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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Maria Rawcliffe - A Spanish Look in Lancashire

My great grandmother Maria Rawliffe, with her granddaughter Annie Maria Danson, c. 1915 

The character of my great-grandmother, Maria Rawcliffe had always appealed to me.   Her name was an evocative mixture of down-to-earth Lancashire grit with echoes of a more flamboyant Latin nature. She looked a formidable lady from the one photograph I had initially of her. To give additional colour there was a, no doubt,  apocryphal story that “granny’s dark looks” came from Spanish descent, after an Armada ship had been wrecked off the Fylde coast of Lancashire. All this captured my imagination and, as a child,  I began weaving stories about her.

The findings in the actual research were much more prosaic.  Maria was born in Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde in 1859, the sixth of seven daughters to Robert Rawcliffe (an agricultural labourer and carter)  and Jane Carr.  By comparison, her sisters had much more ordinary names - Anne, Jane, Margaret, Jennet, Alice and Martha.  At 18 years old, Maria married James Danson at Singleton and went on to have ten sons,  before the birth of her only daughter Jenny in 1897.

Maria is at the core of my family history story and her name lived on in her granddaughter Annie Maria Danson, her grandson Harry Rawcliffe Danson and now my own granddaughter Niamh Maria.  

As for the Spanish Armada story, a local history of Hambleton told of an incident in 1643 at the time of the English Civil War. A Spanish frigate, the Santa Anna ran aground in the River Wyre estuary. The crew were taken off the ship, which was set alight to prevent it falling into the hands of the Roundheads. No efforts were made to get the crew home several married local farmer’s daughters. The dark Spanish features showed up in their children.   So maybe I do have some Spanish blood in me after all!

Copyright © 2010 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Nice piece, Susan. What do you make of the Lancs OPC marriage reference for Maria which lists her as Martha Marie? A mistake by the transcriber maybe? And I wonder why she was stated as being from Thistleton? It's only 5 miles from Hambleton, but maybe she was working there as a housemaid before she got married.

    Marriage: 12 May 1877 St Anne, Singleton, Lancashire, England
    James Danson - full age Joiner Bachelor of Singleton
    Martha Marie Rawcliffe - 18 Spinster of Thistleton
    Groom's Father: Henry Danson, Toll -
    Bride's Father: Robert Rawcliffe, Labourer
    Witness: Henry Danson; Elizabeth Ann Bailey
    Married by Licence by: Leo. Chas. Wood, Vicar
    Register: Marriages 1851 - 1900, Page 26, Entry 52
    Source: LDS Film 1470929

    In 1871, James Danson, who she later married, was living at Shard Toll Bar, Singleton, and his family ran the toll collection on the bridge, so I wonder if Maria met James on her journeys across the bridge to work in Thistleton?

    Cheers, Mike.

  2. Hi, Mike - delighted to get your comments - the first on my blog. I can also answer your queries which I had thought of as future blog stories.

    Early on in my research I had come across the names of Maria or Martha in various records. I knew Maria's birthdate roughly from census returns, so sent for a certifcate from Garstang Registrar and outlined my puzzle over her names. To my great surprise the result was 2 certificates - Maria born 15th January 1859 and Martha born 20th January 1863. So had Maria assumed the name of her youngest sister? I also found on the IGI that Martha was listed with the middle name Septima - 7th daughter, though how her Ag. Lab. father knew the Latin tag is another puzzle! The submitter was American (I suspect a descendant of Maria's sister Alice who emigrated to USA.) I did write to the address given, but the letter came back "unknown" so very frustrating.

    Another puzzle - Martha's death is not listed in the Lancs. OPC online, but there is a Peggy, born 1861 to Robert and Jane, which means Martha would not be the 7th child but the 8th.

    Re Maria being in Thistleton on her marriage. I found this out when I delved sidewways into the lives of her sisters. Her eldest sister Anne was in Thistleton, married to Robert Roskell, gamekeeper - one of their daughters was also named Maria, and there is a family monument in St. Anne's Church, Singleton. So I assume Maria was with her sister & family.

    It is surprising that none of Maria's surviving sisters (Anne, Jane, Alice & Jennet) was a witness. James Danson's eldest brother and married eldest sister Henry & Elizabeth were the witnesses.

    All this makes family history so fascinating. Thank you again for getting in touch.


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