The Townley-Parker Legacy

Masonic lodges are usually named after locations or moral virtues. However, Robert Townley Parker had the unusual honour of having not one but two Masonic Lodges named for him; namely Townley Parker Lodge 1032 and Townley Parker Lodge 1083 – as well the Townley Parker Chapter – the latter two meeting in Manchester. 

It’s clear he wanted to make an impact and leave a legacy. But what should we take from this when it comes to our history and our future?

I live in East Lancashire, only a few miles from Towneley Hall. I’ve always known that our founder was from Cuerden Hall in Chorley and that he came from the cadet branch of the Towneley family of Towneley Hall. In conversation with Worshipful Brother Dalley, we wondered aloud about how the family got from East Lancashire to West Lancashire. This is what we found out and what led to us exploring the original seat of the Townley Parker family, who were originally known as the Parkers.

Just over a month ago, Worshipful Brother Dalley and I went to see the original Parker seat of Extwistle Hall, which is sadly now in a ruinous state. Extwistle Hall is around 9 miles from my house. It’s an old impressive Tudor mansion, listed as Grade II and located on Extwistle Moor in Briercliffe, Burnley.

In 1190, Richard Malbisse, a Norman baron, was in possession of Extwistle. Later it became the property of the Kirkstall and Newbo abbeys. It was subsequently leased to John Parker of Monk Hall and Richard Towneley of Towneley Hall. It was part of Worsthorne St John’s church area and Robert Parker bought the land in 1537 from William Ramsden who initially bought it after the dissolution of the monasteries, and the land associated with Kirkstall Abbey was sold off.

The Parker family built Extwistle Hall in 1585, during the 16th century and in a Tudor style. They were becoming a well-known family by this time and needed a seat to reflect their status. The house does have ties to mediaeval times, although this building is not from that period itself.

The main purpose of Extwistle Hall was always to be a home. Whilst there’s no official record calling Extwistle Hall a manor house, it functioned like one and it’s clear the family considered it to be the manor house of the area. The Briercliffe Society has some documents proving this, which includes reference to local courts and tithes. Most of the land seems to have been held from the land of the manor of Ightenhill by copyhold agreement and until the 18th century, the Parker family held the manorial rights.

This Hall is a grand gentry hall-house from the 16th and 17th centuries. It now stands as a rustic and ruinous farmhouse, with its glory days long gone. Through the late 18th/19th century, it saw changes and I believe some parts were lost with others being remodelled, leaving a blend of old and new behind. As I was exploring it I could see it was still a working home in the 20th Century with everything you’d expect in a fairly modern house.

As you approach, the sturdy frame of coursed squared sandstone and coursed sandstone rubble is the first thing that stands out. The stone slate roofs are at different levels, there are some with quaint gable copings and ball finials (or the bases for the ball finials).

The layout is centred around a small courtyard, on three sides there are ranges of buildings, whilst a high wall encloses the fourth side, which is next to the dirt road. The setup hints at a mix of plans through the ages.

On the south, the hall range towers with three high storeys. The first-floor hall, standing over what was once a service basement, is probably an 18th-century touch to the original 17th-century design, based on the mouldings.

To the east, a modest two-storey cross-wing extends. This is likely to be a 16th-century part. Attached to it on the northeast is another two-storey range, which I’d guess is old lodgings for visitors.

On the west end, a four-storey stair wing projects out, overlapping the hall’s corner. It looks to be a remodelled part of what was once a larger cross-wing from the later 17th century, hinting at its grand past. In fact, I’ve seen a painting of the building which appears to demonstrate this cross-wind was around twice as long.

The exterior has unique features like a massive hall window with 15+15 lights, segmented by a king mullion and two transoms. And at the back of the hall range, I found a window with three round-headed lights, with hollow spandrels and chamfered flush mullions.

Inside, in the east wing, king-post roof trusses are visible. The hall holds a lofty hall with a decorative fireplace and bits of old plaster decoration that can still be seen, including the Latin inscription “CRAS NESCIO CUIUS,” which Google tells me translates to “I don’t know whose tomorrow.”

But now, the hall-house tells a story of neglect. It’s in disrepair and unlivable. The roof is caving in, and the floors are rotted away, making it a dangerous place. Despite this, a good look inside and around reveals its past grandeur, standing as a silent testament to time. Its Latin inscription perhaps rightly echoes the uncertainty of the days to come!

The Parkers lived there for about 200 years before moving to Cuerden Hall in 1718. Two Parkers even served as High Sheriffs of Lancashire from Extwistle Hall in 1653 and 1710. 

The Parker family strengthened their ties and influence in Lancashire through strategic marriages, notably with the Towneley and Banastre families.

The Towneleys were neighbours, based at Towneley Hall near Burnley. The first hall was built at Towneley in 1380 and was a large open barn-like mediaeval building, similar to the ones still seen at Smithills in Bolton and Warton Old Rectory near Carnforth. Seventy years later the huge south wing with its very thick walls was constructed.

Extwistle Hall is around 3.5 miles from Towneley Hall and you can see some of Towneley Park from Extwistle Hall, so it can be imagined that the two families would have interacted. No doubt the Towneleys viewed the Parkers as upstarts and were probably envious of their modern Tudor mansion compared to their mediaeval hall. They themselves went on huge spending sprees from 1674 to develop the crenellated T-shape hall we see today. This was around 90 years after the Parkers built Extwistle Hall.

Tracing the lineage of the Parker family unveils a tale rich with familial connections, marital alliances, and significant contributions to the local community of Lancashire. At the roots of this lineage lies John Parker, born before 1475, who was the father of Robert Parker, marking the inception of a long line of direct descent. There are lots of Roberts in the line! As generations unfolded, a significant union occurred when John Parker, a descendant born around 1540, wed Margaret Parker, née Towneley of Barnside. This marriage marked the first connection between the Parkers and the Towneleys, two families whose destinies would intertwine again in the years to come.

The lineage flourished through the 16th and early 17th centuries, with each generation bearing sons who carried forth the Parker name. Among them was Robert Parker, born around 1608, who fathered John Parker. John, in turn, perpetuated the family legacy at Extwistle, a heritage that his son, Robert Parker of Extwistle, would continue to uphold. Born around 1663, Robert not only bore the mantle of High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1710 but also orchestrated a marital alliance with Elizabeth Parker, née Banastre, from the esteemed Banastre family of Banke Hall.

The land of Cuerden came into the Parker family in the late 1600s through the marriage to Elizabeth. The name “Banastre” became a Christian name used in the Parker family, signifying the importance of this union but this wouldn’t be the last occasion this family would incorporate another family’s name….

As the 18th century dawned, the Parker lineage saw the birth of Banastre Parker in 1696, a progeny of Robert and Elizabeth. Banastre was instrumental in erecting the present Cuerden Hall in 1717, a monument to the family’s enduring legacy. Yet, the ties between the Parkers and Towneleys were destined to be reaffirmed when Banastre wed Ann Parker, née Townley of Royle, marking a second significant union between these families.

It was after a deadly fire at Extwistle Hall that the Parkers finally moved the family seat to the Cuerden, where Robert’s son Banastre had been building a new family seat. No Parker – or Townley Parker – has lived in the Hall since 1718, when the fatal fire led to the death of the patriarch of the family, former High Sheriff of Lancashire, Captain Robert Parker

The fire happened on Thursday, March 17th, 1718 after Captain Robert Parker went out shooting on a day that turned out to be wet and stormy. Consequently, at the end of the day’s sport, he returned to the house drenched with rain. He removed his greatcoat and laid it in front of the fire to dry. Unfortunately, he had omitted to remove his powder flask that still contained a large quantity of gunpowder and the result was that an explosion took place. Captain Parker, along with two of his daughters, Mary Townley and Betty Atkinson, were seriously injured. There was a great deal of damage to the dining room in which the accident happened and two other rooms were set on fire. Unfortunately, Captain Parker succumbed to his injuries and died a month later.

Whilst this was undoubtedly traumatic, their move to Cuerden Hall marked a significant expansion of their influence and holdings in the region.

During this time, Robert Parker and his son Banastre carried forward the family’s legacy both at Extwistle Hall and Cuerden Hall. However, the lineage encountered a notable transition when Banastre, born in 1758, passed away without issue. This heralded a period of reflection and adaptation within the Parker lineage, culminating in Thomas Townley Parker, Banastre’s brother, incorporating his mother’s maiden surname, Townley, into the family appellation, thus birthing the Townley-Parker legacy.

In 1788 Thomas Townley Parker married Susannah, the sole heiress of Peter Brooke Esq. of Astley Hall, Chorley and of Charnock of Charnock. Both the Astley and the Charnock estates came into the control of the Parker family. The long oak table in the Great Hall at Astley Hall, which has eight legs, is a dining or refectory table and was made in the mid-1600s. This table came here from Extwistle Hall around 1800, not long after the Townley Parkers absorbed Astley into their estates.

The new era ushered in by Thomas was further solidified by his son, Robert Townley Parker – our founder – who was born in 1793. By all accounts, he was an illustrious figure, Robert served as a Member of Parliament between 1837-1841 and 1852-1857, and as the Guild Mayor of Preston from 1861 to 1862. His enduring contribution was the establishment of the Townley Parker Lodge 1032, which bore witness to the indelible mark of the Townley-Parker lineage on the community, a testament to the enduring legacy of a family rooted in a rich tapestry of relationships and service spanning centuries.

Extwistle Hall remained part of the Townley Parker family’s East Lancashire holdings though. By the early 1830s, there were nine dwellings with over 50 people living in them and working hand looms and spinning wheels amongst their different trades. Seven families were listed as living in the Hall in the 1841 Census and Robert Townley Parker built a new barn on the site in 1863, just a year before the consecration of Townley Parker Lodge 1032 (see datestone). At this time the hall housed the estate agent but was generally used as a rather grand farmhouse.

The family owned lands in Extwistle and Briercliffe until the 1920s. By then, the family’s male line ended and the Tattons of Wythenshawe inherited the lands of the Townley-Parkers, through marriage to a daughter of Robert Townley Parker, which at the time included Cuerden Hall, Extwistle Hall and Astley Hall (amongst other assets).

Since 1975, a company from the Isle of Mann has owned Extwistle Hall. It’s empty and listed on English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register due to its condition. There have been several attempts to raise the funds to buy and restore the building however, this has yet to come to anything.

In conclusion, the story of Robert Townley Parker is a rich one. It tells us about legacy, ambition and community standing, especially in Lancashire. From Extwistle Hall to Cuerden Hall – and yes, even to this hall – we see a journey. It’s a tale of marriages, gaining lands and service to the community. This has lasted centuries.

Having two Masonic Lodges and a Chapter named after Robert Townley Parker is special. But it’s not just about one man’s dreams. Or even a tribute to a family’s long history. This history is woven into Lancashire’s very fabric. As members of Townley Parker Lodge 1032, we are part of something bigger than our own history. We are part of a long tradition. This history is tied to Lancashire’s past. Our founder, Robert Townnley Parker worked hard to leave a mark. This mark is seen in our Masonic Lodge, in our local community and through the work our lodge continues to do.

I hope this little journey into an area of our lodge’s history that I had no knowledge of prior is a revealing one. I hope it makes our understanding of the Lodge’s roots deeper. I hope it has shown us our connection to our community’s past and it’s future and maybe that our Lodge’s name should be a reminder and a promise of that service.

Let’s carry the good work of service and community further. Just like the Townley-Parker family did, let’s aim to make a difference. Let’s honour the legacy of Robert Townley Parker through our actions. And let’s make Townley Parker Lodge 1032 a place of community and service for many more years to come.