Welcome to the Airey Family of Lancashire

Allen, and at least the last five generations of the Airey line, came from Lancaster, England.  I have spent a bit of time trying to understand their story and what I love the most is that, in all likelihood, there have been very few people (if anyone) that has spent time and energy to discover their story.  It may sound a bit harsh but, compared to the Kings, Queens, Lords and Barons of our story, the Airey family is, in an historic sense, truly unremarkable.

They are, however, a family that lived through the massive social and economic changes imposed by the industrial revolution – and I don’t mean in a positive way.  For the Airey family, it was not so much about riding the wave of industrialisation – more about being thrown about in its white water.

Bartholomew Airey (8th Great Grandfather) – The first signs of the Airey line

St Mary Magdalene, Clitheroe

St Mary Magdalene, Clitheroe

The earliest records of the Airey family show that 1708 was a year of mixed emotions for Bartholomew Airey (my 8th Great Grandfather); joy for the birth of Jane Aery (baptised on 1 January 1708) and sorrow, for the death of Faith Aery (buried on 16 August 1708). The tragedy continued with the death of Jane at the age of 1 in 1709.

Early death of children was not unusual in these times; up until the mid 19th century in many areas of Europe up to 50% of children died before the age of 1.  However, it is hard not to believe that there was something particularly tragic about the death of Faith and Jane.  Prior to 1708, all references to the Airey’s came from St Mary Magadalene, Clitheroe.   After her death, however, all references to the family from Parish records come from St Leonard, Downham.

It takes 11 years for the family to return to St Mary Magdalene with the baptism of another child named Faith Aery (a twin with Robert Aery) on 22 February 1719.  Maybe its a coincidence – or maybe the death of Faith in 1708 drove a wedge between the Airey’s and the St Mary Magdalene congregation, only to be restored with the birth of a ‘new Faith’ in 1719.

In the intervening period at the church of St Leonard, Downham, Batholomew Aery fathered Jonas Airie (baptised on 11 February 1711) and Alexander Aary (my 7th Great Grandfather, baptised on 20 February 1716).  You can see how surnames evolve with the fact that the spelling of the surname for Jonas differs from the spelling given to the Airey family by St Mary Magdalene and the spelling of Aary given to his brother Alexander.  Its all so confusing for people like myself tracking ancestors – but for the sake of consistency, from here on I am going with ‘Airey’ unless there is a particular reason not to do so.

St Leonard, Downham

St Leonard, Downham

Bartholomew and his family lived in the small township of Chatburn, about 3 kilometers North-East of the larger township of Clitheroe.    In 1666 (the closest reference to the time of Bartholomew) the township had “…36 hearths liable for tax, with no house having as many as three (20).  We don’t know how the family lived, but there are certainly no signs of grandeur or any particular social status.

Alexander Airey (7th Great Grandfather) – Husband, Husbandman and Labourer

From Bartholomew, the next person in the ancestral line towards me is Alexander.

Around the time of Alexander Airey’s birth in 1716, Blackburn was largely a wool growing region, but with a growing reputation for cotton and linen production.  Since around 1650, the area became particularly well-known for the production of blue and white “Blackburn checks” – woven of linen and cotton.

Cotton production in the early 18th century was very much a family business.  The weaver’s children would, from a very young age, pick and clean the cotton-wool and the mothers and elder daughters would spin it.  The men and elder sons would weave the cotton on a hand loom, throwing the shuttle from hand to hand (21).

Alexander moved from his home town of Chatburn to Little Harwood, a small town on the North East margins of Blackburn and about 16km South West of his father home town.  I presume that it is here that Alexander owned a small area of land, and it is here that Alexander set up his home with his wife Elizabeth Harwood (my 7th Great Grandmother).  We can’t be sure that Alexander Airey was involved in growing wool or cotton, but we do know that in 1740 he was identified as a husbandman – a farmer on a small plot of land that farms largely for subsistence, but may also have some excess produce for sale in good years.

You may ask why I focus on wool, cotton and linen production when I have no idea whether Alexander was involved.  The fact is that Blackburn and its surrounding areas were on the cusp of an industrial explosion that would impact on everyone, not just those directly involved.

I will leave this post here…with the next instalment starting to delve into how the industrial revolution changes the lives of the Airey family and their District – not always for the better.