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The Howcrofts


My mum’s mum was a Howcroft. That’s a surname which is quite common in Lancashire, but in most places it gets spelled as Holcroft.

My mum married at St. Mary’s, Deane on the outskirts of Bolton, having grown up just down the road, and many of her mother’s relatives lived in the area around. St. Mary’s is an ancient church. The parish was always separate from Bolton, and it was only in the 19th century that the town of Bolton grew to encompass Deane. The parish, like many old ones, used to be very large, but was subdivided in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I started following the Howcroft family back through the generations, and found they rarely left the township of Over Hulton, and never left the parish of Deane. There were occasional moves to Middle Hulton, nearly half a mile away, but they always returned. Later they crossed Wigan Road to Chew Moor, still part of Deane. None of them went into Bolton, though some married girls from there. Unusually, the marriages were always at Deane, never at St. Peter’s in Bolton.

The trail led me back through the centuries, aided by wonderfully unusual first names like Ralph and Hermon.

I eventually reached my earliest Howcrofts, in the earliest surviving registers of Deane parish church. John Howcroft married Elizabeth Garnett there in November 1668. His father Ralph Howcroft was buried there just over 16 years later.

Then in the court records at Lancashire Record Office, I came across a petition for relief for a Ralph Howcroft of Over Hulton, dated 1678. My nine-greats grandfather was asking for money! I looked at the document, which had been filmed. I could not read it, being unused to the ancient handwriting. I got a print to take home with me, and set to.

Luckily the National Archives website has a section on palaeography (old writing), and my document turned out to have been written in “Late Secretary Hand”. Following the example given, Ralph’s petition was slowly translated.

“The humble petishon of Ralph Howcroft of Over Hulton
to the right worshipfull his Ma[je]st[y']s Justesses at his honourable court,
I a poore and indegent decriped person and mamed and lamed in his
majestis servis in the wars and now at present I having a wife and
is not able to get any thing towards maintaining either her self or…”

So Ralph had been a soldier – on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. In that war, Bolton had been attacked by the Royalists, and there had been what has been described as the Bolton Massacre when the town was captured. The event was taken badly by the Parliamentarians. When the Earl of Derby was captured, he was taken specially to Bolton and executed there, his last night being at the Old Man and Scythe, at the opposite end of Churchgate from St. Peter’s.

It must have been difficult being an ex-Royalist soldier in the Bolton area, especially with a disability. I hope that the word "Augmented" at the end of the document indicates that he received his handout.

It’s no wonder that the family never used Bolton’s parish church, but I’m still surprised that the tradition lasted so long. After all, my aunt still lives in the parish, roughly half way between Over Hulton and St. Mary’s church. That’s not far in 350 years!

Ralph Howcroft's Petition 1678