Original text by Philip Rushworth of Idle, Bradford, Yorkshire - ca. 1970
(Electronically scanned and transcribed by Edward Rushworth of Comrie, Perthshire - 1998)

Rushworth is now a prolific surname in and around Bradford. It is considerably more common than surnames such as Rishworth and Rushforth with which its history is closely linked. These variant spellings frequently existed within the same family as the pedigree of Daniel Rishworth / Rushworth / Rushforth in Vol. 12 of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal clearly demonstrates. However, before it can be assumed that all those who bear one of these names share a common ancestry one or two points need to be made.

The most obvious is that there are localities outside Yorkshire, such as Rushford in Norfolk which may well have given rise to an independent family name and the second is the confusion which has arisen in the West Riding over two similarly named localities. Rishworth is a township in the ancient parish of Halifax which has an 800 year history. It is pronounced 'Rush(w)orth’ in local dialect and means simply 'an enclosure where there are rushes'. It is said that until comparatively recently large beds of rushes were still a feature of the landscape there. This place certainly gave rise to a hereditary family name and there would be no problem surrounding the origin of Rushworth and its variants were it not for the similar place name Ryshworth which is situated in Airedale where the main road crosses Morton Beck. The present spelling of Ryshworth hides its real origin, in fact, for it was spelt Riseford in 1276 and this, taken in conjunction with its position, suggests that it meant 'ford where there are rushes’. Place name experts agree that the present spelling of Ryshworth has arisen because of Rishworth only a few miles distant.

However, I have found in a subsidy roll of c.1335 the name Walter de Risford of Weardley so obviously this locality too gave rise to a surname. Whether this survived as an independent and hereditary family name is difficult to say and the evidence of the great subsidy rolls suggest that it did not, at least in the West Riding. In the Poll Tax of 1379 and the rolls of 1524 and 1545 there is no single reference to Ris(h)ford as a name in those areas where it might be expected to have survived. It is true to say that in 1472 a Nicholas Risthforth is mentioned in the rolls of the Merchant Adventurers of York but he is probably identical with Nicholas Rissworth who had been made a freeman of the city in 1461. It seems, therefore, that the variant spellings of Rushworth go back 500 years at least and the most that can be said for Ryshworth is that it has permanently influenced the spelling of several families originally named Rishworth.

Whilst the above names are the most important variants they are not the only ones. Both Rushfirth and Richworth survive in Yorkshire and there are possibly other alternative forms in areas further removed from the original family home near Halifax. Curiously, Rishforth does not seem to have survived in Yorkshire although there were people bearing the name comparatively recently in Leeds. This same family also used Rish as an alias. Of course many other spellings are to be found in local documents which have not survived and some are included in this account. However, in the text, I use the form Rushworth for convenience, unless quoting or referring to a specific family.

Early History

The first reference to the surname which I have located occurs in an undated deed:

c.1200 "Gift by John son of Assolf de Holdsworth, to Elias de Rissewrth of a moiety of all his lands in Holdsworth; paying 12 pence yearly for all services".

Although this does not say precisely where Elias lived, it is likely that the family home was at Rishworth, and a succession of references in the next 100 years provides some evidence of family continuity in the township.

1251 "The assize comes to recognise if John the clerk of Crumbelbotham unjustly disseised (dispossessed) Elyas de Rissewude (sic) of his common pasture in Rissewurth. Elyas claims he holds 16 acres of John de Heland (Elland)."

In a second document dated 1251 this same man is referred to as Elyas son of William de Riseworth. There are other references in the manor rolls linking the family with the township as late as 1324, e.g.

1275 "Elias de Richewet gives 10 shillings for licence to take 12 acres of land in Litheseles (Lighthazles) from Adam de Litheseles, doing servis and customs but reserving to Adam the crop of what has been sown this year."

1286 Henry de Rissewrth was accused by John the Miller of "unjustly taking and impounding his oxen in the bounds of Rissewrth." The forester testifies that Henry had no right to impound them.

1324 This year seven men were charged fines ranging from 2 pence to 6 pence for "withdrawing from suit of the mill"! All of them bore names relating to hamlets in Rishworth. Three were called Cockroft, one Godley, one Wormald, one Snape and the seventh was Thomas, son of Robert de Risheword.

In the period 1250 to 1325 there are many other references to the family - far too many to quote in detail and mainly concerned with minor offences on the manor. The following are the most detailed:

1284 "Henry de Rissewrth comes and (reclaims?) his cattle seized for homage which he owes the Earl (of Surrey) for the tenement formerly belonging to Amabel the mercer, on condition that he bring before the next court the Earl’s letter of warranty". Hugh de Eland was his pledge.

1324 "Alice, widow of Henry de Godelegh, sues Nigel de Russheworth for killing a cow worth 15 shlllings."

The Rushworths were tenants of the Warenne family who held Wakefield Manor - a vast territorial unit stretching from the Lancashire border in the west to Normanton in the east. This partly explains why the surname was found in villages away from Rishworth in this period, e.g.

1277 "Thomas de Rissewrthe and Hawyse his wife give 4 shillings to have an inquisition touching 6 acres of land from which Thomas de Cartworth is ousting them." (Holme, a locality in Almondbury parish).

1286 "Robert, son of Richard de Risseworth of Wakefieid and John his brother come and crave the land of Thomas de Wakefield as his heirs. John says Robert ought not to be heir because he was born before marriage was soleemizedi at the Church porch, but after the plighting of troth privately between them. Robert the elder brother says it is the custom on the lord’s land in these parts for the elder brother born after trothiplight to be heir." Judgment was given to Robert.

1307 "Alice, widow of Henry de Risseworth gives 2 shillings to take 3 acres in Warley, left waste on the Lord by Henry de Willeys."

1309 "William Strekayse gives 12 pence to take 2½ acres of lane in Thong (Upperthong) from Robert, son of Thomas de Ryssewrth."

The Rushworths of Coley

Coley is in Hipperholme township eight miles down the Calder Valley from Rishworth, and the original owners of the estate there were called the ‘de Coldleys’. A 13th century deed relating to Coley bears the signatures of Henry and Robert de Rysseworth and in 1339 Robert de Rishworth and his son Henry acquired lands in the townshlip. The name of Robert appears as a juror in the manor rolls until 1343 when Henry took his place and from this period it is possible to construct a family tree. Just when the family moved to Coley is not absolutely certain, probably between 1330 and 1340 but after this period there are several explicit references to them, e.g. 1356 Henry de Ryssheworth of Coley Hall paid heriot for 3 acres of pasture and an assert (cleared land) called Henrerod, his uncle Henry de Coldlay being dead.

There is an enormous amount of information in the court rolls relating to this man, most of it of a fairly trivial nature - failing to attend the manor court, not paying fees, etc, or concerned with the letting of land. Occasionally also we find him involved in disputes and in 1355 he was fined 12 pence for drawing blood from Richard de Hartshead. Only four years previously he and his brother Nicholas had themselves been the victims of an assault by the Bentleysv. When the Poll Tax of 1379 was levied - supposedly a full list of the population with the exception of children and the poverty stricken the only Rushworth taxed was a Henry de Rysseworth. He was evidently of some wealth paying 12 pence tax compared with the almost universal 4 pence of his fellows. As his status was given as 'merchant' it seems likely that the Rushworths were already one of the most prominent local families. Actually it is difficult to decide whether or not this Henry was the or the son of Nicholas and therefore his nephew. This christian name, perhaps first used as a tribute to Henry de Coley, remained in use for over 100 years in this family, one of the last references to it occurring in 1461: 1461 Henry Rishworth, being dead, his son Edmond (or Edward) paid 6s.8d. heriot for a messuage, 2½ bovates of land and 7 acres of roid land (clearing).

The situation at Coley meant that the Rushworths also became involved in the affairs of Bradford manor and it seems that they owned or tenanted some land there. In 1411 Joan Risschworth was accused of digging a coal pit at a locality in Horton called Ruschworth Wyfzhard (Rushworth's wife’s yard). The pit filled with water and when it overflowed it "destroyed the highway to the grave harm of the common people." Joan was fined 12 pence and ordered to fill it in.

The Rushworth family owned Coley for nearly 250 years and the probable line of descent is as follows:

References relating to individuals in this tree are:

1. 1397 Henry de Rishworth surrendered 1½ oxgangs and 'Hekden' in Hipperholme to John, son of the said Henry and other lands to Henry, son of the said Henry senior.
2. 1431 John and Henry Rishworth served on the manorial jury.
3. 1453 Elena, wife of Henry Rysheworth, in the church of Halifax made assault on Alice Smyth of Lightcliffe.
4. 1478 John Rysshworth being dead, his son John paid 6s.8d. heriot for lands.
5. 1488 Grant by John .Ryshworth esq, to feoffes, on marriage of Alexander Ryshworth his son and heir.
6. 1537 An inquisition this year deals with the family’s lands at Haworth, Marton in Craven, Shelf, Horton near Bradford and of course Coley - "the manor of Collay and 2 messuages, 40 acres of meadow, 100 acres of wood and 200 acres ot pasture in Colley". The inquisition records that John Ryschworth died and the premises passed to John Rishworth, son and heir of Alexander Rishworth, son and heir of the aforesaid John Rishworth.
7. 1572 Sale by Alexander Rishworth of Heath, gent. after death of his father of' a capital messuage called Coley Hall, closes in Hipperholme and all the other lands in Hipperholme, to Richard Sunderland. of High Sunderland, yeoman, except a great oak tree called Ravennest Tree.
8. 1564 5 Sale 'by Jolm Rissheworthe of Kynsley, gent, a younger son of John Rissheworthe of Coley, Esq and Robert Rissheworthe his brother, to Thomas Rissheworthe of Coley, another younger son of John Rissheworthe the elder, of a messuage, a garden and lands in Shelf.

It was in the 16th century that the population began to increase and the Rushworth family also ramified successfully. The sale of the manor of Coley did not mean that the surname became extinct in the area. Indeed it soon became very numerous there as a result of the expansion of younger branches of the family. There had been one Rushworth in the clothing district in 1379. In the 1545 subsidy roll there were eleven and in 1641 when the oath of protestation was taken there were over 40. The main homes of the family on this last occasion were Haworth (7), Halifax (7), Wyke (6), Bradford (4) and Barkisland (4), the majority of them in precisely those localities where the Rushworths had held land for many generations. There had also been continuity between 1545 and 1641 in places such as Honley near Huddersfield and Crofton near Wakefield.

What this analysis fails to show is the extent to which the surname had spread away from its traditional centres. John Rishworthe of Coley had moved in fact to ‘Stanrode’ in Lancashire and his descendants lived at Colne. Other Rushworths as we have seen had moved to York in the 1400s and an examination of fines over land in the period up to c.1650 shows how the several branches of the family acquired interests well away from Calderdale. One example may serve to illustrate this: 1565 Alexander Risheworth, gent., the plaintiff in a fine over ' 6 messuages, 3 cottages and a water mill with lands in Warmfield, Heath, Kirkthorpe, Wakefield, Sandal, Walton, Sharlston, Pontefract, Knottingley, Burghwallis.' The deforciant or seller was Charles Sheffield.

Rather earlier a fine of 1503 records the acquisition by Robert Rissheworth senior of a messuage with land in Houghton near Castleford and there is an interesting sequel to this. Robert died c. 1519 leaving his messuage called Halywell to his son Christopher. 'l'he records of the court of Star Chamber contain the following petition from Christopher: c.1534 "In most humble wise compleylnyth unto your good grace your poor oratour Cristoffer Rishworth, how that John Rishworth, Edward Rishworth with othre to the nombre of 12 persons unknown to your said oratour, araid in harness, with their coottes (coats) ternede and thair faces covered with hoodes; with bowes, arows, swerdes, buklers, and other weppins came to the house of your said oratour called Halywell ......... about 12 of cloke in the nyghtt the said house riottously and burgarely brayk, and entered" . etc. Clearly internal family quarrels did occur.

It is interesting to speculate how long this branch of the Rushworth family had been established in the Wakefield Pontefract area. As we have seen the name was located in Warmfield near Crofton in 1641 and in the subsidy rolls of 1545 and 1524 it was actually in Crofton. Christopher, mentioned in the Star Chamber proceedings, was the man taxed there in 1524. Robert, the father of Christopher was buried at Pontefract in 1519, having acquired Halywell in 1503, but he may well have been in the area for a long time. A Robert Rysshewo:rth is listed among the tenants of Nostel Priory who held land at Purston Jaglin in 1478 and among the wills registered at York in the 15th century are Oliver Russheworth (1471) and John Ryshworth (1454), both of Pontefract, When Alexander Rishworth of Coley purchased lands in Heath, Pontefract, Warmfield and other nearby villages in 1565, he was perhaps reuniting himself with a branch of the family which had been settled there well over 100 years. Certainly the tendency to move eastward down the Calder Valley and into the area around Wakefield had an important effect on the distribution of this surname in the first 400 years of its history, and the area settled by Rushworths in 1641 was to serve as a springboard for further expansion in the troubled years ahead.

Opportunism was to play an important part in this expansion and there is some suggestion that occasionally new territories were acquired by rather sharp practice. When Alexander Rishworth moved out to Heath, his younger brother John, as we have seen, was already living at Kinsley. John, described as a yeoman, died in l597 and was buried at Hemsworth. He left 12 pence to the pooreman’s box and 12 pence to his son John. His other sons did rather better; Bryan had £3, Robert 50s and Francis 50s. It was probably John's grandson who was mentioned in a succession of land transactions 50 years later, e.g. 1651 Jonn Rishworth or Rushworth of Hemsworth, yeoman accused of falsely obtaining possessions and lands belonging to the Hospital of Hemsworth. This accusation is contained in the Royalist Composition Papers, but John seems to have suffered no harm fron it and in 1653 alone we find him purchasing from the treason trustees the manor of Roecliffe and lands at Boroughbridge, the manor of the Abbey of Drax, manors at Haselwood and Water Fryston and the capital rnessuage of Nidd. These properties and lands were widely distributed throughout the West Riding and acquired at the expense of such well know families as the Tankards and the Constables. The practice was for younger sons to move to the outlying properties in this period and John Rushworth’s speculation must have helped the surname to be more widely established.

The Rushworths of Mirfield

A contemporary of this John Rushworth was a Mirfield man called Thomas whose family spelt their name Rushworth, Rushforth or Rishworth, and a detailed family tree of his descendants illustrates just how and why the surname became so numerous and widespread as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum. It also shows the lengths to which families went to ensure that a particular christian name was carried from generation to generation.


Once the population began to increase dramatically after c.1700 surnames such as Rushworth became so prolific that it is impossible to follow every individual line of the family's ramification. The Trade Directories of the 19th century illustrate just how widespread the surname had become and the extent to which Rushworths had infiltrated every layer of society and every type of occupation. The name was inevitably very common in Halifax itself and particularly so in Ovenden and Sowerby. For the most part the standard spelling was Rushworth but in Northowram, close to Coley we find Rushforth and in Halifax itself Rishworth. Further east and south the name was common in Huddersfield and Brighouse and there were families established at places such as Mirfield, Horbury, Heckmondwike etc. The basis had been laid for a further massive expansion in the next 100 years and it is true to say that the surname is now found wherever English is spoken.

Electronic transcription and recording © 1998 by Edward Rushworth

Click this link to go to much more Medieval Geneology by Chris Phillips
Home Return to Home Page

Created 31 Dec 1998