The Edmondsons of Briercliffe with Extwistle
The first of June 1983 was intended to be the first day of the rest of my life.
On the previous day, some two hundred friends and colleagues had gathered in the office canteen to proffer their best wishes and congratulations on my forthcoming retirement, after almost forty years with British Telecom. I had accepted an early retirement deal and it was on a wave of euphoria and expectation that I left the office for the last time, looking forward to a well planned future.
But "the best made plans of mice and men" proved true in my case and so it was, that exactly one month later - on the morning of the 1st July, my husband suffered a sudden coronary and died within the day.
High summer came and went unnoticed, in fact, I can not recall one single bright day during those months. Autumn approached, the trees changed colour and the garden lay neglected under a carpet of leaves. The days grew shorter and as winter approached, I found myself becoming nervous alone in the house at night, so I bought a Doberman puppy for company - a decision which we had planned and which did, as much as anything, begin to restore me to a state of normality. At eight weeks old, the puppy needed four small meals a day, so I was no longer able to please myself in disregarding meal times, and as the weeks passed, and her inoculations were finally completed, she needed to be taken out for walks. We began to explore the woods close to my home and although it was difficult in the beginning we gradually increased our daily mileage to about five miles a day.
Time passed slowly, but I began to notice more signs of life, appearing through the dead bracken things were returning to normal. Every day the green patches became bigger - things were returning to life and spring was on the way. The signs of winters decay became less and then, one day, a patch of hazy blue appeared in the distance - the bluebells were coming into flower.
Still the days seemed long and the nights seemed even longer, but one rainy afternoon about the middle of May, and for want of something better to do, I was looking through a box of old photographs which had belonged to my aunt, when I came across a faded, folded piece of paper which I took out and examined. It was my grandmother's birth certificate, well over one hundred years old, dated 1869, and as I held it in my hands I remembered the old lady who had given me such love and warmth during the early years of my childhood. Memories came flooding back and I started to recall the stories she had told me every night at bedtime. Stories that were the recollections of her own childhood, when she had lived on a farm and ridden the wild moorland countryside with her brother and her gypsy friend. Tales of her grandfather whom she had obviously adored and of his horses and of how he had made her first saddle and riding boots with his own hands, before he had taught her to ride. I remembered how she had accompanied him to horse fairs throughout the country, riding high on the neck of his largest stallion and of the stories he would relate to her as they made their way homeward at the end of a long day.
According to the certificate, she had been born at Hoghton Extwistle, a place name which meant nothing to me, yet the more I thought about it all, the more I remembered - several names resurfaced; her brother Jimmy who had been especially close to her and who had accompanied her in many of her adventures; Lady Alice, the ghost of the nearby Hall who sat in an upstairs window watching the world go by as Grandma had passed by on her way from school. So many different tales, after all, one story every night for seven years mounted to quite a lot and as the days passed I found I couldn't get it out of my mind. I got out the road maps but I couldn't find this place called Hoghton Extwistle and so I decided to approach two relatives, both older them myself and who might know a bit more than I did. I wrote to Uncle Vincent who had retired from his headmastership and was living in Southampton and to my mother's cousin, Audrey, who lived in Skipton, Yorkshire.
I had met both quite frequently over the years and thankfully they both replied within a matter of days, expressing their interest and offering what help they could. Both of them took me to task over my misspelling of the Edmondson name in exactly the same words my grandmother, my mother and my aunt has used "Edmondson is spelt with an 'o' and not a 'u'," a lesson which they had obviously learnt as children. They both outlined Grandma's immediate family - parents and siblings, for both their mother's had been Grandma's sisters, together with details of their marriages and their children. But still I did not know the whereabouts of Hoghton Extwistle, except the fact that the family had lived at Extwistle Hall, near to Worsthorne, another name I recalled from Grandma's stories - and so, the very next day, complete with a map, I set out on a journey, which whilst completely new to me at that time, became a very familiar one over the next few years.
I stumbled upon Worsthorne more by luck than good management and was immediately transported back in time. An atmosphere of peace and calm pervaded the whole village so that it appeared as one with the beautiful moorland which surrounded it, and as one would expect, the church of St John the Evangelist stood in the centre of the village with narrow moorland roads radiating from the church, towards Cliviger, Hustwood, Extwistle and Burnley. The trees surrounding the church were at their best verdant green and the sun was shining brightly as I looked around the churchyard, hoping to find some family graves - but without success, but not surprising as I really didn't know what I was looking for.
Feeling slightly disappointed at this early failure, I took the road leading to Roggerham and Extwistle. Within a few yards of leaving the centre of the village, the road became very narrow and winding, so much so that I was praying I would not meet any traffic coming in the opposite direction. After a few meandering miles and whilst slowing to a snail's pace to negotiate a sharp right hand bend, my attention was caught by a dilapidated sign hanging drunkenly and barely readable, but which, on closer inspection, pointed the way to Extwistle Hall.
I parked the car, leashed the dog, and started out along the rutted farm track towards the Hall. As I walked, the sun disappeared behind the gathering clouds and I could hear the first rumblings of thunder in the distance. It got darker and darker as the dark clouds gathered round the moors and suddenly the atmosphere seemed changed and quite evil as the first heavy spots of rain came down and the wind gathered in strength. The dog, a normally boisterous youngster, tucked herself as close to my legs as she could get and I had begun to feel that there was more to Grandma's stories of ghosts and boggarts than simply fairy tales.
Suddenly and without warning I came upon the Hall. It materialised through the grey gloom, a sad and desolate monument to the past and as I looked around for somewhere to take shelter from the heavy rain, a voice hailed me from out of nowhere. It seemed a bit too loud and a bit too earthy to be that of Lady Alice, though I would not have been at all surprised to see her watching me through the window - it was in fact the farmer who was milking his herd and who invited me into his shippon to get out of the storm.
We talked at some length and being a local man, he had heard a little of the Edmondsons. He pointed towards another house some two hundred yards distance and there stood Hoghton Farm, my grandmother's birth place, standing square and firm, its foundations anchored deep in the bedrock of Extwistle Moor.
Almost as quickly as it had begun the storm abated and after expressing my thanks to the farmer, we made our way back to the car. Worsthorne was as I had left it some hours before, warm and peaceful in the late afternoon sun and as I pointed the car in the direction of Burnley and home, I knew that I would continue my investigations into the lives of my ancestors who had lived, laughed and loved on those high, wild moors above Burnley.
Mrs M. Bernie Baker
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