Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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May 2012

 Linda Sawley – Elizabeth Parker of Browsholme Hall
Tue 08 May 2012

Linda’s talk took us back to a pleasant July evening last year when society members visited Browsholme Hall, near Clitheroe. As one of 2 guides who showed us around the hall, Linda, has in depth knowledge of its history and, in particular, Elizabeth Parker.

Browsholme Hall was built in 1507 and, as such, is one of the oldest halls in Lancashire that has been in continuous ownership of one family, the Parkers. Originally from Alkincotes Hall, Colne, the family derived their name from the job they did, essentially the king’s park keepers. Over these 500 years there had been just 5 heirs, as compared with 13 kings and queens over the same period. None of the Parkers lost their heads but kept their heads down, leading to none being knighted or ennobled.

Linda Sawley

So, why the interest in Elizabeth Parker? Linda explained that Elizabeth kept letters and diaries she wrote giving a fine insight into 18th century life. She was born in 1726 and at the age of 18 her mother died. She was then, in fact, the lady of the manor and already keeping a diary of her social life.

As a young lady she did not travel to London for the season as the journey was too arduous. However, she visited Preston – her diary mentions a visit to the Preston Guild of 1742 - York and Pontefract for masked balls and races.

By 1744 she was involved in a courtship with Robert that was to last 7 years. It was an off and on affair that involved secret meetings together as he was thought unsuitable for Elizabeth by her family.

Elizabeth Parker

Her letters to Robert gave a clear picture of the issues - power, duty and honour - that were at stake in their relationship. Finally, in 1751 and only 10 days following her parent’s approval, they married.

Elizabeth kept a different diary to record her courtship and early marriage from the diaries that recorded business transactions and social life. Linda produced a modern book called ‘The Gentleman’s Daughter’ by Amanda Vickery that is based on these letters and diaries.

Robert, however, died in 1758 leaving Elizabeth living at Browsholme Hall with 3 boys under the age of 5. This was until 1765 when, aged 38, she eloped to Gretna Green to marry a wool merchant by the name of John Shackleton, aged 21. Her brothers felt offended by her actions and did not approve of this so she had to move to Alkincotes Hall. Although her diaries did not reference her love for John there was also no sign of any problems for first 7 years of marriage. She did, however, refer to fashion, cultural life, sewing and comments on seasons of the farming year.

The last 9 years of their marriage is a tale of woe with much discord, lots of negative things said with evidence of verbal and physical violence from John, growing worse in later years. She died aged 55 in 1781 and is buried in Colne church.

Linda, through extracts from Elizabeth’s letters and diaries, gave a wonderful insight, not only into an 18th century woman’s life, but also into the social and economic life of that period.

Peter Robinson