Leigh is one of Lancashire’s historic small towns with a long and proud history. The parish was formed in the 12th century and comprised the six townships of Bedford, Pennington, Westleigh, Astley, Atherton and Tyldesley-with-Shakerley.
Leigh was the scene of a skirmish in the Civil War, the district sided with the Parliamentarians against King Charles. December 10th 1745…Eyewitness’s give account of the retreat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces to the north of Four Lane Ends in Hulton. The 12th century parish church, dedicated to St Mary and according to a directory dated 1793, had impressive tower of eight bells, which by tradition were donated by Queen Elizabeth. In 1777 a new organ was built by one Samuel Green at a cost of £330 bourne by all parishioners, whether rich or in poverty. A north and south gallery were built to accomodate the increasing flock. The Eighteenth century Leigh had a thriving domestic textile industry, most workers weaving in their own homes, but with one or two factories for hand-loom weavers. Tradition has it that a local man, Thomas Highs, was the inventor of a spinning jenny and the water-frame in the 1760s, the latter invention being pirated by Richard Arkwright, who subsequently made a fortune from the royalties. Hand loom silk weaving was brought to Leigh replacing the traditional fustian cloth manufacture, financed by Bolton entrepreneurs. Silk rather than cotton appears the chosen material. Communications with surrounding towns improved, 1747 saw the road to Bolton via Atherton was widened and improved and in 1776 the Bridgewater Canal reached the town. During the next century industrialisation took place on a grand scale, and silk and cotton mills flourished.
We however are looking at the winters day of 26th February 1797. The place? The parish church of St Mary’s.
It is here where HENRY BOARDMAN was married to SARAH HEATON by the vicar, Daniel Birkett. One can imagine the newly married couple walking from the church, through the laying snow across the road to celebrate in one of the local inns that stood on the opposite side of the square. Houses once stood where now the benches are. Back Church Street was where William, youngest son of the couple, lived in the 1851 census. But what of Henry and Sarah? I have a note that Sarah was the eldest child of John and Ann Heaton of Bolton. She was baptised at the Parish Church in Bolton on 21st February 1773.
It is now over 15 years since I first ‘met’ my Great Great Great Grandparents. Sarah’s line awaits investigation. I stand at the invisible wall of discovery through which I am unable to find the door to enter Henry’s past. What DO I know about him? He was a [Silk?] weaver, and by 1841 both he and Sarah had died. Three of his children lived in Trafalgar Street, built by the owners of the nearby mill. It would be reasonable to assume that Henry lived here, minutes from work and the Roman Catholic church of St. Joseph’s where all the children were baptised. Eight in all. Mary, John, Ann, Elizabeth, Peter, James, Robert and William. From records available, Henry was not a native of Leigh. He lived for certain on 26th February 1797. Neither baptism nor burial dates have been discovered. The search for the life between continues . . . .