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A Lancashire Family Inheritance, by Frank Thistlethwaite, was published in 1996 (ISBN 095282860X).  It describes the Thornber families of Burnley descended from Benjamin Thornber who was born in Gisburn in 1800.  Benjamin is mentioned in one of the families in Gisburn.  Benjamin Thornber and his family lived in Rimington near Gisburn before moving to Burnley and are shown at Rimington in the 1851 census.

In Frank Thistlethwaite's book, a family tree is shown giving the ancestors of Benjamin Thornber and this fits with work done by others researching Thornber families in Gisburn.  There is one error in the book.  As a result of transcribing the registers of Houghton Chapel, Tosside, and obtaining copies of three wills, I have proved that the William Thornber who married Ann Procter in 1790 was not the son of Thomas Thornber and Jennet Tattersall.  He was the son of Ralph Thornber and Elizabeth Beecroft and was baptised in 1749.  William's will mentions a daughter Agnes (from his first wife Mary Downham) and he is known to have had a son called Ralph.  Agnes is also mentioned in the will of her grandfather, Ralph Thornber.  See the section on  Thornber Families in Slaidburn and Gisburn Forest.

Most of the information given below is taken from Frank Thistlethwaite's book.  Documentary sources are not quoted in the book but some of the information was obtained from a family bible.  In the few cases where I have additional information from my own research, this is added in square brackets.   Edward Mark Thornber in Cornwall has provided me with some additional information about the families of Edward Sharp Thornber and two of his brothers, William and Ben. Full birth dates, even when known, are not shown for more recent generations.

In addition I am grateful to Molly Haines for bringing to my attention "Who was Who in Burnley" published by the Burnley and District Historical Society in 1997.  This contains short biographies of Benjamin Thornber, his sons Caleb and Thomas, and his grandsons John, Sharp and Luke.  Some dates in the tree below have been taken from this source.  Sharp and Luke had a brother James Thornber who set up a cotton manufacturing business at Holme Mill in Clitheroe.  James wrote "Burnley Worthies", which includes details of some of the family members. I am grateful to Caroline Sheldrick for information on James' family.

John Titus Thornber of Cliviger provided me with the details of his descent by direct line through the successive eldest sons from Benjamin Thornber.

The information on Benjamin Thornber's son Thomas and his family comes from David Thornber in Kinross.  Thomas and his family have been found in the census of 1881. Some of the information on Lucy Thornber, daugther of Thomas Thornber comes from Margaret Cogdell, nee Lancaster, living in California.

I have taken the information on Caleb Thornber's family from the 1881 census.

At the end of this tree I show census data I abstracted on the family for 1851 and details of a monumental inscription at St. Mary's Church, Gisburn which are recorded in a book of inscriptions held at Clitheroe Library.  It was prepared by the Upper Ribble Valley branch of the Lancashire  Family History and Heraldry Society.

I am grateful to Helen Hagerty for information on the family of William Thornber in generation 4 below. He is the son of Sharp Thornber. In addition I have been in contact with Helen's cousin, Anne Thornber, the daughter of Hugh in generation 5, the son of William and she has provided some dates on that family.

There is an article on Benjamin Thornber and his sons in Burnley Who was Who in Burnley, published by Burnley District Historical Society in 1997, pages 87-97


MI  Monumental Inscription. 
BC Birth Certificate  

Census of 1851 at Rimington Lower Gills (reference HO 107/2255, folio 8).

At this time the family lived in Rimington, which is near Gisburn and six of the children were at home.

Benjamin Thornber head 50 weaver Born Gisburn
Margaret Thornber wife 40 weaver Rimington, Yorks
Martha dau 13 weaver ditto
Benjamin son 11   ditto
Caleb son 8   ditto
Jane dau 6   ditto
Thomas son 4   ditto
Beth dau 2   ditto


Census of 1861 at 6 Albion Street, Habergham Eaves, near Burnley. Source Citation: Class: RG 9; Piece: 3071; Folio: 16; Page: 26; GSU roll: 543074.

Benjamin Thornber head 60 Cotton manufacturer employing 16 men,
20 women, 5 boys & 4 girls
Born Gisburn
Margaret Thornber wife 50   ditto
Benjamin son 21 cotton weaver ditto
Caleb son 18 ditto ditto
Jane dau 16 ditto ditto
Thomas son 14 warehouse boy ditto
Margaret E dau 7 scholar Habergham Eaves


Census of 1871 at Habergham Eaves, (address not legible). Source Citation: Class: RG10; Piece: 4149; Folio: 105; Page: 24; GSU roll: 846733

Benjamin Thornber head 70 Cotton manufacturer employing 74 hands Born Gisburn, Yorkshire
Margaret Thornber wife 60 housewife ditto
Thomas son unm 24 Cotton commercial clerk ditto
Margaret E dau 17 Cotton weaver Habergham Eaves

Census of 1881 at 5 Albion Street, Habergham Eaves. Source Citation: Class: RG11; Piece: 4151; Folio: 83; Page: 30; GSU roll: 1341994.


Benjamin Thornber head 80 Cotton Spinner Employing 700 Hands Born Gisburn, Yorkshire
Margaret Thornber wife 70 wife ditto
Martha Stephenson dau, widow 42 housekeeper ditto
Ephraim Stephenson grandson 18 cotton warehouseman Burnley, Lancashire
Albert Stephenson grandson 13 ditto ditto



The family had several children who died in infancy as shown by the following monumental inscription at Gisburn St. Mary's.  The dates for Benjamin on the inscription do not agree with those in the parish burial register and I assume that the latter gives the correct information.

Monumental Inscriptions at St. Mary's Gisburn

Side 1

Benjamin Thornber of Burnley died 23 March 1886 aged 85
Margaret his relict died 8 May 1888 aged 79
Also Luke their son died 4 September 1866 aged 37
Also Betty their daughter died 13 November 1856 aged 7.

There is no corresponding burial for the first death above.  The burial register says Benjamin Thornber of Burnley was buried on 28 March 1885 aged 84. Margaret his wife was buried at Gisburn on 11 May 1888 and said to be 77.)

Side 2 

John, Jane, John and Joseph, children of Benjamin and Margaret Thornber who died
in infancy. Side 3  Benjamin son of Benjamin and Margaret Thornber, died 5 October 1882 aged 44
Also Sarah Ann his relict died 20 October 1899 aged 57.

The Manchester Royal Exchange Directory for 1905 shows that Benjamin Thornber and Sons Ltd., of 56 Faulkner Street, cotton spinners and manufacturers had three spaces allocated to them at location 15A. The names or initials given were John, W.E. and F. There was also an allocation to William Thornber of Thornber Sons and Co. of Green Lane Chemical Works, Padiham, marine and crystal sizes, calico printers' finishes.

Footnote 1. Benjamin Thornber the younger

Benjamin Thornber the younger, shown in generation 2, died in 1882. The following entry has been found in the Probate Index:

11 June 1883.  Benjamin Thornber    Will and Codicil Benjamin Thornber the Younger of 6 Bond Street Burnley in the county of Lancaster, Cotton Manufacturer who died 5 Oct. 1882 at 6 Bond Street, was proved at the Principal Registry by Thomas Thornber Cotton Spinner the brother, Sarah Ann Thornber, Widow, Relict and Thomas Smith, Tin Plate worker all of Burnley executors.

This is consistent with the date of death, the address in Bond Street and the name of the wife as Sarah Ann. As will be seen below from the 1891 census, Sarah Ann's maiden name was Smith so Thomas Smith may have been her brother.

1881 census at 6 Bond Street. Source Citation: Class: RG11; Piece: 4149; Folio: 122; Page: 18; GSU roll: 1341994.   At 6 Bond Street, Burnley.

Benjamin Thornber, head of household, aged 49, Cotton Spinner, born Rimington, Yorkshire.
Sarah Ann, wife, aged 45, Cotton Spinner, born Bury, Lancashire
John Thomas, aged 9, scholar, born Burnley

This all fits with the family coming from Rimington, near Gisburn.  Cotton spinner can have two meanings.  It can be a workman operating a spinning machine but I have also seen it used for the owner of a spinning mill.

1891 census at 10 Colne Road, Burnley. Source Citation: Class: RG12; Piece: 3363; Folio: 112; Page: 3; GSU Roll: 6098473.

Sarah Ann Thornber, head of household, widow aged 55, born Bury, Lancashire  (no occupation shown)
John Thomas Thornber, son, 18, book-keeper, born Burnley
Alice Smith, sister, 57, (no occupation) born Bury
Mary Smith, sister, 42, Cotton Weaver, born Bury.

Footnote 2: Luke Thornber

Luke Thornber has not been found in the 1851 census but appears in the 1861 as follows:

1861 Census: Habergham Eaves. Source Citation: Class: RG 9; Piece: 3071; Folio: 19; Page: 32; GSU roll: 543074.

Luke Thornber, head, married, 32, Overlooker of cotton, born Gisburn Yorkshire
Alice Thornber, wife, married, 34, born Goldshaw Booth
Parthenia, dau, unm, 6, scholar, born Habergham Eaves
John Thornber, son, 4, scholar, born Habergham Eaves
Betty Thornber, dau, 3, born Habergham Eaves
Margaret Thornber, dau, 1, born Habergham Eaves

1871 Census at 8 Lomas Street Habergham Eaves: Source Citation: Class: RG10; Piece: 4149; Folio: 149; Page: 46; GSU roll: 846733.

Alice Thornber, head, 44, widow, housekeeper, born Goldshaw Booth
Pethania (Parthenia) dau, 16, cotton weaver, born Habergham Eaves
John Thornber, son, 14, cotton weaver, born Habergham Eaves
Elizabeth Thornber, dau, 14, cotton weaver, born Habergham Eaves
Margaret Thornber, dau, 13, cotton weaver, born Habergham Eaves
Mary J Thornber, dau, 9 born Habergham Eaves




Part of the following family tree was sent to me by Malcolm Walker in South Australia.  I have added some additional dates where I have these from my own work and extended the tree from census data and from marriage and burial records at Burnley St. Peter's.  Thomas Thornber is identified as the son of Robert Thornber on the grounds that the age of 51, given in the census of 1841, suggests birth in 1789/90. The age given at his burial suggests birth in c. 1787.  In addition Thomas uses the names Robert and Grace for his children as well as William and Shackleton, two names used by Robert and Grace.   The identity of Robert Thornber is not clear at this stage but there is a record in the registers of Burnley St. Peter's of a Robert Thornbour, son of William, on 20 May 1764 and this looks the most likely candidate so far.  A William Thornbour married Susan Roberts, both of Filly Close, by banns on 2 November 1761, at Burnley St. Peter's with witnesses Josiah Nuttall & Jonathan Ingham. This William seems a good candidate for the father of Robert. William Thornbour also had a daughter Jenny baptised 20 May 1754 at Burnley St. Peters.

Another Robert who has emerged recently was the son of Thomas Thornber of Sabden and was baptised at Newchurch in Pendle on 5 July 1741. He is clearly too old to be the one in the tree below but as Robert is not a common name among the Thornbers, he may be related to this group. This Robert had a brother, called William, baptised on 31 July 1736 who is old enough to be the William who married in 1761. If this is the correct William then the sequence would make Robert Thornber who married Grace Shackeleton named after his uncle Robert. He in turn would have named his eldest son Thomas after his own grandfather.

Robert and Grace called a son Shackleton Thornber. I have had extensive correpondence with Dennis Whitehead in Canada on this subject. Why would Robert and Grace call a son Shackleton but have no son called Pollard? Normally one would expect Shackelton to be a clue to a mother's or grandmother's surname but so far no connection has been made. The only possible Shackleton connection for a Thornber in this period is the marriage of John Thornber to Mary Shackleton in Whalley, both of that parish on 25 June 1757, by banns itpo: Nicholas Isherwood and Robert Isherwood. No children from this couple have been identified so far. Could it be that Grace Pollard died and Robert Thornber remarried to Grace Shackleton? Could Grace be a widow named Pollard whose maiden name was Shackleton? If so this details should have been on the marriage certificate. At this point all we know is that a Grace Thornber died aged 75 in 1833 and was buried at St. Peter's in Burnley. I have checked the burial records at St. Peter's from Jan 1778 to December 1896 and there is no record for another Grace apart from an infant and a woman of 34 born about 1821 who died in 1855, so it seems likely that the Grace Thornber who died in 1833 was indeed born Grace Pollard.

In addition I have received information from Beth Merryweather in New Zealand about Rosanna Thornber, born in 1851, shown below in bold type. Beth has also identified a likely marriage for Margaret Thornber to Isaac Smith.  

To put parts of the tree on a more secure footing it would be wise for future researchers to obtain more copies of birth, marriage and death certificates for the events after 1837 and in some cases the GRO index reference has been included.  However, the information from census returns allows dates of birth and marriage to be estimated, aiding a more detailed search.


C41 indicates information from census of 1841.

Footnote 1

Monumental Inscription at St. Peter's Burnley, abstracted from the transcription held at Burnley Library, which was produced by members of the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society.

In memory of Thomas son of Shackelton and Ann Thornber of Burnley who died 1 November 1853 in the 10th year of his age. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Also of Ann, the beloved wife of Shackelton Thornber who died 26 May 1891 in the 69th year of her age. Also the above named Shackleton Thornber who died 18 January 1897 in the 77th year of his age. Also of John Thornber, son of the above named, who died 19 July 1913 in the 59th year of his age.

Footnote 2.

The other occupants of this grave are as follows:

Martha wife of James ACKROYD, May 19 1886 aged 45 yrs
Ann Wife of William THORNBER, June 5 1886 age 53 yrs
James (above) ACKROYD, April 8, 1893 age 63 yrs all of Burnley

Martha Ann wife of John William ASCOUGH, of Burnley Sept 19 1904, age 37 yrs
William (above) THORNBER, Feb 20 1907, age 81 yrs (placing his birth about 1826)
Elizabeth wife of Jonas Halsted, Burnley Lane, Sep 17 1884 age 36 yrs.

The 1841 census shows a poorly legible record with the following information on film HO 107 506_21, Burnley ED 8, folio 19 page 30. Ages were generally rounded down to the nearest multiple of five at this census. If Mercy had independent means she was probably a widow. A doffer was usually a young person charged with changing bobbins or pirns on a spinning or winding machine.

Mercy Thornber 50 Ind Not born in County
Robert Thornber 20 Cotton Grinder Born in County
Margaret 20 Cotton Spinner Born in County
William 15 Cotton Doffer Born in County

The 1881 Census reveals a William Thornber of the right age, married to Ann, living in Marsden with the following family at 15 Healey Row Habergham Eaves, Lancashire. PRO Ref RG11 Piece 4150 Folio 18 Page 30

William Thornber married 55 head cotton packer Marsden, Lancashire
Ann Thornber married, 48 wife cotton packer's wife Hunton, Lancashire
Lambert Thornber unmarried, 18 son labourer for coal agent Burnley, Lancashire
Martha Thornber unmarried, 14 daughter cotton cop winder Burnley, Lancashire
Mary Thornber widow, 64 sister-in-law chamber servant East Marton, Durham

Footnote 3.

A Grace Thornber of Burnley Lane was buried at Burnley St. Peter's, aged 34 of Burnley Lane on 17 June 1855, putting her birth about 1821. She would have been about 20 in the 1841 census and may not have been living at home at the time. A further search of the census data of 1841 and 1851 may find her.

Footnote 4.

The 1841 Census for Burnley on HO 107/506/22 ED 11 Folio 30 page10 at Jenkin Street shows

William Thornber 40 Stonemason Born in County
Elizabeth 40   Born in County
Robert Thornber 30 Caretaker at Cotton Factory Born in County

Two marriage records for people called William Thornber are known for Burney St. Peter's before 1837 and from the information above it seems that we are dealing with first shown below.

William Thornber, mason, bachelor married Elizabeth x Austin, spinster, both of this chapelry at Burnley St. Peter's, by banns on 31 October 1831, in the presence of Thomas Austin & James Hey.

William x Thornber, cotton spinner, bachelor & Margaret x Coates, spinster, both of this chapelry at Burnley St. Peter's, by banns on 6 April 1835, in the presence of George Thompson & Mary x Stuttard.

The presence of Robert Thornber in the same household is circumstantial evidence that they are related. It is tempting to think that they are the William and Robert shown in the tree in generation 2 baptised in 1793 and 1801 respectively. The ages were rounded down in the 1841 census so according to this record William was born in the period 1797 to 1801 and Robert between 1807 and 1811. These are serious inconsistencies and it may be that evidence from the 1851 census would cast further light on their ages and places of birth.

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