I have come to realise that luck and research go hand-in-glove. Never was this more apparent then when I stumbled upon the names of the authors of ‘Billinge of Billinge’ (published in 1988) and then managed to trace them. After explaining my interest in their work, they kindly gave me copy, which turned out to be a revelation. They had previously left copies in Billinge, St Helens and Wigan libraries but I wonder how many Billingers have ever seen them? In my opinion, this work is the most important study ever undertaken regarding Billinge History. The complete document only contains about fifty pages, many of those being family trees. Numerals after names (such as Adam Billinge X.l) are references to those family trees. The written text I have reproduced below, with the author’s kind permission. The Billinge History Society is forever indebted.
Billinge of Billinge
F H & M A Billings
By any standard the Billing family of names is one of long decent. Published information for two armigerous families, Billing of Treworder (Cornwall) and Billinge of Billinge (Lancashire), taken from their respective Herald's Visitations, will readily take the reader back to the l4th century. Individual references in genealogical handbooks, such as Reaney's ‘Dictionary of British Surnames’, trace one actual Billing surname (Oseburtus Billing) as opposed to an ‘of’ surname (e.g. de Billing) to 1188 in Lincolnshire. Oseburtus was a free peasant, or ‘spokeman’, and his class attained surnames proper, well in advance of the agricultural labourers or equivalent classes which, in northern England, did not perhaps assume their surnames until the beginning of the l5th century.
Ekwall's ‘Dictionary of English Place-Names’ identifies a considerable number of Billing place names, mainly scattered inside the Mercian Kingdom but actually ranging from Lancashire in the north-west to Bedfordshire in the south midlands. These place names are identified by Ekwall with a people (the Billingas) or a mythical figure (Billa). A number of text books dealing with early English history mention the Billing tribe and even Arthur Mee's ‘The Children’s' Encyclopaedia’ singled out the Billings family as one of particularly ancient origin. In fact, the researcher will eventually discover that modern writers have derived their early Billing source references from the 8th century Anglo-Saxon epic poem ‘Beowulf’ and the Roman historian Theodorus Tacitus, c55-c120. So the Billing tribe is first noted in the first century AD, but what of the Billing families today?
It would of course be quite absurd to imagine for one moment that any individual of the Billing group of surnames today (principally Billing, Billinge and Billings) could make a claim of descent from tribal Billinga blood. To do so would be to suggest that their surnames began with the tribe, whereas the earliest beginnings of surnames did not occur until the late Anglo-Saxons and, more influentially, the arrival of the Normans, and then took some 350 years to become a national institution. The Angle Billinga tribe concluded its exodus from the bleak though probably fertile north German plains to arrive in Britain in substantial numbers in the 6th century. From then until c1400, when the last surnames came into use, was 900 years.
Billing place names sprang up rapidly in Northamptonshire and Lancashire with a host of filial place names following in the 7th century or later. It was the residents in these pioneering English settlements in Northamptonshire and Lancashire who, from c1100 to c1400, took the name of their village as their surname, thus Osbertus de Farva Billing (Northampton 1208) and Thomas de Billinge (Huntingdonshire, 1273). It is an error to claim that these individuals and other random ‘de Billing’ prototype surnames descended from a tribal Billinga origin. For this to be true would have entailed the tribe having stayed, settled, and unmixed with Norwegian, Danish, even British, blood, in one place over many centuries. As a rule this would not have happened and almost certainly the ancestors of villagers with Billing place name surnames at the late time of their adoption had travelled far and wide during these preceding generations, having originally had no connection at all with the original Billings settlements.
So are there no possibilities at all for those of a Billing type surname to claim a tribal Billinga descent? For the ancient armigerous Cornish family of Billing the answer must be categorically ‘No’. Whatever their origin, Celtio-British or Romano-British, there was no English presence here in the formulative centuries of our island’s nationhood and, as if to underline the fact, no root Billinga place names are to be found here. The common Billing surname in Northamptonshire should have had some connection with a tribal origin since Britain's first settlement by Billingas probably occurred at Northampton on the River Nene, c545, but no ancient armigerous family ever existed here (the family seats at Astwell and Deddington were not in Billing
hands until the mid-15th century) and therefore no Northamptonshire Billing could prove a claim to Billinga blood. In north Lincolnshire an ancient but short-lived pedigree survives for a family named Billingge or Bellingge and this name is so similar in sound to that of the tribe that it must be strongly regarded as being of true tribal descent. Unfortunately for the Billing group of names this landed family name corrupted to Bellinger or Bellingham in the mid-15th century.
The Billing researcher does not to our knowledge ever encompass the Belling group of names in the course of his/her studies though it must be pointed out with emphasis that all Belling names undoubtedly share exactly the same ethnic origin as do Billing. Indeed the Roman name for the mythical figure, Billa, was Belinus, hence Belinus's Gate, or the Gate of Billa, now Billingsgate on the Themes, recently the site of a famous market for fish and in ancient times a gated quay for grain shipments.
There is one possible, nay probable, Angle ethnic tribal Billinga lineage with descendants alive today: this is the Lancashire family Billinge of Billinge.
Angles, Britons, Norwegians and Normans
Who were the Billingas? No one knows for sure and certainly no writer will assert himself to speculate how the fair-skinned, blue-eyed northern races evolved. It is generally accepted that the earliest civilisations centred about hospitable, sunny Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern climes, and these would have comprised dark-haired, brown-eyed people. But the Norsemen had, no doubt, been established for millennia before the times at which historians began to address them and then their known drift had always been southward from Norway, Sweden and Finland. Where then did these men from the cold north originate? Arthur Bryant, in his history of Britain and the British people, ‘Set in a Silver Sea’, which is probably the most detailed account of the origins of the British people yet written, declared that ‘between 1000 BC and 500 BC, an Aryan-speaking race, the Celts or Gaels, first appeared in Britain. They were a tall, blue-eyed, flame-haired fold who had crossed Europe from the east and settled in the country which is now called France, which took their name of Gaul’. As to the origins of the later English peoples Bryant is quite silent; we simply do not know.
By the time the Romans began their colonisation of Britain, the southerly drift of the English folk had encompassed the appropriation of the north-German plains and the Baltic isles by a people known to us as the Saxons. The Angle people (who gave their name to the English race and to whom the Varini were closely allied) were centred in the mid-Jutland peninsula. The Danes, who were later to occupy these lands vacated by the Angles, were then still living in southern Sweden. Evidence from burials suggests that the Norsemen began their southerly drift during the late 5th century or rather later than the time the British leader Vortigern Vitalis allied himself with Hengist the Jute, which was eventually to open the floodgate of the Anglo-Saxon exodus to Britain.
As the Norsemen, apparently without undue hindrance, began to occupy a thinly-peopled Jutland, so the Angle tribes were gradually driven south where in time they began to mingle with Saxon tribes in north Germany. Pressures for this land became great and were exacerbated by further pressure by the Slavs in the east and Franks to the south. Expansion for the Angles in their new homeland was painful end although no territorial Angle-Saxon wars are recorded as such, the Angle peoples felt they had to break away and their only escape route was by sea to the west. Before the drift from the middle and lower parts of the Jutland peninsula, the Angle tribes occupied an area enclosing present-day Schleswig and the towns of Angel and Hamburg.
According to John Morris, a tribe, the Myrgingas, were settled to the south of the Angles, sandwiching the latter from the Saxons then believed to be mainly settled on the north-German coastlands end the Frisians. To the east of the Angle-occupied lands, the group of islands, including the largest, Fyn, or Funen, were settled by the Warnen, Varinga or Varini people, with which the Billinga tribe is closely associated.
In the north of the Jutland peninsula, the Jutes held an apparently sparsely populated land, while in the hinterland beyond the Baltic sea, in Scandinavia proper, the Norsemen, comprising the Norwegians, the Danes (in southern Sweden), Swedes and Finnish people, lived. It is probable that all these peoples, tribes and family groups shared a common ethnic origin and basic language and although it is therefore taken for granted that the Varini on Funen were closely related to the much more widely-known Angles on the Jutland mainland, and later to the Saxons, many wri ters have been careful to distinguish these two tribes.
So, again, who were the Billingas? Tacitus, in the lst century AD, is the first historian to mention the Billingas and the source he used may be the same source as, six centuries later, the author of ‘Beowulf’, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, used. ‘Beowulf’, which was written in Christian England, tells of splendid deeds and battles already centuries old and obscured by the mists of time when Beowulf retold them to his warriors. In the ‘Skop’ or ‘Gleeman’s Tale’, in ‘Beowulf’, its author states that
‘Billing (weold) Wernum’
which, being translated, is ‘Billing(as) (ruled) the Wernum’ (or Varini). The ‘Skop’ details numerous instances of individual princes ruling over tribes or nations at a time believed to be earlier than the 6th century: Offa ruled the Angeln (Angles); Meaca ruled the Myrgingas; Wada ruled the Helsingas (Helsinki, the capital of Finland, was named after this tribe); Fin Folcwalding ruled the Frisians: all individuals with realms. But the ‘Skop’ does in fact record one or two instances where more than an individual, a dynasty, ruled over a nation. One of these is the tribe or family group of Billingas who ruled over the Varini.
The Billingas in mythology ere supposed to be the people of, or followers of, Billa, a leader-king of the 4th century BC and certainly a figure in Norse mythology. Modern English textbooks tend to dismiss Billa summarily as Celtic but A. M. Billings, in the publication ‘Is Your Name Billing?,’ puts a case for Billa to be a leader-king of the Angle folk. The Roman, Tacitus, suggests in ‘Gemania’ that the Billingas were ‘Governors of’ or ‘Rulers of’ the Varini and the Victorian writer, Lappenberg, seized on this literally to make the implication that the Billingas were the Royal race of the Varini.
This may be so for the influence of the Billingas has been instrumental in establishing numerous place-names in Europe as & whole while the Warnen or Varini tribe, which while it may be the root germ of the surname Warner, has not. The Billingas are also remembered in Billungmark (The Marches of the Billungen) which abuts with present-day Denmark (The Marches of the Danes); these marches, as in Britain's own Welsh Marches, were tracts of land forming frontiers of uneasy peace between warring factions. Billungmark indicates that not all the Billingas migrated to Britain with the Angles and Varini but stayed on the mainland in the area that became Saxony; this does not deny them their origin as Angles. Germany's Billungmark almost certainly took its name from the Dukes of Saxony, which ere headed by Hermann Billung. This ‘Saxon’ House of Billung flourished from 936 to 1106. Indeed this may be one positive instance wherein the surname (Billung) relates directly to the tribe (Billungen).
Morris declares that in c530 the Varini tribe was to be found on the northern bank of the mouth of the Rhine. This was surely in preparation for the sea crossing, which was to further swell the Anglicisation of Britain. Lappenberg, quoting the 6th century Byzantine, Procopius, who died c562, states that ‘a King of the Angles in Britain, 534-547, had a sister who was betrothed to Radiger, King of the Varini’. If the ‘royal’ assertion of the Billingas is to be taken literally then Radiger is the first, and probably only, tribal Billinga whose name has come down to us by posterity.
Apparently Radiger had broken his promise to marry the niece of the Angle king and married instead his stepmother, a sister of Theudebert, the King of the Franks. The Angle King was much displeased to the extent that ‘the English Virgin herself crossed the sea with a vast armament conveyed in 400 ships’. This may give some indication of the size of the tribe ( the Varini) that they expected to encounter. The battle that followed by the Rhine resulted in the Varini' s defeat and Radiger was captured, bound and brought before his scorned bride. She was Magnanimous in her treatment of Radiger, setting him free and treating him honourably - but he to marry her and return to Britain with her.
Whether Radiger end the Angle Queen lived happily ever after is not known. What is known, or at least may be conjectured, is that all or most of the Varini and Billinga folk were polarised in what is today the Netherlands, c540, and probably, shortly afterwards, followed Radiger to the shores of Britain. This tale tallies quite accurately with Wainwright's statement: ‘Angles had settled in Yorkshire considerably before the middle of the 6th century’. The Billingas, with the Varini, would have landed on Britain's eastern seaboard, in the area about the Wash. Lincolnshire and Norfolk are spattered with Billinga place-names: Billinghay, Billingborough and Bil(las)by in Lincolnshire and two Billingfords in Norfolk. These, though, are filial or second-generation place-names and probably do not indicate the original settlements. Evidence of 'pioneer' Billing place-names must once have existed but these villages would have been renamed by the Danes, whose 8th-10th century settlements in this region are numbered in hundreds. Bilsby in Lincolnshire is one example of an Angle place-name modified in form only by the Danes.
Presumably, some time after migration, the Billingas split up with one group heading westward along the River Nene to encamp near Northampton and found the place-name Billing there. Their presence has resulted in Billing being a common Northamptonshire surname with 18th-19th century peak occurrence at Weedon Beck on Watling Street, where indeed the Nene has its source.
What was arguably the main party progressed NNW along Lincolnshire, through Lindsey, across the River Humber, into the already English region of Deira and then, to break new ground, crossing the Pennines by, according to Wainwright: ‘the valleys of the Aire, Wharfe and other rivers, to occupy the valley of the Ribble for some seven miles below the confluence of the Calder, as may well be suggested by such names as Billinge Hill, Billinge Scar, and Billington Moor’. A glance at the map might suggest an alternative route, more southerly, through Lincolnshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire into Lancashire, for by this route can be seen evidence of early Billing surnames where they occur most commonly.
The place-name Billinge in Lancashire, and Billinge surnames in Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire, share what is probably a colloquial corruption of pronunciation to ‘Billindge’. In fact, some instances of the name are spelt just like this, as if to underline the fact that in these parts, Billinge is always said with a soft ‘g’. This corruption however surely derives from Billinga through Billinger to Billinge (where, as in the Teutonic tongue, all syllables are stressed). But it may be that the soft ‘g’ originated with the 8th/9th-century Norse influx, for Swedish Billinge is today pronounced with a soft ‘g’. Billinge, now with its soft ending and silent ‘e’, is most definitely not an archaic form of Billing, as can be found in the south Midlands, but is a proper name in its own right and even in today's world of corrupted surnames, steadfastly hangs on in these NW Midland counties.
Wainwright believed that the number of pioneering Angle peoples who crossed the Pennines to settle in Lancashire was few and remained so through the first few generations. They were scarcely threat enough to alarm the indigenous Britons and the Angles found themselves good settlements without displacing the British who were in any case apparently well-scattered. There was land to spare for the Billingas without the need to fight for it. Wainwright has observed that the Angles preferred land between 100 and 500 feet above sea level and kept clear of the Lancashire marshes and the very high ground. It is worth stressing the fact that Lancashire was part of a British kingdom, Southern Reged, and that no attempt was made to Anglicise it by overthrowing the British King in these early years, indeed the amicable relationship may have allowed some intermarriage.
But the peace did not last: Wainwright believed that even before the bloody Battle of Cheater, c615, when an attempt at an annihilation of the Britons was manifested, Angle superiority had become so strong in numbers that any Britons surviving in Lancashire would have been driven out or enslaved.
The Billinga settlements originated in the early peaceable years from c550 and it would have been at this time that the pioneering township of Billinge near Wigan was founded. Here, from their local Billinge Hill, the tribe could scan the Mersey estuary for would-be raiders and, beyond, see the Welsh hills of Denbigh and Flint. Gildas wrote that the Celts ‘fled in terror’ into Wales. He was a Celt and was disgusted by their reaction. Perhaps the Billingas, after the Battle of Cheater, pursued the fleeing Britons into Wales and themselves settled in Clwyd (Denbighshire) for there too is found an ancient Billinga tradition with evidence later in the local surnames Billinges and Belling. Billinge (Lancashire) is a first-generation English place-name without the later -ingham, -ingford, etc additions, themselves believed to be evidence of later generation or filial settlements and is therefore likely to have been an earlier settlement than nearby Billington, some 24 miles to the NNE. The Billingas were here from early days, their blood being then true ‘Angle’. At that time, Billinge lay in the post-Roman British Kingdom of Southern Reged, whose King, c570-590, was Urien.
When skirmishes between the English and British began, Urien fought strongly but, according to Morris, ‘Reged fell to Bernician invaders shortly before 600’. This part of Lancashire then became a part of the English Kingdom of Northumbria. The Norsemen, from Norway and Sweden, invaded northern England from east and west from c798 and at this time, the Battle of Billingahoth, the Hoe, or Ridge, of the Billingas, occurred. The Norse raids must not be confused with the Danish Viking raids. The Vikings only penetrated into eastern Lancashire and did not reach the west coast, according to Wainwright, who also suggests that the continuing English place-names are proof that the Norsemen did not disturb the Angles to any great extent but settled on the lower ground between the high ground and the coast.
The battle of Billingahoth, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, took place on 2nd April at Hwelleage or Walalega (Whalley) and resulted in a victory over Duke Wada by the Northumbrian King. Eventually, a working Norse/English relationship resolved the conflict and, despite the continuing influx of Norse and other peoples, which ensued for at least another 100 years, a period of relatively peaceful co-existence occurred until the next stage in the making of modern Britain - the arrival of the Normans. After the early English/Norse skirmishes, it is natural to believe, both factions sharing a common basic mother tongue, forged in Scandinavia, that a great deal of intermarriage took place. But after c800 no facts are available on the destiny of the Billinga tribe or its whereabouts. It is to be assumed that they remained in the vicinity of Billinge Hill and consolidated their settlement and acquired their hereditary lands.
The next date is 967 when ‘the first historical Billinge’ is supposed to have died. This extraordinary statement stems from a useful, readable and mostly very scholarly book published in 1864 – ‘Words and Places’ by Isaac Taylor. Taylor was acquainted with the earlier work of J. M. Lappenberg (1833) and he (Lappenberg) appears to be the originator of this statement. Whence his source originated, and who its author was, is quite undocumented, and this of course is a cardinal sin in an historical writer. Consequently, this statement lacks credibility (although the precise date does indicate a written source) and as such might be dismissed as nonsense, and of course no identifiable nB8e of this Billinge personage is revealed. Isaac Taylor however accepts: ‘that Billinge seems to have been the first settlement of a family of Anglo-Saxon Nobles whose earliest records are said to be mythological rather than historical’. This of course can be said of all Old English or British history, i.e. King Arthur. In subsequent evidence found after the Norman Conquest, in material probably not seen by Taylor, a degree of confidence that he and Lappenberg were correct, or had at worst made an educated guess, is apparent. This evidence is to be found in the Victoria History of the County of Lancashire, and, in much greater detail, in the publications of the Chetham Society and the Lancashire and Cheshire Record and History Society. There are over 100 volumes in each of these series and both the town and family of Billinge are mentioned in a large percentage of them.
The evidence sought is found in the Charters of Cockersand Abbey when Adam de Billinge and other members of the family donated land c1190-12O1 and in 1212 when the Inquest of that year discloses that the extensive manor of Billinge ‘had long been divided into three portions, almost equal’. Thus there were three manors and three lords, the senior of whom was Adam de Billinge BB.l, ‘holding of ancient feoffment by the service of l0 shillings rent and the finding of a judge at the Newton Court’.
Billinge was one of the ‘Berewicks’ of the Barony of Newton-in-Makerfield after the Conquest. Before the Conquest, the Billinges would have been lords of the Manors in their own right under the English Kings. The subservient lords were Simon de Bullinge (or Billinge) and Roger, son of Outi Winstaneslege, who was probably a Norseman. Simon and Roger each held one-and-a-third oxgangs. Thus it appears that the Norman Baron, at the Inquest of 1212, recognised the ancient rights of the Billinge family holding land in the manor of Billinge. In doing so it is likely that he recognised the family's rights to this land reaching back to the year 967 and beyond, and the Norman judge ruled in favour of Billinge.
This, then, is the main conjectural evidence that the Billinge family's ascendants were the Billinga tribe who crossed the Pennines with other English peoples in c550, over 650 years previously.
Early Billinge Generations
In the Chetham Society New Series are found, cll90-1200: ‘Absolem and William, sons of Reginald de Billinge’. Although we have no absolute proof - and most probably never will have - it is possible that we have here the recorded Billinge lineage back to cll50, to Reginald, ‘the grandfather’ of Adam BB.2. This is the product of (we hope) intelligent guesswork and a little logic. A date of ll50 would still leave a gap of 183 years to Lappenberg's 'first historical Billinge’ of 967, almost two centuries, about which we know nothing. And nothing has been recorded of Reginald, Absolem or Williiam, nor is there any positive relationship identified with Adam BB.2 though ‘Adam son of William de Billinge’ and ‘William, son of Simon de Billinge’ are noted in Chetham, 1242-1268.
It is unlikely however that Absolem and William were brothers of Adam for he, comparatively, is a well-documented individual, largely as a result of his presence at the Inquest in the year 12!2 where he is recorded, with Simon de Bullinge and Roger Winstanley, as joint lords, of the manor of Billinge with Adam as chief lord. In 12l2 no mention of any of these earlier names is found, nor at any other time later. Various other ‘shadowy’ de Billinge names, such as Waldeve, Godith, Jori and Uctred, pop in and out of focus in these early centuries but none really serves to clarify the story and all help to confuse it so have not been recalled from their long centuries of slumber to figure in the present documentation.
Adam de Billinge BB.2 was chief lord of the manor in 1212, probably living in a house on the site of the present Billinge Hall at Shaley Brow in Crank Road, Billinge Higher End. In 1212, Adam was tenant-in-chief of Billinge manor from the baron of Newton, himself a subject of the Earl of Lancaster. Before the Norman Conquest, the family probably owned their land quite independently and this land was probably first claimed by their tribal ancestors, the Billiagas. Now they were the subjects of the baron and were, in effect, his tenants. With Adam in 1212 were Simon de Bullinge (or Billinge) - a brother? - and Roger Winstanley, each holding a lesser manor and being underlords to Adam. Adam is said to have held a teamland in thanage in the manor by ancient feoffment, or deed, rendering ten shillings yearly to the baron of Newton. Adam had contributed to the scutage as early as 1201 and continued to do so in later years. This commuted his obligation to serve as part of a military force for 40 days a year in support of the Crown into the payment of a tax (Shield Money), the price being 20 shillings per Knight's Fee to the baron of Newton, who would then recover this from Adam and his other tenants.
Numerous grants are also recorded of frankalmoign from Adam to the canons of the Abbey of St Mary, Cockersand, and the gift of six acres to the hospital at Chester, said to be outside the North Gate. In these grants the land is often geographically specified quite clearly. The land granted to the canons would have been conditional upon the provision of a chantry after Adam's death with obits and prayers being offered for his soul (this was quite common, being in effect a kind of spiritual insurance policy for the afterlife). In 1547 chantry chapels were suppressed: the saying of masses for the dead was no longer acceptable to the Reformed Church of England. Cockersand Abbey is described as being on a desolate part of the Lancashire coast, just south of Lancaster.
Much argument over the shares of the large manor of Billinge took place with many cases taken to the Assize Court between 1201 and 1364, mainly between the Billinge, Winstanley and Huyton families. Marriages were forged then to family heiresses as a means to securing a good property investment. Marriages for love, it is said, were not made in the upper classes and this explains the frequent pleadings of plaintiffs and defendants at law, which we encounter in these early times and right through into the Middle Ages.
At some time after 1212 the Billinge line split into two descents, with Adam and Simon's lines, ultimately to merge again several generations later. Adam' s line, the chief line, was, according to various sources, terminated in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) in a female heir of Adam, Mary de Billinge Z.3, who married Henry de Huyton. Their son, Robert .de Huyton, became lord of the manor of Billinge. From this point, the Bil1inge lineage has been recorded in the direct male line at the Visitation of Lancashire undertaken by the herald, Dugdale, on 8th April 1665, from Agnes de Huyton, or Heaton, daughter of Robert and co-heiress of Billinge Hall, who married (another) Adam Billinge X.l. Co-heiress, be it noted, thus indicating that as a Huyton she did not have sole rights to the lordship. Adam de Billinge X.l, who was her first husband, also had part rights himself for he is found to be a direct descendant of Simon de Billtage BB.l. The Huyton/Billinge marriage brought Bil1inge Manor under direct control of the Bil1inge family once again. It is not known for sure if Mary de Bil1inge was the direct heir of Adam BB. 2. It is most likely that she was his great grand daughter.
We next find (in 1278) that William de Billinge AAA.l complained at the Assize that Henry de Huyton Z.4 had destroyed one of his ditches in Billinge and six or seven years later, Adam de Billinge AA.3 made complaint that the same Henry had disseised him of his free tenement in Billinge (this is most probably another intermediate generation Adam). In 1290 Henry de Huyton 2.4sued a Roger Winstan1ey and Henry de Billinge Z.1, son of Ralph de Bil1inge AA.l, over loss of land; they had made an exchange of lands in 1263 to which Hugh de Billinge Z.2a, son of Ralph AA.l, was witness. So Hugh and Henry were sons of Ralph de Billinge. In 1292, Henry de Huyton, Roger Winstanley and Adam de Billinge X.l were each defendants in a case at the Assize brought by Richard de Crockhurst. At this hearing, Henry claimed he was lord of two-thirds of the manor and Roger one-third. Adam’s right at this time was not defined, though it appears that he was the representative of Simon de Billinge BB.l but he claimed the moiety of 50 acres from Henry de Huyton (ie. up to one-half of Henry' s holding). In 1301 he claimed 60 acres from Alan Y.l, son of Eva de Billinge.
Also about this time Henry de Huyton said that he was lord of two-thirds of Billinge and Adam. one-third and that it was agreed that he (de Huyton) would have 60 acres and Adam the remainder. Adam de Billinge however ended up with only 12 acres in the open field and restitution had to be made. In 1321 Henry de Huyton X.8 and Adam de Billinge X.l are described as chief lords. In 1322 Robert de Huyton and a William de Bil1inge, who was probably the brother of Adam, contributed to the subsidy to the Crown. With the marriage of Robert de Huyton's daughter, Agnes, to Adam de Billinge, confirmed by Dugdale, it is now clear how most of the land came back into the hands of the Billinge family. It is substantially less clear how the generations evolved, though the case for a direct lineage is not doubted in the Victoria County History.
According to Sir William Dugdale’s pedigree, the heir of Adam de Billinge X.l was Robert W.l (37th regnal year of Edward III, 1363/4); he is noted as a defendant in a court case of 1375 and married Joan, heir of one Gilbert de Billinge. This Joan remarried in 1398 to Williem, son of Richard de Heaton. This Richard was a brother of Agnes de Heaton so he too was co-heir of Bil1inge Hall. Joan's children by her first marriage to Robert de Bil1inge were Richard, Henry and Nicholas. Richard Billinge V.l inherited his father's estate together with the hall but Joan Billinge's second marriage to William de Heaton brought together her estate inherited from her father, Gilbert de Billinge, and William’ s estate inherited from Richard de Heaton. A child, William de Heaton, was born to Joan and William; Joan held Birchley Hall in 1422. It is not clear where Gilbert de Billinge fits in though it is possible he was a brother of Adam. Gilbert was one time bailiff in Lancashire to Thomas, 2nd earl of Lancaster, 17th March 1322. This would of course make Robert and Joan first cousins upon their marriage and such a union required a special dispensation. Nicholas de Bil1iAge, we learn, was murdered ‘at a place just outside Billinge’. From. Richard Billinge V 1, who is noted on the Dugdale pedigree by the regnal year 5 of Henry V (1417/8) descends the male lineage. Sir William, the Norroy Herald, was the most reliable of Heralds, and he, by confirming the line from Adam de Bil1iage X.l (fl. 1363/4) at the time of his visitation to Richard Billinge A.1, 1613-70,
‘Richard the Papist’, has put us very much in his debt for no references whatsoever have been found of:
Richard Bil1inge V.l (fl.1417/8)
John Billinge U.l (fl.1457/8)
Richard Bil1inge T.l (f1.14B3/~), or
Robert Bil1inge S.l (fl.1516/7).
Information does not become available again until Robert's S.l son Richard Bil1inge R.l (f1.1546/7), who was himself the great-great grandfather of A.l Richard the Papist. His line is recorded in the next chapter.
Soundly affected in religion
We leave Chapter Two ‘Early Billinge Generations’ where most of the generation’s lines are totally devoid of factual interest and begin this new Chapter in much the same vein. Richard Bil1inge R.l noted by Dugdale in the 38th year of the reign of King Henry VIII (1546/7) made his will on 9 Sep 1568 and this, with its inventory, has survived. He is described as Richard Bylinge of Bylinge, Lancashire and ‘his best clowse’ are valued at £13 10s 4d, which would suggest a fair degree of wealth. It is assumed that he lived at Billinge Hall, as did his forefathers, On Shaley Brow, Billinge, in a house pre-dating the existing building. From his will can be constructed his immediate family. It is possible that Richard Q.3 and n0t John Q.l was his eldest son, for permutation of these two names, Richard and John, plus Robert, make up the senior line exclusively between 1363 and 1600. John Billinge Q.l however, is recorded as ‘of Billinge Hall’ at his death in 1600. Thomas, as far as our very limited knowledge goes, is a new name on the tree. The Lathams and Bisphams are other long-established neighbouring families, the Bisphams having been noted since the time of Reginald de Billinge and Outi Winstanlege.
John Billinge Q.l married Elizabeth Gleaster of Eccleston, Lancashire. She is presumably the daughter of James Gleaster for in 1594/5 we find that ‘James Gleaster, Margaret his wife and John Billinge sued Gabriel Lancaster, Thomas Cropper and Margery Cropper (widow) over Billington Hall and Whalley Monastery’. He is a ‘trustee in 1573’, ‘soundly affected in religion’ in 1590 and John Billinge of Billinge, gent, is mentioned as being present in Quarter Session Records for Ormskirk, 34 Eliz. (1591/2). A connection between the Billinge family at Billinge and the manor of Billington, about 24 miles due NNE, appears to exist. Proof is lacking but ia view of the early tribal settlements (pages 7, 9) this must remain an intriguing possibility.
This is the first noted instance of a member of the family being given the social status of ‘gentleman’. It is also the first instance of a member of the family holding strong religious views but then there simply is no existing earlier evidence. Our knowledge of John's family is slight –we have only his direct male heir - but the Billinge family's religious fervour increased through the next six generations and with an ever-increasing documentation of events. The fact is that the Billinge family was staunchly dedicated to the Roman doctrine. In the Southwest of the county, in the hundreds of West Derby and Leyland, in the Fylde and to the north of Morecambe Bay, most of the landed gentry had either out-and-out allegiance to Rome or were sympathetic to it. In effect, the older established the family the stronger its alliance to Rome. Proof of this can be found later when sides were taken in the Civil War campaigns of 1642-51. Thus it is apparent that the coastal areas saw the strongest Roman Catholic advocacy. Just why this should be is not clearly defined but, according to H P R Finsberg, considerable numbers of Irish had crossed over from Ireland with the Scandinavian people from 901. It is a fact, moreover, that the oldest-established Roman Catholic families are to be found in areas far removed from the central seat of Government - this would certainly account for the Lancashire Roman Catholics
It is perhaps also worth mentioning that in the long wil1 of Margaret Hawarden of Chester (17 Jan 1520/1), daughter of Sir John Stanley, money was left to Sir Henry Bullinge (or Billinge). This wil1 makes many references to Ireland. Sir Henry Billinge's ancestry is not known but his name is certainly not an Irish one and it is possible that he is a collateral of the main Billinge line, which became established in Ireland. James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, whose seat was Lathom House, Ormskirk, was perhaps the leading Royalist in the Civil War in Lancashire.
From 1559, the history of English Catholics became a subject separate from that of their compatriots, as a result of the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. The latter made non-attendance at services of the Church of England an offence called Recusancy. A fine of one shilling for each absence was collected by the churchwardens and used for relief of the parish poor.
In 1569, many Catholic nobles took part in the ‘Rising of the North’ in favour of Mary, Queen of Scots, which led to the active persecution of their co-religionists. However, English Catholics trained for the priesthood at the theological college at Douai in France, and, from 1574 onward, entered the country secretly to keep the faith alive against the time when Mary, the heir presumptive, should succeed her cousin Elizabeth. From 1581, fines were raised to £20 per month for absenteeism, 100 marks plus one year’ s imprisonment for attending a Catholic Mass, and 200 marks plus the same imprisonment for celebrating the Mass. Three years later i t became high treason for laymen to receive the ministrations of Catholic priests. In 1586, non-payment of fines became punishable by seizure of all one's movable goods and two-thirds of one’s lands. Their 1ands and leases could be seized, after an Act of 29 Eliz (Cap.6) (1587/8), in default of the £20 per month fine on recusants over 16 years of age and £10 for wives. These swingeing fines were not relaxed with the coming of James I to the throne in 1603 and it further became a practice to abuse the dignity of recusants by presenting them at the Quarter Sessions.
The son of John Bil1inge Q-l was another Richard Billinge P.l. No brothers or sisters have been recorded of his generation at though undoubtedly there were some. Richard Billinge P.l was a freeholder in 1600 with the Andertons of Birchley Hall, Thomas Bispham of Bispham Hall, Wil1iam Atherston (probably a corruption of Anderton) and John Wood. He married Helen, daughter of Thomas Cropper of Raynford, Lancashire, on 2 Feb 1599/1600 at Uphol1and. Uphol1and, not Billinge itself, was the parish in which Bil1inge Hall lay - though only just. Richard Billinge P.l gent, is mentioned as being present at Ormskirke Quarter Sessions in 1601, 1604 and 1605; at Wigan Quarter Sessions in 1602, 1603 and 1604; and at the Sessions held at Bi11inge Chapel in Winstanley, February 1604/5. It is to be presumed that he was being presented as a recusant. His will, with a long and detailed inventory, is dated 25 Dec 1625 and 18 Jan 1625/6. His wife Helen was buried at Upholland in 1630.
Of his son John Billinge 0.1 again very litt1e is known although the details of his family are probably the first to be extensively recorded as a result of the visitation in 1665. According to the information Richard Billinge A.l was able to give about his father, John Billinge had died c1645- His wife Richard A.l’s mother, was Mary, daughter of William Clayton of Fulwood, Lancashire; he married her at Leyland, 10 Oct 1611. Of his religious convictions it is not recorded if he was ‘soundly affected’ but in all probability he was for he is the father of A.l Richard Billinge, the Papist, who is accounted in the next chapter.
Richard the Papist
Richard Billinge, a gentleman, is included in a list of convicted recusants at Winstanley and Orrel (Wigan). This was Richard Billinge A.l and the records at the Society of Jesus in Farm Street, London, tell us that Richard Billinge M.D. of Billinge Hall returned a long pedigree at the Visitation by Sir William Dugdale in 1665, being then of age 52. He had visited Rome in 1642 and had become a Catholic just before his marriage to Margery , daughter of Robert Molineux of The Wood, Melling, by his second wife Ellen, daughter of John West by of Mowbreck Hall, Myerscough. Administration of his estate was granted in 1670.
Richard began his education at Thurlow, Suffolk, and then at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1632, aged 19. According to the Dugdale Pedigree of the Molineux family, Richard's degree was as a Doctor of Physic. A Protestant upbringing was obligatory at this time but he became a Catholic just before his marriage to Margery Molineux and it is easy to see why, in view of both families staunch Roamn Catholic beliefs, he became so strongly involved in the persuasion. Apart from their grief at having Margery's father, Robert Molineux, a Royalist, slain at the 1st Battle of Newbury, 20 Sep 1643, her grandfather, son of Sir Richard Molineux of Sefton, had died in Salford Goal in 1581 for harbouring six Catholic priests.
The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, had commenced in England in 1580, led by Robert Persons and Edward Chapman. By 1636 there were 23 Jesuit priests working in Lancashire. The Molineuxs were a leading south-west Lancashire family who suffered very heavily for their Roman Catholic faith, both physically and materially, having paid over the years many hundreds of pounds in fines end losing much of their estates. It would seem though that this was no deterrent to their faith for in 1746, a century later, seven of the family were Jesuits.
The Civil War was fought in Richard Billinge's maturity. It is not known how personally beleaguered he was –it is pressumed he never took up arms ( weapons) - so it may be helpful to quote one or two local Lancashire events in the Campaign with which he would have been very well acquainted.
‘James Stanley, 7th Earl, Lord Derby of Lathom House, Ormskirk (8 miles from Billinge Hall) was the most important Lancashire Royalist. But the most capable Royalist comander was undoubtedly Sir Thomas Tyldesley of Myerscough Lodge near Garstang. Sir Thomas was a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholics had no reason to be grateful to the Stuarts; neither James l nor Charles I had in any way relaxed the Recusancy Laws against them. Both had forbidden Catholics to hear Mass or have their children educated in the Catholic faith, yet the Catholics feared even greater hardships would follow a Parliamentarian victory; they thought it would pay them to fight for the King. Charles at first declined their help; he thought that if he recruited Catholics he would lose a lot of Protestant supporters. But he soon changed his mind and Tyldesley proved himself an asset to the Royalist cause; he fought in several engagements inside and outside of Lancashire and eventually was killed in the last skirmish in Lancashire -the Battle of Wigan Lane, August 1651. Wigan, just over miles from Billinge Hall, had a history of loyalty to the King and to the Earl of Derby yet, in February 1644, a minister had climbed into the pulpit of Wigan Parish Church and denounced the countess of Derby as a scarlet whore, the whore of Babylon.
In the heat of the moment the Parliamentarians were branding all Royalists as Roman Catholics and all Roman Catholics as traitors. In 1644, for nine months, ever since lord Derby had left to sort out the troubles in the Isle of Man, the countess had been beleaguered in Lathom House, between Wigan and Ormskirk, while Parliament controlled the land round about. Her presence there had been tolerated but it was only a matter of time before a Roundhead army came to demand her surrender. When Sir Thomas Fairfax asked the lady to call on him to discuss terms, he received this reply
‘…that notwithstanding her present condition, she remembered both her lord's honour and her own birth (a granddaughter of William the Silent in Holland), conceiving it more knightly that Sir Thomas Fairfax should wait upon her, than she upon him’.
So Richard Billinge's land probably was under control by Roundheads, and, as a papist, two-thirds of his estate fell into the hands of the parliamentary authorities and in 1652 the whole was sequestered. On enquiry it was found that his estate in Wigan parish had been sequestered for recusancy and that in Ormskirk parish for recusancy and delinquency. Afterwards he petitioned to be allowed to compound.
In 1643, a Parliamentary Committee had been set up called the Committee for the Sequestration of Delinquent's Estates, to confiscate the lands of those who were taking the Royalist side in the Civil War. Papists and other recusants were also included, even though not taking an active military part. When a person was accused, his estate was seized pending investigation of his case. If found guilty his whole estate was confiscated, but one-fifth was allowed him for the maintenance of his family and another one-fifth of the proceeds of the estate went to the informer. One can imagine unprincipled persons becoming wealthy at the poor Catholic's expense. In cases of mere recusancy, one-third of the estate was allowed to the guilty party. In 1653, the war being over, the work of the Committee was taken over by the Committee for Compounding the Estates of Royalists and Delinquents. The accused were urged to confess and if they pledged their loyalty to the Commonwealth Government they were allowed to compound in proportion to their guilt. One-sixth was taken from anyone who had taken part in either the first or second civil war (i.e. before or after 1647), one-third from those who had been active in both. Delinquent Members of Parliament lost half their estates.
‘8 Apr 1653. Richard Billing of Billing, Co. Lancaster having long received only one-third of his estate, being a papist, complains that lately his whole estate has been sequestered, and he returned as a papist-delinquent; begs his charge, leave to examine witnesses, and reference to counsel.
8 Apr 1653. The County Committee to certify and Mr. Reading to report.
2 Nov 1653. He begs to compound on the Act of 3 Sep 1653 for one-third of his estate in Bickerstaffe and Billinge, sequestered for delinquency.
2 Nov 1653. Referred to Mr. Reading’.
It was the custom and practice of the ‘Protestant’ members of the Catholic families, or their friends, to acquire the sequestrated land of their relatives by purchase or lease from Parliament and then to lease it back to the recusant members of the family. These were only small parts of the original holding but they did at least give them a roof over their heads, enough land to eke out a living - and a ‘Priest's Hole’ to carry on their traditional popery.
The will of Richard Billinge A.l has not survived, having, according to Preston Record Office, been destroyed by damp. He bequeathed his lease, which included Billinge Hall, to his son John Billinge B.l 1648-94. His inventory, dated 20 June 1670, has survived and makes an interesting study. It shows that the Hall contained at least eight rooms. The total money involved was £293 Is 6d with the main constituents as follows:
I. Money owing £80 8s 0d
2. Corne in the grounde and corne in the house £27 8s Od
3. 8 milke cowes £21 6s 0d
4. 4 horses and 2 colts £20 0s 0d
5. The decease's apparell £14 5s 0d
6. Bookes £13 65 8d
7. Stooles, formes and trestles althrough the house £10 10s 0d
8. 7 year-old calfes £10 10s 0d
The books therefore represent a major portion of Richard's wealth and it is assumed that many of the books were of a religious nature. It marks Richard and his family as highly literate. Any degree of literacy was not a universal feature among the gentry by any means, but this might be expected of a Cambridge graduate. Furthermore, the means to defend their particular religious beliefs both in word and writing would have been of utmost importance to recusants and so a high degree of literacy was maintained in the Billinge family throughout many generations. Back in May 1582 ‘an inventory of' popish books' had been found in John Billing's ship’. This is intriguing: the reference does not state whether this John was the owner or a passenger in the ship, but by the time a search was made for him ‘he’ had escaped to Calais. This might have been John Billinge Q.l (fl.1573-1600) on his way back from Rome, perhaps. He was known to be ‘soundly affected in religion’, and was Richard's great-grandfather.
The Visitation in 1665 and the Billinge arms.
The arms confirmed to Richard Billinge A.l at Ormskirk on 8 Apr 1665 by Sir William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms, were:
Argent, a cross between four crosses crosslet fitchee gules (fig.la)
It is not known at what date these arms were first used or awarded: for instance they may date back only to John Billinge Q.l, the first recorded ‘gent’ who died in 1600. However this is unlikely for all the armorial evidence points to the Billinge escutcheon being of ancient origin –indeed among the very earliest of recorded arms. An award to any member of the Billinge family in the 14th-17th centuries should have resulted in a totally different blazon from the one confirmed to Richard. Any such blazon would have had to be one of considerable ingenuity of design in order to distinguish it from the many thousands of arms already in use. The fact is the Billinge arms are of such a basic design that they cannot be other than of early origin. One of the most basic elements in armory is the depiction of the Cross (the Crucifixion of Our Lord) on a shield, hence the cross of St George (red) upon a metal (silver) ground. The St George's Cross is the essence of the Billinge arms. The Cross, depicted as the Ordinary, divides the shield or escutcheon into four Quarters and it is common even with early arms to find these Quarters blazoned with quite dissimilar Charges. Again,
Billinge leads us to an extremely early origin for the arms show four identical charges of crosses. These may have originated simply as repeats of the Cross of St George but are shown developed and embellished as crosses crosslet with a sharpened tail (fitchee), again symbolising the Crucifixion on Calvary. Crosses crosslet, both plain and fitchee, are again among the most basic elements of armorial design and must date from the very earliest designs of the bearers. It is worth repeating that whereas many of the visiting heralds were little more than competent and occasionally less so, Dugdale as Norroy King of Arms was lauded among heralds and still is, for his outstanding virtues and dedication during his visitations. He would never have confirmed such an ancient device to a family quite so forgotten by posterity as Billinge if it was not valid.
fig 1a fig 1b fig 2
There is further evidence which not only underlines the antiquity of the Billinge arms but suggests that the Lancashire family were the original ‘Billing Armigers’. The arms displayed by Richard Billinge are closely related to arms at various times blazoned by the greater Billing families. In fact only the Cornish Billing armigers do not display a cross and crosses crosslet; this singles out the ancient Cornish family from other Billing families - they, alone, are not of Angle origin. Other Billing families to have blazoned arms with the Cross of StGeorge include Billinges (Denbigh) and Billingge (Lincolnshire) . Both families are recorded in the 14th century or earlier, and both their escutcheons have the main cross voided ‘as a difference’ (fig.lb) - that is, to distinguish their blazon of arms from that of the original user. Voiding clearly is a variation, which post-dates the plain cross charge, and yet here is ‘differencing’ being declared as early, or earlier, than the 14th century. Other Billing families also displayed arms: Billing of Deddington, Oxfordshire, c1480-cl574 (voided again and with the further difference of twelve crosses crosslet fitchee (fig.2) and the Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Billing, c1417-81, of Astwell, Northamptonshire. The Chief Justice of the King's Bench is recorded with a voided cross (fig. lb) in St.Margaret's Church, Westminster, but with a plain cross in the stained glass windows at the Inns of Court in London (figs.5a, b). Here the difference is ‘an annulet or’ centred of the field (i.e. at the intersection of the main cross); this was Sir Thomas Billing's personal trademark. Sir Thomas Billing is thought to have been of plebeian birth and his ancestry appears to be fairly and squarely rooted in Northamptonshire but speculation has argued, and will continue to argue, that his line is by some devious route connected with Lancashire. His plain cross will continue to fuel this controversy. Equally devious is the suggestion that Lancashire Billinge also used a voided cross (fig.lb). We have no proof at all of this usage but this may well point to the Denbighshire/Flintshire connection with Lancashire. The Lancashire Billinge arms could have been first displayed at or about the time of the Crusades.
It is said that the English Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land did, for reasons now unknown, and at intervals, stake small wooden crosses into the ground. These would have been sharpened for this purpose and this is almost without a doubt the origin of the cross crosslet fitchee. These, possibly, were no more nor less than way markers inserted by the front guard of the Crusade and what better motif to mark the route than by the symbol of Christ's Love, on a Crusade to convert the infidel! That the Billinge arms depict this symbol in its most archetypal form not only gives credence to the Billinge's connection with an early Crusade but marks them ever more strongly as almost the first, if not the first, family ever to display arms in England. Perhaps a long-lost ‘De Billinge’ Crusader used the arms, but of course no such information has ever been recorded.
Lancashire, with Oxfordshire (Deddington) and Cornwall are the only ‘official’ Billing family arms allowed by the College of Arms which was founded in 1529/30. This is a century too late to help in the authentication of the arms of Sir Thomas Billing Knight, Chief Justice. This neither aids nor detracts from the argument whether he was a scion of the Lancashire family.
Thomas Billinge of Stanford-on-Avon.
The brothers and sisters of the popish Richard Billinge A.l were possibly more inclined to tow the line by appearing less hostile to the edicts of the law and the Established Church - at least nominally. This appears to be the case with Thomas Billinge A.6 the third son of John Billinge O.l who was baptised at Upholland on 12 July 1615. He opted out of the political unrest of the Civil War in Lancashire after only two years, in 1644, to take up a post as ‘gentleman's gentleman’ to Sir Thomas Cave at Stanford Hall.
Situated just in Leicestershire, just outside Stanford-on-Avon village, the hall was to be his home for 26 years until his death in 1670, the same year as Richard. Their lives must have been very different and Northamptonshire, where the village of Stanford-on-Avon lay, ought to have been a peaceful retreat except that only six miles away, in 1645, the Battle of Naseby was fought. Thomas Billinge A.6 is the first we know, with certainty, to have left his native Lancashire behind but in reality he must have been just one of many over the numerous unrecorded generations preceding and he was certainly not the last. Both Thomas A.6 and Richard A.l died in 1670. The will of Richard Billinge has been lost but that of Thomas survives. £l00 is left to Richard's children and those of his brother John A.3 back in Lancashire. ‘Mr Thomas Billinge son of Mr John Billinge of Billinge in the County of Lancaster g(en)t; is remembered in a brass plaque, dated 1670, nailed to the end of a pew in the aisle of the parish church in Stanford-on-Avon, where many monuments to the Cave and Verney families can be seen ( this is Verney of Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire not Verney of Compton Verney, Warwickshire) .His arms, a cross between four crosses crosslet fitchee are displayed on the plaque. They are similar to
la and must be considered
identical with those confirmed to his brother by Sir William Dugdale five years earlier. His brother John A.3 and his wife, Ellen, are noted as Lancashire recusants at ‘Rainforth’ in 1666. This would be Rainford, about one and a half miles from Billinge Hall. A younger brother, Robert Bil1inge A.8, was baptised at Upholland in 1621 but according to Dugdale he had died (before 1665) unmarried.
Some Problems of Catholic Registration.
Well-researched genealogies usually founder around 1538 with the cessation of the earliest Parish Registers: quite often there simply is no earlier information available to researchers. In the case of Billinge of Bil1inge, the 1538 barrier is not the problem absolutely. Parish Registers for Upholland, where the family was legally required to be recorded, although the hall is ‘only yards within the parish boundary’, exist from 1600. In addition to the main heir and his family at the Hall, there were numerous related lines in Bil1inge, Upholland, Orrell, Rainford, Haydock and Windle - yet between 1600 and 1735 at Upholland only two marriages are recorded (1600 and 1603) and comparatively few baptisms and burials for a parish which must have been well-populated with Billinges. The reason for this lies in the word ‘legally’. Although Parliament required that all Catholics should be registered in the Established Church records, this was not always adhered to and many Catholic baptisms were carried out by travelling priests in which case the event was recorded in the priest's personal pocket book.
These roving priests had no geographical boundaries for their missions and they were concealed by their Roman Catholic fraternity in hiding holes (Priest's Holes) in the more substantial country houses. This was a means of observing strict secrecy. During the period up to 1750 it was illegal to be baptised, married or buried by a Romen Catholic priest although many Catholics did choose this course for baptism and marriage. Tto avoid a fine and to ensure legitimacy of their children a later ceremony in the parish church was often sought. The travelling priests did not keep proper registers as these could then be used as documentary evidence against their Catholic flock. In Upholland Parish Registers the entries for Billinge Hall comprise only:
"Thomas (A.6) son of John Billinge of Billinge gent, bapt 12 July 1615"
"Elizabeth (A.4) dau.of John Billinge of Billinge gent, bapt 15 Nov 1617"
"Robertus (A.B), filius Johannes Billing de Billing, bapt 27 Jul 1621"
There is no mention of Richard A.l, John A.3, or any of the other daughters. This poses the question: were those recorded in the parish church records intended to be brought up, at least nominally, as Protestants? Upholland registers, which list some of the collateral Billinge entries, includes this entry:
‘Thomas end James, sons of Robeart Billinge, born 12 January, baptised
16 January 1658/9’
along with other children of this Robert. It is believed that this Thomas also migrated to Northamptonshire to head the long line of the ‘Leicestershire Graziers’ there. Undoubtedly, the many collateral Upholland and other local Billinges are connected somehow to the armigerous family at the Hall through a host of earlier younger sons in the main line. Proof of these connections however is long lost to posterity.
Priests and Papists
John Billinge B.l was the eldest son of Richard the Papist and was aged 17 1 at the Visitation of 1665. He succeeded to Billinge Hall and appeared on the Recusant Rolls down to 1684. Margaret Billinge of Bedford (Hall), his widow, in 1717 registered her estate as a Catholic Non-Juror, devised to her by her aunt, Anne Mossock nee Umston, of Cunscough Hall. Frances Umston, Margaret's mother, had previously been married to Richard Shuttleworth of Bedford near Leigh; Margaret's father was George Bradshaw of Greenacres (Graveoak).
The monogram "JMB-1683" which is to be seen on the datestone of Billinge Hall would refer to John Billinge B.l and Margaret Bradshaw. It appears that George Bradshaw, father of Margaret, died about 1690 and that she and her husband John Billinge took the opportunity of her inheritance to sell Billinge Hall and move into Grave Oak. It seems that all the heritage lands and the family seat in Billinge were sold. Grave Oak, now a farm, had been in 1656 the residence of George Bradshaw and in 1690 of John Billinge.
In 1691 Frances Bispham, widow, purchased from John Billinge B.l and Margaret his wife and Margery Billinge, widow (of Richard the papist), the fifth-part of the manor of Billinge, with houses, windmill1, dovecote and lands in Billinge and Rainford. This Frances Bispham was the mother of Thomas Bispham, the last male Bispham. So within the space of just a few years, two ancient families died out in Billinge. Bispham Hall, a much grander edifice than Billinge Hall, was burned down subsequent to 1954 while Billinge Hall is in 1988 still occupied. Both are closely situated in Crank Road but only Billinge Hall lies in that part known as Sheley Brow, Billinge.
‘(In 1693) A barber of Manchester denounced John Billinge B.l a papist of Grave Oak. The barber, Richard Gardner, aged 31, had borne arms for King James (II) in 1688; he was sergeant in Captain Gerard's Company and Colonel Gage's Regiment of Foot. He was in his shop in Manchester on Saturday 18 March 1693 when John Billinge entered. He was trimming a customer and Billinge asked if he had a good peruke to sell him. When the shop was empty Gardner declared Billinge asked him if he would go again to be a soldier (in a Catholic army). He laid this information before a certain Justice and Billinge was charged at the Session at Manchester21 July 1693. He (Billinge) brought with him a letter signed by many of the substantial men in Leigh, including Thomas Slater, Raphe Eggerton, both Justices, the Vicar of Leigh, John Harrison, and the Attorney, Thomas Taylor. These vouched that John Billinge was of a civil, quiet temper and disposition and one who demeaned himself and submissively. Billinge was assessed double tax for the 'school land' in February 1693. He was buried at Leigh 25 February 1696.
Colonel Gage's Regiment was raised in Lancashire, principally from Catholic Jacobites. A list of some of the officers, including both Gage and Gerard, has survived among the papers of the Leigh family of Lyme. Margaret, Bil1inge's widow, was living in 1715, when it was stated that the Bedford estate was in trust for her for 21 years and its annual value £6.’
It is likely that the barber, Gardner, was paid for denouncing John Billinge. There is no mention of the burial of Margaret Billinge at St Mary's, Leigh, the parish church, and it is therefore probable that she died at Manchester. In 1697 Margaret is described as the widow of John Billinge of Grave Oak in Bedford. In 1717 John Billinge (C.l) and Margaret Billinge of Manchester, papists, registered her estate in Bedford. From Lancashire and Cheshire Records Society: Lancashire Papist's Estates (Act of 1717), page 31 :
"John Billinge ( C.l) of Manchester, gentleman: a messuage and tenement called Gravock in Bedford, 22 acres held by lease of 15 April 1702 from Sir Roger Bradshaugh of Leigh, bart. for 31 years at £l0 rent. Let to Richard Laithwaite for £28 l0 shillings rent."
"Margaret Billinge of Bedford, widow: annual rent of £.6 from two closes one called Next Pick Hey, 4 acres, the other called The Six Acres, 6 acres, devised by Ann Mossock of West Leigh, widow, to Sir William Gerrard of Garswood, bart, Thomas Gerrard of Ince, esq, and Thomas Culcheth of Culcheth, esq, her executors for two terms of 21 years in trust for me."
The following is from the original documents held at Preston Record Office:
"To the Clerk of the Peace of the County of Lancaster or his deputy:
"I John Billinge of Manchester in the County of Lancaster, gent. persuant to an Act of Parliament...to oblige papists to register their names and lease estate, desire you or one of you to register my name and estate in the form hereinafter mentioned in name and words following: "
The Registration ends with a signed statement by two of His Majesty's Judges sitting at the Manchester Quarter Sessions and contains both John's and his mother's signatures. The Act of 1717 required all Catholics who would not take the Oath (of Allegiance) and many did, to register their land and estate; otherwise their possessions were forfeited as Catholic Non-Jurors.
Once the family had become swallowed up in Manchester any further records of John's C.l involvement in ‘popery’ cease.
This history has, for the moment, purposely ignored the other children of Richard A.l the Papist and indeed many of his grandchildren (the children of John Billinge B.l and Margaret Bradshaw), in order to emphasise both the migration from Billinge and Leigh to Manchester and the continuing staunch Roman Catholic faith in the main line of descent.
It may come as a surprise at this relatively late date in the Billinge of Billinge history (first half of the 18th century) to discover that the descent of the main line from Manchester into modern times is not straightforward. Quite the contrary, for there lies a stumbling block in the descent from John C.l (b.c.1670 and still alive in 1717) through to Charles E.l (1735-1805), the most famous personage in the Billinge lineage. This apparent gap in the family tree is at once both frustrating and enlightening: frustrating because the almost total lack of records of Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, which served to preserve anonymity of persons, and particularly the priests, is the cause of the gap in the line; enlightening because the continuity of Billinge Jesuit priests, from the onset in 1581 right through to 1765, carries its own additional guarantee of an unbroken lineage. As Richard Trappes-Lomax observes:
‘During the times of persecution no secrets were kept more religiously than the addresses of the missionary priests. Even when the persecution of blood had ceased, something of the old reluctance remained and it is very hard to tell with certainty where priests used to live.’
The Billinge line, with its continuity of Jesuit priests, is sufficient proof to bridge any gaps in the tree which have resulted from a lack of printed evidence. Indeed this Billinge pedigree, from the death of the first historical Bil1inge, 967, through to Charles' E.l death in 1805 and on to the present day, is truly remarkable and must not forget the Billinge ancestors in the form of the tribal Billingas who arrived in Britain c545.
Other children of Richard Billinge A.l
The troubled times of Richard the Papist and the maternal Molineux family seem to have been no deterrent at all to Richard's and Margery's children. According to the pedigree drawn up at the Visitation in 1665 these were :
B.I John, aged 17
B .6 Margery
Margaret B.8 died young in 1669. Possibly so too did Richard B.5 and Margery B.6 for nothing at all has been found in evidence of their later lives. Also there is the possibility of a fifth son, James (B.9), from later evidence in the Upholland parish register. However this leaves four positive kin. Of these two took clerical orders; these were Thomas B.7 who joined the Society of Jesus and Helen B.4 who became a nun. Of John B.I we have previously read.
Robert Billingee of Old Windsor
It has been mentioned before that at this time a Protestant upbringing was mandatory but there is a likelihood that part of the family would have been encouraged to follow the Protestant faith as a ploy to retain at least some of the family's estate and prosperity. This may have been the case with Robert B.3. Like his uncle Thomas A.6 who removed to Northamptonshire, Robert left Lancashire, in his case for Berkshire.
Mr Robert Billinge of Old Windsor. Estate there for lives of self and Sarah his wife £15. "
From ‘Antiquities of Berkshire’ is the proof. On a wall tablet inside the church of Old Windsor:
"Here lyes the body of Col Robert Billinge son of Richard Billinge of
Billinge of Lancs who died July 22nd 1707 aged 57 years. "
He and his wife were registered as Non-Jurors. The term ‘Non-Juror, normally refers to persons who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the first Hanoverian King, George I, 1714-27, (Act 1717). Some refused because they were active supporters of the Stuarts (Jacobites) and there is substantial evidence that his brother John B.l was a Jacobite, others because they felt it went beyond the Oath they had sworn at the time of Charles II. Non-Jurors included both Catholics and non-Catholics but Catholics are usually described as ‘Catholic Non-Jurors’. So it looks as though Robert may have been an Anglican and this would account for his burial in an Anglican Church. It would also account for the opportunity to serve as a commissioned officer in the army, which he apparently took. Col is the contemporary abbreviation for colonel. There is no evidence of children of Robert and Sarah.
Thomas Billinge of Rome
The next son of Richard Billinge A.l and Margery Molineux of whom we have knowledge is Thomas B. 7. He is known to have taken his grandmother's maiden name of Westby as a protective alias. Thomas was born in 1654 and was baptised by Mr Jennings, a secular priest. He was educated at home, at Douai (Belgium) and at St Omer (France) ‘up to the end of syntax’; there he was confirmed. He ‘knows Latin fairly well but no Greek. Healthy. Desires to be en ecclesiastic 24 August 1679.’ The Diary of the English College continues: ‘his parents belonged to noble families of position but were in impoverished circumstances.’ Two weeks later, on 7 October 1679, he was 16 admitted to the Society of Jesus, whence on 1 May 1680 he took the Oath. In 17 May 1682 ‘after minor orders, (he was) ordained sub-deacon (and) returned to Rome.’ On 4 May 1696 he was ordained priest in Rome and remained in the service of his excellency the Legate ( the Pope's official representative), in whose service he laboured many years on the mission in England but at length he returned to Rome to end his days. He died in Rome 7 January 18 1739/40.
Helen Billinge B.4
‘Mrs Helen Billinge daughter of Mr Richard Billings and Margery Molyneux. Born in Lankishire. Took the habit upon ye 5 October 1691 being then about 26 years of age and is to give £100 for her portion and for her accommodation, was clothed upon the 22 July 1682 tooke the name Sister Ignatious and was professed upon the 26 of July, St Annes Day in the yeare 1683.’
‘Mr Wright or Green 10 patacoons for Sister Ignatious (Billinge) for the learning of the viol and it was spent in that.’
Grandchildren of Richard Billinge A.l
Of the six, possibly seven, known children of John B.l and Margaret Bradshaw, excluding John C.l already described, the number entering the Society of Jesus or becoming nuns doubled from the previous generation. Two girls, Margaret C.2a and Helen C.5, can suitably be described first, and simultaneously.
‘Canonesses of Holy Sepulchre, Liege, Mrs Margaret and Mrs Hellen Billinge took the first habit the 10 Oct 1723 was cloath'd 25 of March after and professed the 8 Apr 1726. They were daters (sic) to Mr John Bil1inge and Mrs Margaret Bradshaw of Lancashire, had for portion £500 between 'em took for names Monica and Winefred aged the elder 33 years, the younger 29.’
The two sons of John Bil1inge B.l and Margaret Bradshaw who entered the Society of Jesus were Richard C.3 and George C.4:
‘Father Richard Bil1inge a native of Lancashire born 1674 or 1676. Was probably an older brother of George. Made his humanity studies at St Omers, entered Society at Watten 7 Sep 1698 and was professed of the four vows 2 Feb 1716. Chaplain at Croxteth Hall in 1720 and Bryn in 1721. Served the missions in Lancashire for many years and was Superior of the College of St.A1oysius in 1730 and died in the same district ( at Bryn) aged 58. Buried at Winwick 22 May 1732.’ He used the alias Bradshaw.
‘George Bil1inge temporal co-adjustor. A native of Lancashire bo:rn 1678. Entered the Society at Watten as a lay-brother 7 Sep 1729 and died there 6 Jan 1739, aged 61.’
There follows a further Richard Bil1inge S.J. and he is clearly not the Richard Billinge described above. From his dates (1713-69) it is apparent that he is of a younger generation. He appears to have had more than one alias, derived from the various source material:
(i) Richard Laurence Bil1inge alias Laurenson
( ii) Richard Laurence alias Billinge
( iii) Richard Laurenson alias Billinge
More than one source indicates that Billinge was his alias suggesting that his mother was a Billinge and his father perhaps Laurence or Laurenson. However three opposing references are equally unequivocal:
(a) He signed the Oath "Richard Laurence Billinge"
(b) Richard Laurence Bil1inge alias Laurenceson, son of John Bil1inge and Mary Bradshaw
(c) Charles Billinge (E.l) was his nephew
‘Richard Laurence Billinge, a native of Lancashire. born 15 Feb 1713. (John C.l his reputed father, whose date of death is unrecorded, was alive to register his estate in 1717). He entered the College at Valladolid (Spain), 8 Oct 1733 and was made deacon on 25 Dec 1738. Left 4 Mar 1739 and entered the Society of Jesus 13 Jun 1739. He served the mission at Powis Castle (Wales) in 1743 and Hardwicke (Durham) 1749-61, also for a time in Lancashire. Died at Crondon Park near Stock, Essex 28 Feb 1769 buried at Stock 3 Mar 1769.’
The Definitive Theory
Readers may question why we have craved their indulgence by relating rather tedious details about a number of priests who by virtue of their vows ought not to be the father of any Billinge least of all Charles Billinge E.l who comprises the majority of the remainder of this history. In fact it is essential to understand why, from the very continuance of these Jesuit priests from 1581 to 1765, that there can be no doubt of the continuity of the Billinge line. The only problem, and it should not be over-emphasised, is just, specifically, who was Charles' E.l father? Here these accounts of the Jesuit fathers help us again. The preceding extracts were taken from a vast array of conflicting, often erroneous and certainly misleading data, which the researchers of this history sought out, juxtaposed and eventually made tenable. Shown here are the relevant facts; from these we find that Charles E.l was the nephew of Richard Laurence Billinge and that Richard Laurence Billinge was the son of John Billinge and Mary Bradshaw. It is most important to understand that this is not John Billinge B.l and Margaret Bradshaw as some references would have us believe (John died in 1692 while Richard Laurence was not born until 1713). It is possible though that John's C.l wife, Mary Bradshaw, may have been a direct relation of John's B.l wife, Margaret Bradshaw. Bradshaw, in any event, is a common enough surname in the Manchester area.
Who then was the brother of D.2 Richard Laurence Billinge and actual father of Charles E.l? In view of a total non-existence of records of Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials between 1700-50 it is impossible to know what size family John Billinge C.l of Manchester had. All we know with certainty is that there was one son Richard Laurence Billinge (D.2) and one other brother, the so-far undisclosed D.l. Catholic Record Society sources would disclose any further priests but for reasons already given it is not a priest for whom we are searching. The answer, subsequently, was found in a will - that of Robert Billinge gent. of Manchester, dated 1762, though he died in 1766.
It must be pointed out though that there were many other Billinges in Manchester at this time; one, who was certainly related to Robert, though not his son, was James Billinge gent. who was president of Shaw's Club in Manchester in 1797. Robert's will is clearly that of a rich man. No sons are mentioned in the will but two daughters are. One, Elizabeth, had married Christopher Dauntessey; another, Alice, was, at that time, unmarried. In fact there is nothing at all, from names mentioned in the will, to suggest that Robert Billinge is the brother of Richard Laurence Billinge D.2 or the father of Charles E.l, or even that he is a descendant of the old Lancashire family, nor do we know Robert's age at death. He was certainly wealthy but the real clue lies in land; over 100 acres of land held in various places in Lancashire. Most important to us and mentioned first in the will, is:
‘a house and out housing and about sixteen acres of land in Upholland.’
Robert Billinge had two acreages in other places, each of 32 acres, but, significantly, it is Upholland that is mentioned first. This was probably the last vestige of the heritage land of the family in its traditional homeland.
It is argued therefore that this Robert Billinge gent. of Manchester is the missing D.l, the father of Charles E.l, and further pointers to this submission are outlined in the following chapter on the life of Charles himself. It remains just to add that Robert Billinge's social status as gent. is perfectly in step with the preceding generations and his age appears to be eminently suitable.
Charles Billinge E.l, believed to be a son of Robert Billinge D.l of Manchester, gent. was born 16 Dec 1735. We have found no records of his place of birth or baptism, or indeed of the first seventeen years of his life. Catholic Record Society notes tell us he was the nephew of Richard Laurence Billinge S.J., D.2. Like his Jesuit ancestors, he was educated abroad, in France and Belgium and in 1761 he is noted as a prefect (teacher) at St Omer' s English College in France. He had entered the Society of Jesus on 7 Sep 1753 when he was almost 18. From 1753-57 at St Omer's was Robert Billinge who also became a Jesuit and used the alias Whitlock and in 1761 William Billinge, another Jesuit, was at Bruges College. This Robert and William Billinge are thought to be the respective elder and younger brothers of Charles. If so, it is a fair supposition that Robert Billinge's D.l wife had the maiden name Whitlock.
These continental colleges educated Catholic children from other countries as well as British children. Some were higher establishments, which trained young men for the priesthood and taught subjects such as philosophy, theology and the humanities; Latin and Greek were also taught. Some of the colleges had been formed in or around 1593 to foil a proposal by the English Parliament to take all Catholic children at the age of seven from their parents and place them with approved Protestants for their upbringing. This was the case with the English College at St Omer; it was a school mainly for Jesuit boys until 1762 when the Jesuits were expelled from France. It was then moved to Bruges in the Austrian Netherlands as it then was. In 1773 the Society of Jesus was suppressed by the Pope but the Bishop of Liege offered it a home until the advance of the Revolution in 1794 when it moved to Stonyhurst in Lancashire, back to within only 16 miles of Billinge itself.
The education of a child at one of these colleges would have been expensive but the will of Robert Billinge D.l gent in 1766 clearly demonstrates that he fully had the financial strength to educate three sons at St Omer' s. It is not known precisely how long Charles taught at St Omer's; he returned to Fngland and served for a time in East Anglia before joining the mission at StChad's, which covered the Midland counties. While at Bodney near Swaffham, Norfolk, he was relatively close to Richard Laurence Billinge D.2, his uncle serving at Coldham near Wisbech. There is no correspondence between any of these Jesuits9 Charles E.19 his uncle Richard Laurence D.2, or his brothers Robert and William, which would confirm their relationships. A lack of correspondence served to preserve their identities as Jesuits.
It was about 1764 when Charles joined the mission at St Chad's Birmingham and, in 17659, he secured a position as domestic chaplain to Francis Whitgreave and his family at Moseley Old Hall, almost four miles north of Wolverhampton. Charles was tutor to the Whitgreave children and lived at the hall in which Charles II had spent two nights upon his escape from Worcester in 1651. The chapel is located in the attic and has an adjoining priest's room, which is where Charles Billinge presumably lived. This can still be seen today.
Not all Jesuits led austere lives. Just as their counterparts in the Anglican Church who came from weal thy families found secure and comfortable livings, often sharing the table of the ‘family of substance’ who employed them, so Charles was employed as chaplain to the household of a wealthy Midlands gentleman with Catholic sympathies. In this comfortable capacity at Moseley, Charles remained until about 1766 when his father died. From this moment Charles went into a decline, both financially and it would seem - where his Jesuit vows were concerned - spiritually. Of course it would not have been possible, officially, for Robert, his father, to leave money to any of his Jesuit sons so it is hardly surprising that none of them are mentioned in Robert’s D.l will of 1762. After his father's death Charles invoked the criticism of his order by his music making (he had acquired a fine Cremona violin) and his love of company, which of course included young ladies. He was pleased when an appreciative audience applauded him and his American Jesuit friend, Charles Henry Wharton, after playing for them. Charles had remarked (probably jokingly) to Francis Whitgreave that the acoustic of Moseley ‘did not do justice to his Cremona’ and (probably equally jocularly) Whitgreave had replied that ‘he did not intend pulling the old place down and rebuilding to suit his violin.’ However this is probably a clue that Charles was exceeding his humble station in life. Eventually the church's criticism grew into outright hostility and doubtless Charles was given verbal and written warnings of the consequences of his ‘worldliness’.
We then learn that in 1767 (date not known) Charles made his apostasisation sermon at Moseley when he last said Mass there. He told his people ‘that if they saw anything strange in him, they should remember what he had taught them but not to follow his example’. They understood the meaning of this when they heard, on the next Sunday, that he had publicly apostasised. He preached his recantation sermon in Lichfield Cathedral in the summer of 1767, taking for his text Psalm 66, 16:
‘Come and hear, all ye that fear God and I will declare what He has done for my soul’.
His sermon was ridiculed by Catholics who were present there to hear it, this is hardly surprising. The 19th century writer, John Noakes, mentions Charles' troubles at Moseley, as follows:
‘The prospect of the American Civil War rendered it necessary to consult the goodwill and patriotism of all the sects. Then the Catholics were indulged by a repeal of most of their severest disabilities. Protestant apprehension, however, became greatly aroused by this leniency, and Wesley is accused of ‘hounding on’ the popular cry against the Catholics. The Lord Gordon riots ensued and after that event a large portion of the Catholic party wavered in their submission to Rome, sought favour of the Protestants and those in power, and many went over to the well-endowed establishment. Billinge the chaplain at Woseley, and Wharton, who was serving the mission at Worcester, were said to be amongst those worldly-minded. Both were successful musicians, became fond of company who applauded their performances and both fell...’
The Catholic writer, Joseph Barrington, concluded: ‘The rigid discipline of Rome could have little chance wi th such antagonists as love and music.’
Charles' recanting brought down on him the heavy wrath of the Roman Catholic Church, which remained, quite undiminished, during his lifetime and which remained, almost unyielding, into modern times. Yet the quantity of references censoring him outweighs the quality for most of the writers can do little more than lampoon Charles on the hearsay of a few possibly, or probably, bigotted first-hand commentators. In this respect, John Kirk, a contemporary of Charles, was probably his worst enemy - much of the later criticism of Charles does appear to stem from Kirk who held a position in the Catholic church in Lichfield so it was almost surely he who attended the Cathedral to hear Charles. There is evidence that Kirk received less income than Charles and probably had less perks. Also of course the Catholic Church disliked the Jesuits. All around the world the Jesuit habit of taking control of church organisation was eventually to result in a temporary ban on their activities by the Pope.
Before detailing the later life of Charles as a Protestant, it is worth mentioning that in the preceding generations one member of the family was always independent of the church (i.e. a gent. not a Jesuit) but this was not the case with Charles’s generation. Had not Charles disavowed the priesthood with its accompanying celibacy, the Billinge of Billinge line would have terminated there and then. It is interesting to speculate how important, if at all, this was to Charles the great great grandson of Richard the Papist and heir to exactly 800 years of Billinge lineage since that ‘first historical Billinge of 967’.
Between the time of Charles’s recanting ‘in the summer of 1767’ and his enrolment as a Protestant curate, 28 August 1767, we presume that his employment was virtually uninterrupted and in another four-and-a.-half months he had married, 7 January 1768, to Mary Philips of Shareshill. As Shareshill was some two miles north of Moseley Hall and therefore about six miles due north of Wolverhampton, it is assumed that Charles was introduced to Mary while he was still Jesuit chaplain to the Whitgreaves. By comparison, his post as curate to John Boneybourne, vicar of Wombourne and Trysull, took him four miles due south-west of Wolverhampton. One can imagine that Charles' new life brought a challenge, excitement and happiness but often doubts and forebodings. These latter were soon cataclysmically hastened for we find in the parish registers of Trysull that Mary, daughter of Charles and Mary Billinge, had been baptised on 9 October 1768 while, one year later, on 18 September 1769, Charles Billinge, curate had married Sarah Collier of Woodford Grange, by licence. Strangely no record has been found, but it is probable that Mary Philips had died in child-bed with her daughter dying shortly after. This tragedy must have seemed to Charles to be the very wrath of God' s displeasure and he can only have been a broken man. The claims by the Roman Catholic Church that Charles' life from the time of his apostasy was pitiful must date from this time and doubtless, then, were accurate enough. But these Catholic writers who disparage the remainder of his quite long life wholly based on this early tragedy have to be questioned.
Sarah Collier, Charles’s second wife, came from Woodford Grange on the outskirts of Trysull. It was a good marriage for Charles as the Colliers were a family of some local standing, they were also believed to be Catholics.
Charles' critics maintained that throughout his life he was a haunted man. The following report appeared in the Catholic Magazine and Review, Vol.5, 1834:
‘It has often been said that "love and music have caused the downfall of many’. This was exemplified by Mr Billinge. He was passionately fond of music and was himself a good performer on the violin. This passion for music led him into much company, and gradually estranged him from his duty; and shortly produced another passion in him - the passion of love; and love, we are told, is a shrewd contravertist. Other arguments indeed were assigned. Whatever these might have been, all together, they led him to abandon his priestly duties and his Mother Church. He preached his recantation sermon at Lichfield in the summer of 1767, taking for his text Psalm LXVI, 16 ‘Come and hear, all ye that fear God’. I will not tell the reader what his line of argument was, nor the Hudibrastic comment made upon his text by a Catholic whose curiosity led him to hear him. But whatever golden dreams he had formed for himself, he met with nothing but cruel disappointment, both in life and also it is said, in death, for in whatever light his conversion might have been considered, he never obtained any preferment in his newly-adopted Church and earned a very scanty maintenance for himself and his numerous family, by teaching French in Wolverhampton and by doing occasional duty in the small parish of Wombourne. On his deathbed if we may credit the testimony of one who was both ear and eye witness, he was agitated and tormented by the most frightful forebodings of what he apprehended to be his lot’.
There is a first hand account of Charles' ‘activities’ at roughly the time of his first wife's death and this was discovered in an unusual way. A copy of Flanagan's ‘A History of the Church (Catholic) of England’ (1857) was read in Birmingham Library. .It was found to have formerly been in the possession of F C Husenbeth (himself later to be a biographical writer on the Catholic priests), who would have been a schoolboy when Charles was at Womboune and who has noted against the Charles Billinge entry these words in his own handwriting:
I have often seen him pass by, and joined other boys in calling out after him
‘Old Parson Billings sold his religion for five shillings’.
(signed F C Husenbeth)
This reference, widely quoted by other writers, refers to Sedgley Park Catholic School which Charles might have chosen to pass daily on his walk across the fields from his home in Pountney Street, Wolverhampton to Womboume; there he is supposed to have haunted the railings which bounded the school. There is nothing to suggest that Charles viewed the school and its playground at Sedgley Park with other than the scrutiny of a rival local schoolmaster and ex-Catholic. And why should Charles have sought preferential treatment of his adopted Church? There is no evidence that he did so. Charles, who was licensed as curate to J Honeybourne and later T P Foley, vicars of the parishes of Trysull and Wombourne, received an annual stipend of £30. Together, Trysull and Wombourne was a large parish. They are now separated. The parish registers and the Bishop's Transcripts show that the bulk of the baptisms, marriages and burials were conducted by Charles. He was probably glad of the tips he received. The last entry he made in the register is dated 4 March 1805; he was thus curate for upwards of 38 years.
In addition he was for a time full-time schoolmaster at Trysull and gave lessons in Wolverhampton to the local gentry in French, Latin and music. He could not have been well off financially it is true. This is borne out by the threatening letters he initially wrote to his former patron, Francis Whitgreave, at Moseley attempting to obtain his back wages. And Charles did have a large family for Sarah Collier bore him eleven children between 1772 and 1792.
In 1784 Charles published, at Wolverhampton, a book entitled ‘Poems of Christian Charity and Melancholy’. This book contains four poems and a translation of Alexander Pope's ‘Messiahs Idyllium Sacrum’, by Charles. His poems indicate that he had retained his ‘worldly’ view of life and show a good knowledge of the events of history. A number of patrons are discovered in this book including Lord Viscount Dudley and Ward, and Sir John Wrottesley, bart.
There is no question that Charles was a typical impoverished curate, overburdened with young mouths to feed. After his apostasy he would have been cut off from his father and sisters financially and his Jesuit brothers, both family and spiritual , would probably, with his father, have disowned him. Although we know little of Charles's character his earlier gaiety may well have been short-lived and his life consumed with misgivings and disappointment. As death approached any such misgivings grew into acute alarm. The following account is one of the less highly-coloured:
When Mrs Billinge was mourning over Charles's departure, she told Mrs Jones, a neighbour, that she could not think how it was that her husband had died so miserably, but that in his last comments he had behaved like a demoniac:
‘I see nothing but Hellfire -I am a lost man’.
The recording of this last remark is attributed to Dr Bowden of Sedgley Park ‘and other creditable contemporaries’. Flanagan says that Charles had become noted for being an habitual and public drunkard. The date of Charles’s death is unrecorded but he was buried on the Tuesday after Easter (15 April) 1805 in Wolverhampton. After his burial it was discovered that ‘this credulous old septuagenarian curate’ had in his possession a ‘Passport to Heaven’ issued by the ‘Prophetess’ Johanna Southcott. It is not known if Charles had obtained his ticket personally or whether another person had passed it on to him. The vicar, T C. Foley, was a strong supporter of Johanna Southcott so he probably passed it to Charles. Southcott was known to have visited the Wolverhampton area at this time.
The Modern Family
Charles Billinge by his apostasy from the Catholic priesthood and his denial of his priestly vows of celibacy was the saviour of this Billinge line. Whether this was by design or not we cannot say but without this event the long line of Billinge of Billinge would have been extinct. Charles might be gratified by the fact that his name has been well remembered by each of the subsequent generations, some twelve in all, who have continued to use the name Charles.
Charles, as far as we know, had twelve children but all did not survive into maturity. The first, Mary, baptised at Trysull in 1769, was the daughter of his first marriage to Mary Phillips and her burial registration has not been discovered. The remaining eleven were the children of Charles by his second wife, Sarah Collier. Charles Billinge Junior, the eldest, was baptised at Trysull in 1772 and later married Mary Hawkins of Wolverhampton. Other sons, William, John Nathaniel and Edward Billinge were all baptised at Trysull, in 1774, 1775 and 1777, respectively, Edward
Billinge being the 3X great grandfather of the present researchers. All the remaining children were baptised at Wombourne which, as it is nearer to Wolverhampton than Trysull is, may indicate that Charles had lost or given up his position as schoolmaster at Trysull and had made the move to Wolverhampton about this time.
The death of Charles Billinge in 1805 signals a distinct turning point in the history of this family; the remaining generations between 1805 and the present day can be recorded here comparatively easily and quickly. Before this is done we should say that there were three main changes in the family way of life, which can be detected after the death of Charles. Firstly, their environment changed from rural to urban; secondly their education changed from academic to elementary and thirdly their religion changed from Catholic to Protestant. With such a large family and with his restricted financial resources it would have been impossible for Charles to obtain the same classical education for his children as he had received in his earlier life. And the necessity for such an education to ensure a satisfactory living was however declining with the then onset of the Industrial Revolution, for a reasonable living could be obtained in other ways. The older boys of the family had seen enough of the poverty, which a career in the Church could entail, to ensure that they would not follow in their
Father’s footsteps. Furthermore they were now living in an active town where the distractions must have been many.
So we find that Charles Billinge Junior was living in part of Doctor Cadwallader' s house in Wolverhampton in 1001, that he had taken the trade of ‘tinman’ and that Henry, who had married and was still living in his father's house in Pountney Street in 1841, was also a ‘tinman’, as was his son, another Henry. It is thought that Edward Billinge, the fourth son, who had moved to Burton-on-Trent sometime prior to 1797 (where he had allowed the final ‘e’ of his name to be replaced with an ‘s’, as was the local custom) had also adopted a similar occupation. The trade of ‘tinman’ was not new to the name Billinge as one was recorded in 1756 in Manchester.
The record of the marriage between Edward Billings F.6 and Sarah has not been located al though a search has been made through many sources far and wide. One could draw the conclusion from this that they were never married if it were not for the fact that each of their eight children was baptised at St. Modwen's, the Parish Church of Burton-upon-Trent, on dates between 1797 and 1809. Whatever else the family had lost i t did not apparently include their religious beliefs and it is unlikely therefore that Edward would have formed a relationship with Sarah which had not been properly consecrated by the Church. With such a rapid production of Edward's children it is not surprising to find that only James, the eldest boy, survived into maturity. Sarah died in 1823 and Edward remarried to Anne Adams in 1824 but this marriage only lasted four years as Edward was buried at St. Modwen's in June 1828, being then 51 years of age.
His eldest son James Billings G. 3 was baptised in 1798. He married Sarah Lakin of Birmingham in 1824 and lived at Cat Street (now Station St.) Burton-upon-Trent. He is recorded as being a 'whitesmith', a description used for a worker in light metals. This was an alternative title for , tinman. ' In his later life he described himself as an engineer. James Billings died in 1854 and was buried at St. Modwen's. The slate headstone from his grave has been removed and placed with others in the Garden of Remembrance, which adjoins the church. This stone is still in excellent condition and is easily readable.
The marriage between James and Sarah Lakin produced nine children, amongst whom was Charles Billings H.6, born in 1838. This Charles was the author's great-grandfather. He was an engine fitter, probably a steam engine fitter as this time was the zenith for the railways in Burton. In 1858 he married Georgina Crossley of Coton-in-the-Elms, a small village within walking distance of Burton but on the opposite side of the River Trent. They set up home in Queen Street, Burton Extra, which is now a suburb of Burton-upon-Trent. There were at least five children of this marriage. Charles died in 1884 and was buried at All Saints Church, which has since become redundant and was demolished.
The youngest of the children, Nicholas William Billings J.5 who was born at Queen Street in 1874, was the author's grandfather. In 1897 he married Esther Biddle and moved to Birmingham where he is described as a Bicycle Maker. He was known locally as 'Bill' Billings and his drinking habits, like those of his 2X great-grandfather, gained him some repute. He was heard to relate that he was the 'black sheep' of the family for others in the family had done well by emigrating to America, where they had made good as bridge builders and railway engineers. He died in 1929. He had three sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Frederick William Billings K.3, was the author's father, who married Sarah Louise Sly, a member of the Marshall family. Unfortunately this marriage did not survive and ended in divorce in the early 19305. The marriage produced three children, the author, Norman and Sidney. Sidney Billings died in Canada in May 1987. Both parents married again: Sarah Louise to her cousin Leonard Marshall and Frederick to Mary Walton. This marriage produced another Frederick (L.7) who was born in 1934 and who was located in Canada only as a result of the research for this history.
It is not proposed to take this history of Billinge of Billinge beyond this point except to say that the last generation recorded here has, between them, three male heirs end five male grandchildren; sufficient to ensure that the line of Billinge, now Billings, will prevail until at least the 2lst century, by which time, as this book portrays, there will be well over 1000 years of continuous family history.
Future members of the family who may wish to continue the search for Billinge of Billinge may do well if they concentrate their efforts in Burton-upon-Trent. In 1985 there were some fifteen Billings families living within this area. Upon enquiry few claimed relationship to one another and none could claim relationship to James Billings G.3 or Edward Billings F.6 or to any other names belonging to those two generations. This is not surprising when few today can relate the names of their grandfather let alone the name of their great-grandfather.
With so many children descending from Charles, Edward and James it does seem most unlikely that we are the only family line which can claim direct descent from Billinge of Billinge. But although in the end this may prove to be true, it does warrant further investigation and this is strongly recommended as a future exercise.
Many people have played parts, big small, in getting this book to this stage of development and Alan Whaley of ‘Whaley’s World’, published weekly in the St Helens Star, is one of those people. This book is dedicated to Ethel Smith nee Tinsley of Cadwick Green. Alan Whaley penned the article below, shortly after Mrs Smith’s departure and the article is hereby included in her memory.
1 This windmill is almost certainly how Mill House, at the top of Crank Road, got its name.