John Scarth, a “well-to-do” Bransdale farmer

A lovely view of St Nicholas Church appearing through a window in the autumnal canopy from a field near to Bransdale Mill where the National Trust are creating a wildflower meadow.

The little church at Cockayne was built about 18001North York Moors  Historic Environment Record (HER) No: 1170, so it would have been very familiar to John Scarth, a well-to-do farmer who was a bit of a Bransdale character.

Scarth was born in 1834 in Bransdale and, in the 1861 census, was still living in the dale with Issac and Mary Scarth2‘John Scarth – Born in 1834 in Bransdale E S Yorkshire Farndale West Side – 1861 England & Wales Census’. 2022. <> [accessed 13 October 2022].

I assume Issac was his farther who was of sufficient standing to be appointed to a Grand Jury at the North-Riding Sessions3‘North-Riding Sessions. | Yorkshire Gazette | Saturday 12 April 1845 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. <> [accessed 6 October 2022].

John Scarth followed in his father’s footsteps perhaps taking over the family farm. According to a 1865 newspaper report he was a local supporter of Liberal politics4TO THE INDEPENDENT ELECTORS OF THE NORTH-RIDING OF YORKSHIRE | Yorkshire Gazette | Saturday 15 July 1865 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. <> [accessed 6 October 2022].

In 1874 though, we begin to learn of Scarth’s less favourable traits. In that year he was host of a “pig-killing”, a local custom when a pig was killed and weighed, an excuse for conviviality and rejoicing. I’ve posted about this gathering before when Robert Johnson, the 70-year-old schoolmaster in Bransdale died in such circumstances that ladies were ordered out of the court because the evidence was so indecent.

Two years later Scarth was charged with indecently assaulting one of his female servants in the kitchen in front of his men, and then repeated the offence in the bedroom5‘District News’ (1876) Hull Packet, 11 Aug, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021].. He counter accused the girl of stealing a watch which was found in her box. At the girl’s hearing, Scarth failed to appear, and her solicitor said he had proof that Scarth had put the watch in her box. Consequently, that charge was dismissed, with “the magistrates vehemently condemning the dastardly conduct of Scarth6‘EXTRAORDINARY CHARGE AGAINST A NORTH YORKSHIRE FARMER’ (1876) Northern Echo, 09 Sep, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021]..

Scarth was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment7‘QUARTER SESSIONS REPORTS’ (1877) York Herald, 04 Jan, 6+, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021]..

But in the meantime , the following month Scarth was in court again, this time charged with poisoning with arsenic six calves belonging to his neighbour, Nicholas Barker. At this time Scarth was described as “being a man of property, owner of the farm on which he lives, and also of an estate in the neighbourhood8‘EXTRAORDINARY CHARGE AGAINST A NORTH YORKSHIRE FARMER’ (1876) Northern Echo, 09 Sep, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021]..

At this latest trial, the prosecutor asked for an adjournment in order to call the analyst, and opposed bail on the grounds that the prisoner had threatened to shoot him — a loaded revolver had been found in his house. However bail was allowed for £1000, with two sureties of £300 each9‘EXTRAORDINARY CHARGE AGAINST A NORTH YORKSHIRE FARMER’ (1876) Sheffield Independent, 15 Sep, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021].10‘THE EXTRAORDINARY CHARGE AGAINST A NORTH YORKSHIRE FARMER’ (1876) Northern Echo, 21 Sep, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021]..

But this period of imprisonment did not deter Scarth from leading a quiet life. I have found three newspaper reports where he was charged with poaching11Fond of Illicit Grouse Shooting. | Leeds Times | Saturday 31 August 1878 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. <> [accessed 6 October 2022]12‘NORTH COUNTRY NEWS’ (1880) Northern Echo, 02 Feb, available: [accessed 23 Sep 2021].13‌Petty Sessions. | Yorkshire Gazette | Saturday 29 October 1881 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. <> [accessed 6 October 2022].

So John Scarth — I feel I have only scratched the surface of this character of Bransdale and there is so much more to discover.

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