The Edmondsons of Briercliffe with Extwistle
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Return to The Early Years, 1644/5 - 1699
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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
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
Joseph and his family are not recorded as being in need, but the following entries
"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
"... 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
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
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
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
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
All the other of his copyhold properties of which he had power to dispose were to
"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
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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Return to The Early Years, 1644/5 - 1699
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