Breeders, Bankers and Bankrupts


Bakewell's pupils included George and Matthew Culley, originally from Beaumont Hill and then Denton in County Durham, who moved to Fenton, Northumberland, in 1767; and Charles and Robert Colling of Ketton Hall and Skerningham near Darlington, County Durham.

John Gall charts the prosperity of the Culleys in the Durham Biographies.7 Their elder brother Robert continued to farm at Denton when George and Matthew moved to Northumberland to be joined by their brother James. As well as being agricultural innovators they were in correspondence with Robert Bakewell, and others. George Culley's Observations on Livestock (1786) became a standard text on breeding. Their land rental portfolio extended across Northumberland with rental outgoings in 1801 of 6,000 producing profits from farming of 9,000. In addition in the 1790s they purchased Akeld for 24,000. They had invested prudently during the boom years of the wars with France. They had also used Bakewell sheep and horses to produce the border Leicester sheep and Vardy or Bakewell horses.

In conjunction with John Bailey, George Culley wrote a General View of Agriculture of Northumberland for the Board of Agriculture in 1794. Elizabeth Culley made her will in 1805 after the death of her husband Matthew Cully in 1804, and in which she left "the Bureau and Book-Case of my late Husband with the Books therein" to her son Matthew Culley: her will was proved on 2 June 1814.8 George Culley made his will in 1810 and died in 1813, probate being granted on 28 June of that year to his son Matthew Culley.9

Charles and Robert Colling were some twenty years younger that the Culleys but in a rural community centred on Darlington the two families were acquainted. Russell delivers the anecdote of the founding of the shorthorn breed.

Charles Colling farmed at Ketton, near Darlington. After his return from Dishley he was dining with his brother Robert and a friend, who jointly wanted a bull. Charles said he had seen an excellent animal as he passed Haughton-le-Skerne church; it had a mossy coat, looked like putting on fat and, most importantly from Charles' point of view, was mellow to the touch: the ordinary cattle of the time were hard as boards. It belonged to a small farmer and bricklayer, and Charles was authorised to buy it for eight guineas [8.40]. But Robert did not much care for it, and after a time Charles, who still kept faith in it, bought it back for its original price. He named it Hubback and hunted round for suitable mates, also mellow to the touch; with the help of his wife he ultimately found four. From this small herd all our shorthorns are descended, and Hubback rose from obscure beginnings to become the father of a famous breed. There was, of course, much in-breeding; Comet, one of the most renowned of all domestic animals of the nineteenth century, was got by Favourite out of his own daughters.
Colling's main purpose was beef, but later on a milk branch of the breed was started by Thomas Bates, of Halton, in the Tyne valley, and later of Kirklevington. A legacy left him by an aunt enabled him to purchase the animals he fancied and to make the necessary experiments.10

From the early days of breeding these eighteenth century farmers kept herd books. These records are published by the various breed societies. An animal gains entry by birth. For shorthorns four crosses of registered blood are required for females, and five for males. The Shorthorn Society had some of the earliest records of livestock pedigrees.

J.A. Scott Watson relates: 'If, on a day in or about 1822, there had been seen coming over the ridge into Wharfedale an old man on a white horse, it might have been George Coates, with his satchel full of calf records and bull pedigrees. Since 1812 the breeders of Shorthorns had been urging the obvious need of publishing records, and Coates undertook the work of compiling the Herd Book. This was printed at the Wharfedale Stanhope Press, Otley, with drawings in stone of many of the noted cattle of the day. It was the first book of its kind, excepting only the General Stud Book of Thoroughbred Horses'.11

The most popular dairy cow is the Shorthorn. Probably the next favourite is the Ayreshire, the only native dairy animal of Scotland; it originated in the eighteenth century in the district of Cunningham, North Ayreshire, but its history is not recorded.12

The Colling herds were built up from the 1780s with major dispersal sales being held in 1810, 1818 and 1820. Charles' sale in 1810 was at the height of the war time boom, with the bull Comet making a record price of 1,000 guineas, bought by a local syndicate of Trotter, Wetherill, Wright and Charge. Also at the sale was Christopher Mason.

‡ Mr Mason was long an eminent breeder of stock. By spirited and judicious purchase from Mr. Colling's stock in 1810, he obtained the pure breed of improved Durham short-horns, of which, it would appear, he had previously possessed individual specimens. The prices which were offered and refused for some of this breed must appear enormous to the uninitiated. For the cow Marcia (daughter to Gaudy, who was got by Favourite) [a half-sister to Comet] Mr. Mason, in 1807, refused 700 guineas. Charles, of the same breed, was let for the highest sum which any bull ever obtained in England, viz., four hundred and fifty pounds for two seasons.13

The height of these prices might be compared to a farm labourer's annual salary in 1865 of 35.

The Colling brothers in 1783 were members of the Agricultural Society of Darlington, and in 1803 along with Christopher Mason were members of the Rushyford Experimental Society. Dr Winifred Stokes, writing in Durham Biographies regards Mason as having been mentioned by Bailey alongside the Collings 'and yet he is now virtually unknown'.14 Bailey in his General View of the Agriculture of County Durham (1810) describes how this 'small society was dedicated to 'experimenting with crops, fencing, draining, manure, and to establishing the best stock for particular purposes'.

Robert Surtees offers evidence of this drainage and land improvement activity along the South Skerne.

A flat of marshy land, peat bottoming on clay, extends along the whole upper course of the Skerne, and various plans have been proposed for a general drainage. A few years ago the main course of the Skerne was almost entirely choaked by weed and sedge, the water stagnated in a number of small trenches and on the surface, and the whole herbage was composed of rushes and the coarsest aquatic grasses. It appeared that there was a sufficient fall to enable the proprietors near the head of the stream to throw off a great portion of the water. The main course was cut straight about four feet deep, and nearly two yards wide; the small side cuts were in general suffered to close, or reduced to open grips, but a deep and wide trench was opened parallel to the main stell (and at intervals communicating with it), exactly where the marsh joins the sound land to intercept the springs which burst from the limestone rock. The effect was visible the first year, and has gone on constantly increasing. About two feet and a half of dry surface have been obtained, and the peat, drained of the water which it held, is gradually changing into soil; finer grasses have succeeded to the aquatics, and these unprofitable swamps are converted into pasturage, which retains its verdure in the most parching drought, and is peculiarly valuable to the occupier of the adjoining gravely and calcareous soil.15

The Great Stell across Morden and Bradbury Carrs provides testimony to these agricultural pioneers, after two centuries still draining the land.


7 Durham Biographies, Volume Three, edited by G.R Batho, Durham County Local History Society, 2003, pp54-55.
8 Will of Elizabeth Culley. Ref: DPRI/1/1814/C23/1-2.
9 Will of George Culley. Ref: DPRI/1/1813/C15/1-11.
10 Sir E. John Russell English Farming, 1941, pp19-20.
11 Edward Hart North Country Farm Animals, 1975, p49.
12 Sir E. John Russell English Farming, 1941, p22.
13 William Fordyce History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, 1857, p442.
14 Durham Biographies, volume 3, edited by G.R. Batho, pp126-130.
15 Robert Surtees The History and Antiquities of the County of Durham, Vol. III, p21.

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