Sir John RADCLIFFE of Ordsall

Born: ABT 1536

Died: 19 Jan 1589, Ordsall Hall, Lancashire, England

Buried: 11 Feb 1589, Manchester Church, Lancashire, England

Father: William RADCLIFFE of Ordsall (Sir)

Mother: Margaret TRAFFORD

Married: Anne ASSHAWE (dau. and heiress of Thomas Asshawe of Elston and Mary Anderton)


1. Alexander RADCLIFFE of Ordsall (Sir Knight)

2. Margaret RADCLIFFE

3. William RADCLIFFE (Capt.)


5. John RADCLIFFE of Ordsall (Sir)



8. Alicia RADCLIFFE (bapt. 14 Jun 1580)

9. Anne RADCLIFFE (bapt. 9 Oct 1583 - d. 29 Sep 1601, unm.)

John Radcliffe, second son of Sir William, succeeded to Ordsall on his father's death in 1568. He was born in 1536, and came to his inheritance in his thirty-third year. To the wide domains and fair possessions of his patrimony were now united the extensive lands which his marriage to the Asshawe heiress had brought him. His wife was Anne, the only daughter and heiress of Thomas Asshawe, of Elston. Anne was the great-granddaughter of Isabel Radcliffe and Sir James Harrington of Wolfege. John Radcliffe now became entitled to bring into the family shield the arms of Harrington, Chancefield, and Fleming, of Bannastre, English, Urswick, and Bradshaw, of Hulton, Aughton, Bowden, and Pilkington, all of which his wife was entitled to bear with her family arms of Asshawe. In addition to extensive estates in the neighbourhood of Chorley and Preston, Anne brought to her husband the Valentine moiety in Flixton, which had passed to the Asshawes from the marriage of John Valentine to Anne's grandmother.

The Ordsall Hall to which John Radcliffe brought his bride was worthy of such an heiress. It was a manor-house of exceptional beauty, and one of the largest and most important seats in the whole county. Leland remarked in the beauty of its surroundings as he passed by it on his journey through Lancashire in 1516. It was a quadrangular mansion in the half-timbered style of erection developed to perfection in Lancashire and Cheshire. The hall stood in the midst of a pleasant park bounded on the southeast side by the clear wide waters of the River Irwell and commanding a delightful prospect over a wide stretch of country to the distant hills of Derbyshire and the wooded uplands of Cheshire, whilst its northerly viewpoint reached to the bare brown moors of the Lancashire highlands. 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, and 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 a noble avenue of sycamores to the northwestern side of the hall, where a drawbridge across the moat gave entrance through a corbelled gate-way into the inner courtyard, on the southeast side of which 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. With Sir John lived his uncles, Alexander and Edmund, and his own large family of young children made the mansion ring with the happy laughter of youth at play

When John Radcliffe came to his inheritance he was confronted with grave anxieties. The Reformation had flooded the nation with many disorders, and in no part of the country were the religious distractions of the time so markedly evident as in Lancashire, stronghold of the old traditions, which were jealously maintained by gentry and common folk alike. As head of the greatest and certainly the most influential landed families of the county, John Radcliffe was called upon to assume a role of natural leadership, in which courage and foresight, wisdom and understanding, must be united with unflinching faith and the loyalty of a true patriot. Opportunity makes its own men, and John Radcliffe rose to his testing time in the true spirit of his fathers. In him was justified Walsingham's assurance to the Queen, that when the time came the Catholic gentlemen of England would not be found wanting. He walked the path of simple duty without fuss or ostentation. Proud in his heritage, he showed by the force of his example that the privilege of rank was the responsibility of service. Through difficult days he demonstrated that a man could be constant without conflict between his faith and his Queen.

In the General Muster of 1559, when Salford supplied 294 harnessed and 649 unharnessed men, John had taken part under his brother's command. From 1563 to 1567 he represented the county as member for Wigan. The year after his succession, the Catholics of the north were urged to rise in support of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots by Thomas Percy, 7 Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, 6 Earl of Westmorland. A company of men-at-arms was raised near Ordsall, and despatched under the captaincy of Richard Radcliffe to the army of the Earl of Sussex, at York, marching forth to uphold their Queen and the realm, even against men of their own faith.

In 1571 Sir John Radcliffe was appointed Knight of the Shire, and 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 Stuart. In the same year Sir John erected at his own expense a west window in the Parish Church at Eccles. In 1574 a General Muster was summoned, in which Salford furnished 132 archers and 603 billmen under the leadership of Sir John Radcliffe and Sir Edmund Trafford, and Sir John provided at his own expense one demi-lance, two light horses, three corselets, three coats of plate, three steel caps, two culivers, two morions, three pikes, three longbows and three sheaves of arrows. In addition he headed the Salford list with a contribution of one hundred pounds towards the defence of the country from the Spanish invasion. Despite these signal proofs of his loyalty he was included in the list of recusants and accused as 'a dangerous temporiser' in matters of religion. He still maintained a private chapel in his hall at Ordsall, and regularly paid the fines imposed on all those who loyally accepted the supreme authority of the Queen in all things spiritual, but desired to be allowed to practice the old forms of worship. After the execution of the Jesuit, Campion, who under torture revealed the names of those who had received him into their houses, there was an extensive round up of the recusants in the Hundred of Salford, and they were imprisoned in large numbers in the New Fleet Prison in Salford. Although some of his friends were amongst these, Sir John was not called upon to endure this indignity.

Sir John was responsible for a curious action in 1579. The manor of Manchester was then in possession of Sir William West, ninth Baron La Warre, who had mortgaged the estate to John Lacy, of London. The load not being repaid, Lacy foreclosed. While the sale was impending, Sir John Radcliffe, being steward of the Hundred of Salford, began to amerce its inhabitants of Over Hulton, Lostock, Aspull, Harwood, Pilkington, Heaton, Halliwell, Chorlton, Withington, Heaton Norris, Westhaughton and Ashton-under-Lyne, in the view of frank-pledge held at Salford, on account of their nonappearance. Lord La Warre was thereby unable to pay his rent to the Queen for the manor of Manchester, since his tenants had been compelled to appear at the Salford Leet instead of at his own manorial court. Sir Edmund Trafford in occupation of Chorlton made complaint about the matter in 1578, and Lord La Warre said that the inhabitants of Failsworth, Droylsden, Ashton, Gorton, and Moston had refused to pay amercements for absence from his Manchester Leets at Michaelmas and Easter. (Ducht of Lancashire Pleadings, Eliz. cviii W. i)

Sir John was but fifty-three years of age when he died at Ordsall, on the 19 Jan 1589. On the 11 Feb following his remains were interred, as desired in his will, in the Church at Manchester, 'betwixte the quire door and the stepps amoungst mine ancestors'. His monumental brass is still preserved in the chapter-house of the Cathedral. In his will he reveals his concern for the large family of tender years he was leaving behind him, and his sincere religious faith. The document has an unusual opening:

After making various bequests of lands in Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere, to his children, Margaret, Jane, Anne, William, Edmund, Thomas, and John, he proceeds: Hawkins and Drake had begun to stir the minds of all Englishmen with the vision of new lands beyond the far ocean seas, and Sir John, in his ancestral home at Ordsall, was dreaming too, as he lay on his deathbed, of some of the Radcliffe name taking part in extending his nation's heritage and imperial glory in the fabled lands of the uncharted world of the West. Alas for all the fair dreams and wise provision of the gallant knight, Fate had her own cruel jest to play, bringing his desires to naught. BEF another decade had run its full course, the high hall of Ordsall, decked with the valour of its noble family and the honour of their achievements, shelter of romance and grace, where love and laughter, prayer and praise, merry song and robust gaiety, had rung about its ancient beams, was to echo with the sobbing strain of stricken hearts, when piteous tragedy its deepening shadows over the fair-sprung hopes of an ancient race.

His widow, Anne, remained at Ordsall with her children for some years after her husband's death. The inventory shows the value of live stock and goods at Ordsall then as 1468, for in addition to his public duties Sir John was a keen farmer and a practical agriculturist, and Anne was happiest in the quiet life of her homestead, surrounded by all that her husband had loved. Eventually she retired from Ordsall to her father's house and Charnock, where she died 10 Jan 1627, at the age of eighty-two.

For more information, see:

Ordsall Hall, a Tudor Manor House

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