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