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Helmdon Historical Articles

The Fairbrother Family

an article by Audrey Forgham

The Fairbrother family name is known in Helmdon because Charles Fairbrother erected the Reading Room, but who were they? 

The first mention of the family is in 1678 in John Bridges book The History & Antiquities of Northamptonshire when Richard Fairbrother was conveyed Minicourt or Middlebury Manor, one of the three manors of Helmdon (the others being Overbury and Netherbury).

In 1654 Brown and others convey the same (except Crispe's Stockins) to James Cole, Esquire. And in 1678, ………. Coles, Esq. conveyed the same to Richard Fairbrother, whose son Mr. John Fairbrother now holds it; Crispe's Stockins being sold to ……… Lister, Esq. from whom it is now come to Sir Charles Holte. These three Manors pay a quit rent to the King's Manor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Richard cannot be found in the parish registers, but the Voters Lists are informative documents, and a Richard is recorded, as are references to many Fairbrothers;  this is a mine of information to anyone researching their family tree. A John Fairbrother, yeoman farmer, is on the list so we know the family still farmed land here in 1702.   He also shows up in 1705, when his eldest son John was baptized, this being the earliest Fairbrother reference found in the parish registers.*

In 1723 we have a Terrier of Glebe lands which encompass all the Glebe lands leys and Meadow Grounds. In Astwell furlong Meadow, we learn, for instance, that in the East Field Item - One half acre ley East was farmed by John Farebrother East & John Carpenter West and again, in Whitmore Furlong Item - Two roods  were farmed by  Lady Holt North & John Farebrother South.

Four years later, there is a will of John Fairbrother in which, after leaving his four daughters £200 each, he left the rest of his property to his eldest son. WP Ellis in his interesting and informative book "Village Life in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries" writes that a John Fairbrother was mentioned in the 1733 churchwarden's accounts and in his first year of church wardenship the interior of the church tower "was completely renovated, and the ladder to the bells and the stonework of the doorway renewed."   Ellis goes on to praise John's work as churchwarden.   Before his tenure the repairs in the church was temporary; under his care everything was well done and became permanent.

In her excellent article on Helmdon Enclosure in Aspects of Helmdon no.2 Val Moir states that in 1731 Worcester College, Oxford, had over 30 tenants, mostly with very small properties, and she gives us a “true copy of the Rent Roll” compiled in 1731 when a Richard Fairbrother paid two sums to the College, 6s.8d and 1d.  She comments that although she could not find any records linking the various pieces of land or cottages owned by them, "it is interesting to see how low the rents were”.

Then, in 1758, the Helmdon Enclosure Act came before Parliament in which every villager had an amount of land divided in strips throughout the village, which were, Val reminds us, not always equal.

Helmdon Enclosure Map

Worcester College Oxford is recorded as Lord of the Manor of Helmdon on Parliamentary papers, and lists the owners of land in 1758 to be:

Magdalen College 280 acres
Vincent Shortland 220 acres
Worcester College< 200 acres
Thomas Fairbrother 120 acres
Charles Fairbrother 100 acres
Mrs Woodman 100 acres
Wm. Painter 100 acres
Total 1120 out of 1800 acres
In the following year, 1759, an Award of Inclosure of Open and Common Fields,  relating to parts of College Farm, mentions John Fairbrother, and there is a further document from the same year, an Extract from the Comrs Award on Helmdon Inclosures as to Mr John Fairbrother's Allotment which gives more detailed information, emphasising the fact that he had "to make, repair, mend and maintain and keep in repair part of the pubic road designated by them" at his expense. His allotment included most of the quarry fields, no doubt an important consideration when accepting the duty of road maintenance. Mr Fairbrother's land abutted on to that of Sulgrave, and the upkeep of some of the Sulgrave roads was also the responsibility of Mr Fairbrother and one or two other local men in the Sulgrave Enclosure of 1760. Public roads and highways had to remain 40ft. broad at the least between the ditches except for bridle and footways.

There exists information about an insurance policy (bottom entry) for 1762 which further helps the story of the Fairbrothers. John Fairbrother owned a stone and slated dwelling house and outbuildings in Helmdon, also a thatched farmhouse and dairy in Wappenham, now called Home Manor Farm. This is interesting because a descendant named Charles who donated money for Helmdon Reading Room (of which more anon) was living in Wappenham before his death.

In the same year, 1762, we have the militia returns, “a list of persons liable to serve as militia men”,  The list was "according to John Parkins", who was the petty constable, and included the names of John Fairbrother Junior and  Mr Greave (George?) Fairbrother.

In 1777, there is another set of militia returns and we have listed, “according to Anthony Drake (constable)”,  Luke Fairbrother, farmer, and Thomas Fairbrother, farmer. This was the Thomas (a rare name in Fairbrother genealogy) who had been baptized on 20th September 1747 in Helmdon and who had married Maria “Ria” Stilgoe at Helmdon on 1st May 1786 and buried in 1831 in Helmdon.*

Farmers Thomas Fairbrother and George Farbrother were apparently  also maltsters because Master Edward Hill in his 1794 will bequeathed, amongst other possessions, "all his stock of malthouses Garner Mills and Implements belonging to the malting business to them."*

A John Fairbrother 1779 - 1831 is described aged 52 as “Gent” in the parish records*, further evidence of the high standing the family had, and probably always had, in the village.

A Luke Fairbrother was born on 18 September 1748  in Helmdon  and died in 1810.  This could have been the Luke Fairbrother who contributed a sum towards a bell or bells in St Mary Magdalene Church because in 1797 one is inscribed:


(diameter 27½ inches)
(These were re-dedicated in 1951)

William Fairbrother was baptized in Helmdon on 18 May 1800 in Helmdon.  He was a banker, and later a draper, in Banbury, also the executor of a will of his brother-in-law, William Strange. His older brother-in-law, Thomas Strange, brought legal action in Chancery Court to have William replaced as executor, arguing that because William had twice been forced to compound with his creditors he was not fit to serve as sole executor.*

There is a will in existence for 1822 of a Richard Fairbrother in which he wanted "the linen to be equally divided between brothers and sisters", and made bequests to John, Edmund, Richard and William Fairbrother, and there is one for Charles Fairbrother, gentleman, a few years later, in 1856, in which is "Fairbrother James of Helmdon", is described "farmer and grazier son, executor" and a grandson Charles is mentioned. This may have been the Richard who, shown by the accounts, was a churchwarden with John Hinton at the time the undated sanctus bell was provided in 1816. Charles Pickford, in an article entitled "What's Up That Tower", notes that "the bell itself is a rather clumsy casting".

Fairbrothers are named as being inhabitants of the village in the census records of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881. A James and Richard Fairbrother are listed as farmers in the 1841 census. In the 1851 census James is documented as having 340 acres and 9 labourers, with Charles as a retired famer. In 1871 James has the same amount of land and "5 men and 3 boys", but by 1881 census he had retired.****

The Craftsman's Notebook***** mentions a table which includes "the late Mr Farebrother whose lower farm consisted of 18 acres", but what is more interesting is the comment in it that there were "several orders for Oxfordshire wagons, as well as for other types including a “double shaft wagon for Mr Fairbrother."  The Index to the Craftsman's Notebook gives further details.

James and Charles Fairbrother were involved in the foundation of Helmdon village school. 1853 is the date set in stone on the front wall of the Old Schoolhouse, with the initials of the vicar, the Revd. Charles Milson Mount, and two churchwardens, Jamie Pool and Charles Fairbrother, CMM, JF, and JP. That is the date that marks the true beginning of the village school on its present site.

James Fairbrother was named in the 1894 Post Office Directory (and also in Post Office Directory of 1924).*   “The communion table and reredos was presented in 1881 by the late James Fairbrother.”

From the census records we know that there is a Fairbrother mentioned in the censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881 but not from then onwards. In 1861 James Fairbrother had 296 acres and 14 men and 2 boys, and in 1871, 120 acres and 5 men and 2 boys; in 1881 he is noted as retired.

There was in existence for a time a Helmdon Benefit Society, presumably to help the less well off members of the village, which paid out for death, sickness and medical aid. Mr Fairbrother is to be found on a list of Friends who subscribed to the Feast Accounts. In 1909 he donated 12s 0d, and in 1910, as an honorary member, he donated the same sum. This could have been the Charles Fairbrother of (1831-1942) who was the Fairbrother who left the most mark on the village. And again, this could have been the Charles who owned, although did not necessarily live, in the house in Church Street which was called Hazara and is now known as Leeden Tye, since there are title deeds which mention his name.

18 19 Sept 1885 TRANSFER OF MORTGAGE 120 Chas Fairbrother farmer to Geo Vials gentleman

What we do know is that the great achievement of Charles Fairbrother (1831 - 1942) was the building of the Reading Room in 1887 for the men of the village to have newspapers and magazines to read. The erection of the building was marked in 1888 in the local newspapers The Banbury Guardian and The Banbury Beacon and Jean Spendlove writes about it in The History of the Reading Room. He gave it to the village in memory of his parents James and Sarah Fairbrother and others of his family who lived here, "to be forever hereafter used as a Reading Room by all the inhabitants of ... Helmdon, and also of ... Stutchbury, Astwell and Falcutt".

The Reading Room
1887 This building was erected by CHARLES / the only son of the late JAMES FAIRBROTHER / for the use of the people of Helmdon / in affectionate memory of his parents / and other members of his family />

And it has been so important to Helmdon. The village does not have any other building comparable to it, and without its presence the vast number of organisations, such as the twice weekly post office, the scouts, WI, The Fellowship of Retired People, the village café, the plays, the musical concerts, The Women's Club, the Luncheon Club and so on, would not have come into being.

Indications of the Charles Fairbrother's sojourn in Helmdon are on the garden wall of Home Farm which is inscribed:

CF (Charles Fairbrother 1842-1932)


GF is on Home Farm Dairy (George Fairbrother 1743 – 1803)

The inscription on his grave in St Mary Magdalene church, Helmdon is as follows:

Fh 1 (Flat Slab)

In / loving memory of / CHARLES / FAIRBROTHER / who died 20th November 1932 / aged 90 years / also of his wife / ELIZABETH JANE / who died 14th Aug 1937 /

and the burial registers of St Mary Magdalene state:

P.R.352 1932 Charles Fairbrother Hove Sussex Nov 23rd age 90
P.R.395 1937 Elizabeth Jane Fairbrother 12 Wyke Road Brighton Aug 17th age 78

The inscription above shows that although Charles died in Hove (incidentally naming his house there "Helmdon"), the fact that he was buried in St Mary Magdalene Church indicates that his heart was assuredly in Helmdon.

[See press cutting.]

He is not the only Fairbrother in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene; he joined over 15 others.

More evidence that the Fairbrothers have had a lasting fondness for the village is apparent from the fact that descendants of the family have kept up with Helmdon over the years. John Fairbrother, of Ipswich, died in 2019. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday. He regularly asked John Thorne, who lives in the village, for updates as to the use of the Reading Room. Sometime after the Covid pandemic his ashes will be buried to join the other members of his family in Helmdon churchyard, which include those of his elder brother, Charles “Grockle” Fairbrother.

It is interesting to note that Thomas Fairbrother's land, in Helmdon (now centred on Home Farm, acquired about 1919), and in Wappenham (on Home Manor Farm), is now farmed by the Watson family.

I thought that Lukes Farm House and Lukes Close would be ascribed to Luke Fairbrother, but John Watson informs me that that it was named after Luke Jessett. A press cutting from the 1930s calls it St Lukes Close. Why in the beginning did it have a saintly name? Incidentally Peters Farm has a St Edmunds barn.... another mystery to solve!

Audrey Forgham 2021

*I am indebted to family descendant and genealogist Heather Olsen who contacted the website with information. She would be pleased to answer any queries as to family genealogy (hlolsen@yahoo.com).

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