Conflict on the moors

Grouse Moors
Gamekeepers appear in all the Marsden Censuses between 1841 and 1901; they lived in the Wessenden Valley, where by 1891 Wessenden Cottage was a shooting box, and at Buckstones, Far Owlers or Gilberts. Sometimes they combined game keeping with shepherding or farming.

Some local grouse moors were on privately owned land previously enclosed from Meltham and Upperthong; the latter moor was managed from the Isle of Skye till the early 20th century33. On private land there were no conflicts of interest.

In Marsden, the Lord of the Manor let out shooting rights. By 1886 the Rates Surveys34 show that shooting rights on 3234 acres of moor, including Wessenden Pasture, Baubus, Out Butterley Pasture, Holme Moor, Lingards Wood Moor and Binn Moor, were let to Joseph Crosland; shooting rights on 566 acres on Warcock Hill and the three Pule Hill pastures were let to Thomas Bayley and others; and rights on Buckstones were let to Joseph Crowther.

When the shooting rights and grazing rights on common land belonged to different people, conflict was inevitable.

Farmers v Gamekeepers
Cows need grass – grouse need heather – and the interests of their owners can come into conflict. On 18th March 1864 Daniel Hall, a woollen manufacturer and farmer of Binn Lodge, set fire to half a mile of heather on Binn Moor, where his brother Samuel owned Cow-Gates, "to get the herbage from underneath" for his cattle. Gamekeeper Matthew Flint, (who worked for Crosland and Sykes who rented the shooting rights) "went up, and with some inconveniences and danger to himself, ran through the smoke till he got within a distance of ten yards from the defendant" who, he claimed, ran away.

On 21st May Daniel Hall was charged in Huddersfield Magistrates Court with damaging the heather, hence depriving the game of cover, and "thereby doing damage to Sir Joseph Ratcliffe [sic] to the extent of 6s." The defence was that owners of Cow-Gates "were justified in doing what they thought proper with the moor", by a right which had existed for many years. As they had gone to the expense of fencing, guttering and draining the moor, they had a right to the herbage. Mr Crosland’s lawyer contended that if this were indeed so, they "might set fire to the whole moor and thus destroy the shooting altogether".

Mr. Clough defended Daniel Hall, making the following points:

  1. The custom of the manor had been to fire the moor in March and November, for the last 40 or 50 years, to keep down the "rank vegetation of a wild state of nature and enjoy the pasturage which they were entitled to."
  2. Sir Joseph Ratcliffe himself had not complained of the damage, though if he did, Samuel Hall was "wealthy enough to meet any action which Sir Joseph Ratcliffe could bring against him".
  3. The case had been brought maliciously, because gamekeeper Matthew Flint had lost a case in 1861, when Daniel Hall sued Flint for interrupting him while cutting bedding [probably heather or bracken] from the moor.
  4. Matthew Flint had admitted under cross-examination that he himself owned a cow gate [he is listed in the 1861 census as farmer, aged 41, of Peter’s farm, Binn] and fired the moor "in a proper legal manner, a few yards at a time", and allowed other farmers to do likewise, but Daniel Hall had burned half a mile of moor, causing much damage. Mr Clough therefore concluded that the issue was not the right to burn moor, but the quantity burned, and this was a matter for the civil courts.

As a result, the magistrates decided they had no jurisdiction in the case (implicitly conceding that there was a right to burn the moor). The lawyers on both sides declared themselves ready to continue the battle at the assizes court, but it is not known whether this happened35. According to the accounts of the proprietors of Binn Moor Beast Gates36, Mr. Clough was paid £5.5s.0d in July 1864 "for defending and court expenses". Daniel Hall’s brother Samuel made the payment, and was reimbursed over time by the proceeds of Cow Gates rented out by various owners of Cow Gates on Binn Moor, who presumably felt that this victory was worth paying for.

Shepherds v Gamekeepers
On 26th November 1881 Mark Lumley, gamekeeper of Hoyle Top and Jacob Wolstenholme, a coachman, were sued by shepherd Matthew Flint for assault. Flint claimed that when he went to collect his sheep he was attacked by the defendants. The defence claimed that Flint had first stood by and then purposely got in the way of the game driving, and that "these shepherds systematically crossed the drives with the intention of compelling these gentlemen to give up their shooting". However, Lumley and Wolstenholme were convicted of assault.

The background is interesting. Apparently, in past years, the gentlemen who rented the shooting on Marsden Moors had also "for the better enjoyment of their sport, secured the sheep gates and beast gates upon the moors either as tenants or owners". However, the new shooting tenants had not done this, allowing conflict to arise as, the prosecution argued, "they seemed to think that the plaintiff’s employers should not exercise their rights over their sheepgates, where they pastured a large number of sheep"37.

The Public v Gamekeepers
In August 1868 a correspondent wrote in the Huddersfield Examiner that it was difficult to preserve game "in districts like this, where a swarming population, with no great adoration of grouse laws, surround the game preserve." While in the past a friendly understanding existed between the public, shepherds and farmers, and gamekeepers,

"Now the moors are strictly preserved, and jealously guarded. The moorland streams which once swarmed with trout, and delighted the heart of the angler, have had their finny inhabitants "preserved off the face of the waters", and a trout is seldom or never seen. Actions at law between cattle keepers and gamekeepers are finding plentiful work for the lawyers. The village pinder has become a troublesome and unpopular official … Printed notices against trespassers are posted up and down" … poor people "are forbidden to go upon the moors to collect the fruit … Birds not included within the sacred grouse category … have been ruthlessly destroyed …"

Even allowing for some humorous exaggeration, it is likely that a considerable amount of bad feeling did exist. But could it have led to murder?

William Uttley

William Uttley

Gamekeepers Murdered
On September 9th 1903 the bodies of two gamekeepers were found, shot dead, on Marsden Moor. They were William Uttley, aged 58, known as Bill o’ Mark’s, "a man of powerful physique and almost gigantic stature" who lived at Far Owlers, and Robert Kenyon, aged 26, the son of gamekeeper William Kenyon of Buckstones, which was used partially as a shooting-box. Uttley’s body was found lying in the open, but Kenyon’s was hidden in a gulley. The supposition was that the murderer had wished to throw suspicion for Uttley’s murder on Kenyon.

The person charged with the murders was Henry Buckley, a small farmer of Sholver, Oldham and a reputed poacher. Buckley, also a Salvation Army leader and a popular and straightforward character, was an unlikely suspect. The evidence against him was that he had threatened William Kenyon over an accusation of poaching; he had admitted to being on a nearby moor (where shooting was free); he had lied about his movements; and wads and cartridges in his house corresponded to those found near Uttley’s body. Buckley was acquitted, and no further evidence against him or anybody else ever came to light.38

So was the murderer a poacher? Or could it have been a local farmer or shepherd with a deep hatred of Uttley in particular, or gamekeepers in general? We will never know.

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  1. Shimwell, David, Manchester University, Past and Present Land Use and Vegetation – A Key to Understanding the Distribution of Sphagnum Species, paper presented at The third Moors for the Future conference, 2005,
  2. Marsden Valuations 1838-1897, op.cit.
  3. Information from reports in Huddersfield Examiner 28th May and Huddersfield Chronicle 28th May & 4th June 1864.
  4. Minutes of Binn Moor Beast Gates, op. cit.
  5. Newspaper Court Report, George Marsden Papers, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Kirklees.
  6. Leeds Mercury, Wed Sept 12th and Thursday September 13th, 1934.