The Hopwoods of Hopwood

Much of the information presented below is taken from "A History of Hopwood Hall" by C. Stuart Macdonald first published in 1963 on behalf of The De La Salle Training College, Middleton, by Waldegrave (Publishers) Limited, London SW 1. Ó Copyright C. S. Macdonald 1963.


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The Feudal Estates

The word Hopwode means a ‘wood in a small enclosed valley’. The name Hopwode appears in records during Saxon times. It is the family name of the Barons Southborough. The family name ‘Hopwode’ dates from when a Middleton Knight was granted land where ancient ‘Hopwood Hall’ now stands at Middleton near Manchester in Lancashire. The knights Hopwode de Hopwode ruled their estates of Hopwood, Birch, Stanyecliffe and Thornham for many centuries. The village Hopwood is located near Hopwood Hall. For a period of at least five hundred years, the Hopwoods were interred in the churchyard of the parish church of the de Middletons and de Hopwodes at Middleton.

There was also a Saxon hamlet in Worcester called Hopwood dating from 846 AD near a Middleton Hall. The name Langley also appears nearby. The senior branch of these Saxon families may have moved north to Lancashire in Saxon days.

The Hopwodes, the Langleys and the Ashworths all bore the same basic coat of arms as their lords, the de Middletons, a paly of six argent and vert. The paly of six was an ancient device in Britain and used by six Saxon princes of Northumbria beginning with Ella in the sixth century. It would appear from the similarity of their arms, that all three families were descended from the younger sons of the original lords of Middleton, who may have been Saxons.

In Norman times the Hopwodes served the lords of Middleton in the field as mailed knights with lance and sword, or pay tribute to be exempted. William the Conqueror divided England into shire estates granted to his Norman and French allies, and the royal gift of Lancaster was granted to Count Roger de Poitou. The Count then granted Tottington to his man the Baron Montegon of Hornby Castle. The estate of Fee of Tottington consisted of Bury, Tottington and Middleton and was bordered on the northeast by the huge Barony of Lacy de Clitheroe and the southwest by the Barony of Grelle de Manchester.

Prince John’s Rebellion 1193

Prince John, overlord of Lancaster, rose against his brother Richard the Lionheart in 1193. Richard was absent during the Crusades at this time. Local tradition holds that there were Hopwoods in the reign of Prince John. If this is true they would have been involved in the rebellion of 1193 with their lords, the de Middletons.

Upon Richard’s return to England the rebellion collapsed. Earl John’s men, including the de Middletons, were fined for taking up arms against King Richard. The Hopwoods, who served the de Middletons, fought against Richard’s supporters.

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Early Written Records

An old family manuscript refers to Hopwood in 1100 during the reign of William Rufus. The earliest written record of the Hopwood families, still existing, are of the year 1277. William de Hopwode attested a grant of land by Henry, third Earl Lacy who, now as the new baron over the Hopwoods, took over the lands of the now extinct Montbegon’s line in 1274. From hereon, the name Hopwode appears in court records of fines.

Documents preserved at the great Abbey of Whalley (founded in 1302 by de Lacy) refer to Willmus de Hoppewod. He rode to Rochdale, with his lord Roger de Middleton (died 1310), to witness the resignation of any claim to Rochdale Parish Church by one John de Eland and by John de Lacy in favor of the Abbot of Stanlaw.

Other mention of the Hopwoods during this period refers to the possession of nearby Stanycliffe Hall. A William Hopwode was fined at Lancaster with other Manchester gentry for causing a tumult. The mediaeval Hopwoods were also implicated in two murders and the unlawful detention of a gentleman.


Rebellions in Lancaster 1315-1324

At the time of the battle of Bannockburn, Thomas de Hopwode (1270-1330) joined a group who rebelled against the great overlord Thomas of Lancaster, cousin to and bitter enemy of the king, Edward II. After the defeat of the rebels, Thomas de Hopwode was imprisoned until he was ransomed for fifty marks.

Six years later in 1321, Adam de Hopwode joined overlord Thomas de Lancaster in a rebellion against the King. After the defeat and execution of the great lord of Lancaster by the Kings forces at Boroughbridge, Adam was imprisoned and later fined and released. In November 1324, Thomas, lord of Hopwood and father of the imprisoned Adam, pledged himself that Sir Thomas would return the victor’s booty to the king.

The Hopwoods came under a new great overlord of Lancaster in 1345, when Henry Plantagenet succeeded his father as Earl of Lancaster. Henry was created first Duke of Lancaster in 1351. Shortly before his daughter married John of Gaunt, John's bailiffs imposed an arbitrary fine on the property owners in Manchester, among them one Adam de Hopwode. Adam, now lord of Hopwood, rode to Preston along with other Manchester knights to protest against the infringement of their rights.

The Hopwodes were not always on the side of the law however. There was much violence in Lancashire during this century and sword, cudgel and dagger were often employed. Lancashire was famous for its archers and some assassins even resorted to the bow.

The Hopwoods were implicated in two murder cases. Richard de Tetlowe of Oldham was shot through the body by an arrow from a long bow while walking and died immediately in his wife’s arms. Thomas de Hoppewode was among those charged. Later, in 1376, Geoffrey de Hoppewode was outlawed for life for felony and forfeited his estates in Hopwood.

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Thomas Langley, Bishop of Durham and Chancellor of England

As noted above, the Langleys, as the Hopwoods and Ashworths in Saxon times, are believed to be junior sons of the de Middleton family. Geoffrey de Langley fought with Richard the Lion Heart in the Holy Land in 1192. John of Gaunt knighted the Langleys for their services on the field of battle. An illustrious son of the Langleys was one Thomas (circa 1360 – 1437), a cleric, who was to become the Chancellor of England during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V.

Thomas was noticed for his brilliance in administering the secular and clerical business of John of Gaunt. Thomas became his treasury clerk and traveled with his court. Thomas also knew Chaucer who was often in the household. Gaunt put great value on his services and sent him as his representative into Wales to Richard II. Thomas was successively appointed to various important positions. In March 1397 Thomas took final Holy Orders and was ordained priest in Coventry Cathedral.

After Gaunt’s death, Henry IV made Dean Thomas Langley Lord Chancellor of England for the first time. Henry is said to have usurped the throne from Richard II. He unjustly executed the then Archbishop of York. Thomas Langley, who, through Henry’s influence, was for a time Archbishop of York, was eventually removed by Papal decree and was translated to Durham as its Bishop in 1406. Thomas was uncomfortable with Henry’s actions and resigned as Chancellor in January of the following year. Four years later Bishop Langley was made Cardinal.


Bishop Langley – Cardinal, Statesman, Diplomat and Builder

Cardinal Langley rebuilt, adorned and constructed churches and schools. He rebuilt his native parish church at his own expense. In the early summer of 1412 Prince Henry (later Henry V) was staying at Langley’s house in London when Langley was informed that the parish church construction was complete and he sought and received permission from the Bishop of Lichfield to consecrate the new church.

Upon his succession to the throne, the great Henry V made use of Langley’s abilities, and in July 1414 sent him as ambassador to Frances along with various nobles and six hundred horse. Thomas Langley had to tell the French that France should be restored to Henry V and that the hand of Princess Catherine of France should be granted to Henry. The French rejected this proposal and Langley returned to England to advise the King. Thomas was sent back to France in December to repeat Henry’s claim, and it was again rejected. Although the Cardinal was derided for his failure by some, the King expected the rejections. Before departing for battle at Agincourt, Henry bequeathed a missal and a breviary to Thomas in his will.

In 1417, Henry appointed Thomas of Langley, Cardinal and Bishop of Durham, as Chancellor of England for the second time. His last great act as a statesman was to conclude the Treaty of Durham with James I of Scotland after which he resigned the Great Seal and traveled to Durham to complete his great work as Bishop and builder. After many years of service to church and state, he died on November 30, 1437 in his 75th year.

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Bosworth Field 1485

The Hopwoods were subject to Sir Ralph Assheton, Vice constable of England the new Lord of Middleton at this time. Sir Ralph executed Richard Crookback's enemies with great severity. He had a reputation for cruelty and was known as the 'Black Knight'. Thomas Hopwood and his three young sons John, Robert and Ralph fought under the Black Knight's banner at Bosworth though the battle was lost owing to treachery. After the death of their royal master Richard, they fled the field, but the forces of Henry Tudor captured them and Sir Ralph was later beheaded. However, Henry Tudor wanted to make peace with the Yorkists, and marry Elizabeth of York, so the Hopwoods and many others were spared. A pardon written in Latin with the seal of Lancaster was given to the Hopwoods, and bore their names.


Flodden field 1513

Middleton, Hopwood and Langley were famous for their archers. Richard Assheton, Lord of Middleton won glory against the Scots at Flodden in 1513, when he with his company of bowmen captured the High Sheriff of Aberdeen and the Sergeant Porter to King James. The latter captive identified the Scottish king's corpse after the battle. John Hopwood of Hopwood, who had married Assheton's sister, probably led many Hopwood men at Flodden Field. Nine years later, in thanksgiving for the victory, Sir Richard enlarged Cardinal Langley's church, and had a stained glass window commemorating Flodden inserted in the church.


Hopwood Chapel

The Hopwoods heard Mass in their own chapel at Hopwood Hall. The chaplain at the Hall in 1439 was Robert de Musbere, or in modern idiom, Father Robert of Musbury. Other chaplains probably included one Richard Bexwycke who was buried at Middleton in 1534 and who left curate and singers, James Hopwood and Robert Coke sixteen pence to say a dirge, and a Mass. He asked Edmund Hopwood to stand as surety.

In 1522 John Hopwood had part of the exterior wall built to enclose the Hopwood Lady Chapel. A statue of the Blessed Virgin stood on the stone bracket that is on the east wall. The Reformers probably destroyed this statue at the same time as the altar-stone was cast out of the church.

On the southeast corner of the outside wall there are two inscribed stones just under the parapet. Although the inscriptions seemed indecipherable, C. S. Macdonald read the upper stone as HO.HH. & SFF to stand for "Hopwode (of) Hopwode Hall et Sui Filii Fecerunt" --- in English, "Hopwode of Hopwode Hall and his sons built (this). An alternative solution is "Hopwode of Hopwode Hall 9th Sept. Flodden Field". The inscription on the lower stone was read as "Sept 9th Sanctificata (sunt) Tabernacula Domini" --- in English, "The Tabernacles of the Lord were consecrated on Sept 9th". This stone gives the exact date of the dedication of the church extension that was purposely dedicated on the ninth day of the ninth month --- the ninth year after Flodden to the day.

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Edmund the Puritan 1541-1612

During the early years of the Reformation the Hopwood's appeared to remain Catholic, however, as persecution continued over the years newer generations of Hopwoods turned away from the old religion. To refuse to do so often meant loss of privilege and confiscation of lands.

In the reign of Elizabeth I a map was compiled by Lord Burghley showing the family seats of the gentry who were Catholics or of dubious loyalty to the Church of England. A cross appears on this map next to Hopwood Hall. The old squire Edmund Hopwood married into a family of persecuted Catholics, and probably the old man, who had practiced the old religion for many years, remained a Catholic. His grandson Edmund later became a Protestant, and through his zeal as a magistrate, for fining Catholic gentry, became a deputy-lieutenant of the Earl of Derby and was honored with other positions of prominence at that time. The Queen sent her thanks to Earl Derby, the Bishop of Chester, Mr. Edmund Hopwood and others for their rigorous persecution of the Lancashire Catholics.

Parson Fleetwood of Wigan, a leading Reformer, recommended a Mr. Hopwood and a Mr. Banister to Lord Burghley for their approved service in persecution, referring to them as "…sound gentlemen". Hopwood wrote to the Archbishop of York concerning "the gross idolatry and heathen profanations which yet continue among us." He was, at first, a great defender of Puritanism urging the bishops to be lenient with them; but later in life he changed his views, and said that he regretted the "fanatical and schismatic preachers have taken refuge in my part of Lancashire."

Edmund, the second son of Edmund the Puritan seems to have returned to the faith of his grandfather, for he is recorded in the Douai (Catholic University in Northern France) series for 1603 -1606 and may have taken Holy Orders. However, like his grandson, Edmund the Puritan was apparently a witch hunter. He imposed some harsh penalties against those of the old faith. Also it is said that Guy Fawkes was in Manchester with some of his accomplices planning the 'Gunpowder Plot' and that he visited from one sympathetic house to another and made a short visit to Hopwood Hall during the days of the senior Edmund. The old squire died on the 6th of February 1612.




Edmund the Roundhead 1598-1666

 The new squire was offered a knighthood by Charles I, but refused the title, and on the 3rd November 1642 Order of Parliament made the new squire Edmund one of the deputy-lieutenants of Lancashire. His lord, Ralph Assheton, by Speaker's Warrant, conveyed brass cannons to Manchester and to Middleton Hall. Edmund Hopwood was summoned to Manchester to assist in the collection of £2000 for the Roundheads throughout Lancashire. After seizing the Manchester armoury the town declared for Parliament. Colonel Ralph Assheton of Middleton, the great Roundhead general, was made sequestrator of Lancashire estates and commander of the army in the county.


Enforcement of the Presbyterian Religion

In 1644, by ordinance of Parliament, lay elders were to be chosen by the congregation to govern the parishes of England. Two years later Lancashire was divided into nine classical presbyteries and Edmund Hopwood a secret Royalist, became an important member of the Bury Classis. The Classis had the power to ordain, license and suspend the clergy, and these infallible despots were soon busy persecuting the Anglicans. Edmund took it upon himself to marry couples and preach in many churches. John Hopwood, the squire's son, and a secret Royalist defended a Middleton Anglican curate suspended by the classis. John Hopwood showed his Royalist sympathies during the early days of King Charles' dispute with Parliament, when as head boy of Manchester Grammar in 1640 he wrote some verses in praise of Queen Henrietta Maria.

Edmund, the Presbyterian, died six years after the Restoration of 1629 and was succeeded by John. John married Elizabeth of Speke whose surname was Norris. John and his father-in-law Thomas Norris were on the jury that heard the case against Lord Molyneux of Sefton (a popular Catholic Jacobite) in 1694 for plotting a rebellion on behalf of James Stuart. The trial was rigged. Lord Molyneux was acquitted when the principal witness failed to make accurate identifications when confronted by the accused persons. John Hopwood died suddenly in 1700.

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The Last Hopwood of Hopwood

John's widow Elizabeth brought up two studious sons, and a daughter, all very interested in education. Edmund the heir, who inherited, was a governor of Chetham's Library, a magistrate, and a High Sheriff. He died without children and was succeeded by his brother Dr. Robert Hopwood.

Robert was the last of the original Hopwoods. He spent much of his early life in London and studied in both Oxford and London. He led the typical life of a Georgian gentleman, frequenting coffeehouses and enjoying late repasts and partying at the 'Black Bull's Head' at Newgate.

The doctor left London in 1745 just before the outbreak of the great Jacobite Rebellion. The militia did not call him up because Edward Gregge of Chamber Hall served as substitute for him. While Gregge, the future squire of Hopwood, was away, the highlanders searched Chambers for horses and part of the Scottish army visited Middleton Hall. Attempts were made by local Jacobites to convert the doctor to the cause of 'Charles Edward Stuart' however; he reported the attempts to the justices. These Jacobite leaning locals were later executed.

After only four years as a squire, the doctor died in 1762. He left no family and Hopwood was bequeathed to his widow Mary, then to his friend Edward Gregge.

The Gregge-Hopwoods

The Gregges of Chester and Chamber Hall were of a very different temperament from the studious Hopwoods. They were an eccentric, fiery family, keen on the army, hunting and shooting, and behaving in a manner admired by Englishmen. It is said that the Gregges of Chester were descended from a daughter of Edward I.

Edward Gregge took over Hopwood in 1773 on the death of the widow Mary Hopwood, and assumed the name Hopwood by act of Parliament. The doctor probably regarded Edward as an adopted son as he was twenty-years his junior and had served as his substitute in the King's army in 'Forty-five'. When Edward Gregge-Hopwood died in 1798, his son Robert succeeded him. The new squire married Cecilia Byng of Torrington. He was a friend of Byron.


Lord Byron at Hopwood

The poet arrived at Hopwood at the end of September 1811, and stayed until October 9th. He had come up to try and conclude the settlement of the Byron family estate in Rochdale. When the twenty-year-old poet arrived at Hopwood, the delighted Hopwood ladies greeted him. While waiting for the law case over the disposition of the estate, he spent his days writing part of the finished draft of 'Chide Harold's Pilgrimage', the poem which was to give him his first great success.

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The Great Will Case

By the year 1880 Robert the Squire was getting old and feeble and after a cerebral attack he began to behave rather oddly. His imagination began to play trick on him, and among other incidents, he undressed in the library believing he was in his bedroom and thought he saw a company of soldiers outside the window, when dining. His family took note and his second son the Reverend Frank Hopwood began to live at the Hall.

The heir and eldest son, Captain Edward living in Wales, paid little attention to the running of the estate until brother Frank started to take an interest in the family money. The other men and women of the family took sides with one or other as a family feud over the control of the estate ensued. Frank began legal action to deprive this brother Edward of his inheritance. Edward in turn printed a pamphlet and distributed it among the Lancaster gentry giving details of his brother's activities.

The Reverend tried to get the Captain to sign a note stating that their father was sane. The Captain refused realizing that they would use the note to disinherit him. The Reverend keep his father isolated and dictated a will to the old squire, and he signed it. The will cut Captain Edward out completely. The old squire died in 1854. The courts examined the case and rejected the Reverend's claim. Captain Hopwood legally inherited the estate.


'Lady' Susan Fanny Hopwood

The Captain's wife was born in the decade of Waterloo, and her life was lived in the spirit of the battle. She loved horses and dogs and was a fine horsewoman and thought nothing of making her horse jump a nearby canal. She was a prominent anti-vivisectionist. Her son, the last squire, inherited her love of riding and jumping. The locals called the formidable Susan, 'Lady' Hopwood.

Today she would be a strong supporter of the environmental movement. She campaigned against the disappearance of the countryside and the polluting of the air by the new cotton mills. Old Middleton Hall had been pulled down to erect a cotton mill. Later the township of Hopwood, granted in 1292, was dissolved and split up for industrial centres. Susan fought against industrialization and became a pioneer of smoke abatement. She hired smoke inspectors to investigate and bring prosecutions against mill owners. Interestingly, her son Edward Robert the squire was meanwhile trying to lease his valuable property to mill owners. There were 5,000 people at her Smoke Abatement Gala in Hopwood Park in 1893.


Colonel Hopwood 1846 - 1942

Edward Robert was a great sportsman, who cared little for Hopwood, but preferred to live in better hunting country at Malton in Yorkshire, and Hartford in Cheshire. He allowed Hopwood to fall into disrepair, as he preferred to hunt and shoot on the continent and in Africa. He was purported to be the finest shot in Europe. He won the Grande Prix de Monaco against the finest shots in Europe. He rode many steeplechase winners, and was always up with the hounds. The Colonel was still hunting at age 86 and was in the saddle at 93. He continued to gamble at bridge until he died in 1942 at age ninety-seven years.


The Loss of Two Sons

The Colonel had two sons. Colonel E. Byng Hopwood, D.S.O., Coldstream guards, was a very gallant soldier who fought in the early battles of the First World War. He was very brave and after being dangerously wounded on two occasions, he received a fatal third wound in July 1917. He brother Robert was killed earlier after serving in Rifle Brigade and in the Royal Flying Corps. Two daughters survived the old colonel. Judith married a son of Baron Von Shroder, and Brenda Cecilia wrote thrillers under the name of Patrick Leyton.


Loss of the Family Estate

The bereaved old colonel offered Hopwood Hall for sale on May 10, 1922. He failed to sell. The Hall was in poor state when it was taken over by the Lancashire Cotton Corporation during World War II.

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Hopwood Hall and the De La Salle Brothers

After the war the Lancashire Cotton Corporation sold the Hall to a Trust in 1946, under which it became a training college for Catholic teachers under the De La Salle Brothers. The College opened with 60 male students and seven staff. Most of the students had previously served in the Forces. A major building expansion took place. Brenda Cecilia, the last born Hopwood, took part in the official opening of the College. Hopwood Hall was officially scheduled as a building of historic interest in 1957.

The De La Salle Brothers took a keen interest in the history of Hopwood Hall. C. Stuart MacDonald was head of the art department in De La Salle College Hopwood and authored a book entitled "A History of Hopwood and the Life of Cardinal Langley of Langley", Lord Chancellor 1360-1437. The Brothers were particularly generous to visitors to Hopwood Hall, especially those from around the world who carried the Hopwood name. The writer visited the Hall and campus in the summer of 1976 and was greeted by Brothers Austin and Bernard, treated to a luncheon and a copy of Stuart MacDonald's history of the Hall and other memorabilia.

Courses ended at De La Salle College Hopwood in 1989. The property was sold to Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council during the 1990's. The Council now maintains the former Catholic teacher training college as a further education college called Hopwood Hall College (Middleton campus). Set on two sites, in the heart of Rochdale, and in North Manchester, the institution serves a wide community.