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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




ROBERT PRIESTLEY the younger was born in 1749, in the reign of George II. He was the elder of twin boys born to Robert and Betty Priestley. In other records Betty is named as Elizabeth. It is likely that she is the same person as ‘Mary Butterworth’, whose marriage to Robert Priestley is recorded, possibly incorrectly, in the Bishops Transcripts for Newchurch in 1733.


The twins were baptised at Goodshaw Parish Church on 23 September 1749.

23.9.1749  Robert & Edmund sons to Robert & Betty Priestley at Swinshaw Barn, Loveclough.

Loveclough lies north of Goodshaw, halfway between Rawtenstall and Burnley.

The twins were the youngest children in the family.


Sometime around 1750 the family became Baptists. Goodshaw Baptist Chapel was built in 1760.


Robert’s grandfather was a weaver, but Robert became the village shoemaker at Goodshaw. He seems to have married twice, to women from the same family.


MARY HEAP was his first wife . They were married in Haslingden, west of Rawtenstall, which was probably Mary’s home town.

If she was also baptised there, then the most likely entry in the register is:

1751 Nov 17? Mary d. of Wm and Helen Heap, Ratclif-Fold. Labourer.

There is another possibility:[1]

1754 Jun 8 Mary d. of James and Anne Heap. Grane.

Mary may also have come from a non-conformist family. It is said that Wesley ‘lit the fire of Methodism’ in Rossendale by preaching at ‘Heap’s Barn’ very nearby. From 1739 onwards, John Wesley made tireless preaching journeys on horseback all over the country. At first he tried to work within the Church of England, but in 1784 he took the decisive step of ordaining two of his followers to serve in America, having failed to persuade an Anglican bishop to do so. The result was the formation of the Methodist Church. Wesley still encouraged his followers to use their parish church for baptisms and burials, but after his death in 1791 they increasingly followed the practice of the Baptists and Presbyterians by conducting these services independently. Although baptisms and burials were now took place at non-conformist chapels, marriages continued to be consecrated at the parish church.

The villages of Crawshawbooth, Goodshaw, Goodshaw Chapel and Goodshaw Fold stand at the crossroads in an area of radical non-conformist thought.


From the web-page ‘Moors, mills and the march of Methodism’:

Ancient packhorse routes from north to south descended from the hills here to cross others going east and west. News, views and ideas came in from far afield. These crossroads valleys became cradles of independent thought. For the best part of three centuries it was fervour for dissenting religions – especially Baptists, Methodists and Quakers – that sustained the weavers, spinners and miners of Rossendale and Calderdale.

… Down at Crawshawbooth, by the old packhorse route in the valley, the Society of Friends or Quakers built a meeting house in 1715. For decades they had held their gatherings in each other’s cottages, under threat of disruption, beatings and arrest. The small, whitewashed building stands in a walled garden full of trees and flowers. Inside, the original Elders’ stand, the table and gallery are still in frequent use at Quaker meetings.

… Wildly emotional scenes of conversion were played out in many of the strong, bleak farmhouses and barns of blackened gritstone along the upland packhorse trails. Coming to Heap Barn, high up on the moor edge, I pictured William Darney, turbulent Scots pedlar, cobbler and roving preacher, striding over the skyline here in 1744 to preach at the farm.

I had been fascinated by the apocalyptic, Bunyanesque figure of Darney since reading Glyn Hughes’s Where I Used to Play on the Green, a novel about those wild and lively times in Rossendale and Calderdale. Darney, a friend and ally of Methodism’s founding father, John Wesley, appears as a “good-looking rough man, huge, with a big red beard and hair,” who would roar a gathering of weavers and farmhands to their knees in an isolated barn such as the one at Heap. Darney overwhelmed them with threats of hellfire, glimpses of heaven and bursts of self-penned religious doggerel, until they burst out with: “I’m saved! Brothers, I’m saved!”

Robert and Mary were married in Haslingden Parish Church on 28 August 1775


Mary bore him four children, whose births were recorded at Goodshaw Baptist Chapel.

Robert is the first in the Priestley family to have his children baptised in one of the free churches. Baptists delayed baptism until the candidates were old enough to make the vows for themselves, but their registers usually record the date of birth.

28.1.1776  Peggy daughter of Robert & Mary Priestley at Top of Tawtop.


The family then moved to ‘Goodshaw Chapel’. In a short time, the Baptist place of worship had given its name to the hamlet around it.

21.8.1778  Edmund son of Robert & Mary Priestley at Goodshaw Chapel.
22.2.1781  Betty daughter of Robert and Mary Priestley at Goodshaw Chapel
24.1.1781  Henry son of Robert and Mary Priestely at Goodshaw Chapel.


Mary died while the children were still small.

Burial. Goodshaw Baptist Chapel.
24.10.1786  Mary Priestley


Robert’s second marriage, to Molly Heap, also took place at Haslingden Parish Church, again suggesting that this was the home of the Heap family. Molly may have been Mary’s sister.

Marriage. Haslingden. St James the Great.
2 Oct 1788 – Robert Priestly to Molly Heap, both of this chapelry.

Robert Priestly signed the register, Molly Heap made her mark.

The births of their three children were also recorded at Goodshaw Baptist Chapel. The family was still living ‘at Goodshaw Chapel’.

Goodshaw Baptist Chapel  – Births.
Alice dau of Robert PRIESTLEY(shoemaker) and Melly (nee Heap) of Goodshaw Chapel born 18-Mar-1789.
 9.6.1791  Mary daughter of Robert & Mally Priestley at Goodshaw Chapel.
11.12.1792  Robert son of Robert & Mally Priestley at Goodshaw Chapel.

Alice later married William Hall and had a daughter Nancy.


Robert died soon after the birth of Robert junior, around 14 March 1793, aged 43.


Alfred Priestley, grandson of Edmund, speaks of Edmund, Robert and James, as though they were brothers. There is no previous evidence of James. He says:

There was Edmund (my G’father), Robert and James. Edmund and Robert came to Goodshaw, but very soon Robert moved to Heald, near Bacup. He had 10 sons and 1 daughter. James went on to Manchester as a city missioner… strange to say, Edmund took to the Baptist cause, Robert to the Wesleyan, James to the Congregational or Independent sect.

In fact, Edmund and Robert junior did not move to Goodshaw, but were born at the hamlet of Goodshaw Chapel.

Goodshaw Chapel is now an English heritage site, open by appointment, details from the Tourist Information Centre in Rawtenstall.


[1] Lancashire Online Parish Clerk: Rossendale: Haslingden.






Priestley Tree