04 Jul

…to find a priest to sing Mass in a chapel

“Monsignor Gradwell, in his account of the Catholic Church at Claughton (Catholic Family Directory, 1885), states that in the reign of Elizabeth, James and Hugh Anderton, the Vicars of Garstang, three miles distant, are said to have clung to the old Faith, and that there was a local tradition that St. Helen’s Church, at Churchtown, continued to have Mass said in it long after the new religion had been set up in the neighbouring churches. The Squire of Claughton at that time was a minor, but he escaped the peril of perversion, under which so many heirs of great houses fell away, and later married a Miss Braddyll, who earned the honourable title of a ‘bigoted Papist’ in the pursuivant’s reports. As the reign of Elizabeth advanced, we find him in prison in Manchester on account of his faith, and again and again called upon for fines for his own and his wife’s recusancy. In the year 1591 there was a chapel at Claughton, in Garstang, near to the house of Thomas Brockholes, holding lands called Langscales, and proceedings were instituted to ascertain ‘whether the lands were given for superstitious uses, that is, to find a priest to sing Mass in the chapel’; and five years later an action on the part of John Downing against Thomas Brockholes was tried at Preston, to settle the question, though with what results is not known.

Claughton Chapel, ca. 1923

Claughton Chapel, ca. 1923

Successive generations felt the full pressure of the penal laws

Thomas Brockholes’ second wife was Dorothy Leyburne, of Cunswick, Co. Westmorland. She was repeatedly fined for her recusancy, and appears in the annual lists with her husband, who principally resided at Heaton, until his death there in 1618. In 1607 this Thomas Brockholes came within the operation of one of those iniquitous grants, first begun by James I, by which the benefit of his recusancy – that is, two-thirds of his estate, with other penalties imposed by law – was handed over to the voracious appetite of a needy Scotsman, David Stewart. In the following year, after the Scotsman had squeezed all he could out of the estate, Mr. Brockholes’ recusancy, with that of other Lancashire Catholic gentlemen, was transferred to another hanger-on of the Court, Charles Chambers, perhaps an Englishman, for the English had then begun to grumble at the plunder the Scotch favourites of King James were reaping from the English Catholics.

Successive generations both at Claughton and at Heaton Halls felt the full pressure of the penal laws. In each of these residences there were chapels. In the seventeenth century two priests of the family appear in the diaries of Douai and Lisbon: Thomas and Roger, younger sons of Thomas Brockholes. Both of them often said Mass at Claughton and at Heaton. The elder, Thomas, took the missionary oath at Douai College, September 8, 1676, and in due course was ordained priest, and came on the Mission. In the reign of James II he officiated at Whitehall, London, and in March, 1697, he appears to have been in Lancashire. About 1716 he was acting as chaplain to the Masseys of Paddington Hall, the seat of the Standish family, but subsequently he removed to Burgh Hall, near Chorley, where he died on November 10, 1738.i

The younger brother, Roger, took the oath at Douai in 1678. In 1695 he came on the Mission, and was appointed senior chaplain to the Convent at York Bar, where he died in 1700.

Priests of the Brockholes family

In the following generation there were three Brockholes priests: Thomas, Roger, and Charles, this last of the Society of Jesus. Thomas, the eldest of the three, became an alumnus at Douai, December 8, 1705, was ordained priest in 1706, and remained at the College for many years as general prefect and procurator. In his later years he was Vicar-General to Bishop Stonor. He died on January 16, 1758, at Chillington, where he had been priest since 1730.

Roger Brockholes was born at Claughton in 1682, and after studying some time at Ladywell, Fernyhalgh, went abroad and was admitted to the English College, Rome, October 17, 1703. He was ordained in 1708, and came to Lancashire in 1710, where he served various districts round the place of his birth, eventually fixing his abode at one of his father’s farms, now called Priestholme, and he thus appears in Bishop Dicconson’s list in 1741. He died the following year at Priestholme, which was eventually settled upon the secular clergy serving Claughton.

Charles, the third priest of the family, was born in 1684, entered the Society in September, 1705, and was sent to Maryland in 1711. He returned to England in 1716, and served the Missions of Blackrod and Wigan for many years, dying at the latter place in 1759, the last of his family.

A generous gift

The name of Brockholes was then assumed in succession by the three sons of Mary, daughter of John Brockholes, and sister of the three priests above, who had married, in 1710, William Hesketh, of Maybes Hall. After the death of her three sons without issue the estates passed in 1783 to the Fitzherberts, who likewise assumed the additional name of Brockholes. The beautiful pre-Reformation chalice now at Claughton chapel came to the Brockholes through the Heskeths of Maynes Hall, where it had long been in use. Tradition says that it once belonged to the parish church of Poulton-le-Fylde. It was carefully repaired and regilt, at the expense of Mr. Francis Brockholes, by Messrs. Hardman, of Birmingham, under the direction of the elder Pugin. A new paten was made to replace the old one, which had been converted into the lid when the chalice was used as a ciborium.

The old Squire, as he was familiarly called, kept up a friendly rivalry with the priest of the time, Monsignor Gradwell, as to who should be foremost in their affection for the church. Mr. Brockholes gave the stations, beside many other valuable requisites for the altar; he also gave the Lady Altar and Monsignor Gradwell that of St Joseph. ‘A thousand pounds from each would not cover the expenditure incurred about this time in adorning what both loved – the House of God.’ The Squire just before his death conveyed to the Bishop a most eligible plot of ground adjoining the church, for a cemetery, and he undertook to lay it out, fence it, and hand it over to the ecclesiastical authorities, free of charge. He died December 21, 1873, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, ‘greatly honoured and deeply lamented.’

… a better knowledge of those who died for our holy Catholic faith…

So much for the family at Claughton Hall. Of the successive priests, it seems clear that Father Thomas Whitaker, the venerable martyr, attended to the Catholics at Claughton. He was arrested at Blakehall in Goosnargh, the next parish to Claughton, and conducted to Lancaster Castle, where he arrived August 7, 1643. After three years in that most awful prison he was executed, having shown throughout shown the highest degree of every Christian virtue. His portrait has been preserved at the English College, Valladolid, where he studied, and a statue to his memory was erected in the cemetery at Claughton by Mgr. Gradwell, a precedent which might with great advantage be followed in other districts, where a better knowledge of those who died for our holy Catholic Faith is much to be desired. Among the many relics of olden times at Claughton is a small wooden tabernacle used by Father Whitaker to keep the pyx and Blessed Sacrament for the sick.

The premises were searched by the state agencies

Mgr. Gradwell asserts that the next priest was a Rev. T. Walmesley, but Mr. Gillow does not think that there was any priest of that name at the date in question. Rev. Edward Blackburn, the next in order, was certainly at Claughton in 1673, as appears from the original register of the Lancashire Clergy Fund, which was instituted in that year and is subscribed by Mr. Blackburn. In an article in the Month, May, 1873, a paper is given extracted from the Harleian Miscellany, containing the signatures of a certain number of priests to some arrangement among themselves to say certain Masses and collect funds. Among the signatories is Edwardus Blackburn, and he is named collector for the Hundred of Lonsdale. The date is February 28, 1675, and the Edward Blackburn named is evidently the priest at Claughton. The document had been found by Bolron, the informer, at Stonyhurst, the residence of Richard Sherburne, Esq., in the room of the chaplain, Rev. Edward Cottam. Bolron, who had received a warrant from the Privy Council to make search in the houses of the Catholic gentry of Lancashire for treasonable papers, pounces upon this innocent list, and in a letter dated December 6, 1680, forwards it to the Privy Council as a convincing proof of the damnable plots got up by the Jesuits against the life of his most sacred Majesty Charles II, and for the destruction of the Protestant religion!

Sunny hillsides, shady glens, smiling farmsteads – and the difficulties through which Catholic Christians had to pass

Benefactions began, even at this early time after the grinding persecutions of Elizabeth and Cromwell, to be bestowed on the Catholic clergy, and it was in 1618 that we first find mention of what long went under the name of the ‘Garstang Parish Trust.’ By a deed bearing date June 24, 1680, William Graddell of Barbles Moor, Gent., appointed Rev. E. Blackburn trustee in his place for a benefaction from the Molyneux family.

At what date Rev. R. Taylor came as assistant to his uncle, Mr. Blackburn, is uncertain. He was certainly at Claughton in 1684, as the annual meeting of the clergy was held at his house in that year, and this brings us to a still more important fact in the history of the Claughton Mission. The uncle and nephew, about this time, purchased a plot of land in Claughton, upon a portion of which the church and house now stand. The purchase money was £205, of which Mr. Blackburn paid £100 and Mr. Taylor £105, whilst the latter was at the sole charge of building the house. It was a sufficiently modest building at first, consisting only of the present lobbies and the vestry, with the rooms above; and more than a century elapsed before it received any considerable addition. There was, of course, no chapel attached to it, for the severity of the times did not allow of any building being devoted to Catholic worship. No doubt the priest was accustomed to say Mass, as occasion offered, sometimes at home and at other times in the houses of devout Catholics in the neighbourhood.

Small, however, as the old house was, it was the seedling from which the present most complete establishment was to grow. Mr. Hewitson thus describes his first visit to Claughton: ‘For sweetness of position, richness of isolation; for sunny hillsides and shady glens; for smiling farmsteads and magnificent woodland scenery and all that makes country life a joy and a talisman, commend me to Claughton.’ The writer was alluding to the natural charms of the scenery, but to the Lancashire Catholic, Claughton has the additional charm of always having been well in advance of the times, so far as the practice of the Catholic religion was concerned, and of having to-day many remains of great interest to show the difficulties through which that Faith and its adherents had to pass.

An image of the Sacred Heart displayed in the home

Rev. E. Blackburn died September 20, 1708, having been more than thirty years resident at Claughton, and, as he was then called, ‘secular clergy incumbent’ of Garstang parish. His nephew and successor, Rev. Richard Taylor, lived to an extreme old age. There is still remaining at the Rectory an oak desk carved with his initials, R. T., and the date 1680, and in the library are some valuable books of divinity and ecclesiastical history marked with his name. In 1714 he named Rev. Christopher Tuttell, then priest at Fernyhalgh, and Rev. William Caton, of Great Eccleston, as his successors in the Garstang Parish Fund, he having during his term of office received the additional benefaction of £100 from Mrs. Grace Barnes and placed it under the same Trust. Mgr. Gradwell states that in 1715 Mr. Taylor retired to an obscure house in Goosnargh, where he officiated with great privacy to the poor Catholics as often as it was thought safe and prudent to do so. He was frequently sought for by the priest-catchers, but always eluded their search.

He was frequently sought for by the priest-catchers

This was the time of the first Stuart Rising, when all Lancashire was in a ferment, and the Catholics had much to suffer from their loyalty to the old Stuart line of kings. Mr. Taylor died in 1726. In his will he describes himself as Richard Taylor, of Claughton, gentleman. Another relic of him, which is still preserved, is a flat stone, 1 inch thick and 13 inches long by 12 inches wide, and appears to have been inserted over a fireplace. At the top in low relief is a representation of the Host, in the middle his initials R. T., and between them the Sacred Heart. Below is the date 1714. This is the more remarkable as the Devotion to the Sacred Heart had only recently been introduced into England by the preaching of Father Colombiere, S.J., confessor of Mary of Modena, Queen of James II.  It says much for the earnestness of Father Taylor’s devotion that, in times of so much risk and uncertainty, he should have had these sacred emblems carved in stone and exhibited conspicuously in his house.

A very good example of a priest’s hiding-place

Rev. Richard Birtwistle was at Claughton only for a short time, and was succeeded by Rev. Roger Brockholes, a younger son of the squire. He was born in 1682, and was ordained in Rome in 1708. At what date he came to Claughton is uncertain, but he settled at one of his father’s farms, now called Priestholme, and in the tenancy of Mr. Rogerson. Here is a very good example of a priest’s hiding-place. It is on the first floor, in a small lobby off the main room. I found that I could just stand in it, but to spend a day or more there would be conducive neither to health nor comfort. However, it reminded me very forcibly of what our forefathers had to put up with, and of the words of the old Squire of Crosby, who writes in his diary in 1716: ‘I spent a day in a strait place for a fat man!’ That was in the same year, 1716, mentioned above, when the Hall at Crosby was being searched for priests and Papists. The old house at Priestholme still exists exactly as Father Brockholes left it. Mass was said for many years in the main room on the first floor, and there are still preserved a cupboard nicely carved with sacred emblems and other relics of his stay.

“I spent a day in a strait place for a fat man!”

Rev. Roger Brockholes died October 10, 1743. His brother Thomas, though the eldest son, renounced his worldly prospects, went to Douai College, was there ordained, and long served the Mission at Chillington, in Staffordshire. He may well be considered the greatest benefactor of the Claughton Mission, as it is chiefly owing to him that Butt Hill Farm belongs to the priest, and the generous manner in which he bestowed the gift greatly enhanced its value.

Rev. Roger Brockholes was succeeded by Rev. James Parkinson. During his pastorate the house built by Mr. Taylor was bought for the use of the priest from its then owner, Mr. L. Butler. This purchase was made in the memorable year 1746, when Prince Charles Edward made his disastrous march through Lancashire to Derby; but the political troubles of this second rising seem to have exerted no retarding influences on the peaceful growth of the Claughton Mission. Mr. Parkinson converted the room, now occupied as a library, into a chapel, and there are still – i.e., in 1873 – remaining in the floor marks where the altar-rails were fixed. It was approached from the back by stone steps, which still exist, now forming the shelves of a cupboard at the head of the stairs. Rev. James Parkinson died January 26, 1766, of a fever caught in attending the sick of his flock, after having served the Mission of Claughton about twenty-two years.

At length he escaped by leaping through a port-hole into the sea and swimming ashore

The next priest was Rev. John Barrow. He was in every sense of the word a most remarkable man. After beginning his ecclesiastical studies in Rome, he returned to England on business, and was actually seized by a press-gang, and forced to serve on board a man-of-war for seven years. On one occasion he was severely wounded in the hand. At length he escaped by leaping through a port-hole into the sea and swimming ashore. When retaken and tried by court-martial, he got off by pretending to speak no other language but Italian – he evidently could not be a British bluejacket – and when told by the suspicious president that he was acquitted and might go, he had the precence of mind to pretend not to understand, but asked the interpreter, ‘Che dice?’ (‘What’s he saying?’)

In an interesting letter, which, however, scarcely bears quotation in full, he writes: ‘Claughton, 23 Sep. 1808. Most Rev. and truly esteemed Friend, You cannot entertain a greater desire to renew our former friendship and real regard for each other than does the Old Tar of Claughton; where I have been and hope to remain while my old timbers stick together… I arrived at Claughton 13th July, 1766 and have remained stationary ever since, these 42 year and 3 months… I will conclude this letter, though in years younger than you are (for I am now 74) with every good wish etc.’

Mr. Barrow twice effected great alterations in the church; the second time, in 1794, he considerably enlarged it, and to this day it remains substantially what he left it. But he was far from being satisfied with having placed on a satisfactory footing the spiritual interests of his flock. He became overseer of roads to the township, and he acted with such vigour and determination that the roads of Claughton became the wonder of the neighbourhood.

The following anecdote is related by Mgr. Gradwell: ‘His  demands upon the farmers for supplies of stones for the new roads became so frequent, that loud murmurs expressed their discontent. On one occasion a farmer named Hothersall so far lost his temper as to threaten to shoot ‘Old Barrow’ when next he came across him. This soon got to Mr. Barrow’s ears, and at once he accepted the challenge, ordered out his horse, took down his brace of pistols, and lost no time in riding to the spot where he expected to find Hothersall. Arriving where the men were busily employed on collecting road metal, he called out, ‘Is Jack Hothersall here?’ and at once offered him one of the pistols, retaining the other for himself. As might be expected, the grumbler was not prepared for such an encounter; he silently withdrew, and the work of road-making went on apace. He likewise acted as overseer of the poor, and it was in consequence of his untiring exertions that the workhouse, now disused, was erected in the lane leading from Fleet Street to the high-road.

The service rendered by him to the Secular Clergy Fund were of inestimable value. In the year 1783 he was appointed collector for the Hundred of Amounderness. For twenty-eight years previously Rev. J. Carter, of Newhouse, had been book-keeper and master of the fund. In those days good investments were scarce, and it had been the practice to lend out moneys on bond to numerous individuals. This often lead to difficulties, as by deaths the bonds occasionally passed into new hands, the principal could not be recovered, and often the interest fell into arrear. It was resolved, shortly after the appointment to office of Mr. Barrow, to have all the accounts paid in and lodged for security in the English funds, then bearing 4 per cent interest. The task was entrusted to Mr. Barrow’s management, and well did he discharge the trust. The following racy anecdote belongs to this period. A sum of money, under £100, belonging to the fund, had somehow got into the hands of Mr. Cawthorne, then M.P. for Lancaster, and owner of Wyreside and Bleasdale; but neither interest nor principal could be got from him. The privilege of a Member of the House of Commons protected him from arrest, but Mr. Barrow, nothing daunted, having got the debt legally transferred to himself, took advantage of a dissolution of Parliament, and accompanied by a Sheriff’s officer duly furnished with a writ, attended the hustings at Lancaster on the nomination day. When Mr. Cawthorne advanced to address his constituents, the officer arrested him for the debt. Mr. Cawthorne remonstrated, said he had no money; but Mr. Barrow insisted, and reminded him that had plenty of friends about him, and that the sum was small. The appeal was successful, the money was raised, and given to Mr. Barrow. Mr. Cawthorne was released by the Sheriff’s officer, and Mr. Barrow went home with flying colours. In August, 1787, Mr. Barrow paid over to Mr. Dennett £19 16s., the balance remaining in his hands to the credit of the fund, and retired from office. He had rendered a most important service to his brethren by thus collecting the small scattered sums constituting their fund, and in after years he recalled it with evident gratification.

In corroboration of the foregoing anecdote from Mgr. Gradwell, the two following are quoted from Mr. Hewitson. The Vicar of Chipping had the misfortune to offend Mr. Barrow, who swore that if he ever caught him he would horse-whip him. Well, the Vicar happened to turn up one fine day in some part of the district, and having ascertained this, Mr. Barrow set off to administer the promised castigation. In the meantime the Vicar had got an inkling of the approaching Nemesis, and he lost no time in shifting his quarters. Father Barrow gave chase for some distance, but fright put mettle into the movements of the Vicar, who escaped rapidly into his own native hills. – His own people, too, sometimes felt the force of his ire. One Sunday some singing was going rather awkwardly in the chapel, and amongst the singers there was one unlucky wight who made a most unhappy noise. Father Barrow having had his ears sufficiently grated during the earlier portions of the service with this man’s ‘vocalisation,’ finally lost all patience, and turning round from the sanctuary, said: ‘Will ta hold thy noise! thou roars worse than Sandham’s bull.’ There was a bull belonging to one Sandham in the district, which bellowed so awfully that it became a complete nuisance to all the folk in the neighbourhood; and the blunt honest priest could not bethink himself of a better illustration for the benefit of the roaring singer, which, we imagine, put a speedy quietus upon him for some time afterwards. – But Mr. Barrow was no fool. We have mentioned his excellent work for the Secular Clergy Fund. The loyal part he took in the bitter controversies which then agitated the Catholics of England was acknowledged by the authorities in Rome, and amongst the archives of the Mission is still preserved a letter in Latin from the Cardinal Antonelli of those days, in which his fidelity to the Holy See and his zeal in championing its cause are set forth in warm terms. His zeal and wisdom led him to have a large share in founding the great College of the North at Ushaw. It was a question where land could be obtained for the new college, rendered necessary by the confiscation of the colleges in France due to the French Revolution.

Confiscation of the colleges for seminarians due to the French Revolution

At last it was decided to purchase from Sir Edward Smythe a portion of Ushaw Moor, and then erect the necessary buildings. Unfortunately, Sir Edward was not a free vendor, as by the entail of the property he could exchange, but was not able to sell. This was a new source of delay, and here Mr. Barrow came to the rescue. He entered into correspondence with Sir Edward, and undertook to purchase a property required to effect the exchange. Indeed, in spite of endless difficulties, the energy of Mr. Barrow triumphed, a desirable property was purchased for the exchange, and Ushaw Moor was conveyed to the Bishop.

The subsequent building of schools

Mr. Barrow died February 12, 1811. For the next hundred years the Mission of Claughton was in charge of members of the Gradwell family – two brothers, Robert and Henry, and their nephew Robert. All were men of exceptional refinement and ability. Robert the uncle left Claughton (1809-1817) to become Rector of the English College at Rome, and from that post he was appointed coadjutor to the Vicar-Apostolic of the London District. He died in 1833, at the early age of fifty-six. Rev. Henry Gradwell (Claughton, 1817-1860) enlarged the chapel by adding the sanctuary and raising the roof, and in the following year (1836) he built the present most comfortable house. With the assistance of Catherine Barton he bought the land and built the present schools, which all agree are an ornament to the neighbourhood. ‘The memory of this good woman,’ writes Mgr. Gradwell, ‘ought never to be let die in Claughton. She must be reckoned as the first founder and chief benefactor of the schools; her love of education, her forethought and generosity, deserve the lasting gratitude of the children and their parents.’ In her early years she had entered the service of the Duke of Norfolk, who married a Miss Brockholes, and she rose in his service till she became housekeeper at Arundel Castle. Her later years were spent at Claughton, and she is buried at Newhouse.

A lady who had worked hard in service of God and neighbour

Rev. Robert Gradwell, jun., came to assist his uncle in 1856. He took over the full charge in 1860, and from that date till his death in 1906 – a period in all of no less than sixty years – his one pleasure was to adorn the church, the grounds, and the presbytery. Besides the not inconsiderable income of the Mission, he spent a very fair private fortune on these objects, and he left the Mission at his death rich in historic associations, and in all that could make it pleasing to the scholar and the antiquarian.

One of the oldest sites

In 1894 he celebrated the centenary of the church, which had been opened by Mr. Barrow in 1794. But portions of the priest’s house were used for Mass, a hundred years previous to this again, in the time of Mr. Blackburn and Mr. Taylor, so that the site as a whole ranks amongst the oldest of our present Lancashire chapels.

Rev. Henry Holden came as assistant to Mr. Gradwell in 1889, and succeeded him at his death. In 1916 he was transferred to St Peter’s, Lancaster, but even the great beauties of that church and mission could not repay his regret at leaving Claughton. He was succeeded by Rev. James Lowry, to whose kindness and hospitality the present writer is indebted for a most pleasant week of pilgrimage to this and the neighbouring chapels of the Fylde.”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1925





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