From mediaeval times, the Towneley lands always passed from father to eldest surviving son or, if there was no son, to the next nearest surviving male relative, rather than being divided between many.
When Charles Towneley died in 1876, he left three daughters but no sons and the estate passed to his brother John. John had a son, Richard, and four daughters but within two years, first Richard and then John died. Without male heirs, it was necessary to divide the estate between the daughters and this was no easy task and required a private Act of Parliament, which was completed in 1885.
There were a number issues to address. Firstly, the Towneley Estates amounted to over 40,000 acres scattered across the country ranging from valuable coal mines to grouse moors. Secondly, the three daughters of Charles and one of the daughters of John were married and had already benefitted from marriage settlements that were taking money from the estate. There were also mortgages and debts to be cleared. The published estate act took up over 200 pages to show how the estate was to be divide up. It is still useful to historians today as it gives the name of every field and each tenancy on the estate in the period 1878 to 1885.
Eventually it was agreed that the daughters of John Towneley would jointly hold 21,341 acres in Yorkshire, being the Bowland Forest estate, plus 2,826 acres of the Stella estate in County Durham. The families of the daughters of Charles Towneley received the Towneley estate, amounting to 15,897 acres mainly in Lancashire but extending into the West Riding east of Burnley. The part of the Towneley estate that included Towneley Hall went to Lady O'Hagan.