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Victorian carters in Orton

Monday 9 March, 2020, by Karen Griffiths

Our research in the murder of Thomas Hunter a carrier from Archer Hill in Orton Parish in the Westmorland Dales led us to a rather splendid photograph taken at that remote farm some years after Thomas’ untimely death. The man with the axe stands next to a smart wooden cart carrying a painted sign on it.

An old black and white image of a cart belonging to J & W Buck, from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.
Cart belonging to J & W Buck, Archer Hill, late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne

We at first thought that this might be a photograph of another carrier just like Thomas Hunter who lived at Archer Hill in the 1820s. However, Heather Ballantyne has discovered that it probably belonged to a carter’s business instead. She told us: “I think this was the cart of James and William Buck who were born in Ravenstonedale. I found a carrier listed as coming from Kendal to Ravenstonedale called James Buck in 1865. James had a brother William about 8 years younger than him. I found James being described as Carter but not at Archer Hill on a couple of censuses. The sign on the side reads J & W B?CK. ARCHER HILL

An image of the 1871 census for Newbiggin-on-Lune.
1871 census for Newbiggin-on-Lune. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

James Buck, working as a ‘Carter’ is listed in the 1871 census above as unmarried, aged 47 and living alone in Newbiggin. William Buck, his younger brother aged 38 is also living in Newbiggin with his young family, working as an agricultural labourer. He has a seven-year-old son called John.

By 1881 James has moved to Town End in Ravenstonedale village and is working as a carter and agricultural labourer. He is sharing his house with his seventeen year-old nephew John who is working as a general labourer.

An image of the 1881 census for Newbiggin-on-Lune.
1881 census for Newbiggin-on-Lune. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

By 1891 James has disappeared from the census record and his nephew John seems to have decided to make a new life for himself across the border in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham as a coal miner.

An image of the 1891 census for Bishop Auckland
1891 census for Bishop Auckland. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

So, we can’t be sure that the man in the photograph is James or his younger brother William, and there’s no evidence of either of them actually living at Archer Hill so maybe they just had a job of work on there. James definitely worked as a carter around Orton though.

The type of cart in the photograph is another piece of evidence that the Bucks were carters. It is a sturdy two-wheeled affair, suitable for carrying a single type of heavy load like coal. In this newspaper advert for a Kendal coal dealer we see he employs a ‘carter out’ who also undertakes the ordering side of the business.

An old newspaper clip from the Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 21 February 1846.
Westmorland Gazette – Saturday 21 February 1846. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (

Carting a heavy item like coal would definitely require a heavier vehicle than the one used by the Orton carrier in the photograph below. His wagon had four wheels and a canvas-covered bow top and was suitable for carrying a variety of smaller goods and parcels which needed protecting from the rain.

An old image of The Orton carrier, early 20th century.
The Orton carrier loading his wagon, early 20th century. Courtesy of Heather Ballantyne

Being a carter was therefore a distinct job in the nineteenth century. Like the Westmorland carriers we’ve already written about, they flourished after the building of better surfaced turnpike roads in the middle of the eighteenth century which allowed them to ply their trade using wheeled vehicles. A study of the nineteenth century census records for Orton village shows us that it was quite a varied job too. Some carters worked independently, others were employed as servants.

Starting in 1841 we find that the village had two men working as general carters, John Ward aged 65 and Robert Bland aged 35, who unlike John, had a family to support. Ten years later Robert is still listed as a carter, his son Thomas is working as an agricultural labourer while his other son John is a gardener and fittingly, a groom, having presumably grown up with horses. We also learn that Robert was born in West Ormside, south of Appleby.

In 1861, Robert has now been joined in the business by his son Thomas. They are not alone however, carters are clearly in demand in the village. An elderly bread-maker called Hannah Simpson, born in Bolton over in Lancashire lives with her son Edward aged 45 listed as a carter, born in Orton. Mathew Ward aged 51 is also listed as a carter, but he is an employee/servant of farmer Robert Wilson and his wife Mary, who also employ a dairymaid, so the farm will be producing and selling cheese and butter in quantity. William Robinson is the miller at Town Head Mill in Orton and farmer of 117 acres, he employs a live-in carter called Joseph Robinson, again along with a dairymaid. It’s easy to see why a carter would be needed full time in those circumstance, taking flour; cheese and butter to customers in Kendal and hauling corn back on a regular basis.

Edward Simpson is still living in Orton in 1871 and still working as a carter even though the census tells us he is now lame. Robert Bland is also still working as a carter at the age of 71 remarkably, and he has also managed to acquire/rent 5 acres of land to farm. Of the others, they seem to have lost their jobs with the changing fortunes of their masters. Orton’s new miller is called William Atkinson, but the previous miller’s carter, Joseph Robinson appears to have acquired a small farm of 22 acres in the village and is not listed as a carter anymore. Neither is Mathew Ward, now living with his elderly mother, a knitter and working as a farm servant aged 62.

By 1881, we find Edward Simpson, now aged 62, boarding with a bootmaker and his young family in Orton, still working as a carter and agricultural labourer. There is no mention of his disability. Thomas Bland is also listed, aged 50, like Edward, unmarried, and also working as a carter cum agricultural labourer.

By 1891, just Thomas Bland is listed as a ‘horse’ carter in Orton village. Edward Simpson is there but aged 72 and listed as a ‘retired carrier’ rather than carter. He is sharing a house with his younger brother William, who seems to be still working as a carrier and possibly ‘carman’ – the word ‘Carm’ has been pencilled in next to the word ‘Carrier’. Carmen were usually urban carters, carrying general goods including coal.

An image of the 1881 Census for Orton village.
1881 Census for Orton village. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

There are no carters listed in Orton village in the 1901 census, but we do find the abbreviation ‘Carm’ used in the census for nearby Tebay village in that year. John Dennison is listed as the Cooperative store carter/carman? He lives with his widowed mother who was apparently born in America and seems to have six other children by two different husbands, the youngest aged 3!

An image of the 1901 Census for Tebay village.
1901 Census for Tebay village. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

There are no more carters listed in Orton village, all the work seems to have moved to Tebay with its railway station and opportunities to carry coal and other heavy goods arriving by rail out into the rural hinterland.

In 1911 for instance, Bowness Coates carter of Tebay can even afford to employ a carter’s assistant.

An image of the 1911 Census for Tebay village.
1911 Census for Tebay village. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England. &

After that date it is likely that motorised vehicles began to replace the horse drawn cart and the carter’s days were numbered.

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Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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