Hello, In 1818 times were hard in Weardale as the price for lead was low in the markets and so the wages the lead miners were receiving for their hard and dangerous work was not enough for them or their families to survive on. Around them they could see plentiful game, such as the moorhens and grouses, so to support their families they took to fells and hunted for their food.
Unfortunately the hunting rights to this land, was owned by the Prince Bishop of Durham who, not taking into account the hardship the lead miners were experiencing decided to take action against what he considered poaching and therefore stealing from his land. So, in 1818, on December 7th, Bishop Shute Barrington sent an army of men, including land stewards, bailiffs and gamekeepers, to Stanhope to arrest the ring leaders and imprison them in a local inn.
The local lead miners were angered by this and collected outside the inn, demanding the release of the men. This resulted in a ‘battle’ between the Bishop’s men and the locals with the Bishop’s men being heavily defeated and much bloodshed.
This event has become known as ‘The Battle of Stanhope’ and commemorated in a folk ballad called ‘The Bonny Moor Hen’. This folk ballad has become legendary within the area, demonstrating the strength of the local miners and farmers and their independence, and was often sung at the local Stanhope fairs. Some of the verses can be seen below…
THE BONNY MOOR HEN
“You brave lads of Weardale, I pray lend an ear
The account of a battle you quickly shall here,
That was fought by the miners, so well you may ken
By claiming a right to the bonny moor hen.
Oh this bonny moor hen, as it plainly appears,
She belonged to their fathers some hundreds of years;
But the miners of Weardale are all valiant men,
They will fight till they die for their bonny moor hen.
Oh the miners in Weardale, they are bred to the game
, They level their pieces and make sure of their aim;
When the shot it goes off – Oh, the powder doth sing,
They are sure to take off, a leg or a wing
Now, the times being hard and provisons being dear,
The miners were starving almost we do hear;
They had nought to depend on, so well you may ken,
But to make what they could of their bonny moor hen.
There’s the fat man of Auckland and Durham the same
Lay claim to the moors and likewise the game
They send word to the miners they would have them to ken
They would stop them from shooting the bonny moor hen.
Of these words they were carried to Weardale with speed
Which made the poor miners hang down their heeds
But then sent an answer they would have them to ken
They would fight till they died for their bonny moor hen.
When this answer it came to the gentlemen’s ears,
An army was risen, it quickly appears;
Land stewards, bum bailiffs, and game-keepers too,
Were all ordered to Weardale to fight their way through.
Oh this battle was fought all in Stanhope town,
When the chimneys did reek and the soot it fell down
Such a battle was ne’er fought in Stanhope before
And I hope such a battle will ne’er be fought more.”
A further account can be found in:
‘The Bonny Moorhen, Or, the Battle of Stanhope: a Sketch of An Encounter Between the Weardale Poachers and the Gamekeepers : With Ballad’ by William Morely Egglestone, first published in 1880 by StrongWords and reprinted in 1979. Unfortunately these editions are difficult to come by but a very good and comprehensive depiction of the events can be found at – Drama in The Dale