The martyred priest’s grave has recently been discovered
“Three miles west of Blackburn is Pleasington Old Hall. There is a tradition that at one time it was monastic property; later it became the home of the de Plesyngton family, whose history can be traced through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. At the end of the fourteenth century the manorial estate passed with the marriage of an heiress into the de Aynsworth family. These Ainsworths held it for about four hundred years, the last direct male representative of the family dying in 1779. His estates, being heavily mortgaged, had been publicly sold by auction two years before, and were bought by Mr. Richard Butler, of Preston, a cadet of the ancient family of Butler of Rawcliffe. Mr. Butler built the New Hall, and laid out the extensive gardens and park. Regarding the de Plesyngton family, it gave a martyr to the Church in the person of Father William Plessington, for many years chaplain to Mr. Massey, of Puddington. He was tried for his priesthood at Chester, and executed July 19, 1679. His grave has recently been discovered at Burton in Wirral.
A font for holy water and a secret chamber
The Old Hall, of which an illustration is given, is still perfect, despite a few more recent improvements. There are many quaint recesses in the walls, one being for holy water, according to tradition; whilst recently a hidden chamber was unexpectedly discovered, pointing to the priests of old having been hidden there. What may be stored in the attics under the roof cannot at the moment be discovered; for the present tenant, who takes great pride in the old house, tried more than once to make his way into the topmost floor, but the boarding would not carry his weight and the ceiling of the room below gave way under his feet. There is, however, the constant tradition that Mass was said here, and at some future date interesting discoveries may be made. The old doorway is very remarkable; it is divided into five panels, the first and last reading: R. H. 1587, Richard Ainsworth; the second, T. H., for Thomas Hoghton and his crest – a bull’s head couped; the third, three battle axes for Robert Ainsworth; the fourth, J. S., for John South worth and his crest – a bull’s head erased. The Ainsworths, Hoghtons, and Southworths were the chief landowners in Pleasington at that date.
Mr. John Francis Butler, son of the aforesaid Richard, built the present church as an act of thanksgiving for his recovery from and accident, whereby he was nearly killed on the spot where the church now stands. The building was begun in 1816 and completed in 1819, at a cost of £20,000, though a competent authority states that it would cost three times that sum nowadays. The church is a large and lofty fabric in the early decorated style of Gothic architecture, and comprises nave with clerestory, side isles, and octagonal chancel apse. It is built of hand-dressed stone, and ornamental with countless statues and designs. The total length is 119 feet, and the width 60 feet. In the interior, the aisles are divided from the have by arcades of pointed arches, the nave from the chancel by a bold pointed arch.
Father Edward Kenyon was the first resident priest, and justly was he proud of his new church. At that date there was nothing to compare it with in Lancashire, or indeed in any part of England; even to-day, after a hundred years, the writer knows no church which has so pleasing an effect. This is largely due to the improvements carried out in 1913, when stained glass was put in the chancel windows, the gift of the late Monsignor Canon Burke, as a memorial to his parents. The coloured windows areare justly described as ‘a splendid example of the designer’s art.’ The subjects are Blessed Thomas More, Blessed John Fisher, Blessed John Forest, O.S.F., the Crucifixion in the centre, then Blessed Richard Whiting, Abbot O.S.B., Blessed Thomas Hoghton, Carthusian, Blessed Edmund Campion, S.J., and below these three windows to each scene, The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Baptism of Our Lord.
The succession of priests has been as follows: Rev. Edward Kenyon (1816-1828), when he retired to Woolston – he died there in 1837; Rev. P. Orrell (1828-1834); T. Holden (1834-1839); H. Sharples, later Bishop (1840-1845); Rev. John Pedduzzi, Rural Dean (1846-1878); H. Mulvaney (1882-1890); J. Lawless (1890-1915); Rev. Anthony van der Beek (1915).
At Pleasington are several pieces of very handsome altar silver – namely, a monstrance, thurible, and incense boat – all hall-marked. They bear the de Hoghton crest, and on each is inscribed the words, ‘Ora pro Guglielmo Hoghton.’ The hall marks are interesting: the date letter a capital X 1817; the crown for Sheffield, inverted to differentiate the earlier marks; the lion passant and R. G. on a scroll for Robert Gainsford. He entered his mark in 1808.
The candlesticks on the high altar are very fine. They are of solid brass, as heavy as one man can lift and bear in front the crest of the Cliftons of Lytham, but how they came to Pleasington is nowhere recorded. A note by Father Lawless records: ‘There is the body of St Publianus, Martyr, under the altar; the seals are perfect, but there is no certificate. It was given at Rome, according to the inscription on the case, to John Butler, Esq., the builder of the church.’
…just in time to save herself from several bullet shots which were fired through the window
Regarding the silver ornaments mentioned above, these seem to have had some narrow escapes, for the indefatigable Father Robert Smith came across the following piece of information: ‘In the early days the Priory was often broken into. Many valuable articles were stolen, and it became necessary to remove all church plate daily to the presbytery – a little plain, square-built house across the road – where the vestments had also to be kept. It is narrated that on one occasion, when the priest was away, an attempt was made to enter the presbytery. It was a moonlight night, and the housekeeper, who kept in her bedroom a garden fork for purposes of self-defence, discovered that a man was endeavouring to unfasten the bedroom window. By pushing the handle (!) of the fork through the window she succeeded in knocking the man down, and then, fearing the consequences, she stepped aside, just in time to save herself from several bullet shots which were fired through the window. The man, however, who had fallen to the ground, must have broken his leg, for the housekeeper saw him being carried away by two other men.’ A later incumbent has wisely let his adjoining schoolhouse to the local constable, so that with the ‘Police Station’ in large letters next door he is fairly safe from similar depredations.
From the date of the opening of the church a cemetery has been attached to it, where are buried successive generations of Catholics from a wide distance round. It has indeed become a most favourite place of burial, and recently fresh land has been added to the older portion. Certainly, the natural picturesqueness of the neighbourhood and the charm of the beautiful church make Pleasington Priory a most attractive spot; little wonder, then, that there is an almost continuous stream of visitors to cemetery and church alike, whilst the building of new houses in the neighbourhood gives hope that the church – for long too large for its resident congregation – may soon be as well filled as it deserves.”
– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., London, 1925