The County of Lancaster heraldic visitation of 1664 records three branches or descents of the Byrom family, namely of Byrom, Salford and Manchester. The family coat-of-arms features a chevron between three hedgehogs, surmounted by a hedgehog crest, the motto being 'Frustra per plura'.
Although the name Byrom appears as early as the 13th century in the parish of Winwick, Lancashire, it was not until the 16th century that the Manchester branches become evident; from this, surviving as a younger line of the family, are a series of Edwards, the first being Edward Byrom (c.1595-1654). Succeeding him was his son, Edward (1627-1668); his sons, Edward Byrom (1656-1711) and Joseph (1659-1733); Edward's sons, Edward (1688-1740) and John (1692-1763), John's son, Edward (1724-1773), and daughters Elizabeth ('Beppy') (1722-1801) and Dorothy (Dolly) (1730-1797); another Edward (1702-1760) was the last surviving son of Joseph, having outlived his three brothers. Ann, wife of Henry Atherton of Preston, and Eleanora Byrom were the daughters of John's son, Edward. Ann's daughter, another Eleanora, died in 1870.
Predominantly linen drapers and mercers by trade, the family played an active part in the cultural and commercial affairs of Manchester during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Over four generations, the family acquired various properties in Manchester. They dealt in locally produced textiles or Manchester goods, most notably from the premises at the Shambles by the market place, later known as the Old Wellington Inn, and from rented market stalls, where they at one time also sold salt. Purchased by the second Edward in 1666, the Shambles property was to remain within the family for over 250 years. In 1999 the building was removed from its original location to a site 300 yards away at Cateaton Street, beside the cathedral. The adjoining properties were purchased by his sons, Edward (1656-1711), and Joseph (1659-1733).
The first Edward (c.1595-1654), a linen draper, bought property at Hanging Ditch. He married Ellen Worsley of Carr, Bowdon, Cheshire, and was buried in the nearby Collegiate Church (now the cathedral). His son, Edward (1627-1668) succeeded him in the family business, acquiring the property by the market cross or Shambles. His inventory at death was valued at over £1,695. He married Ann, daughter of John Crompton of Halliwell, Bolton, Lancashire; after his death she married Roger Mekin, another Manchester linen draper, to whom her son Edward was subsequently apprenticed.
The third Edward (1656-1711) expanded the business by acquiring additional property at the Shambles and by tenanting market stalls. In 1680, he married Dorothy, daughter of John Allen of Redvales, Bury, Lancashire. He was survived by his sons, Edward and John, the former continuing the draper's business on his death.
Joseph Byrom, brother of the third Edward, was particularly successful financially. Whilst his elder brother inherited the main market place business, Joseph traded extensively as a silk mercer. He married Elizabeth Bradshaw, the daughter of the mercer to whom he had been apprenticed. He augmented the family property in St Mary's Gate in Manchester not only by the purchase of houses at Millgate and nearby Blue Boar Court, but also by a substantial tract of the then largely undeveloped land at Alport at the southern end of Deansgate, extending to the Irwell to the west, foreshadowing later involvement in the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company, in which he became a shareholder. His son, Edward (1702-1760), built Manchester's first quay on the Irwell, also building himself a house on the newly constructed Quay Street. Joseph also acquired the ancestral home, Byrom Hall, situated in the parish of Winwick, near Wigan, Lancashire, for £1,200, plus Smithills manor and hall at Bolton in 1722, at a cost of £4,688. His wealth was sufficient to make him an early possessor of a carriage and two horses, which appear listed as a bequest to his wife in his draft will of 1717. Two of his sons, Edward and Josiah, survived him.
The family's other main property acquisition was the purchase of Kersal Cell in Salford from the Kenyon family in 1692. The Priory or Cell of Kersal originally formed part of the lands of the Cluniac order of the Holy Trinity, Lenton, Nottinghamshire, which had been dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries.
The family's most famous member was the poet, John Byrom (1692-1763), who was born in Manchester on 29 February 1691/2. A senior fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1715, he subsequently undertook medical training in Montpellier in France, but pursued neither his first intended career in the church nor as a doctor. He further declined the offer of the post of keeper of Chetham's Library, Manchester, in 1718. Instead, it was the promotion and teaching of his form of shorthand, published posthumously in 1767 as the The universal English short-hand; or the way of writing English, in the most easy, concise, regular, and beautiful manner, which occupied most of his energies. He spent a number of years in London and travelling the country teaching; amongst his pupils were many notable contemporaries, including John Wesley and Horace Walpole. Whilst in London, John Byrom enjoyed the company of his literary and scientific contemporaries, being made a member of the Royal Society in 1724. In 1742 he succeeded in obtaining the sole right of publishing and teaching his system. Although forms of shorthand were already known, the linear qualities of Byrom's version represented an improvement on earlier types, and influenced later systems.
John's poetry covered a range of topics from the theological to the topical, but he is best remembered for penning the words to the well-known Christmas hymn, Christians Awake, written as a Christmas present for his younger daughter, Dorothy. Set to music by John Wainwright, organist at Stockport parish church and deputy organist at Manchester Collegiate Church, it was reputedly performed outside John's home in Hanging Ditch on Christmas morning, 1750.
In 1721, he married his cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph Byrom, of which union three children survived, namely, Elizabeth ('Beppy'), Edward and Dorothy. Both of John's daughters, and his sister, Phebe (1697-1785), were proficient at his shorthand. It was his Phebe who continued the market place business after her father's death in 1740, being listed as a milliner in Elizabeth Raffald's trade directory as late as 1781, the term millinery then implying locally produced textile goods, rather than the present more restricted definition.
John's son, Edward, was also active in the commercial life of the town, not only in his uncle Edward's business, but also in the institution of the Manchester bank, situated around St Ann's Square, and of which he was a partner. Like other members of the family since the time of the first Edward, he participated in civic and public affairs, holding office of the court leet (Borough reeve, 1761). He was also a benefactor of the now-demolished St John's Church, Deansgate, which he founded in 1768.
The family had Jacobite leanings, as borne out by a number of Jacobite relics retained by them through the generations. John Byrom's reservations about taking the oath of abjuration appear to have accounted for his reluctance to pursue certain careers as referred to above. His famous epigram on the subject reflects the dilemma: God Bless the King, I mean the faith's defender; God bless (no harm in blessing) - the pretender; But who pretender is, or who is king, God bless us all - that's quite another thing. John's daughters were less circumspect in their actions; his elder daughter, Elizabeth, records in her journal her meeting with the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, on his proclamation and subsequent encampment in Manchester in November 1745, whilst his younger daughter, Dorothy, procured money and victuals for imprisoned Jacobites.