Early History

The Cholmeleys and Brandsby before 1876 

by Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley (circa 1914 or before)


Brandsby Hall (postcard collection, Ray Dobson)

The growth of the estate to the form in which I found it may be traced back to the year 1740 with a fair amount of certainty.  The present Hall was built at that time by the first Cholmeley bearing the name of Francis (1706-1780)  He was the second son and succeeded his brother Thomas (1692-1740) at that date.  The family appears not to have been very prosperous financially at that time but Francis married the widow, Mary, of Berkeley of Spetchley, née Ferrars of Baddesley in Worcestershire who brought with her a considerable fortune, a great deal of the family linen and plate of the Berkeley’s which caused a feud between the two families for some generations. The Hall at this time was a Jacobean manor house of about 100 years standing, on the site of the present house with the offices and outbuildings in front to the South.  The church stood on the present lawn to the east, a few yards from the front door, just as was the case in so many other old Yorkshire houses in the neighbourhood.  It was a Gothic building and I have seen remnants of monuments that were formerly in the church.  A carved escutcheon of the Cholmeleys has been recently found under the site of an old summer house in the kitchen garden which must have been either part of an old monument or possibly part of the old house decorations.  The Cholmeleys had come to Brandsby in 1557 when Roger Cholmeley, a son of Sir Richard Cholmeley of Whitby, married the eldest, but natural, daughter of Thomas de la Rivers, her sister, also a natural daughter  and co-heiress, marrying Roger his brother.  The settlement made by Thomas de la Rivers was that the manors of Brandsby and Stearsby should pass to Roger Cholmeley, his wife Jane and their heirs.  Thus we quarter the arms of the de la Rivers which bear a heraldic ‘blemish’ in the shape of a wavy border.  


Cholmeley Hatchment in Brandsby Church

The Cholmeley Hatchment in Brandsby Church (photograph PMC)


The Cholmeley Coat of Arms. Gules two helms argent in the chief and a sheaf at the foot.

At the time the Jacobean mansion was pulled down, the village lay along the road from the gardeners cottage, now attached to Mill Hill, to some way east of the present Hall.  I remember a holly tree standing in the “Hall Garth” near the footpath that goes from Parson’s Corner to the West Terrace, which my father told me stood in the garden of the last cottage left from the old village.  I have some pencil sketches made in 1803 (I think) of some of the old cottages and barns, which were thatched and in a very ruinous condition.   The old village seems to have stopped short on the west close to the place where stands the cottage marked on the 25” ordnance map as West Lodge which is now the Mill Hill Gardener’s cottage.  I do not know the date of this cottage, but it used to be a one-story house with the same roof as at present and the style is much the same as that of the old cottage at the corner of the road at the top of Oliver’s Bank where it joins the main road to York.  There were also two semi-detached cottages of similar style on the York Road, south of Dale End where Mr Paul Gibb’s house (White House) now stands.  ‘West Lodge’ or ‘Avenue Cottage’ as it is sometimes called is an important landmark, for here the old enclosed fields seem to have stopped and the common began.  I remember when the land on both sides of the road west of this were flanked by banks covered with gorse.  There seems to have been a pottery at some time in the hollow next to this cottage on the north side of the road, and the mound opposite on the south side and adjacent to Home Farm buildings is full of potsherds of very ancient pottery.  The narrow strip of wood running along the bank on the north side of the road and to the west of this is called Town Street Plantation which is a further indication of the past history.  Periwinkles grow here wild and used to be very abundant when I was a boy, the tradition being that they came from the old gardens of the village.  The periwinkle is said to be found wild in only one other place in England, but I do not know if this is true.  From all I can gather the enclosed fields stretched northwards from Parson’s Corner (I use the old name from when I was a boy) to the bottom of Oliver’s Bank and there were gates across the road in places.  There were also gates across the road to Whenby as late as 1870 from the north east corner of the Hall grounds as far as the middle of ‘the Barffs’ where the thorn hedges now begin on both sides of the road.  This point will be shown on the map I propose making and will be marked.     

When my great great grandfather Francis, whom I will call Francis the First, brought his bride to Brandsby, the hall was unfinished and he took up his abode at Warren House which in those days was an Inn on Brandsby Moor.  All this part of the present estate was wild common, rabbit warrens and quarries.  There were no woods on the hills, but there was a great deal of wood on the plain, probably the remains of the outskirts of the forest of Galtres.  There was a large wood at the Spella which my grandfather says my great grandfather felled and another in the Aumitt’s on the west of the York Road.  Both Francis the First and his son Francis II seem to have been enterprising agricultural improvers, who joined in the great movement of enclosing wastelands which is described by Smollett in Humphrey Clinker.  Indeed Francis II is alluded to by Young in his ‘Tour’ as that ‘great agricultural improver’, though he had not time to visit Brandsby. 

The woods on the plain were cut down and the land divided into farms, farm houses being built which all appear to date from the end of the eighteenth or beginning of the nineteenth century, if I may judge from the style of buildings that I found when I came here.  The hill sides which must have been awkward to cultivate were planted with woods and the High Wood was planted by Francis II in the 1760s. 

The Hall grounds were most cleverly planned so as to occupy the minimum of cultivable land while giving an impression of spaciousness.  The plan is well worth studying.  Behind the house is a courtyard with stables and offices around and further behind this lies another yard which used to contain cart sheds and farm buildings which were later supplemented by a sawmill.  To the north of this was a drying green for the laundry and an icehouse for storing ice, abutting on the high road.  To the west of the yards was a fine walled kitchen garden.  Outside the kitchen garden to the north, west and round by the south was a narrow belt of sheltering trees, chiefly beeches, with a gravel walk beneath them.  This walk passed round in front of the house in to the drive on the west side and again branched off further west to the south of another belt of trees and terminated at the end of this eastern belt by joining the high road.  There was a summer house at this eastern end overlooking the park-like grass field which lay to the south and the whole length of the gravel path from the summer house on the east to the north west end behind the garden was about quarter of a mile, yet there was very little area of ground enclosed which was not necessary for the kitchen garden and yards.  The imposing dignity of the house and grounds is achieved with surprising economy of land.  

The planting of the woods on the hills must have completely changed the character of the place.  Viewed from the south they are on the edge of what was wild waste and moorland.  To the south of them lie grass fields well sheltered from the north and they clothe the bleak hills in luxury.  

Francis II made a brilliant marriage with the sister of Sir Henry Englefield of  WhiteKnights, Berkshire, who was the heiress of her unmarried brother.  Sir Harry was a very notable person, Secretary of the Society of Dilettanti and a distinguished patron of art and literature.  His name is attached as author to various books and he possessed many treasures.  He was painted by Reynolds and his sister by Hoppner, and I have come across many little tokens of his contemporary fame in the shape of portraits and effigies on medals struck for him.  He came to Brandsby a great deal.

Francis II made Warren House Farm by laying out the land of the common around the old Inn, planting a shelter belt near the house and adding the necessary buildings.  In those days the light land on the hills was not held of much account, but he farmed it himself and thereby induced others to utilise this land for growing turnips which was then a new crop.  So the light lands about Bonnygate and the top of Snaregate came to be added to the farms at Stearsby which lay below the hill.  Maidensworth Wood was also planted and gradually the great stretch of common that lay within the parish boundary from Grimstone and Gilling moors on the north and east right down as far as the top of Brandsby Bank was brought into cultivation.  The Dale Wood was planted and the Dale Pond was made, a useful reservoir to augment the working of the mill and at the same time a pool for trout. 

Two rows of cottages were built where Brandsby village now stands and a row of six cottages was built at Stearsby to comply with the requirements of the Poor Law.  These cottages and the farm houses were the housing provision for the former population of the old village with the enclosed fields.”  

Hugh’s account ends here.  Francis II was succeeded by his son, Francis (1797-1854) III, who was squire from 1808 until 1854. His son Francis died in 1855 and he was succeeded by his second son Henry Philip, who likewise did not last long, dying in 1856, so the estate passed to Henry’s son Francis (1850-1876) IV.  Francis IV died without issue so the estate went in 1876 to his uncle Captain Thomas Charles Cholmeley, R.N. (1825-1890). In 1876 the Brandsby Estate consisted of 2743.0.15 acres.  Thomas assumed the name Fairfax in addition to Cholmeley, on account of having also come in to the estate of Coulton and remnants of the estate of the Fairfaxs of Gilling (acreage currently unknown).

The Avenue, Brandsby (postcard collection, Ray Dobson).


1. He was the first ‘Francis’ to succeed to the estate, but not the first Cholmeley by that name.

2. A family whose money came from wool and banking, with a history of Royalist leanings.

3. Another old Catholic family established at Baddesley Clinton, just North of Warwick.

4. Whether he ever made this map is not known.

5.  A royal forest established by the Norman Kings.  At one time it extended to 100,000 acres.  De-forestation started in 1625 on account of the King’s need for ready money.  The Act of Dis-Afforestation of 1629 put an end to the Forest.

6. Tobias Smollett (1717-1771) was a Scottish author, poet and surgeon who wrote a number of amusing novels, the last of which was The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker.

7. Arthur Young (1741-1820) toured the country writing on the state of agriculture and manufacturing and population.  This refers to his account, Six Months Tour through the North of England  of 1770.

8. The Society of Dilettanti was formed in 1734 with the object of improving public taste.  It continues to this day, numbering David Hockney among its members.  Membership is obtained by voting of existing members – it is not possible to apply to join.  The main criteria for membership in the early days was having done the ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy.  The association meets to dine four times a year and as is illustrated by two paintings of Joshua Reynolds, wine and jokes were significant features alongside more serious patronage.

%d bloggers like this: