George Brougham and the stolen manure, not!
Updated: Oct 29
George Brougham, a blacksmith by trade, was born in 1828 in rural Collingham, West Yorkshire. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, more than half of the UK labour force worked on the land. George was no exception.
George married Isabella Burnan (1832-1882) in 1853 in Leeds. They initially lived in Kirk Deighton, where they had their first 2 children, Sarah, and Annette. George had a job as a Blacksmith, a profession he learned in Collingham.
Sometime prior to their third child being born in 1857, the couple moved to Honley in Huddersfield, where George worked as a Blacksmith alongside his father-in-law, Richard Burnan (1803-1881), who ran a farm tenancy, hired from a Mr Hargreaves. James Brougham (1838-1912) also made the move from Collingham to work as a carter for George. The 1861 census informs us James lived with the family.
Unfortunately, Richard Burnan, now approaching 60 years old, got into arrears and was unable to make his payments on the farm. He subsequently handed over the tenancy and full responsibility to George including all stock. This was a step up for George, a man from a humble background, unable to read or write. The arrangement worked well until around March 1862 when George too started to fall into arrears. He struggled on till January 1863 when Mr Hargreaves decided enough was enough; he wanted his money. To meet the debts, George was forced to auction the assets of the farm. The greater part of the farm stock was sold to a Mr Middleton.
According to the Huddersfield Chronicle, of 14th February 1863, there was a dispute over some manure leading to Richard Burnan and one of his sons being charged with theft. It turns out that along with the manure in the farmyard there was lots of it along the surrounding lanes and fields. They were accused of selling this outlying manure to a Mr Dyson. A Mr Shaw had seen what was going on and challenged the father and son about it. They said the manure was theirs as they had bought it off Mr Middleton who had originally bought it at the farm sale in January. Later in conversation with Mr Middleton, it materialises that in fact they had not bought the manure from him at all.
The two were charged and the matter went to court. At the initial hearing, the defendant’s solicitor argued that the ownership of this manure was in dispute and as the outlying manure was not part of the original auction sale, it was only the manure in the farm yard itself. As there was not sufficient evidence to prove otherwise, the court dropped all charges as no jury would be able to convict without establishing the true ownership. The Burnans could no doubt breathe a sigh of relief as they walked from the courtroom.
George and his family, his wife pregnant for a fifth time with John Alexander, moved back to Collingham, homeless, jobless and penniless, to be with his extended family. After John was born, George and the family returned to Kirk Deighton, on the outskirts of Wetherby, where he secured employment as a Blacksmith.
What became of Seventy Acres? When I visited, at the end of September 2023, to explore the place where my ancestors lived and worked, it felt sad that work had begun on converting the farm buildings into modern homes. The old farm holdings, used by people like Richard Burnan, George and James, sustained a way of life that is in the past. Farms are now much bigger, mechanised and scientifically run. We know that even back in the 1860's, Richard and George struggled to make the farm viable. We don't know the reasons for this; perhaps the cost of the tenancy charged by greedy landowners was far too high, possibly the economic climate at the time, or possibly not enough commercial and technical skill on behalf of the smaller tenant farmers - probably a combination of several things. Today, the farm further up the hill has diversified into an equestrian centre.
The good news is the land is still being farmed, sheep grazing and chewing the cud, tractors working away, even piles of manure lying around in the corner of fields. I only hope that whoever is doing the conversion work, does it sensitively, in keeping with the area and surrounding buildings. This is a lovely part of the world, resilient, strong and rugged. We need to preserve its character and history, keeping it alive for future generations to enjoy.