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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 was the son of the weaver George Priestley of Ffoxhill and Annes Haworth. Like his father before him, he was baptised at Newchurch in the Forest of Rossendale, in Lancashire.

Newchurch Baptism. Bishops’ Transcripts.
28.1.1705(6)  Robert son of George Priestley of Ffoxhill.


In 1733, Robert married in Newchurch. His wife’s name is given as Mary Butterworth, but subsequent records show that her real name is likely to be Elizabeth. There was no other Robert Priestley of marriageable age in the area.


ELIZABETH BUTTERWORTH was the eldest child of Henry Butterworth and Isabell Ashworth.

Baptism. Newchurch
6 February 1708(9) Elizabeth de Hen Butterworth de Rakehead.

Rakehead is a small settlement just south of the road between Rawtenstall and Bacup.

Her family moved around the parish of Newchurch. From 1711 to 1716 they were at Brex (Brecks, Bracks), in 1720 at Dein, and in 1726 at Carr.


Elizabeth was 24 when she married and Robert 27.

Marriage. Newchurch
10.11.1733  Robert Priestley to Mary Butterworth.


Robert and Elizabeth were living at her childhood home of Brex when their first four children were baptised. Brex is part of the spur between the Irwell and the Whitewell, just to the South of Smallshaw height and about a mile north of Stacksteds. It overlooks Constable Lee in the valley west of Newchurch,.

Newchurch baptisms. Bishop’s Transcripts
15.6.1734  Henry son of Robert & Elizabeth Priestley of Brex
16.4.1736  John son of Robert & Elizabeth Priestley of Brex
5.6.1737  Alice daughter of Robert & Elizabeth Priestley of Brex
24.2.1740  Ann daughter of Robert & Elizabeth Priestley of Brex


The family moved on up this dale The baptisms of their next three sons, including twins, took place in Goodshaw, about two miles north of Rawtenstall. The family home was a little further up the valley at Loveclough, under Swinshaw Moor.

Baptisms. Goodshaw Parish Church
3.8.1746  John son to Robt & Betey Priestley, Loveclough
23.9.1749  Robert & Edmund sons to Robert & Betty Priestley at Swinshaw Barn, Loveclough.

St Mary & All Saints, Goodshaw was a curacy and chapel of ease for St James the Great until 1849 when it became an independent parish. The area which covers the Parish of Goodshaw was known as Higher Booths, which started approximately one mile north of Rawtenstall town centre, encompassing the villages of Crawshawbooth, Reedsholme, Goodshaw, Goodshaw Chapel, Goodshawfold and Loveclough, and ended at the town boundary with Burnley. This boundary also divided the villages of Loveclough and Dunnockshaw.

Until Civil Registration in 1837, when All Saints became licensed for marriages, all the inhabitants of Higher Booths were required to attend St James the Great to get married.


Nonconformity proliferated in the 18th century, with the removal of persecution. Towards the middle of the century Baptist congregations had begun to decline, but in the second half there was the Evangelical Revival. Around 1750 Robert and his family became Baptists. They saw, and probably contributed to, the building of Goodshaw Baptist Chapel in 1760.

Goodshaw Baptist Chapel owes its existence to a group of people from Lumb who, though attached to no particular religious sect, held meetings in farmhouses and cottages around the villages of Whitewell Bottom, Lumb and Dean. They eventually came under the influence of the Rev Joseph Piccop, minister of Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Bacup, and built a meeting house at Bullar Trees, near Lumb, around 1753. After seven years this proved too small and very inconvenient, as most of the members came from Goodshaw. So, in 1760, the first chapel was built at Goodshaw and for the next seventy years the people of Lumb tramped over Swinshaw Moor to reach it. Lumb eventually got its own Baptist chapel around the 1830s and this is still in existence today.

Above Rawtenstall, on the old cattle-droving road from Skipton to Manchester, stands Goodshaw Old Baptist Chapel. The plain stone building is crammed with venerable box pews, high-sided, fitted with little misshapen doors. “The Baptists brought them over the Hill from Dean, three miles on their backs, when they built this place in 1760,” said Kathy. “People couldn’t get enough of sermons then; they’d come from 10 or 15 miles away. They’d set out in the dark, leave their lamps at a farmhouse, stay here all day and hear maybe four sermons; then they’d collect their lamps on the way home at night.’”

Moors, mills and the march of Methodism by Christopher Somerville.


Elizabeth Butterworth’s mother was from the Ashworth family, some of whom played a prominent part in a remarkable musical group ‘The Larks of Dean’, which sang at Goodshaw Chapel. Elizabeth spent part of her childhood at Dean

Up in the Forest of Rossendale, between Deerplay Moor and the wild hill called Swinshaw, there is a little, lone valley, a green cup in the mountains, called Dean. The inhabitants of this valley are so notable for their love of music that they are known all through the vales of Rossendale as ‘Th’Deighn Layrocks’, or ‘The Larks of Dean’.

These are the words of Lancashire author Edwin Waugh on the subject of the composers, singers and instrumentalists whose activities in the Rossendale Valley spanned the period between the 1740s and the 1860s. Rossendale has not been an actual forest since Henry VIII ordered its clearance. It is made up of a large number of small communities, little more than hamlets in the old days, strung together along the bottoms of the valleys and separated by rolling hills rather than Waugh’s ‘mountains’. Cotton and shoe-making became its main industries in Victorian times, but in the mid-eighteenth century most people were hand-loom weavers, including the group of instrumentalists and singers who became known as the Larks of Dean.

It all began with a sober young man called John Nuttall from Bacup, who, with another of like mind, Richard Hudson of Loveclough, followed the example of John Wesley and other itinerant preachers and went about on horseback preaching, teaching and singing the new religious music that was gaining favour. Nuttall was mainly responsible for the religion and Hudson for the music. They happened to be Baptists, and it was in the Baptist Chapels of Rossendale that most of the music of the Larks of Dean was kept alive, and where some can be heard upon occasion even today.

Nuttall and Hudson both regarded music as playing an important part in religion, and everywhere they went they gathered about them players and singers to help focus the religious fervour. They married two singers, both reputed to have been excellent singers, and Nuttall settled in the Lumb area, where he held religious meetings in houses and farms around Dean, and began to teach music, which led to the formation of a musical club in 1742. This club is generally regarded as being the beginning of the Larks of Dean, with John Nuttall the founding father, although this possibly underestimates the part played by Richard Hudson. Certainly Hudson’s interest continued and his descendants feature quite prominently on the church music scene throughout the Larks of Dean history. Various composers from the Nuttall and Hudson families constantly crop up; Ashworth and Hargreaves are the other two main names. The preserved collection has a large number of manuscripts from the Greenwood family, but they don’t seem to have actually composed. There was, of course, a lot of intermarriage between these families who spent their working and leisure time in close contact with each other.

As a result of John Nuttall’s activities, a small Baptist chapel was built in about 1750 next to the parish church in Lumb, and John became the minister. The local worshippers soon outgrew these premises, and in 1760 a new chapel was built on top of the moors at Goodshaw. One person, Lawrence Ashworth, is said to have trudged the two miles from Lumb carrying his very pew from the old building. While this was probably a bench rather than what we today would think of as a pew, the image still shows a high degree of commitment.

John Nuttall became Goodshaw Chapel’s first minister and remained there until his death in 1792.

Goodshaw Chapel was deemed to be more central for the district’s Baptists. It was certainly central in more than one sense to the Larks of Dean and their music, because of course they transported their instruments over the rough moorland terrain every Sunday to perform in the singing pew at Goodshaw. (It is perhaps worth pointing out that here, as in many other Baptist chapels, the musicians’ pew was not in a west gallery but at floor level, directly in front of the central pulpit and under the eye of the parson — none of your Under the Greenwood Tree goings-on in Rossendale!)

Many tales are told of the splendid music that used to be a feature of the services at Goodshaw, with people travelling not only from Loveclough and Lumb, but some making what would be a ten-mile journey by road today; then it was on foot over the hills — shorter, but more difficult. It was said that in the chapel’s heyday the music could be heard on the top of Cribden, a hill-top two miles away as the crow flies.

Coincidentally, the life of Goodshaw Chapel lasted as long as the period of the Larks of Dean proper. When it closed in 1860 in favour of the present chapel on the main Burnley road, the Larks’ heyday was also passing. Today the Goodshaw Old Chapel with its box pews, high central pulpit, and, of course, the singing pew, belongs to English Heritage, and can be visited by arrangement.

But these were hard times in the Forest of Rossendale. Roy Porter says of the volatile late 18th century, when Tom Paine wrote The Rights of Man:[1]

The blasphemous anonymous letters pinned upon the doors of bailiffs, millers and magistrates threatened blood, but threatened it in the name of freedom, the British Constitution or Christian justice – witness this instance from Rossendale in 1762, addressed to James Bailey, JP:

This his to asquaint you that We poor of Rosendale Rochdale Oldham Saddleworth Ashton have all mutaly and firmly agreed by Word and Covinent and Oath to Fight and Stand by Each Other as long as Life doth last for We may as well be hanged as starved to Death and to see ower Children weep for Bread and none to give Them nor no liklyness of ever mending wile You all take part with Brommal and Markits drops at all the principle Markits elceware but take this for a shure Maxon, That if You dont put those good Laws in Execution against all Those Canables or Men Slayers That have the Curse of God and all honest Men both by Gods Laws and Mens Laws so take Notice Bradshaw Bailey and Lloyd the biggest Rogue of all Three I know You all have Power to stop such vilonas Proceedings if You please and if You dont amaidatley put a Stopp and let hus feel it the next Saturday We will murder You all that We have down in Ower List and Wee will all bring a Faggot and burn down Your Houses and Wait Houses and make Your Wifes Widdows and Your Children Fatherless for the Blood of Shul de hill lyes cloose at Ower Harts and Blood for Blood We Require.

Take Care. Middleton


The God-fearing Priestleys are unlikely to have subscribed to such violent sentiments, but they may well have suffered the general hardship.


Robert Priestley died at 82 and was buried at Goodshaw Baptist Chapel on 12 January 1788. The calendar had changed in the mid-18th century so that the numbering of a new year began not in late March but in January, as now.


[1] Roy Porter, England in the Eighteenth Century







Priestley Tree