Beginning with John Hodgson of Murton

Around the last years of the reign of Henry VIII, a baby born in the northwestern corner of England was given the name John Hodgson. He was hardly the only one of this name, for Cumbria and Durham to the east were already rife with Hodgsons – a surname that within a century would fill the parish books with more than 20 variant spellings, many of them continuing to the present. But he was the only one destined to work a particular piece of land he would own, a property of less than 50 acres in the township of Lamplugh, a hamlet or farm called Murton.

We cannot be certain when he was christened John Hodgson, for the Lamplugh parish records do not begin until 1582, even though the church there dates from the 12th century.

Situated in the northwest corner of England, Cumbria is a region encompassing the historic shires, or counties, of Cumberland (with Carlisle and Cockermouth its principal cities) and Westmorland. Its parish records from the late 1500s and through the 1600s make one thing quite clear: there was a multitude Hodgsons in Cumbria, including many John Hodgsons. The name itself appears in a number of variants, including Hodgeon, Hodgeshon, Hodgeson, Hodgesoun, Hodggin, Hodgheson, Hodghn, Hodghon, Hodghson, Hodgin, Hodgon, Hodgshon, Hodshon, and Hodson. Even in Lamplugh Parish, the proliferation of Hodgsons proves difficult. Sorting for a locator, such as “of Murton,” narrows the field, but I was at a loss to understand exactly what exactly was involved, much less whether other relative individuals were being excluded as a consequence.

Lamplugh parish, on the western flank of the Cumbrian Mountains, extends about six miles north to south and three miles in breadth, and is described as being mostly very elevated and intersected by several mountain streams. Murton, or Moortown, is one of Lamplugh’s four townships and was once a source of iron ore. Today it remains thinly populated.

Looking to possible ancestry in Cumbria, the pre-Quaker Lamplugh parish entries on Hodgson suggest households (in the parish spellings) at Murton, Eneradaile, High Tree, Wynder or Winder Rowe, and possibly others. Although the Lamplugh church has existed since the 12th century, its records begin in 1581. At this point, as I examined the period before the Quaker movement emerged in the 1650s, I was baffled by what seemed to be a tangle of John Hodgsons at Murton and then a gap before the appearance of Robert and Elizabeth Hodgson and their two sons.

By good luck, however, I came across an Internet address for someone who expressed a willingness to share his data on Lamplugh in the period before 1730, including the Hodgsons. Chris Dickinson (chris@dickinson.uk.net and www/rumbutter.net) promptly replied with three detailed e-mails that deftly clarified the picture – along with his remark, “I’m glad to say (unusually) I can help you.”

He began by explaining, “Murton is confusing because it can describe both an area within Lamplugh and a specific hamlet.”

Crucial to this understanding, he noted, is the concept of tenements, which is quite different from its American definition as a poorly built urban apartment or rooming house: “The hamlet consisted of a minimum of two tenements of less than 50 acres each (later distinguished as Murton and Murton Hole), and a further small tenement in 1692 was described as ‘ye Crosse in Murton.’ This later became known as Lamplugh Cross. Both Murton Hole and Lamplugh Cross by the nineteenth century contained inns, and it may well be that the properties were also so used in the seventeenth century.

“Tenements like this might be divided or merged according to the needs of the day. It’s quite possible, for instance, that the attached map (which describes the situation in the 1830s) hides two separate Murton Hole properties in an age earlier.”

Dickinson then explained the concept of yeomen, who were “holders of customary tenements. They could buy and sell their holdings. Inheritance was automatic by custom (oldest legitimate son, or if none co-shared between daughters etc.). Occasionally, tenements got subdivided to provide something for a younger son or for the husband of a daughter.”

When it came to understanding the “of Murton” description, Dickinson cautioned that its meaning could vary according to the source. For instance, “The Lamplugh parish record is fairly strict in its descriptions. If someone is described as ‘of’ somewhere, it refers to a farm or hamlet and means that that person is the owner or heir of a property there. People who were propertyless don’t get the handle usually.”

In contrast, turning to the local Quaker records, “The Pardshaw Register is not so exact. ‘Of Murton’ is just a geographical description – it could be a reference to the area and implies nothing about a person’s ownership status.”

To further complicate the distinctions, “Older people who are described as of a place frequently weren’t really of that place at all. This might be their place of retirement – usually at the home of a married daughter. This was very common practice in the seventeenth century, and potentially very misleading.”

Even so, Dickinson was able to relate, “Three families were associated with Murton in the late sixteenth century: Murrow, Hodgson, and Harrison. A Dickinson family was there from at least 1604, and a Wood family became owners of Murton Hole at least by the 1650s.”

As he then detailed the families and points where they overlap in this period, the distinction in the phrase “of Murton” assumes importance, especially in tracing inheritance and relationship:

MURROWS: Barlay Murrow was producing children in the 1580s (somehow with a name like that, I can’t help but thinking of him as an innkeeper – but I think the association in my mind comes from Tolkien’s innkeeper Barley Butterbur). His only son died without surviving children in 1637. Janet Murrow, presumably Barlay’s sister, had married Thomas Rogers of Ennerdale in 1593, and their daughter Elizabeth (1594-1634) married Robert Hodgson in 1623.

And this is where the first problem comes. Was Elizabeth an heiress to the property. It looks like it.

(There was a Henry Rogers of Murton in the 1640s, but he may simply have married Isabel Harrison and co-inherited the Harrison property. There’s not a line of Rogers at Murton to connect him with Thomas. His wife Isabel was buried in 1666 as a Quaker.)

HODGSONS: John Hodgson of Murton was producing children in the 1580s and was buried 15 December 1625. It looks as though he outlived three wives (buried as ‘wife of John Hodgson of Murton’). Also he was described in 1599, when he acted as a probate prizer and bondsman for George Harrison of Murton, as of Murton and a yeoman.

John Hodgson had a largish family, a number of whom died young. Two sons (Leonard and Thomas) and two daughters (Margaret and Isabel) aren’t in the burial registers, so presumably survived.

You can be almost certain that his eldest son was Robert Hodgson of Murton [i.e., he was ‘of Murton’ because he inherited a Hodgson tenement, not because he got a Murrow one]. You can argue that (1) the parish register only started in 1581, John had a daughter in 1582, son an unrecorded baptism for a son Robert in 1580 or earlier is a perfectly acceptable hypothesis; (2) if he were not the eldest, there would be some mention of Leonard of Murton or Thomas of Murton.

Robert had at least two sons: John and George.  

HARRISONS: These had one of the tenements, but the brothers John and George Harrison (who were buried within two days of each other) died in 1630 with only daughters. One daughter married John Ullock, described as ‘of Murton’ on the baptism of his children, so evidently he got at least part of the property. I’ve suggested above that Henry Rogers may have to another part.

DICKINSONS: A William Dickinson of Murton was a father in 1604. His family down the line became Quaker, one moving to Ireland in the 1690s and from there to America a generation later. President Nixon was a result.

WOODS: The Wood family were at Redhow, a farm on the western edge of Lamplugh. Henry Wood inherited the Redhow property, but his younger brother John took over Murton Hole. That wasn’t through marriage. Looks like he simply bought the tenement. But which family did he get it from?

Those guidelines and the parish records suggest this Hodgson family chart:

  • John Hodgson (circa 1550 or earlier-1625), married Innibell [Annabelle?] Hodgeshon (-buried 11 Oct 1592) and then Esabell [Isabelle?] (-buried 12 July 1595). Possibly married a third time. Children:
  • John Hodgshon, son of John of Murton (before 1581-buried 10 March 1589. (According to this model, his brother Robert then became the eldest surviving son, and would inherit the property.)
  • Robert Hodgson (before 1681- buried 7 November 1655); he married 27 October 1623 Elizabeth Rogers; to them, known sons John and George
  • Thomas Hodgson (-)
  • Elinor (baptised 1582-)
  • Ellen (buried 8 April 1585)
  • Jenet (baptised 19 January 1585-buried 19 May 1585)
  • Margrat (baptised 18 ? 1587-)
  • Leonard Hodgshon, son of John of Murton (baptised 29 August 1591)
  • Esabell Hodgshon (baptised 13 May 1595)
  • John Hodgson (buried 20 November 1596) (son of John Hodgson, no locator; possibly not related)
  • Agnes (buried 30 October 1597)

Determining whether John or Robert was the first-born son would provide a clue to taking the family back yet another generation: under traditional naming patterns, the father would repeat his father’s given name in the first-born son.)

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