Note on William Farrer

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Institute of Historical Research

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William Farrer & John F. Curwen (editors)

Year published

1924

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7-9

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'Note on William Farrer', Records relating to the Barony of Kendale: volume 2 (1924), pp. VII-IX. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=49303 Date accessed: 20 November 2014.


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WILLIAM FARRER, Litt.D. HISTORIAN AND FRIEND.

The Author passed from us on Sunday, the 17th August, 1924, at Forsjord, Mosjoën, Norway. William Farrer Ecroyd was born on the 28th February, 1861, being the second son of the late William Farrer Ecroyd of Lomeshaye, Lancashire, and Credenhill, Herefordshire. He was educated at Rugby and entered business as a textile manufacturer, from which he retired in 1896 when, owing to the will of his great uncle, he took by royal licence the surname of Farrer, the name by which he is best known.

Prof. James Tait writes:—" In the greater leisure of country life, his taste for family documents developed rapidly and was raised to a higher level by his study of the epoch-making researches of Round and Maitland which were just then appearing." On the death of J. P. Earwaker in 1895, he bought his extensive collection of material for a new history of Lancashire and set himself the task of compiling one somewhat upon the lines of Eyton's History of Shropshire, bringing his story down to the reign of Elizabeth. He was assisted by a skilled palaeographer and transcribers were kept at work upon every available document relating to the county; one of his discoveries being that part of the Inquest of Service of 1212 which relates to Cumberland and the Honor of Lancaster, previously known only by extracts in the Testa de Nevil. A volume of the early Clitheroe Court Rolls was his first publication (1897) and from that time onwards important works were constantly compiled by him. The influence of Round and Maitland was shown in two pioneer articles on the Domesday Survey contributed to the Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society. The Cockersand Chartulary began to be issued by the Chetham Society in 1898 and took many years to complete. The Lancashire Final Concords began to be issued by the Record Society in 1899, and Mr. John Brownbill says that "the valuable notes appended to the early volumes, correcting a great number of current mistakes, marked him out as an authority." The Lancashire Pipe Rolls and Early Charters, to the end of John's reign, with an elaborate map in colours of feudal Lancashire, published in 1902, confirmed his position. The two volumes of Lancashire Inquests and Extents (1903, 1907) as also a volume of Lancashire Court Rolls of the time of Edward II followed in quick succession.

Concerning Dr. Farrer's most conspicuous success—the eight volumes of the Victoria History of Lancashire—Prof. Tait writes:—"Despite Farrer's remarkable powers of work and his ability to secure ample skilled assistance, the final stages of his intended History of Lancashire would probably have been protracted into the period of the Great War and the whole plan perhaps wrecked, had he not fortunately joined forces with the promoters of the Victoria History of the Counties of England. The burden of digesting the vast mass of his topographical collections was divided with an ideal co-editor, Mr. John Brownbill, and outside contributors were found for the general articles on the political and ecclesiastical history of the county, Farrer limiting himself to those on the 'Domesday Survey' and the 'Feudal Baronage' which are good examples of his thorough and accurate method. This happy solution reached, the great undertaking steadily progressed to completion at the rate of a volume a year between 1906 and 1914." Its merits were at once recognised by the local universities, Manchester conferring upon him the Degree of Doctor of Letters, and Liverpool placed him on its staff as Honorary Reader in Local History.

Dr. Farrer likewise took a great interest in the history of the neighbouring county and began preparations for his collection of Early Yorkshire Charters (1914-16); unfortunately the increasing cost of printing caused him to suspend publication, much to the regret of students of mediaeval history. His Itinerary of Henry I, published in 1920, was the result of his study of these charters; finding it difficult to date some of them he collected all he could of that reign and by analysis was able to arrange them in a fairly chronological order. Mention ought also to be made of his contribution to the Victoria History of Yorkshire; his Domesday Book section is a laborious and well finished piece of work.

Feudal Cambridgeshire, issued in 1920, showed that his studies had passed from purely local antiquities. The success of this work, following upon his Yorkshire studies impressed upon him that after all the fiefs, however important, were only fragments of great honors which extended into many other counties. Hence he was encouraged to attempt a general feodary of England. In his Honors and Knights' Fees each barony or fee is taken by itself, and the estates of the baron and his knightly tenants are traced through the very obscure period extending from the Conquest to the time of Edward I. Two volumes of this valuable work have appeared and a third is in the press.

Dr. Farrer also defrayed the cost of transcribing for the Chetham Society the second volume of the Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, and the first volume of Lancaster Quarter Sessions Records.

These Records of Kendale will reveal the indefatigable nature of his work. They are the result of an accumulated mass of notes, jotted down on scraps of paper at odd times whenever a Westmorland note came before him, but with the source of the information carefully appended in almost every case. Indeed all that he wrote is distinguished by scholarly thoroughness so that any mistakes found herein are due to the present editor who has had the work of sorting out the material, arranging the items into parishes, compiling them in chronological order and passing them through the press.

The tale of an output, which few scholars self trained and working remote from public libraries can have surpassed, will not be complete without reference to the innumerable articles contributed to the various Antiquarian Society Transactions or to his financial assistance to the Pipe Roll and other Record-printing Societies.

In 1920 Dr. Farrer came to reside in Westmorland, building on to Whitbarrow Lodge a magnificent library, which contains a collection of books and manuscript records that were always placed at the disposal of historical students, to whom also he was ever ready with encouragement.