A Tale of Two Halls, part 2

Category: Census, Local History, The Brontës

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]

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.


d. 24 Sept. 1848

Read A Tale of Two Halls part 1 here

9 comments on “A Tale of Two Halls, part 2

  1. Steve Riggan on

    Thanks for the this article of clarification. I am a descendant of the Farrar and Lacy families mentioned in this article who owned Ewood Hall and Brearley Old Hall. Henry Farrar of Ewood, who purchased Brearley in 1599, was a cousin of Sir John Lacy which is proven by the wording of the deed of sale from this book link:

    John Lacy was the son of John Lacy, deceased, son of Hugh Lacy of Brearley. Hugh Lacy’s daughter, Margaret Lacy had married William Farrar of Ewood as proven in the will of her father Hugh Lacy, proved 31 Jul 1573. William and Margaret were the parents of Henry Farrar who bought Brearley from his cousin Sir John Lacy.

    Henry Farrar later sold the manor of Midgley to his younger brother John Farrar of Croxton, Lincs., husband of Cecily Kelke. When Henry was murdered in 1610 without children, the rest of his holdings, i.e. Brearley and others, went to brother John as well. John Farrar left a will in 1628 in London and devised his lands to his children, including Ewood and Brearley. John Farrar’s 3rd son William Farrar was in Virginia at the time but returned to England and sold his inheritance in Hertfordshire to his brother Humphrey Farrar in 1631 and his rights to annuities out of Ewood. William Farrar died in Virginia about 1637 according to the records there. He was my 10x great grandfather and there are many Farrar descendants in the United States today. Thanks again for the interesting article and clarification on Brearley Hall. This came into our family from our Soothill and Lacy ancestry.

    • Kristina Bedford on

      Many thanks for taking the time to share your ancestral interest in Midgley; coincidentally, my own ancestors Maria (daughter of James) Farrer and John Bedforth settled there after their marriage in Halifax in 1672, and their great-grandsons James (my direct ancestor) and Jonathan Bedford respectively married Sarah (daughter of David) Farrer and Abigail (daughter of Thomas) Farrar. Their lineages are a great deal humbler than your owners of Ewood and Brearley Old Halls, all having been weavers according to the Luddenden Parish Registers, and with the Manor of Midgley Court Rolls not having survived they have unfortunately left only the faintest of historical footprints, but perhaps they might connect somewhere further back in time.

  2. Arthur Welham on

    I and my family lived at Brearley Old Hall from 1985 until 2007 and we still live in buildings adjacent which include the 17th century kitchen which was built (I believe) in 1678 as a single story extension. Later cottages were built on top of the extension although they were partially dismantled in about 1961. Some of the internal timber (in particular a heavily decayed and reused wall plate from a timber building) have been dated to no later than 1450. It is clear from the internal arrangements that there was a timber frame house on the site from before 1450 which was enclosed in stone in 1638. This was a one room deep with a service end to the west with an aisle and a single gable extension to the east. This house had a stair case to the rear (evidenced by a the remains of a stair window in the rear wall and an Inglenook type fire place and chimney stack. In 1678 a new house was built incorporating the 1638 rear wall and other external walls now as internal walls. There is a Mason’s mark to the interior which is similar to mason’s marks on Scout Hall in Northowram and Town House, Norland. This new house was 2 rooms deep and double fronted which is, I believe, the oldest double fronted double pile house in West Yorkshire also with a modern roof with purlins on each rise and internal stone walls up to the ridge. (ie no roof trusses) which again is especially modern for west Yorkshire at this period.

    The house today has a lower ground floor ceiling (the original mullion and transom windows reach to above the current 1st floor level and it is also evident from one fireplace that the original first floor was above the current level. There was a large taking in door which served the east end of the first floor and a second floor also used for storage. There is some evidence that this was used by a worsted manufacturer originally and later by a Maltster (Henry Foster) who was associated with Brearley Milne and the Grove Brewery. The only problem I have with the conclusion that this is where Branwell Bronte lived is that according to deeds in my possession Henry Foster was still the owner of Brearly Old Hall or Lower Brearley at his death in 1841 and that his wife, Elizabeth retained ownership for some time (despite his will requesting that the hall be sold (by 2 chaps called Walker and Edmondson were Worsted Manufacturers in Mytholmroyd).
    I have written all this from memory without consulting documents in my possession but am fairly certain that I have remembered everything accurately. Incidentally the 5 mile stone from Halifax (and 14 mile from Burnley) is still extant and on land adjacent to Brearley Old Halland now once more in the same ownership as the house.

  3. Arthur Welham on

    A correction to my earlier reply – Henry Foster died in 1836 and the house was sold to John Riley (who subsequently built Brearley House on the land and planted hundreds of trees) in December 1839. SO it is very possible that the Claytons were tenants of the Rileys in 1841.

    • Kristina Bedford on

      Many thanks for your detailed visual description of your former home, and its history. Going back to Tom Sutcliffe’s article of 1922, I found that he references both a Deed of 05 February 1806 naming Henry Foster, Malster, as the owner and occupier of Lower Brearley Hall, and an Indenture dated 21 October 1839 recording the sale of Lower Brearley Hall, including the Maltkiln on the South side of the Messuage, and adjoining the Rochdale Canal, with Water-Wheel, Roller, etc., by his widow to John Riley; he also notes that the Rileys of Brearley had built Brearley House c.1832 on the neighbouring land, which tallies with what you write above. The 1841 census places John Riley and his family at Hawksclough in Erringden, which also fits with the Claytons having been his tenants at that time, with the Rileys having returned to Brearley by 1851.

  4. Michael. Matthews on

    We lived at Brearley Old Hall. When I was a child with my Grandmother. Mrs Nora Sykes. Who was there from the late thirties till her death in 1958 I was born in 1943 and have inherited. Some furniture and Pictures from the old place As child we searched in vain for the secret passage which was reputedly under the flag stones in the old scullery by the back windows It was believed to be an escape route during the civil war . Good Luck to anyone who tries to find it

  5. James Moss on

    Well this has confused me, I am on ‘Lockdown’ at the present time due to the dreaded virus so thought I would do some work on my late fathers Family tree which is still in note form and put it into a program. I have come across my Great Uncle, Walter Edward Moss, of Moss Bros (HB). It states that he moved into Brearley Hall, Luddenden foot, just after WW2. I am not sure which building it is now. I found a Carter Jonas advert which has Brearley Hall for sale but states it had never been on the market before? Maybe it changed hands privately. It also does not mention the Bronte connection.

    • Kristina Bedford on

      It has confused many people over the years! While I believe it to be highly unlikely that Brearley Hall has never been on the market until recent years, the Brontë connection not being mentioned as a selling point could be explained by the previous and long-term misidentification of Upper (as opposed to Lower) Brearley as Branwell’s residence while working in Luddenden Foot. From your description, your great-uncle’s home would correspond with the Photographic postcard by Rawson of Mytholmroyd, date-stamped 1907 above.

      • Arthur Welham on

        Reference the comment from James Moss; as I understand it from conversation in the past with Michael Matthews, the Sykes family occupied Brearley Old Hall from the thirties right through to 1958 but there were associated cottages for both properties. Maybe Walter Moss lived in one of these. The recent owner of Brearley Hall was I believe Stella Stiegler the daughter of a coal merchant, Ted Walker, who owned the house previously. Before that I understand that Brearley Hall was owned by Edward Kilner (remembered by the naming of a lock on the Rochdale Canal). This would surely take us back to before WWII.


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