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The Morts of Dam House and Highfield Hall

ADAM & JENNET MORT:

Although to date we have been unable to prove the relationship between the Mort families of Dam House Astley and the neighbouring less affluent Mort families of Lancashire, many researchers have been convinced that there was a connection. It was just a matter of time before we found it.

Astley, Tyldesley, Hulton and many of the towns within the surrounding geography, were once hamlets with small populations. Centuries ago, South Lancashire consisted of low lying damp bog lands, which during the winter months were often shrouded in fog.

The road systems were poor and often muddy at best - flooded at worse. Even the Romans (who ‘came, saw and conquered’ Chester and Manchester) seemed to have given Leigh and the surrounding district a bit of a miss. This was an inaccessible area. The local residents were protected from assaults by aggressive outsiders and made the most of heath land pathways known only to the local population.

Until the arrival of the textile and coal mining industries (which undoubtedly brought outsiders to the area in search of work), the local population consisted of small tightly knit family communities who did not migrate far from their family homes. Bearing all of this in mind, it is difficult to imagine how families with the same uncommon surname who lived within the same areas could not be related. Jennet and Adam Mort were clearly related, and indeed were married. What was the connection?

HIGHFIELD HALL - FARNWORTH

I decided that the missing cog in the wheel was to find the family home of the famous Adam Mort of Dam House, and the only way to uncover more about this family was to go Adam Morts place of birth - Highfield Hall. Apparently Adam (born in 1540) was the second son of Thomas Mort who lived at Highfield Hall in Farnworth near Bolton. Is it possible the Hall still existed almost 500 years later?

There comes a time in local history and family research when you do have to unplug the Broadband cable, switch off your PC and just ‘get out there’. To push me out the door was also the fact that no manner of Internet searches was going to bring me any results relative to the Mort’s and Highfield of Farnworth. The most that I could determine was that it did still exist and was now being used as a ‘Community Hall’.

To begin with I got lost - very lost. My directions took me from the East Lancashire Road, down Mort Road (honestly), through Little Hulton, past the old Mort residence of Peel Hall and then I was lost again. Eventually I managed to get my Satellite Navigation system working and was concerned to find that it seemed to be directing me towards.... ‘my Sister in Laws’ house.

I did eventually locate Highfield Hall on the junction of Marsh Lane and Highfield Road. It was virtually directly opposite the road were my Sister in Law used to live. Unknowingly, I had driven past Adam Morts birthplace so many times that I couldn’t even begin to count- yet I had never noticed the building.

We hear the word ‘Hall’ and I guess many of us imagine grand old manor houses in acres of land. I didn’t know Farnworth intimately but I knew it well enough to realise that I hadn’t driven past that many large imposing country houses.

DOWN TO EARTH WITH A BUMP:

It was little wonder that I had failed to notice Highfield Hall - there wasn’t a whole lot left to notice. The Hall had been converted to a ‘Community Centre’ prior to once being a children’s nursery. To say that it looked drab and run down is an under statement. See the picture and judge for yourself:

Highfield Hall

Highfield Hall - a recent photograph

There was a plaque on the gable wall that had been placed so high that it was difficult to read. I could just about make out that the Hall was in a bad state of ruination and had been renovated in either 1883 or 1983. Judging by its present state, I would say it was the earlier date. Surely plaques should be placed in a position where they could be read? Not this one!

The Hall was not grand. I have come to realise that although we (present generation) probably think of a Hall as a large prestigious home. I have since discovered that farm houses in Lancashire were often referred to as ‘Halls’. Fold is also another common Lancashire name for a farm.

Highfield Hall looked like a lowly farmhouse. It is difficult to know how much the renovation affected the look of the house, but I would suspect that the general facade had not changed that much from Adam Morts time. One should remember that this was a building that was occupied over 500 years ago, and within its era (and the disposition of Farnworth); it may well have seemed grand at the time. It was refered to on old maps and as only the more prestigious places would have been mentioned on such maps, we could assume it did have a past distinguished existence.

The renovated Highfield Hall has been made from red brick and judging by the number of ‘front doors’ looked as though it was meant to house several families. It had the appearance of a unit of linked terraces or mews. At the rear it looked as though part of the Hall had been a former barn. All in all, it did seem that at some part of its history, it was once a farm house. It was not unusual for the barn and the house to be connected and this architecture can still be seen in present day functioning farms in the area. This was not the home of a poor family (as it did offer a comfortable living area), but neither is it likely to have been the home of an extremely wealthy family or the super rich aristocracy.

THE MORTS OF DAM HOUSE - ASTLEY

Dam House

Dam House - photo by Julian Graham

It has been documented that during his life time, Adam Mort of Dam House had acquired far more money than his own father (believed to have been called Thomas Mort). It is also now known that the Mort males did have a fortunate habit of marrying well.

In contrast to past information (that has led us to believe that it was Adam Mort who purchased Dam House), there is some inconclusive evidence that his wife Jennet Mort was the heiress of Dam House after her father (also called Thomas Mort) left her this property in his will. For those not yet aware, the famous Adam Mort married a lady whose maiden name was Jennet Mort. It is highly likely these two families were connected although we cannot determine exactly how they were related. Keep in mind that marrying cousins was not uncommon in this era.

What complicates matters even more is that Jennet was a name commonly used by females in the Mort family and there was more than just Adams wife born with this Christian name.

A ‘Jennet Mort’ has been recorded as having been born in 1579 in Dam House (also known as Astley Manor).Her father Thomas (also a Mort) was also recorded as having been born in 1544 in Dam House. Thomas sadly died at the age of 40 years old when Jennet was only 5 years old.

Jennet’s mother was born in 1556 (also in Dam House). We do not know her mothers name. If the recorded evidence is correct and this was Adams wife - she would only have been 7 years old when she married the much much older 46 year old Adam on May 16th 1586 in Leigh. This was clearly not the same ‘Jennet’. However, it does tend to suggest that some Mort’s were born, lived and died in Dam House before it was acquired by James Anderton.

Records states that Adam Mort (wife of a Jennet Mort) purchased the house in 1595 from James Anderton of Lostock.

CONCLUSIONS:

Well - not many definitive conclusions following my trip out to Farnworth. There are several strings of Mort’s in Lancashire and they did seem to be born at one another’s houses and in some cases marry each other. To confuse us, many of them were called the same Christian names. As of Adam and Jennet Mort - all we can clearly say is that both their fathers were called Thomas Mort and neither of the in laws were poor. Records state that Adams family came from Highfield, and Jennets family seem to be connected to the Morts that once resided in Dam House before the house was purchased by James Anderton.

There must be many interesting stories and secrets locked within these buildings - and maybe they are meant to stay locked. If only walls had ears?

Anybody know anything more or different - please contact us with your thoughts?

 
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