The Family of John Mercer, Chemist of Great Harwood

1 Object

The purpose of this document is to examine the evidence related to the immediate family of John Mercer in order to provide a firm base for researching the collateral branches of his family.

2 Copyright

This work is Copyright 2008 R Calvert. It may be used for private research but not copied or displayed on Web sites without permission of the author.

3 Introduction

One of the problems which complicates research into John's family is that the name Mercer, or its spelling variants, is common in the Great Harwood area; not only that but a common set of forenames seems to have been used by the various families making it difficult to disambiguate people referred to simply by name. In trying to research the relatives of John Mercer, the chemist, inevitably we find previous research, some of which at first sight appears conclusive. It is however necessary to validate this evidence critically to be sure we are not simply following a false trail. John's children are well documented, none of them marrying and having children of their own so I have not carried out any independent research and validation on them. They are all buried together in Plot 9a Grave 28 at St Bartholemew's Church, Great Harwood. Of more interest are the families of his siblings and also of his uncles and aunts.

4 Sources:

4.1 Affidavit

In 1909 Thomas Henry Mercer born in 1847 swore an affidavit relating to the will of Robert Clayton Mercer, the son of John Mercer the chemist. This concerned the pedigree of various Mercer families and their relationship to Robert Clayton Mercer. It must be remembered that this was not a disinterested view of the family; Thomas Henry Mercer would have had an interest in ensuring that he was related to Robert Clayton Mercer. Although this document is interesting it cannot be relied on and has been proved to be flawed both in commission and omission but has been used to provide pointers to areas of research.

4.2John Mercer's Autobiography

John wrote his autobiography in 18651, it commences:

I am now 75 years of age. 1865
I was born at Dean in Gt. Harwood on the 26th February 1791

and goes on to mention various relatives of his both by name and location.

This is a good starting point for any research, and using it has already proved a major error in Thomas Henry Mercer's 1909 affidavit - the marriage of Nancy, John's sister.

4.3Parnell's "Life & Labours of John Mercer"

In 1886 Edward A Parnell FCS wrote "The Life and Labours of John Mercer, FRS, FCS". He did this with the co-operation of Johns surviving daughters, "the Misses Mercer, of Oakenshaw House", who provided access to John's notes and other papers and who revised the text for him. Unfortunately this document contains little regarding John's life which cannot be found in his autobiography, and concentrates on his work as a Chemist.

4.4Great Harwood Parish Records

The records of St Bartholemews Church, Great Harwood were transcribed in 1937 by Archibald Sparke for the Lancashire Parish Records Society (LPRS)2. Some pages from the original records were damaged or destroyed before Sparke's transcription but it has been possible to check the missing data by consulting the Bishops Transcripts of the records.

4.5Civil registration and Census data

Civil Registrations commenced in 1837 and the first useful census was in 1841, these, however, have proved useful in tracing through people to their death and validating their identities by references at burial to their parents. Census data is particularly useful in confirming relationships between people who lived at the same address, sisters and brothers often lodging with each other.

4.6Wills and Probate documents

The Wills of John and some of his children can now be located using the online National Probate Calendar. The Wills provide references to "cousins" which allows further research to be conducted.

5 Relationships from Autobiography

This table takes the people that John mentions in his autobiography and shows how they are related to John, a brief extract from the original text is given to provide the context.


Relationship to John

Text from Autobiography

Richard Mercer


Uncle Richard was also the owner of the same kind of factory at Bradley Hall in Goldacre Lane

Henry Mercer


Another of father's brothers Henry had a factory in Lower Town

Roger Clayton


Roger Clayton my mother's brother

Thomas Mercer


My brother Thomas was hay making

Richard Mercer (Dickey)


for brother Dickey began to be ill, and died soon after

Joseph Clayton


Mother was requested by her brother Joseph

Nelly Long, nee Clayton


My Aunt Nelly had married William Long of Accrington

William Long


My Aunt Nelly had married William Long of Accrington

Nancy Monk, nee Mercer

(Half) Sister

my sister Nancy, and her husband Robert Monk

Robert Monk


my sister Nancy, and her husband Robert Monk

Robert & Birtwistle Monk


Sister Nancy, for she had buried her two sons, Robert and Birtwistle

Peggy Wainman, nee Clayton


William Wainman and Aunt Peggy my mothers sister

William Wainman


William Wainman and Aunt Peggy my mothers sister

Thomas Mercer (Tom o' Egg Syke)

Step father

I had to consult my mother .... she was married to Thomas Mercer called Tom o the Edge Sike

William Mercer (Billy)

(Half) Brother

he (Thomas Mercer) and my mother had left Lower Town and come to live at there new house, and soon were taken by fever and both died, this was about April 1810, leaving Billy a young child

Mary Wolstenholme


I had known the 2 Wolstenholme lasses some time ... so I began courting Mary the younger of the two and married her

James Wolstenholme


James Wolstenholme my wife’s brother

Thomas Clayton


uncle Joseph, Thomas and Johnathan, a son of their sister Ann,...(See below)

Jonathan Clayton


uncle Joseph, Thomas and Johnathan, a son of their sister Ann,...(See below)



we wove at my uncle John’s,

Table 1:

The following, however, is somewhat difficult to interpret :

...uncle Joseph, Thomas and Johnathan, a son of their sister Ann, and Richard my father's brother. Johnathan was born before his father and mother were married,

Clearly there is an uncle Joseph. Is, though, Jonathan the son of Ann (Clayton) and Richard (Mercer) or simply the son of Ann Clayton with John's uncle Richard also mentioned. Thomas appears to be referred to as an uncle - the reference to "their sister Ann" does imply that Joseph and Thomas were brothers.

6 John's Parents

John's parentage is complex. His father, Robert Mercer had been married to Betty Birtwistle until her death and John's sister Nancy was from this marriage. Robert then married Betty Clayton in 1786 and John and his two brothers Thomas & Richard (Dicky) are from this marriage. Following Robert's death in 1802 his mother, Betty, in 1806, married Thomas Mercer; referred to in the autobiography as Tom o' the Edge Sike (presumably the family were from Egg Syke, a farm to the east of the Back of Bowley / Dean area); and bore him a son, William (Billy), in 1806. Betty and Thomas died of the fever in 1810

John's father died in 1802 when John was 11 years old. Not surprisingly his father does not figure extensively in John's autobiography. Two of his father's brothers , Richard and Henry, are mentioned briefly. Neither of his parents is mentioned by name in the autobiography.

7 John's sister: Nancy

Thomas Henry Mercer's 1909 affidavit refers to John's sister Ann marrying William Monk and provides a whole descent from this marriage. In fact, as John's autobiography makes clear, Ann, who he refers to as Nancy, married a Robert Monk. THM Made the error of selecting the wrong Mercer - Monk marriage from the various church records available.

This is the relevant extract from the autobiography :

"I left, and lived with my sister Nancy, and her husband Robert Monk at Moor Side, Clayton le Moors."

He later mentions :

"I was requested to go and live again with Sister Nancy, for she had buried her two sons, Robert and Birtwistle in one coffin"

Checking the burials of Robert & Birtwistle Mercer in 1808 they show the parents as Robert & Nancy Monk of Clayton-le-Moors so it is clear Robert is the correct husband for Ann (Nancy) and the entire descent from William & Ann in the 1908 affidavit is flawed.

A William Monk of Great Harwood is mentioned in the Will of Thomas Clayton Mercer as a "cousin". This William would appear to be a descendant of John's sister Nancy and her husband William Monk.

At the time he moved to live with sister Nancy on the second occasion the year would have been 1808 so JM would have been around 17 years old. It is unclear if John was aware of his father's earlier marriage and that Nancy was a half sister, he refers to her as his "sister"

8 Thomas Mercer / Ellen Hodgson

An area that impacts on quite a number of family trees is the marriage between Thomas Mercer and Ellen Hodgson in 1808. This Thomas is said to be the brother of John Mercer however an examination of the records appears inconclusive on this point. This is what John has to say about his brother Thomas in his autobiography:

My brother Thomas was hay making at Clayton Hall and was taken sick whilst at work. I went to see him and stayed all night with him until he was better

This is the relevant entry regarding Thomas's marriage to Ellen Hodgson from the parish records:

18 Apr 1808 - Thos. Mercer, (Collier) & Ellen Hodgson, both of Harwood.

On 1 June 1808 there is another marriage - Thos. Mercer & Sarah Mercer, both of Harwood. This makes clarification of which Thomas is which difficult. The additional word from the LPRS transcriptions "Collier" which is not present in the BTs, however, would align with Tomas as an "Engine Driver" or "Engineer"; a description found in later censuses relating to the Mercer/Hodgson family. Similarly the June 1808 entry shows that Thomas as a "Weaver". Neither weaving nor working in a colliery are occupations which are clearly associated with hay making so the occupation is of no assistance in clarifying these two marriages.

However if we trace Thomas and Sarah to the 1851 Census, Thomas's place of birth is shown as Whalley, whereas in the same census the Thomas married to Ellen Hodgson has a place of birth shown as Great Harwood; both are the same age - 65. This seems to show that Thomas, the Collier/Engine Driver who married Ellen Hodgson, is John Mercer's brother.

This, however is not the end of the problem with Thomas and Ellen as there is another Thomas & Ellen Mercer in the town with baptisms back to 1791. This is Thomas Mercer & Ellen Pickering married 18 Nov 1790. As it appears Ellen (Pickering) died 27 Apr 1810 any children born between 18 April 1808 and 27 April 1810 identified only as children of "Thomas & Ellen Mercer of Harwood" could be of either marriage. There are two such children : Robert, born 31 Jul 1808, baptised 21 Aug 1808 and Ann, born 27 Dec 1809, baptised 18 Feb 1810. Robert died aged 13 in 1822 without issue, however Ann married Turner Calvert and their descendants survive to this day and it is therefore important to disambiguate her parents.

9 Ann Mercer, daughter of Thomas & Ellen

As mentioned above there is some uncertainty regarding the parents of Ann; the Parish Register records her baptism in the following terms :

Bapt : 18 Feb 1810, Ann, Daur of Thos. & Ellen Mercer of Harwood, Bn: Dec 27 (1809)

Ann married Turner Calvert on 15 Nov 1835 and the witnesses to the wedding were Charles Sheffield and Mary Mercer. Neither Turner's nor Ann's father was shown on the marriage entry in the Parish Register but the link to Mary Mercer, a confirmed daughter of Tomas Mercer and Ellen Hodgson is suggestive of a relationship. Mary married Jonathan Calvert, Turner's brother; on 12 Oct 1845 not, however before she had an illegitimate daughter, Annis who was baptised on 30 July1843 and who married Peter Manley on 23 Nov1861 with the marriage being witnessed by Turner Calvert. Annis appears never to have lived with Mary & Jonathan suggesting that she was not Jonathan's daughter so the connection with Turner Calvert appears to be through his wife, Ann and her sister Mary rather than through his brother, Jonathan. Taking this together with the assertion by Thomas Henry Mercer in 1909 that Ann was the daughter of Thomas Mercer and Ellen Hodgson (Ann would have thus been his Aunt and he was likely to know her) makes it almost certain that Ann was the daughter of Thomas Mercer and Ellen Hodgson.

10 Betty Clayton's family

Parish records show the following births to Thomas Clayton, including Betty, John's mother, and other siblings mentioned in the autobiography :

25 Feb 1749/50


No location, Plodweaver

10 Nov 17523


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

28 Dec 1753


Bowley, Plodweaver

1 Nov 17544


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

28 Jul 1755


Back o' Bowley

26 Dec 1758


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

16 Aug 1760


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

18 Sep 1762


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

3 Nov 1764


Back o Bowley

31 Jan 1767


Back o' Bowley, Plodweaver

27 Apr 1771


Well Springs

5 Sep 1774


Well Springs

Table 2:

These would all have been Aunts and Uncles to John.

The first of these follows a marriage on 24 Aug 1749 between Tho: Clayton and Ann Kitchin, both of Harwood. This suggests these are all of a single family, the namesin bold being identified in the autobiography and the table in Relationships from Autobiography

Fortunately the Grave records of St Bartholemews Church show the following people buried in Plot 9c Grave 1 :




Farmer Back of Bowley






















Table 3:

Using this together with the Parish records shows that the Roger born in 1752 died that year and the Ann born in 1754 died in 1759 which accounts for the apparent duplication of names. A likely reason for some of the daughters not being buried with the family would be if they married and thus were buried with their husbands.

The Ann who died in 1808 was aged 78 and would be Thomas's widow, Ann Kitchin.

11 Richard Mercer, John's Uncle

In the autobiography we learn that Richard owned a small hand loom factory at Bradley Hall, Goldacre Lane. At a later point he says "My Aunt Nelly had married William Long of Accrington, a local preacher among the Wesleyans which left only my uncle Joseph, Thomas and Johnathan, a son of their sister Ann, and Richard my father's brother. Johnathan was born before his father and mother were married, and grandmother looked after him, but she was now very old, " One reading of this is that Ann Clayton had son, Jonathan, and had subsequently married the father, Richard Mercer. The Parish records do show a marriage on 19th. January 1790 between Richard Mercer and Ann Clayton, both of Harwood and this could be the couple mentioned above. Further research is required to see if there any other Richard Mercers and Ann Claytons to whom this entry could refer5. See also Jonathan Clayton

12 Jonathan Clayton, John's cousin

Of Ann's son Jonathan there is no likely entry in the Parish Records for his birth. Jonathan, however is mentioned in the autobiography in the following terms " Johnathan was courting Mary Whitaker at the same time" and an entry in the Parish Records for 7 June 1810 shows the marriage of Jonathan Clayton, Weaver and Mary Whittaker. I can find no record of another Jonathan Clayton being born so it is almost certain that the 1810 marriage entry refers to Ann's son. The use of the name Joseph for this couple's second child, born in 1811 tends to support this as Jonathan appears to have lived with his uncle Joseph for some time.

At one point John says : "I left, and went to live at the Back of Bowley with my uncle Joseph and Tommy and Johnathan" this implies that Jonathan was not living with his mother Ann - he had previously lived with his grandmother "....Johnathan was born before his father and mother were married, and grandmother looked after him", and possibly that Richard Mercer was not his father (he appears to keep the Clayton name throughout his life).

It is worth remembering that Jonathan was related to John through his mother's line irrespective of whether Richard Mercer, John's father's brother, was Jonathan's father or not.

13 William Mercer (Billy), John's half brother.

We know of William because of the entry in John's autobiography. He is referred to as a small child in April 1810 when his parents died and he went to live with his uncle, it is not clear though which one. William's birth does not appear in the published version of the Parish Records because the relevant pages were lost when Archibald Sparke transcribed them; however the Bishops Transcripts of the records show: Will'm. Son of Tho's. and Betty Mercer of Harwood, born July 31st 1806 and baptised 24 Aug.

Examining census data for Great Harwood shows a William Mercer married to an Alice in 1841 and living in "Village"; they are both shown as age 35, however this is subject to the 1841 five year rounding. The 1851 Census for the same family shows him as age 44 putting his YoB at 1807. Here he is living at Butts next door to Thomas & Ellen Mercer.

This matches a William Mercer/Alice Calvert marriage in 1824 but do we have the right William for son of Thomas & Betty ? There is no other William Mercer baptised in Gt Harwood between 1800 and 1812, so this is almost certainly the correct one. This is confirmed by tracing this William through the censuses till his death which is recorded in the following terms : "William Mercer, Delph Rd, 5 Nov 1870, age 64 years, son of Thomas". The final phrase "Son of Thomas" shows we have been following the correct William.

We can thus be certain that William married Alice Calvert and their descendants can be traced using census and Civil registration data to supplement Parish Records.

14 John's wife, Mary Wolstenholme

In his autobiography John gives the following information that helps to pin-point Mary : he mentions that Mary is the younger of "the two Wolstenholme lasses" and that she has a brother, James. We also know from Mary's age at death that she would have been born around 1785 and an examination of the Parish records shows a likely set of baptisms - Mary being the younger of two daughters - herself and Ellen and with a brother James. Table 4 shows births to a James and Mary, the spelling of the surname is inconsistent but this is not significant.

29 Dec 1782



19 Jun 1785



22 Feb 1789



Died age 15, 25 May 1804

8 Apr 1792



28 Apr 1793



Died age 3 weeks, 21 May 1793

7 Sep 1794



4 Dec 1796



30 Dec 1798



Died age 2 weeks, 7 Jan 1799

Table 4

The most likely parents would be James Wolstanholm and Mary Taylor (both of Harwood) who married 28 July 1774, an earlier James/Mary marriage was James Woolstenholme of Clayton and Mary Duckworth of Rishton who married on 5 July 1753. Before 1780 the Parish Records do not record the mothers name, so a number of births between 1774 and 1780 where the father's name is recorded as James Wolstanholme could also be part of this family. One possibility is that a Martha who was born on 31 May 1778 was the elder of "the two Wolstenholme lasses" mentioned in Johns autobiography, rather than Ellin.

The Will of Robert Clayton Mercer explicitly mentions four people as "cousins" -Mary Wolstenholme, Rebecca Parker, James Wolstenholme and William Monk. Of these Mary Wolstenholme, Rebecca Parker and James Wolstenholme are siblings, the children of John's wife's brother James Wolstenholme who was born ~1792.

15 Conclusion

The above examines the main relatives of John Mercer, the two main lines for further research are those of his half-brother William (Billy) Mercer who married Alice Calvert and his brother Thomas Mercer who married Ellen Hodgson. It is also possible that his sister Ann (Nancy) Monk had further children following the deaths of Robert and Birwistle in 1808 - the inclusion in Robert Clayton Mercer's Will of a "cousin", William Monk, makes this a likely proposition. There is scope for researching John's mother's family - the Claytons, as he mentions his aunts Peggy and Nelly together with their husbands. Work is still in progress and the current document simply reflects current progress.

1John Mercer's holograph autobiography is held by Lancashire County record office, catalogue number : UDCL/8/1 and a transcription has been provided by them.

2Available on CD as LPRS CD75

3Died 1752

4Died 1759

5The following Richard Mercers would all have been of an age to marry in 1790:
29 Mar 1747 Richard Mercer son of Alexander Mercer
26 Jun 1757 Richard Mercer son of Thomas Mercer
1 Oct 1758 Richard Mercer son of Thomas Mercer
13 May 1761 Richard Mercer son of Edward Mercer
28 Dec 1770 Richard Mercer son of Alexander Mercer