Extracted from Midgleyana by John Franklin Midgley


In a lengthy article in a Yorkshire West Riding newspaper at the turn of last century a local antiquarian, J. Longbottom records of "the ancient family of Midgleys of Midgley Township in the Parish of Halifax" that he has himself "traced the antiquity six centuries back".  In view of his demise at the beginning of this century, and in the absence of other records left by him to the best of my knowledge, one must look elsewhere for genealogical details to amplify his statement;
According to the late Mr H. W. Harwood another antiquarian and a former native of Midgley Township, "the Midgleys are probably one of Yorkshire's oldest families".1 Naturally all our families must be old, for they did not just jump out of the ground.  What is meant is that the 'older' families have managed to maintain their identity and retain records of their past longer than others.  The Midgley family has this distinction that after close on seven centuries it is still well represented in the district from which it derived its name.  In fact to-day two members of the Midgley family, with farms touching each other, are the largest farmers in Midgley.  One branch farms at Booth Fold acquired in 1687 from the Brooksbank family of Bankhouse in Warley, while the other, Robert Midgley, is tenant at Dean House now owned by a Murgatroyd.  Living in a somewhat out of the way place, sons who wished to make a career left the immediate area in due course and thus the family spread farther afield. " Those who remained in the locality have been for the most part content to run their farms and have never sought publicity, have been decent folk, the very salt of the earth and never one with other than the highest and cleanest reputation."
At the beginning of the 16th century enlightened opinion moved in favour of the registration of baptisms, but it came up against the irrational, though understandable, opposition of an illiterate people who feared new fiscal burdens.2  it was not until after the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace that Thomas Cromwell ventured to order a register of baptisms and burials to be kept in every parish (1538).  To the terms of a constitution of the Province of Canterbury approved by Queen Elizaheth (1598).we owe the beginning of many parish registers in her reign.  Unfortunately no sooner had the new system been launched on its way than the Civil War of the next century led to the destruction of many records.  This fact coupled with the rise of the Nonconformist Churches frequently makes the researcher's task, even with unlimited time and funds, a virtually impossible one.
Longbottom adds that 'the family later produced noted clerics, lawyers, physicians and authors, and once owned vast estates ranging from Erringden township, in Halifax Parish, to Thornton in Bradfordvale, and to Bingley in Airedale' as the following pages testify.  His observations, of course, refer to the life and activities of that particular region, but there is no evidence available to me that members of the Midgley family sought or


gained eminence in the life of the County or were 'noted' much farther afield. Whatever urges and ambitions they may have had were directed to serving their parochial communities, and one will seek in vain for reference to them in any National BiographyI though members of other families from the Township are mentioned.  Nor can the adjective 'vast' be strictly used in relation to Midgley estates.  if they included all Midgley and two or three adjacent townships, they could not be called 'vast'.  It is purely a relative term as all the small areas in the region are crowded with activity.  Although by no means what one would call a common name, there are now hundreds of Midgleys spread far and wide in the West Riding.  To-day (1960s) the Bradford telephone directory, which includes Halifax area, and the Leeds directory contain between them more than 200 Midgley names - telephones are not,.supplied 'gratis' so that these are people of some standing.
What of those members of the Midgley family who spread out and moved away from the ancient 'Lares et Penates'?  One branch early crossed the moors to Bingley in Airedale 3  In 1524, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Henry VIII, Parliament made a grant to the King to assist him to fight the French, and from the Skyrack Wapontake return we learn the names of the chief inhabitants and their relative wealth by the sums they were required to pay.11 For the Villa De Bynglay, then one of the more populous towns in the West Riding, of the total of £2 3s from the 19 taxed, Thomas Megelay heads the list with 20s for goods and Henry Midgley at the bottom, with 11 others, each to pay 4d for labour.  Thomas Morgatrowyd paid 1s for lands and John Morgatrowyd for labour 4d (1 groat).  In the Subsidy roll of 1621 (James I) for Bingley, where the tax was ls 4d in the pound for land and 1s for goods, Robert Midgley, one of the larger tradespeople or merchants was down for 3s.  In 1627 (Charles I) the tax was increased to 4s and William Midgiey had to pay 4s.
There are other references to Midgleys in the Bingley records. Before the Reformation there were no pews or seats generally speaking in the Parish churches.  The whole length of the floor was empty except for a very few benches.  The worshippers had to stand during the services unless some people brought their own stools.  When seating was introduced the Register of Bingley Church of 23rd July, 1634 reveals that William Midgley of Marschcoate and Thomas Midgley of Ryecroft were the occupants of 'antient' seats.
When the Hearth Tax was first demanded in 1662 (Charles II), an  imposition of 2s was levied on every hearth or stove. and in the return for 1672 four Midgleys in Bingley were required to pay for one fireplace in each of their dwellings.4  Finally in the list of  voters at the election of George Fox Esq. as a member of Parliament for Yorkshire in 1741-2, David Midgley appears as one of the 45 voters for Bingley, and Richard Midgley as one of the five voters in Harden nearby.
Another early migrant was Richard Midgley. born about 1530 and probably educated at St John's, Cambridge, who was collated by Archbishop Parker in 1561 as Vicar of Rochdale in Lancashire across  Blackstone  Edge from Midgley Township.  He was the second son of Richard Midgley of Erringden who in his will, dated July, 1555 desired to be buried in the Parish church-yard of Halifax  "amonge the bodis of other Faythfull peple of God",  As previously noted the chapel or church of Old St Mary's at Luddenden did not obtain burial rights till 1620.  Longbottom gives this description of his gravestone -
'in the ancient Halifax churchyard of St John the Baptist is a flat stone about 6 ft by 2 ft 8 ins on which is an inscription wholly in capital letters 2.5 ins high
R. M.


The Church has over 40,000 people buried in and around, and in Longbottom's time it was agreed to cover the old stones, so that the churchyard is like a lawn now.  A record was kept of the stones.
Among Vicar Richard Midgley's appointments was that of one of the moderators of the Religious Exercise of the Diocese, of chaplain to the Earl of Derby and he was included in the Great Commission for Causes Ecclesiastical of York.  Shortly after, in 1589, he got into trouble over his semi-Nonconformist attitude.  He was summoned before the Chancellor of Chester, along with the churchwardens, for having neither surplice nor cope in the church and for leaving the churchyard unfenced.  In 1590 he was presented for not making a perambulation of his parish.  Nevertheless his living, which was not more than £20 per annum, was increased that year by £6 13s 4d by Archbishop Whitgift.  In 1595 he resigned and was succeeded by his son Joseph.
The oldest remaining register books are in his neat and practised handwriting. Thereafter he was one of Queen Elizabeth's four licensed preachers in the diocese being subsequently appointed by Bishop Vaughan one of King James's preachers in Lancashire with a stipend of £50 p. a.  He appears to have been a "laborious (sic) preacher and very successful in his ministry  being instrumental in the conversion of thousands of souls".5 He was buried at Rochdale, aged about 80, and died intestate.
"rich in nothing but good work, having only his example and
blessing to bequeath to his family".
Some clarification of the religious state of England is indicated. Dissatisfaction had long been in the air.  It should not be forgotten that two centuries previously John Wycliffe, a north Yorkshireman, had denounced the corruption of the medieval church and, within living memory, Martin Luther had nailed his theses against papal indulgences to the door of Wittenberg church in Germany.  Mention has previously been made of the "Act of the Supreme Head" in 1534 and the final breach with Rome in Henry VIII's reign.  The previous fall of Cardinal Wolsey and the execution of Bishop Fisher, who had been nominated Cardinal by Pope Paul III, and of Sir Thomas More in the following year, followed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries all showed the determination of the King to be supreme.  The majority of Englishmen cared little for religion, but the policy pursued of reconciliation with Rome and the bloody persecutions during the reign of his eldest daughter Mary created a strong spirit of antagonism, if not revenge, among the Protestant reformers.  Incidentally during the reign of Bloody Mary Robert Farrer, Bishop of St David's in Wales, and a member of the Ewood family in Midgley Township, was burnt at the stake in Caermarthen Market on 30th March, 1555.6
Elizabeth herself had no convinced religious feeling and, beset by dangers as she was, aimed at uniting moderate men by adopting a 'via media'. She tried to ensure outward conformity with religion as established by law, and to uphold her own ecclesiastical supremacy.   The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were re-enacted in 1559 -
"she would not animate Romanism but neither would
she tolerate any newfangledness"
The compromise however did not satisfy 'inter alios' the Puritans, who austerely wished to purify the Church from all contact with Romanist practices, and the Presbyterians who attacked the system of Church government and not merely details of service.
The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587, and the defeat of the great Spanish Armada in 1588 banished for the nonce from Elizabeth's mind that dominant fear of invasion b a Roman Catholic power which had haunted it since her accession.7 Nevertheless as extreme Protetant doctrines had been gaining


ground, Whitgift had been appointed Archbishop in 1583 to check Puritanism and the attacks on Episcopal government, and to ensure conformity,  Ten years later the first statutes were passed against these Protestants and a few leaders executed.  The fundamental plank of their opposition to Episcopacy was based on the Gospel according to St Matthew, Chapter 18. verse 20.-
"For when two or three are gathered in My name, there
am I in the midst of them,
This idea of a properly constituted church included conventicles.
Already in the 14th century Wycliffe who began the translation of the Bible into English, had stressed the acceptance of the Scriptures as the sole authority for Christ's teaching and Christian doctrine,  This was more important than Sacraments, and he had denounced as idolatrous superstition many of the leading tenets of the medieval church, such as transubstantiation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the confessional and papal remission of sin, and had demanded communion without the Mass,  The same simplicity made it logical that others should hate and abominate in the Church of England such papistical practices as the use of incense, the wearing of surplices, kneeling at the Sacrament, the sign of the Cross in baptism, the use of the organ, of the ring in marriage, and of the Prayer Book.
Such was the position when Richard Midgley's son Joseph became  Vicar at Rochdale in succession to his father.  The question was whether Elizabeth's Statutes of 1593, so damnable to the Puritans, would be strictly enforced on the rank and file everywhere.  It should be noted that the harsh measures of the Statutes were aimed as much, if not even more at the Catholics, but it so happened that more important matters of patriotism and nationality temporarily took precedence over religion.  The last decade of Elizabeth's long reign was an unsettled period, what with serious trouble in Ireland, renewed threats from Spain, and uncertainty regarding the succession.  Her old ministers Walsingham and Burghley, who had steered the ship of state so ably, were no more and she was surrounded by a new generation of advisers intriguing and
jockeying for power.
Joseph Midgley was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and was a remarkable man with a mind of great activity and power. He proved a stern Puritan, somewhat more of a Presbyterian than a Non-conformist, no doubt strengthened by influences at the University, showing little respect for Diocesan Episcopacy, paying little heed to his Ecclesiastical superiors and desiring some further Reformation. As we shall relate he proved an even greater rebel than his father against Church practice and teachings, staying,only a few years before being deprived of his living in 1606, but adding considerably to the development of the Rochdale Grammar School founded by his father.8
With the accession of the first Stuart on the death of Elizabeth in 1603 the religious tempo had immediately increased.  James believed in the Divine Right of Kings and his coming from Scotland with a hatred of Presbyterians led him to oppose the Puritans.  Archbishop Bancroft, who like his predecessor Whitgift aimed at uniformity, persuaded Convocation to pass canons maintaining the Articles, the Prayer Book rites and ceremonies of the Episcopal church and the Scriptural support for government by Bishops.  These Canons were not passed by Parliament and therefore were not binding on the laity, but 300 secular clergymen left the Church in consequence.
From the beginning of Joseph's ministry no surplices were used in his church, and in due course the scruples of the Vicar of Rochdale were brought under the notice of the Hampton Court Conference, 1604.  Whitgift had been informed that the cross was not  used in baptism, that the Vicar had dealt out sacramental bread in a common basket, and that a worse churchman could not have been mentioned,  These charges were repeated against Joseph in 1605 with the additional points that the order of Communion was not observed, that it was celebrated sitting, that the vicar did not catechise, did not have parish perambulation and had eaten flesh in Lent!


It is not surprising therefore that in the following year, 1606, Joseph Midgley was deprived of his living by Archbishop Dancroft for ecclesiastical insurbordination, adhering to the Presbyterian platform and discipline, and wishing to impose these on the Anglican Church.  After the deprivation he practised as a physician, and was even later prosecuted for refusing to kneel at Sacrament.  On the death of his father, the Rev. Joseph removed from Rochdale to the vicinity of Halifax in 1609.  His will was proved at York on October 1637, providing 'inter alios' for his son Jonathan, who had been 'at the University' and was made sole executor; for his son Samuel who became a Freeman of London; and for his daughter Ruth, who had married Isaac Waterhouse, half-brother of Nathaniel Waterhouse the princely benefactor of Halifax.  Incidentally, the name Jonathan was not bestowed outside Puritan circles and even then was rare and unusual, providing further proof of the Rev. Joseph's unequivocal stand. Jonathan's son Joseph was a clergyman (1655 - 1704) and likewise the latter's son Robert (1683 - 1761).
The convictions of these  Midgley parsons, who regarded reformation of the Church under Elizabeth as incomplete, were symptomatic of the growing dissatisfaction.  A long succession of Halifax vicars desired to remove all traces of the old religion from their church, to abolish everything that reminded them of the Roman Catholic Church.  Dr Favour,9 vicar for over thirty years, 1593 - 1624, and other Puritan vicars by their continual preaching and through the Halifax Exercises, conferences where famous preachers drew immense crowds to listen to their sermons, had made Halifax almost unanimously of the same thought.
The general discontent crystallised in the exodus of the Pilgrim Fathers to North America10 and in the formation of a political party in Parliament
- Puritan and Presbyterian - to oppose the policy of Elizabeth I's Stuart successor, the son of Mary Queen of Scots.  The uncompromising belief of James I in the Divine origin of Episcopacy and in the Divine Right of Kings - that he was above the law - was also held by his son Charles I, and the latter's repressive measures and defiance of Parliament precipitated the Great Civil War.
Materially the opening decades of the 17th century had been a time of peace and, in some directions, of prosperity.  Capitalism developed, a drainage of the fens was undertaken, a regular post was established by which a letter could be sent eighty miles for two pence, hackney carriages made their first appearance in the streets of London - to the great discontent of the Thames watermen, who were till then the chief means of transport east and west. Joint-stock companies11 began to expand and trade had acquired an increasing influence.  As previously indicated there was a rise of manufactures in the West Riding and a new gentry had risen with the commercial prosperity enjoyed in those days.
Dating from this period large numbers of those substantial buildings scattered about Halifax parish and beyond were built.  With the exception of a few such grand old buildings - but not lordly palaces - as Brearley Hall and Kershaw House, Midgley, as already enumerated, had many more modest buildings such as Lower White Lee, Lower Ewood, Bloomer Gate, Cliff Hill, Lacey Hey, Great House, Dean House, High Hirst, Booth Fold, and Oats Royd (behind its Victorian front), all evidence that prosperity was shared among a large number of substantial yeomen.  The greatest builder of these fine seventeenth century houses in the Parish of Halifax was James Murgatroyd of Hollins in Warley, who had made his fortune in the woollen trade.  Among them was the above mentioned Kershaw House in Luddenden Lane.  About 1640 he made his home at East Riddlesden Hall, Keighley.  Both have a circular wheel or rose window to light the porch chamber.12
Along the hillsides of Calder Valley one can still see the solid houses, built of blocks of millstone grit, which were once both the homes and the workrooms of the weavers and clothiers.  Their long rows of windows close under the eaves marked the rooms which once held the looms when the domestic situation prevailed. Such houses also still remain with their rows of
stone-mullioned windows in and around Huddersfield and Halifax.  One of the marks to-day of these Pennine wool townships such as Midgley is the way in which they fit into the hillsides upon which they are built.  They are indeed part of those hillsides for they are built of the very stones of the hills them-selves fashioned from the bones of the mountains and not of its flesh as brickwork is. They provide convincing evidence of the old principle so much lost sight of in modern times, that local materials are the most suitable for building.  Probably the most charmuig instance of this in England is seen in the beautiful region of the Cotswold Hi!ls, a limestone plateau which divides the Thames valley from the Severn.13

In the West Riding at first sight they appear stark and uncompanionable and this is reflected in the 'character' of those who live there. Generally the woolmen of Yorkshire are on the surface hard and dour, rather like those who live in the dales and on the moorland whence the wool comes.  They have had from time immemorial a strict religious upbringing, marked even to-day by a liking for Biblical names for their children.  Until pageantry, gala days, wakes and feasts, began to wear a little thin with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, the rural as well as urban communities commemorated their faith and the seasons of the pastoral year, Yule tide log, New Year's Eve wassailing, Plough Monday, Easter, Harvest festivals. Other dates in the calendar linked craft or calling to the Christian faith, the processions of woolcombers on St Blase's Day in the cloth towns of Yorkshire with their heralds, banners and bands, wool-staplers on horseback, spinners in white stuff waist-coats and silver garters and wagoned pageants.  Their relaxation is still found in their chapels, choirs, annual performances of the "Messiah" and their brass bands.  These native Joshuas, Samuels and Emmanuels saw in the gritstone areas of the Pennines the Promised Land14  They were not likely to stomach the Stuart tyranny for long.

1. A survey of Midgley History January, 1957, unpublished. He died in 1967 at the ripe old age of 81 and before I could meet him, nevertheless I treasure his correspondence.

2. See my article in Familia, Year (Jaargang VI) 1969, p.10.

3. The Keighley Parish registers began only in 1562 and the first Midgley entry occurs under April, 1563 and reads :-
    "The xxvth daie John Midgley son of William was buried"

4. A result of the Restoration Government's dire need of funds? Chimney stacks long bore witness tho the presence of wall fireplaces in rooms of houses of the well-to-do. This was an improvement of the 15th century making that central fire, the smoke of which escaped through a louver or vent in the middle of the roof, an outmoded form of heating. It was not until the 17th century when coal came into greater use, that chimneys became an established feature in house building, where stone [and bricks] was replacing wood.

5. Dr. Whittaker published a history of the Parish at the beginning of the 19th century.

6. Harwood. Hanson p.102. Innes' England under the Tudors. p.234

7. It was found necessary in 1596 to send the expedition that sacked Cadiz.
    The following year Philip's second Armada was destroyed by storms. Once again "Deus afflavit et dissipati sunt".

8. Incidentally, Midgley Township never had a Grammar School, unlike Sowerby, Warley and Heptonstall 1642. Farrer of Ewood petitioned for a charter and his family gave the site of Heath Grammar School 1598. He, along with John Lacy of Brearley and the latter's brother-in-law John Deane of Deane Hoiuse became first governors of the school. There was a collection in Midgley on behalf of founding the school realising  £3  16s  4d.  In the 18th century Dr. John Fawcett established a school at Brearley Hall, later transferred by him to Ewood Hall and continued by his son until about 1830. This was chiefly but not exclusively for young men intent on entering the Baptist ministry. About the same time the Luddenden Church School was built. Later at Ewood Court Richard Cockcroft ran a school for over 40 years and Mr. Harwood's mother was a pupil there.. See end of paragraph p. 52 Under the Education Act 1870 which eventually made elementary education compulsory a Midgley School Board was established to control the half score of schools that came into being on a small scale.

9.Dr. Favour was the prime mover in the establishment of Heath Grammar School in Skircoat, the Queen's charter having been previously obtained in 1585.

10. Including some Puritans in Halifax Parish who feared persecution, namely Matthew Mitchell, a pious and wealthy person and his son Johnathan, who sailed in 1635, and Richard Denton, minister of Coley.

11. Daniel Defoe was to complain early in the next century about the increase in Stock Exchange gambling. Many were caught by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720. The company's £100 stock rose insanely through artificial manipulation and wild rumours to £1, 060 in June and fell to £150 in September! One is reminded of the speculation craze in the Republic in 1969 and the subsequent outcry against alleged operations of Johannesburg syndicates taking advantage of uncertainty triggered at first by Government indifference and negligence permitting them to 'bear' on a falling market. A collapse somewhat similar to that after Sharpeville in 1960 though due to a different, political reason. Bearing denied by President J.S.E. 31/3/70.

12. The large houses that continued to be erected all over England in the following century usually had fine libraries and one of the most famous bookshops in the kingdom was that of "Edwards of Halifax", Founded by William Edwards, who died in 1808 James Edwards, his most famous son, who opened a London bookshop in 1784, was the first London bookseller to display valuable books in splendid bindings. He was a great book collector and followed Napoleon Bonaparte's army into Italy buying rare books and manuscripts from the soldiers after they had looted palaces and monasteries. He also purchased notable Italian and French libraries and so enriched the great collections of England with treasures of the Continent. Previously his brother John had been guillotined during the Revolution while on the same quest. A brother Thomas who stayed at home to keep the bookshop in Old Market, sent out a catalogue in 1816 which mentions over 11,000 books.
Kershaw House has become a public house, and Brearley Hall a welfare home for elderly women!

13. The Cotwold people had also prospered from the wool trade. Here, in many towns and villages such as Broadway and Bibury can be seen gabled and dormered houses and cottages built of honey-coloured stone, with mullioned windows and stone roof slabs, all fitting naturally into the landscape, as we commented on our recent visit in 1968.

Sometimes they have swaggered a bit what with their big houses, gardens, tennis courts and parklands, but despite the clinking of the money in their pockets, they are still warm-hearted.

                          %%%%%%%END OF MIDGLEYANA  CHAPTER 7%%%%%%%

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Copyright ©  Tim Midgley March, 2003, links revised July 2023. Scanned and corrected from a copy kindly donated by David & Milnethorpe Midgley of Tasmania from an out of print book by John Franklin Midgley 1970.