Rogue Agent

This piece concerns the Batley estate belonging to the Egerton family, inherited from the Copley family through the first Earl’s mother and aunt. Some time between 1809 and 1826 the position of Agent in charge of running the estate was given to one Richard Walker, a man with business interests of his own. In one document he is described as a ‘clothier,’ which would mean dealer in woollen cloths, but his chief business was the running of a corn mill at Carlinghow. His business gave him a relatively comfortable lifestyle, but a salary as the Agent for the Earl of Wilton was a useful addition to his income. His link to the Heaton estate was enhanced by his marriage in 1815 to Emma Denham, daughter of Richard Denham, the Agent at Heaton; furthermore, when Richard Denham was succeeded as Agent at Heaton by his son, another Richard, it was then his brother-in-law that Walker was responsible to.

As well as running his own businesses he was responsible for managing the Earl of Wilton’s interests in the Batley area – farm rentals, collieries, quarrying, etc. However, it would seem that he advanced his own personal business interests, using his role as the Earl’s Agent, to carry out some rather questionable deals, sometimes ‘borrowing’ Egerton money to finance his own interests.

His fall from grace took place in 1842 when, while away on a business trip to York, he failed to leave enough money to pay the miners’ wages at one of Lord Wilton’s collieries. The uproar that followed this prompted several other people to make complaints about his dealings, and news of this cash-flow problem soon reached Heaton. An investigation into Walker’s financial management took place, and he was swiftly dismissed as Lord Wilton’s Agent at Batley.

One of the affairs Walker profited from was a wish by local textile manufacturers to build a new road from Dewsbury and Batley to the important wool town of Bradford, and in 1826 it was planned to apply to Parliament to form a Turnpike Trust. Walker was quick to point out to Lord Wilton that a new road would open up more of his land to development, thereby increasing his income. Lord Wilton agreed, and Walker, appointed one of the trustees for the Turnpike, was left to see to the day-to-day work involved. Walker, as Trustee of the Turnpike, had knowledge of the proposed route, and used this to inflate the price of his own land at Carlinghow, where he also bought up old cottages at a spot where the new road would intersect with an older one, a useful resting point for travellers. There he pulled down the cottages and built an inn for travellers, which he named ‘The Three Arrows’; the funding of this venture relied on his ‘borrowing’ some of Lord Wilton’s funds. When the new road was completed it never raised the income from tolls that was projected at the outset.

A footnote to this story is that Richard and Emma Walker had a son, who was named, to reflect his mother’s family, Richard Denham Walker. At the time of the scandal the broke in 1842 this son was already employed in the office at Heaton Hall. This Richard Denham Walker went on to become the Agent at Heaton in the later years of the 19th century, a well-respected man, who retired in 1888 to be replaced as Agent by his son, Walter Egerton Walker, who was still Agent at Heaton in 1902 when the park and hall were sold to Manchester Corporation.

(Information for this article is drawn from ‘Batley Pride’ by Malcolm Haigh, published 2005)