Old Tatty: Sage of Roggerham

Share this article

I have recently been contacted by an organisation interested in folklore.

The subject of their interest is Tattersall Wilkinson, otherwise known as the “Sage of Roggerham”. I thought I would use this as an excuse to share with you some of the images of Tattersall Wilkinson collected by the Briercliffe Society.

Tattersall Wilkinson

Tattersall Wilkinson

Though I have written quite a bit about Tattersall Wilkinson, largely in my book “A Lancashire Township: The History of Briercliffe-with-Extwistle”, much of the information in this article comes from the research of Mr Ken Spencer who wrote a booklet “Tattersall Wilkinson” for the Briercliffe Society in 1987.

The project was supported by the Stocks Massey Bequest and Messrs Tattersall of Newmarket, the famous bloodstock dealers.

Mr Wilkinson was descended from Richard Tattersall, a native of Hurstwood, who founded the famous horse dealers and auctioneers in the 18th Century. Richard had been involved, on the losing side, in the second of the Jacobite Rebellions after which he left the Burnley district, about 1745, for London hoping to become lost in what Defoe called the “Great Wen”, the running sore that was London in the 18th Century.

Richard had a brother, Edmund, who stayed at home and his daughter, Nelly, married Robert Halsted of Worsthorne who was described as “a tall athletic man, full of the lore of the district”. Robert was born in 1766 and died in 1848 and, late in life, walked to London and back on a visit to his kinsmen. Robert and Nelly were Tattersall’s grandparents and it was from Robert that Tattersall, as Mr Spencer puts it, “picked up much of his local lore”.

Tattersall was the son of Nanny, daughter of Robert and Nelly, and Robert Wilkinson, a handloom weaver. They were married in 1818 at St Peter’s Church, Burnley, there being no Anglican place of worship in Worsthorne until the building of St John’s in 1835.

Tattersall was born in Worsthorne in 1825 in a little cottage near the Crooked Billet but the family moved to Burnley about 1838. This was not uncommon as, at this time, Burnley was becoming a significant cotton town and workers were making their way to its new mills from a wide area.

The 1841 Census finds the Wilkinson family living in Fleet Street, in the centre of town. Though much information can be gleaned from the Census entry – Robert, the father was described as a labourer; his oldest son, also Robert, similarly, a labourer, and three other children were employed in the cotton industry, two as spinners and one as a weaver – Tattersall does not appear to have been at home, possibly because he was employed as a shepherd in Worsthorne.

It is known that Tattersall married at Burnley Register Office, in 1850. His wife was Jane Beesting, daughter of William Beesting, a calico printer, possibly at Caldervale Print Works, now the site of Burnley College and the Burnley Campus of the University of Central Lancashire. Jane is described in the 1851 Census as a “potter’s wife” but she died, in the same year, from consumption.

We next find Tattersall at Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire where he had married, for a second time, to Mary Carradice of Keighley. From Bradford, Tattersall moved to Blackpool, then an increasingly popular holiday resort, where, in the 1871 Census, he was described as a jeweller.

Enough of his background, what we need to know about Tattersall is that, in 1883, he returned to North-East Lancashire, leaving his family in the Fylde. From that time he lived, as we shall see, for most of the rest of his life, in the Roggerham area of Briercliffe-with-Extwistle. He died in 1921.

So far there is nothing very significant to report about Tattersall Wilkinson. He had been a youthful shepherd, a potter, a jeweller and possibly a worker in a cotton mill, a strange mix you might think but such a personal history was not uncommon for young men of his class at the time. So far he had done nothing which might have marked him out from other men but all that was about to change.

His return to this locality, at least superficially, did not indicate he was ultimately to acquire the title, the Sage of Roggerham. By 1884 he had opened a small restaurant, which he called the “White House”, at the former Swinden Schoolhouse in the village. Later, while retaining the business, he moved to Clough Croft, a cottage locals know better as “the ILP” because, in later years, the Independent Labour Party ran the building as a county retreat for members.

At one time Tattersall thought of a move to Kent but he returned to the area finding temporary accommodation at Stonehouse, near Dyneley. From there he went to Mereclough, where he opened refreshment rooms again, but, in April 1899, we find him back at Ivy Cottage, Roggerham, and, three years later he was at Extwistle Mill House which he converted into refreshment rooms.

As we shall see, the former Mill House was destroyed by fire in 1905 and, after that, Tattersall was given the tenancy of Lea Green Cottage where he lived until his death in 1921.

We know a little about Tattersall’s early life from his own writings but it was not until 1871 he started to become well known. In that year he came to Burnley to attend the funeral of his aunt but, at the same time, contributed an article published in the Burnley Advertiser. It was entitled “A Day’s Stroll over Worsthorne Moor”.

Over 11 years were to pass before another article appeared in the press. That was in 1882 when he wrote his “Ancient and Modern Worsthorne”, a most informative piece of work. Within a few months Tattersall had opened his refreshment rooms at the White House and, soon, was being visited by individuals and groups enjoying a weekend “outing”.

Tattersall provided not only tea but conversation about the history of the area and, on occasion, would lead groups on tours of the moors immediately around the White House. He was fortunate the area has such a varied history – ancient burial grounds, Roman remains, a medieval monastic grange and supposed site of an ancient battle!

In 1886 Tattersall discovered some pre-historic urns at Hell Clough, Extwistle, and, as a result of his findings, became something of a celebrity not only locally but further afield. When a prosperous member of the Tattersall family visited the area, Tattersall Wilkinson met him and the result was the book “Memories of Hurstwood”, published in 1889.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s Tattersall contributed numerous articles to the local press and his writings resulted in much correspondence in both the Burnley Express and its great rival, the Burnley Gazette.

At the same time, Tattersall continued to talk to local groups and became one of the area’s best-known personalities, living the part by wearing a distinctive red Fez. At the time Britain was very much involved in Egypt, which was an Imperial Protectorate, but Egypt was associated with all things ancient so the “old man with the red fez” was easily recognised.

The fire at the former Extwistle Mill House was a tragedy. Although Old Tatty, as he had become known, was not injured he lost most of his possessions. These not only included the old books he had collected but numerous historic records including, it is supposed, some of the records of the old Manor of Extwistle.

However, through his writings, his lectures and guided tours, Tattersall Wilkinson certainly made a mark. He was respected and made mild fun of in almost equal measure. This latter might have been because of his humble origins but he was also a man quick to give an opinion on almost anything, whether he knew much about the subject or not.

Some people, at the time, thought some of the archaeological discoveries Tattersall made were a little suspicious and that, after the success of his discoveries at Hell Clough, he used archaeology to publicise what amounted to his business activities.

What is certain, though, is that Tattersall Wilkinson was a character. In his day he was, perhaps, the most well-known individual in the whole area and an analysis of his writings justify the interest now being shown in him by those interested not only in folk lore but a wide range of other subjects.