Select Radcliffe Miscellany

Here are some Radcliffe stories and accounts over the years:

Radcliffe in Lancashire

Radcliffe initially consisted of two hamlets; Radcliffe, near to the border with Bury and centered on the medieval Church of St. Mary and the manorial Radcliffe Tower, and, further to the west, Radcliffe Bridge at a crossing of the river Irwell.  

Nicholas de Tailbois, a Norman knight, took possession of Radcliffe manor sometime in the 12th century.  He may have built the initial Radcliffe Tower structure.  His son William adopted the Radcliffe name and was the High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1194.  He was recorded in 1212 as William de Radcliffe of the Radcliffes of the Tower family. 

Radcliffe Tower was rebuilt by James de Radcliffe in 1403.  The house then consisted of a stone-built hall and one or two towers, probably built with ashlar blocks.  De Radcliffe was given a royal license to fortify the site including adding crenellations and battlements.  

In 1561, after about 400 years of rule by the Radcliffes, Robert Ashton – the lord of the manor of Middleton - bought the Radcliffe manor from the Radcliffes for some 2,000 marks.   
The manor house stayed intact until the 19th century when it was demolished.  Only the tower survived.  It still stands and is listed as a Scheduled Monument.

Sir John Radcliffe of Ordsall

John Radcliffe married the heiress Anne Asshawe around 1570 and brought her back to his family home at Ordsall Hall.  

Ordsall Hall at that time was said to have been a manor house of exceptional beauty and one of the largest and most important seats in the county.  The antiquarian John Leland remarked on the beauty of its surroundings as he passed by it on his journey through Lancashire in 1516.  

It was a quadrangular mansion in a half-timbered style of erection.  The hall stood in the midst of a pleasant park bounded on the southeast side by the clear wide waters of the Irwell river and commanding a prospect over a wide stretch of country to the distant hills of Derbyshire and the wooded uplands of Cheshire.  The house stood within a moated enclosure, the sloping lands of the manor on the north side draining into the Ordsall brook which kept the moat supplied with constant flow of clear running water.

The gardens were laid in the formal style of the period.  Beyond were orchards, the shippons, barns, and buildings of the grange.  From the end of the tree-shaded, rocky lane, which connected the manor with the town of Salford, a wide drive led through an avenue of sycamores to the northwestern side of the hall where a drawbridge across the moat gave entrance through a corbelled gateway into the inner courtyard.  

On the southeast side of the courtyard was the Great Hall, one of the finest and largest chambers in the north country.  The east and west wings housed the family and the domestics and, fronting the moat on the northern side, were the guard chambers where the considerable military retinue of the house was lodged.  

In 1571 John Radcliffe was appointed a knight of the shire.  Three years later he was one of the signatories to the Association of Lancashire Gentlemen, formed to defend Queen Elizabeth from the conspiracies in support of Mary, Queen of Scots.  However, he was probably a temporizer on the matter of religion.  After the execution of the Jesuit Campion, there was an extensive round-up and imprisonment of recusants in the hundred of Salford.  Although some of his friends were amongst those captured, Sir John himself was not called upon to endure this indignity.  

Sir John was but fifty-three years of age when he died at Ordsall in 1589.

The Radcliffes as Earls of Derwentwater

Francis Radcliffe was created Viscount Radcliffe and Earl of Derwentwater by James II in 1688.  His eldest son Edward married Lady Mary Tudor, a daughter of Charles II.  

The third Earl, James Radcliffe, was brought up at the court of the Stewarts in France, as companion to his cousin Prince James Edward, the pretender to the throne.  He joined the Jacobite rising in 1715.  When the rebels capitulated, the Earl was condemned to death.  Declaring his devotion to the Catholic faith and to the Old Pretender, he was beheaded on Town Hill.  

His eldest son was killed accidentally and his second son died of an illness, leaving his third son Charles as the heir. But the estates were confiscated and Charles condemned to death.  He escaped to the continent and married the Countess of Newburgh.  He was captured while on his way to Scotland in 1745 to join Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and was beheaded.  

Charles Radcliffe’s eldest son, James Bartholomew, became the third Earl of Newburgh in 1755 and also claimed the Derwentwater title.  His only son and successor, Anthony James, died without issue in 1814 and the Derwentwater title became extinct.

The Radcliffes of Knockaloe Moar

Thomas Radcliffe was by most accounts the youngest son of Sir Robert Radcliffe of Attleborough in Norfolk.  Born in 1511, he accompanied his father to the Isle of Man where he met and married a Miss Callister, the daughter of an old and long-established Manx family.  It is thought through this marriage that he came into possession, sometime in the 1540's, of the 350 acre estate of Knockaloe Moar in Kirk Patrick parish on the west coast of the island. 

The estate remained with the Radcliffe family until 1760 when the Rev. Robert Radcliffe died without male issue.

Dr. John Radcliffe, Society Doctor

An obituarist wrote of Dr John Radcliffe in 1714 that he should be accounted "the most eminent physician this England has ever produced.  He was a man of good sense, sound judgment, and admirable skill in his art, chiefly founded on the best mistress, experience.”

For much of his life Radcliffe was never far from the public view.  His unrivalled success as a ‘society’ doctor, buoyed by his colorful personality, provided him with a captive audience before which he often indulged a weakness for publicity and speaking his mind.

He had his critics.  One satiric skit circulating in 1709 asked: ‘When taxes shall leave off?’; and the answer given was:  

“When Dr Radcliffe gives his visits to the poor,  
Or serves his friends and slights his golden oar,  
When dying patients on him may depend,   
And find his conscience and his manners mend,
When Bath shall court him, and her waters freeze,   
Make him their God, his naughty head to please, 
Then, then, shall taxes cease."

He was never much of a reader.  But he did bequeath a substantial sum of money to Oxford for the founding of the Radcliffe Library, an endowment which Samuel Garth quipped was "about as logical as if a eunuch should found a seraglio.”

Radcliffe and Ratcliffe in Lancashire

There were 1,390 Radcliffes and 3,460 Ratcliffes recorded in the 1881 census in Lancashire.  Not that many appeared at the Radcliffe original place-name near Bury.  The 1881 census recorded only 91 Ratcliffes at Bury and many fewer Radcliffes.

These names had spread.  The table below shows where the names had spread in Lancashire - from north to south - in the 1881 census.  We have taken here only towns and villages with more than 50 Radcliffes or Ratcliffes.  All the places shown are roughly within a twenty mile radius of Bury.

from north









Bedford Leigh

Ashton under Lyne


to south

In some places such as Oldham and Ashton under Lyne, as can be seen, the Radcliffe and Ratciffe names happily co-existed. 

John Ratcliffe's Death at Jamestown

Captain John Ratcliffe was captured by Indians at Jamestown in 1609 and met a miserable death.  According to an eyewitness:

"The sly old Indian King surprised Ratcliffe alive and caused him to be bound unto a tree naked with a fire before.  His flesh was scraped from his bones by women with mussel shells and, before his face, thrown into the fire.  So for want of circumspection he perished."

Hollywood portrayed him as a greedy and ruthlessly ambitious man.  In Disney's Pocahontas, he is seen as an aggressor against the Indians, believing them to have hidden gold which he could capture.

Richard Ratcliffe and Fairfax, Virginia

Richard's parents John and Anne Ratcliffe were contemporaries of George Washington in Virginia and in fact known by him.  Washington wrote in his diary on one date: “Mrs. Ratcliffe and her son come to dinner.”

Richard had begun acquiring land in the area that was to become Fairfax in the 1780’s.  He was appointed a Fairfax County Court justice in 1794 and donated land for the construction of a new courthouse in 1798.  The offer was not completely philanthropic.  He owned adjacent land which he saw would benefit enormously from the commercial developments that would follow.

By the year 1800 Richard’s vision grew more ambitious.  With the assistance of his son Robert he started to lay out a plan for a new town around the courthouse.  His plan was helped by the building of a new turnpike that would pass through the town.  Town lots were quickly snapped up.  The town, initially called Providence, prospered and grew.  Richard Ratcliffe died in 1825.  Providence became the city of Fairfax in 1874.

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