Bradfer-Lawrence - a rather different kind of collection

Draft lecture on Thomas Lister and the Gisburn estate

Lecture on Thomas Lister, given by Harry Bradfer-Lawrence on 29 September 1952

Thomas Lister, afterward created Baron Ribblesdale in 1797, was born in 1752. His father, also Thomas, died in 1761. The son’s patrimony accumulated during the years of his minority. As a small boy he went first to Slaidburn Grammar School, an ancient school of some standing locally, under the patronage very largely of the Lister and Parker families.
From thence he went to Westminster, and on to Oxford, taking the degree of D.C.L., and came home to Yorkshire ‘trailed’ by a sycophantic hanger-on friend in holy orders.
His uncle, Nathaniel Lister of Armitage Park, Staffordshire, immediately resigned his seat in parliament as one of the two representatives for Clitheroe in favour of young Thomas Lister. By a family arrangement made in the early years of the 18th century, the two related families of Lister and Curzon divided the patronage of the family pocket borough of Clitheroe.
It was not long, however, before Lister became restless for the larger life and pleasures of the metropolis and the south with which the years at Westminster and Oxford seem to have imbued him. Sometime in 1776, he took a pack of hounds into Oxfordshire and hunted the old ‘Warwickshire country’ (now the Heythrop) from Over Norton – a place he took on lease for that purpose. He soon became involved in a ‘country’ dispute with the Duke of Beaufort. When the American War of Independence broke out, he sought and obtained royal permission to raise three squadrons of cavalry at first named ‘Lister’s Light Horse’ but very shortly afterwards, on the advice of General Burgoyne, rechristened ‘The Yorkshire Light Dragoons’. Also, he built and furnished for war a schooner or yacht, which he named ‘Enchantress’ and which was acquired subsequently by the Government.
His entering into possession of the family estate may be said to have occurred just when the sporting habits of the aristocracy were becoming ‘grouse’ conscious, or, as the birds were then called ‘moor game’. His father, Thomas Lister M.P. (d. 1761), caused the Malham estate to be surveyed and mapped by one George Lang in 1760. Lang also surveyed the borough of Clitheroe in the same year for him. The extensive Lister estates lay in Yorkshire and Lancashire and included, besides Clitheroe, much of what is now [1952] part of Oldham, as well as several other smaller properties now substantial towns. Coal was, I think, the primary reason for ordering these surveys.
In 1785-86, Thomas Lister, the son, having made several extensive purchases in and around Kirby Malham as additions to the ancient family property there, had the entire Malham estate there surveyed and remapped to a large scale on vellum.
It would seem as if the surveys aroused considerable interest, apart from economic reasons, in two other directions – the natural beauty of these remote fells in the Craven Highlands, and the sporting prospects in fishing and shooting. Grouse shooting as we know it today did not exist, but walking up moor-game over dogs (pointers) was just beginning to attract sportsmen. However this may be, Thomas Lister, the father, had himself and friends painted riding in front of Gordale Scar by Vivares c.1756, and Thomas Lister, the son, commissioned Anthony Devis in 1779 to make a series of fourteen water colour landscape drawings, some featuring the physical curiosities of nature.
In 1789, the year he married, he had thoughts of erecting ‘an Octagon Tower’ on Hawke Scar, perhaps in celebration of this event, and a rough drawing of his own design for the purpose remains in my library [Now MD335/1/4/7/7]. A new road under Hawke Scar was constructed in 1790.
The picture by Vivares, of the father, Thomas Lister M.P. riding with friends on Malham Moors and showing the Tarn House in the background, c.1750, was reproduced as the frontispiece to Thomas Hurtley’s ‘Curiosities of Malham’, 1784, together with the drawings of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar.
There was definite evidence then that the Listers were awakening to the mining – coal, lead, calamine – sporting and natural attractions of the Malham end of their Yorkshire estates.
It is interesting to review the actual heights of the mountains and fells of this district – Ingleborough, Penyghent, Fountains Fell – with the fantastic measurements given by Hurtley - between two and three times their actual! We have many references to these ‘mountains’ in the unpublished letters of old Thomas Collins D.D. and Nathaniel Lister of Armitage Park, Staffs.