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James Belcher, wealthy farmer, 1800-1881. Moved to Moreton Park

James Belcher seems to have had the wealth and time for countryside leisure pursuits. Like Ezekiel Butler, he was an enthusiastic prosecutor of petty thieves. The family suffered a sad loss when their oldest son drowned in saving a younger brother. James was the fourth and youngest son of Michael “the elder” Belcher and his wife Mary. He was baptised in Gnosall on 19 May 1800. On 21 May 1832 at Gnosall he married Ann Jackson, born c.1810 at Bradley. They had children baptised at Gnosall as follows, with James listed as Farmer: Elizabeth baptised 17 March 1833 James baptised 17 Aug. 1834 Thomas baptised 7 April 1836 Sarah baptised 25 Feb. 1838 Sarah II baptised 4 June 1839 William baptised 30 Sept. 1841 John baptised 7 August 1842 Arthur baptised 19 Nov. 1843 Ann baptised 10 June 1846 Mary baptised 16 Jan.1848 Jane baptised 25 Sept. 1850. There were also the following two but they must have been baptised elsewhere: Charlotte, 1852 Edward, 1854. Like his brothers, James was on the Gnosall Association for the Prosecution of Felons, and did indeed prosecute James Jeffreys for stealing a pig’s head in 1837 (he was jailed for fourteen days) and his servant James Smith for running away in 1840. The following advertisement appeared on 22 Feb. 1840:
TO BE SOLD BY PRIVATE CONTRACT, with possession at Lady-day next, all that old established LICENSED PUBLIC HOUSE or INN, called the “Duke’s Head”, with cottage, stable, butcher’s shop, outbuildings and large garden, well-stocked with fruit trees, adjoining thereto, situate in the centre of the High-street, in Gnosall, in the county of Stafford. The Court Leet and several Rent Audits are held twice a year at the house, and the premises offer a desirable opportunity for the investment of small capita. The premises are copyhold and have an extensive frontage. - For further particulars, apply to Mr. JAMES BELCHER, Moreton Park, near Newport, Salop; or to Mr. FREDERICK GREATREX, Solicitor, Stafford and Eccleshall.
In August 1836 he raced his brown mare Gazelle in the Gnosall Races Town Plate race, which she won, while his brother Michael entered a chestnut mare called Shall I Come Time Enough in the Farmer’s Purse race, which she won by a length. James Belcher is not listed as owning any property on the late 1830s Tithes Awards but rented a great deal: a house, barn and rickyard (1226) on the High Street, from his brother Thomas, where he presumably lived. (This was next door to the property advertised several times for rent - see Thomas Belcher). Behind this he also rented an orchard and garden from his brother, where the Brookhouse Estate now stands. He also rented a large amount of farming land from John Catlow, the Hickins and “the late Mrs Smart”. The “Marson Insurance Policies” of 1834 1 list as rented by him from John Catlow: • A dwelling house used as a storehouse situate at Gnosall, brick and timber, tiled, valued at £100 • A brewhouse nearby, brick and tiled, £5 • A timber and thatched barn nearby, £300 – described by A.W. Bednall as “imposing” • A brick, timber and thatched stable and cowhouse nearby, £50 There are two barns listed on the Tithe Awards as rented by James Belcher from John Catlow - “barn and rickyard” at 1224 (the building looks sizeable on the map); and 1209 behind Brook House, another “barn and rickyard”. In late April 1837, an extensive sale by auction of over 20 horses, including 16 draught horses, riding and carriage horses and a pony, cows, sheep, pigs and farm equipment took place at James Belcher’s farmyard. In 1838 a prosecution was brought against John Tomkinson for shooting rabbits and hares on the lands of Thomas Ash and James Belcher. He was found guilty and fined. In July 1843 George Micklewright was imprisoned for two months for stealing a quantity of bread and cheese, the property of James Belcher, at Gnosall. The 1841 census shows James Belcher living on Audmore Road, near maltster Richard Pearce, with his wife and five children; in the same premises are also a young cattle dealer, two labourers, and children aged 9-15 working as servants. The June 1843, a large number of pieces of land and property belonging to Mr Catlow and occupied by James Belcher (the Bidwell or Biddle at Cowley, the Quarry Piece including the quarry, Near High Field and Far High Field; and Brookhouse Farm and its associated fields ) were auctioned off, as were land and property occupied by Richard Pearce (Hollies Meadow, Jack Croft, and a dwelling house and malthouse in Gnosall). It appears that both men were expected to quit at Lady-Day next. James Belcher evidently objected to the mathematician and schoolmaster Daniel Tuite Sheridan’s un-Anglican ways, because on 25th January 1846 the latter wrote to him defending his refusal to teach collects and catechisms. 2 The 1851 census lists the family again living near Richard Pearce. James Belcher was Farmer of 70 acres employing 5 indoor servants and ? outdoor labourers. There were now nine children. Within the same premises were two teenage female servants, four waggoners and boys, and a young cow boy. In the 1850s and 1860s, James Belcher regularly judged horses, sheep and pigs at the Staffordshire Agricultural Shows and in 1862 at Gnosall Wakes fete, James Belcher acted as starter in the horse race for the Gnosall Cup, which was judged by the Gnosall doctor Mr Baddeley. On 28 June 1856, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported “the melancholy death by drowning” of the Belchers’ oldest son, James, aged 21. He and two younger brothers had been bathing in a nearby pond when one of the younger boys got out of his depth. James rescued him but was himself drowned. By 1861 the family were at Moreton Farm. The census shows that James Belcher had 413 acres, and employed 11 men and three boys. With him were his wife, seven children, a governess, a housemaid, a dairymaid, a waggoner, a groom, a shepherd and a ploughboy. He regularly supplied livestock for auction through the 1860s. In 1858 Robert Adams from Uttoxeter was charged with stealing a cow, property of James Belcher of Gnosall, cattle dealer and in January 1866, labourer Charles Richards and shoemaker Elizabeth Dale were tried for stealing six ducks and three drakes belonging to James Belcher in December 1865, and selling them to a shopkeeper and two publicans in Gaol Square, Stafford. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour; she was discharged (she said she didn’t know they were stolen.) It seems that James Belcher must have kept a foot in Gnosall, as an advertisement in August 1870 threatening prosecution of anyone trespassing after game on his land was addressed from Brook House, Gnosall. However, another advertisement, dated 8 October 1870, offering the Duke’s Head for sale gave Moreton Park as his contact address:
ONE POUND REWARD WHEREAS JAMES SMITH, servant to Mr. JAMES BELCHER, of Gnosall, has run away from his master, and has not since been heard of. Stands about 5 feet 7 inches, round face, has lost an upper front tooth, and is about 25 years of age. Whoever will lodge him in any of Her Majesty’s gaols will receive the above award.
The 1871 census shows James Belcher still with 413 acres Moreton Park, with his wife, two sons and two daughters, two female servants and two male. In 1878 his daughter Sarah married William Cannell (born 1840 on the Isle of Man; he was a druggist and chemist, working in Wolverhampton). James Belcher died on 11 March 1881 at Moreton Park 1881, and was buried at St Lawrence on 15 March. The probate calendar shows him leaving a personal estate of under £4,000, the executors being his widow Ann, unmarried daughter Elizabeth and married daughter Sarah. Felicity Potter 1 http://www.bednallarchive.info/misc/The%20Marson%20Insurance%20Policies.pdf 2 Letter at Stafford Record Office.
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