I’ve been working on a family newsletter, which rapidly turned into over 60 pages of family history before I’d even had any up-dates from my 4 siblings, and 21 first cousins (all from my mother’s side of family). I now have my immediate family’s news as well as some from my cousin Hamish who I inundate with information for the family tree he’s building. My cousin Piers also sent a moving account of the 10 weeks he spent working with the sick, dying and destitute in Ethiopia. My mother has also been keeping me on my toes with family history and so while I wait for more updates from my cousins I’m going to add the family history information I’ve been receiving here. Anyway, here’s something my mother put together about , the Birtwistle family’s ancestral home Huncoat Hall:
We first hear of the Birtwistle family with Ralph de Bridtwisell, born about 1160, and living in the now-vanished hamlet of that name, next to Hapton, near Accrington in Lancashire. In 1316, his great-great grandson, William de Bridtwisell exchanged land with John de Huncote and moved into Huncote Hall (later known as Huncoat Hall), where the main branch of this family remained for the next 450 years, buying more land and marrying into many of the prominent local families. Later, because of their devout Catholicism throughout the Reformation and beyond, and later their loyal adherence to the Royalist cause, this staunch recusant family were subjected to many trials and tribulations, including imprisonments, fines and sequestrations, so that their fortunes waxed and waned over the centuries. The hall was one of several Lancashire houses to have a Priest’s Hole – a hiding place for visiting priests (like Edmund Arrowsmith) during the years of persecution, when they would travel the kingdom in disguise, from safe house to safe house, saying mass and giving the sacraments to the local Catholics. The Birtwistles sent many sons to be educated abroad in France, Spain and Holland. Several returned as priests and became chaplains to various old Catholic families. Their relative, the martyr St. John Southworth, of the Samlesbury Hall family, was one of those who hid at Huncoat, and some records say he was captured there before his incarceration in Lancaster Castle.
By the time the hall was sold in 1800, by Daniel Barraclough, the husband of Dorothy Birtwistle, Oliver Birtwistle’s (1695-1774) youngest sister, the family had fallen on very hard times. By then, many cadet branches of the family had spread out into the nearby districts and even further afield, to Yorkshire, Scotland, Cheshire, London and Buckinghamshire, while others became established in the colonies and the USA. Their many descendants, including those now named Birtwhistle Bertwistle, Birtwell, Birdwell etc are still to be found in Lancashire and most of these other parts,
Our branch, known as the Great Harwood family, are descended from Thomas Birtwistle of Great Harwood (1665-1729, m. Mary Wadington). Thomas was descended from Henry of Pendle (1510-1577), the second son of Richard (m. Margaret Lowde) Birtwistle of Huncoat Hall, all directly descended from Ralph de Brydtwysell. By the 1700s, this branch, younger sons of younger sons, were mostly farmers and hand-loom weavers but with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the textile industries, the family fortunes were swiftly restored. By this time the family were as fiercely Protestant as their predecessors had been Catholic. When James Astley married the Catholic Muriel Marwood in 1915, his family were horrified and his brother William wrote a very unpleasant letter to her. Things settled down eventually but she could never convince her sisters-in-law, Hilda and Amy, the Aunt-Twins as they were alway known, that Catholics did not pay for confession. Nevertheless, we ere always very fond of them and the rest of our aunts and Uncles Bertie and Oscar of the Northcote clan.
More details can be found in two detailed, well-researched and self-published books. The Birtwistle Family 1200-1850 AD, by William A. Birtwistle and Ray Apsden, 1990 (now offered for sale on Amazon etc, for upwards of £200) and Birtwistle, a Family of East Lancashire Cotton Manufacturers, by W.A.(Billy) Birtwistle, 2001.