The Stopfords of Audenshaw were ancestors of mine on my mothers side. This extract concerns one of several Joshua Stopfords who were ordained ministers in the Church of England.

Rev. Joshua Stopford and the Stopfords of Audenshaw.

By Francis Nicholson and Ernest Axon

[Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, Vol.33, pgs 205-215, 1915]

Original footnotes are included in-line.


Joshua Stopford, a Lancashire divine and author of the seventeenth century, has already been the subject of a biographical essay by the late John Eglington Bailey, who usually left little for the gleaner in a field where he had worked. In this case, however, in the course of our own researches some essential facts unknown to Mr Bailey have come to light.

The surname Stopford is one the old pronunciation of the name of the town of Stockport, and from that town we may safely assume that all the Stopfords were ultimately derived. In the early middle ages the lords of Stockport took their name from their property, and when the first line of barons died out the Etons, who succeeded to the property, also took the name of Stockport. Eventually the great holders of that name passed away leaving no known descendants in the male line. In Stockport itself, and in all the surrounding parishes of West and Mid-Lancashire there were towards the end of the sixteenth century, when parish registers were commenced, numerous persons of the name of Stopford, spelled at the discretion of the parish clerk or clergyman in about twenty ways. We have no means of knowing whether these Stopfords all belonged to one family and were descended from the Stockports of Stockport or were quite unconnected families descended from different persons who had migrated from Stockport during the time when surnames were not yet permanent and had obtained the surname from their place of origin. The most eminent of these families, the Stopfords of Ulnes Walton, had been in the service of the Earls of Derby, and acquired property in Ulnes Walton by marriage, and were the only Stopfords of gentle rank at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Apparently they lost Ulnes Walton, but became of Saltersford in Cheshire. In 1641 the head of this family of Stopford was one of the adventurers who helped Cromwell to conquer Ireland, and thus laid the foundations of the fortunes of the noble family of Stopford, Earls of Courtown in the kingdom of Ireland. The Earls of Courtown use the same coat of arms as did the old barons of Stockport, although no connection is traceable between the families.

Another family using the same arms was that of Stopford of Audenshaw, to which belonged Joshua Stopford, and in the case of the Stopfords of Audenshaw as in that of Stopford, Earls of Courtown, there is no known connection with the medieval family.

Mr Bailey thought it likely that Joshua Stopford was the "son of parents in humble life," (Palatine Notebook, i. 155) perhaps because he entered Oxford as a plebeian. The Stopfords of Audenshaw were, however, a family in good circumstances. They were buried inside the parish church instead of in the churchyard, a privilege reserved, by means of higher fees, for the better off, and they used armorial seals.

Ralph Stopford, who was perhaps of Reddish in 1604, would seem to have lived in Audenshaw for the greater part of his life, and then to have returned to Reddish to die. He was buried at Ashton-under-Lyne on 19th December 1656. His son William Stopford, described as of Audenshaw, when his many children were baptised, followed his fathers example by ending his days at Reddish. He and his grandson John were buried 29th May 1657, at Ashton, and as the parish register tells us, "both in a grave". His widow lived in Reddish for several years but died at Audenshaw. William Stopford, of Audenshaw and Reddish, had at least five sons - William, Ralph, John, Joshua, and Caleb. The eldest son, William, was a yeoman of Audenshaw, and his descendants lived at Hooley Hill, where, until about a hundred years ago, they leased lands under the Earls of Stamford and Warrington, and also carried on business as feltmakers or hat manufacturers. One of William's descendants was Adam Stopford, of Hooley Hill, whose daughter Mary, wife of Matthew Nicholson, of Manchester, was grandmother of one of the present writers and of Mr Albert Nicholson, one of the late Presidents of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society.

The next son was Ralph Stopford, of Audenshaw, yeoman and flaxman. His will shows him to have been well to do for that period, he having lands in Audenshaw, a tenement in Althill, and over £900 in personalty. He desired to be buried in church of Ashton under Lyne, as near to his ancestors as possible. The youngest son was John Stopford, of Reddish Hall, yeoman. He died in 1666 and Oliver Heywood relates a pretty story of how he died. He was engaged to be married to a young woman who died suddenly. "After the funeral he came home, told his mother he thought his heart was dead, she laid her hand on it, felt it not move, and within a day or two he dyed, and was buryed that day sennight that his sweetheart was". The two other sons, Joshua and Caleb, were clergymen. Caleb was born at Ashton in 1638, and graduate B.A. at Oxford in 1658. Although he preached before the Classis it is probable that he was not ordained before the Restoration, and then his ordination would be episcopal. He was curate or minister at Bury in 1661 and at Gorton in 1662. He was of Sandal, near Wakefield, in 1668, when he petitioned the king for the vacant living of Dewsbury. We know nothing of his later career, and it is probable that he died shortly afterwards. His children are mentioned in the family wills. Of the five brothers the most important was Joshua.

Joshua Stopford, born, no doubt, at Audenshaw, was baptised at Ashton-under-Lyne on 7th June, 1635.

Where he received his early education is not known, but not improbably he, like his fellow parishioner and almost contemporary, Jeremiah Marsden, was at the Manchester Grammar School, the nearest first class school. In 1654, at the age of eighteen, he was, as son of a plebeian, admitted to Brasenose College, Oxford, and was elected a Nowell scholar 25th November, 1654. He did not matriculate until 25th July, 1655, and in the following year removed to Magdalen College, of which he had been elected one of the clerks. On 23rd February 1657-58 he graduated B.A. A few months later he was in Manchester pressing his candidature for the morning lectureship in the Collegiate Church. Before Stopford had appeared on the scene Newcome had wished to secure the appointment for a Mr Baxter, not the afterwards celebrated Richard Baxter, but the less important Nathaniel who was later to be ejected from the living of St Michael's-on-Wyre.

Newcome's nominee was not received with favour, and "the young confident man just come from the university," was elected on 29th July to the morning lectureship. Early rising was essential to the due fulfilment of the duties of this office, for the morning lecture was at six o'clock. Having secured the lectureship, it was necessary for Stopford to be ordained. Whether he was a convinced Presbyterian or not at this time he had not scruples about accepting Presbyterian ordination from the Manchester Classis on 23rd September, 1658. (Shaw's Manchester Classis, p. 301)

In 1659 came the chance of Stopford's lifetime and he availed himself of it. The Presbyterians had never been very whole-hearted supporters of the Cromwellian government, and the death of Oliver and the weakness of his successor set men thinking of restoring the king. A plot was hatched for a rising in Cheshire and Lancashire, of which the leader was Sir George Booth. Apparently all the Presbyterian ministers were engaged in the plot, Newcome and Stopford amongst them. The difficulty seems to have been finding a plausible pretext for arming without rousing the suspicions of the Government. Stopford on July 31st, at the afternoon service, invited the people to arms upon the score of the Quakers being up, that is, in rebellion. Newcome, with his usual conscientiousness , would "deal with nothing but the truth;" but Stopford was of a different calibre. "That night all was afloat," says Newcome, Sir George Booth came to Manchester and the following day went to Warrington. Manchester mustered five hundred men in arms and the Cheshire rising was begun. Stopford was a chaplain with the rebel army, but whether he served to the conclusion of the rising, less than three weeks later, does not appear. His active assistance in this enterprise may have been due to the fact that the leader of the rising, Sir George Booth, was the landholder under whom the Stopfords were leaseholders. The Government was strong enough to suppress the rising, but it did not punish the rebels. Stopford's connection with the Collegiate Church does not seem to have been interrupted by his martial exploits.

After the restoration, which he doubtless welcomed, Stopford lost no time in falling in with the new order of things, the alacrity with which he did so suggesting that he was either a convinced Episcopalian or a very keen seeker of promotion. At that time, at any rate, he could have performed his ministerial functions under Presbyterian orders, but not to be in episcopal orders would probably have been a bar to the advancement he was claiming for his political services in connection with Booth's rising. On 12th September, 1660, he was ordained deacon and priest by William Pierce, Bishop or Bath and Wells, and was collated to a prebend in York Cathedral on 9th November, 1660.

His York prebend seems to have interfered not at all with his Manchester duties and Newcome has many references to him. In a sermon on 5th January, 1661-62, Stopford insisted on "frequent thoughts of heaven," and on the 30th of the same month he "preached on 1 Sam. xii. ult. excellently well." This, says Newcome "was the first right good sermon I had heard him make, and I thought he preached better ever after." In May, 1662, Stopford was "ascited to Chester. It is supposed for his late preachinge." "Chester," of course was the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Chester, the means by which the Bishop controlled unruly clergymen. Whereupon Newcome, thinking of Stopford's ready acceptance of episcopal orders, wrote "Who would have said that he should have beene the first minister of Manchester acited by that Court. If it had been my case I should have thought persons would have noted the hand of God upon my complyance." On 14th June, 1662, Stopford bought some books from the library of Henry Dunster, minister of Northenden, and on the following day preached a sermon in which he spoke "largely against a cocking that was to be in Manchester." Newcome seconded him, with the result that the cockfighting gentlemen made an order and penalty for every oath in the pit. The next Sunday Stopford "fell upon them again and spake something unadvisedly which which caused the justices to bind him to his good behaviour, which was hard measure indeed." Evidently Stopford, though he had discarded Presbyterian orders, had not ceased to be a Puritan. He took the same view of a minister's duty that had made the Puritan ministers so feared and disliked by the natural man who thought that religion should interfere with neither business nor pleasure.

In 1662 Stopford was presented to the rectory of All Saints, Pavement, York, by the king, and left Manchester to take up his duties there. He was instituted 7th October, 1662, and was inducted the same day by Jonas Hunter. "So indeed his poor congregation [at Manchester] is like to be left desolate indeed," moans Newcome, who had now a very high opinion of his colleague, and when Stopford and his wife came to say good-bye Newcome was "afflicted on his behalf lest he met hard usage there." What the "hard usage" was we do not know, but a few months later Newcome from Stopford, who "begins to come into some fear of trouble." In March, 1663, Stopford visited Manchester, on on Shrove Tuesday, he, Newcome, and Illingworth, three sober clergymen, "were very merry about turning our pancakes." Newcome "was sad afterwards." Perhaps the other divines had better digestions.

In 1663, Joshua Stopford, M.A., was inducted vicar of Kirkby Stephen, on the presentation of Philip, Lord Wharton. (Nicholson and Burn's History of Westmoreland and Cumberland, i, 537) That he was under the patronage of Lord Wharton shows that Stopford was a very low churchman, for Lord Wharton was the most prominent of the nobility who favoured nonconformity, and his livings were filled with clergymen who, though episcopally ordained, were of the same religious type as the contemporary nonconformist ministers. Stopford's connection with Kirkby Stephen was probably intended to be only temporary, and, indeed, in the very year of his induction he had resigned the living and was recommending a successor to the patron. (Nightingale's Ejected of 1662 in Cumberland and Westmorland, ii, 1088) Although he resigned his remote living, he was not opposed to pluralism, for on 12th September, 1667, he was collated to the vicarage of St. Martin, Coney Street, York, and held both St Martin's and All Saints to his death.

For reasons probably connected with professional advancement, Stopford aspired to higher academical degrees than he possessed. Presumably he had not qualified by residence to proceed to his M.A. in the ordinary course, do on 22nd April , 1670, he was created M.A. (Brasenose College Register, i, 196) On 26th April, 1670, he was readmitted to his old college, Brasenose, and on 11th May following took the degree of B.D. It is curious that he is described as M.A. several years before he took that degree.
Stopford died 3rd November, 1675, and was buried in the chancel of St Martin's, Coney Street, York, on 5th November, 1675.

Thomas Calvert, M.A., of York, and ejected minister, wrote an elegy in Latin and English upon Stopford's "much lamented death."

Stopford's place amongst Lancashire authors rests on two or three small books, all very scarce. The first, published in 1672, is A Sermon Against Adultery, the title page of which bears the initials only of the author's name, but Mr W. E. Buckley has identified him. The second was, The Wayes and Methods of Rome's Advancement, 1672. The third book was published in 1675, the year of its author's death, and is entitled Pagano-Papismus, or, and exact parallel between Rome-Pagan and Rome-Christian, in their Doctrines and Ceremonies. This is an octavo of three hundred and fifty pages, and each of the few copies known to exist is bound up with a reprint , dated 1675, of The Wayes and Methods of Rome's Advancement. Pagano-Papismus was thought to be of so much value that it was reprinted in 1844, to meet what was then thought to be the Romanising tendency of the English Church. It shows extensive reading in controversial theology, and contains an interesting defence of the Christian Sabbath, another proof that Stopford was a Puritan.

Joshua Stopford had married shortly after his first ordination, his wife being Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Pares, of Rochdale, and active member of the Bury classis. She may have been a widow, as we find that a "Joshua Stopert" was married at Middleton, 6th March, 1659-60, to Elizabeth Scolfield. His daughter Catherine was baptised in December, 1661, at the Collegiate Church. Several other children were born after the removal to York. The only surviving son, James, was vicar of Wadworth, near Doncaster, and died in 1703, aged thirty-five.

Besides these clergymen the Audenshaw Stopfords produced several other clergymen and ministers. The Rev. Joshua Stopford's great nephew and namesake Joshua Stopford, born in Ashton, graduated B.A. in 1724, and became minister of Shaw, a position he filled for many years. In his time Shaw chapel was rebuilt and in 1755 an organ was erected there. On this occasion Stopford preached a sermon asserting and vindicating the use of vocal and instrumental music in public worship. One of his sons is supposed, but very doubtfully, to be the Thomas Stopford who was a celebrated man in Yorkshire musical circles, organist of Halifax Parish Church for over fifty years, and teacher of Miss Harrop, the singer.

The Rev. Joshua Stopford, of Shaw, had besides the organist a son, William Stopford, B.A., who was incumbent of Stretford from 1766 to 1768. There he does not seem to have been on particularly good terms with his congregation, and after his resignation has trouble with his successor, Thomas Seddon, who has left it on record that Mr Stopford neglected some of his duties. Afterwards he was usher of Louth Grammar School and rector of Wyham, Lincolnshire. He died at a great age in 1818, having survived his son, Joshua Stopford, M.A., who was a rector in Yorkshire, and the third in successive generations in holy orders. Besides these clergymen there was a nonconformist minister at Enfield, from 1762 to 1770, and afterwards at Croydon, named Joshua Stopford. It is probable that he belonged to the Stopfords of Hooley Hill, who had nonconformist leanings.

The Stopfords of High Ash, Audenshaw, were probably closely related to their neighbours of the same name, but the exact connection is not known to us. They were yeomen and amongst their descendants in the female line are our fellow member Mr D. F. Howorth and several important Stalybridge families. The only point of interest in their history is that in the 1745 rebellion Thomas Stopford, of High Ash, had a shot at one of the rebels. The late Mr John Higson collected seven different accounts of the incident, and his son, Mr C. E Higson, has supplied me with still another account. There seems to be no doubt that the rebel was wounded, if not killed, that Stopford had to take refuge in the bog near his home, and that the rebels turned back to take vengeance on the audacious person who had misguidedly defended his home. But the Scots did not burn Audenshaw, as they would have done had they had the advantages of German kultur.