The Saracens of Biddulph Moor

There has been a legend that has persisted over the years and does not show any sign of going away, and that is that the people of Biddulph Moor in the county of Staffordshire are thought to be descendants from a group of Saracen Stonemasons brought back to this area by a person known as Orm of Biddulph.

The people of Biddulph Moor are known to have more exotic dark features than most people living in the surrounding area, and with the difference in dialect, this does seem to set these people apart from their neighbouring communities.

It is thought that Orm brought back seven Saracen Stonemasons and their descendants became the Bailey family whose children had the “most lovely shades of red hair”.

There are however some disputed facts surrounding this legend, there is thought to be an Eastern influence in the construction of St Laurence’s church in Biddulph which was thought to have been founded by Orm, and the Eastern influence would no doubt be due to the Saracen Stonemasons who would have been used in its construction.

St Laurence’s Church in Biddulph

There is a strange Font in nearby St Mary’s church, which would have originally been sited at St Laurence’s church and which some people believe originally came from Palestine and if this were true it would strengthen the story considerably.

The first appearance in print with reference to the story appeared in Sleigh’s “A history of the ancient parish of Leek” in 1862 and is as follows: “One of the Lords of Biddulph, a Knight Crusader, is reputed to have brought over in his train from the holy land a Paynim whom he made Bailiff on his estate, and from whose marriage with an English woman the present race of “Biddle Moor men” is traditionally said to have sprung. Probably this infusion of Saracenic blood may account fot their nomadic and somewhat bellicose propensities”.

The Biddle Moor people as they were originally known were mentioned by a woman by the name of S. Burne in 1909 in connection with the North Staffs Field Club after she had visited them. She had this to say about them, claiming that they had “Oval faces, brown ruddy complexions, and hair in shades of auburn”. Burne claimed that they were descended from twelve Saracen captives brought back by the Lord of Knypersley (Orm) from the third Crusade. Burne goes on to suggest that they may have been Gypsies, so this may yet be another variation to the story.

It has been suggested that St Laurence church has some sort of connection with the Knights Templars mainly due to the fact that there can be found a series of stone coffin lids around the sides of the church which have a sword and cross on them.

Knights Templar coffin lid?

The sword and cross is representative of the Knights Templars however there is a dispute as to whether or not they are connected to the Templars as some people are of the opinion that they are of a Norman style, so the jury is still out on this debate.

These coffin lids can be found all around the outside of the church

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61 Responses to “The Saracens of Biddulph Moor”

  1. Hi! It seems to be the right place to get the info i need. Thanks

  2. I love your blog, you should add an RSS feed feature so I can get automatic notifications of new blogs. If you set one up please email me! i will bookmark you for now. Again Excellent Blog!

  3. Ah, the Biddulphs. I am actually directly related to these people. My great grandfather, Abe Joel, was highly regarded in those parts.

  4. I am interested in learning more about the Saracens as I think some of my DNA may include their DNA

  5. I have just read Michael Woods BBC report on Britain’s first black community. I think he should have included Biddulph. I am also descended from one of the Baileys.

  6. Both my parents were Baileys living in Leek as their ancesters moved from Biddulph Moor in the 1800s. I always heard both versions of the legend wnd we were very proud to think we were descended from Saracens. If Dad wanted to annoy Mum he substituted the Gypsy story
    Jenny hart nee Bailey

  7. If any more Baileys read this blog please leave a comment. My relatives were stone masons and built some of the houses in Biddulph. Apparently there were different clans of Baileys, I am from the ‘Pinkies’ there were Bluies and Brownies too. Has any one else heard this info?

  8. The Baileys of Biddulph Moor are my relatives through my mother’s side of the family. Her aunt always told us this story and I dismissed it for a long time. I’m hoping to get myself genetically tested at some point in the future. I find this absolutely fascinating as my mother is very ginger indeed and most of my more immediate family is buried at St Laurence’s Church. I can’t remember the exact bloodline but will follow up with my great aunt to try to work this out. I know my grandfather had a reputation locally as being a strong fighter in his youth and I have always been stronger than many of my peers. I would be very interested to know if this has been contributed to through the gene pool of the parts of my family which originated from Biddulph Moor.

    • Hi Alex, Thanks for sharing this story with us and please keep us updated with any dna testing you may have done in the future.
      Regards Gary

  9. I am a Bailey of Biddulph too – on my father’s side, with family (great Aunt I think) from Biddulph Moor & grandparents remaining in the area until the 80s. My red hair alas is from henna but I too am intrigued by the Saracen connection. This is an interesting blog I’d like to visit again.

  10. I’m also descended from Baileys from Biddulph Moor, earliest James Bailey b. about 1697, and many of my ancestors from this area were stone masons too. My father had dark auburn hair. I have a family history website with lots of Biddulph families, any Baileys interested in viewing can go to http://www.josal.tribalpages.com and request an invitation. Regards, Joan.

  11. Hi Joan, I have just sent a request to your website!

  12. I’m a Stanway from Biddulph Moor,my father born on Stanway Lane and the road is named after my great grandfather Peter. The legend of our Saracen origins is one that has been past down from father to son in our family for generations and it would certainly set us apart from neighbouring communities.

    • I too am stanway with biddulph ancestors. I’ve wondered how stanway lane was named but the council couldn’t help me. I would love to know how and when it was named exactly. My family tree is on ancestry with my gt grandfather, frank born 1881 to john stanway leaving biddulph to live in stockport where I reside toady.

  13. Interesting website. I’m working on a mini-memoir of a man called Ivor Sutton, who lived just below Top Rd Biddulph Moor, and feel quite engrossed with discoveries about him, and this extraordinary area.

    • Hi Tricia,
      I wondered if you know the address that Ivor Sutton occupied as we live in Rudyard Road just below Top Road and our labourers cottages were built in approximately 1814. (Two made into one). I am interested in any history that could be attached to our cottage or nearby.

  14. There is a very similar type of coffin lid in St Giles parish church in Newcastle The knights are known to have had a precerptary at Keele so dont know whether there is any coneection

  15. Hello fellow Stanway. My maiden name is Stanway and I decend from John Stanway born Biddulph, then from Johns son, Frank born Leek and Franks son, Arthur born Stockport – where I live today. I came across Stanway lane on my hunt for more clues when trying to research my family tree.

    How do you know Stanway Lane was named after Peter?

  16. I became intrigued with this legend some years ago and have now written a book based on it. Called “The Dark Men Of Biddulph Moor”, it can be purchased in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon. Bill Siviter

  17. Thanks Bill. I will certainly check it out.

  18. “woman by the name of… ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Sophia_Burne

  19. My grandfather was a stone mason by the name of Joseph Nixon who lived in Gratton in early 1900’s

  20. My dad is a Bailey of Biddulph Moor. He was interviewed some years back about this story, and had a DNA test to find if, indeed, there may be a Saracen connection. The results were..you’ve guessed it…’inconclusive’, so not ruled out! It still remains a plausible tale….

    • Hello my grandfather Joseph Bailey was from Biddulph MOOR I wonder if there is a connection with your family.He married Martha Beech and was the organist at the Methodist Church,he had a brother John who was a violinist with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. I have details of his ancestors and also details of my grandmothers family

    • replying to Analiese as above please let me know of any connection

    • I’m the great, great, granddaughter of Myrick Bailey of Biddulph. It was me who originally contacted the BBC and suggested the topic of the Saracens. My Aunt was DNA tested…result ‘inconclusive’. But who knows? The legend has certainly been persistent. I was told it as a child, and all my Biddulph relations definitely believed it!

  21. Hi Annaliese, Is your Dads interview something we Baileys can view on line?

  22. Afraid not, Charlotte..I’ve got it recorded on a tape somewhere so will look out for it.

  23. Thank you!

  24. Hi, I’m a direct descendent of the Bailey’s of Mow Lane, Gillow Heath, nestled in the valley between Biddulph and Congleton Edge, but I have been led to believe that the family originated from Biddulph Moor. My great great grandfather Thomas Bailey was a collier (underground coal miner), I expect in the local pit at Knypersley. All his sons, including my great grandfather John Bailey, followed in his footsteps. Thomas is buried at St Laurence’s in Biddulph, with his wife Eliza and several other family members.

    One of John Bailey’s sons, my grandfather, also John Bailey, was born and lived in Congleton where he died in 1955, almost six years before I was born so I unfortunately never knew him. Both my grandfather John Bailey, and his only son, my father Arnold Bailey, had quite distinguishing looks and darker than average skin, wavy jet black hair, and were definitely not typical of the average Anglo Saxon, Norse or Celtic races! We do have a smattering of red hair in the family that pops up from time to time too!

    Both my brother Stephen Bailey and I are keen family historians and would love to hear of any connections to our branch of the Biddle Men! You will find our respective trees on ancestry.co.uk.

    I was made aware of the ‘furriners’ in the family as a young boy growing up in Congleton. My mum used to kid us that my dad was descended from Turks! Not strange then, that I love a lot of things eastern: food, music and architecture for example.

    Great to read all this again. Keep up the good work!

    • Hey up, we might even be related!! My paternal grandmother is descended from the Baileys- they came from Lask Edge. Other family names are Stanway and Dale. As you know, my Dad was very dark-skinned and could have easily passed for someone of southern Med/ Middle Eastern origin.

    • Hi Michael, my grandmother was Mary Ellen Bailey of Biddulph, the granddaughter of Myrick Bailey born 1810, and grt granddaughter of Thomas Bailey of Gillow Heath. I inherited an an ‘Adam & Eve’ sampler embroidered in 1847 by Anne Bayley of Biddulph. My aunt participated in the BBC radio programme which investigated the legend. The DNA results were ‘inconclusive’. Coincidence ? both my grandmother and aunt had very pale skin but black curly hair , as does my brother ! Regards

    • I think we are related! My grandmother is a bailer from Gillow Heath!

  25. I am interested to contact anyone researching The Bailey families of Biddulph MOOR where my ancestors came from I have traced my line back to the 1700s and there were marriages to the following families, Lancaster, Beech, Nixon,Goodwin,Simcock,Mellor,Wiltshaw,Shelton.My Grandfather Joseph Bailey married Martha Beech.He was the organist at the Methodist Church and one of his Brothers John Bailey was a violinist with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Both my grandparents are buried in the Methodist Church Yard.

    • Hi Stuart,My dad’s family are from Biddulph and my great grandmother was Sarah Goodwin born 1855, married John Shallcross 1878.
      My cousin recently told me that my dad’s mother,their daughter, Hannah Shallcross ‘s family was from Biddulph Moor.I would love to find out more about this .I am tracing my tree on Ancestry. Victoria Horton

    • My great Grandad was a Lancaster he was the lay preacher in Biddulph Moor

      • Hello Susan,do you have any more information onyour ancestors, as there may be a connection with mine.

  26. Hi Stuart, My Great Grand mother was Mary Alice Bailey who married Arthur Simon Beech. They moved to Nottingham.

    • Thanks for that,do you have any more information on Mary and Arthur Simon Beech eg. their parents,where they got married? I,m not sure they are connected to my ancestors,

  27. Hi Stuart, Marys father was Earnest Albert Bailey and her mother Sarah Alice. I will have to talk to my mum about more info. Mary my great grandmother was born in 1895.

  28. I’m also descended from the Baileys and find this legend very interesting. My gt gt gt grandmother was Amelia Bailey, daughter of Thomas Bailey, who married Ralph Horne in 1827. Would love to hear from anyone connected to these families. BTW – lots of auburn hair in my family!

    • I too am have ancestors from the Moor and my Baileys go back to the late 1600s.They married into other families from and around the Moor including Horton Parish. My Grandmother was Martha Beech whose father Simon Was Aa stone mason as was his father also called Simon

  29. I am the grandson of the late Joseph Bailey and Martha Beech who were both from Biddulph Moor. Interestingly many of the Beech Family were stonemasons and builders, the Baileys were farmers and miners. They both told me of the Saracen connection.

  30. I am a direct male descendant of Thomas Bayley/Bailey, baptised 17 Dec 1718 in Marston-by-Congleton, married 2 Jan 1741 in Astbury. My family always understood that it originated from Biddulph. My Y Chromosome is J2, M172, which supports the Saracen theory.

    • Hello Jonathan,my ancestors were from Biddulph Moor and I have a 7x great Grandfather by the name of Thos Baily,father of David Bayley bapt. First of January 1690/91 at Biddulph who married Ellen Bailey at Biddulphn1st April 1716. I gave not found any more details of Thos.Baily other than his wife Francis died 22nd February 1694 at Biddulph. I wonder if there is any connection with your line of the Baily,Bayley,Bailey families.

      How did you manage to confirm the Saracen theory?

    • Hello Jonathan that is the most conclusive proof that I have seen which suggests that there is some truth in the legend. When were you tested?
      I am interested in getting my own DNA tested was it expensive?

      • Bill,

        I had my Y-DNA tested in 2006. Last month, I had my autosomal DNA tested, ie what the rest of me is, except the Y. It shows that my autosomal DNA is 100% northwest European, British Isles or Scandanavian with a bit of southern Europe ( I suspect that was a Huguenot ancestor). Any non-European DNA has long since been filtered out, and I guess that would take a long time, except for the Y-DNA which essentially never disappears and shows that I may have had a male forebear from the Middle East many generations back. Unless, that is, my Y-DNA comes from a very early group of settlers in northern Europe after the Ice Age, and I guess there must be some of those around.

  31. James,

    I am not sure what our connection might be but it sounds highly likely, Thomas, David and Ellen being very common names in my family of the 18th and 19th Centuries..

    I wouldn’t say I have confirmed the Saracen theory, I just note that my Y-DNA being J2, which is predominantly Middle Eastern, would be consistent with it. Before I knew of the Saracen theory, I understood that it was from the very first people into northern Europe after the Ice Age, who it seems were also often red-haired. Apparently there are a lot of people in Pitlochry with my Y-DNA. Are you also J2?
    Best wishes, Jonathan

  32. Hello Victoria, the connection I have with the GOODWIN name is that of a marriage of Jane Goodwin to Jonathan NIXON. Jane was born abt.1825 and Jonathan abt 1824. The parents of Jonathan were Jonathan Nixon 1788-1845 and Lois Bayley 1790-1848. I dont have any information of the parents of Jane Goodwin. I have a copy of the will made byJonathan NIXON serior,he was a collier and at the time was living at Greenway (Biddulph) Moor,the will as made on 7th June 1838.

  33. Hello Stuart, I can’t match your Jane Goodwin with my family at the moment but I’ll keep checking. I do have a Marie Nixon married to my great, great, great uncle John Parkinson a collier, B 1812, Biddulph. Are you on Ancestry because I have found some trees on their with your names.
    Victoria

  34. Hello Victoria,no I am not on Ancestry but use Genes Reunited.

    Stuart

  35. My Family come from Selattyn, Nr Oswestry, Shropshire.
    The name Selattyn is unique nowhere else in the world as far asi can find out is named Selattyn?
    Around doomsday times it was known as Silueridein ( I think that’s the spelling?). When Googled it came up as that name in Sudanese, pronounced “Saladin”.
    Is this just coincidence, or is it hint of a Middle East connection?
    Any thoughts? Terry Williams.

  36. My name is joy and I found out recently that my real grandparents were From biddulph moor called John Thomas Plant and he married a Alice Bailey from Biddulph Moor and they lived on a farm Hurst farm I think. They had three children, but people in Biddulph would only of met one of these children named Joan, who was born in 1921!!. The two boys (one being my father Ernest Brooks) had been adopted. Why? I do not know. But I would love to find out if anyone out there knows of these people as they were my real grandparents (who only died in 1980s) or my real aunt Joan who would be 96 years of age if she is still living. I cannot find a death certificate for Joan. PLEASE anyone out there knows ANYTHING however small I would love to know. I have no living relatives on my father side and would love to meet some descendants!!
    I was brought up in church Lawton Kidsgrove and my father Ernest Plant ( birth certificate) was born at arclid to a Alice Bailey and father John Thomas plant from Biddulph moor. He was a poultry keeper as was my father!! Please help as I’ve tried everywhere and I now live in Anglesey due to my daughters cancer. I am 51 and my kids are still young and would love to find some cousins etc.
    THANKU so much for reading my heart felt story.
    Joy Sidleybrooks.

  37. My name is joy and I found out recently that my real grandparents were From biddulph moor called John Thomas Plant and he married a Alice Bailey from Biddulph Moor and they lived on a farm Hurst farm I think. They had three children, but people in Biddulph would only of met one of these children named Joan, who was born in 1921!!. The two boys (one being my father Ernest Brooks) had been adopted. Why? I do not know. But I would love to find out if anyone out there knows of these people as they were my real grandparents (who only died in 1980s) or my real aunt Joan who would be 96 years of age if she is still living. I cannot find a death certificate for Joan. PLEASE anyone out there knows ANYTHING however small I would love to know. I have no living relatives on my father side and would love to meet some descendants!!
    I was brought up in church Lawton Kidsgrove and my father Ernest Plant ( birth certificate) was born at arclid to a Alice Bailey and father John Thomas plant from Biddulph moor. He was a poultry keeper as was my father!! Please help as I’ve tried everywhere and I now live in Anglesey due to my daughters cancer. I am 51 and my kids are still young and would love to find some cousins etc.
    THANKU so much for reading my heart felt story.
    Joy Sidleybrooks.

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