The Farrer Family

Ken Pearce
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The Farrer family is one of great significance to residents of North Craven, particularly those living in and around Clapham. The family became one of the major landowners in the north of England and has had a considerable impact on the villages and communities of the Clapham area over many years.

Dr.Farrer (1921-2014) claimed that the Farrer family in Britain originated with the arrival of Walkland de Ferriere, who led William the Conqueror’s horse troops in 1066. The name is thought to come from the Norman French ‘ferriere’ and its English derivative ‘farrier’. The family legend has it that Walkland and his colleagues employed such skilful farriers that their horses were said to virtually fly. This legend is perpetuated in the Farrer family crest, a winged horseshoe, and in the name of the hotel they built near Clapham station, The Flying Horse Shoe. The family’s historians believe that their immediate family stemmed from one Henry Farrer of Ewood Hall in the township of Midgley near Hebden Bridge. He bought Ewood in 1471 and the property passed down through the generations. It is believed to have been the birthplace of Robert Farrar, one of the English martyrs recorded by Fox. One descendant, another Henry, was summoned to the infamous Court of Star Chamber in 1610, where he was murdered while still without heirs. The hall was then bequeathed to a nephew, passed through many Farrer hands before being sold outside the family about 1720-30 and is now the site of a modern housing estate. The old house has presumably been demolished.

Another member of the family, also a Henry Farrer, was a yeoman farmer in Heptonstall. He moved north-west ‘over the hills’ to Worsethorne but in 1623 moved on again, buying a small farm called Lower Greystoneley near Chipping in the Forest of Bowland. Here, in 1686, Henry’s grandson Richard Farrer (1657-1742) married Elizabeth Guy of Lanshaw, which was then in the parish of Clapham. He thus acquired Lanshaw by marriage. The couple seem to have moved between Lanshaw and Greystoneley for some years. In 1716 Richard transferred Lower Greystoneley to their first son Robert (1690-1766) and Lanshaw to their second son Oliver (1693-1731). In 1718 Oliver married Jenet Banks of Orcaber, a farm near Lanshaw. They had a son James (1719-66) but Jenet died when James was just five years old. Her brother Thomas Banks at Orcaber took young James into his own household and brought him up. In 1725 Richard left Robert’s household and moved into Lanshaw with Oliver following a dispute over Robert’s bad marriage, described at the time as ‘a very unsatisfactory connection’. From this point the family story concentrates on Oliver’s descendants.

Young James later went to work as clerk for an Ingleton solicitor. James married a Mary Harrison of Ingleton in 1741 and set up house at Yew Tree Cottage in Clapham. He became a successful solicitor and was appointed Deputy Steward to the Manor of Austwick. Sadly his eldest son, Oliver Farrer (1742-1808), later described James as ‘a drunken attorney with little practice and nothing to give to his sons’. By 1761 James was bankrupt and before his death in 1766 had been compelled to sell off all his land, even the house in which he was living.

His son Oliver was more enterprising. Aged 17 and penniless, he went to London in 1759 and secured a job with a law firm belonging to the Coulthursts of Gargrave. He lived frugally, drank water from the pump in the yard and dined on penny buns, hence his nickname of ‘Penny Bun’ Farrer. He prospered and in 1769 was made an equal partner with Coulthurst, inheriting the firm soon after. He made a fortune by investing and lending money in addition to his legal work. After sixteen years he was worth 40,000, a sizeable fortune at that time.

In 1799 the Farrer who then owned Lower Greystoneley tried to sell it to the wealthy Oliver. An estate plan was drawn for the sale. Oliver sent his own surveyor to check the property - he reported it to be ‘almost a wilderness, the home actually falling down, the country a vile one and the roads most wretched’. Tenants had neglected the property. Oliver did not buy and in 1801 the property was sold out of Farrer hands. The original estate plan survives but a modern house now stands on the site.

Oliver had married Ann Fawcett in 1782, while his brother James had married Frances Loxham in the splendour of Manchester Cathedral. Oliver’s marriage proved childless but James produced two sons, also named James (1785-1863) and Oliver (1786-1866). ‘Penny Bun’ Oliver chose to spend his fortune on his brother James and James’ two sons. He, the wealthy Oliver, set about buying back all the land and property which his father had lost. His ambition was to establish a sporting estate and country seat for the pleasure and entertainment of his nephews. In 1805/6 10,000 trees were planted beside Clapham Beck and around the site which had been chosen for the development of a shooting lodge.

One of Oliver’s early purchases was later recorded as ‘the land on which Ingleborough Hall - then a farmhouse - now stands, with shooting on Ingleborough’. This is supported by a codicil which ‘Penny Bun’ Oliver added to his will, written on 3 November 1806, in which he wrote: ‘I have this very day and after the above (i.e.his will) was finished agreed to build for my Nephew James some additions to an Old house on his father’s Estate at Clapham’. This codicil is also dated 3 November 1806. The record is confused by an 1806 estate plan in the Ingleborough archives, which shows near the church a field called Pithills, a virgin site with no buildings. Pencilled over it, as if an afterthought, is the recognisable outline of Clapham Lodge, the predecessor to Ingleborough Hall, complete with distinctive bay window. Whatever the truth of its origins Clapham Lodge was a more modest building than the later Ingleborough Hall. It is believed to have been designed by Nicholson of Giggleswick and cost 1,000 though Oliver had in his will allowed 1,500 for the work.

Oliver died in 1808 leaving the growing estate to his nephews. By 1878 he, his brother, his nephews and nephew James’ son James (1812-79) had acquired 168 properties in the locality at a total cost of 266,000, much of it bought at times of recession when hard-pressed farmers were keen to sell. The Ingleborough Estate at its largest ran to 35,000 acres owned outright, with a further 15,000 over which the Farrers had shooting rights. It extended from the summits of Ingleborough and Cam Head to Bowland Knotts, from Blea Moor to the limits of Austwick. It included over 40 farms, three grouse moors and a large acreage of common land, as well as every house in Clapham except for the vicarage. In 1782 James Farrer (1751-1820) had purchased the Manor of Austwick from Robert Shuttleworth; in 1810 James’ sons Oliver and James purchased the Manor of Newby from the Duke of Buccleugh and in 1856 they purchased the Manor of Clapham from Rev.T.W.Morley. At some point they also acquired the Manor of Dent. All this gave them power and influence over a wide area. James Farrer (1812-79) became a Master in Chancery, one of twelve close advisors to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as being Justice of the Peace for Lancashire, Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire and Deputy Lieutenant for the West Riding. Oliver (1786-1866) became Justice of the Peace for the West Riding, Westmorland and Lancashire.

James (1785-1863) and Oliver (1786-1866) ran the Estate jointly. Throughout the 19th century the Farrers remained practising London lawyers, Farrer & Co., with offices at 66 Lincolns Inn Fields and several members of the family as partners. They visited their estate in Clapham several times a year and at least once a year moved most of the houshold to their lodge at Gearstones for the shooting. At every visit further changes to the Hall and village must have been planned. The crooked approach across Higher Bridge and past the church to the Lodge was straightened in 1806. In 1812/14 the nave of the church was demolished and rebuilt at more than double the size. In 1828 Clapham Beck was dammed to create the lake. In 1832 Thwaite Lane was rerouted; the lower section became a private driveway to the Hall, while the upper section was redirected further from the Hall (for greater privacy) and along a new Church Avenue which connected Gildersbank to tunnels (more privacy) taking the new Lane to rejoin the original route to Austwick and beyond.

In about 1833 the brothers employed a full-time agent, a Scot named James Stewart, who lived in the newly extended premises of Hall Garth where he also had his offices. His careful copperplate ledgers show that several members of the family simultaneously owned separate parts of the Estate, so their individual profit and loss accounts had to be calculated as land and properties changed hands among them. Stewart had the unenviable task of supervising the implementation of the vision conceived by ‘Penny Bun’ and developed by his nephews, all in the face of continual demands to cut costs and hasten the work. Letters flew back and forth between Stewart in Clapham and Farrers in London, sometimes two or three times a week, all reporting on progress or stipulating details of the next phase of the grand design. The later letters show the damaging effects of the gout from which both of the brothers suffered.

In the 1830s and early 1840s Clapham Lodge was extended to become the Ingleborough Hall we know today. The design was by a London architect S.B.Wilson, whose work the Farrers had seen when he was building premises for the Royal College of Surgeons near Lincolns Inn Fields. Wilson submitted two schemes at 3,400 and 5,600 but it is not clear which was adopted. To create the Hall gardens the village green was taken, while tithe barn, vicarage and other houses were demolished. A new vicarage was built, now known as Arbutus House. A great earth terrace was built above Church Avenue to level off the garden and to hide village and Hall from each other. To enhance the approach to the Hall some buildings near the Gildersbank entrance were demolished and others made more fashionable with smooth render and drawn joints. A row of ten old cottages in the market square was also demolished.

In 1837 the Farrers extended and personally explored the accessible parts of Clapham Cave, later known as Ingleborough Cave. This attracted many visitors and the Bull Inn was renamed The Bull & Cave to exploit this attraction. In 1846 they negotiated a railway route which left their best pastures undamaged. Two or three years later they built The Flying Horse Shoe Inn to accommodate visitors coming to shoot grouse or to view the wonders of Ingleborough Cave. In 1858 they provided a village reading room stocked with newspapers and books. 1864 saw them paying for the building of a new, larger school to replace the one situated in the corner of the churchyard since 1686. They later provided land for village sewage works, a new cemetery, Keasden School, the Keasden teachers’ house, Keasden church, the village hall, and many other community facilities. In 1883 they provided filtered water from the lake, piped into every house and in 1896 hydroelectricity generated from the lake was supplied to the Hall, community facilities and the village street. Later the houses were also supplied.

Newby seems to have gained little from this programme of improvements though the Ingleborough estate account ledgers for 1834 show that the Estate did build a new school in Newby that year, originally a Sunday School. This school was taken over by the County Council in 1906/7 a few years before it was replaced.

In providing many of these facilities the Farrers worked in a sort of partnership with the village community. The new church was built with the help of weekly contributions paid by each household, the reading room was self-supporting from subscriptions, the footpath from the village centre to the railway station was paid for by subscription and the redevelopment of old farm buildings given in 1926 to create the village hall was financed by local contributions. Payment of ‘school pence’ was expected for attendance at the new school. When improvements were made to Estate farms or housing the rents were raised a little. A charge was made for piped water and electricity to many houses.

When nephews James and Oliver died the estate passed to James’ son, another James (1812-79) and when he died it passed to his younger brother Rev.Matthew Farrer (1816-89) from Shirley in Surrey. Matthew’s first wife was childless. His second wife was Mary Anson, great-great-niece of the redoubtable Admiral Anson, after whom Matthew and Mary named their first son James Anson Farrer (1849-1925). When Matthew died James became ‘tenant for life’ under the terms of the Settled Land Act, and in his time the Ingleborough Estate reached its peak. He married Elizabeth Reynell Packe, a cousin of the Sitwells and widely known as Bessie. They had two sons, Reginald born in 1880 and Sidney born in 1888.

The First World War took at least 70 men from the parish, many from the estate workforce. Thirty three of the 70 died in the carnage; life at Ingleborough Hall became a little more difficult. James Anson Farrer died in 1925. His place as Squire was taken not by his elder son Reginald, who had died in 1920, but by his younger son Sidney. As Squire, Sidney chose to live at Newby Cote rather than at Ingleborough Hall where his mother lived on. He married Violet Monckton in 1925 but the marriage was childless.

Bessie died in 1937 and the contents of the old family home were sold off in an auction lasting several days. Only a caretaker staff stayed on at the Hall and as the Second World War loomed the estate’s agent Claude Barton made strenuous efforts to find new tenants for the Hall and estate. He negotiated with a girls’ boarding school and then with a retired Bradford businessman looking for a mansion and hobby farm. Neither came to fruition. Several estate workers joined the Armed Forces, grouse shoots became impossible and the loss of that income, coupled with the loss of staff caused a further run-down of the estate.

The situation was saved to some extent by the arrival of Stone House School, evacuated from Broadstairs on the south coast. The school was run by Captain John Oliver Farrer MC (1894-1942), a second cousin of Sidney. Ingleborough Hall made a logical wartime home for the school. The Captain’s son Bill once ventured onto the Lake in a small rowing boat, only to be swept boat and all over three waterfalls and out under Ingle Bridge, suffering only a broken arm. At the end of the war Stone House returned to the south coast. On Boxing Day 1946 Sidney Farrer died though his widow lived on until 1985.

When Sidney died, responsibility for the estate passed to his first cousin Matthew Roland Farrer (1886-1952) from New Zealand. He was known as Roland and took up residence at Deighton Cottage on Riverside, a house made available only when the occupant was induced to move out. After the war the West Riding County Council rented the Hall for retraining youth leaders, but it soon became apparent that the building was too far from the West Riding, so the county council quickly changed its plans and decided to use the Hall as a residential school for delicate children. In 1949 they purchased the building with 30 acres of the surrounding land for 6,350, while the rest of the Estate remained in Farrer hands. Roland died on Christmas Eve 1952 while at a dance in the village hall. The resulting imposition of a third set of death duties in just 26 years was too much for the estate’s precarious finances to bear. In one day in 1952 ten of the estate farms were auctioned off to balance the books. The estate was gradually reduced from 35,000 acres to 10,000 acres.

The Ingleborough Estate was inherited by male entailment i.e. by the eldest surviving son of the most closely related family. Roland and his wife Dorothy had a son Matthew (1922-45) but he was killed in 1945. This meant that Squire Roland’s younger brother John Hanbury Farrer (1888-1949) or John’s eldest son would inherit. John had migrated as a child of three from the UK to New Zealand and later to Australia but had died in 1949. His son John Anson Farrer (1921-2014) was therefore next in line as ‘tenant for life’ of the estate. In 1952 he was a Melbourne doctor and when the fateful telegram arrived, telling of his inheritance, he was performing a surgical operation. His wife Joan, a former theatre nurse, wisely concealed the news until the operation was over. John visited Ingleborough in late 1952 to examine the books. With some misgivings and against family advice he accepted the challenge of making the ailing estate sustainable. He was shocked by living conditions in Clapham and also resolved to improve them. The following year he returned with his wife and two children, John Peter and Ann. They moved into Hall Garth, the former agent’s house.

Their process of adjustment must have been traumatic. They had lived all their lives in a less deferential Australia and found it difficult to rise to Clapham’s expectations of them as presumed gentry. It quickly became clear that the Estate accounts had not been entirely accurate. Rather than showing a small profit they should have shown a loss. John dismissed the agent and undertook the unaccustomed task himself. He secured a variety of medical jobs to keep the family, so that estate income could all be ploughed back into the estate. Joan even considered returning to nursing but was dissuaded. The estate became almost John’s first priority, while Joan looked after domestic and social matters. He soon abandoned the legal status of ‘tenant for life’ in favour of outright ownership of every house in the village apart from the vicarage. Whenever feasible he sold two houses or land on which to build two houses. This practice continued for 30 years, reducing his expenses, increasing his working capital and giving the community more independence. The houses retained were let at affordable rents, preferably to families with young children to help in keeping the local school and shops going. He strove to avoid Clapham becoming a village of second homes and holiday lets, empty and desolate for much of the year.

Both John and Joan worked hard on the estate and in the village, planting trees, fixing leaks in ancient pipes, even repairing the top of the church flagpole, managing the grouse moors, running field courses about the work of the estate, welcoming new residents, ringing the church bell, washing up in the village hall, keeping a daily weather record, running stalls at the annual street market. Anything and everything !

In 1961 Clapham Parish Council calculated that the village received 9,000 visitors per year. In 1970 the lakeside footpath past Ingleborough Cave was designated the Reginald Farrer nature trail in memory of the well-known plant collector. By 2009 the number of visitors had grown to 154,000 per year.

The estate became sustainable, just. The treble death duties were finally paid off in 1973 when land was sold for the Clapham bypass. It had taken 20 years to pay them off and another 20 years to ensure that the burden never recurred. In 1953 the estate owned 56 of the 57 houses then in the village, in 1968 it had 49 of the 78 houses, in the 1980s 42 of the 84 houses and now it owns 40 of the 113 houses in the village.

Joan died in 2008, only hours after directing from her sickbed the Macmillan coffee morning being held in Hall Garth that day. John continued his habitual daily stint in the Estate Office until he needed nursing care. He died on New Year’s Day 2014 at precisely the moment when Clapham church clock stopped. He had been Squire for over 60 years.

Today the estate is administered by John’s three executors and a firm of professional land agents. The estate now runs to 10,000 acres owned outright with a further 8,000 acres over which it has shooting rights. Only seven farms remain in estate ownership and only one of the three grouse moors, Burnmoor. The shooting is now in the hands of a syndicate. Reginald’s commercial nursery has gone, along with the Hall’s kitchen garden and manicured grounds. Staff number just a small handful and community groups undertake a little of the grounds’ maintenance.

This brings the story of the Ingleborough Estate up-to-date. Other branches of the family also have interesting stories. Farrer & Co., the law firm, have already been mentioned. Thomas Henry Farrer (1819-99) was Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade for over 20 years, working with Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. He received a baronetcy and a peerage, both hereditary, as Lord Farrer of Abinger. The title continued to the 5th Lord Farrer. Oliver Farrer (1786-1866) was founder and director of banks in Ireland, North America, Australasia and Greece, while Gaspard Farrer (1860-1946) was a partner in Barings Bank. Other members of the family engaged Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a Grade 1-listed house in Queen Anne style in Sandwich, Kent. Oliver Farrer (1819-76), Rev.Matthew Farrer’s younger brother, became squire of Binnegar in Dorset and left an estate larger than the Ingleborough Estate.

The most well-known of all the Farrers was Reginald Farrer (1880-1920). Reginald was born with a cleft palate and a hare lip, was educated privately and something of a recluse. He spent many hours exploring Ingleborough’s hill and became an expert on upland flora. He travelled on plant-hunting expeditions to distant parts and died in Kansu on the Burma/China border in 1920. He wrote books on the collecting and cultivation of alpines and introduced important changes in the design and care of alpine rock gardens. His life is recorded in several biographies.

In summary, the Farrer family possibly arrived from Norman France. They lived as yeoman farmers for several centuries, by stages moving just 30 miles north westward from Ewood Hall near Hebden Bridge to Clapham. Here they first took up permanent residence in 1725. Key members of the family became solicitors and lawyers. Their legal practice prospered and they became wealthy landowners, some with a passion for the sporting life of a country squire in a country house. Other branches of the family pursued careers in the civil service and banking, while yet others occupied more conventional roles or migrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the USA. At least 22 of them have been decorated for gallantry or have received honours for service to the nation. The most well-known of them was famous as a plant-hunter and propagator.

One of their greatest achievements, largely unsung, has been to lead Clapham from estate village to thriving community without despoiling the charm and interest enjoyed by many thousands of visitors.


A painted miniature by an unknown artist, once displayed in Ingleborough Hall, photographed and reproduced in ‘Some Farrer Memorials 1610-1923’ Pub. 1923, Sherwood, London. The painting by Romney is from the same source.


The Farrer family documents are held in the Clapham Estate Office or in the North Yorkshire County Record Office and the West Yorkshire Archive Service at Morley.

Oliver Farrer, 1742-1808
From a miniature at Ingleborough
Oliver Farrer, 1742-1808
By Romney at Ingleborough 1923

Oliver Farrer, 1742-1808
From a miniature at Ingleborough


Oliver Farrer, 1742-1808
By Romney at Ingleborough 1923