Author: Leo Lawton

Ye Olde England

During the eighth century before the birthing of the Christ Child the Celts began battling, marauding, and settling on the verdant shores of the eastern and southern areas of the large island located off the northwestern coast of the mainland. Sporadic raids had been taking place for centuries, but now they were forming colonies and remaining. They were fierce warriors, blonde haired, blue eyed, large and rugged, coming from the area between the Rhine and Danube Rivers. For about three centuries they held these island grounds by brute strength.

About 500 BC a new and different wave of Celts from the Rhone River area of southeastern France made their appearance. Beginning in the previously established areas they came, branched out, and acquired still more territory. They mingled well with the original Celtic tribes, intermarried, and had a peaceful coexistence.

Near 300 BC yet another horde of the Celts came to this island where their brethren were ensconced. This time they came from Brittany in northwestern France which brought the name Britons lasting until today. Yet again in 75 BC a fourth invasion of Celts took place. These latest, the Belgae, were again from northern France.

After some eight centuries of these invasions, Britain was completely subjugated by these violent warriors. A century later, about 40 A.D., came the soldiers of the Roman Emperor Claudius attacking from the sea. Over a four-year period he wrested large areas of the island away from the Britons, and thus established the Roman province of Britain. In the late fourth century barbarian invasions began on the island, and by the year 410 the Romans abandoned their province. The Britons, after four centuries of Roman protection, were suddenly left to defend themselves. Into this vacuum Celts swept eastward from Wales, while Picts and Scots came south. Saxons, Angles, and Jutes all came in ships and battled these hordes, pushing them back from the shores. It was a land torn by warring factions from every direction.

The Germanic barbarian Angles, Saxons, and to a lesser degree Jutes came in an unending stream conquering the Britons, and establishing settlements throughout the eastern half of the island south of the Firth of Forth. By the very early seventh century the island had been, once more, taken away from the Britons, and was known as Angleland, which in time became corrupted to England. The Anglo-Saxons, through warfare, established seven major kingdoms known as the Heptarchy. They were Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex, and Kent. Of these, the first three were much more powerful than the others.

During the early ninth century Egbert became King of Wessex, and by 824 had gained control over Mercia, East Anglia, and Kent. In 828 Northumbria and North Wales accepted him as an overlord. He lived until 839 and is known today as the first king of all England, but in fact there was no actual concept of a united England at that time.

Meanwhile various tribes from the Scandinavian areas, always searching for a weakness, were making raids along the coast of the Atlantic, including England, where they were collectively known as Danes. Elsewhere they were known as Northmen, Norsemen, or Normans. They were seafaring warriors ever swooping down from the north to prey on seacoast villages. At first these were merely raiding voyages aimed at villages and monasteries to obtain valuables, but later turned into planned and coordinated military attacks. As their success mounted they became ever bolder, and ultimately turned into conquerors seizing and keeping the land for themselves.

In 871, Alfred of Wessex, grandson of Egbert, became king, and was the first ruler to successfully withstand these attacks of the Danes. In 878 he and the Danish ruler, Guthrum, divided England along a line from London to Chester. All lands east and north of the line was Danelaw, or Dane land, while west and south of the line was ruled by Alfred the Great, as he had came to be known.

There was much turmoil in the land, and robbery was a way of life. To combat this, Alfred instituted a new system. All freeborn men were assigned to groups of ten, named Tythings. Each group of ten Tythings, were in turn, put into larger groups called a Hundred which also referred to the area they were located in. The shire of Chester, located in west central England, originally had twelve Hundreds, but they were reduced to seven during the reign of King Edward III, between 1327 and 1377. The seven Hundreds of Cheshire are Northwich, Namptwich, Macclesfield, Bucklow, Salisbury, Broxton, and Wirehall. The township of Lawton is in the southeast section of the Hundred of Northwich.

Around the year 820 the Normans established a permanent foothold along the Seine River of France, which empties into the Bay of the Seine in the English Channel nearly due south of London. They continued to raid up the Seine and other rivers, expanded their territory, and established a capital at Rouen. By 911 the Normans, under their leader Rollo, had grown so powerful that the Frankish King, Charles the Simple, having little choice, gave them the area as a fiefdom. The Normans continued to expand their territory, and were nearly independent of the French Crown. The Normans, even though conquerors, absorbed the French language, customs, and the Christian Religion, and by 1050 their language was no longer spoken in Normandy.

Early in the eleventh century Danes again invaded England, and King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark, in 1016, after defeating Ethelred II, installed his son Canute as king. Canute ruled until his death in 1035. After seven years of inept ruling by Canute’s sons, in 1042 Edward the son of Ethelred II returned from Normandy, and was installed on the throne.

For about a century most kings had ruled through a minister rather than directly. From 1042 until 1053 Edward I, with the aid of an exceptionally able minister Godwin Earl of Wessex, ruled very wisely.

During 1051 Edward I was paid a visit by his second cousin, William, Duke of Normandy. During the course of this visit Edward, who had no heirs, solemnly promised William the right to succeed him as king of England. In 1053 Earl Godwin died, and his son Harold, the new Earl of Wessex, replaced him as minister. In 1064 William also received the promise of Harold to support his candidacy for king. However, when Edward I died in 1066, Harold who was also the brother-in-law of Edward, declared himself king.

The Norman Kings

William, of course, was furious, and with an army invaded England in late September 1066. On a frosty October 14th morning during the Battle of Hastings Harold was slain and his army defeated. William forevermore has been known as William the Conqueror, and on Christmas Day 1066 was crowned at Westminster Abbey. During the next four years he continued north, with his army of 25,000 to 30,000 men, subjugating all who stood in his way. The county of Cheshire, near northern Wales, was particularly hard to subdue, and although they were no match for King William’s army, the people fiercely protected their homes. William ruthlessly laid the countryside to waste, leaving all homeless.

King William brought with him from Normandy a newer more advanced form of strong central government. In keeping with this, in 1085 he ordered that a survey should be made of all England that he controlled. Its main purpose was to establish the king’s fiscal rights. All sources of revenue were listed including land, fisheries, people, livestock, and woodlands. The manuscripts from the survey, finished in 1086, have been bound in two massive volumes known as the Domesday Book, and are kept in the Public Records Office in London yet today.

King William had won a country, but now he had to hold it. He not only had the people to deal with, but he also was unable to conquer Scotland or Wales. Believing it was easier to contain than defeat them, he set up strong Border States to repel possible invaders.

King William named Hugh de Mara (AKA Hugh Lupus or Hugh the Wolf), a loyal Norman relative, as Earl of Chester giving him all land within the palatinate, and royal powers to control it. Hugh, in turn, doled out land to fellow Normans who swore allegiance to him. He founded the Abbey of Werburgh for the Benedictines in 1093. Part of the Abbey possessions was the township of Lautune on the southeastern border of Cheshire. Long before the conquest it had been called Lauton Under Lyme. It consisted of about two and a half square miles of land which was divided into two portions, one being about double the size of the other. It had existed prior to the Domesday Book, having been described as formerly belonging to a man named Godric. It is certain that the possessors of Lautune after the conquest were the very elite of Normandy that had followed the fortunes of The Conqueror. As landowners they were given the honorary title of Squire denoting their status.

In 1087, the year after the Domesday Survey was completed, William the Conqueror died. His son William II succeeded to the Throne. Upon William II’s death in 1100, his younger brother became King Henry I. Henry I died in 1135, at which time his sister Adela’s son, and William I’s grandson, became King Stephen. Stephen remained king until his death in 1154. Henry I’s daughter Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet.

The Plantagenet Kings

Geoffrey and Matilda’s son was next in the line of succession at King Stephen’s death, and became King Henry II, first of the Plantagenets. When Henry II died in 1189, his eldest surviving son became King Richard I, or Richard the Lionhearted as he was known. Richard ruled for a period of about a decade, and his younger brother John was named king from his death in 1199, remaining so until 1216. The eldest son of John then became King Henry III for over fifty years, until 1272.

The Lawton Family

Although it is nearly absolute that any landowning family in Cheshire were descendants of those who had came from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066, it is during the reign of Richard the Lionhearted between 1189 and 1199, that ancestors of a branch of a present day Lawton family are first recorded in the area. At this time a man named Adam was noted as the owner of a part of Lautune, the other part being owned by the Abbot and Monks of Saint Werburg’s monastery. At the time people had only a first name, and were usually known by where they lived. Thus Adam was known as Adam de Lautune because of his Norman ancestry. Adam had three sons named Adam, Robert, and Richard. Richard, the youngest son, born before 1236, had a son Richard born between 1260 and 1280. That Richard, in turn, had a son also named Richard before 1300. By this time it was decreed that all of the population would adapt a surname for proper identification. Thus Richard de Lautune became known as Richard Lawton.

Richard Lawton III married Cicely Astburie and they, between 1315 and 1330, became the parents of a daughter named Agnes.

Agnes married a man named Thomas Davenport. Upon his marriage to Agnes he became a landowner in Lawton, and thenceforth became known as Thomas Lawton. Thomas and Agnes parented a son between 1330 and 1350 whose name is today unknown.

This unnamed son of Thomas and Agnes had a son named Hugh Lawton born before 1378. Hugh was appointed an archer of the Crown November 5, 1398, in the principality of Wales. He married Isabella, daughter of John Madoc, widow of Ben Kynge Bernys (Barnes). Hugh and Isabella had two sons named Hugh and John, but all three males died before Isabella.

The eldest son, Hugh jr., did not marry nor have children, but the younger brother, John, married Beatrice the widow ofThomas Maddock, and to them a son was born about 1435.

Upon the death of his grandmother Richard became head of the estate. On the 6th of January 1473 Richard was yet head of the estate when he lost a court decision to Hugh Pole over some disputed land. Richard’s wife’s name is unknown, but it is known that they had a son named John about 1470.

John married Eleanor More and they parented three sons. John was known to have been a very wealthy man. Their oldest son, William, was born around 1500. William was in control of the estate when in 1542 King Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries and William, having the wealth to do so, bought the available land. William married Catherine Bellott and they had four sons and five daughters. The second son’s name was John. Born in 1521, John was 21 when his father purchased the monastery acreage. John Lawton, born 1521, married Margaret Dutton, near to the time his father died in 1551. Between their marriage and 1560 they had five sons and a daughter. John died in 1598. Their eldest son, William, was born in 1553.

William married first Maria Wood, and second Mary Maxfield before 1607 when their first child John was born. They also had a daughter Eleanor in 1611, and a son William in 1613. The elder William was known to have added large tracts of land to the Lawton estate before his death in 1617, when John was ten years old.

Upon William’s death, Ralph Sneyd was made manager of the estate, and given the honorary title of Lord of the manor. John Lawton married Ralph’s daughter Clare Sneyd. To John and Clare were born three sons and a daughter, named William, Ralph, John, and Felicia, between 1630 and 1635. In 1647 John paid a huge fine of 680 pounds, and was pardoned for waging war against King Charles I, himself beheaded two years later. His eldest son William, born in 1630, succeeded John, who died in 1654.

William was head of the manor in 1656, when King Charles II spent some time as a guest while awaiting his restoration to the Throne. It was at this time that John Lawton was born, and Charles II, as his Godfather, presented him with a silver drinking cup remarking he had little else to offer.