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  1. Published on: 16/11/2020 06:19 AMReported by: rogerblaxall
    Report: Kate Hurst

    In 1991, the first Ormskirk and District Family History Society magazine included an article called 'Mediaeval Ormskirk', compiled by one of our founding members, Geoffrey Peet.

    In a series of lists, it identified more than three hundred people - 71 residents of Ormskirk, as well as 35 from Skelmersdale, 50 from Bickerstaffe, 83 from Burscough with Marton, and 82 from Scarisbrick with Harleton - who gave money to support the priest at Ormskirk’s parish church in the year 1366.

    Some had locational names; maybe Burscough resident Matild de Greceby came from what Greetby Hill - or maybe from Greasby, on the Wirral? In Scarisbrick, we find Robs de Bronburgh and Wills de Oldome - could they have come from Bromborough and Oldham? The Ormskirk list includes Robs de Wakefield, Thomas de Wakefield, Cecil de Kendale and Rics Halifax; a hint that families from Yorkshire and Cumberland found their way to West Lancashire? And, if the internet is to believed, another resident of Ormskirk - Nevin de Stryvelyn - takes his name from an old interpretation of Stirling, in Scotland!

    Others were defined by their relationship to a second person; we don’t know whether Hugh Depdale lived in Bickerstaffe in 1366, but the word 'ux' (an abreviation of the Latin 'uxor') before his name tells us that his wife was. What we are to infer about the parentage of Wills de Sporiou ('spurious' was often a polite reference to illegitimacy), or the character and personal relationships of Ad Childesfather, I can only imagine . . .

    In 1366, people didn’t have surnames as such, but - by describing them in terms of their residence - they had an equivalent way to identify themselves. Today, 'Wills de Prestcott' from Westhead and Lathom could be William Prescott, 'Rog le Fletcher' (a maker and/or seller of arrows) of Ormskirk would be Roger Fletcher, and 'Thomas fil Carpent' of Bickerstaffe (literally 'Thomas, son of the Carpenter?') might become Thomas Carpenter.

    Some individuals stand out for more essential reasons - they worked with food! Rog del Bakhous of Skelmersdale may have had a house at the back of someone else’s, but he might also have operated a bakehouse - essential for anyone who needed to cook but couldn’t afford fuel for a fire. Whether he was related to Ric del Bakhouse of Burscough, or whether they were two independent bakers is impossible to say.

    Perhaps Hugh le Saltercured meats in Westhead and Lathom, whilst Henr le Gardener cultivated plants and orchards, just as Joh le Gardener tended his in Burscough. Doubtless, Rics le Couper of Ormskirk’s work was invaluable to anyone who stored food or drink; after all, a cooper makes barrels.

    Perhaps the most cryptic name is found in Scarisbrick. What are we to guess about '“Katrina fillia Nutricus'? 'Fillia' means 'daughter', so is her father’s name Nutricus or was she the offspring of someone who was committed to eating healthily?

    Whether they grew, baked, slaughtered, hunted, sold, caught or simply sat down and ate it, we can be absolutely sure that food was a critical part of our ancestors’ lives, and it was that idea that inspired Ormskirk and District Family History Society’s latest virtual talk. If you have seen old photos of the town, you may have spotted the famous 'fish stones', which not only get a mention in that talk, but also in the Order Book of Ormskirk for 1613-1721, which found its way into our fiftieth magazine, back in 2009.

    It was an ideal starting point for this new YouTube talk, Dining With Our Ancestors, which explores how people ate and drank, roughly between the years 1600 and 1800, with a little help from original sources written by such diverse characters as midwife Jane Sharp, housekeeper-turned-author Elizabeth Raffald, landowner Nicholas Blundell of Little Crosby and even Jane Austen.

    It was a fascinating period in time, and the later years coincide with the time covered by three sections of the Ormskirk Land Tax Assessments that ODFHS transcribed, photographed and published (with the support of the Lancashire Archives in Preston). The earliest of these takes the researcher through Ormskirk, from 1781 to 1790, naming each landowner, their tenant and the tax due of each property. As a bonus feature, ODFHS included an extract from a trade directory published in 1791. Besides thirteen members of the gentry, four clergymen, six physicians (of which, two advertised themselves as 'man-midwives' - something of a trend in fashionable circles), one preparer of the 'Ormskirk Medicine', two attorneys, that directory named one hundred and fifty-eight other traders . . . including seventeen victuallers linked to specific inns, five working in unspecified premises and two liquor-merchants.

    So could I cross-reference the 1790 land tax returns with the 1791 trade directory to work out which property owners leased buildings, houses and land to people who sold or made food?

    Surprisingly, yes!

    Some people - Timothy Shearson (a grocer), Thomas Fazakerley ('Fazarkley' in the directory, a grocer), John Pye of the Eagle and Child, and Luke Goore of the Sun Inn - owned their property. If 'Mr. Clark', who had a maltkiln and a brewhouse was the same person as John Clark, the brewer named in the directory, he also leased a barn to William Howard (of the Plough Inn) and another property, but many other traders rented their premises.

    Ralph Platt’s tenants included George Brewer (another grocer) and possibly two flour-dealers (Elizabeth Maud and James Goore); whether there were multiple James Goores in town or just the one, renting two properties is harder to verify . . . James Whiteside had a tenant of that name. Maybe one of the Goores didn’t make it into the directory?

    There’s a reasonable chance that 'C. Arrowsmith', a tenant of 'G. & T. Aspinwall' was the victualler Charles Arrowsmith, that 'Tho. Clivowe' of the Pack-horse and Thomas Clitheroe (whose property belonged James Moorcroft, and owed £1 0d 6d in land tax) were one and the same, and that Peter Thompson’s unidentified property (owned by Mr. Thomas Woods) was The Black Bear Inn, but not every landowner was male . . .

    Those who could claim to have a landlady included flour dealers Robert Martley (or Martclew, a tenant of Miss Rigby) and Ann Tyrer (whose premises belonged to Ann Shaw, and were assessed as owing £1 13s 3d in tax), maltster John Prince (his maltkiln was on property owned by Mrs. Fleetwood), and 'Widow Wainwright' - she paid rent to Ann Lea, but whether she was Margaret Wainwright the grocer or Elizabeth Wainwright the victualler is difficult to say.

    On a more personal level, I was intrigued to see Richard Worthington’s name in the directory. Perhaps surprisingly, the only notable person listed who baked for a living was James Gregory (billed as a 'gingerbread baker'); not a single breadmaker is mentioned, but in total seventeen grocers can be found, as well as two liquor merchants (Jeremiah Bankes and George Fleetham), four butchers and seven flour dealers.

    Clearly it was possible to buy food, but how would you lay your table, and how would you make sure you could see it on a dinner table in a dark winter room?

    Luckily, the directory offers some clues about that. John Bimson was a brazier; he could provide brassware. John Liptrot the cutler could supply your cutlery. Tallow chandlers John Dakers, Thomas Harford and Richard Tyer might have those essential candles . . . and you might choose table linen from any of the drapers - Robinson and Son, Grace Ollerton or Ann Tasker. There were three sellers of 'Staffordshire-ware' - it wasn’t far to the the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Burscough or Scarisbrick, so perhaps Silvester Moorecroft, Robert Moorecroft and Thomas Thompson were receiving regular deliveries shipped on the water?

    Early on in our latest video talk, there is a brief investigation into tableware, helped along by an inventory made after the death of Ormskirk widow Jane Typing (or Tipping) in 1669. Her goods included brass pots, pans and ladles, a spit, a dripping pan, silver cutlery and an astonishing thirty napkins. Hopefully, she was able to purchase her kitchenware in Ormskirk as easily as the residents who walked down the same streets more than a century later.

    A Virtual Talk - Dining With Our Ancestors is available on the ODFHS YouTube channel at the following link:

    *ODFHS would like to acknowledge the support shown by everyone who has taken the time to watch our video talks during the past months, when face-to-face meetings have not been possible. Meanwhile, transcriptions of the original Ormskirk Land Tax Assessments (with photos of the original documents) have been published in three parts, on CD-ROM, priced at £5 each, plus postage. (USB stick or digital download available as an alternative.) Part One (1781-1790) includes accounts relating to the Town Hall. Part Two (1799-1805) includes the 1791 Directory. Part Three (1827-1831) includes an 1811 Directory of Ormskirk.

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