The Edmondsons of Briercliffe with Extwistle

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John Edmondson, the Stallion Keeper, 1808 - 1888

John, the eldest son, was my great, great grandfather and was named for his maternal grandfather, on whose farm he spent most of his childhood whilst his siblings were still young. He developed a love of horses at this time and spent days at a time riding the wild moors, where he made friends with the gypsies who camped there every year in the spring time. He learned from them of their medicines and helped in collecting the herbs and flowers which were used in preparations and it was there that he first became interested in the breeding of horses.

He learned the trade of cordwainer with his father and eventually, in 1832, he married Elizabeth Halstead of Worsthorne, and they took up residence at Ethersale, Little Marsden, where their three sons were born, Joseph in 1834, William in 1835 and Thomas in 1838. The 1841 census shows him employed as a farmer and clogger, together with his wife and three sons, all three boys being baptised at Haggate Baptist Church.

By the time of the 1851 census, John and Elizabeth had moved to Brunshaw House, where John was shown as manager of some 40 acres. William, the middle son had disappeared from the record, and it is believed that following the typhus epidemic of 1843, John had moved his wife and sons to the higher ground around Brunshaw, believing it to be healthier than Little Marsden in the valley below.

Although I have researched for evidence of the missing son William, nothing has been discovered up to now, so it seems quite possible that he died in the epidemic and his burial was not recorded. John must have purchased his first stallion about this time, for by 1861 he was travelling the whole of the Lancashire and Yorkshire areas with two stallions, Young Samson and England's Glory.

In those days, it was the custom to advertise the journeys of these travelling stallions, by posting the details along the proposed route. Two such posters now in my possession show the distances he travelled with his horses, as well as their pedigrees and it has been confirmed that Young Samson was recorded in the very first stud book of the Royal Shire Horse Society, published in 1901 and that John was one of the first and foremost breeders of shire horses in Lancashire.

By 1861, both sons, Joseph and Thomas, had married and were settled in Hoghton House Farm at Extwistle, where the stallions were stabled. Joseph had married Grace Hargreaves of Worsthorne in January 1859 and Thomas, my great grandfather, had married Ellen Smith, also of Worsthorne on the 9th July in 1860. The elder son, Joseph, ran the farm of 96 acres whilst Thomas acted as groom to the stallions and travelled with them, as well as running a carrier service around the locality.

Thomas's first child was born in 1860, a son named John, for his paternal grandparents and both families lived happily together at Hoghton House. It was a large property with plenty of room for both families and even today houses two families in comfort.

Thomas and Ellen had five more children, a second son in 1863 named James for his maternal grandfather, followed by four daughters, Elizabeth Ellen born 1865, Mary, always known as Polly in 1867, Sarah Ann my grandmother born in 1869 and finally Alice born in 1875/6. During the same period, Joseph and Grace had four sons, Thomas born 1862, William born 1864, John born 1865 and Albert born 1870. So it was a large, close knit family that grew up on the farm, sharing their lives, their hopes and their fears.

The grandparents were frequent visitors, having moved to a house in Burnley, from where Elizabeth ran a small grocery business, but John was present much more frequently as his stallions were stabled at Hoghton House. It is from this period from 1870 that most of my bedtime stories originated.

Sadly, Joseph's wife, Grace died before the 1881 census was taken and he later remarried Jane Greenwood, a Scottish born widow who lived close by.

Sarah Ann, my grandmother, was always known in the family as Serann and I was told that from a very early age she was her grandfather's favourite, mainly because of her love of his horses. It is said that on one occasion before she could walk she eluded the eyes of her mother and was discovered some two hours later in the stable between the forelegs of the largest stallion, where she had crawled and fallen asleep in the hay. She never showed any fear of these huge animals, and so it was that John, her grandfather, taught her to ride "having made her saddle, boots and gloves with his own hands". (I always suspected that this was a bit of imagination on my grandmother's part, but I now realise that having been trained as a cordwainer in his early days, it was entirely possible.)

In the spring time the two mothers, Grace and Ellen, and their children would gather huge baskets of cowslips which were then turned into a golden wine, as well as herbs in variety to make tonics and medicines both for man and beasts, and as the year moved along, they gathered fresh young nettles to be made into beer for the men working in the fields at harvest time. Later followed by wild elder flowers, elderberries and blackberries for syrups, jams and wines. So it was at a very early age that I was taught an appreciation of the fruit and flowers of the hedgerows and their benefits for mankind, an appreciation which remains to this day.

I was told of dark winter nights when the whole family would gather round the huge open fire in the kitchen and listen to the exciting tales told by Grandfather John. Tales of his own youthful experiences, of his friendship and adventures with his gypsy friends, tales of folklore, of the God of Thunder, Thor who lived close by on Thursden Moor. Tales of the Lancashire witches, who, not so long ago and not so far away, had lived over on Pendle Hill and who might still be seen and heard by unwary travellers at night time. Tales of ghosts and boggarts and of the Extwistle Fairies whom John said "he had known quite well". They were, grandma said "not at all like the pictures in my story book with wings, pretty dresses and magic wands but simply little people that had the power to help or to hurt as they wished". They lived close by the well on Extwistle Moor and it was thought that to apply the waters to a lame animal would bring about a cure.

She told me of how, after listening to Grandpa's tales, the children would be loath to leave the cheerful warmth of the kitchen and would dash up the stairs shrieking and laughing and would hide under the bed clothes in trembling anticipation should one of Grandpa's "spectres" appear.

She talked of Mayday customs and the gathering of May blossom, which was never to be taken indoors, of Maypoles and mischievous pranks practised by the boys. Of Mothering Sunday, when cakes were given to visiting friends and relatives, along with a bottle of cowslip wine. Of Easter customs, when "fairy glistenings" were baked and hidden around the house for the children to find (it seems that these "fairy glistenings" were small flat biscuits dusted with sugar for I found a recipe amongst my mother's papers after she died). Although she talked a lot about the preparations for Christmas, I don't recall the giving of expensive presents as with today's children. They seem to have lived happy and fulfilling lives as children without the trappings of a modern commercial Christmas. The traditional family meal complete with the flaming pudding, the arrival of relatives to share the Christmas spirit, plus oranges and other fruit and nuts, seem to have surfficed.

Serann adored her grandfather, and she often accompanied him to horse fairs and shows around the country where John was a popular and well known exhibitor. I have been told by other relatives of their entry to one particular showground. "John entered the showground leading his stallion, with his young blonde granddaughter seated high on the horses neck, his pride in both apparent for all to see". He must have been quite a showman I believe, and I have been lucky enough to recover one of the medals which was awarded to him at one of these shows.

However the happy eventful days at Hoghton House could not last forever. By the mid 1870s the railways had made great inroads into the transport of freight and the work for small horse drawn carrier businesses had started to dry up. The farm alone was no longer sufficiently profitable to support four adults and nine children and so it was decided that Thomas and his family should move away from Extwistle and start a new life in Euxton, a then thriving village near Chorley.

A cousin of Thomas's, John Edmondson, who had been born in Burnley had retired from his job as headmaster at a school in nearby Leyland and had taken up employment as land agent for Colonel Cross of Shaw Hill Estate Whittle Le Woods and it is presumed that it was through him that Thomas became aware of the vacant property in Euxton. The land agent also acted as enumerator of the of the 1881 and 1891 census and it was most rewarding to see his actual handwriting and signature on the documents.

So, sometime in the mid 1870s, Thomas moved his home and family and took up residence at Nixon Hillock Farm Euxton. His father had decided to divide his wealth between his two sons at that stage, rather than have them wait to profit by his death, and so by deed of gift, Thomas was given a lump sum of £1000 and an entire horse, England's Glory, with which to start his new life.

Many of grandma's stories were about this "flitting". Stories of the journey which took two days with all their household goods, furniture, animals etc. loaded onto two farm carts. Of how, on negotiating a very steep hill, the piano fell from the cart and had to be reloaded; of geese escaping from their pen and the consequent difficulties in catching them; of one child straying away and the worry and anxiety until she was found.

The next day they arrived at Nixon Hillock and all seemed set fair for the future, but Serann could not settle in her new home and after only a few weeks she returned to Hoghton House to stay with her grandparents and her beloved horses. Elizabeth Ellen, the eldest daughter, took up the post of housemaid to a widowed doctor and his young son in Chorley, whilst Mary looked after the household, her father and two brothers attending to the farm and the stud work.

It was at Nixon Hillock that Ellen gave birth to their last child, Alice. Alice proved to be a sickly child and Ellen never recovered her former health following the birth, but otherwise things went well for the next few years. There was plenty of work available for the carrier business in those days. Euxton boasted weaving and spinning sheds, quarries and paper mill and a corn mill, whilst nearby Chorley and Whittle Le Woods also provided plenty of work and the business thrived.

However in 1885 things started to go sadly wrong for Thomas and Ellen. Their eldest son John, whilst walking with the stallion near Burnley, was involved in an accident on a railway crossing. The stallion, England's Glory, was killed outright, whilst John suffered multiple injuries and was taken to his aunt's home in nearby Worsthorne. This must have happened around October or November 1885, for his death certificate tells us that he lay paralysed for one month, until his death on the 1st December 1885, aged 25.

Several months later, the second son James, contracted pneumonia from which he never recovered and he died aged 23, in early 1886.

Their father, Thomas, was a broken man who never recovered from this double tragedy and I am told that he became an old man almost overnight and he lived only another five years, dying in 1891.

In the intervening years, Elizabeth Ellen had met her future husband, Robert Clitheroe an engraver in a calico printing factory in Whittle Le Woods. He was a Roman Catholic and she too became a Catholic prior to her marriage in 1889. Serann returned home on the death of James, her brother in 1886 and took over the running of the family business, and after the death of her father she moved the now depleted family away from Nixon Hillock to a property called Copper Hey in Clayton Le Woods. There she rented out one of the stables to a young man whom she later married in 1893. He was Robert Blackledge, my grandfather. He too was a Roman Catholic and later when her youngest daughter was 6 years old, she too became a Catholic. In the previous year 1892, Mary the housekeeper had married John Todd a blacksmith of Worsthorne and she had returned to her native locality to make her home with him.

Granddad once told me of the first time he saw Serann, "she was standing upright on the running board of a farm cart, driving a team of two heavy horses at a cracking pace, turning sharply left into a narrow gateway with barely inches to spare, her long blonde hair flowing out behind her. That's the girl I'm going to marry" he said to himself. And he did just that.

So with the marriage of Serann in 1893 the name Edmondson was lost to this branch of the family. The cousins back at Hoghton House, four boys, carried the name onwards for a further generation, but they too were destined to produce mainly daughters and the name eventually disappeared from the records.

Serann's grandpa John lived until he was 81 years of age and he died on the 21st November 1888 and is buried at St John the Evangelist at Worsthorne. He saw the funerals of two of his grandsons in the family grave but did not live to see the marriage of his favourite granddaughter, Serann.

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