Breeders, Bankers and Bankrupts


How Mason's portion of the manor came into his possession is quickly told.

Great Chilton was the estate of the ancient Herons, and afterwards the Boweses of Dalden, the Blakistons, and the Halls of Newsham. The latter conveyed a moiety of the manor to John Jeffrayson and John Morland, Esqrs., who immediately conveyed to John Lord Bishop of Durham. The bishop settled the estate on his daughter, Dame Mary Gerard;* and it afterwards passed to the Greenwells and the Dunns. The other moiety was sold by the Blakistons to the Wildes, who conveyed to the Milbankes; and, in 1798, Edward Milbanke, Esq., conveyed to Christopher Mason, Esq., … and the Rev. Robert Waugh. The portion of the latter was sold by him to Sir H[enry] V[ane] Tempest.3

* He subjected it to the following charges:- To the Master and Fellows of Peter House, Cambridge, 58 per ann.; to the Master and Fellows of Caius and Gonville College, 28 per ann.; to the poore and impotent sicke in the hospital on the Pallace-green, in Durham, 70 per ann.; and to the keeper of the bishop's library on the Pallace-green, twenty marks, or 13 3s. 8d. per ann.

In his 1857 work Fordyce records a further charitable bequest of 3 15s by the Rev. Mr Simons in 1739, this time for the poor of Chilton itself. However, at this date the endowment was entangled with Mason's estate.

Township of Chilton.- Simon's Charity.- 3 15s. left by the Rev. Mr. Simons, with 6 5s. derived from other sources, are now in the hands of the representatives of Christopher Mason, Esq., who pay 10s. a year interest, which is given away with the Chilton share of other charity monies.4

William Whellan reports in his 1894 Directory that '[t]his charity seems to have been lost sight of', and also makes note of another charity that had become involved with Mason's estate.

About 1810 a Mr Fenwick of Durham left to the township of Chilton ten acres of land, in front of Chilton Hall. During Christopher Mason Esq.'s time at the Hall he exchanged the ten acres for the present five acres and in lieu of the other five acres he agreed to supply seed potatoes. After his death the supply was discontinued. The allotment of land was evidently left to benefit the poor of Chilton. But owing to its lax government, those holding the greater portion are far from being 'the most needy'.5

Clearly the fallout from Mason's debts lingered for many years after his death, touching the most poor of his neighbourhood.

Excerpt from the Tithe Plan for Chilton parish: Poors Field is field number 75. Ref: DDR/EA/TTH/1/42.
Poors Field (75), Chilton Tithe Plan. Ref: DDR/EA/TTH/1/42.

The summary of the landowners, confirmed by the Tithe Commissioners on 24 Apr 1839, for Chilton shows that the Trustees of Christopher Mason held two estates, one of 269 acres 2 roods and 13 perches and the second of 418 acres 3 roods and 16 perches.

To understand how Christopher Mason made and lost a fortune by the middle of the nineteenth century, it is necessary to go back to the agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century and examine its impact on farming practices of Durham and Northumberland.

During the second half of the eighteenth century changes occurred to farming practices, Townsend introduced turnips to crop rotation in East Anglia, the use of root crops replaced fallow in the traditional medieval three field rotation, and, together with clovers and grasses became the Norfolk four-course rotation; with half of production being grain for human consumption and the rest for animal feed. The landed gentry became seriously interested in livestock production and in an extension of the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses came the breeding of livestock. The Duke of Bedford was noted for his pig breeding; Thomas Coke, MP for Norfolk, bred Southdown sheep; but the most notable and influential was to be Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Dishley Grange in Leicestershire.

Sir John E. Russell paid a tribute to Robert Bakewell in 1941:

There had always been many varieties of domestic animals in Great Britain, but the first successful efforts at improvement were made in the second half of the eighteenth century by Robert Bakewell, of Dishley, Leicestershire, a farmer with real genius for live-stock. Up to his time animals that fattened well were sent early to the butcher, while those that did not were kept for breeding. He realised that this was wrong, and sought deliberately to produce animals that fattened easily and economically. In this he was very successful, and by careful breeding he fixed his types. His Leicester sheep gave rise to our most popular breed of sheep, and though his Longhorn cattle did not survive, his methods practised by his pupil Charles Colling produced the Shorthorn, now [1941] our most popular breed of cattle. His animals fetched high prices; indeed, some people complained they were 'too dear to buy and too fat to eat'. But the cost of his experiments was even higher and he is said to have died poor. British agriculture, however, owes him an incalculable debt, and he gave to countless other farmers the means to live.6


3 Mackenzie and Ross View of the County Palatine of Durham, vol. 2, 1834, pp311-312.
4 Fordyce The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, vol. I, 1857, p442.
5 Whellan The County of Durham, 1894, p282.
6 Sir E. John Russell English Farming, 1941, pp18-19.

< Previous page Previous page Next page Next page >