At the time of The Norman conquest Great Harwood was an area of moor, marsh, clearings and cultivated land with many springs and small streams running down the hillside and it was near these streams that the first farms were built. The area formed part of the holdings of the de Lacy family but in 1177 it was bequeathed to Richard de Fitton.
In 1289 the holding was split and passed, through marriage, to the Hesketh, de Legh and Nowell families but the de Leghs sold their part to the Heskeths so that they owned the Upper Town (Overton) and the manor house and demesne land of Martholme, two thirds of the town, and the Nowells owned the Lower Town (Netherton). Great Harwood remained in the hands of these two families for nearly five hundred years.
Disputes between the two families over land resulted in a judgment "Given at the Chapel of Harwode Friday next after St. Luke the Evangelist in the eighth year of the reign of Edward III after the Conquest" (25th. October 1335). This is the first record of a church in Great Harwood.
For his services in Scotland King Edward III granted a charter for a Market and Fair to Adam Nowell, Lord of the Manor of Netherton, Great Harwood in 1338. The market is still a weekly event but the last fair was held in 1931 until revived by the Great Harwood Civic Society in 1973.
The Heskeths and Nowells owned all of Great Harwood, the land, the wood, the minerals and all corn had to be ground at the Heskeths' mill, Mill Lane still exists and was the way to Martholme mill. The inhabitants of the town had a share of the "town fields" in both the Upper and Lower town, grazing rights on Harwood moor and enough wood for everyday needs in return they worked the Manor lands and paid tithes to the Lord of the Manor and to the Church. Town Field House, Church Street, is a reminder of the original use of the land and the deeds for St. John's Church show it was built on part of the "town field" of the lower town.
Though an isolated community Great Harwood was still affected by changes which took place in the 1300s. Around the middle of the 14th century England was struck by the Black Death and although there is nothing to show that the town was infected the resultant shortage of labour affected the way manors were run throughout England. People wanted more freedom, and were able to demand it, to farm their own land, which began to be leased although non was sold in the town, and the farmers became tenants rather than serfs.
The manor house, Martholme, rebuilt in 1577 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Over the years clusters of houses were built in what is now the town centre, Hindle Fold, Lower Fold, Cliffe, Stopes, Butts, Lidgett and Whalley Banks. Farming, as always, could be precarious crops failed for various reasons and people turned more and more to their weaving as a way of making a living. This was originally the production of woollen cloth, an industry in which the whole family played a part, however the majority of the inhabitants still considered themselves farmers, first and foremost.
© Great Harwood History Society 2002 - 2017
Great Harwood Appreciation Society