An Age of Improvement

On 5 March 1817 John Todd renewed his annual lease on a farm of just over twelve acres he had enclosed from the common for the rent of eight pounds. The agreement, backdated to New Year’s Day 1817, was witnessed on behalf of James Lane Fox, Esquire of Bramham Park by his agent, George Addinell of Tadcaster and William Porter. The rent had to be paid in two half yearly instalments at Whitsuntide (the seventh Sunday after Easter) and Martinmas (11 November). The agreement was carefully written ensuring that Lane Fox retained all mineral and hunting rights. John Todd had to promise to leave all the buildings, gates, stiles, fences, ditches, drains and watercourses in good repair and had to undertake not to ‘cut, lop, maim, fell or carry away any tree.’ Five clauses dictated what the land could be used for and informed the tenant that if he grew teasels, woad, hemp, flax or mustard seed or grew two successive crops of wheat, a further £20 per acre would be due in rent. This piece of paper must have seemed intimidating to John Todd who could neither read nor write but he was anxious to secure the lease so simply made his mark on the document. This was for many people an annual ritual, others, however, were more fortunate and secured twenty-one year leases.54

One such individual was Joseph Pickles. On 13 December 1828 he was visited by Mr Stewart, agent to George Lane Fox, and agreed to take the farm he was occupying from January 1829 to 1850 for a yearly rent of £124 10s.55 By the end of this lease the farm had clearly become too much for him.  Years of hard manual labour, long hours and the punishing, relentless round of seasonal activity on the farm, had left him a broken and embittered man. His will dated 1 May 1849 reflects his frustration with life, the love he felt for his daughter, Mary, and the open loathing of his son-in-law, Benjamin Stead. They had moved in with Joseph, who was determined that not one penny would go to Benjamin. He summoned William North, his solicitor, to advise him on the best way to achieve this outcome. The will is well written in which he leaves all his household goods, including furniture, beds, bedding, plate, linen, china and other effect, all his livestock farm tools, carts and equipment to his daughter Mary Anne Stead ‘…for her sole and separate use and benefit without being subject to the debts, control or engagement of her said or any future husband.’  She was only given this property for life and upon her death it was to be shared equally amongst any children or, should she die without leaving lawful issue, it would revert to his son, George Coates Pickles. William North and his clerk, John Martin, witnessed the signing of the will. One can only imagine the atmosphere in the room when Benjamin received his copy! 56 Shortly afterwards a new tenant, James Rhodes, leased the farm but the lands were described as ‘poor and out of condition’ and the farmhouse needed  ‘…considerable repair.’ 57 But major changes were already underway in the district.


54. WYAS LF125.
55. WYAS DB149/26.
56. WYAS DB149/26.
57. WYAS LF 83/5.


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