Monday, 28 May 2018

Facts about the Twisletons

Family tree showing New Zealand link

Review of Dick Twisleton The Descendants of Ella & Harry Twisleton

The Descendants of Ella & Harry Twisleton   Dick Twisleton

Dick Twisleton 2009  ISBN 978-0-473-15680-0  57pp

Twisletons spread across the globe well before the internet. Today they belong together not just by blood but by membership of the electronic global village. My first contact with the indefatigable 84 year old New Zealand author of this family history was by e mail. Dick Twisleton’s The Descendants of Ella & Harry Twisleton starts with his parents’ emigration from Yorkshire to Wellington a century ago. Dick tells their story and charts the genealogy of their ten children, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

Henry Lea (Harry) Twisleton’s poems are published with those of his father Tom and namesake uncle Henry Lea, my grandfather’s cousins, in the 7th Edition of Poems in the Craven Dialect (1953). In them Harry writes of New Zealand and the bushland’s mystic call. The cover photograph of Dick’s volume shows their first ‘whare’ or Maori bush hut. Harry and Ella make a bid for a thousand acres of bush the first owner had abandoned. Dick reconstructs from memory the pioneering process. It is a vivid story enhanced by early pictures of the homestead and the family that grew up in Motu near Gisborne in New Zealand’s north island weathering the elements and two periods of economic depression.

Dick Twisleton is the ninth born of Ella and Harry’s ten children, five boys and five girls. His book, published on the exact centenary of his parents’ emigration from Yorkshire to Motu, has ten chapters. They chart the lives of three generations of New Zealand Twisletons deriving from the pioneering couple. Information provided by cousins and half cousins to one another lacks wider relevance but it is an accessible story of settlement, family expansion and the diversification of employment from rural origins. Dick writes well possessing like his father the Twisleton gift of letters. His own chapter is particularly interesting. By the age of 13 he can shear 100 sheep in a nine hour day. His life changes gear into Navy service with time on a mine sweeper and a visit to England connecting with his roots staying with aunts and cousins. On return to New Zealand he buys a two-man chain saw, supplies logs to sawmills and eventually builds a sawmill himself. This was opened by the Minister of Forests in 1985 but became victim of an economic down turn.

Family memories recorded are impressed by the courage of pioneers Ella and Harry and family life in the 1920s and 1930s at Motu farmstead. As a five year old Dick remembers sitting on the butter churn as older family members turn the handle. His sister Nell remembers sewing hand me downs, essential during the depression when no clothes could be wasted. Another sister Sheila remembers foraging for raspberries. There is excitement in 1933 when a second-hand seven seater car arrives. In 1937 radio comes and with it the broadcast of international rugby to the remote settlement. 

Life in the bush is much on horseback as the early pictures indicate. Harry’s final illness derived from a fall in which his horse landed on top of him. Extricating himself and crawling 2 miles home he is left in bad shape to be nursed by the close family until his death in 1946. He is predeceased by one of his children, Tom who dies in the Second World War with brother Roly taking over his farm. 

The more recent descendants of Ella and Harry serve information technology and web design rather than sheep shearing and sewing. It is this new world that brings Twisletons together. I write as host of, part of the new connecting up of families as dispersed as ours. 

Shall I belong but to the past muses Harry in one of his poems. His son’s fine volume would assure him of the immortality of print at least, print promoted by the electronic media that first brought me in touch with my distant cousin, author Dick Twisleton.

The Revd Dr John Fiennes Twisleton, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, November 2009 

Review of Frank Twisleton’s Letters from The Front

Letters from the Front  F.M.Twisleton
Te Rau Design & Print 2009 ISBN 978-0-473-15581-0 109pp

Letters from the Front is sequel to Francis Twisleton's Boer War diary and is another quality reprint from New Zealand. The Fronts in question were in Gallipoli, France and Palestine during the 1914-1918 global conflict.

The writer is Yorkshire born and part of a family that emigrated to New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. The family members established farms in the Waimata Valley, Gisborne. Twisleton matched that frontier spirit by organising a 'Legion of Frontiersmen' who were to offer military service with British Imperial Forces.

The New Zealand horsemen sail to Europe where their marksmanship makes valued contribution within the savage conflict. It is the last major conflict in which horses play a part. Twisleton notes the excitement of his men as they encounter hydroplanes and submarines in a new kind of warfare. They encounter giant guns and tear gas which at least does damage to the rats that share their trenches.

Light railways play a key role in the military strategy. Without these the equipping of thousands of trips with rations and ammunition would have been impossible. The author describes how the tramways in the French conflict were laid as fast as the infantry advanced. Along these railways thousands were conveyed back to camp hospitals or to their graves.

Captain Twisleton's accounts were sent home to serve the Legion which has been guardian of the inspiring diary that came to an end in Palestine. His third and last posting made full use of cavalry with horsemen in arrays that stretched for miles. The author fell in conflict with the Turks at the Battle of Ayun Kara in November 1917.

The book captures something of the leadership gifts that served an imperial age. Twisleton's enthusiasm established his homestead at the furthest reach of the British Empire. In defence of the prestige of that Empire he offers himself and his network of frontiersmen many of whom were to perish with him in that cause. We may question today the cause and the barbarity of the conflict. The integrity of the author seems much less open to question.

John Twisleton, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex UK April 2010 

Review of Frank Twisleton’s With the New Zealander’s at The Front

With the New Zealanders at The Front Corporal F. Twisleton Te Rau Design & Print 2009 ISBN 978-0-473-16110-1 188pp

The turn of the nineteenth century saw Britain at war with Dutch colonists in South Africa. The Boer War set two colonial powers against each other in a theatre that made the native blacks spectators.

British forces were Imperial forces then. New Zealand was one of the most patriotic of colonies. The men from that colony who fought included first generation emigrants who had battled the elements to establish their own homesteads extending that Empire.

In this reprint of Corporal Frank Twisleton's war diary the reader is engaged by graphic accounts of life at the war front concluding with criticisms of military administration in the African campaign. The book is reprinted a century on by a New Zealand descendant of the author. It first appeared as a weekly column in the local newspaper read by Corporal Twisleton's Yorkshire kin, the Skipton published Craven Herald.

The writing is very good. Twisleton is of a Yorkshire family with literary gifts and tells the story engagingly. It is a story of discovery, young men from New Zealand's outback making the voyage of a life time to Cape Town with horses below deck. There in Africa they make first encounter with black people. Twisleton's account dismays the contemporary reader with its racism and imperial pride. The Dutch settlers are spoken of initially with respect but later on the author confesses to contempt for settlers who have made little headway in developing a country so rich in natural resources.

A blow by blow description of pillage is quite extraordinary. Twisleton helps arrest Dutch farmers, burn their fields and confiscate their livestock. He recounts the farmer's wife who never says a word when they take her husband but howls in anguish when the soldiers grab her turkeys!

There are graphic accounts of the harsh campaign. The soldiers camp on land soiled by thousands of horses. The heat is intense and disease is rampant. They can hardly touch their rifles without getting burned. Water is scarce. Casualties are heavy at times though feelings grow callous. Laughter abounds even as men fall in death all around.

With the New Zealanders at The Front is the chronicle of a tough man from a tougher age than ours. As military history it is accessible and engaging. It also captures something of the anguish and wonder of Africa.

John Twisleton, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex UK                              April 2010

The Twisletons of Settle - on the move Article for Settle & District Community News August 2011 by the Revd Dr John Twisleton

The Twisletons have once again left Settle. My mother, Elsie (89) is happily settled with us at The Rectory in Horsted Keynes, West Sussex where I am parish priest. She sends regards to her friends in town.

Five years ago I provided a Community News slot that helped make connections with local history buffs and led to my giving the 2008 North Craven Heritage Trust lecture. I said then I was a Dalesman in danger of becoming a Downsman – my parish is near the south coast – and this is even more the case now our Whitefriars property is being rented out.

The first Twisletons left the area when they left the Twisleton hamlet on Whernside where West Riding Victoria County History mentions William of Twyselton (1316) holding lands on what is now Twisleton Scar.

In the eighteenth century, after a long occupation, they left Sherwood House on the brow beyond Stainforth where you can still see the initials RAT 1703 over the porch referring to Robert and Alice Twisleton who were married ‘sexdecimo die Maii 1694’ (Giggleswick register), pretty certainly my great-great-great-great-great grandparents.

Their descendants included the acclaimed Craven dialect poet Tom Twisleton (1845-1917) and his poet brother Henry Lea (1847-1905) who lived up at Winskill. The Twisletons left there mid 19th century, Henry for New Zealand from where Settle has had Twisleton visitors reconnecting with their roots. I will soon be providing a reminder about our local poets for Community News.

When did Twisletons leave Twisleton’s Yard? One of the reasons I am writing is to gather any stories people have about the history of the yard. The 1871 and 1881 census returns show it as the residence of Mary Twisleton and her son, Attorney Clerk James whose grave (1902) is in the Churchyard. James’ nephew Gregory (1864-1937) ran a store in Settle Marketplace where his son, my own father Greg (1900-74) was born. Again any memories of that store, just up from ‘Car & Kitchen’ would be helpful in recovering local and family history. Greg left to work in Thorne but moved back to the town with us on his retirement in 1963.

My mother and I want to keep our Settle link as best we can. As part of this, I would be grateful for any feedback on what I have written – challenges, additions and memories renewed of Settle in times past. Please contact me at The Rectory, Station Road, Horsted Keynes, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 7ED 01825 790317 or

The Twisletons of North Craven North Craven Heritage Trust lecture at Long Preston Village Hall by Fr. John Twisleton on Thursday 13th November 2008 7.30pm

This is a homecoming in more sense than one!

I come to you from the South Downs. I’m now outwardly at least more of a Downs man than a Dales man.

In my heart though I’m one with these words on Craven written not from Sussex but from New Zealand by my forbear Henry Lea Twisleton Read from Poems in the Craven Dialect p117 :

Thy mountains, in youth, roused my awe-stricken wonder,
And fancy’s bright angels still haunt their green sod;
Alike in the sunshine, the tempest, or thunder,
They move on the hills in the presence of God.

How often, by Nature’s wild wonders surrounded,
With limbs never-failing, and joy wild and high,
O’er valley or rock-cloven mountain I bounded,
When winds hurl’d the clouds o’er the arch’d starry sky!

Henry Lea Twisleton the poet and John Twisleton the priest were born a century apart. Both of us were rooted here only to move south, one further than the other – New Zealand is quite a way south of Sussex!

It’s a delight to come to Long Preston and speak about my forbears, the Twisletons of North Craven. My mother grew up in Hellifield, where I was baptised in 1949. My father was born to parents who ran the 1900 equivalent of the Settle Coop. To come up from Haywards Heath to speak in Long Preston half way between Settle and Hellifield is a splendid home coming for me!

The Downs and the Dales aren’t chalk and cheese. They’re both chalk – I mean limestone - and they’re great walking country.

Walking seems to be in the Twisleton gene. It was essential for my forbears. It’s recreation for me, as it is for many of us in North Craven Heritage Trust. Well done for your Sunday afternoon walks – and well done for putting them at 1.45pm so they can complement and not rival church going! I’ve got a vested interest there as you know!

My churchgoing and genealogical interest flow partly from long conversations in the 1960s with Canon Miller besides the Aga in Giggleswick Vicarage whilst awaiting my friend Roger, his youngest son. It was Canon Miller who first introduced me literally to parish records. In his study I came to peruse registers that delighted my Latin and informed me of past prejudice. Those margin comments: ‘papist’, fuelling my Anglo-Catholicism with the expressed fear of the Great Church of the West from which the Church of England was hewed. ‘Bastard’ written large too in the margins for children of the unmarried. What a difference from the undiscriminating baptism policies of today which, in that sweeter English and Anglican way, almost apologise for mentioning marriage to unmarried parents.

I must cut to the chase. The Twisletons of North Craven first came real and in print to me through parish records as I called on the different parish priests of North Craven and filled in this exercise book. The Latin of the early records from the 16th and 17th centuries gives way to English when dramatic circumstances dictate as in the record of William Twisleton’s death

Horton AD1614 5 November William Twisleton slaine when a cart upon he fell

Dear William Twisleton – rest his soul! My forbears made their living from the land and sometimes the lay of the land took its toll of them!

The lay of the land is actually responsible for our name. Twisleton means a settlement (old English: ‘tun’) on either a fork in a river (‘twisla’) or a boundary (Scandinavian: ‘twistle’).

There’s no settlement surviving called Twisleton but the name is historically associated with Twisleton Scars. These are part of the descent towards Ingleton from Whernside, the highest of the Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales, near to the Lancashire border.

There alongside Twisleton Scars lie Twisleton Lane, Twisleton Hall Farm and Twisleton Dale House near Chapel Le Dale. The Hall is midpoint on the popular five mile circular Waterfalls Walk that starts from Ingleton. This walk also follows the River Twiss, most probably named by association with the historic community of Twisleton rather than vice versa.

One other claimant to the Twisleton homeland is Twiston, possibly abbreviated from Twisleton, a few miles on the other side of the Lancashire border near Blackburn.

Wills and rentals show the Twisletons to have been a force in this land of North Craven for seven centuries or more so that the West Riding Victoria County History mentions William of Twyselton holding lands near Ingleborough in 1316. The Fountains Abbey Rental of 1495-6 is one evidence which indicates that my namesake John Twisleton held 2 messuages (dwelling houses) and 13 bovates of land in Horton by knight service and pays 10s 1d annually at the said terms, and does suit at the lord’s court at Malham.  A bovate (Latin bos for ox) also known as an oxgang was the amount of land tillable by one ox in a ploughing season. This was around 15 acres. So we’re talking John Twisleton’s holding of 200 acres at Horton in 1495.

Giggleswick, Horton and Clapham parish records show Twisletons in Craven right back to their commencement around 1560. Through my own perusing of parish records I have been able to create a family tree which traces my branch of the family back with certain linkages to my two-times great-grandfather Thomas Twisleton of Stainforth (1777-1841).

The local registers take us back with a shade less certainty to my most likely four times great grandfather Robert Twisleton of Horton who died in 1766. Incidentally it’s Robert’s younger son, James (1786-1861) not shown here who’s pretty certainly the James Twisleton who built Twisleton’s Yard in 1832.  

After Canon Miller’s help some 35 years ago I turned to Thomas Brayshaw. I went to Lamberts and ordered my copy – here it is – Brayshaw & Robinson’s History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick. I love the quotation at the beginning from Robert Southey:

Our home – our birthplace – our native land – think for a while what the virtues are that arose out of the feelings connected with these words: and if thou hast any intellectual eyes thou wilt then perceive the connection between topography and patriotism. Show me a man who cares no more for one place than another, and I will show you in that same person one who loves nothing but himself.

Brayshaw’s index has 4 references to Twisletons and on p49 I read how my ancestor Robert Twisleton appears as resident of Sherwood House and tenant of Sawley Abbey in the assessment list of 1524. It is probably the same Robert Twisleton listed on p48 of Brayshaw as an enrolled bow man for the battle of Flodden in 1513

Most of us will know Sherwood House, now owned by the Metcalfe family, on the brow of the hill beyond Stainforth heading for Horton. I’ve visited the Metcalfes a few times and their lifestyle is a lot more like my forbears than my own. They farm – as most Twisletons have farmed for the greater part of a millennium in North Craven.

Whereas Sawley Abbey, like Fountains, was built on the wool of tenants like Robert Twisleton at Sherwood House today’s 400 sheep are bred just for slaughter. Brian Metcalfe’s sheep end up on a trip to Bentham Auction Market whence many go to Anglesey for slaughter, becoming briefly eligible as Welsh lamb! No different to Kerrygold Irish butter being made at Settle creamery in my own youth!

In the centuries of occupation by Twisletons Sherwood House was known as a tannery. Being near water and a healthy distance from Stainforth Sherwood seems to have had a trade in animal skins as well as tallow candles.

The initials RAT 1703 over the porch of Sherwood House most likely refer to Robert and Alice Twisleton who were married ‘sexdecimo die Maii 1694’ (Giggleswick register). They are pretty certainly my five times great grandparents.

My father’s poetic great uncles lived up at Winskill (hence the title of Tom’s poems’ first edition: ‘Splinters struck off Winskill Rock’). The current resident of Lower Winskill is an old friend, Tom Lord who first inspired me to write something for Settle and District Community News. That article 2 years ago invited an e mail response to a number of my own queries about Twisletons. From those responses I now know that a Twisleton was not the first English man down Gaping Ghyll in 1895, as my father once told me, following the French explorer Martel down the rope! Not true the climbing fraternity tells me – Martel descended alone.

Building on the Settle Community News article I produced two subsequent articles published nationally last year in Family Tree and Your Family Tree magazines.

The Settle Community news article also put me in touch with North Craven Historical Trust  through Dr. Mike Slater.

Back to ‘Splinters struck off Winskill Rock’. I appealed in Settle Community News for copies of this having seen it at the Easter 2006 ‘Connections’ exhibition at The Folly. Since then Anne Read has helped me view a copy of the same which I now understand to be nothing more than the first edition of Tom Twisleton’s poems. I say “nothing more” as a proud possessor of several copies of the poems – at least I know there’s nothing in ‘Splinters struck off Winskill Rock’ not in my full editions of Tom and Henry Lea Twisleton’s poems.

Anne has kindly arranged for a reading in Craven dialect of some of Tom’s poems. I was happy to read Henry Lea myself to start off. He’s not really a dialect poet having left Craven like me! Tom is and so I’m delighted to welcome Lilian Bentham and Michael Fell to give us a taste of my two times great uncle’s verse.

Reading of  ‘Husband and Wife’

You can sense Tom’s commitment to teetotalism from this poem. Boozers can be losers! I remember the Temperance Institute in Hellifield which came into use for family funerals on my mother’s side of the family.

Tom and Henry Lea had a Temperance crusader of a father in Francis Twisleton (1812-1858).

I first encountered Frank Twisleton when my father explained something in the family deed box. It was a cutting from The British Workman of 1861 showing what father called ‘The Craven Giant’, a sketch of an imposing figure campaigning for temperance in a pub captioned: Mr. Francis Twistleton, The Giant Yorkshire Farmer (Weighs 22 stone).

The study of Twisleton history suddenly got some colour and purpose to it! The 1861 cutting about my forbear in the family deed box inspired me – and it humbled me as I read the yellowing paper:

In the earlier years of his life, when a working man, he was accustomed, like many of his comrades, to drink freely, believing that hard work could not be performed without the aid of stimulating drinks. He was, however, induced to abandon both the pot and the pipe, and by God’s blessing on his sobriety and industry, he has risen, step by step, from the ranks of the labouring classes, until he can now be truly regarded as one of the largest farmers and cattle-dealers in Yorkshire, having reference both to the bulk of his person, but also to his extensive crops and herds. Mr. Frank Twistleton of Horton-in-Ribblesdale…is constantly attending cattle markets in the North of England, and seeking, by the distribution of tracts, and conversations with his fellow farmers and cattle-dealers, to induce them to follow his example. We have reason to believe that hundreds of persons have been induced by the example and entreaties of Mr. Twistleton, to abandon their habits of intemperance, and are now sober fathers, and good husbands.

Who knows what good influence came to me from the press cutting in our deed box! At any rate it spurred me to family research, one of the first fruits of which being the discovery of my twice great uncle’s tombstone. That’s’ a good word for him – ‘twice great’!

Frank’s gravestone is legible and still stands in St. Peter’s churchyard, Stainforth with this inscription: In affectionate remembrance (IHS) of Francis Twisleton (late of Winskill) who died Sep 19th 1875 Aged 63 years. Also of Mary his wife who died April 8th 1887 Aged 70 years

Francis and Mary lived at Winskill, whether Upper or Lower no one seems to know. When I was a boy my father, Greg Twisleton (1900-1974) used to take me on walks up Penyghent driving up to our starting point behind the mountain past Winskill. As we drove along the road to above Winskill farms he would remind me that this was where our Giant’s two sons Tom and Henry Lea, his father’s cousins, the so-called “Craven poets” were born and brought up. Like me, my father and uncle Tom Henry Lea attended Giggleswick Grammar School as a day-boy. You can read his name in the Giggleswick School Register  p57. I’m grateful to my friend David Gilchrist for loaning me this copy – his father and mine, like David and I, are OGs. Back to Henry Lea. Like my own father, Greg, he worked in a Settle bank then moved to east Yorkshire. He would regularly walk home to Winskill from Wetherby showing the outdoor stock he was made of. Henry Lea Twisleton moved to New Zealand in 1875 and died there in 1905.

His brother and fellow poet Tom Twisleton escaped Gigg. In Ken Smith’s ‘Dialect Poets of the Dales’ we read rather that Tom helped his father on the farm, launched out independently as a corn-dealer and, on his father’s death, returned to the farm to breed prime cattle and make best butter. All these ventures were successful as was his later business as an insurance broker, carried on eventually from Burnsall and, late on, from lower down Wharfedale at Menston. Not a great deal of information on his marriage and family is available, which no doubt results in serious injustice here to Mrs. Twisleton who presumably had much to do not only with their eight children but also with that “best butter”. However this may be his daughter spoke of him as “an affectionate husband and father”…a significant aspect of his life in the later nineteenth century is his success at penny readings of his dialect verse in Yorkshire and Lancashire (where) he would combine poetry-reading with rousing Temperance speeches. The teetotal cause was genuinely important to him.

I’m most grateful for these pictures and items linked to Tom Twisleton from the Museum of  North Craven Life at The Folly. Our thanks to Sue Mackay, Anne Read and the team for all they do, with the Hudsons’ at North Craven Historical Research Group and this Trust to stop our community getting Alzheimer’s in the body of our North Craven Community!

I always love going to The Folly. My father used to take me to Uncle Herbert and Aunty Agnes Grisedale when they had a furniture shop there in the 1960s.

These are copies of pictures and items Sue sent me linked to Tom Twisleton including a Postcard to Miss A Twisleton, Stead hall Farm, Burley in Wharfedale, 1906. I’ve had a little difficulty transcribing these verses but they sort of read:

Carlton in Coverdale, Wednesday morning
The moorland air is clear and keen
The moorland roads are dry and clear
The world is calm and still
At Carlton I’ll no longer stop
But turn my steps as brisk as Pop
To tackle Dead Man’s Hill

If Twisletons began in North Craven where do they end up besides Sussex?

The New Zealand descendants through Henry Lea Twisleton have been mentioned. They too have met the Metcalfes at Sherwood House.

How do the Twisletons of Horton and Settle relate to people like Captain Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes? There is no easy answer to this. My father and I have kept in touch with Ranulph’s uncle, Lord Saye and Sele of Broughton Castle near Banbury and his late brother David Fiennes. Together we are aware that the Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes gained their Twisleton through a London goldsmith who worked for Henry VIII, John Twisleton who had a Yorkshire, maybe even a Settle connection. My own middle name is Fiennes which affirms our association with the southern branch of the family.

David Fiennes wrote once to me: “In the latter half of the 15th century there were at least two families called Twisleton near Darrington (Pontefract). From which of the other [Blackburn or Ingleton] families (if either) they derived I have no idea. John, a younger son of one of them, went to London in 1488, made money as a goldsmith, bought land near Selby, and became the ancestor of my own family”

In this context Brayshaw records, remarkably to me, a visit to North Craven around 1695 by Celia Fiennes, grand daughter of the 1st Lord Saye and Sele, William Fiennes. Celia was an intrepid explorer. She never married and travelled around England on horseback from a base in London. She was related to my namesake John Twisleton and the noble family at Broughton Castle. Could it be the Twisleton linkage that drew her to North Craven? What would she have to add to my presentation, I wonder? Certainly she seems a precursor of Captain Sir Ranulph. A record of her explorations, The Journeys of Celia Fiennes produced by Christopher Morris in 1947 is still available commercially.

Most celebrated of contemporary Twisletons is the third Baronet of Banbury, Captain Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. True to the family motto: fortem posce animum (ask for a brave spirit).  Randolph’s list of exploits earned him the title of “the world’s greatest living explorer” from the Guinness Book of Records. Besides traversing going around the world in the famous Transglobe Expedition, he is famous for hover-crafting up the White Nile, parachuting onto Europe’s highest glacier, discovering the lost city of Ubar and travelling overland to the North Pole not to mention his more recent ascent of Everest.
When you do a Twisleton search on the internet Randolph appears, alongside our Craven Poets Tom and Henry Lea Twisleton. It is very humbling for Twisletons though that the most popular figure on search lists remains fictional: Reginald “Pongo” Twistleton from the popular Uncle Fred books of P.G.Wodehouse! On his account being a Twisleton (let alone one from Giggleswick) always has shades of the music hall about it!

More prosaically, and keeping on Twisletons beyond Craven, my years looking through births, marriages and deaths registers in the Family Record Centre – now sadly just an online resource -  between when they start in 1837 and the end of 1913 unearthed 541 Twisletons. Of these there were 115 Twisletons of Craven (21%), 208 Northamptonshire Twisletons (38%) and 66 London based Twisletons (12%).

Searching for Twisletons at the Family Record Centre is a simple, rewarding exercise even with three variants when you think of Smiths and Browns! Nevertheless you have three variants and more! In that sense who’d have a name like mine?

The three main spellings are: Twisleton(ne), Twiselton and Twistleton. In the Giggleswick, Horton and Clapham parish registers Twisleton is used 100%. In Settle parish register it is used 99.4% with Twistleton used 100% in churchyard burial register. At the Family Records Centre entries 1837-1913 are Twisleton (32.0%), Twiselton (56.7%) and Twistleton (11.3%). The overall averages for all records stored in my Twisleton Family Files are: Twisleton (58.0%), Twiselton (32.4%) and Twistleton (9.6%).

In July last year I published an article in Your Family Tree magazine entitled ‘A Religious Gene?’ It was, if I dare say so, a little tongue in cheek. The editor of that magazine had read an early account of my research on Twisletons and invited me to re write my account with a view to whether you can get religion in the blood. I did so despite a conviction that faith is a gift from God because among other things it gave me a chance to air some of Tom Twisletons Christian sentiments. We’re going to hear some more of his poetry in that vein in a moment.

The ‘Religious Gene’ idea arose from American molecular geneticist Dean Hamer’s conclusions. After comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples Hamer concluded that a person's capacity to believe in God is linked to brain chemicals. His findings are naturally contested by those of us who see spiritual enlightenment as coming through divine revelation rather than the brain's electrical impulses.

In the course of my family research and contact with other branches of the family I have come across clerical Twisletons across the land who cannot be directly linked to my own family tree: Bro. John de Thytelton (Vicar of Sheffield 1307), Adam de Twyselton (Canon of Worksop Priory 1351), Thomas Twisleton (Curate of  Swillington near Leeds 1724), D. Twisleton (Curate of East Ardsley 1755), Revd Mr. Twizleton(Vicar of Huddersfield 1734, 1739), Frederick Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (1799-1887: Archdeacon of Hereford related to Jane Austen). The Revd Arthur Twistleton was one of the so-called “Cambridge Seven” who went out as missionaries to China in 1885 to labour for the spread of Christianity in that land bearing fruit right up to this day.

Is religion – more specifically my religion - in the genes or not? What do we make of this idea? It’s taken up quite a bit by Richard Dawkins in his hypothesis that religions are like memes, a sort of malignant social gene in his understanding. The religious response to Dawkins has been to protest along the lines that there is good and bad religion  Looking back on what I can discern of my forbears’ religion I am pleased to find in Tom Twisleton someone who criticised formal religion and praised religion that flows from the heart, as we shall hear shortly.

There is a ‘manhandling’ of religion and always will be but I believe religion is ‘God-given’ or revealed. Is it given by our genes? In a profound sense God has no grandchildren or great-grandchildren – only children who welcome him. Its the readiness and openness to welcome God that is at issue and that could surely have a genetic component.

A little child told about the Queen went to see Buckingham Palace. She left disbelieving because she had not seen anything that made sense of the Queen’s actual existence. If the Queen had appeared on the Palace balcony during her visit there would have been a different outcome. In Christianity God is said to have appeared in Jesus Christ. This is what we mean by revelation. Of course there are revelations of God apart from Christianity and this is not the time to weigh them up.

My forbears Frank, Tom and Henry Lea wrote however with clear conviction concerning that revelation.

Here once again thanks to Lilian we have Tom Twisleton in Craven dialect – a searching poem on religious hypocrisy called ‘Church Gangin’

Reading of  ‘Church Gangin’

Genealogical study brings you brief splashes of celebrity like dear Tom Twisleton. Otherwise there’s a humble charting of lives summarised by family relationships and occupations gleaned from census forms and parish registers. For the Twisletons of Craven records from 1560 to date chart livelihoods made initially from the land that develop over the last two centuries with industrialisation.

The excellent Stainforth parish history mentions the Twisleton family’s involvement in farming from the dissolution of the monasteries until the nineteenth century. On p76 we read: “They were tanners and cattle dealers and, logically enough, also had an interest in tallow production and candle making. Not surprisingly with all this hard work going on, much refreshment would have been required, and…there was a malt kiln operating through most of the 18th century”. I mentioned earlier how the situation of Sherwoodhouse suited the smelly work of the slaughter, treating and tanning of animal skins with the production of tallow, as well as the brewing.

Craven district Twisleton occupations listed in 19th century census returns and parish registers include cattle jobber (John 1841), farmer of 235 acres (Francis 1871), dairymaid (Nanny 1871). They also evidence the development of the Paper Mill at Langcliffe and Cotton Factory in Skipton as well as that of clerical and shop work: paper sorter (Mary 1838), cotton weaver (William 1881), tin plate worker (William 1861), attorney’s clerk (James 1859), bank clerk (Henry Lea 1871), railway clerk (John 1881), butcher (James 1829), dress maker (Alice 1851) and iron monger (Robert 1861).

The fruits of genealogical study go beyond family history to light up its context in an evolving community. As the work of North Craven Heritage Trust affirms, any society that forgets its history loses its rooting and stability.

It delighted me to read in the Stainforth history of my twice great grandma and my great aunt’s involvement in dealing with everyone else in the great snowstorm of early 1842. We read on p77:  “In January and February of 1842, there must have been very heavy snowfalls as many villagers lent a hand at a rate of one shilling (5p) a day. Even Nanny Twistleton, a widow 56 years old, living at what is now Fountain House and farming about 34 acres, was probably glad to earn 9d (4p), and her daughter Isabella must have struggled through the snow to get to Langcliffe Mill where she worked as a papermaker”. This passage brought me home literally since I myself worked at the same paper mill in the mid 1960s as a student!

Genealogy is a fascinating science. There are so many things and people to connect.

I am very aware that time is running out and though I’ve mentioned my Stainforth links I’ve hardly touched on the Settle family, let alone the Skipton branch. By Settle I mean the obvious Twisleton legacy to the community in Twisleton’s Yard. The Yard was built c1832 for a James Twisleton. It was restored by Canon Miller’s eldest son John Miller in 1976. I remember meeting the Duke of Gloucester who came for its reopening then. Phil and Rita Hudson’s Settle Streets and Buildings describes how the Yard was: Once full of old cottages and workshops. Some were demolished in the 1920’s, others were converted into larger houses in 1975. In 1844 all were owned by James Twistleton from whom the name derives, but were occupied by many families. There is a reference to Twisleton’s Yard in the 1871 and 1881 census returns as the residence of our Giant Frank’s Aunt Mary and her son, Francis’ cousin, Attorney’s Clerk James whose grave (1902) is in Settle Churchyard. After 1899 James Twistleton was on the Board of Settle Mechanics Institute started in 1831.
North Craven Deeds refer to Twisleton stores in Settle marketplace: 1757 John Twistleton in possession of 1 shop at north end; William Twistleton mentioned re market place cottages and shops; 1782 reference to Twistletons having a shop at the Naked Man rebuilt perhaps 1782;

My grandfather Gregory Twisleton (1864-1937) ran a shop. His son, my own father Greg (1900-74) was born there in the rooms above what was the Nuvic CafĂ© next to the Coop in my youth. My father with in Holy Ascension Choir. He’s also buried in the churchyard. My mother, Elsie, well into her eighties, lives on in Whitefriars Court behind the Old Naked Man.

Lastly a Skipton story about Twisletons with a health warning! Joan Smith, nee Holden (12, Charlton Grove Silsden, Keighley, BD20 0QG) was in touch with me recently.
Joan had a story that would have disappointed my great uncle Francis of temperance fame. It’s also a warning about how corrupting life in Skipton can be.

Hi John, just got a computer at 73, trying to research my grandpa William Twisleton from Winskill, who must have been a big disappointment to his family. According to my mother Ruth, his daughter, he was sent to an uncle in Skipton to learn the pub trade, and was never sober thereafter. She and her siblings got milk and sugar in their tea at Christmas, and often went without food all day. Her father was ashamed and apologetic but irredeemable it seems. When he died he was buried in a paupers grave in Waltonwrays, Skipton, and the funeral was attended by some of his family who had cast him off years before. Aunt Polly, who wore her bonnet at the same tilted angle as her Twisleton nose was a source of irreverent amusement to my 17 year old mother, who was told at the ceremony never to ask for any help from her father’s family. Sadly his death was quite a relief to her, though he was a kind man really.

A humbling tale – not without hope from that last phrase. I remember reading Yes Minister TV star Paul Edington’s autobiography. Paul was asked how he would like to be remembered. As a celebrity he surprised the interviewer. ‘I would like to be remembered as someone who did very little harm’ he said. ‘Most people do a great deal of harm’.

I wonder how much or how little harm we Twisletons have done – God knows (you’d expect me to say that!).  The first William Twisleton I mentioned was slaine when a cart upon he fell in 1614. There was a Revd William Twisleton whose denomination is unknown – I’d like to know it – who once lived at Sherwood House in 1768. The last William Twisleton I mention was an amiable drunkard in the Skipton of Queen Victoria.

The first John Twisleton I mentioned farmed 200 acres in 1495. This John Twisleton mows the Vicarage grass!

Twisletons past and present have been tonight’s subject with a focus on North Craven. My research has its basis in my rural roots and their evolution. It has served to connect realms as varied as the lie of the land that brought about my name, the certain identification of ancestors in records stretching back 250 years, engagement with another famous family group and vignettes from the past that show me the courage, humanity and, yes, indulgence of my forbears.

Thank you for your attention. Our thanks to both Lilian Bentham and Michael Fell for their poetry readings. I am happy to deal with any questions if I am able to do so.

A religious gene? Your Family Tree Magazine July 2007 Father John Twisleton traces his family tree and asks whether you can get religion in the blood.

During the course of my family research, religion has cropped up quite a bit, and some of the interesting characters and stories I’ve come up with have given me food for thought. Is religion in my family’s genes? Could it be that my own Christian faith is made easier by my history?

I started my family research in Giggleswick Vicarage in around 1970. I was a friend of the Vicar’s son and through this friendship I got to know his dad, who told me how the Mormons (better known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were a bit of a pest for Anglican clergy as they were busy copying parish records. Of course, this is something everyone is grateful for today! The idea dawned that with a local name like Twisleton I might find it interesting to look in local parish records, which I did. I have a faded exercise book from those days full of Twisleton records.

Thirty years on I’ve come back to family research, and I’ve since been a custodian of parish records myself as a priest. In my present work as mission and renewal adviser in Chichester diocese, I am aware of how our parish records help people in Sussex to discover their history, and asa a family historian, I’m pleased to see how our priests and churchwardens take the time and trouble to help researchers.

I live in Haywards Heath, some way from my roots in the Craven Peak District. Fortunately for me, it’s only a short trip to the Family Record Centre in Islington or The National Archives at Kew, where I have been greatly helped in my research. I’ve been able to look through census records from 1841 and civil records of births, marriages and deaths from 1837.  Personally, I find looking through registers by hand more appealing than an internet search. Another useful addition to my research tools is the program Family Tree Maker.

Poets and Preachers

Tracing my ancestors to the Craven Peak District, I was delighted to find the details for my 2x great-grandfather Thomas Twistleton. I also found that in addition to my great-grandfather (Gregory Twisleton), he had anothe son, Francis. With a little more research I discovered another generation, and I became the proud owner of the birth certificate for Thomas Twistleton, born September 4th 1845 at Winskill, Settle, York West Riding, registered by his father, Francis Twistleton, farmer. Winskill Farm, Tom’s birthplace, still stands above the village of Langcliffe on the road to Malham.

These men witness form a large part of my religious pedigree. Thomas (1845-1917) is famed in Settle to this day for his Poems in the Craven Dialect with Christian insight. Tom Twisleton’s poems can still be found in second-hand bookshops and include much witty reflection on life and criticism of religious hypocrisy as in Church Gangin’ and The Church in Danger which shows sympathy for the free churches then arising in Craven. Tom’s brother Henry Lea (1847-1905) who emigrated to New Zealand also published poems.

Tom’s father, Francis (1812-1858), nicknamed “The Craven Giant” was a Temperance campaigner. I found out about his ministry through a press cutting in my family deed box – an excellent first resort for researchers if possible – published in a journal named The British Workman in 1861:

In the earlier years of his life, when a working man, he was accustomed, like many of his comrades, to drink freely, believing that hard work could not be performed without the aid of stimulating drinks. He was, however, induced to abandon both the pot and the pipe, and by God’s blessing on his sobriety and industry, he has risen, step by step, from the ranks of the labouring classes… Mr. Frank Twistleton [sic] of Horton-in-Ribblesdale…is constantly attending cattle markets in the North of England, and seeking, by the distribution of tracts, and conversations with his fellow farmers and cattle-dealers, to induce them to follow his example. We have reason to believe that hundreds of persons have been induced by the example and entreaties of Mr. Twistleton [sic], to abandon their habits of intemperance, and are now sober fathers, and good husbands.

Who knows what good influence comes to me from my great great uncle? His tombstone still stands in St. Peter’s churchyard in the village of Stainforth in Ribblesdale with this inscription: ‘In affectionate remembrance of Francis Twisleton (late of Winskill) who died Sep 19th 1875 Aged 63 years. Also of Mary his wife who died April 8th 1887 Aged 70 years’.

Research before 1837

My work had already turned up two extremely prominent religious forebears. However, I didn’t feel that this was enough to prove a genetic link. I therefore set about delving further into my family’s past.

As other family historians will know, research before 1837 is inevitably constrained by the lack of civic records, although church records do come much into play. Fortunately, family history is full of helpful, enthusiastic people whose dedication to the subject is invaluable for all those researching their families.
My research in the Settle area was greatly assisted by Phil Hudson who operates the North Craven Historical Research Group ( The group has made a variety of documents available online, including some of the registers of the ancient parish of Giggleswick which I had searched manually 30 years before. Through writing an article on the local significance of the Twisleton family for the Settle and District Community News I was quickly in electronic contact with local history buffs. My research was also given a helping hand by the Stainforth History Group’s excellent local history Stainforth – Stepping Stones through History and by a chance visit to an open day at St. Peter’s Church in Stainforth.

Reverend forbear

In my 1970 exercise book there was one record that intrigued me. Giggleswick parish registers record the burial of Revd. William Twisleton of Sherwoodhouse on 27th February 1768.  Thomas Brayshaw’s history of Giggleswick speaks of Twisletons living at the same Sherwoodhouse before 1600.  I decided to pay a visit to this farm, which is now operated by the Metcalfe family. It stands outside Stainforth village on the road to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. When I arrived I was delighted to find “RAT 1703” inscribed over the front door. These letters, and the date almost certainly refer to Robert and Alice Twisleton whose marriage of ‘sexdecimo die Maii 1694’ is recorded in Giggleswick church registers. The Revd. William Twisleton would be their descendant and is most likely an uncle of my great-great uncle Francis, the preacher of temperance.

So how could I find out more about Reverend William Twisleton? For example was he Anglican or Dissenter? The National Archives at Kew have Nonconformist registers on microfilm which I searched for that part of Yorkshire but found no results.

A project to create a database of clergymen of the Church of England between 1540-1835 is underway ( which I will be following with interest, along with new church resources online that help those exploring family history via parish records.

Spreading the net

In the course of my research, and through contact with other branches of the family, I have come across clerical Twisletons across the land who cannot be directly linked to my own family tree. But family history is never finished, aand one day I hope to be able to prove a link to Bro John de Thytelton (Vicar of Sheffield 1307), Adam de Twyselton (Canon of Worksop Priory 1351), Thomas Twisleton (Curate of  Swillington near Leeds 1724), D Twisleton (Curate of East Ardsley 1755) or Revd Mr Twizleton(Vicar of Huddersfield 1734, 1739). I have also found a Frederick Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes who was Archdeacon of Hereford between 1799 and 1887, and was also related to Jane Austen. Plus there’s Revd Arthur Twistleton Polhill-Turner - one of the famous “Cambridge Seven” who went out as missionaries to China in 1885.

So religion is certainly in my family. But is it part of my genetic make-up? I’m certainly more open to this view following my family research. Whether there’s any true evidence to say that religion runs in your DNA, though, is doubtful. Looking back on what I can discern of my forbears’ lives, I am simply pleased to find in Tom Twisleton someone who praised religion that flows from the heart.

Dialect Poem - Church Gangin’

Written in local Craven dialect, the author’s feelings are clear. This poem by Tom Twisleton provides an insight into his views on religious hypocrisy.

Yan Sabbath day, I’ summer time,
When leaves were green an’ flowers smelt prime,
An lile birds raised a din,
I chanced to pass a house o’ prayer,
That rear’d its steeple in the air,
As fooaks were gangin’ in.

I stood an’ watch’d ’em walkin’ in,
To hear of future woe for sin,
An’ bliss for t’ just an’ wise;
An’ whal I gloor’d wi’ vacant stare,
An’ watch’d em enter t’house o’ prayer,
Strange thowts began to rise.

I ex’d mysel, “What is it brings
Yon mingled group of human things,
That fra their houses come?
Do they come here to sing an’ pray,
An’ to the priest attention pay?”
Answer says, “Nobbut some.”

An’ then, again, there’s some who gang,
Wi’ solemn looks an’ faaces lang,
    To sing the sang o’ praise;
Who wear religion as a clooak,
To hid fra unsuspectin’ fooak
Their cunnin’ roguish ways.

There’s some, na dout – but, ah! a few!
Who gang wi’ hearts sincere an’ trew,
    To worship heaven’s high King;
Who humbly kneel befoor the throne,
An’ in return for mercies shown,
Their heartfelt praises sing.
Fr. John Twisleton has served as a parish priest in Doncaster and Coventry, a missionary in Guyana and mission adviser in London and Chichester dioceses. Family history is his hobby along with writing and walking.