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Jack Priestley’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)

Priestley Tree



The Priestley family can be traced back to Rossendale in Lancashire, where there is a group of villages known as Higher Booths.

This area, called the Forest of Rossendale, is situated in north-east Lancashire, eighteen miles north of Manchester. For many hundreds of years it was a Royal hunting forest. In 1507 King Henry VII decreed that the area should be deforested and opened up for settlements and cultivation. The three towns which sprang up are, from west to east, Haslingden, Rawtenstall and Bacup.

Rawtenstall is spread over three valleys in the shape of the letter U. The bottom valley is set either side of the River Irwell, the east valley is on the River Whitewell and the west valley on the River Limey. The latter two rivers feed into the River Irwel, with the town centre at the bottom of the west valley where the River Irwell and the River Limey meet.

A Booth is a collection of dwellings used by shepherds or cattle herders. Higher Booths was one of the four Townships which made up Rossendale. It lies either side of the River Limey at the top of the west valley, starting one mile from the centre of Rawtenstall and finishing at the town boundary with Burnley. This boundary also divides the villages of Loveclough and Dunnockshaw.

Higher Booths consisted of the villages of Reedsholme, Crawshawbooth, Goodshaw,

Goodshaw Chapel, Goodshawfold and Loveclough and was merged into the Borough of Rawtenstall in 1891 when Rawtenstall acquired borough status. Most of the village names are Old English in origin.


Rawtenstall – Farmstead on rough ground.

Crawshawbooth – The dwellings (booth) near the wood (shaw) where the Crows or Rooks lived.

Goodshaw – Gods wood. Believed to be where pagan worshipers held their ceremonies in a circular clearing in the woods.

Loveclough – The valley (clough) with the pool or small lake (lough).

Dunnockshaw – The hill (dunn) with an oak (ock) wood (shaw).

An Early Rossendale Priestley

So far, our Priestley family in Rossendale can be traced back to Henry Priestley, whose son George Priestley de Ffoxhill was baptised at Newchurch in 1663. George Priestley was a weaver. The line has not yet been traced before that, but there are references to Priestleys in Rossendale in the early 1500s. The appearance and subsequent disappearance of one Robert Priestley is recorded in the Court Rolls for the Manor of Accrington in the Honor of Clitheroe (Vol. III of Farrer’s transcription, 1495-1567).


Robert Priestley is the first of this name found in Rossendale. He became a copyhold tenant in the former vaccary (cow-pasture) of Constable Lee, between Rawtenstall and Crawshaw Booth. He does not seem to have been among the original tenants of demesne lands at the time of the deforestation in 1507. He appears in the court records of the Manor of Accrington from 1515-37, alone, with his son John, and later with a Richard Priestley. A Richard Priestley appears as late as 1544 in Tottington Manor but Robert and John are not heard of again in any of the manors of Clitheroe following the winter of 1536-7.

It is impossible to know from the Court Rolls exactly when Robert was born. He was certainly of an age to rent property in 1527. His son was old enough to be summoned, together with his father, in 1518 and we can therefore conclude that Robert was probably at least in his 30s by then. So, we might speculate that he was born around the 1480s. He departs from the record in 1536-7, by which reckoning he might have been approaching 60 years of age. However, this remains pure speculation. His known story concerns only the 20 or so years when he was recorded as a resident in Constable Lee.

When Henry VII decreed the deforestation of Rossendale and other parts of Blackburnshire in 1507 he commissioned a survey of the existing lands and tenants. As a result of this, almost all of the holdings were revalued and relet, at increased rents, and all but two of the eleven old vaccaries in Rossendale were divided into two or more lots. This created a total of 72 holdings let to 68 tenants, plus additional pastures and wastes beyond, being let for the use of the tenants in common, such as those at Frerehill and Henhead. Constable Lee was divided into four holdings as follows:


From: Survey of the Forests or Chases of Blackburnshire Returned in Answer to the Commission for Granting the Forests , issued 22 Henry VII [1507]

Constableigh and Okeneywood. – Item an othir Vachery callid Constableigh with an othir parcel of ground called Okeneywood late in ferme at £10, 13s. 4 d . to be now laten in 2 parcelles that is to say the seyd Constableigh is laten to Laurence del Holte, Reynold Ingham, Otowell Haworth, Charles Haworth for 100s. by yere and the seyd other parcelles called Okeneywood in lykewyse is laten and devided into 2 parcelles Wherof one moyte to be laten to Edmond Rannesbotom, Oliver Rannesbotom, and Richard Hey for £4, 6s. 8 d . by yere and the other moyte to be laten to Otiwell Haworth and Charles Haworthe for othir £4, 6s. 8 d . they to hold after the custom of the manor so the increase yerof shal be by yere 53s. 4 d .

Thus, the land at Constable Lee was let to four tenants in equal share. There is no mention of any Priestley in the survey, either in Constable Lee or in any other part of Blackburnshire. So, we can conclude that Robert had either not yet settled in the area in 1507 or at least that he did not rent any land then. Similarly, no Priestleys are mentioned amongst the tenants of Constable Lee named for upkeep of roads in 1510. Reginald Ingham, and Otuel Haworth are, along with an Oliver Butterworth, but Laurence Holt and Charles Haworth are not, so this is not a complete list of tenants.

When the rents were surveyed and reviewed in 1527, twenty years after the initial survey, Otuel Ingham and the two Haworths are still there, and still paying equal shares of 25s each. Laurence Holte has disappeared and there are two new tenants, Richard Scolfeld and Robert Prestley. Robert has much the larger share of the two.


Copyhold Rents of the Honor of Clitheroe, AD 1527
Constable Lee

Robert Prestley 15s. 6 d
Richard Scolfeld 2s. 4½ .
Rigineld Yngham 25s.
Otuel Halworth 25s.
Charles Haworth 25s.

[total: £4, 12s. 10½ .]

It is not clear what happened to Laurence de Holte or to his share of the land at Constable Lee, although we might assume that this would be the land occupied by Priestley and Scolfeld. Laurence is evident in the early Court Rolls – where he obstructed the road at Constable Lee in 1510; delivered a parcel of land to the use of John Ashworth in Smaleschay in Wolfenden in Sept 1513; and gained use of a messuage in Rawtenstall in May 1516 (a Laurence Holt also delivered a small piece of land in Maisteryng as late as June 1535 but this could be another of the same name). There is no record in the Court Rolls that he disposed of his copyhold tenancy or that it passed to the Crown on his death. However, it may be relevant that Robert Priestley first appears in the same records at about this time, from the summer of 1515 until the winter of 1536-7.

Throughout this period, Robert is cited in the Court Rolls both as plaintiff and defendant. Indeed, in his first appearance he manages both roles in an outbreak of fighting.


  1. Halmote at Accrington, 30 Aug 1515

Christopher Haworth made a fray upon Robert Prestley and let fly three arrows at the said Robert.

Henry Haworth (12d.) made a fray upon Robert Heype and the said Robert (12d.) on the said Henry; James Fenton (12d.) and Robert Prestley (12d.) likewise made a fray together.


Christopher Haworth gets many mentions in the Court Rolls but it is not clear whether he is related to the copyholders Otuel and Charles Haworth. On the same day, James and John Fenton are cited as ‘ vagabonds and do not work according to the Statute ’ (p25). So, 12 years before he is definitively listed as a copyholder, Robert is definitely in the locality and involved in frays with others, but there is no evidence about his status in relation to any lands. There is no clue either to his social status, occupation or marriage.


Robert is then either absent or manages to stay out of trouble for eighteen months until he is summoned with his son John:

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 25 Feb 1517-8, Rossyndale

William Rostorne complains against Robert Prestley and John his son for killing a mare belonging to the said William, of the value of 10s. The jury award 2s.


This William is not listed in the Indexed transcription of the Rolls but the Rostornes were important people.


It is not until the following year, three years after his first appearance, that Robert comes into recorded contact with those who would be his neighbouring tenants at Constable Lee:

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 7 May 1518, Accrington

Otuel Haworth complained against Robert Priestley (3d.) in a plea of debt, viz. 6s. 8d. for 28 lbs. of wool and also for unjust detention of 18d. for three webs of cloth. The jury award 7s. Likewise for injury to his crops lately growing in Constabill-legh to the value of 3s. 3d. The jury declare that the defendant Priestley is not guilty. Plaintiff amerced 3d.


This provides a possible clue. It suggests that Robert may perhaps have been a webster (weaver), since Haworth seems to be claiming both that he owed money for a substantial amount of wool and that he had not delivered webs of cloth that had been paid for. Priestleys were still websters in Rossendale 150 years later. The claim of damage to crops can only be guessed at, and Robert was found not guilty. It might have involved the trespass of animals or regular passage on foot, in which case they were probably already neighbours. Again, there is no formal record that Robert had taken possession of any land in the Manor at this time.

The plaintiff, Otuel Haworth appears repeatedly in the Court Rolls throughout the preceding 20 years, indeed from their beginning in 1495, when he has a fray with Thomas Crawchay. In 1510 he seems to be identified as a ‘priest’ in a complaint by Christopher Crawshagh for ‘open fences at Okenheidwodd’. In November 1514, one year before his first fray with Robert Priestley, Otuel is cited for failure to repair the highway ‘in his tenement in Constablee’. We know that he was a neighbouring tenant of Robert’s in 1527. His last appearance is in October 1539 for a similar offence in the same place. The rent records support the view that he was living locally before the deforestation and throughout the period that Robert was present.

In 1519 and 1521, Robert Priestley was again summoned in connection with cases of affray:

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 31 Aug 1519

Forest of Rossendale: Robert Prestley was presented for making a “frye” on Dennis Haworth, and Henry Haworth for one on Robert Prestley.


  1. Halmote at Accrington, 8 Aug 1521

The jury of the Forest present that Thomas Butterworth (2d.) made an affray on James Ashworth; Robert Priestley (12d.) made a rescue on Adam Haworth, greave of Rossendale.

As greave of Rossendale, Adam Haworth held an important position in the community, with responsibility for rents and so on.


Two years later, in 1523, there seems to be clearer evidence that Robert Priestley was holding land in Constable Lee. He was summoned for obstructing the road by one of the original copyhold tenants there. The record does not state the nature of the obstruction. It may have been done by erecting fences or preventing the passage of animals. It might also be a claim by the local tenant against an action of trespass by Robert in settling or enclosing neighbouring land that was held in common.

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 23 Apr 1523

Reginald Ingham (3d.) plaintiff against Robert Prestley, in a plea of trespass, for obstructing the high road at Constablee. Verdict for the defendant.


Robert was certainly paying rent as a copyhold tenant in Constable Lee four years later and Reginald Ingham would have been one of his close neighbours. This case suggests that he was already in situ in 1523. There is less doubt about Robert’s next appearance at the Halmote, where he is again charged for obstructing an old road, this time by his other neighbour and old adversary Otuel Haworth.


  1. Halmote at Accrington, 29 May 1528, Haslyngden
    Inquest taken from the Forest of Rossendale.

Otuell Haworth, plaintiff against James Hashworth and Robert Prestley (3d.) for obstructing an ancient road in Constable lee. The jurors grant a right of way as aforetimes upon the defendants’ lands to the closes “to and froo”, viz. three times a year at the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, at Michaelmas, and in the middle of the time of agistment of their animals in the same closes.

Here, the court and inquest are making a more formal resolution of dispute between neighbours over access rights. Robert appears to be well ensconced in his tenancy and has probably enclosed land that includes an old road, presumably in an area between Otuel Haworth’s close fields and the upland pastures, thus preventing him from moving his animals by some traditional route at certain times of year.

Later the same year, Robert is again summoned, along with several others, for failing to keep the roads of Constable Lee in good repair:

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 2 Oct 1528, Minor Pleas

The jury present Robert Prestley (2d.) for a road out of repair in Constable …etc.

On the same day, Robert’s son appears in his own right and Robert appears with a Richard Priestley, who may be another son or a brother, for involvement in dispute and affray with their neighbour Reginald Ingham and, presumably, his son.

John Prestley (m.) for making a fray upon Reginald Yngham and Peter Yngham; also Robert (m.) and Richard Prestley (m.) for a fray upon Peter Yngham.

In 1531, there is apparently a court case (elsewhere?) in the Parish of Whalley in which a John Priestley of Constablee was a juror. This would seem to be Robert’s son. There is then a gap of six years before Robert appears again, once more for a highways offence involving a pit in the road.

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 30 Oct 1534, Accryngton Old Hold

The jury present from Rossendale that Christopher Tattersall (4d.) makes the highway very dangerous and hath made a certarium called “a marble pyt” to the danger of his neighbours and of the King’s subjects. […and seven others including Robert Prestley (4d.) for the same offence].

Robert’s final appearance in the court records is two years later in the winter of 1536-7, when he is cited in a case of debt and disposal of lands.

  1. Halmote at Accrington, 19 Jan 1536-7, Debt

To that Halmote came Reginald Yngham, greave of Rossendale, and surrendered certain lands with appurtenances lying in Constable, Henheids, and Frerehill (yearly rent, 13s. 8d.), which James Assheworth and John Assheworth delivered to him, to the use of John Assheworth. Robert Prestley forbade fine for an agreement between them; whereupon John Assheworth, jun, found Richard Heipp surety and was then admitted to fine of 13s. 8d.

Although the wording of the record is not simple to interpret, it is clear that Robert’s neighbour Reginald Ingham has become greave (master/overseer) of Rossendale and, in this role, submits certain lands to the use of John Assheworth. The most likely interpretation is that Robert Priestley was unable or unwilling to pay an agreed debt to his creditors, the Ashworths, and that his copyhold tenancy at Constable Lee passed to one of their sons in place of this debt, on the production of surety of rent from the latter. The lands at Frerehill and Henheads were originally wastes let to the tenants in common and their mention here may reflect Robert’s share in grazing rights, or that he had enclosed them within his holding.

The rents for the former vaccary lands in Rossendale were surveyed and reviewed again two years later, in 1539, and no Priestleys are mentioned as tenants anywhere in Blackburnshire at this time. The tenants at Constable Lee appear to include three of the original inhabitants (Reginald Yngham, Otuel Haworth, and Charles Howarth) plus a Henry Holt (perhaps descendant of the original Laurence de Holte) and John Asshworth, who is almost certainly the son benefiting from the debt suit in 1536-7. The names and the relative amounts of rent, compared to 1527, support the view that John Ashworth had probably taken the land previously rented by Robert Priestley.

There is no further mention of Robert Priestley or his son John in the Court Rolls for any of the Manors of Clitheroe after this date, down to 1567. There is one mention of a Richard Priestley in the Manor of Tottington eight years later but none other:

  1. Halmote Manor of Tottyngton, at Holcome, 12 May 1544

Inquest taken from the Fee. The jury present that, Thomas Battersby (20d.) made a fray upon Richard Holth, and upon Hamnet Turnour, there being; the said Thomas did draw blood. Edmund Nayden (20d.) and Sed. Galey (20d.) made a fray together, and Richard Nayden (3s. 4d.), made a fray upon Richard Presteley. Peter Cay (20d.) and Richard Battersby (20d.) harbour vagabonds.

Despite the excellent record keeping of the time, Robert’s exact entry and exit from the area remain something of a mystery. So, what happened next? Had Robert fallen into debt with the Ashworths and forfeited his tenancy in the suit? Did he leave the area altogether or die shortly after? What happened to his son John at this time? (A John Prestley was buried at Whalley Parish 11 Sep 1549). Where did they come from originally? It is distinctly possible that they were related to the Priestley families over the border at Soyland in Yorkshire, between Rochadale and Halifax, the ancient seat of the Priestleys from the Norman Conquest. The principal family there in the late 1500s was headed by Henry Priestley of Soyland, who married in 1599-90 and named his own sons Robert and John. Could they be related to the earlier Robert and John in Rossendale, or indeed to the Henry Priestley who baptised a son George at Newchurch in 1663 and whose descendants can be traced to the present day?



Looking at the Rossendale evidence, it is interesting that there is no mention anywhere in the Court Rolls that Robert Priestley took tenancy of, or occupied, the land he rented in the early 1500s. This is surprising. It is of course possible that the record is lost, although the Court Rolls for the Manor of Accrington claim to be complete for the 16 th century.


From: The Economic History of Rossendale

The lord’s court – in this district called the Halmote – was the means whereby changes of ownership and admittance to tenures received legal sanction. No modification of existing tenures or creation of new settlements was valid without the authority of the Halmote… p.50

Another method of procedure was the application by the copyholders to the Court of the Duchy… p.52 (but only after 1557).

Though by the Statute of Merton the lord of the manor had the right to “approve” any part of his waste not required to meet the needs of his tenants…it was both simpler and more satisfactory to apply for their consent in the Halmote. Hence, we usually find that, when a person is admitted to a portion of the waste ground, the court is careful to record that the grant has been made with the approval of the copyholders. p.54

None of this appears to happen in the case of Robert Priestley.


From: The Court Rolls of the Honor of Clitheroe (Vol. III)

‘ The granting of the forest lands in Accrington and Rossendale in 1507 created a great revolution in the agriculture of the district. In consequence of the fixity of tenure which accompanied the disafforestation the tenants of “The New Hold” rapidly set about the enclosing, draining, clearing, and general improvement of their copyhold tenements… ‘ p. ix.

‘ Apart from the climatic considerations, the position of the copyholder in the Honor of Clitheroe throughout the Middle Ages was far from wanting in comfort and liberty. Additional land was available near at hand for the support of the increasing families; stone and timber for building purposes were available without stint; coal and peat for fuel needed but little effort to win; water supply and drainage were a simple affair in a country of broad, sloping hillsides and narrow dale bottoms. The feudal burden was extremely light… ’ p. x.


From: The Economic History of Rossendale, p. 49

The large proportion of unoccupied land there existing provided abundant facilities for the formation of new holdings, the increased revenue accruing from which was of immediate advantage to the Crown. It became, therefore, the settled policy of the Crown to encourage the taking up of its uncultivated estates, so long as such appropriation was done in the legal way and did not defraud the king of his rights; and, on the other hand, to see that no new settlements were made without sanction, which, of course meant without being paid for, since by manorial custom approvement of the waste was a right vested in the lord of the manor alone.

Enclosures only rarely interfered with the rights of the other inhabitants. Even when a man fenced off a part of a waste which was a common pasture, he did not necessarily deprive others of adequate grazing facilities. There was room for a very considerable settlement of new-comers.




Priestley Tree