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THE ANCIENT LORDS OF MIDDLETON.
BY JOHN DEAN.
[Since this paper was read, on February 5th, 1897, a lately-enrolled member has taken interest in studying it, and, although I thought I had exhausted the authorities, he has discovered such a number of fresh deeds, facts, and names as to necessitate the entire recasting of the work. It has been, therefore, almost completely rewritten, and, in its altered form, whatever of value may be found in the paper is in considerable part due to the help thus afforded me by Mr. Joseph Hopwood, R.N., of Southport. I desire also to express my grateful thanks to Mr. George Esdaile, of Rusholme, and Mr. Ralph Assheton, of Downham Hall, for much valuable assistance.]
'N Baines's History of Lancashire, and in other accounts, only two incidents in the early history of Middleton are mentioned. Firstly,* that in the early part of the reign of Henry III. Roger de Middleton and his son Alan gave certain lands to the monks of Stanlaw Abbey (though elsewheret the same author gives the date 1290 to this transaction), and, secondly, it is noted that about the year 1322 the last Roger de Middleton died, and his heiress, Maud or Matilda, married John de Barton, of Rydale, North Yorkshire, and thus carried the estates to that family. But there is no attempt at any pedigree or history of these early families either in Baines or in any of the Heralds' Visitations, and, in a search for
* Croston's Baines, vol. ii., p. 395.
+ Ibid, p. 402.
matter to fill this vacuity, many other members of these families and their connections, dating more than a century and a half further back than Baines and others have given account of, with some of their doings in those earlier days, have been brought to light. But before proceeding to complete this deficiency, in the course of which certain erroneous statements relating to the personalties of these ancient lords will receive incidental but important correction, it may be convenient to devote a little space to the name by which they were known, and which they clearly derived from and did not confer upon their possessions.
The place-name Middleton itself may be referred to Saxon times. The termination “tun” meant a settlement within an enclosure, and was the original form of the modern word "town." As to the derivation of the prefix "Middle," there have been various opinions. Some have regarded it as descriptive of the central position that the town occupies in the midst of so many other towns with Saxon place-names.
But this derivation has been doubted by others, who suggest that the name is more likely to have been derived from the hill on which the church stands, and that its original form was "Mid-hul-tun," the "tun" adjacent to the "Mid-Hill."
This second idea of the origin of the name seems the most probable one. Many people know the hill on which the picturesque old church tower stands, overlooking the high road into Yorkshire,which passes in front of the ancient inn, "Old Boar's Head," and the original clearing may have been close by, or on the site of the old manorial hall below.
We may be sure that the "tun" would be built as near to a copious supply of water as possible, and the river Irk, which runs within two hundred yards of the hill, would
afford this necessary of life and sanitation to the people. Other requirements, such as warmth and shelter, with wood for fuel conveniently obtainable, and immunity from the flooding of their rude habitations in rainy seasons, these conditions would be most completely attained by fixing upon a site at the foot of the hill on which now stands the old church, and on that spot, we may assume, was founded the Middleton of yore.
In Watkin's Roman Lancashire is mentioned a supposed Roman road leading in a straight line from Manchester through Blackley, Middleton, Castleton, and Rochdale to Littleborough, and from Middleton to Castleton the present highway and the aforesaid Roman road run close together where not on identical lines. Another route between Manchester and Littleborough is suggested and traced on the map which appears in Mr. Harrison's Archæological Survey of Lancashire, on the authority of Whitaker, who considers this route to be sufficiently indicated by the place-names "Street Fold," "Street Bridge," and "Street Gate." But to pass through these places necessitates a great bend to the eastward, a deviation which it is quite certain would never have been approved by the roadmakers who surmounted the elevation. at Affyside, adjoining the north-west of Middleton parish, rather than ease the gradient by taking a sweep round its base, without good and obvious reasons, either strategic or topographical, and none such being conceivable, while the route pointed out by Watkin is in close conformity with the usual practice of the Romans in road making, the latter may be accepted as the true route.
The position would form a convenient halting-place for Roman troops on the march from Manchester, viâ Castleton and Littleborough, on to Ilkley, and the still more frequent movements eastwards, in the communi
cations maintained some three or four hundred years for the building and upkeep of the equipment of the "Great Wall," to repair the waste arising from deaths, and to give occasional changes of station to the troops by movements between the Roman capital at York and the military stronghold at Chester. Small communities of Brito-Celts would doubtless be encouraged to gather at such halting-places, under the supervision of their conquerors, for the accumulation of commissariat stores, &c., and for the services of the inhabitants in the multifarious kinds of labour incident to a military halt. Such I take to have been the inception of ancient Middleton, and the long period of the Roman occupation would afford ample time for development.
The place must, therefore, have been known in the days of the Roman Empire, probably as an outpost of Manchester, as Pilkington or Stand, near Whitefield. This conclusion enables us to credit the ancient tradition of there having been a castle close to the same spot. It would certainly have been a good position for a fortified camp, and it is stated in Baines's Lancashire,* speaking of the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity, that, "Co-æval with the churches, a number of castles were also erected or re-edified, and it is conjectured that not fewer than twelve considerable ones arose south of the Ribble, Wall-ey, Wal-ton, Child-wall, Win-wick, Blackstone, Seph-ton, Stan-dish, and Pen-wortham, Wigan, Rochdale, Middleton, and Bury. These were probably the seats of twelve Saxon chiefs before the institution of parishes, and became, therefore, the seats of as many parochial churches.”+
* Croston's edition, vol. i., p. 20.
Footnotes in Baines; Bede, lib. ii., cap. 9.
The castles alluded to by the Venerable Bede were probably real; his testimony with regard to matters within his own observation, and not hearsay, has generally been accepted. Moreover, he was a native and resident of Northumberland.
These structures, however, could not have been the work of the Romans, or designed to sustain an attack at the hands of any strong military power. Earthwork entrenchments, under the military system of that nation, and with such opponents as would be encountered at Middleton, would have been ample. We may, therefore, prefer to view the structures to which Bede gave the name of castles as strongholds of Saxon build, placed within the stockade or outer fence, for the temporary protection of the weaklings and valuables of the community, and to enable a portion of the fighting men, who would otherwise be required for this service, to join in the operations against the enemy outside. And our rude forefathers must have had little intermission from such demands upon their resources. If we consider the alertness of our Saxon ancestors in availing themselves of the good roads so provided for them by their predecessors in conquest, we may assume that this race would speedily take possession of such a position as Middleton, and endow it with its present Saxon name, and we may well be excused if we prefer the theory of "Mid-hul-tun " being the derivation of the place-name Middleton, instead of the one which has generally been hitherto accepted. Mid" conveys the idea of "middle," and being one syllable shorter would on that account be preferred by a people so sparing of speech as the early English. Now, what could this "hull" in those early days have been regarded as being in the middle of? I have already shown that it may have had a central position conferred