The de Trafford family.

The written history of the house of de Trafford begins as far back as the days of King Canute and it is interesting to find that for over 900 years this family has produced an uninterrupted line of male heirs.

First of the line was Ranulphus, a Saxon earl or thane who owned many manors in Cheshire and Lancashire. At the time of the Norman conquest, Cheshire was the last county to be subdued and the de Trafford of that time took up arms against the Normans and defeated Hamo de Massey at Tay Bridge, near Mobberley, Cheshire.

De Trafford afterwards made terms with the Earl of Chester that he should keep his lands and possessions on condition that he did not again fight against the Normans and so, through all the mutilations of civil strife, wars or insurrections, the de Traffords have kept true to their motto “Grip Griffin hold fast” and have kept their lands.

At the time of the dissolution of the monastries under Henry VIII Swythamley Grange, which for many years had been a grazing place for 2000 sheep kept by the monks of Dieulacresse Monastry, Leek, was brought by William de Trafford, the second son of Edmund de Trafford of Trafford Hall, Manchester and Wilmslow, Cheshire.

He paid £88 10s of lawful English money for Swythamley, plus one twentieth of a Knights fee and ten shillings each year, to be paid to the crown on the Feast of St Michael the Archangel. This transaction was concluded on May 5th 1540.

The original deed of gift is written in beautiful script and is, of course, in Latin, but the English translation indicates that Swythamley was then called “Swythernley” and in the document are references to land and names of people stll linked with the locality.

Place names in the document include Danwood (presumably Dane Wood), Ryefield, Grayslow, Crabtree Field, Woodhay, Ballock Pit, Graystowe Meadow, New Meadow, Forstall Wood and Dane Bridge. Family names still associated with the area are the Hulmes, Fernyhoughs (called Farnyhalgh), Downes and higginbothams.

This William de Trafford built himself a “goodly house” at Swythamley and surrounded it with a deep moat. At this time, affairs in England being more settled, fortified buildings or castles gave way to manor houses or halls in parks of varying extent, and such was Swythamley after William de Trafford brought it.

Another William de Trafford was born at Swythamley in 1604 and died in 1693, being buried in the churchyard of Leek Parish Church, but some years ago his headstone was removed and put on the West wall inside the church, and another headstone was substituted to mark his last resting place.

Although I have written about William de Trafford in the “Trafford Connection” I have gone into more detail on this page. It was this William who outwitted the Roundheads. He happened to hear that the Roundheads were in the neighbourhood looting and plundering so he sent his family and most of his servants to a safe hiding place.

Then he and the remaining men at Swythamley carried all the portable treasures from the hall and hid them under the threshing floor of the barn which was on the park side of the moat.

Dressing himself in motley, he had the drawbridge drawn up while he, with a flail in hand, awaited the oncoming Roundheads. They arrived and as the drawbridge was up there was no way of obtaining access to the hall so they began hunting about the outbuildings and eventually came across William, purporting to be an old half witted man.

He was threshing corn in a barn and with every stroke of his flail muttered “Now thus,” “Now thus.” The Roundheads demanded of him information as to whether there was any way of getting into the house. “Nay” said the old man, “save by the drawbridge.”

“But that is up. Where is the Squire?” they asked. “Gone a long way off,” muttered the old man. “Can we cross the moat?” they asked. “Surely surely,”the old man replied.

So four of the Roundheads plunged into the moat, thinking to wade across it and gain admission to the house. But being weighed down by their armour two of them were drowned and the other two managed to scramble back to the bank, wet through and emersed in mud.

Wrathfully they returned to the barn where the old man was still patiently wielding his flail to the monotonous drone of “Now thus, now thus.”

“Hi you old fool, did you not tell us we could get across the moat? Two of our men have been drowned.” “Eh” said the old man, looking bewildered and pushing back his cap, “I thought you could, for our ducks swim across it every day” whereupon the Roundheads went away, leaving the poor old “half wit” to his threshing.

Later, when the coast was clear, the family returned home and the treasures were restored to the house.

The stone to the memory of William de Trafford depicts him with the threshing flail in his hand, a wheat sheaf at his feet and “Now thus” in a scroll over his head.

Many of the Trafford family were baptised at Leek Parish Church but many were buried at Rushton where they always worshipped (they had their own area with pews inside the church), travelling from Swythamley by horseback.

It is still told that in the old days there were so many trees in the district that squirrels could hop from one to the other from Swythamley to Rushton without coming down to the ground.


7 Responses to “The de Trafford family.”

  1. Fascinating, been a direct descendant of sir WIlliam de Trafford, I’ve heard some fascinating stories from my father, who remembers visiting his grandparents at swythamley Hall,
    Never heard anything so indepth,
    Thank you
    Jill Trafford

  2. We have 4 dining chairs bought in auction in the 1920 they belonged to the de Trafford family do you or any family member be.interested in having them returned to your family.

  3. My father always said that the Downes family originated from Cheshire so I was interested that you say it’s a common name in those parts.
    What an excellent website you have developed . Congratulations

  4. Hey, I’m descended from the Traffords (Nicholls) – Emily, who married Sir William Blake of Dublin/Galway. How interesting to read about the family!

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