This is a study of the changes that occurred in the Lancashire township of Huncoat during the 19th century.

huncoat_hall.jpg Huncoat Hall


This township occupies 990 acres on the north-western slope of Great Hameldon Hill, nearly 600 feet above sea level, on the south side of the Calder Valley.


By the beginning of the 20th century, the land was almost entirely used for pasture, there being 802 acres in permanent grass; there was no arable land to speak of, but 22 acres were natural woodland and plantations.



The population of Huncoat stayed relatively constant during the early decades of the 19th century, but saw a sudden leap in the 1850s.



See Roy Chetham’s website:

The Village Stocks are inscribed with the date 1722. Their use however is documented as early as 1532. It would appear they could punish two miscreants at one sitting!


Economy - farming

For most of its existence Huncoat was a farming community and the inhabitants would have been largely self-sufficient, relying on the produce of their farms for food and clothing and using local materials for building and fuel. At the start of the 19th century, there were something like thirteen farms in Huncoat. Some of the villagers also farmed a bit of land. They were all very small (only Huncoat Hall exceeded 50 acres) and many men had a second occupation:

Broad Meadows – James Ashworth – farmer of 24 acres & coal miner
Brown Birch (Birks) – James Ashworth – farmer of 30 acres & stonemason
Brown Moor(s) – Edward Bentley – farmer of 11 acres & shoemaker
Higher Warm Leaf – Tempest Slinger – farmer of 12 acres & plasterer
Top of Rake (Rake Head) – John Moorhouse – farmer of 6 acres & stone quarryman

In the second half of the 19th century, arable farming gradually gave way to dairy farming to supply dairy products to the growing town of Accrington.
As arable farming decreased, so did the demand for agricultural labourers, so the farmers’ sons often had to get jobs as coal miners or stone quarrymen. Many farmers’ daughters were working as powerloom weavers as early as 1851.
It is probably safe to assume that all the farmers were tenant farmers and therefore didn’t have as much invested in a particular property as a yeoman farmer might have done.

Economy - industry

In 1782, Richard Fort of Stone Hey, in partnership with a Mr Taylor and a Mr Bury, founded the Broad Oak calico print works in Accrington and this employed a significant number of Huncoat folk. Accrington became the centre for the industry in north-east Lancashire. Almost all of the early print works were built in rural localities. This was made necessary by their need for outdoor 'bleach crofts' and large supplies of pure water. Baxenden print works abstracted 500 million gallons of pure water from the River Hyndburn each year and returned 499 million gallons of untreated sewage. By the 1840s, the industry had already reached its maximum geographical extent in Lancashire and there were clear indications of contraction, especially in areas distant from coal supplies.

1826 was the year of the 'Loom Riots'. A large group of handloom weavers gathered on Whinney Hill to protest about new machinery putting them out of work. The hungry mob marched to Accrington to smash up the machinery that was depriving them of the means of earning a living. 'Huncoat Jack' was one of the leaders who incited violence through speeches during these ‘Loom Riots’.

Some Huncoat residents found work at the Altham vitriol works which opened in 1829.

The railway arrived in 1848 and the 1850s saw the building of two cotton mills. Huncoat Cotton Mill (later called Perseverance Mill and sometimes Highbrake Mill) was built by John S. Grimshaw. It was located on the east side of the railway line to the south of the level crossing. The four storey spinning mill housed 20,000 spindles and the weaving shed 200 looms. It was quickly followed by Hillock Vale Cotton Weaving Mill (initially called North Rake Mill), employing 59 males and 69 females.
Millworkers’ cottages were built (Yorkshire Street, Prospect Terrace and Highbrake Terrace for Perseverance Mill and Vale Court, South Street and Parker Street for the Hillock Vale mill) and were quickly occupied, causing a sudden increase in the population of the township. This led to the rapid demise of handloom weaving:


The average age of weavers in 1851 was 50 for handloom weavers and 19 for powerloom weavers.

The repeal of the Brick Tax in 1850 paved the way for the brick-making industry to develop, but only one brickmaker was recorded in the 1861 Census. Over the next twenty years, a stone quarry opened between the railway line and the canal and created employment for a significant number of stone quarrymen. Mechanisation in the cotton industry reduced the number of weavers but provided many jobs elsewhere (twisters, engine drivers, overlookers, labourers). Mining and farming became less dominant.

In the following tables we look at the changing occupational structure in more detail:

Occupations for men (% of total)


Occupations for women & girls(% of total)


Mechanisation in the cotton industry provided a range of different options for women. From the 1861 Census:


Church & Chapel

The Wesleyan Methodists built a chapel in 1844 and rebuilt it in 1869 with an institute attached.


The Baptists built one in 1817–18 (alongside the White Lion), and rebuilt it in 1871.

Anglicans had to trek to Church Kirk or Altham until St. Augustine's mission church was built in 1886.



The White Lion, built by Lawrence Rawcliffe c.1780 and presided over by Thomas Wilkinson for many years, was the social and commercial centre of village life. Clubs met there, auctions took place and news and gossip was passed on. There was also another pub in the village - the Black Bull, which reputedly dates from the 17th century.


Forming an open square behind the Black Bull was a group of 18th century cottages known as Cornmarket. The name suggests that local farmers met here to buy and sell produce and animals. The Highbrake Hotel was built in 1874. It later became known as the Railway Hotel.


The Griffin’s Head (initially known as the Cross Gates) was built on the turnpike, close to Huncoat Hall, in 1838 to cater for traffic on the turnpike.


The Whitaker Arms (later the Cemetery Hotel) probably dates from the same period.



Highbrake Hall, built by Richard Fort in 1790, became an elite boarding school in 1815. It was run by the Rev William Wood, vicar of Altham. The vicar was still living there in 1841, but the school was no longer.

A Methodist Sunday school was founded in 1835. It met in an old cotton warehouse situated between the White Lion and Bank Terrace. It was replaced by a purpose-built Sunday school in Burnley Lane, completed in 1844. This was sold when the new church was built in 1869.

In the 1840s, a day school was started at Broad Meadows farm by William Herd, a former Baptist pastor.

A day school commenced in the Methodist Institute in 1871.

John Smith (1830-1923), in his “Recollections”, recalls a daily trek into Accrington to attend the National School attached to St James’s Church.


Tenants of the various farms from 1841 to 1891:



Huncoat village is built at the crossroads of two ancient tracks. Both date from at least early medieval times. The King’s Highway comes over the moors from Rossendale and continues through Altham to Clitheroe. Going south from the Griffin's Head, the track still looks much as it did in medieval times.

KIng%27s_Highway.jpg The King's Highway

The King’s Highway was the first to be improved: it was replaced by the present Manchester to Whalley road in the 1780s. A Blackburn to Burnley Turnpike, through Accrington and Huncoat, was authorized by an Act of Parliament in 1827. Construction began in 1834 and it opened in 1838. It passed through the centre of the township, with a branch north towards Altham.
The Accrington and Burnley line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company opened on 18th September 1848. It passed to the west of the village, but there was a station at Huncoat, initially located to the north of the village but later relocated beside the cotton mill.
Before the railway was built, James Allen of Spout House Farm ran local stagecoaches.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal passes through the north end of the township. Construction of the canal started in 1770 and it reached Huncoat in 1801, but it was not completed until 1816. The most important cargo was always coal, with over a million tons per year being delivered to Liverpool in the 1860s.


A large number of immigrants arrived to work in the cotton mills established in the 1850s. Many of them came from the Settle and Ribblesdale area. Before this time, migrants tended to be single men – either labourers or craftsmen (mostly from Yorkshire).

Perseverance Mill closed down in 1895, compelling many families to leave the area in search of work.

Families and Notable People

Whitaker’s Arms was named for Charles Whitaker of Simonstone Hall, who at one time owned the bulk of Huncoat township. Whitakers have lived in Huncoat since before 1600 (Altham PRs).

Charles Whitaker eventually sold the estate to John Hargreaves of Broad Oak House in Accrington. John Hargreaves employed a number of Huncoat folk at his calico printing works. The Hargreaves family was living in Huncoat in the early 1600s (Altham PRs).

Huncoat Hall was the largest farm in the township and was owned by the Birtwistles for almost 500 years. They also lived at the Old Hall. The Birtwistles were living in Huncoat in the early 1600s (Altham PRs). Huncoat Hall was eventually acquired by the Towneley family who were living in Huncoat before 1600 (Altham PRs).

Henry Sudall farmed at Huncoat Hall for over 20 years. Thomas Haworth, who took over from Henry Sudall, also farmed there for over 20 years. The Haworth family had lived in Huncoat as early as the 1650s (Church PRs).

Stone Hey was probably built by the Fort family. The initials of Richard and Ellen Fort, together with the date 1738, are carved on a beam in one of the outbuildings. Their son, Richard, started the Broad Oak calico printing works in Accrington and also built Highbrake House in Huncoat. The Altham parish registers show Richard & Alice Fort living in Huncoat in 1783.

Highbrake House was home to William Wood, minister, in 1841. A corn miller called Robinson Greenwood lived there in 1861. He employed three servants.

Brown Moor was the home of the Bentley family, shoemakers and farmers, who had lived in Huncoat since at least the 1650s (Church PRs).

James Ashworth, farmed at Broad Meadows for over 30 years. The family had lived in Huncoat since at least the 1730s (Church PRs).

James Pollard, Altham parish clerk for 35 years, farmed at Stone Hey for over 20 years, and was followed by his son John. John built the adjacent terrace of houses that are dated 1859.

Robert Lingard was a joiner and cabinet maker who became locally famous for producing some fine items of furniture. He erected the gallery in the old Baptist chapel and constructed a corner pew for his large family of two sons and eight daughters. They lived at Hill House, which was part of the Greenwood estate. The Greenwoods had lived in Huncoat in the early 1600s (Altham PRs).

Sources consulted

Census returns
Parish registers
O. S. maps
Huncoat Remembered: the recollections of John Smith (1830-1923)
John Goddard, Huncoat Uncoated, 2004
Birtwhistle, L. Alan, Thirty-one Generations of the Birtwhistle Family, 2006.
Wallwork, K.L. The Calico Printing Industry of Lancastria in the 1840s. Trans. Inst. Brit. Geographers, 1968, No.45, 143-156.
A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6. W.Farrer & J.Brownhill (eds.), 1911, pp.409-411