Joseph Brunskill Kearton

By June Parkin

Joseph Brunskill Kearton
, Pte. 205149 Northumberland Fusiliers, appears in the Lynesack Absent Voters list for 1918, address 15 Lane Head.

An ‘Ancestry’ search shows that he was born in 1890 in Muker, Swaledale and in the 1891 Census his father, Foster Kearton, was a gamekeeper. By 1901 Foster is a widower and is now a coal hewer in lodgings in Brough together with Joseph, now 10, and his sister aged 12. In the 1911 Census  Joseph is a servant on the Smardale farm of his cousin, George Brunskill.

How did Joseph come to be in our area in 1918? His two brothers were miners at Harperley Station, Fir Tree in 1911, so this may be why Joseph sought employment in coal mining.

There is limited military information relating to Joseph on the ‘Ancestry’ website. His medal record shows that he served with the 4th, 5th and 7th Territorial Battalions and later the 8th Service Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. As well as the Victory and British war medals, he received the Military Medal. This was awarded to ‘other ranks’ for “gallantry and devotion to duty when under fire in the battle on land” and entitled the recipient to put ‘MM’ after his name.


A search in the online Teesdale Mercury Archive refers to his MM award in the February 13th 1918 edition, saying that he was from Butterknowle. Further references in the Mercury are less edifying. In the edition of December 3rd 1919, under the heading of  ‘BUTTERKNOWLE SHOPBREAKING, James Dillon (19) and Joseph Kearton (29)were brought up in custody, on remand, charged with having forcibly entered Butterknowle stores, and stolen goods of the value of £26s.’ P. C. Sunter received the men into custody, and both pleaded “guilty” at Barnard Castle. Mr Hicks (defending) characterised the affair as a drunken spree, and added that Kearton had won the Military Medal on the bloody slopes of Passchendaele. The accused were committed to Quarter Session on January 5th.’

The Passchendaele battle was fought from the end of July to November 1917 so perhaps the MM award was delayed, or the report to the Mercury was late, or the statement may not be accurate in the circumstances of the MM award.

Joseph does not seem to have learned form his crime, for another report appeared in the Mercury

on January 1st 1930. ‘John George Morrison (28) and Joseph Brunskill Kearton (39), both, |of Butterknowle, were jointly charged with breaking in to the Brown Jug Inn, Kinninvie on October 24th, and stealing there from a bottle of rum and five shillings in silver. Morrison had previously been remanded on a charge of breaking into the house of Mr. R.W. Blenkinsopp, Hawthorn House, Butterknowle, and stealing a quantity of jewellery on December 12th’.

The pair eventually admitted the charges, Morrison asking for four other thefts to be taken into account and Kearton ‘asked for two other cases to betaken into consideration-(1)

Housebreaking and stealing £35s and liquor from the Three Horse Shoes Inn, Copley, on September 22nd ; (2) a like offence at the Cross Keys Inn, Boldron, on October 24th. The prisoners were committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions. Bail was refused’.

The Mercury reported their next appearance in the edition of  January 8th 1930 : ‘ Housebreakers Sentenced. At Durham Quarter Sessions. On Monday John George Morrison (29), sawyer, and Joseph B. Kearton (39), miner, Butterknowle, admitted charges of housebreaking at Kinninvie, on which they had been committed for trial by the Barnard Castle magistrates, and Morrison admitted a similar charge at Rowntree, Lynesack. Dr. Charlesworth defended Kearton, who he said had fallen to the temptation of Morrison, being out of work. Morrison was sent to prison for nine months and Kearton for 3 months.

So we can see that returning to civilian life was by no means easy for many soldiers and a commendation such as the Military Medal was no guarantee of esteem or employment. Joseph Brunskill Kearton died in 1960, aged 70. Did he recover from the set-backs of the first 10 years of his return to Teesdale?