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

Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland

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This photo was taken at Snailbeach Mine in the wilds of the Shropshire Hills. From the 1780s through the nineteenth century this was the most productive lead mine in the world, employing over 300 workers. But the history of lead mining in the area is much older than this, and for centuries the mineral was mined all over the nearby Stiperstones hills.

The Romans were certainly here. They left behind a great lead ingot weighing over 87 kilos and impressed with the inscription ‘IMP HADRIANI AVG’. This meant that not only did it belong to the Emperor Hadrian, but also that Snailbeach was an imperial mine between the years of his rule, 117-138 A.D.

The Romans used lead for water pipes, cooking vessels, paint and to sheath the hulls of ships.  Of course some of these purposes proved highly toxic to the users.

And it is now hard to imagine an association between something as hard, industrially wrought and poisonous as lead and these delicate harebells that seem to thrive on the waste ground near the mine ruins. In fact this whole area, with conservationists’ help,  has been so reclaimed by wildlife it is now part of the Stiperstones Site of Special Scientific Interest. The birdlife of the area includes red grouse, ravens, buzzards, peregrine falcons, curlew and the rare ring ouzel. There  are grayling and green hairstreak butterflies, fox and emperor moths. The vegetation includes heather, cowberries, whinberries and rare mountain pansies.

It is so heartening, isn’t it, when so much on the planet seems environmentally challenged. Here in this corner of Shropshire at least, the natural world has overcome – reclaiming this once poisonous, highly industrial environment.

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For those of you interested in mining history there is more about Snailbeach HERE and HERE. The latter link includes lots of useful teaching information and has a great video of aerial views of the area, which is anyway worth a look if you want to see more of this fascinating part of Shropshire.

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DP Daily Prompt: overcome

Meet T’owd Man ~ AKA The Old Man Of Wirksworth

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He is said to be 800 years old, or thereabouts, this mythic little figure of a lead miner with his pick and kibble (basket). He is presently to be found embedded in the wall inside St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Wirksworth. But this was not his original home. He once lived in the nearby village of Bonsall, where he was found during the restoration of the 13th century  parish church of St. James. This was in 1863, and it was then that T’owd Man found his way (along with other pieces of interesting medieval stone work) into the garden of one Churchwarden Coates.

This highhanded commandeering of the local lead miners’ talisman did not please the general populace, who wanted him restored to sacred territory. Somehow in the argy bargy he ended up being firmly mortared into the wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wirksworth instead – where he has remained ever since for his own good and general safekeeping. He has also become the town’s ‘unofficial’ symbol, so you can pay him a visit, AND get the tee shirt.

But this story of general displacement is making me wonder. What  if T’owd Man is a good deal older than is currently thought.  I’m assuming his 13th century date was given him because he was found in a church of 13th century origins. But to my eye he could easily be a Saxon carving. What if the medieval builders of the Bonsall church had also recycled him?  (There are in fact many examples of Saxon carving within St. Mary’s, all re-deployed from an earlier church. See my post Expressions of Power  ~ Secular and Spiritual? for more of the background history).

Lead mining was a key industry in the area from at least Roman times. There is also documentary evidence of its importance in Saxon Wirksworth. In 835 the township was ruled by Abbess Cynewaru, and in a missive of that time she states that she was every year sending a gift of lead valued at 300 shillings to Christ Church, Canterbury. Much later in the Domesday Book of 1086 the entry for Wirksworth includes 3 lead works.

Wirksworth was in fact the centre for the trade. It was a hard and dangerous business. The miners were also a maverick lot. Many were yeoman farmers who combined hill farming with lead working, and some grew extremely rich on the trade, although many died from explosions in the mines, and the general toxicity of working with lead.

All the miners’ activities were subject to a system of rigorous rules and regulations overseen by the Barmaster of the Barmote Court. This court was held in Wirksworth for at least 7 centuries, and had its origins in Saxon Burg Moots (moot is Saxon for gathering or assembly). The last version of the court or Moot Hall still survives. It was built just out of the town centre in 1814 to replace a grander Moot Hall that stood in the Market Place. It seems the noisy behaviour of the miners, and the congestion they caused in the town centre, led to the earlier building being demolished.

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Wirksworth is a fine town for a visit. Its many surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century houses attest to the general prosperity of the place over many decades.  When the lead ran out in the 19th century, limestone quarrying replaced it. Rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills, and so the industrial age kicked in. And if this smacks too much of ‘dark satanic mills’, don’t you believe it. The town sits in glorious countryside, in the heart of England, in fact at ‘its very navel’ as one-time resident D.H. Lawrence put it. Here, then, are some more views from England’s very green and pleasant navel:

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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