Yorkshire Chess History



Robert Barnfather











Made in Yorkshire



Sheffield Sub-Site



1858, Brampton, Cumberland




06/09/1925, Penrith




Identity of the Chess-Player


Such examples of Robert Barnfather of Holmfirth’s chess activity as are to hand at the time of writing list him simply as “Barnfather”, without initials.  Nevertheless, that surname was of such scarcity in the locality at the time in question, that identification is straightforward.


The wider Barnfather family came from Cumberland, more especially the Carlisle area, and Robert Barnfather’s immediate family originated in the Brampton area of Cumberland (now Cumbria).  Brampton is about 14 miles ENE of Carlisle, and about two-and-a-half miles south of Hadrian’s wall, and about the same distance from Lanercost Abbey.


Non-Chess Life


Robert Barnfather’s maternal grandmother and his mother both married twice, with the result that his census entries accompany various family members with the surnames Halliburton, Modlen and Johnston, besides Barnfather.


His maternal grandmother was called Arabella [maiden name?], and her first husband bore the surname Halliburton.  This couple had at least two children, both born at Brampton:


Elizabeth Halliburton

born 1827/28

Amelia Halliburton

born 1832/33


At some time, seemingly, from 1832 to 1837, Arabella Halliburton’s husband died, and in 1839 Arabella remarried, to Thomas Modlen, in 1839.


The 1841 census accordingly found Thomas and Arabella Modlen living with 8-year-old Amelia Halliburton (our man’s mother), 18-month-old Arabella Cox Modlen (born Nov/Dec, 1840, Brampton) and a servant, in Front Street, Brampton.  Another five Modlen children, George, Edward, Richard, Mayaut and Mary, seemed to live next door with another servant.  Thomas was a hat manufacturer.


The 1851 census found the Modlen family still in Front Street, Brampton.  The household consisted of parents Thomas and Arabella, daughters Elizabeth Halliburton, Amelia Halliburton and Arabella Modlen, and one servant.


In 1854, Amelia Halliburton married Robert Barnfather (senior – our man’s father), in Brampton.  This couple had two children, both born in Brampton:


William Halliburton Barnfather

born 1855

Robert Barnfather

born 1858


The first child, William, died in about three to six months of birth.  Amelia conceived a second child, but father Robert died roughly a few months before the birth of the child, which took his father’s name and went on to play chess in Holmfirth.


Unfortunately, father Robert Barnfather had died before the birth of his son.


In 1868, Amelia Barnfather (née Halliburton) remarried, to Dr. John Joseph Johnston (born 1809/10, Scotland).  The couple has a number of children.


The 1871 census found 12-year-old Brampton-born Robert Barnfather away at a boarding school run by a Thomas Corby, in Thrapton, Northamptonshire. 


The 1881 census found our man, now 22 years old, living back in Brampton, at the Hollies, Back Street, Brampton, with step-father John Joseph Johnstone, mother Amelia Johnstone (previously Barnfather, née Halliburton), father’s daughter Margaret Johnstone, half-sisters Amelia Cox Johnstone and Ellash [? – Eleanor?] Johnstone, and one servant.  Step-father John was an Edinburgh-qualified general medical practitioner.  Robert was a slate and timber merchant.  The two youngest girls were scholars.


By 1884, on the basis of chess records, Robert Barnfather had moved to Holmfirth in the West Riding of Yorkshire.


In the 1888 poll book covering Holmfirth, Robert Barnfather was listed as resident at “Lane, Holmfirth”.


In the 1888 poll book covering Holmfirth, Robert Barnfather was listed as resident at Greenfield Cottage, Holmfirth.


The 1891 census found Robert Barnfather lodging with widowed Mary E. Moorhouse, at Greenfield Cottages (there appear to have been two cottages), Holmfirth.  Robert was a manufacturer, though of what was not specified.


The banns of marriage between Robert Barnfather and Agnes Elizabeth Bell of Irthington parish were read at St John’s, Upperthong, on the 12th, 19th and 26th of July 1891.  The marriage duly took place on 30/07/1891, at Irthington, a parish adjacent to Brampton.  The couple had al leas the following two children, both born at Fulstone, New Mill, adjacent to, and east of, Holmfirth:


Dorothy Amelia Barnfather

born 1892/93

Ronald Bell Barnfather

born 1893/94


Poll books list Robert Barnfather as resident at Stoney Bank, New Mill, from 1895 to 1902.


The 1901 census found parents and two children living at Lea House, Fulstone, New Mill.  [Was Lea House on Stoney Bank?]  Robert was a worsted cloth manufacturer.


In the 1904 and 1909 poll books covering Holmfirth, Robert Barnfather was listed as resident at Sudehill, in Newmill itself.


In 1910, give or take a year, Robert Barnfather moved to Penrith, back in his native Cumberland, after about 27 years in Yorkshire’s West Riding.


The 1911 census found parents Robert and Agnes, son Ronald, and two servants, living at Stagstones, Penrith, Cumberland.  Ronald was a scholar.  Stagstones remained Robert’s residence to his death.  Robert was still a worsted cloth manufacturer.




Robert Barnfather died at age 67, on 06/09/1925.  Probate was granted to his wife and two children.




Chess activity of Robert Barnfather while resident in Holmfirth includes playing in the 1884 Huddersfield v Holmfirth match and the 1884 Sheffield & DCA v Hudersfield & Holmfirth match.





Copyright © 2015 Stephen John Mann

Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information

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