What's In a Name?

The mystery of the Langtons of Lancashire and Cheshire

By Mike Green

March 2011

The Langton families in the North West of England can claim descent from a unique starting point - when in 1286 John de Langton of Leicestershire married Alice Banastre of Newton-in-Makerfield (Newton-le-Willows) and adopted the title of Baron of Newton. From here stemmed various braches of Langton "gentry" who's doings are described in histories of Lancashire. It is of note though that the title of Baron of Newton eventually passed into the hands of the Legh family of Lyme Hall in Cheshire, who had extensive properties in the region around Disley in Cheshire and Winwick in Lancashire. They figure later in this story.

The last vestige of the Langton gentry vanished in 1733 when Edward Langton of Lowe Hall in Hindley, Lancashire died without issue and the property passed to his nephews the Pughs. Again it is worth noting at this stage that Edward had been a staunch papist, as had his father Philip, and had had theirs lands confiscated for recusancy (refusal to swear allegience to the protestant king) and only partially restored. Indeed in 1694 Philip Langton was accused of treason for being involved in "The Lancashire Plot" to restore a Catholic monarchy - along with Peter Legh of Lyme.

Turning now to the modern day, the area around Winwick - Wigan - Ormskirk remains a Langton heartland, although there are various branches extending into Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire. In investigating my wife's family (Manchester Langtons) the trail took us back to an Aaron Langton who was active in the Wigan area in the 1700's, being buried in Upholland in 1772 as a yeoman farmer. Aaron's will revealed he had five brothers, James, Ralph, John, Peter and Moses. Furthermore, Ralph is described as being "late of Disley" in Cheshire - and refers to Ralph's will. This was odd - if the family were in Lancashire, why was one brother in Disley?

Further hunting resulted in a will for Ralph - but this was the will of Ralph Laughton, the name on his grave in Disley churchyard (b.1695, d.1753). The will was undoubtedly correct however; he too lists his five brothers and arrangements concerning a 200 pound investment also referred to by Aaron. With six brothers to go at the way back should have been easy, but this was not to be the case. We knew Aaron was around Wigan, Moses and Peter were in Winwick and Newton, and Ralph of course in Disley. But there was no sign of any parents.

In addressing the question of Ralph we asked what was the connection between the Winwick area and Disley ? Answer - the Legh family of Lyme. A useful visit to Lyme Hall directed us to the John Rylands Library in Manchester. There in the "Muniments of Lyme" we found Ralph in the 1740's as a tenant of Cockshuts Farm (now Cockshead Farm) just on the edge of Lyme Park and over the hill from Disley Church. Furthermore, at Ralph's first marriage to Mary Beeley at Stockport in 1727 he is Ralph Leighton. Both are of the parish of Taxal, although the Beeley family are from Barnsfold farm, Marple. At his second marriage (Sarah Burgess at Taxal in 1737) he is Ralph Laughton of Whaley. Further research at the Greater Manchester Records Office showed a sum of 200 Pound invested with the Legh family themselves - surely the same money referred to in the wills. In these Legh records Ralph is occasionally referred to as Langton, though usually Laughton.

The next tantalising clue came from the discovery In the Winwick Parish chest material at Chester RO of a settlement certificate stating in 1734:

"Thomas Hooley, Thomas Brooks overseers of the township of Addlington in Co. of Chester acknowledge Moses Langton and Hannah his wife legally settled residents of Addlington."

This was almost certainly the Moses of the six brothers who had married Hannah Hill in Warrington in 1733, but was apparently still regarded legally as a resident of Adlington in Cheshire (not far from Disley and Marple) although having moved to Winwick.

So two brothers now had connections with northeast Cheshire, but still no parents. However there was a very good candidate family. Robert and Sarah Leighton in Marple had an extensive family, all boys, including a James, Peter, Aaron and Moses all baptised in Marple with plausible dates. Ralph and John are missing but could have been baptised elsewhere, although there was a John who died (and some other brothers who also died). Was this the right family, despite the name? What was the chance of getting a match like this otherwise?

These remained unanswered questions until another trawl through the Winwick material revealed a further settlement paper:

"To the Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Township of Hulme in the Parish of the County of Lancaster

We the Chappele Warden and Overseers of the Poor of Marple in the Parish of Stockport in the County of Chester hereby Certify that we do own And Acknowledge Sarah Laughton widow to be an Inhabitant Legally settled in our sd. Township And hereby promise for our selves and our successors to receive her the sd. Sarah Laughton back into our sd. Township of Marple aforsd. without an order whensoever she shall be Chargable or Burthensome to your sd. Township of Hulme .as witness our hands this 10th day of August ...(Latin)......1732

John Boular; Chappele Warden

Robert Swindells, William Swindells; Overseers

Witnes hereto: John Taylor junior, Ottiwell Heginbothom (cooper), George Beeley"

This was the proof we were looking for. Robert Leighton had died in 1728 in Marple, and here was his widow Sarah no doubt living with either Moses or Peter in Winwick. She too was to be buried back in Marple.

The story had now turned round, and instead of asking why was Ralph in Disley, the question was why did the family move from Cheshire to Lancashire? The name changes were a problem too. Are the Langtons "really" Langtons? This is not a minor point. The majority of the Langtons in Lancashire and Cheshire today descend from these six brothers, most notably Aaron and James.

Other than Ralph (who had no children) the only brother who stayed in the Marple area was James Leighton who had an extensive family with his wife Elizabeth. Two of his sons, Edmund and Ralph, found their way to Liverpool and in the late 1700's and were Master Porters on the then rapidly expanding docks. From them are descended "Liverpool Langtons". James' son John (b.1732) married Elizabeth Woodworth in Winwick in 1755 and became a farmer in Frodsham, Cheshire. From them descend the "Cheshire Langtons", predominantly in the Tarvin area. And James' son James married Susan Heginbotham and became a tailor in Stockport (some of the Cheshire Langtons were also tailors). Although father James was always a Leighton, his offspring (as with the other brothers) were all using Langton by the mid-1700's (Moses in Winwick is sometimes "Layton")

The other significant family is that of Aaron Langton and Elizabeth. Although having few children themselves the family expands rapidly after another generation. Edward Langton and Esther Gobbin gave rise to the "Boatmen Langtons" who for generations worked the Leeds and Liverpool canal, passing through the Langton heartland around Ormskirk. From Ralph Langton and Agnes Hartley descend the Manchester Langtons. Although initially farmers they became iron moulders (via Henry the blacksmith in Chorley) and gradually moved from Chorley through Preston to Manchester in the 19th century, following the growth of industry. Iron moulding remained a Langton family characteristic.

The development of the names is curious. Although setting off as Leighton in Marple with Robert and Sarah, there is the transition through Laughton to Langton. Whereas in the early 18th century the variant forms are in use, suddenly around the mid-1700's it's as if they all agreed they were really Langtons. No matter if they were in Wigan or Winwick, Liverpool, Stockport or Tarvin, they all started using Langton. (Incidentally there is no indication of any Leightons in Marple prior to Robert and Sarah, and none remained after James's family). What could be going on here? Maybe it's nothing more than a case of clerks mis-hearing an unfamiliar name spoken in a guttural northern accent, and making their own interpretation. There is however another possibility.

Now this is pure speculation. It was described at the start of this article how the Langtons of Lowe Hall had been politically active and Philip Langton of Lowe was associated with Peter Legh of Lyme in the "Lancashire Plot" in 1694. On Philip's death in 1697 the Lowe estate passed to his son Edward Langton and out of the family on Edward's death in 1733. But according to the 1664 visitation, Philip had another son Robert who was 7 at the time (i.e. born 1657). Could this be Robert Leighton of Marple, who because of the religious and political turmoil surrounding the Plot, decided to lie low for a while under a different name, perhaps aided by the Leghs in a move to Marple? Then in the more relaxed atmosphere of the 18th Century did his sons decide to become Langtons again, moving back to their Lancashire heartland in the process? Perhaps we'll never know.