The CUNLIFFE FAMILIES
There are many sources that can be used to trace the history of the Cunliffe family of Great Harwood, each adds to the body of information but none are perfect or complete sources. The parish registers have the potential to be a valuable source, but, as with other sources that depend on the accuracy of the person recording the information and the willingness of individuals to be recorded, are often incomplete; in the case of the Cunliffe family this proved to be the case. The family are recorded in various rental ledgers and surveys, but only the earliest of these gives the names of all the lives associated with the tenancy and their relationships and ages, and only one lists the fields associated with the property. Several wills survive for the Cunliffes of Great Harwood, and these proved to be the best source, being legal documents and concerning money and real estate, they were carefully compiled and list many family members, relationships and property owned or leased.
Of the published sources that mention the family Abram’s ‘History of Blackburn Town and Parish’ gives some detail; he however, it is apparent, was also unable to make firm conclusions about the relationships of the early family members. The Court Rolls of the Honor of Clitheroe provided evidence for the Cunliffe family in Accrington, and again, being the written record of legal proceedings, it is likely they are largely accurate.
EARLY ORIGIN OF THE CUNLIFFE NAME
The earliest parish register entries to survive for Great Harwood date from 1547 and people bearing the surname Cunliffe appear in the register from 1551, indicating that they may have lived in the area for some time before this. The name is probably of very local origin, with the National Trust surname profile website showing distribution in 1881 solely in Lancashire, with the greatest being in the Wigan area, but also with dense concentration in the Warrington and Blackburn areas. Guppy lists the name as a ‘peculiar name’ (defined as a name confined mostly to one county) and elaborates:
In Bartholomew’s Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles the only place listed for Cunliffe, or anything similar, is: ‘Cunliffe, ham., Lancashire, ½ mile NW. of Rishton’. Ekwall give examples in Lancashire from 1246 and postulates the theory that it could be from the Old English personal name Cunda, with the second element O.E. ‘clif’, being on a slope. He further speculates that it may come from ‘Cunte’, which is backed up by an article by Keith Briggs, and which may refer to a peculiarity of the landscape. The Oxford Names Companion favours the latter explanation giving:
Another derivation of the name, and one espoused by Abram and repeated by Ainsworth (Ainsworth, 1928), is that the first element is a corruption of the word coney, or rabbit, and the coat of arms of the family do reflect this meaning. However the coat of arms would have been adopted some time after the family name became fixed and the meaning forgotten, but if not it is understandable that an alternative meaning would be preferred.
Abram examines the origins of the Cunliffe family twice in the History of Blackburn, firstly under a heading of ‘Cunliffes of Great Harwood and Blackburn’, where he explores the origins of the Blackburn banking family; secondly within the chapter concerning Billington, under the heading ‘Cunliffes of Cunliffe House’. He gives examples of the surname from 1250, and it would seem that this family had a hereditary surname much earlier than most others in Lancashire. The poll tax return of 1379 for Lancashire shows that though some surnames were by then hereditary, many very clearly were not, but listed for Wilpshire with Dinckley are ‘Johanne de Cundeclif and Alicia de Cundeclif, for Pleasington ‘Marg. De Cundclif, and for Rishton ‘Henrico de Cundcliff. From charters Abram examined it is clear that the family held land in Billington from at least 1347 until c. 1594 when the estate passed to Sir Thomas Walmsley. Cunliffe House was located on the A59 between Copster Green and Billington, on the other side of the ridge from Cunliffe in Rishton.
THE CUNLIFFE FAMILY OF HOLLINS
Both Abram and Ainsworth state that the family of Cunliffe who took residence at what later became Hollins House in Accrington were from the family at Billington, who had lost their lands to Sir Thomas Walmsley some time before 1594, when the land was mentioned in a will of John Talbot. Abram in particular states that the pedigree of the family starts with ‘Robert Cunliffe, a younger son of Cunliffe, of Cunliffe Hall’. A search of Clitheroe court rolls shows that Henry Cunliffe was a tenant in Accrington, and a frequent office holder there, from 1519 onwards. It seems he came into the property, thought to be Woodhead, which later became Hollins, through his wife Alice Wood. The following is an entry for 1526:
The family can be traced at Accrington throughout the sixteenth century, but the only mention of a possible contender to be the Richard, supposed last resident of the Cunliffe House in Billington is a bequest made to Nicholas Cunliffe in 1541, son of Henry and Alice by Richard Wood. Richard Cunliffe, brother of Nicholas is specifically mentioned as to be provided with food and accommodation, or the means to pay for this, by his brother for his life, so was clearly thought to be unable to manage his own affairs. Was this the Richard in possession of and who lost Cunliffe Hall, reputedly because unable to redeem a mortgage?
THE CUNLIFFE FAMILY OF SPARTH
The Cunliffe family who, in 1556, purchased Sparth in Clayton le Moors (having been tenants there for some years) would be descended from the people who took their name from Cunliffe in Rishton, but Richard Trappes-Lomax was not able to trace their history any further back than Robert Cunliffe, father of Christopher who bought Sparth. Richard Trappes-Lomax researched this family using a variety of sources, many of which would have been estate papers belonging to his family and he found that the last member of the Cunliffe family who owned Sparth was Jennet, daughter of Robert Cunliffe and wife of John Grimshaw. She had inherited the estate from her brother Richard, who died childless about 1658 and there was litigation concerning Sparth that did not end until 1731, the result of this being that the Brookbanks took over this small part of the estate in 1713. In 1722, according to Trappes-Lomax, Brookbank leased lands at Sparth and Bell Lane to John Cunliffe (titled ‘of Sparth’ so must therefore have been in possession of other lands there) for seven years.
THE CUNLIFFE FAMILIES OF GREAT HARWOOD
Nicolas Cunliffe, the uncle of Christopher who purchased Sparth in 1556, was stated in the will of the latter, made in 1563, to be ‘of Great Harwood’ and it is possible that the Cunliffes ‘of Banks’ in Great Harwood are descended from this Nicholas, but cannot be proved with certainty. Parish register entries up to about 1600 rarely name residences, and in the case of the Cunliffes not until the baptism of Anne, daughter of John Cunliffe of Banks, in 1599 is it possible to associate any place with particular people. By the end of the sixteenth and in the early years of the seventeenth century John and Richard Cunliffe are recorded as fathers and living at Banks in the baptism registers of the parish church; later in the seventeenth century a Richard and John are also shown living in the same area. In the will of John Cunliffe of Banks, made in 1691, he calls himself a clothier and names his wife Isabel and his sons Richard and Martin. The deaths of both John and his wife are listed in the parish register, but not the births of those sons. John may have had other children, if a child had already ‘received their child’s portion’ (property, money or education) then it is possible they would not be mentioned in a will. A will has survived for Robert Cunliffe of Banks, woollen weaver, written in 1717, but it would seem that Robert and his wife either had no children or they had died while young as the beneficiaries of his will were mainly the children of his brother Richard, all of whom are named, but none of whom appear in the parish register of St. Bartholomew’s, or any local register. In his will he states that he held a lease of Alexander Nowell for Cunliffe Tenement from 1695. A John Cunliffe is listed as a recusant on the returns for 1682 and a Richard Cunliffe, yeoman, registered his property as a recusant in 1717, so it would appear that the Cunliffe family of Banks were recusants, which explains why many of their baptisms are not recorded. The only surviving son of Richard Cunliffe was Robert and no marriage or any baptisms for the family are recorded at St. Bartholomew’s; however, a Robert Cunliffe does appear on the map made for enclosure in 1763. He was a tenant of Alexander Nowell and possessed Lane Field (first enclosed in 1741) and Lower and Higher New Fields (first enclosed in 1748).
Cunliffe’s Tenement in 1763
It is clear that this branch of the family farmed the lands above for many years, but it seems, as I have not been able to find any mention of them in lease registers after 1763, that this branch of the family died out, at least in the male line in Great Harwood. Robert’s inventory of 1717 shows him to have been a wealthy man; the value was £366 pounds – the largest inventory amount I have found so far for a yeoman in Great Harwood. His brother however, left only £28; this may have been because of the high taxes levied on recusants at that time.
John Cunliffe decided to let his tenancy of Sparth go around 1735 or the new owners, the Brookbanks, preferred another tenant as a John Coward is named by Trappes-Lomax as farming there in 1741. The uncertainty surrounding Sparth and the opportunity to take good land in Great Harwood may have been the reason for this. From 1735 John Cunliffe was the tenant of part of Dean in Great Harwood, apparently formerly farmed by a family called Tompson, as ‘Tompsons’ was given as the habitation of John in various parish register entries. This is the family of Roger Cunliffe, banker of Blackburn. A survey compiled in 1735 of the estates of the late Thomas Hesketh lists John Cunliffe aged 63, with his son John aged 35 and grandson John aged ten as ‘lives’. This branch of the Cunliffe family do not appear until after 1735 in the Great Harwood parish register, but are recorded in the Altham parish registers before then. A fairly detailed family tree can be plotted using the Altham register and the wills that have survived for John and his son John, Thomas son of the latter John and his son Roger of Blackburn. Taking the line back from the first John is problematic, but it is likely that he is from a cadet branch of the Cunliffes of Sparth.
Dean in 1763
The lands leased by John Cunliffe in 1735 are clearly stated and are for Lower Dean (oddly enough on higher ground than Higher Dean) and the same lands continue in the family until the death of the last life John Cunliffe of Blackburn. However, from about 1805 the farm was inhabited by his sister Betty, and her husband John Hoyle (whose family were tenants of adjacent Cowden), he was her first cousin, son of her aunt Jane Cunliffe and James Hoyle. The first John Cunliffe may never have lived at Lower Dean, he owned copyhold land at Northwood in the Forest of Pendle and his son appears to have been the occupier of Lower Dean with his children being baptised at St. Bartholomew’s and recorded as living at Lower Dean or Tompson’s. When the second named John died in 1767 he owned Northwood and the held leases for Moor Grounds and Lower Dean in Great Harwood.
Moor Grounds 1763?
Examination of the court rolls does not furnish any other suitable candidate from the family of Hollins who could be the Richard who was the last resident of Cunliffe House in Billington except the Richard so clearly in need of care in 1541. Archives may hold documents that could answer many questions that this short study has posed, and further research may firmly connect the various branches of the Cunliffe families.
Without access to wills for generations before John Cunliffe who died in 1691 it would be impossible to ascertain if there was any direct relationship between the two families who gave their names to fields in Great Harwood. It is possible that the brothers Robert and Richard of Banks may have been sons of John Cunliffe; the fact that Robert was not mentioned in his will does not preclude this.
There could have been a distant relationship between the above family and of John Cunliffe of Lower Dean, but it was probably opportunity and a need for land for his recently married son that provided the impetus to take the lease of Lower Dean rather than any family connections in the area. The names Henry and Nicholas, used frequently by the Hollins family, were also favoured in the mid seventeenth century by families in Clayton, probably including the family of John Cunliffe who first took the lease of Lower Dean and who also named a son Henry. It is possible, but certainly not proven, that the descent of this family was from the family at Hollins.
1 Ainsworth gives 1574, but the date of the will is 1594.
Abram, W. A. (1877). A History of Blackburn Town and Parish. Blackburn: Blackburn Times.
APPENDIX 1 – Surveys and rentals
The table below is from the enclosure plan of 1763, which was by agreement, and shows the fields taken from the waste and allotted to either Nowell or Hesketh. It also gives the field names, the year taken from the waste and to whom it was allocated.
Entries from lease registers and surveys:
L1/35/5 Survey of estates of Thomas Hesketh c.1735.
John Cunliffe aged 64, with himself as first life, son Jon. 35 and grandson Jon. 10 leased 14acres 1 rood and 8 perches of land, rents and boons of £1, value £9 18s comprising:
DDLX 9/1 Lease register c.1774
1763 20th April
1774 December 8th
1776 May 21st
Note to say the last life died 13th May 1836.
DDLX 1/1 Lease register 1817 – 1847
1819 – 1836 Thomas Cunliffe rented Deans for £1 per year leasehold farm
ABRAM – HISTORY OF BLACKBURN TOWN AND PARISH
Thomas Cunliffe married, at Great Harwood Church, May 20th, 1577, Elizabeth
Richard Cunliffe married, Aug. 10th 1600, Isabel Dean; and Isabel, late wife of
MERCHANTS AND MODERN GENTRY
Robert Cunliffe of Harwood Banks, was buried Feb. 17th, 1716-7.
Mr. Henry Cunliffe, of Blackburn, son of Thomas, was born in 1764, and died
A family of Cunliffes possessed a small freehold estate called Cunliffe, in Billington, deriving thence the family surname. No complete descent can be given of them. Robert de Cundelive occurs A.D. 1250, and another Robert de Cuncleclif is a witness to charters temp. Edw. I. A third Robert de Cundeclif lived temp. Edward III., and about 1347 paid rent to Whalley Monastery for a plot of land he held. Roger de Cundcliff, of the same period, had a daughter Margaret, wife of Adam de Lever. Later, a Robert de Cundecliff occurs in 1396.
APPENDIX 3 – PROBATE DOCUMENTS
Cunliffe, John 1763
John Cunliffe of Northwood. Made 29 March 1760
John made his mark.
Cunliffe, John 1768
John Cunliffe of Great Harwood, yeoman. Made 27 September 1767
Cunliffe, Richard 1732
Richard Cunliffe of Great Harwood, Husbandman. Made 4 November 1731
Inventory total £28 – 09 – 03
Cunliffe, Robert 1717
Robert Cunliffe of Banks in Harwood, Woollen weaver. Made 11 June 1716.
Inventory value £366 – 16 – 00
Cunliffe, Roger 1822
Roger Cunliffe of Blackburn, banker. Made 12 August 1822
Cunliffe, Thomas 1815
Thomas Cunliffe of Lower Dean or Thompsons, yeoman. Made 15 May 1810.
Roger and John, his sons, both of Blackburn, cotton manufacturers, to whom he leaves two dwelling houses in Duke Street, Blackburn and leasehold of Lower Dean (now in possession of himself and his under tenants).
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