The tiny village of Hurstwood, nestling cosily by the banks of the Brun, has changed little over the years. This beautiful little haven is situated just a few miles outside Burnley centre. The Towneleys, Spensers and the Tattersalls seem to have figured prominently in the historical background of the hamlet, and it is difficult to visualise a local area more conducive to romanticism, folklore and legend centuries ago. Tattersall's House is the oldest building in the village, but Spenser's House and Hurstwood Hall which are only slightly the younger seem to be more identified in the annals of Hurstwood and arouse more interest to visitors. The principal house in Hurstwood is, of course, Hurstwood Hall, a building in the early Jacobean style, although considerably modernised during the last few years. Originally it was built by Barnard Towneley in the year 1579, as appears from the inscription over the main entrance: "Barnardvs Townley et Agnes Uxor Ejus, 1579".
Barnard Towneley was a member of the Towneley family of Towneley Hall, and his wife Agnes was an Ormerod of Ormerod Hall. According to information derived from a pleading in the Duchy of Lancaster's Court, now at the Record Office, it appears that Barnard Towneley was an architect and builder, and therefore there appears to be little doubt that he would build his own house at Hurstwood. The hall stands in a commanding situation, not far from the edge of a steep clough, just at the point where Thorndean water meets the Brun. In the times of Barnard Towneley this venerable house was doubtless one of the best in the neighbourhood, and, although the fine oak panelling which once covered the walls has long since disappeared along with the inner fabric, the structure of the house is of such strength and solidity that it appears almost indestructible.
Nowadays the hall has taken on a more modern look, but it still retains the architectural style and quality of its origin. On the other side of the lane leading to Foxstones, and opposite Spenser's House, is a plain oblong building, now occupied as a cottage, that is believed to have been built at the same time as the hall. It is generally supposed that this building was intended as a chapel, or possibly a school. It is thought that Edmund Spenser visited Hurstwood between the years of 1576 and 1579, after leaving Cambridge, for there is reliable evidence that he was in London in 1579. Tradition has it that Edmund was "deeply enamoured" by a local girl by the name of Rosalinde, who lived in a small cottage known as "The Rock" (or Rock Hall), which was situated at the lower part of the glen where the stream fills into a natural rocky basin, although it was never conclusively proved who this young lady was.
Spenser's House is built in a very substantial manner, almost entirely of millstone grit, with a quaint square porch, which was possibly added after the house had been finished. The first room to the left was originally a small chamber with a massive stone fireplace and an oaken roof. In this chamber was formerly a curious carved panel that later found its way to Ormerod Hall. This panel contained the emblem of Spenser of Hurstwood -"Quarterly, argent and gules, on the second and third quarters a frette or over all a band sable, charged with three fleur de lis, argent. The house is structurally the same today, but modernisation in 'a minor form has been introduced in the interior with several of the original features apparent, including the flag floors. The dining room contains what must be one of the few coffered ceilings in the area and certainly one of the most attractive. In poetry, Spenser makes no direct reference to Lancashire, yet he describes terrain similar to that surrounding Hurstwood, quoting high hills and moorland, with deep vales filled with the music of falling waters.
There is proof that the Spenser family lived in Hurstwood from the year 1292 to 1690, when John Spenser sold the old house to Oliver Ormerod of Hurstwood and his son Laurence. After leaving Lancashire, Edmund Spenser went to live in the solitude of Kilcolman Castle, and while he was in residence there he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh. Spenser is buried at Poets' Corner in Westminster. The Rev. T. Ormerod in his "Calderdale" describes Tattersall's House: "It is a long, low building massively built of huge blocks of millstone grit, and apparently well able to withstand the storms of time as it was when Henry VIII was king. It is one of the oldest buildings in the village, being at least contemporaneous with its neighbour, Spenser's House, which was in existence before Hurstwood Hall. The main entrance is of the sturdy Norman style, and gives immediate access to the chief living room, a commodious kitchen, with low ceiling, massive oaken rafters and yawning fireplace, conveying a sense of warmth, rude comfort and homeliness." The house has altered little in the exterior structure, but is now divided into four cottages. The name of Tattersall appears in the very early records of Hurstwood, and a descendant of the family, a certain Rychard Tattersall, was one of about a dozen local men who were called upon by no less a person than King Henry VIII to subsidise the royal exchequer after a spate of extravagance, among which was the celebrated Field of the Cloth of Gold. Another Richard, grandson of Rychard, married one of the Barcrofts of Barcroft Hall. This member of the Tattersalls was called upon to support Queen Elizabeth, along with several other local yeomen, each having to supply his own weapons. Hence the family must have been considered to be of some importance. A later member of the family, yet another Richard, born in 1724, second son of Edmund and Ann Tattersall, was educated at Burnley Grammar School, and was a sturdy supporter of the Young Pretender, and it is said that he was only prevented at the last moment from joining the insurgents by the intervention of his father. Because of this the lad left home and later joined the household of the Duke of Kingston. He was passionately fond of horses, and later took up the business as auctioneer after renting premises at Hyde Park Corner, London. From this modest beginning, Tattersall's Ring has become the biggest name in the world of horse racing and the turf.
Leslie Chapple 'Romantic Old Houses and Their Tales'