Lancashire to Durham

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This was an uncharacteristically static period for the family Denton; not to suggest that they were any less worthy but perhaps a little less exciting than some of those earlier landed antecedents. For the bulk of six generations and more than two centuries the family was based in what is today part of Merseyside, though in their time they were considered to be in Lancashire or Cheshire. Of course for this group we do have census records and much better recordkeeping to assist with the family history research.

Prescot, Lancashire

The family lived in a number of places in southern Lancashire – in Prescot, Huyton, Burtonwood, St Helens, Warrington… Today Burtonwood and Warrington are administratively in Cheshire. Warrington is twenty miles east of Liverpool and twenty miles west of Manchester. Burtonwood is best known as a former RAF station and located halfway between Warrington and Prescot.

Map showing Prescot, Burtonwood, Eccleston, Huyton, St Helens, Warrington… ©Google Maps

The Denton family appeared quite settled around Prescot between my 7th and 3rd GGFs so perhaps it is worth getting a feel for the place.

Prescot High St looking east
Source: Knowsley Local History website

The town was called Prestecot in 1190, Prestecote by 1292 and Prescote in 1440. The name means priest’s dwelling and its geological arrangement suggests it had Celtic origins. In 1447 Henry VI bestowed the manor on his new college, King’s College at Cambridge, giving it arcane benefits. Prescot was a collection of fifteen original townships including Bold, Eccleston, Farnworth, Parr, Rainford, Rainhill, Sutton, Whiston and Windle – all of these have been revealed as birthplaces or homes for our family. Perhaps it should in retrospect be happy that it ‘missed the bus’ as neighbouring St Helens, Widnes and other locations embraced industrialisation much more effectively than Prescot.

Dentons are not among the most notable Prescot inhabitants, which accolade goes to Archbishop Bancroft, to William Smyth who became Bishop of Lincoln and co-founded Brasenose College in Oxford, and to a famous Shakespearian actor John Philip Kemble.

In 1592 King’s College Cambridge established that there were seven active kilns in the town, all clustered around Eccleston Street to take advantage of local red and white clays.

At the 2001 Census Prescot’s population was just 11,184. It is today administratively in Merseyside, located eight miles west of Liverpool. As so very many of the Denton family were baptised, married and buried in the Prescot parish church I did find the, rather flat without music, six-minute film on YouTube was still interesting – see here… – yet no Denton appears to have merited commemoration in the fabric of this rather grand English Gothic church. It is well-maintained, probably because it is Grade I listed.

St Mary’s Church Prescot

Intriguingly the many-Denton-ed Prescot supplies a connection back to our earliest antecedents. In the 14thcentury William Dacre, the 2nd Baron Dacre of Cumberland (1319-1361), arranged a charter for Prescot to hold a three-day market and a moveable fair. William was described as the parson of the church of Prescote. He died childless and his brother Ralph inherited his titles and became lord of the manor and parson of Prescot. More above– but suffice here to say that a cousin Richard Denton (1453-1484) married William’s descendant Jane Dacre.

In 1355 this status as a market town led to arguments between Prescot and Wigan, with the Wigan rector petitioning to have the Prescot market discontinued as it damaged that of Wigan just eight miles away. The case rumbled on but in 1458 Henry VI gave a further market grant to Prescot.

In 1666 (around the time Edward Denton must have arrived and of course famous as the year of the Great Fire of London) Prescot is reported as having thirty-two houses with three hearths and more. The principal house was the vicarage with ten hearths: then followed the properties of Oliver Lyme and Katherine Stockley with nine each: Cuthbert Ogle (a family that had once owned the manor) had eight: John Walls and William Blundell had seven each: Thomas Litherland had six and The ‘Eagle and Child’* Inn had five. I had never considered this as a measure of affluence before and of course today all those bedroom hearths have been pulled out and blocked in – in our current house we are left with just two of the original six.

 [* In 1944 American servicemen were station at nearby Huyton (see GGF6) and tension between black and white GIs led to what became known as the ‘shoot-out at the Eagle and Child’; it is unclear if they too had a pub of this name.]

The town was quite faith-diverse with St Mary’s C-of-E parish church, two Catholic churches established by Jesuits, and back in the 19thcentury there was a Wesleyan Methodist church, a United Methodist church, a Congregational church, a Welsh Congregationalist church (serving the immigrant Welsh miners), a Unitarian church and a Salvation Army barracks.

Commercially the town was best known for watch parts, for filemaking and for pottery. There was some cotton manufacture, a sail-cloth factory and several coal mines due to there being a seam of coal close to the surface that was exploited for Liverpool. In 1746 a Newcomen steam engine was installed to pump water from the mine.

Samuel Derrick of Liverpool in 1760 gave his view of the town, About eight miles off is a very pleasant market town called Prescot. In riding to this place travellers are often incommoded by the number of colliers’ carts and horses which fill the road all the way to Liverpool […] The houses are well built and here are two inns in which attendance and accommodation are cheap and excellent.

Prescot’s watch business was founded around 1600 by Woolrich, a Huguenot refugee. Required skills were quickly learned by the town’s blacksmiths, the work carried-out as a cottage industry. Houses became small workshops making parts or assembling them, families became well-known for specific parts. The name of the person responsible for assembling a finished timepiece was engraved on the backplate.

Lancashire Watch Co, London & Prescot watch

Thomas Pennant was a notable traveller and antiquarian who regularly wrote of the places he visited. In 1773 he said of Prescot the town abounds in manufactures of certain branches of hardware, particularly the best and almost all the watch movements used in England… In 1840 it was said the district has long been noted for the superior construction of watch tools and motion work. Several Dentons were watchmakers here.

One commentator noted that from Prescot to Liverpool, eight miles as the crow flies, the countryside was dotted with the cottages of spring makers, wheel cutters, chain makers, case makers, dial makers – every speciality that went into the making of a watch. By the end of the 18thcentury between 150,000 and 200,000 watches a year were being produced, satisfying the national need for accurate timekeeping as the industrial revolution developed momentum. But mass production led to these tasks being brought under one roof and the Lancashire Watch Company was founded in 1889. Twenty-one years later it closed its doors, unable to compete with American and Swiss competition.

The town grew from a seven hundred population in 1690 to over 3,500 by 1801. The stone to the bottom right of this picture is the 18thcentury ‘Alphabet stone’ which was originally a lintel on the old town hall of Prescot. It bears twenty-five letters of the alphabet (without J as they did not use it then). It was used to test the literacy of individuals.

Alphabet Stone Prescot, from Knowsley Local History website

Pennant added, The drawing of pinion wire, extending to fifty different sizes … originated here… The British Insulated Wire Company of Prescot pursued this wire business based on an American patent for paper-insulated cables. They gained the contract to install electric lighting in Prescot. They were later subsumed into BICC along with companies that ran the transatlantic cables. The Knowsley Museum Service states that cables made in the Prescot factory gave electricity to homes in Canada and powered cities in Australia and China. They were used on the London Underground and for railway lines in India

Prescot wire factory and product labelling (

There is still a Prescot Cables FC – see more… As I wrote this they had just been knocked out of the 2016-17 FA Cup yet are still well placed in the First Division North.

Penant went on to say that The manufacture of coarse earthenware, especially sugar-moulds, has also been established for a very long period, the clay of the neighbourhood being peculiarly adapted to that purpose. Locally it was primarily a coarse red-ware that was manufactured although there was one white-ware factory. Peter Denton and other family members were potters.

Some rather battered examples of Prescot Ware

One final claim-to-fame for Prescot is Stone Street:

Stone Street, Prescot (Liverpool Echo and Tom Belger)

See also… . Stone Street claims to be the narrowest street in England, but sadly not in Britain as there is a smaller one in Scotland. The Guinness Book of Records shows the narrowest street in the world in Reutlingen Germany. It is just 31cm across at its narrowest point.

Edward Denton (1623-1681) – GGF7

It was my 7th GGF Edward who first took the Dentons to Prescot and we stayed there or thereabouts for the next five generations. (That is in my lineage of course. Other Dentons have lived there right up until today). Was he lured there by work, by marriage or inheritance? Frustratingly I have failed to establish his occupation or his motivation or much about his life – not even his spouse’s name, just his birth and death dates and his parents and lineage.

Edward moved to Prescot from Hertfordshire. His family was living in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire close to the Isle of Ely, his parents having been born and buried there. However, he and several of his siblings were born fifty-four miles south (down today’s M11) in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire and christened in St Dunstan’s Church that sits at the back doorstep of Henry VIII’s hunting lodge, Hunsdon House.

St Dunstan’s and Hunsdon House

The parish claims that it was therefore the first church in England to hold a service of worship under the auspices of the Church of England. It must have been very confusing in those earlier times as Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I worshipped there, each presumably bringing their views on Catholicism and Protestantism with them. But this happened a century before Edward was christened there.

I can find four Denton christenings at St Dunstan’s (Edward and three brothers) plus two Dentons buried there (William (1620-1675), a brother to Edward, and his wife Frances who died in 1664). Of course Edward died and was buried in Prescot.

William Denton (1670- ) – GGF6

Edward’s son William was born in Prescot and in 1696 married Sarah Sampson from nearby Huyton-with-Roby (two miles west), although later her parents and siblings all appear to have been living in Prescot. In 1830 Huyton would prosper when the world’s first passenger train service was built between Liverpool and Manchester and it was selected to have a local station, and not Prescot.

William and Sarah moved to nearby Burtonwood (ten miles east) where they had six sons (Thomas, a second Thomas [my GGF5], Joseph, William, James and Richard) and four daughters (Catherine, Mary, Sarah Gee and Elizabeth) all christened in St Michael’s Church. Mary and Joseph were twins.

This family pre-dated censuses so it is impossible to establish what William did for a living.

Thomas Denton (1702-1788) – GGF5

Thomas, born at Burtonwood, married a local, Mary Rawstern or Rosthern (1705-1772).

Thomas and Mary had six sons (John, Edward, William, a second John, Joseph and Peter) and four daughters (Sarah Yoxley, Mary Okell, Ellen and a second Mary). They were all born in Warrington and a number of them were baptised at St Elphin Church. The church has a 281ft spire and parts of it were built in the 1350s although there has been a place of worship there since 650 CE.

St Elphin Church interior © Francis Frith

Fortunately, the baptism records for several of their children indicate Thomas’s occupation was that of a hatter; elsewhere he is described as a ‘feltmaker of Liverpool’. He appeared to have lived a good long life (eighty-six years). The long-term use of mercury in the hat-making business affected those active in it, leading to the term ‘mad as a hatter’. No information on his sanity could be found.

Edward (essentially Thomas’s eldest as the first son John died young) followed his father and also became a hatter. John was a locksmith, Joseph was a ‘sawyer’ and Peter was a currior (presumably a courier?).

Edward Denton (1737-?) – GGF4

Edward, born in Warrington, married Ann Hey on 4 Jul 1763 twenty miles east at Manchester’s St Mary, St Denys and St George Church. Ann was evidently illiterate as she signed the marriage certificate with her mark.

Taken from Manchester Marriage Register 1761-1764

Edward and Ann had five sons (Thomas, John, Joseph, Edward and James) and three daughters (Mary, Ellen and Margaret). They were all born in either Warrington, Prescot or Manchester.

As we saw, Edward followed his father in becoming a hatter. Of Edward’s sons we know only that John was a labourer and James a toolmaker,

John Denton (1775-1845) – GGF3

John was born in Prescot and married a local girl Ann Heaps. John’s children moved away in the mid-19thcentury- perhaps times were getting tough around Prescot?

Son John moved off to Sheffield, son James moved to Liverpool and son Peter GGF2 moved first to Hunslet in Yorkshire and then on to Evenwood and Coundon in Durham.

At sixty-five years of age John appears on the 1841 Census living in Prescot with his wife and having five children still with him. John himself was described as a labourer, as was Benjamin shown on the census as aged 25 although he was in fact 27. Thomas aged 23 appears to be a journeyman but no trade was mentioned. Margaret aged 25 and Ann aged 20 have no occupations shown. There is a mysterious second Thomas aged 15 shown as a tailor’s assistant. Could he be brother Joseph’s son moved back?

The 1851 census catches up with John’s eldest son Joseph living at 26 The Street in Farnworth. He was with his second wife Catherine (Hapes) and at forty-eight was described as a journeyman joiner. In 1861 he was living in 60 Wellington Street, St Marys, Widnes with Catherine and his son William aged 28 and described as a blacksmith.

William Denton (1833-1897) – IC3

In the 1871 census William and his wife Margaret were shown as visitors to Ralph Dutton and family in Widnes. By 1881 he was living with his wife at 12 St John’s Place, Toxteth. On both occasions he was described as a blacksmith. However, in the 1891 census, aged fifty-seven and still described as a blacksmith, he was an inmate of the Toxteth Park Workhouse where he and his wife died six years later.

Toxteth Park Workhouse

Benjamin Denton (1814-1881) – IC3

John’s son Benjamin also provides us with a great deal of information about his life.

In 1851 Benjamin was living at 40 Hackerley Moss in Eccleston with his wife Margaret and four young children (John, Ann, James and Alice) plus a 13 year-old Ellen Hesketh described as a stepdaughter. They had married at Farnworth in 1845, Margaret being four years older. Ellen must have been born out of wedlock as we have Margaret’s maiden name as Hesketh.  Benjamin is shown as a mason’s labourer.

In 1861 they were living at 46 The Moss in Eccleston and Benjamin was a quarryman. His son John aged 16 is a stone mason and James aged 13 is an errand boy (too young for the quarry as yet). Alice aged 10 is a scholar. At the time there was a Moss Pottery near the Prescot Cables Football Club but it and other potteries in Prescot had disappeared by 1870, unable to stand up against the competition from Staffordshire, although one small pottery hung on in until 1893.

Moss Pottery, Prescot

Benjamin was living at 4 Lea’s Court, Eccleston in the 1871 Census with his son James living at 2 Lea’s Court. Benjamin was still described as a quarryman, his wife Margaret at 61 (though actually 64) had no occupation. Daughter Ann aged 24 was a washerwoman and Alice aged 20 had no occupation shown. Living next door, James aged 24 was also shown as a quarryman, his wife Elizabeth aged 25 has no occupation. Their daughter Margaret Ann must have been quite bright as at age of five years she is described as a scholar.

I presume Benjamin and his sons worked at the Eccleston quarry (aka Hurst House Delph and Marsden’s Quarry). It still exists although it is now flooded and used as a scuba-diving centre. It was a stone quarry employing a dozen men and notably provided material for the Blackpool Promenade from the 1850s to 1870s. It also provided split stones as roofing slates.

Eccleston Delph quarry

I was looking out for records of any murders in my searches and there is a tenuous one here. On 14 Oct 1979 the body of narcotics dealer Marty Johnstone (aka Mr Asia) was discovered by divers in the Eccleston Delph quarry. His hands were missing and his teeth and face were mutilated to hinder identification. The murder is reputed to have been on the order of an associate Terrance Clark (aka Mr Big); both were New Zealanders. An international police investigation successfully broke up Mr Asia’s drug gang. Mr Big died of a heart attack in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight while serving time for the murder.

Margaret Denton (1816-1873) – 1C3

John’s daughter Margaret is of interest too. She appears to have had three children out of wedlock, though two did bear Jones as a middle name thus identifying their father as Thomas Jones. In 1857 she married John Bradbury in Oldham and they moved to Saddleworth in Yorkshire.

The Bradbury grave at Saddleworth

– see also a YouTube piece on this

Peter Denton (1809-1871) – GGF2

Peter Denton’s birth and death took place 150 miles apart. He was the first in our modern peripatetic period. He was born in Prescot and was the second of John’s sons to be called Peter (the first lived only from 1807 to 1808).

Peter chose to move first to Hunslet in Yorkshire and then north to Durham. Intriguingly if you satnav the start and end points the route today virtually passes through Hunslet.

Peter married Elizabeth Critchley in 1831 and in the 1841 census we find them living in Dales Row, Hunslet, Yorkshire. They were both thirty years old with three children (Alice, Ann and Elizabeth), and someone called John Denton. Annoyingly and uncharacteristically the census record does not mention his relationship to head of household.  John was fifteen years old, that is born five years before Peter’s marriage. This John was not his brother John, who was older than Peter, and brother John had no son of the same name. Peter’s brother William had a son John but he was younger. So this is another mystery. Both Peter and this John’s occupations were shown as ‘potter’.

The 1851 census finds them at 5 New Moors Pottery, Evenwood, Durham and now having five children living with them (Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret, William and James). There is no sign of the mystery John. Peter is still described as a potter.

The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Evenwood thus in 1870 – The village stands on an eminence, above the River Gaunless, adjacent to the Northern Counties Union railway, 5 miles SW of Bishop-Auckland; and has a station on the railway […] Pop., 1,949. Many of the inhabitants are coal miners. A castle once stood here; and there are still traces of its moat. The main pit then was the Randolph Colliery with some associated coke ovens. At peak it employed 1,000 men.

By 1861 they had moved eight miles east to 16 Canney Hill, Coundon, with five children living with them (Margaret, William, Joseph, Benjamin and John). Peter, now fifty-one years of age, is described as an earthenware manufacturer and here research bore fruit.

The BBC ran a local history project on the Canney Hill Pottery which was presumably Peter’s employer (see History of a Pottery by Dr Alan Crosby and Chris Howe on BBC website). This uncovered that an entrepreneur named John Welsh was the original purchaser of the land where the pottery was built and was probably its founder in the late 1840s. He was an entrepreneur who had travelled to Australia and Tasmania, then set himself up as a successful mill-owner in Wisconsin, USA where he also served as a magistrate.

Welsh had no pottery experience and hired master potter John Cooper to set up the required ovens and kilns; Cooper’s brother Henry also worked at Canney Hill. Another Cooper brother had emigrated to Australia and the BBC researcher ponders if he may have met Welsh there and inspired this partnership. Cooper had co-owned a pottery in Jack Lane, Hunslet so I’m not going to be shy in suggesting that perhaps that’s how Peter came to be attracted to the area. Jack Lane still exists and runs for half a mile across Hunslet. I cannot find Dales Row where Peter’s family lived but it would be difficult for it to have been too distant.

The business owners gathered skilled personnel largely from Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. (This was gleaned from the census records). At its peak the pottery probably employed twenty-five men, girls and boys. Their work was quite distinctive with a lustrous glaze that the BBC researcher rather pompously opined would have had appeal to miners’ wives of the period.

Canney Hill Pottery employee list – showing Peter Denton
Canney Hill ornamental pottery
Source: BBC website
Canney Hill commemorative jug – one of the last products it produced
Source: BBC website
Canney Hill earthenware items – may Peter have made them?
Source: BBC website

The BBC researcher in 2005 discovered that Coundon Gate Methodist Chapel had items in its kitchen from Canney Hill Pottery and one of its large teapots is now on show at Beamish Museum. Potteries in the region were short-lived although Canney Hill Pottery must have had something going for it as it survived until 1913 before the success of Staffordshire factories and the expanding rail network flooded the market with cheaper pottery. For more see…

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