The Edmondsons of Briercliffe with Extwistle

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Joseph Edmondson (1784 - 1860)
and Mary Spencer (1785 - 1874)

With the advent of national census registration being produced at ten yearly intervals from 1841 onwards and the better preservation and availability of records and documents, I have been able to learn quite a lot about Joseph Edmondson, my great great great grandfather. On the whole he seems to have been a sound family man with a keen acumen, even though he never learned to write.

At the age of 23 he married Mary Spencer at St Peters, Burnley, and on the same day in November 1807 his brother, Christopher, married Mary Hewath, in a double wedding ceremony. Joseph and Mary lived on the corner of Burnley Road and Todmorden Road at Haggate cross-roads, where Mary kept a grocery business and Joseph followed his occupation as a cordwainer. Between 1808 and 1826 they raised their family of eight children, five boys and three girls.

John was born in 1808 and was baptised at Haggate Baptist Chapel, James born 1810, Henry 1812, Nancy 1814, Joseph 1817, Christopher 1820, Ellen 1823 and Sarah in 1826.

I have not been able to decide if Joseph or Mary were regular and devout church goers or if in fact they held any deep religious convictions whatsoever. Maybe they simply attended the nearest church. Haggate Baptist Chapel was built in 1767 and is situated only a few hundred yards from Haggate cross-roads and the church registers show that, with the exception of James and Sarah, all their children were baptised there. However Joseph and Mary were eventually buried at St James Briercliffe, which opened in 1845. St James being the Parish church of the Church of England and situated approximately one mile from Haggate.

All of Joseph's siblings had married and they all continued to live in and around Briercliffe - all using the Baptist Chapel to baptise their offspring - I have counted 34 children baptised between 1802 and 1836 when the Baptist records ended. Allen and Ann baptised 4 children, James and Sarah 7, Henry and Mary 8, John and Tabitha 9 and Joseph and Mary 6. Why Joseph's other two children, James born 1810 and Sarah born 1826 are not shown on the Haggate Baptist records is neither known nor understood.

Records show that Allen's sons were employed in various occupations - Allen and John were both weavers, James was a grocer/farmer, Henry and Joseph were both cordwainers and Christopher was a farmer. Of William, born in 1769, there is no further trace, he may have died young or he may have moved away from the area. Of the two girls, Mary and Ellen, little is known. Ellen married John Taylor in 1814 and was still alive when her brother died for she was noted on the death certificate as being present at the death, but there is no definite trace of Mary the eldest child of Allen and Ellen, born in 1763.

Joseph and Mary watched their children grow to adulthood, saw them marry and in due course, saw the birth of their grandchildren, but it wasn't until 1841 that Joseph was again mentioned in official records. The 1840s proved to be a bad time for the inhabitants of Briercliffe with 1843 being described as "one of the most terrible in its history". The hand loom weaving industry was already in serious decline, and not only was there massive unemployment, but a typhoid epidemic broke out - practically eliminating a population already seriously weakened by poverty and lack of food. Poverty was rife, wages paid to weavers were pitifully low and examples are given of the head of one family of four who had an income of just 3 shillings per week and he was in employment.

The Society of Friends (Quakers) did what they could to help the needy and distressed, they visited the villages regularly but could do but little, faced with such overwhelming odds. They distributed and had clogs repaired, gave the cottagers clothing and bed linen and their records of these sad visits make heart breaking reading.

Joseph and his family are not recorded as being in need, but the following entries were made:

"Allen Edmondson, living at Burnley Lane Head, weaver for Franklands, three people living in house, ages 65 (earning 2/6 per week), 21 (female earning 2/8 per week), 15 (female earning 2/8 per week) - two beds.

John Edmondson, living at Hill End - weaver for William Halstead, five people living in house, man and wife need clogs, he needs stockings and cotton for shirts. Received clogs valued at 2/6d and 8 yards of calico valued at 2/-."

I cannot be certain that these two men were Joseph's brothers, for the ages shown in the Quaker records do not strictly tie up with their known dates of birth, but for the purpose for which they were intended, their records didn't need any degree of accuracy in that respect.

Whilst they show the very low subsistence rates on which these Edmondson families were existing, they were not shown as being desperately ill as were dozens of the other inhabitants of Briercliffe. One household in Haggate who was visited by the Society of Friends was in a tragic state. The head of the family, a hand loom weaver, had ten children, ranging from four years old to twenty three and it was noted:

"... six of them has been in typhus fever and they have buried one in it. Wife is very poorly at present. Neither he nor his wife have shoes or clogs worth the name. They are all poorly off for stockings and their four beds have not as much clothing as is necessary for one".

What Joseph was doing during this time is not known, but for some reason he chose to make his Will in 1842, even though he lived on for a further 20 years. Maybe he contacted some slighter degree of the disease or maybe he was simply being prudent. Whatever the reason, the fact that he decided to put his monetary affairs in order, gives us a good idea as to his character and his standing in the community. But other happenings within his own family around the same time may also have influenced his decision.

The Next Generation - John, James and Ellen

John, the eldest son, had married Elizabeth Halstead at St Peters in 1832 and was living at Ethersale in Little Marsden when the census of 1841 was compiled. They had three children - all boys, Joseph born 1834, William born 1835 and Thomas born 1838. John was working as a farmer and clogger, but by the time of the next census in 1851, William had disappeared from the family. In spite of a very thorough search I have not been able to trace the death of this child, but this is not surprising as during the epidemic of 1843, it became impossible for the authorities to keep pace with the numbers of those dying. Many babies and young children went unrecorded in the burial registers after being buried in the same coffin as their parents or siblings and many were buried in unmarked mass graves.

James, the second son, had married Ellen Smith, the daughter of farmer James Smith of Springhouse, in 1833 at St Peters and they had five children between 1834 and 1839. Ellen died in 1840 shortly after the birth of her last child and two of her motherless children, Mary aged 3 and Joseph aged 1, were living with their grandparents, Joseph and Mary at Haggate when the census was taken in March 1841. The eldest child, Betty born in 1834, had died in her early childhood and the eldest son, James born in 1835, was living with his mother's parents at Springhouse. This left just Ann, known as Nanny, aged 2, living with her widowed father who was farming in Procter Cote Extwistle and being cared for by James's younger sister, Ellen, who was then aged 18 and acting as his housekeeper.

Ellen too must have added quite a few white hairs to Joseph and Mary, causing them untold worries during the next few years, for she produced three illegitimate sons between 1842 and 1846. How her parents reacted to these problems one can only imagine but by 1851 two of Ellen's boys were also living at Haggate with their grandparents. What happened to Ellen remains a mystery - there is no trace of her death nor of her marriage in the Burnley area, but she may have moved away - I would dearly love to know what happened to her. Maybe someone within our family has an idea which would help to clarify the matter. Any information would be gratefully received.

In 1842, whilst still living with her brother James at Procter Cote on the 28th February, Ellen gave birth to a boy whom she named Joseph, after her father. He took the surname of his mother, the name of his father not being revealed on his birth certificate. He was later told that his father was one Daniel Parker - though at what stage in his life he was made aware of the fact is not known - be it sufficient to say that 21 years later, when Joseph married, his father's name was shown on his marriage certificate. Why Daniel and Ellen did not marry is open to conjecture, but it is thought that Daniel's mother - an ambitious, strong minded woman, insisted that he marry the daughter of the Lee Green estate, thus bringing back under the Parker control property and land which had been lost to the Parker estate in earlier generations. Three years later, Ellen gave birth to a second son on the 5th January 1845 whom she named John, but John lived for only five weeks and died on the 11th February 1846, and whilst still living at Procter Cote with James, she produced her third son, again he was named John. It is both widely believed and openly acknowledged around Briercliffe that this boy was the son of one Tattersall Wilkinson, a very well known character in the Burnley district, and throughout his life this boy was known as "Shippon Jack Edmondson", presumably reflecting the circumstances of his birth.

The elder of Ellen's two boys, Joseph, moved around the family farms during his youth whilst Shippon Jack moved from the family, but remained living in Extwistle and later in Briercliffe. He married on the 18th October 1886 aged 40 at St James Briercliffe, his bride being Ann Sutcliffe, the daughter of Henry, a local farmer. Two daughters were born in the later 1880's and were named Sarah Ellen and Edith, but the marriage broke up shortly afterwards and Ann left him. It is rumoured that in his will, Shippon Jack left her just the proverbial shilling, but I have not found his will so that fact cannot be proven. Descendants of Sarah Ellen and Edith still live in the Burnley area and are quite happy to discuss Shippon Jack but I have not spoken to them as yet.

Much has been written about Tattersall Wilkinson over the years ... his life is well documented and many pictures of him exist. He was said to be the most interesting of local people and was recognised as a philosopher, astronomer and archaeologist. When he first left school, he was sent out shepherding the local moors and later during the lifetime of his wife, he was in business as an auctioneer and as a jeweller, but none of his business interests ever took the place of his early exploits into archaeology. In 1886 he unearthed some prehistoric ruins at Hell Clough and thereby gained prestige both locally and further afield. He lectured widely around the Burnley area to the Literary and Scientific Society and to Working Mens Clubs, mainly on the subject of the Ancient History of Extwistle, prehistoric remains in the Burnley area, folk lore etc. He even lectured on the Solar Eclipse which he had travelled to Ovan in Portugal to watch. He was known as a romancer and was instantly recognisable as he drove around the town in his donkey cart, wearing his red fez but was generally acknowledged to be a well educated man.

So what did Ellen see in him as he went about his job of shepherding on the Extwistle moors? Maybe she was impressed by his romantic stories of distant stars and planets, or maybe it was his local knowledge of folk lore and history that held her interest - who can say. No doubt he appeared very different from the other young men of her acquaintance and thereby attractive in comparison, but I cannot help but wonder what her parents thought about it! I imagine that father, with his down to earth approach and his hard working life style, would not be at all impressed with Mr Wilkinson's romantic ideas and his free and easy ways, even though he was related to Richard Tattersall, who, in 1745 had moved to London, founded the firm of Tattersall at Hyde Park Corner and became a very wealthy man. Whatever Joseph and Mary felt about it, they rallied around in support of Ellen, for several years later in 1841, both of Ellen's boys were living with them in their home at Haggate Crossroads.

Henry, Susan, Joseph, Christopher and Sarah

But, in 1841, apart from Ellen, four of their children were still unmarried. Henry now aged 29, Susan aged 27, Christopher aged 21 and Sarah aged 15.

Apart from Henry, who kept a small grocery business at his home in nearby Chapel Row, Haggate, the other three were still all living at home and they were joined on census night by their brother Joseph and his daughter, Mary.

Joseph had married Ellen Bury at St Peters in 1834 when he was only seventeen years old and they moved into a property in Burnley Lane, owned by his father Joseph and where their daughter Ruth was born later in 1834. Ruth died later the same year but a second child named Mary followed in 1837. But where was Ellen on the night of the census if not with her husband and daughter? Maybe she had called to visit her own mother who lived in one of Joseph's cottages in Haggate whilst Joseph took Mary, aged 3 to visit his own parents. Who can say some 150 years after the event? I did not find Ellen on the census return, but the returns of 1841 are not entirely reliable being the first time the scheme had been tried out and are, in part, illegible. She did however return to live with her husband and daughter in Burnley Lane for they had two more children before Ellen died in 1850. Sarah born in 1846 and John born in 1848. Ellen was buried at Haggate Baptist Church.

So, in the Spring of 1841, Joseph and Mary had plenty of family problems to contend with, for apart from the sorrow of bereavement in the death of their daughter in law, Ellen, they had the responsibility of caring for James's motherless children. Furthermore the worsening situation in the economy of the area being wrought by the decline in the weaving industry must have been a continual source of worry to them as much of Joseph's income was derived from the rent payable on the properties and copyholds which he held. It is only a personal feeling that perhaps Joseph contacted a mild form of typhus when collecting his rents, for he made his will later that year and it was from his detailed descriptions that I was able to associate his tenants with the records supplied by the Society of Friends.

However, it was from Joseph's will that I learned not only the details of the nine copyholds he held on properties in Haggate and Burnley Lane, but also of the names of his tenants, that I then realised just how badly his income depended on the rents from these properties and how they had been affected by the decline in the weaving trade.

I have not been able to determine how Joseph acquired these copyholds, whether by his own industry or by inheritance from his father, but in the course of my investigations I was led to a Mr and Mrs Edmondson who still lived in what was Chapel Row and is now called Halifax Road.

I wrote to them explaining my interest in the Edmondson family history and they invited me to visit them and to meet their solicitor. They told me that the property in which they lived had been built by Joseph Edmondson, cordwainer of Haggate and that their solicitor held the original "deeds" of the property, which I was duly invited to see. I came away from my visit to the solicitor with a copy of the original deeds documents and a copy of Henry Edmondson's will - Henry being Joseph's brother. When Henry died, the cottage was handed back to Joseph who had built it and had merely rented it to Henry. It was later sold to Robert, Henry's son who was also a cordwainer by trade, as was his father.

I came to know Bill and Nora very well over the years and they always made me very welcome whenever I visited them, for Bill was a mine of information on the history of Briercliffe and one of the founder members of the Briercliffe Society. It was a great thrill for me to see inside the cottage that my great, great, great grandfather had built with his own hands - to touch the huge blocks of stone he had personally handled and to see the stone stairs and shelves, some six inches thick, which he had built into the niche by the fire place. Joseph's presence in that cottage was almost a tangible thing and I will always be grateful to Bill and Nora for allowing me to see their home. Sadly, over the past two years they have both passed away, Nora in the winter of 1995 and Bill in 1997 and they are both buried at Hill Lane Baptist Church, where they worshipped throughout their long lives. My interest in the family history of the Edmondsons was, I felt, fully rewarded by the knowledge that my Joseph and Bill's Henry had been brothers all those years ago.

Henry's son, Robert, had also left a will which I found most interesting, for not only did it confirm names of his wife and family, but pointed me towards one son - another Henry who was, in Robert's words "reputed to be in New Zealand and who, providing he return to England and make himself known to the executors, could claim his share of the inheritance". He never did return to stake his claim, for I discovered that he married in New Zealand and died there. Presumably, in accordance with the terms of the will, his inheritance was passed to his daughter Barbay, to be put towards the cost of her education, but as far as I could see, Henry was unmarried when he emigrated and there was no indication as to the mother of his daughter. I wondered if she went to New Zealand with him, or if he went to escape his responsibilities. We shall never know. I did trace a marriage in New Zealand and the birth of a son and finally the death of Henry, but the identification of Barbay's mother has not been possible. I was however able to advise the solicitor that he was unlikely to meet with a claimant to the inheritance at this late stage.

Of the three remaining children of Joseph and Mary, who were still living at home in 1841, Christopher married a girl named Margaret and later farmed some 64 acres in Blackhouse Lane, whilst Nancy married John Leaver, a widowed innkeeper also of Haggate, when she was 39 years old. Of the youngest daughter, Sarah who was only 15 in 1841, there is much to relate, for Sarah followed in her sister Ellen's unprincipled footsteps and no doubt added to her parents worries over the next few years.

The census of 1851 shows the family still living on the corner of Haggate cross-roads. Joseph now aged 67, Mary aged 65 and Sarah aged 25 with two children, a boy again named Joseph and a girl named Mary Ann; but no husband. That year the property had been renamed as Edmondson Row, indicating that possibly Joseph owned the remaining few houses as well as his own dwelling. Sarah later married Samuel Whittaker and the little girl, Mary Ann took his name, but the boy remained as Joseph Edmondson all his life. His birth certificate does not indicate the name of his father which is the normal practice in cases of illegitimacy. In spite of a very thorough search I have not been able to find this boy's eventual marriage certificate, which I had hoped would give his father's name.

The identity of Joseph's father puzzles me greatly, for when I found Joseph on the Southport census of 1871 he was living as a boarder in a lodging house with several other young men from the Briercliffe area. They had obviously moved to Southport where there was plenty of work in those years when Southport was becoming established for they were all employed as stone masons. But what or whom, I wondered, had provided the incentive. His companions in the venture were two lads, both named Adam Parker, one aged 22 and one aged 17, and the third member of the little clan was Titus Duerden from Extwistle.

The elder of the two Parker boys was proved to be the legitimate son of the same Daniel Parker who had fathered Ellen's illegitimate son, Joseph, but it was Sarah's illegitimate Joseph who was his friend and workmate in Southport. It seems probable that the move to Southport was arranged by Daniel, for his nephew, John Parker was then living in Southport in a large detached property in Scarisbrick New Road, which he had renamed as "Extwistle Lodge". He had already become an exceedingly wealthy man in business and was, even then, making great inroads into recovering the Parker Estates in Extwistle which had been lost to the family in previous generations. It is believed that he, together with his grandparents, would have been involved in the decision to marry his Uncle Daniel to the heiress of Lee Green as a means of getting that portion of the estate back into Parker control, thereby leaving our Ellen "in the lurch" so to speak. John Parker never married and when he died, he left the whole of the Extwistle Parker estate to his nephews, one of whom married a descendant of Ellen's (Eleanor, daughter of Mary Edmondson), thereby restoring equilibrium in a manner of speaking.

An Obituary Notice from the Burnley Express and Advertiser dated 9th July 1881:

On 26th inst. Joseph Edmondson, mason of Haggate, age 32, died from TETANUS, the result of a wound in his thigh, caused by contact with an oil drum when jumping from a stone cutting machine during the building of some houses at REEDLEY HOLLOWS. Dr O'Mara had attended him since the 21st inst.

By the 1881 census, Joseph was living back in Haggate with his wife, Fanny, and three children, Hiram aged 9, Sarah Alice aged 7 and Edith Frances aged 8 months. All the children had been born in Southport, so the family must have returned to Briercliffe towards the end of 1880 and Fanny too was Southport born. Three months later, Joseph was dead and there is no trace of Fanny, but the three children were living with their grandmother, Sarah, in the old family home, when the 1891 census was taken. Joseph is buried at Haggate Baptist Church and his memorial gives the date of death as 1891 and his age as 32, and also shows the death of Hiram who died in Standerton, South Africa, in 1901.

1901 was the last year of the Boer War in South Africa, but I have not been able to find any detail of Hiram's enlistment in the army. He had married Grace, the daughter of William and Sarah Robinson, who lived at 58 Burnley Road. But Grace had died of gastro-enteritis in 1896 when she was just 24 years old and it seems a reasonable assumption that he joined up as a result. He had followed his father's occupation and was listed as a stone mason, so there is also the possibility that following the death of his young wife he had emigrated to South Africa intending to mine for diamonds. It has not been possible to find a death certificate for Hiram, so the actual cause of his death is open to supposition. Was he fighting the Boers I wonder. I believe that more men died in the so called hospitals there, of starvation, disease and neglect than were actually killed in the fighting, but I cannot find his name on any of the war memorials and have had no luck in obtaining a death certificate from South Africa, so there ends the sad story of Sarah's illegitimate son, Joseph. His mother Sarah, is buried close by. She died in 1897 aged 71, outliving her husband Samuel Whittaker by 11 years. Their daughter Mary Ann died in 1895 aged 44.

In the period following the making of Joseph's will in 1842 nothing else has come to light until his death in 1860. His death certificate gives the cause of death as "old age" and shows that his sister, Ellen, was present when he died.

His wife, Mary, lived on until the ripe old age of 91 in 1874 and they are buried together at St James Briercliffe, their headstone reading "Be aware, for ye know not the hour when the sun of man cometh".

For whom was the warning intended? The rest of us who were to follow? Or maybe it was one of the homilies that they used throughout their lives, directed towards their wayward daughters - maybe?

On his death, Joseph bequeathed his nine copyhold properties in Haggate, Burnley Road and Cop Row to his elder sons, John and James, John Spencer of Briercliffe tenement, farmer, and to Henry Edmondson, shopkeeper, along with:

"all my monies, security for monies, good, chattels, personal estate and effects whatsoever".

All the other of his copyhold properties of which he had power to dispose were to be:

"held upon trust to collect, get in, and receive the rents, issues and profits thereto and after paying and expending as much as required thereof in keeping the same copyhold properties in good tenable repair and condition, to pay to my wife, Mary, all the residue and remainder of the yearly rents and profits for the remainder of her natural life or until her second marriage, in which case the monies should be applied to the equal benefit of his children as have attained the age of 21".

(John Spencer must have been a relative of Mary his wife, probably her brother, but there were many Spencers around Briercliffe and my research into Mary's ancestry has not yet been completed).

He further willed that as soon as his youngest child (Sarah) should have attained the age of 21 (1847):

"all the copyhold properties, cottages, dwelling houses, lands, tenements and residanents should be disposed of either privately or public auction as deemed to bring the best price that could reasonably be procured".

Furthermore he willed:

"that my executors should take a inventory of all my household goods, plate, china, cattle and chattels and the profit be allowed to my wife as long as she remained my widow, but should she remarry, then the goods are to be sold by public auction and the monies arising, after the payment of debts, funeral and testimony expenses, should be placed out at compound interest for the benefit of my younger children when they reach the age of 21".

The document was signed with a cross and dated and tells us that Joseph, whilst not able to write his name, had a sound knowledge of the investment and management of money. We know that Mary outlived him by several years and would have reaped the benefits from the will for the rest of her life, for she did not remarry.

From 1861, there seems to have been a marked improvement in the livelihood of all Joseph's sons, the daughters situations being less clear.

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