Netherstreet Farm

This entire post started as an addendum to the end of my previous post (Miss Holborow) as I wanted to add some additional information. However, I thought that it needed its own full post. And so I started to write a bit of a potted history of Nether Street Farm to track ownership and residency over the years. Only it grew legs and … expanded somewhat.

(Before I get started, I should admit that I kind of use Nether Street and Netherstreet interchangeably. Current maps and usage land solidly on the one-word option, but it crops up in census returns as two words.)

A word on geography: Netherstreet is a small line of settlement spurring off from the main road going through the parish of Bromham, about 4 miles outside of Devizes in Wiltshire. My mother remembers very well traveling by bus with her mum and grandmother to visit family in Netherstreet. In fact, the bus stop today is in the very same spot! The journey from Easton Royal to Netherstreet was an all-day affair, involving three different buses. Thinking on it, all these years later I think that it would be a similar journey today! So Netherstreet has had a kind of looming presence in my mind for many years. I’ve never driven up the narrow road to see the cottages where my 2 x great-grandparents lived, nor the farm which provided their living.

The Hurcombe family moving from Gloucestershire to Wiltshire was key for my family line, and the move is intrinsically mixed with my 2x great-grandfather, Alfred William Hurcombe, following his employer – Daniel Francis Holborow – when he changed farms. It has become family lore that Daniel sold Burden Court Farm in Tresham and bought Netherstreet Farm. However, Burden Court actually formed part of the Alderley Estate, meaning that Daniel was likely a tenant farmer. Burden Court Farm and its 501 acres were sold in July 1923 when the Alderley Estate was broken up. The squire of Alderley, Mr. Thomas Edward Sherwood-Hale, “owing largely to burdens of taxation” departed for Australia in October 1923 (in fact, he lived most of his life in New Zealand and inherited the Alderley properties in 1912 upon the death of his mother) so one presumes that large parts of the estate were sold off at this time for monetary reasons. Not uncommon in the 1920s when both income tax and inheritance tax (aka death duties) were being revised alongside the change in social structures following WWI. In newspaper reports of the sale, Daniel is explicitly referred to as a tenant, and also that he has “taken another farm” with all their live and deadstock. The Holborow family had been at Burden Court for over 200 years. But who did Daniel work for? Who was he a tenant of?

And what of Bromham and Netherstreet and its eponymous farm?

Nether Street from the Georgian / Victorian 1 inch to 1 mile Ordnance Survey Old Series / First Series Old Map Collection (1805-1869)

My research showed very quickly that Nether Street Farm today is part of the Crown Estates (that is, it’s owned by the sovereign), which set me off on a hunt of exactly when it stopped being held in private hands. Lands usually end up being owned by the Crown during the process of escheatment. That is if the landowner dies intestate (without a will) and/or sine prole (without legal issue) then the Crown claims ownership (this process is still in place today, albeit an estate has longer to deal with getting itself sorted out than it used to!). I had no idea exactly when Netherstreet Farm became a Crown Estate but I was sure going to try and find out. Which was tricky.

Netherstreet Farm as it appears in the 1840 Wiltshire Tithe Maps (via KnowYourPlace

I was able to create a list of who was resident at the farm in all available census returns and other documents:

  • 1656 – William Gaby – hired out his oxen teams to assist the London coach go up and down Beacon Hill: 9 pence per oxen for going up and 1 shilling 3 pence for coming down (for refernce four to six oxen were used each time – making quite the profitable sideline!)
  • 1841 – Jacob Butler
  • 1847 – Tithe map shows tenant Jacob Butler, owner Charlotte Starkey
  • 1851 – Jacob Butler
  • 1861 – George Giddings (farm bailiff for Jacob Butler; died 1862)
  • 1871 – 1896 – John Curnick (originally from Melksham, John and his wife Mary Ann were living in Melksham in 1861 but have children baptised in Bromham in 1864 and 1865. Their residence is recorded simply as “Bromham” and that he is a yeoman (that is, he was freeborn and owned and farmed his own land from which he earned at least 40 shillings a year), but it is likely that he took over the tenancy c. 1862
  • 1898 – Albert Beak Curnick (John’s son)
  • 1901 – Mary Ann Curnick (John’s widow – died 1903)
  • 1904 – Albert Beak Curnick auctions off all live and dead stock and leaves the tenancy
  • 1904 – Earliest mention of a Leonard on the farm
  • 1907 – Benjamin Leonard (Kelly’s Directory of Wiltshire)
  • 1910 – Benjamin Leonard (listed in Electoral Register)
  • 1911 – Benjamin Leonard
  • 1912 – Ivor Morgan Leonard (son of Benjamin). Father is recorded on the Electoral Register as a Lodger
  • 1921 – Ivor Morgan Leonard (emigrated to New Zealand February 1924 with wife and children; exited tenancy October 1923)
  • 1923 – 1952 – Daniel Holborow
  • 195? – 2012 – David Leonard (nephew of above)
1844-1888 Ordnance Survey Map

It was the tithe map information (courtesy of knowyourplace) coupled with the Victoria County History entry for Bromham that pieced most of it together. As we saw, Charlotte Starkey is shown as the owner in the 1840s tithe list. She was the widow of John Edward Andrew Stark(e)y, who was the son of Rev. John Starky and his wife Maria Barbara Bayntun-Rolt.

But before we get there, we are first going to go back in time to the first-ever large-scale recording of land ownership and value in England: The Domesday Book. This was created at the behest of William I (aka William the Conqueror, aka William the Bastard, aka Guillaume de Normandie) following his acquisition of the English crown in 1066. In it, Bromham gets a mention:

Bromham at this point had a recorded population of 54 households in 1086, putting it in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday. There were 14 villagers, 6 smallholders, 4 slaves and 30 other. The Domesday Book also records who was the Lord in that place in 1066 at the time of the Conquest. Bromham’s Lord was Earl Harold. The Geld Rolls (complicated, but these were linked to the creation of Domesday) record that the king held 20 hides in demesne (i.e. land retained by a Lord of the manor for his own use) in Bromham which had previously formed part of ‘the lands of Queen Edith’. Queen Edith had been married to Edward the Confessor until his death in 1066. Given the connection to the House of Wessex, the “Earl Harold” could well have been Harold Godwinson who was (briefly) King of England in 1066 between January and October as he was Edith’s brother.

The land fell to William I’s son, William II upon the former’s death. And in 1087 the manor of Bromham was given to Battle Abbey in whose hands it remained until 1538 when, upon the dissolution of the monasteries, the manor was granted by King Henry VIII to Sir Edward Baynton who had been the steward on behalf of the Abbey. The manor remained in the Baynton blood (albeit twice being inherited on the female side – once by a sister and finally by a daughter) until 1864. The aforementioned Charlotte and her husband, John Edward Andrew Bayntun Starky, being the Lord and Lady of Bromham Manor until 1843 and John’s death. (To add a few more layers, Bromham Manor had been burnt down by local Royalists during the English Civil War when the then-Lord had changed sides once too often. The Bayntons then moved their main residence to nearby Spye Park. Which also burnt down. Twice. Most recently in 1974. Nowadays the site of Bromham Manor is a farm.)

The Bayntun Starkey estates then passed to their son, John Edward. This turned out to be a generally bad idea as he went on to run up huge gambling debts. He sold 200 acres of Spye Park estate to his neighbour, Lord Lansdowne of Bowood, and then in January 1864 he sold off Spye Park Stud (one mare being bought by Queen Victoria for over 700 pounds), but this was not able to stave off the hemorrhaging of his funds. One month later he sold all of his estates. The house at Spye Park, along with a portion of family estates, was bought by Major J W G Spicer for £100,000 (it is said that the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, had offered three times as much, but was refused by the owner John Baynton Starkey for reasons unknown). In 1868 John was declared bankrupt, owing over £20,000 (approximately £48,000,000 in today’s terms).

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette – Thursday 13 February 1868

However, the remainder of the estate – including Netherstreet Farm – was purchased by the Crown. No escheatment required! It just took the Crown 800 years to get the land back!

So that is a (very) potted history of the manor of Bromham (and I didn’t get to talk about Nandos, the Queen Mother, Iron Age hill forts, Civil War battles, the Bloody Ditch, the collapse of local weaving, market gardening or about the steeple flyer falling into a tree) but doesn’t tell us very much of Netherstreet Farm itself, other than the tenants. Presumably, after Daniel’s death, the tenancy followed his will’s wishes as he left his estate in its entirety to his sister, Marguerite Leonard, and it is to her son David that we have evidence of tenancy – although nothing is mentioned of it in her will (although there is a tantalizing mention of “Holborow family papers” being passed to another of her sons). A newspaper article of 1970 (in the somewhat specialist publication, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News), recounting the breeding of ducks by “Mr David Leonard of Nether Street Farm”, mentions that the raising of ducks on the farm started “some 15 years ago”, which would place that c.1955, and that his uncle was a previous tenant.

However (there is always a ‘however’, or a ‘but’, in these things, isn’t there?!) the will of John Curnick (died 1896) includes this clause:

From the will of John Curnick, proved 25th February 1897

If we are to assume that Netherstreet Dairy Farm is one and the same as Netherstreet Farm, then how can John still own it freehold (meaning he owned the property and the land that it sits within, as opposed to leasehold) in 1897 when it was clearly owned by Charlotte Starky in 1847 and the Starky estate was broken up and sold off in 1864?! Is the assumption incorrect? Mary Anne, his widow, didn’t die until 1903, leaving everything to her son, Albert Beak Curnick. However, the picture is made somewhat clearer (or perhaps muddied further!) by newspaper articles in 1904 advertising the sale by auction of various items from Netherstreet Farm on Tuesday 15 March 1904:

  • 88 Head of shorthorn cattle
  • 25 Upstanding, good-looking and staunch cart and nag horses and colts
  • 22 Berkshire pigs
  • 300 Hampshire Down tegs (a teg is a ewe in her 2nd year)
  • 250 Head of choice poultry (including fowl houses, runs, coops and servers)
  • Exceptionally large and modern assortment of agricultural implements (as below)

The article goes on to illuminate further (bold font my emphasis): “The farm has been in the occupation of the present tenant and his father for a number of years, and it is now being given up solely owing to the demands upon Mr Curnick’s time and the increased attention required to his large and growing milk business in London, where he will in future reside.”

Albert appears on various census returns and Electoral Registers around Hammersmith, Ealing and Chiswick from 1901 (one location being Vale Farm, Sudbury – presumably the same site that is now Vale Farm Leisure Centre). Albert died in London in 1911. (For more information on the urban dairies of London’s past, try here and here.)

It is with this auction that the Leonard family takes over the tenancy at Netherstreet Farm, and are engaged – but not yet resident – from at least March 1904:

Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser – Saturday 12 March 1904

A further request for staff appears a month later:

Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser – Saturday 23 April 1904

There was a minor brouhaha over some land on the edge of the Netherstreet Farm that had been sold to a neighbouring farmer in 1925 but was then challenged in 1969 and after a few months of back and forth between solicitors and the Crown Commissioners, it was agreed that the 2 acres of unusable scrub wasn’t worth getting their knickers in a knot about and the farm was reduced in acreage by 1.987 acres (which nobody had worried about for 40 years anyway).

My favourite part of the document packet (and thank you, Carole, for adding it on your To-Do list on a recent visit to The National Archives at Kew) is actually one of the first pages. A letter to Messrs Spackman, Dale & Hood (solicitors of Calne) includes a later annotated response from the recipient:

Title to Land at Netherstreet Farm, The National Archives CRES 63/12

Not only is the recipient adamant that the Crown has not held the land for over a century, but the assertion is incorrect! This letter is from 1969 and the Crown gained ownership in 1864.

And then there is the final paragraph of the packet, a letter from Mr F N Clarke-Lowes, which has a distinct “whatever, I’m done” air about it …

Title to Land at Netherstreet Farm, The National Archives CRES 63/12

What disappoints me most is that I can’t find a decent photo of the farm or the house to share, nor can I find anything about the house. Even a trip to the local Archives was of no assistance (although I did find a cottage on Netherstreet that was leased to someone and “their heirs and administrators” for a period of 1000 years: a rabbit hole that I have chosen to ignore!).

There are other, deeper, connections between the Curnick, Beak and Holborow families mentioned above as tenants. A simplified tree, below, shows tenants of Netherstreet Farm in red.

Another Beak sister, Catherine, married Henry Holborow’s brother, Daniel. John Curnick’s sister, Frances married a Beak brother, William. Their daughter, Catherine Francis Beak, married her cousin, Daniel Edwin Holborow, the son of Catherine and Daniel.

Did Daniel Holborow find out about the freeing up of the tenancy and feel some kind of familial attachment that suited his situation as his father’s cousin’s immediate family had farmed it for c. 40 years? (The Holborows, as a reminder, had been tenants at Tresham/Burden Court for c. 200 years.)

Parish of Bromham, 1890

So that’s about it for this post. Its a bit of an oddity for me to do a post about a specific place/residence. I am off now to enjoy RootsTech and attempt to make some headway in a critical commentary essay for my degree! Wish me luck!


    1. We have an amazing source here called The Victoria History of the Counties of England, commonly known as the Victoria County History or the VCH, is an English history project which began in 1899 with the aim of creating an encyclopaedic history of each of the historic counties of England and relates the history of each parish. I’m not sure how complete all the counties are, but Wiltshire is one of the more finished ones!

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