Brunton House and its Owners 1754 to 1933

David Harrop
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Introduction Brunton House is a modest but significant house. Modest, in that it was built for yeomen rather than gentlemen; significant, because its position makes it surprisingly well known, even though it is off the beaten track between the top of Buck Haw Brow and the hamlet of Feizor. It features on John Cary's map (1787) of the West Riding and on all the Ordnance Survey one-inch maps from the first edition of the late 1850s, as well as the present 50,000 series. The house has commanded great affection from several of those who have lived in it. The list of owners includes a diverse range of interesting characters: yeomen, agricultural labourers, quarrymen, a clergyman, cook, doctor, teacher, lawyer, vintner and former military men, at least one very successful entrepreneur and of course the odd rogue. Many people are identified in the records by their names, where they were from and their status or occupation. This last element was described in the Statute of Additions of 1413 as their 'state degree or mystery'. Although ancient, this form of identification continued for the vendors and purchasers of Brunton House until 1965, and it is used here where it is known.

Land tenure

The land on which the house stands was customaryhold, a form of land holding that evolved from the feudal system. Although such land could be bought and sold, there were strings attached which varied with different manors: in this case it was held of the Lord of the Manor of Lawkland with Feizor. Landowners were tenants, and had to be admitted at a manor court session and pay 'such rents fines dues duties suits and services as are the custom of the Manor'. The rent was two pence (2d) per year in 1754, and transfer of ownership incurred a fine of three years' rent: fines also were payable when a lord of the manor died. This tenure was also known as copyhold, because on admittance the new owner received a copy of the entry in the manor court book. Before 1815 copyhold land could be sold, but it could not be passed on (devised) by a will. The owner could easily circumvent this constraint by selling his land to trustees for a nominal fee. After the owner's death the trust would require the trustees to pass the land on in accordance with the terms of the late owner's will. From 1841, copyhold tenants had the right to buy the freehold of their land by a process known as enfranchisement. Interestingly, there appears to be no record of any tenant of Lawkland with Feizor taking up this option. The Law of Property Acts of 1922 and 1925 abolished copyhold tenure and such land was made freehold from 1 January 1926, but as we shall see below, it was not quite that simple.

Eighteenth century

It is not clear when the house was built. The first reference so far discovered that names the house is 12th June 1754 when Thomas Carr, in one record a yeoman but in another a gentleman, was admitted tenant at the manor court, citing an indenture of 1st May that year by which he had bought Brunton House from Robert Lawson, subject to an ancient rent of two pence. There are tantalising entries in a Manor Court Book such as that on 16th March 1741, when '… Thomas Knight surrendered up a mansion or dwelling house and other lands to Robert Lawson under payment of the ancient rent of two pence…' but does not name the property. A possibility being investigated is that the present building replaced an earlier one. In July 1753 the Keighley to Kendal Turnpike Trust decided to route the turnpike along Brunton Road , putting in hand the work necessary for the upgrade. Brunton House ceased to be isolated on a minor drovers' road and found itself on one of the main routes from York to Lancaster, Cumberland and Westmorland. In 1758 Thomas Carr bought two beast gates on the common land at Brunton from a Robert Stackhouse; this right to run stock on the land was also copyhold. There were a total of 54 gates on Brunton Pasture at that time, with a rent of 7d per year for two.

Thomas Carr went bankrupt, a very risky thing to do. Although bankruptcy offered some protection for those traders who owed over £100, imprisonment for insolvent debtors had not by that time been eliminated. Disappointingly, 95% of all records of bankruptcies have been destroyed and searches have so far failed to uncover the details. Brunton House was sold on the orders of the High Court of Chancery, whose officers Richard Foster, Henry Waddington and Thomas Hall were admitted tenants by the manor court on 19th June 1761. They sold the house to John Clapham, admitted tenant on 25th May 1762; he was a member of an influential family with substantial land holdings in the area. John Clapham passed the house on to his son, Thomas Clapham of Feizor, yeoman, in about 1770, and during their ownership the manor courts were held at Brunton House from 1763 to 1794. Thomas Clapham bought a small croft, called Youbers, on the west side of Brunton Road from a Richard Clapham of Austwick, yeoman, at some time, possibly as early as 1768, without completing the necessary formalities. This seems oddly out of character given that he must have been familiar with manor procedures.

By 1792, those using the turnpike had established that the gradient at Rawlinshaw Brow was too steep, and the route was changed from the top of Buck Haw Brow to pass below the scar of Cave Hole and down to the line of the present A65. Once again, Brunton House found itself off the beaten track.

Nineteenth century

The irregular purchase of Youbers Croft had to be sorted out by Thomas Clapham's executors in 1822, after both he and Richard Clapham had died. Richard Clapham's son and heir, George Clapham of Hornby, grazier, was included in the indenture of sale to confirm that the earlier transaction had taken place; he received ten shillings for doing so. The rent after this change became 21/2d ancient rent and 3/4d new rent. The purchaser in 1822 was another Thomas Carr, described as 'of Brunton House yeoman'. He was then aged about sixty; his wife Susannah was fifteen years younger. It is not yet clear how long they had been living in the house before he bought it nor have his land holdings been established. At the revaluation of the township of Lawkland on 18 November 1837 he is shown as having land at Holme-house, about a quarter of a mile south of School Bridge in Eldroth, but no other entry shows this. He and Susannah had eleven children, one of whom died in infancy. As he approached the age of seventy in 1831, Thomas Carr transferred the house to trustees: George Dudgeon of Settle, gentleman and William Carr of Mealing Scale in the parish of Clapham, yeoman. In the event Thomas Carr could have been more optimistic; he outlived both his trustees, surviving another sixteen years. The terms of his will included a pension of £10 per year to Susannah for the remainder of her life providing that she did not re-marry, after which the house was to be sold and the money divided between the children. It seems, therefore, that the reason for the trust was to provide for Susannah whilst keeping the estate ultimately for their children. If the house had gone to Susannah before the Married Women's Property Act of 1882, it would have become part of her new husband's estate had she re-married. She was 71 when she was widowed in 1847.

It is widely believed that Brunton House was once an inn, although no formal mention of that function has yet been found. An anecdote of the first vicar of Austwick, quoted by a later owner of the house, has it that when the North Western Railway was being built in the late 1840s the construction workers often congregated at Brunton House and had some lively parties, so investigation of the licensing records is planned.

Susannah Carr died on 11 December 1851, after which the successors to Thomas Carr's trustees, John Carr of Lawkland, farmer and Robert Brown of Austwick, schoolmaster, put the house up for auction at the Cock Inn, Austwick early in 1852. The purchaser was Elizabeth Carr of Thingwall Hall, Knotty Ash near Liverpool, spinster, who was then about 53 years of age. She was one of Thomas and Susannah Carr's ten surviving children, and at £120 she seems to have paid a high price. The house was re-sold forty years later for £112-10-0d and it was 1921 before her price was exceeded. It is even more difficult to analyse the reasons for the price of a house 150 years ago than it is for one today so this will be a challenging area for further research. A hypothesis is that Thomas and Susannah Carr had raised their family in the house and there was competition to buy it between the siblings. Elizabeth Carr was in service as Cook to the substantial household of a Mr Samuel Henry Thompson , and could have bought the house as part of what today might be called her pension portfolio. Brunton House was rented by Thomas Cragg and his family at the time of the sale; by James Downham, an unmarried agricultural labourer aged 50 in 1861, and by William Towers in 1863. It must have been unusual for domestic staff to be investing in property in this way in the mid-nineteenth century, and it would be interesting to know more about Elizabeth Carr.

In 1863 Elizabeth Carr sold Brunton House to her nephew, Michael Wilson of Giggleswick, lime merchant, when she was aged about 64. The terms of the sale were payments to her of £9 per year for the remainder of her natural life, and as she only lived for three more years Michael Wilson had a very good bargain. The title deeds for the house include a copy of Elizabeth Carr's death certificate to show that this annuity is no longer payable. Michael Wilson bought the house for his parents to live in: his mother was another of Thomas and Susannah Carr's children. Michael Wilson was born in Austwick in 1816, served his time as a cordwainer or shoemaker, soon established his independence and went on to build up a number of enterprises, the best known of which were the Hoffman kilns at Ingleton and Langcliffe, used to process lime . He and his wife, Agnes, had six sons and a daughter and they were living in Tems House, Giggleswick, at the time he bought Brunton House. They later moved to Lancaster, it has been reported, to enable the boys to have a good education: a puzzle, given that they moved from a house only a short walk from Giggleswick School, where Agnes's father had been educated. Their daughter Amelia was educated as a boarder at Storrs Hall School in Ingleton. Michael Wilson later helped two of his sons to establish themselves in Manitoba, Canada.

After the deaths of his parents Michael and Agnes Wilson moved to Brunton House in 1885 for the remainder of their lives. Agnes died on 13th March 1889, Michael on 2nd April 1891. It is possible that Amelia was caring for her father towards the end of his life. The census return for 1891, which took place three days after Michael's death, shows her as living with relatives in Austwick, but when Brunton House was offered for sale a few months later Amelia was living in it. Amelia Wilson is another whose life deserves research. She appears to have been quite a plucky young woman and to have had considerable responsibility within her father's business at an early age. Shortly after her father's death she married John Tomlinson and moved to Bowness on Windermere, where they named their new house Brunton. Michael Wilson's executors (or more accurately his devisees) sold Brunton House by auction at the Golden Lion Hotel, Settle on 24th August 1891 to the Reverend Alfred Holden Byles of Hanley, Congregational minister. Alfred Byles carried out some improvements to the property before he completed the purchase of the house, such that the Gross Estimated Rental, used as the base for calculating rateable value, was raised from £5 to £9 10s, but it is not clear what was done.

Alfred Byles was a member of a large and talented family, the second son of the eleven children of William Byles, who owned the Bradford Observer. His older brother, Sir William Byles, was the MP for Salford. The family were well-to-do, educated and strongly nonconformist, and Alfred had broadened his education by travelling in Europe before he worked as a minister in Headingley, Leamington, Hanley and Omaha in Nebraska. For some years, members of the Byles family had rented a cottage in Feizor for holiday use, and Alfred Byles was staying there when Brunton House was auctioned ; he bought the house as a 'country annex'. Amongst his other duties, he was the founder and President of the Hanley Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Society and he edited The PSA Leader. The PSA was a non-sectarian movement intended to carry a spiritual, moral and social message to those who were not normally inclined to attend church, particularly working men. He praised the Yorkshire Dales area in an article in the magazine with an enthusiasm that is charmingly Brunton-centred, and he highlighted interesting local features such as the Ebbing and Flowing Well and the draining of Giggleswick Tarn. His wife, Louisa, died in 1898 aged 56 and was buried in Austwick cemetery. Although their permanent home appeared to be in Leeds at that time, the headstone on her grave shows her 'of Brunton House'.

Two of Alfred and Louisa Byles's sons converted to Roman Catholicism. It is not easy in these more tolerant times to understand the currents of emotion that might have been stirred by those decisions in the late nineteenth century, and no record has been found that indicates how the family responded. The eldest son, Roussel, studied at Balliol College Oxford, and whilst there he became briefly an Anglican before becoming a Roman Catholic. He studied for the priesthood, taking the name Father Thomas Byles , and in 1905 became priest of a parish at Ongar in Essex. His brother William, who also joined the Roman Catholic Church, went into business in the United States. Some other members of the family remained nonconformist, including the youngest daughter Helen, who became a teacher.

Twentieth Century

Alfred Byles died on 22nd December 1911. His will directed that Brunton House, with its contents, should be offered for sale to each of his children in order of seniority, and if none took it, the house and contents should be sold. In April 1912, William Byles married Isabel Russel in New York, and it was arranged that his brother, Father Thomas Byles, would officiate at the ceremony. He booked his passage on a White Star liner, later changing his booking to the crossing a week earlier than originally intended, and travelled on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Newspaper accounts of the time describe that he was twice offered a seat in a lifeboat, but that he opted to remain on board, comforting those left behind and administering absolution and the last rites. In August 1918, Helen Byles married Rawlinson Charles Ford of Low Bentham at the Friends Meeting House in Settle. Before her marriage she taught at Newby and the certificate of marriage shows her as living at Brunton House.

The process of selling Brunton House took until January 1921. Although the First World War would have diverted attention from less important matters, there is no evident reason for the delay. It is clear that Helen Byles lived in it for at least part of the time, and after her marriage the family used the house for holidays. A delightful account exists of a family holiday in August 1919, when one of Alfred's daughters, Mary, her husband Arthur Le Mare, their children and their friends the Edmunson family - twelve of them in all - travelled to Brunton with luggage, bicycles and hens from Crewe via Leicester and Leeds. Wartime travel restrictions still applied on the railway and their trip was far from straightforward. They had to make good some storm damage at the house and there was a water shortage, but these minor difficulties were swept aside and their enthusiasm and delight is evident from the account. Two of the children on that visit, now well into their nineties, have recently described their very happy memories of the house and its surroundings during that holiday, including a game that involved jumping down from the forking hole of the hay loft to the garden below.

Whatever the reasons for the delay in carrying out Alfred Byles's will, the house was finally bought by or for Helen Ford, his youngest child. Charles Ford has been quoted as saying that he bought the house for her as a wedding present, though it is not certain whether this was a serious statement. Nor is it yet clear whether the house was rented out or continued as a country annex for the family. The conveyance was completed on 21st January 1921. Helen Ford is shown on the conveyance as "wife of Rawlinson Charles Ford"; whereas the spinster servant had been a person in her own right, the married woman still was not. A letter sent by solicitors in Leeds to Charles Ford states that: '… an admittance is seldom taken until it is required owing to the property being sold'. This letter shows not only how lawyers used to strangle the English language but also that the feudal system was finally crumbling. In spite of the advice, on 30th December 1925 Helen Ford was admitted tenant out of court by the Steward of the manor. Why this should have occurred just two days before the land became freehold is unclear. What is apparent is that, although the land became freehold, the new law did not remove the encumbrances from it.

When Helen Ford offered the house for sale in 1928 the agreement for the sale and purchase showed it as freehold, but that it 'is sold subject to the manorial incidents affecting the property which are a yearly customary rent of 21/2 d and a yearly new rent of 3/4d and other rents fines dues duties suits and services therefore due and of right accustomed.' The document went on to offer that the vendor would obtain extinguishment under Part VI of the Law of Property Act 1922 at the purchasers' expense if they so desired. Two brothers, James (Jim) Lambert of Beacon Light, Wharfe and John (Jack) Lambert of Arcow Farm, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, both quarrymen, bought the property and did indeed pay for the extinguishment of the manorial incidents. Three days before the Lamberts completed their purchase, an agreement was made between Helen Ford and Alice Ynyr Christabel Ingilby, the Lady of the Manor, dated 15th March 1933 for the extinguishment of the manorial incidents saved by Part V (sic) of that Act in the sum of £4-16-0d. That was the equivalent of 354 years' rent. It presumably explains why no-one took up the right to enfranchisement earlier. There are still several avenues of further investigation that are likely to be fruitful and the author is keen to hear from anyone who has or can point to relevant information. A list of the names of all those who have been identified as having had a connection with the house is available for family historians. Hudson History in Settle hold a printed copy available to the public, or the author can be contacted at Brunton House, Austwick, LA2 8DE.


The author has been greatly encouraged and materially helped by many, including the staff of the Special Collections department of the University of Leeds Brotherton Library, Emmeline Garnet, John Geale, Margaret le Mare, Bill Mitchell, Elizabeth Pafford, Pip Rigby and Alison Tyas. Particular thanks are due to all the previous owners of Brunton House who have diligently taken care of, and in turn have passed on, the rich collection of indentures, admittances and related documents making up the title deeds.


  • Lawkland with Feizor Manor Court Book 1739-1857, Brotherton Library, reference SC MS 326
  • The King's Highway in Craven by J. J. Briggs, 1927
  • PSA Leader, August 1899
  • Family Record Centre reference HO107 2193 folios 279 and 280
  • Limestone Industries of the Yorkshire Dales by David Johnson, Tempus 2002, Chapters 7 and 8
  • 'Michael Wilson; A Forgotten Quarryman' by W. R. Mitchell, Yorkshire History Quarterly Volume 4 Issue 4, May 1999
  • Records of Lawkland Township: Reassessment of 14 March 1892
  • William Byles by H. N. Byles, published privately in 1932
  • Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, by K. S. Inglis, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, page 80
  • Brooklyn Daily Eagle 17th April 1912 and New York Telegram 22 April 1912
  • Private diary written by Olive Edmunson, now in the possession of her daughter Ruth Petrie

Brunton House 1890s
Rev. Alfred Holden Byles

Brunton House 1890s

Rev. Alfred Holden Byles