert Jackson had left a will, which for the small sum of £1.50 could be ordered on line from the Government will and probate office. Often old wills are short on specifics, especially if there is a surviving wife. This one, though, threw up more surprising aspects, not least several bequests involving the former hatter’s ‘lead mines and shares in lead mines’. In other words he was leaving the rights, rents and income from a series of lead seams or rakes, along with barns and cow houses, in various named fields in Great Hucklow.

The beneficiaries apart from Mary and John, were ‘dear daughter Jenny Bennet’ from Robert Jackson’s first marriage, and ‘dear granddaughter Mary Ann Bennet,’ whose own mother, Hannah, Jackson’s eldest daughter from the first marriage, had died soon after giving birth. Jenny Bennett, as it turns out, was both Mary Ann’s aunt and her step-mother, having married her dead sister’s husband, Richard Bennett, lead miner of Bradwell, a year after Hannah’s death.

Phew! What a rigmarole. But presumably it was Jackson family proximity in Highlow that provided the opportunity for Gt Gt Grandmother Mary Ann Bennett to meet George Brayley Fox. She was only 22 when she married him at Hope in 1860, and he was pushing 40. Not only that, an elderly widowed Robert Fox was still head of the Fox family at Callow. He had lost his own Mary Ann back in 1845, she the locally named ‘London Lady’ of unknown origins whom he had wed by marriage bond at Southwell Minster, Nottingham in 1812.


At the time of the 1861 Callow census Robert Fox is 83. It is perhaps telling that the newly married George and Mary Ann are recorded as ‘domestic servants’ (shades of Wuthering Heights?) Mary Ann is probably about to produce her first child, and it seems more than likely that step-mother Jenny Bennett and daughter Harriet, who are named as visitors, are at Callow for this very good reason. When the first son arrives he is christened Robert Jackson Fox, so honouring both grandfathers.

And finally a Great War connection…

There’s surprising historical postscript to the Smalldale-Bradwell hatting business. It’s what I meant by those unexpected lenses through which we glimpse small and telling historical details. The trade in Bradda Beavers struggled on in the late 19th century. Only one Derbyshire company survived into the twentieth century. But then came 1914 and the horror of trench warfare and the pressing need for soldiers’ helmets. The earliest ones were made in the nearby steel-making city of Sheffield. I came across this account from Julie Bunting in The Peak Advertiser 14 Aug 1995:

Long after hat making ended in the Peak, the design of the old Bradda Beaver was resurrected in a manner which deserves wider recognition. It came about in the early days of the First World War when British soldiers at the front were in desperate need of suitable helmets. Research centred on the steel making city of Sheffield, where in 1915 Walter Sissons, of W. G. Sissons & Company, silversmiths, suggested a pattern to the Munitions Committee. The die for the prototype was made from a plaster cast of an old Bradda hat, taken by Walter Sissons junior, who lived in Bradwell. The pattern met with instant approval and the Trench Warfare Department placed an initial order for one million helmets at 4s 6d each.

Of course establishing a die for the first Sheffield production was only the start. The Tommy’s ‘tin hat’, also known as the Brodie helmet, underwent several modifications through the course of the war.

Alfreton War Memorial 1

Photo:  Sleeping Gardens: War Memorial ~ Alfreton, Derbyshire



And here are a few examples of Braddas as worn by some of the older members of the Bradwell Rake Head miners in the 1860s. (Photo: Bradwell Ancient and Modern 1912 by Seth Evans.)

Rights to mine for minerals in Derbyshire were held by the ruling monarch, a prerogative commonly known as the ‘King’s Fields’. These rights were mediated and overseen via rulings from the Barmasters and jurors of the Barmote Courts set up from 1288 at a number of locations across the lead field. I think it would be fair to say that lead miners did not care to answer to too many other people. There is still a surviving courthouse or Moot Hall in Wirksworth. Meetings are still held there. One way or another, besides the miners and their monarch, all social strata had some involvement in the lead trade during the heyday from the 17th to the early 19th centuries – dukes, gentry, parish priests, merchants, blacksmiths, joiners, lawyers, shopkeepers, candle makers, publicans, farmers…and yes…hatters.

Wirksworth Barmote Court 1814

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Related posts:

So what did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox keep in his barns in 1892?

Lost down the time-travelling rabbit hole with Great Great Aunt Sophia


Historical sources: census returns for Hathersage, Highlow, Eyam, Bradwell; records of Hope and Eyam Parish Churches; Robert Jackson’s will; Seth Evans Bradwell Ancient and Modern 1812

Lost Down The Time-Travelling Rabbit Hole With Great Great Aunt Sophia


A few weeks ago Su Leslie at Zimmerbitch and I made a bit of a pact to rid ourselves of excess paper files. Those of you who have followed her family history blog, Shaking The Tree,  will know, that on top of other talents, she is a genealogical super sleuth.  And I suppose this was in my mind when I said I’d make a start by pruning my own family history archive –  reduce copies (as in multiple) of documentary evidence, masses of scribbled notes and dead-end enquiries, and render them down to understandable brief storylines.

It seemed like a good idea.

Except it wasn’t.

First I should say that, due to the virus, our library service has given us Shropshire folk free access to two family history sites. I had forgotten this until suddenly, here was the chance to check a few things. And so the inevitable happened: the intention to junk became an impulse to add. I began musing about Great Great Aunt Sophia, born 1814 at Callow Farm in Hathersage, Derbyshire, the second daughter of Robert Fox, farmer and (illegal) pugilist, and Mary Ann Williamson, of origins unknown, though apparently born (not in Derbyshire) around 1788, and locally referred to as ‘the London Lady’. They married by bond at Southwell Cathedral, Nottingham in 1812, Robert Fox pledging £200 that there were no impediments to their union; his fellow bondsman one Benjamin Torr, button manufacturer from Hathersage.


Sophia had plenty of her own mysteries. One is how in the 1880s she came to be living at the remote Scraper Low Farm (header photo) with her second husband, William Lister, a retired Sheffield silver stamper (Sheffield, West Yorkshire, long being a centre for the manufacture of silver goods and only a few miles over the Yorkshire-Derbyshire border from Scraper Low and Hathersage).

The other is why on every official document – whenever she was given the chance, she lied about her age. Even in her seventies she knocked off seven years for the benefit of the 1891 census enumerator. Yet this was nothing compared to the de-aging coup she effected on her marriage to Mr. Lister in 1881. They were both widowers in their late sixties, but the marriage licence they both signed has her down as 52 – fifteen years disappeared. Just like that. Well!

And in case you think this might have been a clerical error, or researcher misreading, she repeated the trick that same year. The 1881 census entry for the Listers ‘living behind’ 36, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, clearly states that Sophia Lister, born at Callow, was 52 while her new husband was 68.

And so I’m thinking if she could get away with that, either Mr. Lister was a touch myopic, which perhaps might be the case after decades in silver working. Or: she must have been blessed with very resilient skin. And indeed, the tale that talks of her mother ‘The London Lady’ does make a point of mentioning the refined features that Mary Ann Williamson, the supposedly well-born wife of a fist-fighting farmer, passed on to her offspring. Which of course only adds to the mystery. My further thought is that a fine complexion is not necessarily an asset to the daughters of a Derbyshire High Peak farmer. Conditions can be pretty bleak up there. I am guessing that Mary Ann may have discovered this to her cost. She herself died at 57 – of ‘general dropsy’. Seven children survived her, and their ‘fighting Fox’ father lived to be 84.


Sophia had three sisters and three brothers. They were born between 1813 and 1829, and all lived into late middle age and older, apart from the last born, Robert, who died in his thirties. The girls, I know, were literate, since they sign their own names in practised hands on official documents. The three eldest certainly worked for a living, each one in the households of wealthy industrialists or merchants.

In 1851 Louisa, the third born, was cook in the grand London home of a Jamaica merchant and later went on to be housekeeper (a job that required much financial and people management) in even grander surroundings – the country and town homes of Robert Williams MP: Bridehead House in Dorset and Brunswick Terrace, Hove. All of which suggests to me that Mary Ann Williamson Fox, ‘the London Lady’ had trained her daughters well, and/or had some useful connections, and/or acted in the knowledge that they would need to earn their own living far away from farm life?

Louisa never married. She died of bronchitis in her 60s. The eldest sister, Mary Ann, was 29 when she married John Andrew, a carrier by trade, twenty years her senior. They married in Glossop, Derbyshire, a busily industrializing mill town between Sheffield and Manchester. According to the 1841 census Mary Ann had been working there, in the household of the Bennett family – cotton spinners and paper manufacturers. Sophia was at Callow in 1841, but ten years later she was in Stalybridge, Cheshire, in one of the brand new mansions of the Harrison cotton master dynasty. Here she took the opportunity to lose seven years.

Sophia Fox West Hill House

The next time she surfaces in the records it is 1857. She is 43, a spinster, the banns are being read in Glossop and she is marrying Derbyshire bachelor farmer, John Brocklehurst, 44. He signs the register with a cross. The farm, 37 acres, was worked by John on the death of his father John Brocklehurst. His widowed mother and two quarrymen brothers were also living there in 1851, though none of them were there by 1861. The farm, known only as Eastmeats, seems remote, near Chinley, on the edge of Glossop parish near Chapel-en-le-Frith. One wonders how Sophia even met the man. After her position at West Hill, it seems she had moved to Dunham, Chester (work place unknown) but this is the address on the banns and marriage licence.

But then comes another odd thing. In the next two censuses (1861 and 1871)  John Brocklehurst states he is married, and on both occasions while there is an entry for the dairy maid and household servant, Eleanor Jones from Anglesey, there is no sign or mention of Sophia Brocklehurst – either at Eastmeats or anywhere!

John Brocklehurst is dead by 1880, and the following year Sophia is marrying widower, William Lister, both then living at Norfolk Street, Sheffield, a busy cutlery making and electro-plating district. In different censuses William is either at 20 Norfolk Street or ‘behind 36 Norfolk Street.’ Number 36 was the Sheffield Club, custom-constructed in 1862 as a dining club for local businessmen, and paid for by its members – steel manufacturers, silver-platers, cutlers and solicitors. It is hard to work out from various censuses, but it seems the Club was built against a row of existing small properties, and the enumerator uses the Club as a means of pinpointing their location. The 1871 census has several households, including William and his first wife Ann Hawke, listed under the single page heading ‘Norfolk Street Club’. But in another (as will be seen) critical record of 1876, the Listers’ address is recorded as 20 Norfolk Street.

Sophia Fox Sheffield Club

The Sheffield Club, 36, Norfolk Street, copyright Sheffield City Council


And so to Scraper Low. I know the Listers’ move to this remote small farm on the high moors above Hathersage happened after the 1881 census. The Barton family were still farming it in that year. But move there they did, because this is where William Lister died in 1889. However you look at it, the Listers would have both been around seventy years of age by the time they took up farming. Even if they were in a position to employ a farm hard, it still seems a surprising decision.

Here is the farm again, this time in its isolated setting, Stanage Edge behind to the right:



And the easterly view from the farm: Over Owler Tor and Millstone Edge:



To the north and east: Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor:


I haven’t been able to find out much about the actual building, though it is listed and said to be an early 19th century remodelling of an 18th century range. Much of the moorland in the High Peak was grouse shooting ground owned from the early 19th century either by the Duke of Rutland and/or Devonshire, so I’m assuming the farm belonged to one or other major landowner, and was tenanted. That said, the early 19th century castellated makeover is bizarre. So another thought: perhaps it was done up to serve for a time as an aristocratic shooting-cum-hunting lodge?

The Barton family, who preceded the Listers, can’t have been at Scraper Low for long because they followed on George Grayson, who was only selling up in 1880. The auctioneer’s notice from the local paper that year gives a nice glimpse of the kind of farm it was:

IMG_0143 1880 auction

But what on earth were Sophia and William Lister thinking when they moved there: some dream of ending their days in a ruggedly remote fastness away from city living? William appears to have spent his entire working life in Sheffield’s silver trade, so perhaps he wanted a complete change (?) Also the marriage record does say that his father, George Lister, was a farmer in the Yorkshire village of Laughton en le Morthen where William was born. Obviously Sophia would have had some farming know-how, growing up at Callow. And then there were her twenty-three-year marriage to farmer John Brocklehurst.

Or was there?

A twist in the tale: four weddings, two funerals, one marriage duplicated, and two cases of bigamy?

Back to those 1861 and 1871  census returns for the Brocklehurst farm and that nagging query: where was Sophia?

Last week this thought had me finally tracking down John Brocklehurst’s will. And what a discovery that has turned out to be. Suddenly I seem to have evidence not only for one bigamous marriage but two. And if this weren’t surprise enough, I now have proof that Sophia married William Lister TWICE, first in 1876 as Sophia Fox (when she was still married to Brocklehurst) and then as Sophia Brocklehurst in 1881, and on both occasions sharing William’s address at Norfolk Street.

Meanwhile back at Eastmeats, John Brocklehurst’s will, drawn up in 1878 when he is around 65 years old, leaves all his possessions to widow Eliza Mottram, sole executrix. There is no mention of his wife Sophia in the will:

I give devise and bequeath unto Eliza Mottram the widow of William Mottram of Chinley aforesaid farmer and who now resides with me all my real and personal effects…

Please note the particular wording of this document.

Eliza, a Glossop lass, was 40 years old when the will was written. She had married William Mottram, a widower, in 1872. Mottram was one of  John Brocklehurst’s Chinley neighbours, a farmer and quarryman, and had presumably died at least by 1878. I haven’t found a death record for him yet, but in 1881  Eliza ‘his widow’ inherits John Brocklehurst’s ‘less than one hundred pounds’. Two years on she marries William Potts who works at a Glossop calico printing works.

BUT that’s not all. Then I found there was a marriage record for Eliza Mottram and John Brocklehurst. They married in 1875 at which time Brocklehurst claimed to be a widower. So now the odd wording of the will makes more sense. Wills doubtless still had sacred connotations for those making them. They were not the place for lies and wrong doing. So: Eliza is sole beneficiary and executrix but is nowhere called his wife. She is specifically William Mottram’s widow ‘who now resides with me.’

What on earth is going on here?

Some new-found circumstantial evidence?

So it seems that Sophia Brocklehurst was ‘a bolter’, and John Brocklehurst a bigamist. There is no knowing when she left the farm, but the 1876 marriage licence certainly proves that she did, and that she had reverted to her maiden name and unmarried status. She is not at the farm on census days in 1861 and 1871 and John Brocklehurst married Eliza Mottram in 1875 claiming he was a widower. Yet both of Sophia’s marriage licences prove she was still living. And the second licence states:  Sophia Brocklehurst, daughter of Robert Fox, farmer of Callow marries William Lister, so there is no doubting that Sophia Fox 1876 and Sophia Brocklehurst 1881 are the same person .

So where has she been for twenty years?

I thought we were in brick-wall territory. Over the years I had trawled the censuses several times, and so had my fellow Fox family hunters. Then a chance find of a strangely transcribed 1861 entry on the free census site suddenly seemed to fit. Brookbottom, Mossley,  a mill village among the many mill villages between Saddleworth Moor and the Pennines (Sheffield to the east and Manchester to the west). There was an entry for Baguley Hill for one Sophia Fox, but on the original form it looks like ‘Fix’ and that’s how it had been transcribed. The birthplace said ‘Adersige’, Derbyshire.

Adersige? No such place, but hang on, say this out loud and you could have the phonetic spelling of a dialect pronunciation of Hathersage? The age given is 37 (9 years younger than Sophia actually was, but it still could be her given her age-altering antics – and I’m not done with those yet).

This Sophia Fox was keeping house for Giles Andrew Senior (retired master cotton spinner and mill owner) and Giles Andrew Junior who had taken over the family business. It may be simply a coincidence, but Andrew is Sophia’s eldest sister’s married name. I can’t find out much about her husband, John Andrew, carrier and later farmer, except that he also hails from traditional weaving territory in Greater Manchester’s Hollinwood, not far away from Brookbottom in Mossley. Perhaps the Brookbottom Andrews were relatives; perhaps John Andrew knew them through his carrier business and could recommend a sister-in-law who needed employment. Perhaps Sophia had good references from her cotton master employers in Stalybridge, also not very far away.

Mossley Martin Clark creative commons

Photo: Martin Clark public domain; Mossley where three counties meet: Cheshire, Lancashire and West Riding of Yorkshire, between the Pennines and Saddleworth Moor


Sophia map best

Sophia’s wanderings: Hathersage and Scraper Low first dot left of Sheffield (bottom right corner); Bradwell where she ended her days next dot left from Hathersage; third dot left of Sheffield is Chinley where John Brocklehurst farmed; Glossop where they married due north of Chinley; Stalybridge, Mossley, Manchester across the moors northwest of Glossop.


Once I’d decided that Sophia could have reverted to her Fox maiden name and unmarried status, I began to search the records in places where she might be in 1871. Her employer, Giles Andrew senior died in 1863, and in 1871 Giles Andrew junior was no longer at the place where she kept house on Baguley Hill. The only likely record (of two possibilities) to emerge from this next trawl was in Manchester. There I found a Sophia Fox, unmarried, 48, and staying in a Buxton Road lodging house. She says she is an unemployed housekeeper from Derbyshire. Might it not be her?

But back to some facts: and another case of bigamy

I know for certain that by 1876 Sophia is at 20 Norfolk Street with William Lister. (The first Mrs. Lister died the year before). They marry at St. Paul’s Church, Pinstone Street, and this time Sophia knocks 11 years off her age, says she is a spinster and signs herself Sophia Fox – the signature identical to the one on her 1857 marriage to Brocklehurst. At the time of the marriage she was already living at Norfolk Street with William Lister.

Sophia signature Brocklehurst

Sophia Fox signature Lister 1876

Sophia Fox signature Lister 2nd marriage 1881

Well for goodness sake!

Not only did Sophia marry William Lister twice, she did so as ‘spinster’ Sophia Fox, daughter of Robert Fox, farmer of Callow while she was still married to John Brocklehurst. And then after he died and his small estate was settled on Eliza Mottram, Sophia must have wanted to put things right, and so re-married William as Sophia Brocklehurst widow, daughter of Robert Fox farmer (deceased) of Callow, but this time in Sheffield Cathedral. She also took the chance to lose 4 more years since her first marriage to Lister.

You have to wonder if William Lister ever did find out how old Sophia actually was.  Also did he collude in the bigamous marriage, or did it come as a shock, and it was he who insisted on making amends? Did Sophia know about Brocklehurst’s marriage to Eliza Mottram in 1875? Had she come to some agreement with him – that they would both keep quiet, she pretending she had never married, he pretending that she had died?

William Lister died in 1889, aged 76. He seems to have left no will, but was buried with his first wife in Burngreave Cemetery in Sheffield. The 1891 census has Sophia in Water Lane, Bradwell, a lead-mining village some miles from Hathersage. She is listed as living on her ‘own means’. In 1892 in her 78th year and a matter of days before her own death of acute bronchitis, her will is drawn up. She is clearly too ill to sign it with more than ‘her mark’. She leaves everything to her two brothers, George Brayley Fox of Callow, (my great great grandfather), and his younger brother, William.

In 1893 there is an unseemly court case in Bakewell County Court. William’s wife Sarah claims she has not received some expected sum of money for expenses accrued while taking care of ‘their sister’ Sophia during her illness. The newspaper details are brief but garbled, though they do mention the selling up of Scraper Low and of William Fox having the land valued, so perhaps the Listers did own the farm (?)

In any event Sophia’s estate was valued at £99, 16 shillings and 1 penny, hardly a fortune.

The scant records of her life could suggest that Sophia Fox was capricious, vain, even criminally dishonest. But I think she was loved too. If William Lister did not know she was already married when he first married her, he surely knew the second time when he married widow, Mrs. Brocklehurst. Sister Mary Ann, and brother George both named daughters after her. And in her last days it seems she was cared for, this in a year when much was going wrong for her brother George at Callow, and indeed for all Derbyshire farmers who complained of high rents and low returns from their labours.

When I told my sister Jo of these discoveries, her first thought was that Sophia was free spirit in an age when women were still much hemmed in by convention. I like this notion, but I sense darker currents too.

Two Septembers ago when Graham and I walked up the long track to Scraper Low Farm, I again wondered why Sophia had chosen this particular place to settle. It was only when we turned away from the house to retrace our steps that I think I found the answer. At the point where the track dog-legs back towards the road, there is a magnificent view across Hathersage’s Derwent valley. I could see Callow Barns (now a holiday let) where we were staying. Callow Farmhouse itself was now hidden by trees, but I could spot the two conifers at its back gate. P1080999

I remembered too that before the hifalutin Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire took over the moors east of Scraper Low, and went in for swapping parcels of land between them, it was said that the Fox family had long had a sheep run at Longshaw just beyond Millstone Edge and extending across the moors to Higger Tor. It was said too that in their day Sophia’s great grandparents, William and Sarah Fox,  had grazed 500 sheep there and that their son George built the shepherd’s cottage that was later bought and expanded by the Duke of Rutland to use when he came to Longshaw to shoot. That property still stands, and is the well known local hostelry of Fox House Inn. Further snippets of family legend say that the George Fox who built the original cottage there sold the sheep walk to the Duke of Devonshire for £200 in around 1810.


So perhaps after all her wanderings – a life wherein she had not achieved the kind of social status she thought she deserved – Sophia Fox of Callow had come back, at the last lap, briefly mistress of her own domain, looking out on the farm where she was born and over all the high places of her farming ancestors.


copyright 2020 Tish Farrell


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

In Search Of Lost Time In Eyam And An Outbreak Of Plague


This very unusual wall sundial is to be found above the Priest’s Door on the east side of Eyam parish church in Derbyshire. It dates from 1775, and was designed and made locally. I discovered it when were in the village doing a spot of family history research – not researching in any organised way I might add – more a matter of walking ancestral paths and acquiring a sense of place. Eyam is anyway a village with an awful lot of history, not least the story of how its inhabitants dealt with an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666 by imposing a cordon sanitaire around the village boundary, and for over a year sticking to it so as not to spread the disease to neighbouring communities.

Over the fourteen months that the outbreak persisted, 280 out of the 800 population died. It is thought the infection arrived in a parcel of fabric, sent in late summer from London to the Eyam tailor, Alexander Hadfield. The package was opened by his assistant, George Viccars, and it was he who was the first to fall ill and die. Thereafter, the disease spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowed over the winter, and returned in full force in the following spring and summer. In the worst month of August 1666 seventy eight villagers died.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine was managed by the young village rector, Reverend William Mompesson, and Nonconformist minister Reverend Thomas Stanley. It was agreed that every household would bury their own dead and, in a bid to  maintain morale and give comfort to survivors, church services were held in the open air so people could gather together, but not too closely. Local landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, and others from neighbouring villages saw that supplies of food and other necessities were left at the village boundary.

It is a harrowing episode that demonstrates great human resilience and bravery, not least by the Reverend Mompesson, whose own wife was among the last victims. And today, as you wander around the village, the event continues to be marked by commemorative plaques outside the cottages that were once the homes of the families who were particularly afflicted.

It could seem mawkish, crass even, to make a visitor attraction from this horrific episode, but somehow it isn’t. The village quietly embraces you in a reflection on shared humanity – now and back through time.  In fact the sun dial says it all: Induce animum sapientum –  cultivate an enquiring mind. And then on the two supporting stone corbels, which you can’t quite read in the photo: ut  umbra sic vita – life passes like a shadow.

I especially like the way that when it is noon in Eyam, the sundial shows the relative times in Calicut, Mecca and Panama, to name but a few of the far-flung places inscribed on the dial. It also includes a chart for longitudinal adjustments of local True Sun Time to Greenwich meantime, and throughout the year. Somehow it is uplifting to feel that in this isolated Derbyshire village, and over the centuries, the gaze of its inhabitants has extended to a world beyond its village boundaries.

So far I haven’t mentioned why we were visiting Eyam or explained presumed family links with this locality. Researches into the Fox family of Callow in Hathersage (covered in other posts) suggest that a possibly direct ancestor, one Robert Fox, yeoman farmer and lead miner, was living in the area between 1678 and 1699. I have a copy of his will and household inventory, so I know he owned 13 cushions and several field beds in one or more parlours. There were no Fox plague victims in Eyam, although Robert Fox’s second wife, Margaret Mower, had lost an uncle, Rowland Mower. His will is included in the 1842 book by local historian, William Wood, The History and Antiquities of Eyam ~ with a full and particular account of the Great Plague.

The Fox family connection is all a bit of a yarn, which may never be unravelled. So for now some more views of the village:P1050536

Eyam Parish Church and its 8th century Saxon Cross complete with Celtic influences.








This is Eyam Hall, very much post-plague, and built between 1671-6 and incorporating a much smaller existing property in the heart of the village. Its builders were newcomers, the land-owning-merchant Wright family, and their arrival signified revival, and an increasing interest in developing the lead mining potential the area. Landowners large and small were keen to exploit this highly valued mineral. And although lead had been mined across Derbyshire since Roman times, there is almost a ‘gold rush’ feel about the exploitative zeal from the late 17th century.

It is possible that post-plague opportunities around Eyam attracted the likes of putative ancestor, Robert Fox. My band of fellow Fox-hunters has not been able to establish if he was an incomer or if there were existing family connections with Eyam. His father was a tenant farmer at The Oaks, near Highlow, a few miles away, and he and Robert’s brothers may also have been involved in the lead business,  possibly smelting.

Robert owned four small parcels of lead-bearing land in Foolow, two of which adjoined Wright land. When he thought he was dying in 1691 and wrote his will, he was very concerned to make it clear he had ownership of them, and that the proceeds of his property should be managed by his brother and brother-in-law for the upbringing and education of his four children – James, William, Mary and Robert. In fact he did not die until 1699, and it is not clear what happened to his family. We think the eldest James became a shoemaker in Eyam, and that Robert was possibly a very successful joiner in Wirksworth, the lead mining capital of Derbyshire. William is the one we have our eye on as the possible ancestor for the Callow Foxes, but his baptismal record has so far proved elusive, which is most annoying when we know that his three siblings were baptised in Eyam church. Ah, well. Such are the fascinations and frustrations of tracking down traces of families long past.


From: William Wood The History & Antiquities of Eyam 1842

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past



P.S. A number of readers have asked what became of 3 year old Joseph Siddall. The Eyam Museum researches seem to indicate that there were in fact two surviving Siddall children, and they went to live with relatives in Sheffield, not that far from Eyam. There is quite a dynasty of Siddalls in the Eyam-Stoney Middleton area of Derbyshire, so they would not have been left without any family connections.