A Tale of Two Halls, part 2 – read part 1 here
The structure known since the early nineteenth century as Brearley Hall is in fact the younger of the two, having absorbed both the title and legend of the elder via custom and practice. This may be a chance legacy of its most recent famous resident, Dr John Fawcett, and the power of advertising in the form of the surviving notices for his 1776 Academy, which trained young men for the Particular Baptist Ministry. After the Brearley Estate was sold to the Rochdale Canal Company in 1795, Dr Fawcett moved his school to Ewood Hall, where it continued until 1835, compounding the capacity for future confusion, since the original, latterly known as Brearley Old Hall, was built c.1600 by the then owners of Ewood.
Attempts to separate the two buildings using modern sources proved impossible, until the discovery of a scholarly article in the journal of the Halifax Antiquarian Society written by Tom Sutcliffe in 1922, which itself appears to have become as little known as his subject. Sutcliffe cites Dr Whittaker’s Loidis and Elmete as distinguishing Brearley Hall, ancient seat of the Lacies, from (Upper) Brearley, formerly known as Little Brearley Hall, standing on the summit of a hill accessed by the turnpike road, and coincidentally occupied by a prior Thomas Sutcliff in 1841 according to its census entry, whose original return is held amongst the vast collection of The National Archives of the U.K.:
1841 England Census [database on-line at Ancestry.co.uk]
Loidis and Elmete describes Lower Brearley as the site of a farmhouse at the bottom of a hill, near the fifth milestone from Halifax. Subsequent writers ignored the distinction, confusing the two buildings and ascribing the ancient pedigree to the wrong site – a misattribution that largely persists today. Even the excellent Brearley Old Hall, Brearley in the parish of Midgley webpage, which recognises the existence of two halls, conflates their residents: “In the early 1800’s ‘Upper Brearley Hall’ (erected 1621) was used as a private school run by a Dr. John Fawcett (d. 1817 at Ewood Hall). Later in 1841 Branwell Bronte, the brother to the Bronte sisters of Haworth lodged here at Brearley Hall”, citing Dr Juliet Barker’s family biography The Brontës and the 1841 census as its sources, though the conflation is its own.
Little Brearley Hall, later Upper Brearley, now Brearley Hall
Plate XVI from Views of Ancient Buildings in the Parish of Halifax by John Leyland, 1879
Brearley was the seat of the Soothill family, Lords of the Manor of Midgley during the 14th century, its site afterward associated with Brearley Milne (a corn mill) and the western part of Brearley Woods. Both title and property passed to the Lacys following the marriage of Isabell, daughter and heiress of Gerard Soothill of Brearley, to Gilbert, second son of John Lacy of Cromwell Bottom. It is this originally timber structure which is mentioned in Holinshed’s 1587 Chronicles:
There is a noble water that falleth into Air, whose head (as I take it) is about Stanford. From whence it goeth to Creston chappell, to Lingfield, and there about receiuing one rill neere Elfrabright bridge, and also the Hebden by northwest, it goeth to Brearleie hall, and so taking in the third by north, it proceedeth on eastward by Sorsbie bridge chappell (and there a rill from southwest) and so to Coppeleie hall. (The first and second volumes of Chronicles, p. 95)
Sir John Lacy sold his title and its seat in 1599 to his friend and political ally Henry Farrar, who had inherited the Ewood estate from his father William in 1573; Henry then sold the Midgley properties to his brother John, who is credited with erecting both Ewood’s and Brearley’s first stone Halls, the latter prominently marked on John Speed’s map of 1610, its position added below to the more basic Map of Yorkshire included in his publication of John Blaeu’s atlas of England the following year, in observance of copyright:
Old Brearley Hall still retains its original stone-mullioned windows and huge oak beams, as well as a decorated lintel bearing the inscription TSW 1638 (for Timothy and Sarah Wadsworth, to whom John Farrar’s son and daughter-in-law, William and Frances Farrar of Ewood, leased Brearley Milne in 1656) and a keystone carved with the date 1678, commemorating later alterations. Historic England has granted Brearley Old Hall Grade II listed status; its website dates rebuilding of the front façade to the late 19th century, while ascribing its original construction to the Wadsworths in 1636.
Brearley Hall, later Lower Brearley, now Brearley Old Hall
Photographic postcard by Rawson of Mytholmroyd, date-stamped 1907
One of the strongest arguments in the case for Old Brearley being the Hall in which Patrick Branwell Brontë lodged is its consistently documented life as a farm – his landlord James Clayton’s occupation having been recorded as Farmer in 1841. Sutcliffe references S. R. Clarke’s 1822 Yorkshire Gazeteer, which places the ancient Mansion of Brearley Hall in a low situation, originally the seat of the Lacies, now a farmhouse [my bold italics] – not to be confused with the house now called Brearley Hall on the summit of the hill. Upper Brearley may have usurped the title of Brearley Hall on most official documents by 1841, but Lower/Old Brearley was still referred to by its original moniker within the local community through the mid-19th century. Its size and situation appear well suited to a tenant farmer and his extended adult family, who may have been well-off financially as Dr Barker suggests, but clearly still welcomed the supplementary income generated by a single lodger, coincidentally the son of a respected successor to Revd. William Grimshaw, who himself lay buried in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in nearby Luddenden village, in whose grounds so many of my ancestors were interred from the late 17th century until they were closed for burial by Act of Parliament in 1853.
PATRICK BRANWELL BRONTË
d. 24 Sept. 1848