Downham and Whalley, Lancashire – Next Stop on the DNA Journey

We began the day in quaint and beautiful Downham, the next stop on our DNA journey.  In case you hadn’t yet figured it out, the church is always the center of villages, and historically, of village life as well.

Downham road

This is where we think it’s quite likely our Thomas Speake was baptized in 1634 in St. Leonard’s church.

St Leonards Downham

We know that some Thomas was baptized and married here, we just don’t know for sure if it’s our Thomas, but Thomas was not a common name in the Speak family, and there are no other recorded candidates.  Lord Clitheroe showed us the transcribed church record of Thomas’s baptism, along with the “T” that indicated Twiston, and his father’s name, Joannis Speak.  Joannis would show up on the hearth tax for this area in 1766 as John.  Thomas and Johannis were from Twiston, a mile or so down the road, probably the name of a farm of that time.  Twiston Mill still exists today.

St Leonards Baptism

Regardless of whether this particular Thomas is ours, DNA testing has proven that these Speaks family are all descended from a common ancestor, so all related.  Downham is only about 4 miles distant from Gisburn, to provide perspective, and it is literally simply a crossroads.

Lord Clitheroe

After we arrived, the vicar was present to greet us.  Also in attendance to greet us were Lord and Lady Clitheroe.  While he is Lord Clitheroe, his last name was Ashton and he is part of the Ashton family who owned all of the land in Dunham and nearby including Twiston.  Therefore, the Speaks who lived in Twiston had to have worked for the Ashton family.  Lord Clitheroe is at right in the photo above, the vicar at left.

He also told us that he thinks the church was rededicated at some time since all of the Ashton churches are named St. Leonard’s, so it might have been named something else prior.  He brought with him a drawing of the church from 1790, before it was “remodeled.”  The church, below, is what Thomas would have known.

St Leonards 1790

Lord Clitheroe said he believes that the original church was built in about 1138 when the town of Downham was founded by the Lacy family who were the overlords at that time.  The Battle of Clitheroe occurred in 1138 when the “Scots and Picts came down” and slaughtered many English.  Downham was an important crossroads at that time and the Lacy family would have established churches after that battle to keep God on their side and build villages and such to improve life for those who remained.  The result was civilization similar to what we know today.

Lord Clitheroe is a historian and he says he felt that if Thomas’s family was Catholic, he could probably have hidden away easier in Twiston than Downham.  Both are very small areas.  He also said that Twiston had Quakers as well who had a vision on Pendle Hill in 1652.  The Quakers were also a group of dissenters, and I recall that we have a record from that time where a John Speak viewed a Quaker meeting, and testified as to such, so the Speak family had to be from that area.

Lord Clitheroe believes that the Lacy family also built Sawley Abbey, now in ruins, at the same time for the same reasons.  More Holy was always better.

St Leonards door

One of the best views of Pendle Hill from anyplace is from this churchyard.  It’s said that in the 1930s or so the Queen visited the Ashton family and when in the church, said it was the finest view from any church in England.  It was a very gracious thing to say, because most churches, or at least those with any money at all, have stained glass in all of their windows and you can’t see out.

Pendle Hill from St Leonards

Just stunning vistas with gardens of some sort every place you look.  I just couldn’t soak up enough beauty.  I wonder if gardens and flowers were as plentiful when our Thomas Speak left for America, and I wonder if he missed England.

Gardens and Pendle Hill

This church visit was most enjoyable, well, except for the bird poop incident which we’re not discussing.  I will also say that these local women were the nicest, most welcoming group we’ve met anyplace to date, including attempting to help with the bird poop incident in a church with no bathroom facilities.  They just made us feel incredibly welcome and not like we were a bother.

Crissie, the daughter of the retired gardener of Lord Clitheroe, also a Speak descendant, came to visit and took us across the street to see her parents gardens, below.  She showed us Rose Cottage where she was born and was most gracious and lovely.

Crissie in Downham

Here is a fine example of “cottages.”  Nearly every cottage has some kind of beautiful garden in front.

Cottages Downham

I just love these houses, their stonework, the ivy growing up the rock walls and of course, the flowers.

Flowers Downham

Pendle Hill, again.  If I had something red growing up the front of my house, I’d be a little concerned.

Pendle Hill Downham

One of the wonderful things about this village is that tourists never come here, so it’s authentic in every way – up to and including the fact that the door on that house is standing wide open.

We had lunch in Ashton Arms, the local pub, owned of course by Lord Clitheroe, as is most everything else in the village.  Every November, the farmers meet him in the pub to pay the year’s rent on their farms.  He then buys lunch and several pints of course and a fine time is had by all for the day.

Ashton Arms

After lunch, we went on to Whalley (which is pronounced like Wally with a slight wh sound), the location of the oldest church and the oldest Speaks records as well.  Of course, they may have the oldest Speaks records because they have the oldest records of any of the local churches, complete from 1538.  It think it’s evident that the early and later Speaks family lived throughout the Ribble Valley.

I just love the walls here, and their mysterious doors.  I’m not sure what this door leads to, and the sheep wasn’t telling.

Downham sheep

This door is in the wall at St. Leonard’s Church.

St Leonards church wall

This heart had been placed on a grave, but the type of craftmanship is distinctive to this region.  I saw several things “woven” in this manor, but only in this area, so it much be something that is relatively local.

St Leonards woven heart

Downham is literally a block long in each direction and is at the intersection of two roads.

On one side you find the church.  Across the street are the cottages pictured above.  On the other corner, also across from the church is the Ashton Arms Pub, and on the fourth corner, you find the remains of the stocks, directly across from the church.  So whatever business you needed to have done, you could do it all right there in the center of town.

Downham stocks

Crissie, our lovely Speaks cousin who joined us from Downham, was born in the Rose Cottage.

Crissie at Rose Cottage

Chrissie explained about life in Downham.  She told us that she got dressed there in the cottage, the day she was married, and everyone walked across the road to the church, including her in her gown.  There is no place to park at the church and there are no bathroom facilities, so you’re not going to be there long.  Afterwards, everyone went to the Ashton Arms, across the street, of course, where else?

After saying goodbye to Chrissie, we departed Downham and ventured on to Whalley.

St Mary at Whalley

St. Mary and All Saints Church at Whalley, shown above, was first Saxon, then Norman, then rebuilt for the third time about 1200.  The church sits on what was a Roman encampment and evidence of a fragment of an altar with a carving of Mars has been incorporated into the existing church.  The church is referred to in the Domesday Book in1086 as “The church of Saint Mary at Wallei.”

The Church of England required parishes to keep records from 1538 forward.  Local records were to be kept, and copies periodically sent to the Bishop.  Those two sets of records don’t always match, where they both still exist, but it does give us two opportunities to find a record for our ancestors.

The oldest Speak church record found in this area was in 1540 for the baptism of Agneta, at St. Mary’s in Whalley, daughter of Henrici Speake.  The next year, his wife, Johana, was buried.

Speaks genealogists have reconstructed the Whalley families, to the best of their ability.  We find that Henry Speak in 1538 was a tenant of lands in Billington and it was his wife and daughter that were born and died.  It appears that he remarried, because there is also a John and Henry of the correct age to be his children.  These families come forward in time and of particular interest to the Speaks family is the marriage of Johannis Speake who married an Elizabethae Bieseley in 1622.   It has been proposed that this is the same couple who then had son Thomas baptized in Downham in 1634, who is a candidate to be the Thomas Speak who immigrated to America.  Furthermore, it would connect the Whalley and Downham families.  Those connections have not been made today, and may never be, even if they are accurate.  So few records exist.

In this church too, we were met by a volunteer who did an exceptional job giving us a lovely tour.  Somehow it was appropriate to take a group photo in a church and this one is both beautiful and connected to our family.  Plus, we thought of it here:)

It’s amazing when you think of it.  All of these people, from several US states, 3 countries and 3 continents descended from a family who attended this church more than 400 years ago, and probably 800 years ago.  It was our DNA that brought us all together, allowed us to find each other and connect back here.  It was our DNA that was our umbilical bond, guiding us home.

Speak Family at St Mary Whalley

This church held something we haven’t seen before.  The wealthier families could purchase enclosed pews and have a special “box” built.  An early version of box seats. The man giving the tour told us that initially, most people stood for the service.

St Mary Whalley boxes

The earlier church looked a bit different in the painting below.  Perhaps this is more the church that Thomas Speak and his ancestors would have known.

St Mary Whalley older cropped

The choir screens on both sides of the church are indeed, stunning.  They were hand carved about 1430 and rescued from Whalley Abbey when it was destroyed in the 1600s.  Part of the choir screens, behind the rows of bench seats, on the left and right above, are the misericords, which are hand carved pull down seats.  Three have inscriptions, one in French, one in Latin and one in English.  It’s sometimes difficult to remember that French was the official language of England before English, meaning after the Norman invasion of 1066 and until about 1400 when it became the language of the cultured elite.  It seems odd to think of our English ancestors speaking French, but they did.

In the early churches, people with money were buried in the actual floors of the churches.  The more money, the closer to the alter.  So yes, people did walk on your grave, every Sunday, in fact.

St Mary Whalley floor burials

Three ancient sandstone Saxon crosses remain in the churchyard, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries.  Such crosses were often set up as preaching places where no church existed and they may predate the first church in this location.

St Mary Whalley Saxon cross

While the Catholics tried their best to eradicate Pagan practices, often by building their churches on the very grounds where Pagan worship had occurred, not everything Pagan was destroyed.  In fact, from time to time, something slipped into the Catholic church. In this case, one of the misericords, the beautiful hand carved fold down wooden seats for the monks to perch on during long services had a Green Man carved into the front.

St Mary Whalley green man

The Whalley Abbey, destroyed by the King during the Reformation, lies in ruins behind the church.

Whalley Abbey

This drawing was made of the Abbey after it was already in ruins, in the 1700s, but not as ruined as today.

Today the ruined Abbey is located beside a Catholic retreat center and it is stunningly beautiful even in ruins.

Whalley Abbey ruins

Drinking and sewer water from the Abbey came from the River Mersey upstream and was funneled downstream.

Here’s the original spring, now fenced, dating back perhaps to Pagan times when springs were worshipped and believed to be gifts from the Goddess.  Holy wells were often sacred springs in Pagan worship, later Christianized.

Whalley Abbey spring

I love this very ancient road sign.

ancient road sign

After visiting the abbey or what is left of it, we drove by or through Sabden which ironically also had a ‘witches tower’ on the top of the highest hill.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t a witches tower, just a tower built by a man in the 1890s that wanted a good view of the Ribble Valley, so local lore says, but it sure looks like one and it’s in the right place.  The Pendle Witches were from Sabden and this is also where George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith had his vision.  There is a lot of paganism woven into the early Catholic churches and ancient landscape here.  Today, we saw ‘green men’ in carvings in the church at Whalley.  So a tower at the top of the hill doesn’t surprise me one bit.  Oh, and yes, there are Speak people buried in Sabden too.

tower on hill

To reach this area, we had to cross the mountain, Pendle Hill, once again, so we were treated to unbelievable vistas and sheep on the road, crossing very slowly.

Crossing Pendle Hill

We then drove through an area called Blackho which was the area where the last Speaks to be buried in Gisburn lived.  He had no children and his line died out with him.

We knew we were close to “home” when we saw Pendle Hill from a distance, always welcoming.

Pendle Hill near Blackho

Back at Stirk House, I took the nature walk around the grounds while some of the cousins went to visit Twiston itself in a cab.  We couldn’t get there earlier down the small windey roads with the bus.

Twiston, below, looks much like the rest of the area.  Pendle Hill is always ever present.


Twiston 2

Twiston 3

Today, Twiston itself doesn’t really exist.  It was obviously the name of a farm that has gone by the wayside.  However Twiston Mill is still on the map and according to local history, has been in existence as a water-powered corn mill since the 14th century when it was owned by the Cistercian monks from Whalley Abbey.  After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1534, it became a King’s Mill and then later was owned by the Listers of Gisburn and then the Assetons of Downham in the 1900s.

Twiston Mill

Today, this is all that’s left of the mill area.  From 1792-1880, a bustling cotton mill thrived here, although it burned in 1882 and you’d never know that from visiting the area today.

You can view a lovely video of the Downham area including St. Leonard’s Church here.

How I managed to forget about the side trip to Twiston is beyond me, but I did.  So while my cousins called a cab, visited Twiston and took these pictures to share, I was walking nonchalantly through the woods, becoming personally acquainted with the land of my ancestors.

Stirk house hike

I didn’t see many wild creatures, except for a rabbit, but I did find one of my cousins, a black sheep.  There are few of them, most sheep are white, and it’s kind of hard to see them because they don’t stand out like the white ones against the green grass.  He’s hiding in the photo below in front of a bush, but you’ll never see him.

Ribble sheep

Speaking of cousins, remember, in the Gisburn article, I asked you if you thought that our three Speak cousins from this area were paternally related, or not.  49 of you voted.  61%, or 30 people through they would all match, and 39%, or 19 people thought 2 of 3 would match.  No one thought none of the would match.

Would you like to know?

All 3 men do match on the Y chromosome, exactly, at 12 markers.  You may be surprised that we have only utilized 12 markers, but in this case, we are dealing with haplogroup I1.  In total, these Speak men only have 66 matches, and of those, 13 are to other Speak(e)(s) males.  So for us, 12 markers is an inexpensive “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether someone matches the Speak line or not.  Of course, now I’m looking at upgrading the results in order to see who our line matches most closely.

So far, all the Speak men who have tested from this area do indeed share a common male ancestor.  Now, of course, the question that remains, is who.

We may never have the answer to that question, but earlier records that show this surname in this area do exist.  In 1305, Robert Speke was named as a landowner in Billington, which is inside the Whalley parish.  This is the earliest known Speak or similar surname record.

In the Act Book of the Ecclesiastical Court of Whalley a Father John Speyke was chaplain of the chapel of Pendle in 1529 and Johannis Speyke was chaplain of Goodshaw Booth in 1530.  In 1531, John Speyke was one of four clergy in attendance for the Bishop’s visitation.  It’s obvious that this family was very active in this region in the Catholic church, and these early dates are before the forced English Protestant Reformation in the 1540s.  Given their level of personal investment in the Catholic church, it’s not surprising that they refused the Protestant faith and became instead, recusants.

We’re off tomorrow for Chorley and Charnock Richard where the Bowling family lived.  Elizabeth Bowling, also Catholic, married our Thomas Speake and they were the early immigrants to Maryland about 1660 or so.

I will be sad to say goodbye to the Stirk House, once owned by Harry Speak.  We’ve gotten pretty attached.

Stirk house farewell



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13 thoughts on “Downham and Whalley, Lancashire – Next Stop on the DNA Journey

  1. I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
    Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
    The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
    That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
    The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
    The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
    Cecil Spring Rice, 1918

  2. It is just a wonderful story and journey told with pictures and words. It must have been amazing to stand there with all your dna kin in that wonderful place. I loved it. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. This is wonderful. I DNA match to some Speak’s and I’m trying to trace the connection. So far, all I have is Putnam County, MO and DNA matches and public member trees.

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