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The following text comes directly from the Preston Guild records and as such is mainly written in old English using some terminology that would be confusing or possibly quaint to 21st century readers. The referrals to possessions and money left in wills is a dominant feature and for instance, how many ducks sat on which side of the border between two family territories would be worthy of a court case. For younger or overseas readers, monetary values are shown in the older imperial (pre decimal) values of pounds (£), Shillings (s) and pennies (d).
If anything, the following text does illuminate daily life issues in the 16th to 19th century as well as describing the reasons behind the demise of the once wealthy Mort family of Astley. Other Lancashire families are also described within this report. Worth a read!
Adam Mort 1586
The great Adam Morts forebears are obscure. For his wife he took Janet Mort, daughter of Thomas Mort of Tyldesley, which Mort was a friend of the Earl of Derby, acting as his vice-chamberlain. He was by profession a lawyer. Adam married at Leigh church on May 16, 1586; he himself came from the Mort family of Highfield in Famworth and probably from the slight evidence of settlements among the Damhouse deeds his father was Thomas Mort. The wife Janet died before her husband. Adam Mort was High Constable of West Derby Hundred in 1612 and churchwarden at Leigh in 1618 and 1620.
John Grundy's gift to Astley folk, 1587
John Grundy was a linen Webster, who owed the large sum of £4 8s. 4d. to Richard Milliner for flax, when he died in 1587. He left altogether £19, which measured by the standards of his day was quite above average. Among his bequests was one of five shillings to poor folk in Astley in greatest need of help. The name of his wife was Isabel and his four daughters were Margaret, Margery, Anne and Katherine. The widow lived in his house for her life and then. With licence of the lord, it was to go to Giles Grundy.
Thomas Withington 1590
Withington Farm strides the northern limits of Astley village with Tyldesley; for long years dwelt in this remote corner the Withington family and here in 1590 died Thomas Withington. His frail will today recalls the vigour and simplicity of daily life in Astley in the 16th century. One of his sons John had died before this year and had left a child, Ellen, and William another son took his dead father's communal share in all ploughs, wheels and harrows. Then the old testator said " over and besyde my bringing forth " which beauteous phrase meant his irrevocable committal to the grave, the rest of his goods was to be shared by the children, Richard, Robert, Henry. Thomas and Elizabeth. This daughter was left the best pan. There was not much for division after debts of £2 16s. had to be paid out of a total of £10. 12s. One of the debts was due to Adam Mort and another to Lambert Tyldesley of the Garratt. His stock feeding in common with those of his more active sons included a goose, gander, cock and hens, a stirk, an old mare, and the ancient name for a pig ‘a spewing’.
The death of Sir Gilbert Gerard, February 4, 1593
Gerard had been lord of Astley manor from 1561, which he had acquired through his marriage with Anne Radcliff and was in enjoyment of its profits and revenues for thirty-two years. His great name was known to every contemporary Astley man and woman. The eldest son of James Gerard of Ince and his mother ‘Margaret Holcroft’, he was sent to London to study law, entered Gray's Inn and was called in 1539. Later he rose to be treasurer of the Inn along with Nicholas Bacon in 1556. The ancient and loyal borough of Wigan returned him as member to the parliaments of 1553 and 1555. It is said that during the dark eclipse of the fortunes of the young princess Elizabeth, Gerard had done her some great service and when she had come by the Crown, she quickly repaid him and on January 22, 1559, and he was made attorney-general. Thenceforth he served her cause with undivided loyalty in all the great state trials to which her tortuous policy gave rise. He was knighted by her at Greenwich Palace July 5, 1579, and in 1581 attained his highest 'judicial appointment as Master of the Rolls. Lancaster borough returned him as member in 1584 and he died in 1593. By Anne Radcliff he had two sons and Frances a daughter. The younger son, Radcliff was drowned, while the elder, Thomas pursued like his father a political career and in 1603 was elevated to the peerage as Lord Gerard of Gerards Bromley.
The town's money, 1593
William Wood had been elected a township officer; but he died before he had completed his year of duty and there was found in his house twenty five shillings' being towne's money part of a ley being gathered and not discharged again. 'This was one of several 'weds' William Withington had died, owing 29s. 4d. it was alleged, to John and Mary Rowson of Worsley. His administrator Thomas Withington disputed this and the matter was left for decision to Thomas and John Cowdall, afferors of the court.
George Speakman; Riding Long Close, 1613
When Speakman died in 1613, he left a wife Alice and four children all under 21. The eldest son was William and on his marriage his father asked him to pay to his other brother and two sisters £8 to be put forth for their commodity.' Widow Alice had the profits of Riding Long Close until the youngest child, Ellen became 21. The other children were Elizabeth and Frank. At the time of his death Speakman was much in debt, some £34 in all including 14s. for meadow to his landlord and £5 to Hamble Partington. The interest on this was in arrear and Speakman had been forced to let his lender occupy Rycroft field, area one acre and a roodland in order to keep down the charges until the money had been repaid. Besides husbandry, milk, cheese, oats, and beans, he worked four pairs of looms and had work for three fustian ends at the time of his death. He probably lived near Coldalhurst, as three of the Coldale family valued his assets on September 14, 1613. All his debts were carefully listed by William Speakman, Thomas Jackson, and Geoffrey Ward.
John Woodburn, 1614
John Woodbum's will shed a fulsome light upon this very old, but now non-existent farmstead. He died in winter and asked his landlord to accept his son Thomas as tenant. Ale household goods he gave by special mention to his inheritor son were dashboard, little cupboard, great table, two forms, a skin, iron chimney, crows and tongs, brewing lead and the great corn ark in the barn. For these entailed items he had to pay £50 to the younger children. He made his immediate neighbours to the north; the two Thomas Gellibrand’s his executors, with John Sothem to act as overseer. One of the debts on the will was 6s. owing to Adam Mort. Woodburn bore his solid prosperity well. In January of 1615 were £71 worth of horses and kine in the outbuildings and in the barns £37 value of corn and hay. His main source of income was corn, butter and cheese and the aggregate of his total wealth came to £180 10s. 11 d.
Revocation of a deed, 1615
One of the earliest deeds of prosperous Adam Mort was a revocable settlement made in favour of his three sons on April 1, 1609. Its main purpose was to stabilise and ensure the prosperity of the family and its ' stay' of living. The list of properties brought into the settlement recites some early leases of land in Bolton, before the Mort’s settled in Astley. One was dated August 20, 1574; it was of four acres of land in Great Lever and made by Adam Lever to his son Andrew. Another bears the date, February 27, 1580, and a third, January 28, 1592. These record facts of great interest and perpetuate Thomas Moll of Little Bolton, gentleman, France Nuttall of Highfield, yeoman, and Jannet Mort , daughter of Thomas Mort deceased, names which have some bearing on Dugdale’s pedigree of the Mort family.
Four trustees of the settlement are named, Ralph Ashton, father and son, Roger Downes of Wardley, and Henry Breres, draper, of Preston. The deed carries the signature of Adam the father and of two sons, Thomas and Richard. Delivery of the properties was made in two places-in the dwelling house of John Guest in Astley and in the mansion of Damhouse. One of the witnesses to the public delivery was the aged Lambert Tyldesley of Garratt. The revocation clause embodied in the deed constrained Adam Mort the father to pay a nominal penalty of twelve pennies to the trustees or any other person and then declare the effect before credible witnesses to be void. This Adam did on two occasions, February 4 and December 18, 1615, paying the fine twice over to Ralph Ashton Senior and to Henry Breres. The revocation was prelude to a settlement.