Birstall Parish

Land Introduction

Birstall Parish

Several of my ancestral families lived in Birstall parish including the Laws, the Sykes, and the Walkers.

Birstall Parish in the district of Dewsbury, West Riding, Yorkshire, is located in a hilly district 7 miles southwest of Leeds.

Officially, the ancient parish of Birstall comprised the eight townships of Cleckheaton, Drighlington, Gomersal, Heckmondwike, Hunsworth, Liversedge, Tong and Wike.

Cleckheaton and Tong were separate chapelries within the parish from an early date. Tong was largely independent and submitted their church records directly to the bishop in York rather than through Birstall.

The Chapelry of Cleckheaton comprised the townships of Cleckheaton, Hunsworth and Wyke. The records for Cleckheaton Chapel were kept with the rest of the parish until 1763 and until 1812 were kept at the end of the Birstall parish records. Cleckheaton did not conduct its own marriages until 1837. Cleckheaton Chapel was known as White Chapel.

The township of Drighlington included the hamlet of Adwalton.

The township of Hunsworth formed a detached part of the Savile manor of Thornhill. It was the least populous and important township in the parish.

The village of Birstall gave its name to the parish. However, the village of Birstall was in the township of Gomersall.

Other villages or hamlets in Birstall parish included: Great and Little Gomersal, Stubley, Littletown, Robertown, Long Liversedge, Hoaton, Okenshay, Moore Lawe, Doghouse, Scholes, and Berkonshay.

The main church, St Peter's, situated on the eastern boundary of the parish, was build in the time of Henry VIII (1509-47).

A Brief History of Birstall Parish

The Yorkshire Archeological Society says,

" the benefice of Birstall was divided in 1281 when a vicarage was ordained by Archbishop Wickwane and a vicar was instituted on the presentation of the then rector, Thomas de Dalton. In 1286 the "advowson", or right of patronage, of the rectory was granted to Nostell priory by Robert de Tilly. In 1300 Archbishop Corbridge gave Nostrell license to appropriate the rectory at the next vacancy ( which occurred in 1309) and by this arrangement the right of presenting the vicar was thereafter exercised by the archbishop (until the successive creations of the dioceses of Ripon in 1836 and Wakefield in 1888)

After the dissolution of Nostrell priory (amongst many other religious houses ) in Henry VIII's reign, the rectory of Birstall was granted by the King to Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, founded in 1546. The first lessees of the rectory from Trinity College were Henry Batt then of Halifax but later lord of the manor of Oakwell and Gomersal, and his descendants; however, from about 1615, when Henry's grandson the Rev. Robert Batt did not renew his lease, the College divided the rectory into two moieties, or nominally equal parts, each with its distinct poor rates and tithes, and leased them separately. For many years on of these moieties was leased to the lord of the manor of Batley (Copleys, Egertons, and Wiltons). "

In A History of the Ancient Parish of Birstall, Yorkshire published in 1933, by Reverent H. C. Cradock, M. A., Reverent Cradock made the following points:

  • The parish records started in 1558, "the first year of the reign of Elizabeth". A convocation in 1597 ordered that the records be written on parchment and a copy was made on parchment of all the records to that date. Cradock says that various irregularities occurred:
    • "Entries were sometimes omitted by accident, of from sickness, or from delay in the appointment of a new clerk"
    • There were frequent omissions "during the Civil War" (1643-1644)
    • There was an unexplained gap between February 1653 and March 1656.

  • Plague deaths between 1587 and 1644.
    In the year 1587-8, there were 111 burials as compared with an average of 36 burials in the previous 5 years and in the succeeding 5 years. The worst outbreak was in 1642-3. There were 158 burial entries for the 7 months that were recorded, as compared to 73 for 12 months of 1641-42 and 88 for 12 months of 1643-44. Presumably, the clerk also died, leaving no one to record the other 5 months of 1642-43. In 1684 there were 130 deaths compared with and average of 88 death on the 2 years on either side.
  • Estimated population (based on Cradock's comparison of the numbers of baptisms, marriages and burials in the parish) in 1560 was about 2500 people.

  • By the time of the Archbishop's visit to Birstall parish in 1743, there were 9000 people in the parish. 1800 of them were "declared to be dissenters". It is believed that the increase in the population was partly due to an influx from other parishes.

  • "of the 188 occupations listed in 1778, 124 had to do with the clothing trade. Twelve were colliers and 5 were engaged in farming"
The Parish Register of Birstall Volume 1 Yorkshire Archaelogical Society

From the preface by John Nussey:

  • The parish was located in the "Heavy Woolen District" of the West Riding. Woolen cloth weaving was a mainstay of the inhabitants from at least Elizabethan times.

  • Daniel Defoe toured the area 1723-24 and had this to say about Birstall
    "a little town called Birstall. Here .. they begin to make broadcloth∑.. This town is famed for dyeing, and they make a sort of cloths here in imitation of the Gloucester white cloths."
  • In 1738 a survey made of the parish for the Master and Fellows at Trinity College stated,
    "This parish by the great increase in trade in the woolen manufacture is become very populous of late and the lands very much improved, by so many houses being build and small parcels of land laid to them, which are thereby brought into good tillage."
  • In 1812 a similar survey stated,
    "The parish is extensive and fertile but as the Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers are carried out in this part of the country the land is divided into small farms for the convenience of the tradesmen who attend to their trades more than to farming, the consequence of which is that area of the ploughed lands are not well managed and the crops in general not so abundant as in many other parishes where the land is not so good in quality. Part of the parish is also in high situations and the corn late in ripening, which is another disadvantage. There is coal in almost every part of the parish."
    These surveys were obviously directed with an interest in the value of the land for tax and tithe purposes and not in the development in the clothing industry in the area.

The whole of the West Riding was a "hotbed" of religious nonconformity. Nonconformists were members of Protestant denominations dissenting from the Church of England. The first nonconformists were members of the clergy who resigned their positions rather than accept the act of Uniformity in 1662. The principle Nonconformist denominations were, Baptists, Congregationalists (also known as Independents), Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Unitarians. The development of these separate groups is quite complicated and it took some time before all the doctrines were settled. Many people moved from one group to another as the sought the true answers. The meetings were often held at night in someone's barn in order to avoid the authorities as these religions were not tolerated at various periods depending who the reigning monarch was.

One of the common threads of most of these sects was the reading of the bible at home. A consequence of this practice was the use of biblical names for the children on the Nonconformists. The Reverent H. C. Crodock says that Old Testament names were not popular in the parish until the Commonwealth (1649-1660). He attributes this to the increased familiarity of the population with the Bible and Biblical names. He says Joshua, Benjamin, Hannah, Sara and Susannah were the most popular. (He also said that: George became popular in the reign of King George (?), other royal names, Edward, Henry, and Charles were rare, double names started in 1708.)

Unfortunately, these denominations did not have the rites of baptism and marriage performed in the Church of England. The only rite that was performed in the traditional church was burial because most of these sects did not have their own burial grounds.

Many famous nonconformist speakers preached in the area. The first nonconformist congregation in the parish was formed at Heckmondwike in July 1674 and the first chapel was build there in 1701. The Red Chapel in Cleckheaton was built in 1710. The records go back to 1674 and 1724 respectively.

Birstall was also a Methodists center. John Wesley preached in Birstall parish many times and Benjamin Ingham was "active in the Parish".

"Taken together, these two factors - involvement in the clothing industry and in the general spread of nonconformity - had the result that the inhabitants of Birstall parish were accustomed to continual communication with the inhabitant of adjoining parishes, (Bradford, Calverley, Batley, Dewsbury, Mirfield, Elland, Hartshead, Halifax) and even further afield; it was not at all rare for Birstall clothiers to be familiar with London. In consequence marriage were often contracted outside the parish, and no record of them is to be found in the Birstall register."

John Nussey, Introduction to the Birstall Parish Register by the Yorkshire Archeological Society

Frank Peel, a local Yorkshire historian, wrote several books about the area. He said that Birstall parish had four vicars in nineteen years in the late 1600s. He lists:

  1. Mr Ashburn or Ashburnell, the vicar of Birstall form 1675 to 1680, who was more intent on putting down dissenters than "attending to the spiritual duties of his flock".
  2. Mr Oldroyd who was vicar for one year. From Reverent Heywood's notes as quoted by Frank Peel
    "On July 15th, 1681, Mr Oldroyd, vicar of Birstall, having been at Wakefield, his father having paid 5 pounds to an attorney, the attorney thinking it was too much, called for many bottles of wine they drank freely, but as the came home he fell many times, hurt him grievously, fell into a fever, had many doctors, all judged he would dye and he dyed August 9, 1681. Dr. Stapleton preaching his funeral sermon, commended him excessively especially for converting so many Dissenters to the church, said he would not dye in their (the Dissenters) case for all the world: many wept sore. This is the fourth vicar dead at Birstall since Mr Dawson had his license in the parish"

Birstall Parish in the 1800s

The population:

  • In 1821 was 21,217
  • In 1831 was 24,103
  • In 1841 was 29,723
  • In 1861 was 43,505

By the mid 1800s the main industries of the parish were:

  • Woolens and worsted
  • Coal mining

By the 1870s many of the inhabitants were employed in the numerous factories in the area.

Birstall Parish in the 1842 Leeds Directory

Birstall parish

"comprises 13,180 acres, lying between Leeds and Halifax, and Bradford and Dewsbury.....As will be seen in the following enumeration of its eight townships, it increased its population for 14,667 in 1801 to 29,724 in 1841. Its inhabitants are extensively engaged in the manufacture of blankets, woolen cloth, worsted stuffs, and cards for machinery; and its prolific mine of coal and ironstone, and quarries of building stone, give employment to about 600 men."
The following breakdown is given for some of the various "chapelries" and townships:
  • Cleckheaton Chapelry, in 1801 the population was 1637, in 1831 the population was 3,317, in 1841 the population 4,299, total number of acres, 1630.
  • Drighlington Chapelry, in 1801 the population was 1,232, in 1831 the populations was 1,676, in 1841 the population was 2,046, total number of acres 1,050.
  • Gomersal township, in 1802 the population was 4,303, in 1831 the population was 6,189, in 1841 the population was, 8,030, total acreage 3,000.

Heckmondwike, Hunsworth, Liversedge, Tong and Wike were also listed. They all more or less doubled in size between 1801 and 1841.

The largest growth was in Cleckheaton and Gomersal.

The Villages and Hamlets of Birstall Parish


John Sykes was born in Adwalton circa 1797. He was in Gomersall in 1818 and moved to Adwalton circa 1820. The family of John's son, George Sykes, was listed in Adwalton from the 1841 through the 1861 censuses.

The family of Robert Walker lived in Adwalton from the early 1840's until the mid 1860's.

In 1831 Adwalton is descried as

"a hamlet in the Chapelry of Drighlington, parish of Birstall, wapentake of Morley, West riding of the county of York, 5 1/2 miles (S.E. by E.) from Bradford. The population is returned with Drighlington. On Adwalton moor a battle was fought, in 1642, between the parliamentarians under Lord Fairfax, in which the latter were defeated. There was formerly a market in this hamlet: fairs are held February 6th, March 9th, Thursday in Easter Week, the second Thursday after Easter, Whit-Thursday and every alternate Thursday till Michaelmas, November 5th, and December 23rd, all which, except the last two, are for the sale of lean cattle."
Note: The births of two of the children of John Sykes are listed in the church records as occurring in Drighlington in 1835 and 1838. Since the Sykes are listed in Drighlington, village of Adwalton in the 1841 census, my feeling is that these birth really occurred in the hamlet of Adwalton in Drighlington township, (see 1841 census.)

Wilson describes Drighlington as a "township-Chapelry and a sub-district of Birstall parish, Bradford district, West Riding, Yorkshire. The Chapelry includes the hamlet of Adwalton."

According to Lewis Gazetteer, 1831,

"On Adwalton moor a battle under was fought, in 1642, between the royalist under the Earl of New Castle, and the parliamentarians under Lord Fairfax, in which the latter was defeated.
In the mid 1800s the major trades in Drighlington and Adwalton were:
  • The manufacture of woolen goods
  • The making of malt
  • Livestock fairs

For more information on Adwalton see Adwalton now or at the bottom of the page.

Birstall Village

The family of George Sykes was living in Birstall Village in 1866 and 1867.

In 1871 Wilson describes Birstall as "a village and a parish in the district of Dewsbury, West Riding, Yorkshire 7 miles south-west of Leeds."

In 1871 many of the inhabitants were employed in the numerous factories in the area.

To see pictures of Birstall Village go to Birstall Photos now or at the bottom of the page.


The Laws were originally from Gomersall in Birstall Parish where the records for them start in 1644.

The family of George Stell was living in Gomersall from at least 1785 until at least 1799.

John Sykes was living in Little Gomersall when his son Benjamin was born in 1818. By 1821 he was living in Adwalton.

The In 1831 Lewis describes Gomersall as "a township comprising Greater Gomersall and Little Gomersall in the Parish of Birstall wapentake of Morley, west riding of the county of York, containing 5,952 inhabitants. Blankets and wool clothing are manufactured to a considerable extent."

By 1774 the cloth hall at Leeds had become so congested some of the more established clothiers in the Spen Valley decided to build a market at Hill Top, Gomersal. On December 26, 1775 there was a letter published in the newspapers

"Gentlemen,-We, being fully desirous of promoting the woolen trade in the West Riding of Yorkshire, think it expedient to signify to you our entire approbation of your erection of a Hall at Gomersal, in order to establish your market there, and we comment you to go on and complete your design with all possible expedition, being clearly advantage to the industrious manufacturer, and also to the white cloth trade in general. Therefore we are determined to give all possible encouragement to so laudable an undertaking.

Sir George Armitage
Sir Thomas Wentworth
R.H Beaumont
E. E. Saville
Sir James Ibbetson
And other manufacturing or landed chieftains of the West Riding"

The British Directory of 1793
"At Gomersal the clothiers have erected a large brick building for a Cloth market, I hopes of bringing the merchants nearer to home"

The 1379 Poll Tax in Birstall Parish


Johannes Nevyll, Esq and wife
Johannes de Liversig, cissor and wife
Wilhelmus del Spen and wife
Johannes Walkester, Fullo and Wife
Johannes Bethbroke and wife
Thomas ate Well and wife
Ricardus de ffernley and wife
Walterus Rogger and wife
Robertus Schephird and wife
Thomas Halomschire and wife
Thomas fforester and wife
Johannes Ragger and wife
Johannes Isand and wife
Ricardus de Lokton and wife
Thomas Walker and wife
Thomas de Halle and wife
Ricardus de Whittelay and wife
Johannes Blackenburne and wife
Johannes de Kyghelay and wife
Johannes de Whittelay and wife
Johannes de Morlay and wife
Johannes de Fournays and wife
Thomas Elisman and wife
Rogerus Ine
Thomas de Lokton
Willelmus de Lokton
Thomas de Kyghlay

There were 50 people over the age of 16 in Liversedge, twenty-three married couples and four single males. Esquire Nevyll paid twenty shillings. John de Liversig paid one shilling. Johannes Walkster whose name was followed by "fullo", meaning fuller, paid a tax of 6 pence. The others paid the minimum tax of 4 pence. John de Liversig, cissor could have been an ancestor of people who were later called Taylor. De Liversig indicates that John was from Liveredge. Cissor was an indication used for a tailor.


Johannes Wilkynson and wife
Willelmus Kirkman and wife
Adam Salnas and wife
Thomas Altoftes and wife
Robertus Ayre and wife
Ricardus Altoftes and wife
Robertus Milner and wife
Johannes Childe and wife
Johannes Milner and wife
Robertus Nayler and wife
Willelmus Childe and wife
Johannes Mathou and wife
Willelmus de Crauen and wife
Johannes Mareschall and wife
Johannes de Hemingway and wife
Willelmus Childe, junr. And wife
Thomas Andrewe and wife
Thomas Popilwell and wife
Johannes Leche and wife
Willelmus Hanson and wife
Willelmus Scott and wife
Thomas de Spen and wife
Willelmus filius Willelmi
Agnus de Tofthagh
Johannes filius Johannis
Thomas filius Thome
Thomas Mason
Alicia filia Johannis
Willelmus filius Johannis
Magota de Halmyshire
Magota Hunte
Agnes Ffox
Matilda Ayre
Matilda Hunter Alicia filia Roberti
Alicia filia Willelmi
Thomas Wybsay

There were only fifty-nine people over the age of 16 living in Cleckheaton. Of these twenty-two were married and the remaining 15 were single. No one paid more then the 4 pence minimum.


Elias of Britton and wife
Johannes Attetofts and wife
Johannes Burnewell and wife
Johannes Chapman and wife
Johannes Emson and wife
Johannes Gaytherd and wife
Johannes of Hall and wife
Johannes Longe and wife
Johannes of Stone and wife
Johannes Talour and wife
Johannes Whytlay and wife
Nicholas Wyse and wife
Ricardus Coupar and wife
Ricardus Morisson and wife
Robertus Bewas and wife
Robertus Morisson and wife
Robertus Pyper and wife
Robertus Turner and wife
Willelmus of Gomersal and wife
Willelmus of Popelay and wife
Willelmus Speght and wife
Willelmus Walker and wife
Agnes Hawdoghter
Anota Manar
Hugo Speght
Isabella Swanland
Johanna Semster
Johanna of Schagh
Johannes Byll
Johannes Persy
Matila Rose
Matilda Spreght
Ricardus Britton
Ricardus Dier
Robertus Popelayman
Rogerus Kape
Rudulphus of Schagh
Willelmus Kirkingchagh

There were sixty-one people in Gomersal over the age of 16. Twenty-two were married couples and the remaining seventeen were single. One person Willelmus of Popeley, a landowner and cattle dealer paid 3 shilling and 4 pence, everyone else paid the minimum.


Johannes Cook and wife
Johannes of Popplewell and wife
Johannes of Rode and wife
Johannes of the Stone and wife
Ricardus Wright and wife
Thomas Stubley and wife
Wilhelmus Lyster and wife
Emma daughter of Wilhelmus
Elizabeth of Whetlay
Isabella daughter of Robertus
Isota Layth
Matilda Milner
Ricardus son of Johannes
Robertus Tynkeler

There were only twenty-one people living in Heckmondwike over the age of 16, seven married couples and seven single people. They all paid the minimum tax.

The occupational name of Walker show that cloth was being fulled. These means there were weavers in the area even if no one has that specific indication as a surname. Liversedge had a shepherd and a forester. Cleckheaton had the trade names of Milner (miller), Mason and Naylor (nail maker). Gomersal had the trade names of Chapman (a salesperson), Gaytherd (the goatherd) Talour (tailor), Coupar (cooper or barrel maker), Pyper, and Turner (a woodworker). Heckmondwike had a Cook, a Lyster (dyer), a Milner, a Rode, (someone who removed tree trunks), a Tynkeler (which I believe was a tinsmith) and a Wright (wheel maker).

Place names indicate that there were people who came from other townships both near by and far away. Surnames from other townships include Ayre, Altoftes (Altofts), Blackburn, Craven, Furness, Halomschire (Sheffield district), Kygheley (Keighley), Lokton (Lockton), Morlay (Morley), Whittelay (Whitley), Whylay (White Lee) and Wibsay (Wibsey). This is important information. If they were moving from so far away in 1379 or before, they were certainly coming from just as far or further in later centuries. Some of this movement may not have been voluntary. Old deeds show that a certain class of people, "villanes en gross", were slaves in the fullest sense of the word. They had no ordinary tenures of land. These people, their wives, children, and anything they might possess were at their masters' "disposal" and that they were sold like property.

As a way of estimating the population of these townships in 1379, most books add two children per married household. Thus the estimated population of Liversedge would have been 96 people, Cleckheaton, 103 people, Gomersal, 105 people, Heckmondwike, 35 people

See also the section on the poll tax in Batley

Photos of Birstall

To view photos of Birstall, click on the photo of the parish church.

Information on Adwalton, Birstall Parish

Sykes and Walkers lived in Adwalton, a village in the town of Drighlington, in Birstall Parish. For information on Adwalton, click on the photo of some houses in Adwalton.

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This page was created in 2004: Latest update, July 2010