Joseph Swann – A Farmer’s Life

My 3x great grandfather Joseph Swann (sometimes spelled Swan) lived in rural Cheshire, in Lyme Handley a village surrounded by farms and woodland and close to the manor of Lyme Park – the place used in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (yes, that Mr Darcy coming out of the lake moment was filmed at Lyme Park.)

Joseph was born in 1796 in nearby Mellor in Derbyshire, the the youngest of seven children of John Swann and Martha Potts. Mellor is right on the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and near to the Peak District. It is about 6 or so miles north of Lyme Handley as the crow flies. Joseph’s father was described as a Husbandman at the time of his marriage to Martha in 1780. This term meant John was a free tenant farmer or smallholder. It was not quite as grand as being a Yeoman but denoted him above others who merely worked the land for other people. John died when Joseph was just four years old. His mother Martha must have had a tough time bringing up her children alone, although her eldest son John was 21 and second son Robert was 18 so they were of a solid working age to be helping out at the farm so she could concentrate on the other children. 14 years later she married another Farmer – Robert Harrison. It seems that Robert had not been married before. His marital status was not given on their marriage entry, only Martha’s.

Robert appears on the 1804 Land Tax Assessment for Lyme Handley having taken over the farm occupied by his father John, owned by William Olerenshaw’s executors. Sum assessed – 19s 9d. By 1823 this land ownership had been taken over by Thomas Legh Esq. the Legh’s were the family who owned Lyme Park and much of the land surrounding it.

Joseph continued in the farming life and in 1823 he married Sarah Bramhall in nearby Prestbury. Their first child John was baptised in Chapel en le Frith in Derbyshire but the rest of their children were baptised at Disley and noted as being of Lyme Handley. Their second child Robert’s baptism in 1825 is the only one to provide an address – Bowstone Gate. This is a lovely looking farmhouse with two stone monuments outside of it – here is a great photograph of it from the late 1800s.

The farm is in a rather picturesque location – the road up to it finishes at the farm and then becomes a track known as Gritstone Trail.


Bowstone Gate Farm today from GoogleMaps streetview.


The rather lovely view from the road up to Bowstone Gate Farm – from GoogleMaps Streetview.

I am unsure how long Joseph and his family were at Bowstone Farm for, Joseph appears on the 1828, 1829, 1830 & 1831 Land Tax Assessment for Lyme Handley as occupying a farm owned by Thomas Legh Esq. Sum Assessed – £1 0s 8d. This may well be for Bowstone Gate Farm or another place.

By the 1841 census they were at Handley Fold Farm, a little under two miles down the road. There seem to have been no shortage of beautiful farmhouses in Lyme Handley as this current photograph of Handley Fold Farm shows.


From GoogleMaps Streetview.

When Joseph’s youngest child Elisha (my 2x great grandfather) was just under two years old, Joseph’s stepfather Robert Harrison died in 1842. Robert Harrison’s will was an extensive 6 pages long. He appointed his stepson Robert Swann as one of his executors. He bequeathed his widow Martha a twice yearly payment of thirty pounds until her death. He also set aside some provision for Martha’s children and grandchildren as well as children of his late brother John. Robert and Martha had been farming at Cornhill in Lyme Handley and this is where we find Joseph and his family – with his widowed mother in 1851. The Cheshire Tithe Apportionment records for Lyme Handley from circa 1850 show Joseph listed as the occupier of this farm and the land associated with it.

The land comprised of 13 areas as follows:

410 – Three Nooked Pingot – a meadow – 0 acres, 2 roods, 14 perches

411 – Long Pingot – a meadow – 1 acre, 3 roods, 31 perches

412 – Lower Meadow & Wath a – a meadow – 2 acres, 2 roods, 34 perches

There is a note to say that 411 & 412 ‘are now laid together’.

413 – Rushy Wash & Wath b – pasture – 0 acres, 2 roods, 17 perches

414 – Corn Hill – arable – 3 acres, 2 roods, 12 perches

415 – Bailey’s Corn Hill – pasture – 3 acres, 2 roods, 37 perches

It may be that Joseph got this part from his neighbour Hannah Bailey who owned Bailey’s Farm.

416 – Corn Hill House – Buildings, Yard & Garden – 0 acres, 1 rood, 33 perches

417 – Higher Meadow – meadow – 3 acres, 2 roods, 5 perches

418 – Lands – arable – 2 acres, 1 rood, 14 perches

419 – Brow above the house – pasture – 4 acres, 1 rood, 25 perches

420 – Potatoe (sic) field – pasture – 1 acre, 1 rood, 22 perches

421 – Lower Bent – pasture – 1 acre, 2 roods, 15 perches

422 – Higher Bent – pasture – 2 acre, 0 roods, 34 perches

423 – The Ridge – pasture – 7 acres, 2 roods, 21 perches

All this land together makes up approximately 35 and 1/4 acres.


The highlighted area is the land Joseph had. (From the Cheshire e-mapping site


From the 1875 Ordnance Survey map – the highlighted area corresponds to that from the tithe map.

Unfortunately the farm is down a remote farm track out of Google Streetview’s reach, and with me being rather far away from Lyme Handley myself, I have no photograph of the farm.

Martha lived to the grand old age of 96 when she passed away in the August of 1851 – her cause of death simply ‘Old Age’.

Sadly Joseph didn’t last much longer than his mother as he died in June of 1856 aged 60 of Carditis. He died intestate and his widow Sarah had to make oath that the personal estate and effects of her husband were under the value of one hundred pounds.

Sarah was still at Cornhill in 1861 with her two youngest sons, Thomas and Elisha. Thomas was 29 and Elisha 20. She died in 1867 in nearby Fernilee aged 65.

Joseph’s son Elisha remained in agricultural work until at least 1891 when he had moved to Romiley after spending around 20 years living in Mellor with his wife. Interestingly Elisha’s brother Joseph married his wife’s sister!


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