PEEK INTO THE PAST: The Townley connections to Harle Syke

Peak Into The Past 652
Peak Into The Past 652

Back on home ground. This week we are in Briercliffe and the building, as you can see, is Springhouse Farm, a building I knew well because it is from there that, each day, we got our fresh milk delivered. Mind you there was always something odd about that because we also got milk from Higher Saxifield. I don’t think I have ever understood why mother felt it necessary for that but it was the case, throughout my childhood, that two milkmen came to our house each day!

The building you see in the picture is no longer with us. Its role as a viable farm was much reduced by the selling of much of its land for the building of Briercliffe Park housing estate in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Just so Briercliffe readers know where we are, the local name for this Barrett-built housing scheme is “the jam butty” estate as natives of the parish felt that, after paying their mortgages, their new neighbours would have little left for food!

In fact, Springhouse Farm has played a significant role in the history of Briercliffe and, as a consequence, in the Burnley area as well. The farm is not an historic farm. It dates only from the 18th Century and was the product of one of the last enclosures in Briercliffe. This was not done by Act of Parliament, as was the case in many parts of the country, but by the landowners who were the Townleys of Royle, who took their name from Royle a house which stood, until recent times, near the present Crow Wood Leisure Centre. Royle Road, once a locally important highway in Burnley, takes its name from this house.

The Townleys of Royle were, historically, the largest single landowners in Briercliffe though they did not enjoy the status of Lords of the Manor. The Township of Briercliffe, like Burnley, was never granted manorial status and remained within the large Manor of Ightenhill which was, at times, a Royal Manor directly held by the Crown. It was Charles II who granted Ightenhill out – to General Moncke who he created Duke of Albermarle at the king’s restoration in 1660. Later, the Manor of Ightenhill fell into the hands of the Dukes of Buccleugh and it was the Dukes who were Lords of the Manor.

The Townleys of Royle (notice the spelling of the surname – without the first “e”) were a significant local family which has not had the attention given the Towneleys of Towneley from whom they were descended. The new branch was established in the 15th Century when John Towneley of Towneley, who, as his second wife, married Isabel Sherborne of Stoneyhurst. They had a large family which included five sons of whom the third, Nicholas of Greenfield, was the founder of the Towneley (later Townley) of Royle family.

The family enjoyed their estates, based upon Royle, for more than 300 years but, in the late 18th Century, the male line failed and the heiress, Anne, married Robert Parker of Extwistle and the two families were combined into the Townley Parkers of Extwisle, Royle and Cuerden, the latter, by then, being their main estate near Preston. A consequence of the marriage was that the Townley Parkers were Lords of the Manor of Extwistle, in the right of the Parkers, but not Lords of the Manor of Briercliffe because, as I have indicated, Briercliffe was not a separate Manor.

There is, though, a reminder of the connection between the family and Springhouse Farm. The land of the farm, 23 acres in 1829-34, extends to Higher House Lane, now known as Nelson Road, to the north of Haggate, and, on Nelson Road, there is an old boundary stone which contains the initials “RTP”. This stands for Robert Townley Parker, the landowner when the final boundaries of the farm were established.

The farm itself was not originally known as Springhouse. Its first name was Harle Sike (sic) Farm, taking its name from a small stream which rises in front of the farm buildings. This stream, these days culverted for much of its length, gave its name to the village of Harle Syke which was a creation of Victorian times.

In fact, Harle Syke is only indirectly named after the stream as the village grew up around Harle Syke Mill which was built and opened as a cotton weaving shed in 1855/6, before there were any houses in the area that became the village.

You might like to know what Harle Syke, the place name, means. Harle derives from the Middle Engish “harl” or “harle”, the fibre of flax. The word Syke is a reference to the stream itself indicating it was a small, slowly flowing body of water which had muddy banks. Harle Syke, therefore, means the place where the wild flax grew by a muddy stream. It has nothing to do with a “harl”, a title in Saxon times, which has been suggested by a number of historians.

When the name Springhouse was applied to the farm is not known but I suspect it would have been about the same time the village of Harle Syke was developing. It is a good modern name and very descriptive of the site and fits in well with the age of the farm.

There is, though, a point to be made about the name Springhouse. I think there is no doubt the name, here, derives from the little spring which rises in the south-facing farm yard.

In the last few years the owner, who pulled the farmhouse down, also destroyed the little stone trough which marked the point where the stream of lovely clear water rose from the ground, but sometimes place names with the word “spring” in them refer not to water but to nearby woodland.

This is a reference to an old use of the word “spring” to describe the shape of a small plot of land which was difficult to farm and often contained trees. We have such a place name, Springwood, in Burnley but I do not know that well enough to be able to say which of the two alternatives is responsible for the actual name.

Looking at the building, Springhouse Farm was typical of the 18th Century farm buildings of our area. The style is of a laithe farm, where the farmhouse and barn are in the same building. Here, you can see the farmhouse, right, and the barn, with its big doors, to the left. To the right and the left there are smaller buildings and there were others you can’t see behind the farm and, one of them, was a most perfect little pig sty which I was particularly sad to see destroyed as so few of them have survived.

I could say more about the type of farming carried out here but, briefly, the land is not good enough for the plough and cattle and sheep were the mainstays. The farm land, however, concealed other riches though I doubt the farmer would have benefited. The fields of this farm were particularly undulating. When I was young I could not understand why this should be so but I soon realised the little “hillocks”, upon which we used to play King of the Castle, were the remains of coal workings. One of the fields, now under Briercliffe Park, has the name Engine Field and it was here that, in the early years of the 19th Century, there was a little coal mine employing a few miners.

A single postcard view of what appears to be a remote moorland farm but what a story it leads us to! History is like that – make the connections and one can learn such a lot.