Whisky Spinners


‘Money Ned’ and ‘the Whisky Spinners’ of Grane

In our Dec 2017 issue of Twissle Times we published an obituary to one of our founding members, Jack Aspin. His earliest known ancestor was an interesting character, Edmund Entwisle, known as ‘Money Ned’, born in Tottington near Bury in 1797.

‘Money Ned’

Edmund Entwisle appears to have become wealthy from an early age, a speculator in buying and selling farms and he is mentioned in Shaw’s History of Darwen[1]. Jack’s detailed research showed that Ned had no difficulty in regularly obtaining high value mortgages from about 1829 onwards.

In 1855 he bought the Pike Lowe Dole estates which lie between Haslingden Grane and Pickup Bank, including five tenanted farms. At one of these farms (Far Pike Low) lived Edmund’s in-laws, William and Sarah Morris, with their sons James and Richard and two of Ned’s own children, William and Sarah Entwisle. Edmund had married Betty Morris in 1821 and the 1841 and 1851 censuses indicate a continuing close relationship, with Betty’s parents bringing up these two grandchildren. Betty died in the mid-1830s and Edmund remarried. He moved from Uglow at Edgworth to Pike Low with his second wife Mary (Lonsdale) in the 1860s until his death in 1880.

We must wonder where at least some of Ned’s money originated! The Morris family had lived at Pike Low for many years, probably from when it was built by James’ grandfather in about 1805. James had been born there in about 1811. It has become notorious as the centre for illicit distilling of whisky in the mid-19th century.

‘Whisky Spinners’

During the 19th century whisky was being commercially manufactured in the Lancashire towns of Manchester, Liverpool and Bolton in considerable quantity, but the county also has a significant history of illicit whisky distilling, especially located in the wild area around the moors of Haslingden and Blackburn. By the 1840s the textile industry was becoming more industrialised and weaving cotton at home came to an end, unable to compete with the large mills that used steam power and more efficient machinery. Incomes from small moorland farms needed to be augmented and this led to illegal distilleries, both to sell whisky and to produce enough drink to make lives tolerable. Since the late 18th century distilleries had been seen by the government as an excellent source of revenue.

To produce whisky was said to be very simple:

‘All you need is potatoes, treacle, sugar and barm (yeast mixture) – and apple peelings, turnip tops, owt you’ve got handy. Cut up small, everything is allowed to ferment in a barrel with water for a few days. The resulting ‘wash’ is heated in a tin over a fire, a long length of copper tubing with one end in this wash and the other in a second barrel, the steam passing through it condensing as pure whisky, drop by drop, a slow business.’ [2]

Whisky in Lancashire

Lancastrians were famous for ignoring troublesome ‘London’ laws and were helped by having remote hiding places and an abundance of fine peatland water. Between 1835 and 1837 no less than 21 illegal distilleries were discovered in Bolton alone. No area was more famous than Haslingden, home of the notorious Whisky Spinners, tax-evading distillers on a grand scale. The people of that area traditionally made their livings by spinning thread, and so the makers of local whisky were referred to as Whisky Spinners. The practice was so widespread that an excise officer was permanently based in Haslingden from 1834-48 to try to prevent it, though with a conspicuous lack of success. This form of enterprise would not feature in official records, but we know about it from reports of two court cases, both involving inhabitants of Grane Village, near Haslingden.

Case 1: Jonathan Howarth of Bentley House

Case 2: James Morris of Far Low Pike

Haslingden Grane village

Highlighted are Bentley House, Far Pike Low Farm and Rothwell Fold

Whisky spinners map

[Eileen Cowen, member 241, Secretary and Editor]

[1] Darwen and Its People by J.G.Shaw 1889

[2] Portrait of Lancashire by Jessica Lofthouse 1967

Back to top