“The early history of Little Crosby might be written at great length, for there are preserved at the Hall over 500 deeds of date from 1200 to 1500. They are in good preservation, and form a very remarkable series. Most of them are witnessed by the Molyneux of Sefton, whose residence was only two miles away. A similar series of very early deeds exist at Croxteth, these being originally at Sefton Hall, and are grants of land to and by the Molyneux of Sefton; these deeds are mostly witnessed by the Squire of Crosby of that date. The two series, if published, would be found to corroborate each other in a very interesting manner.
The deeds above mentioned have been utilised by the authors of the ‘Victorian History of Lancashire’ to prove the unbroken descent of the owners of Little Crosby from the time of Robert de Ainsdale in 1160 to the present time; Robert, especially, eldest son of Osbert, having a grant dated 1190 from John, Count of Mortain, and later confirmed when John became King of England.
IMPRISONED FOR BEING CATHOLIC
At the period of the Reformation, Richard Blundell, then Squire of Crosby, adhered to the ancient Faith, and was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle.
The following are extracts from the statement written by his son:
‘In the year of our Lord God 1590, 11th June, the Right Hon. Henrie, Earl of Darbie, sent certaine of his men to searche the house of Richard Blundell, of Little Crosbie, in the Countie of Lancashire, Esq., for matters belonging to the Catholicke religion &c. where they apprehended and took away with them his honor’s house, one Mr. Woodroffe, a seminary priest, and the said Richard Blundell and mee, William Blundell, son of the said Richard: and the day next following we were severally examined by the Earle: and on the 13th day of the said Month we were all sent to be imprisoned in Chester Castle…. About the 5th August next following &c…. the Priest, my father and I were sent prisoners to Lancaster (where we found prisoners there before us, Mr. Henrie Latham of Mosborowe, and Mr. Richard Worthington, of Blainschough, committed for their conscience), where also my father and I remained for the most part until 19th March 1592, on which day my saide ffather, changed this life for a bbetter.’ Not only did Mr. Blundell die a Confessor of the Faith, but Mr. Worthington also, as we learn from another letter, soon ‘changed this life for a better’ in the miserable dungeons of Lancaster Castle.
CATHOLICS INCARCERATED IN THE DUNGEONS OF LANCASTER CASTLE
William Blundell, the son and heir of the foregoing, would never make the least show of conformity, and in consequence underwent five years’ imprisonment for the Faith, and after his release was frequently obliged to seek safety in flight. His wife also was confined for a long time in Chester Castle, and was at last released through the intervention of Sir Richard Molyneux and Rev. John Nutter, parson of Sefton. What her sufferings must have been we can infer from the statement of Father Richard Blundell, S.J.: ‘My father, son of William Blundell, was born, or at least suckled, in prison, where his parents for a long time lay on account of their Faith.’ Another statement infers that the good lady actually gave birth to the child in prison. Little wonder that he, too, should have been a stout Confessor of the Faith.
BORN IN PRISON BECAUSE OF HIS MOTHER’S FAITH
The late Bishop Goss, of Liverpool, in his learned ‘Introduction to Crosby Records’ (Cheltham Society, vol. xii), says: ‘In a previous page mention has been made of the penalties of excommunication inflicted on recusants, and of the riot which ensued near Hereford on the refusal of the curate to bury the body of a Catholic. In 1610 the storm visited Lancashire. The Parson of Sefton refused to bury the corpse of a poor Catholic woman on the plea of her being excommunicated; and her sturdy friends, not wishing to carry it home again, buried it outside the churchyard in the highway. Some swine that had run off the lanes, happening to come to the spot, grubbed up the body and partially devoured it.
‘This outrage coming to the ears of William Blundell, Esq., of Little Crosby, who was himself a Popish recusant convict, he enclosed a piece of ground, part of a plot called the Harkirke, within his own domain, in the Lordship of Little Crosby, for the burial of such Catholic recusants deceasing either of the said village or of the adjoining neighbourhood as should be denied burial at their parish church of Sefton. The first burial took place on the 7th April, 1611.’
The list of those buried in Harkirke – the original in the handwriting of William Blundell and his successors – is published in vol. xii, Chetham Society, from which the following extracts are made:
‘1. ffirst of all, Wm. Mathewson, an ould man of ye Morehouses within little Crosbie, dyed a Catholicke, the 6th daye of Aprill 1611, and was buried in ye Harkirke ye day following … being first denyed buriall at Sephton Churche by the Parson thereof.
‘2. Secondly, Ellen Blundell, the wyffe of Thomas Blundell of ye Carrhouses in Inceblundell, was buried in the Harkirke upon 10th day of Aprill 1611, being first denyed buriall at Sephton’; and after similar entries comes –
’12. John Synett, an Irishman borne in Wexforde, Master of a barke, was excommunicated by the B(ishop) of Chester for being Catholicke recusant, and so dying at his house in Liverpool was denyed to be buried at Liverpoole Church or Chappell and therefore was brought and buried in this said buryall place of ye Harkirke in ye afternoon of the last day of August 1613.’
Nor was this a solitary instance.
’22. Anne, ye wyffe of George Webster of Liverpoole (tenant of Mr. Crosse) dyed a Catholicke and bein denyed buriall at ye Chappell of Liverpoole by ye Curate there, by ye Mayor, and by Mr. More was buried &c. 20th May, 1615.’
PRIESTS HAD TO BE BURIED AT DEAD OF NIGHT
‘In regard to the burial of Priests,’ says Father Gibson, who edited the volume aforesaid, ‘it is generally notified that they were carried to the grave at dead of night. The burials that took place after the year 1629 are nearly all those of Priests; a few examples are here given:
’15. John Saterthwait, P. and was buried in the Harkirke on Christenmas eave at 8 o’clocke in the evening. 24 Dec. 1613.
’40. John Birtwisell P. dyed ye 26th Feb. and was buried in ye Harkirke the night following about 2 of the clocke, anno 1620, priest.
’69. John Laiton, P. dyed ye 18th of ffebruarie about 8 o’clock at night and was buried ye 19 day of ffebruarie about 9 of the clocke at night, Priest.’
In all there were 131 burials at Harkirke, 26 of these being priests, of whom the following are the names and dates of death:
John Saterthwait … P. … 24 Dec. 1613
John Worthington … P. … 31 July 1622
Will Raban … P. … 27 May 1626
Richard Horne … P. … 19 Sep. 1634
Raph Melling … Priest … 2 May 1660
Alex. Barker … Priest … 12 Oct. 1665
John Birtwistle … Priest … 27 Jan. 1680
Thos. Eccleston … Clergy Priest 1700
Edw. Moleneux … Clergy Priest 29 Apl. 1704
Henry Tasburgh … S.J. … 27 Jan. 1717
Robert Aldred … S.J. … 25 Feb. 1727
Francis Williams … S.J. … 173 –
James Clifton … S.J. … 27 Sep 1750
John Birtwistle … P. … 27 Feb. 1620
John Laiton … P. … 19 Feb. 1624
John Melling … P. … 26 Apl 1633
Rich. Robertson … … 29 Oct. 1634
Thos. Fazakerley … Priest … 24 Mar. 1664
John Beesly … Priest … 31 Mar. 1674
Thos. Martin … … 11 June 1691
Thos. Blundell … S.J. … 27 May 1702
Rich. Foster … … 9 May 1707
George Lovell … S.J. … 14 Dec. 1720
Will Pinington … S.J. … 8 June 1736
Will Clifton … S.J. … 19 Aug. 1749
Peter Williams … S.J. … 27 Nov. 1753
But the charity of the good Squire led him into great difficulties. He was summoned before the terrible Star Chamber, and ordered to pay a fine of £ 2,000, besides costs, and amount equal to ten times that figure in the present money. He was, moreover, subjected to years of persecution on this account (see Chetham Soc. vol. xii. p. 35).
‘THE CAVALIER’: ALL HIS ESTATE WAS SEIZED
The next Squire of Crosby was ‘The Cavalier’, whose diary Father T. E. Gibson published in 1880, and from which the following details are taken:
King Charles I was rallying his adherents round his standard, and had gratefully responded to the applications of certain loyal Lancashire Catholics to be permitted to take up arms in his defence. With all the ardour of youth Mr. Blundell threw himself into the struggle, accepting a captain’s commission from Sir Charles Tildesley, Knt., authorising him to raise a company of 100 dragoons for the royal cause. This commission, dated Leigh, December 22, 1642, bearing the neat signature of the famous Lancashire general, is still preserved at Crosby. The following year Mr. Blundell was wounded at the siege of Lancaster Castle, his thigh being shattered by a musketshot. This wound rendered him a cripple for life, and in his own neighbourhood his tenants, indulging the Lancashire propensity for nicknames, commonly called him ‘Halt-Will.’
From this period to the close of the Civil War his life was one of privation and anxiety. He was thrice imprisoned, and again, a fourth time, in 1657, at Liverpool, which he describes as a loathsome prison. Moreover, by the law of 1646, no Papist delinquent could compound for his estate; consequently all Mr. Blundell’s estate was seized and remained in the hands of the Commissioners for nine or ten years.
HAVING TO RE-PURCHASE HIS OWN ESTATE AND OTHER INJUSTICES FOR REMAINING CATHOLIC
In the repurchase of his estate Mr. Blundell employed the intervention of two Protestant friends. The sum paid appears to have been £1,340. In addition to this, Mr. Blundell found himself saddled with the arrears of rents reserved to the Crown arising out of frequent grants for recusancy, some of which had never been discharged. These went back as far as the reign of Elizabeth, and though Mr. Blundell represented the injustice of charging him with rents which should have been paid by those who had the benefit of the forfeitures, the Government was inexorable, and he was compelled to pay on this score £1,167 15s. 6 1/2d. Moreover, the cost of making out this prodigious bill was added to the account, making an addition of £34 10s. 2d. to the foregoing sum. This remarkable document, a roll of 20 feet in length, has been carefully preserved at Crosby. May it long serve to remind his descendants of the faith and loyalty of their ancestor. Thus writes Father Gibson; he might have added that one of the chief sources of revenue of the Government at the time were fines imposed upon the poor Catholics for the practice of their religion, and that many families were thus fined out of existence. How nearly this was the case with the Squire of Crosby his own accounts show only too plainly.
PAYING FINES AND BEING FRAMED
In 1689 Mr. Blundell underwent, at Manchester, his fifth imprisonment, being confined with others of his religion. This confinement lasted seven weeks, and was rendered less irksome by the company he met with. Of Mr. Towneley of Towneley, one of the prisoners, he says that his cheerful society would have made life pleasant anywhere. But Mr. Blundell, to judge from his own diary, was an optimist whom no trials could embitter, and his statement regarding Mr. Towneley might equally well be applied to himself. The Catholic gentry of Lancashire were certainly wonderful folk. One last trial awaited Mr. Blundell before his long and eventful career came to a close. He was one of the Lancashire Catholics of position accused of participation in the sham plot of 1694. The late Bishop Goss, in ‘Manchester State Trials’, which he edited for the Chetham Society from papers at Crosby, gives the following account of this transaction:
‘On Monday 30th July 1694 at half past five in the morning, three of the King’s messengers, with two of the informers, invaded the hall at Crosby, with the intention of carrying off old Mr. Blundell. As however he was then in his 75th year and had been lame for many years, in consequence of the injuries he had received while fighting in the royal cause, they did not take him with them. Mr. William Blundell Junr. having shown them to his father’s room, left the house; but finding on his return that they carried off his horses, he went to Liverpool, to Mr. Norris, of Speke, who gave him in custody to the Mayor, who sent him to Chester Castle, and thence to London, where having been examined, he was committed and taken to Newgate. None of the authorities concerned in this illegal arrest seem to have doubted the justice of committing the son for the supposed crime of the father.’
THE PRIEST ATTENDED TO THEIR SPIRITUAL NEEDS WITH AS MUCH PRECAUTION AS POSSIBLE
Father Gibson continues: ‘The brave, loyal and virtuous Cavalier whose life we have been attempting to sketch ended his days peaceably at Crosby Hall on May 24, 1698. He was succeeded by his son William, who only survived him a few years, dying in 1702.’ Regarding the practices of religion, the same writer says: ‘At a time when no Catholic Chapel except the Queen’s and those of foreign Ambassadors were tolerated in England, the services of the Church were necessarily performed in secret in some obscure part of the dwellingm to this the tenants and neighbouring Catholics had access, and the priest attended to their spiritual wants with as much precaution as possible. All this was accompanied with great risk to the host, and still greater to the priest, whose life was at the mercy of the meanest informant. The Chaplain had generally, for greater security, his room at the top of the house, and in time of danger was obliged to keep very close and retired. Mr. Blundell, in his letters to Haggerston, often desires to be remembered ‘to the Gentleman at the top of the house.’ Here too he was, when necessary, served from the family table…. A frequent change of residence was very necessary, and we do not find that any Priests had a settled abode till the close of the Civil War.
Curiously enough, it happens that Crosby Hall is the first place in Lancashire named in conjunction with a resident Priest. The Rev. John Walton, S.J., became Mr. Blundell’s Chaplain about 1652, but was obliged to leave through ill health in 1656. The next Chaplain at Crosby was Rev. Francis Waldegrave, S.J. After having served Crosby for many years, Father Waldegrave went to Lydiate Hall, where he died in 1701. He was a man of zeal and talent, and Mr. Blundell contracted a friendship with him which lasted through life. He speaks of a horse to which he gave the name of ‘Waldegrave’!’
On one occasion he had no slight difference of opinion with Mr. Waldegrave, all the details of which he gives in the diary. We are only concerned with the date and circumstances. ‘Upon the Eve (Dec. 7) of the conception of Our Lady, I, being of the sodality with others of my family, proposed to our spiritual director that we might all together say the Rosary upon the said feast day. He said he did very well like it,’ etc.
Actually how long Father Waldegrave stayed at Crosby we do not know; he was probably succeeded by Mr. Edw. Molyneux, of whom it is said in the Harkirke Register: ‘Mr. Edw. Molyneux, bourn at Alt Grange, was unfortunately killed by a faule off his horse, Aprill ye 28th, 1704, being in ye 65th year of his age: he was a Clergy Priest of Doua, and had for 38 years been a painfull Missioner in Formby, Crosby, and many other places, having under his charg at his death more than 800 penitents, besides children, that depended upon him.’
800 PENITENTS THAT DEPENDED UPON HIM
Next came Mr. Aldred, of whom the same Register says: ‘Mr. Robert Aldred was born at London; he was a Priest of the Society of Jesus: he came to live with me in 1707, and continued with me for som years, then lived as my Priest at Edward Howerds, in Little Crosby, till the West Lane House was built for him, where he died in 1727-8 and was buried in the Harkirke 25th Feb.; he was a Laborious good Missioner, a Fasatious pleasant man, and well beloved by Protestants as well as Catholicks. After Mr. Aldred came Mr. James Clifton, Priest of S.J., who lived about 20 years at West Lane House in Little Crosby and died at said house in 1750. He was a very laborious good Missioner.’
The last two priests were in the time of Nicholas Blundell, whose diary Father Gibson had prepared for the press, though it was actually edited by Mr. Augustine Watts. It is a large quarto volume of 250 pages, and contains many references to the priests of that time and to places where Mass was said. It forms very quaint reading; a few selections are here given.
EXCERPTS OF THE DIARY
‘1702, Aug. 2nd. I sent to Dungen-Hall to acquaint Coz. John Gelibrond of my father’s danger. About half an hour after Tenn in the morning being Sunday, many people in the Roome hearing Mass, and Mass just almost finished, My Dearest Father departed this life being much lamented by all; as his Life was virtuous and edifying so was his death, Sweet Jesus receive his sole.
1702, Aug. 18. Mr. Mullins came in ye Morning to pray and stayed till next day, Mr. Tasburgh and ‘Little Man’ came hither in ye afternoone’ – to which Father Gibson adds a note: ‘Mr. Mullins was Priest at Mossock Hall, in Bickerstaffe, a secluded spot a few hundred yards behind St. Mary’s Chapel, Aughton. Rev. Henry Tasburgh S.J. lived at the New House, at Ince Blundell, built shortly before with the view of its being used as a school. By ‘Little Man’ is meant his cousin, Rev. Will. Gelibrond or Gillibrand, S.J., who was throughout his life a confidential friend and advisor. He was then doing duty as Chaplain at Crosby, but soon after went to Liverpool and seems to have been the first Priest settled there since the Reformation.’
‘1702, Dec. 30th. I went with Pat(er) Gelibr(and) in ye after Noone to Mr. Wairings. Lord Molyneux sent for me home from Mr. Wairings, he and his son entered each of them a Running hors before me at my own hous by telling me their names and describing them.
‘1703, Jan. 15th. I met Mr. Blundell (of Ince) a coursing and saw two Hairs Runn that were found set. Pat(er) Gelibr(and) and I went home to writ a letter to Mr. Philpot.
‘1703, Feb. 20th. I went with Pat(er) Gelibrand to Croxteth to wish my Lord a Good Journey to London.
‘1703, April 17th. Pat(er) Gelibrand went to Liverpool to buy Cloth for a Black Coat.
‘1703, Oct. 20th. Mr. Alban Butler came to me with a letter from Lord Molyneux.’ The Molyneux family were still Catholic at this date.
‘Nov. 26th. Lord Biss(hop) Smith and Mr. Martin came to lodge here’ (Right Rev. James Smith, Bishop of Callipolis and V. A. of the Northern District; he died May 13, 1711, aged sixty-six. He confirmed 110 at Crosby).
‘Nov. 30th. Lord Biss. went to ye Grange, dined there and confirmed about 100 as tis believed. My wife walked towards ye Grange in disgise.
‘Dec. 19th. My wife and I heard Mr. Edw. Molineux hold forth at Marg(aret) Howerds.
‘Jan. 16th. My Lady Molineux sent Mr. Butler hither a How-do-you-do.
‘1704, June 5th. Pat(er) Thos. Wofold held fourth the first time at Winny Marrowes, most of my servants went to hear him.’
Note. – Rev. T. Wolfall had come to succeed Rev. Molineux.
1705, Feb. 5th. My wife and I went to Lidiat: she fell of(f) the Hors just after her mounting, we took a Fat Goose with us for Bess Fazak(erley).
‘Feb. 21st. Pat(er) Wofold gave Ashes here and spoke to us.
‘1705, Dec. 8th. Pat(er) Gelibrand went to Ormskirk. My wife and I went along with him to see him safe over Sefton Water.
‘Dec. 16th. Pat(er) Gelibrand comes not to Calves Feet.
‘1706, May 21st. Mr. Babthorp sent to Pat(er) Gelibrand not to leave us further orders.’
At this period Mr. Gillibrand – as the name is more usually written – was giving service occasionally at Liverpool, which at that date had a population of 5000 souls. In the Records of the S.J., vol. xii, p. 363, we read: ‘In 1701, we find Father Willen am Bill brand serving it occasionally from Crosby, with a stipend of £3 from Mr. Eccleston’s fund ‘for helpinge at Leverpoole.’ ‘ And again: ‘The Catholics of Liverpool were attended by Father Gillibrand, S. J., chaplain of Mr. Nicholas Blundell, of Crosby’ (Canon Hughes, Congress Handbook, 1920). Such was, in fact, the beginng of the Post-Reformation Church of Liverpool, so far as Catholics were concerned.”
– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Vol.I, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London 1925