Tag Archives: Dissolution of the Monasteries



“At the dissolution of the monasteries, the former Benedictine Cell of Lytham, which had been a dependency of Durham Abbey, was granted to Sir Thomas Holcroft, a noted ‘trafficker’ in confiscated monastic possessions. He sold the property to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, and thus Lytham became the principal residence of the Cliftons, a family which had held large estates in Lancashire as early as 1258. Sir Cuthbert Clifton was a staunch Catholic, for at the dissolution of the monasteries he gave a home in his own house to Thomas Prymbett for the rest of his life, inasmuch as Prymbett had been the officiating priest of the Clifton Chantry at the parish church of Kirkham.

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine monastery is now unknown

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine cell is unknown, but it is thought to have been on or near the site of the present Hall at Lytham; for in the walls of some of the offices attached to it, remains of the ancient monastic edifice have been incorporated. Sir Cuthbert Clifton built the first Hall in 1625 on his first possessing the estate, and a large room was constructed within it, most probably for a chapel. This remained unaltered when the Hall was rebuilt by Thomas Clifton in 1764. So far the Catholic Annual and I quite agree with the account; but when it goes on to say, ‘It was used for Mass up to the year 1800. It is now in existence and is used as a lumber room,’ these two sentences seem to me to apply only to the chapel wing, which was built in 1764, as the date cut in stone bears witness. Nothing more likely than that Thomas Clifton in 1764, when he was building the new Hall, would construct a special chapel and a priest’s room, and place these at the back of the Hall for secrecy, since emancipation had not then been granted. But the ‘large room’ constructed in 1625, and remaining unaltered in 1764, is the ‘picture-gallery’ so called. There would be little object in placing so large a room on the second floor of the house, unless it were that its size might accommodate the tenantry and neighbouring Catholics, and its retired position ensure the desired amount of secrecy.

Lytham Hall, "The Large Room", ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, “The Large Room”, ca. 1923

‘The man at the top of the house’

The above is confirmed by the practice, common in times of persecution, of speaking of the priest or chaplain at these Catholic houses as ‘the man at the top of the house.’ Our illustration shows ‘the large room,’ and here from 1625 to 1764 holy Mass was offered by the numerous priests who, in succession, served the Catholics of Lytham. The old oak floor, well worn by generations of faithful Catholic worshippers, comes out well in the photograph. In passing, it may be mentioned that similar ‘large rooms’ are found in many of the old Catholic houses; for example, at Speke Hall and at Astley Hall, near Chorley, both of which were built at the time when their owners were staunch Catholics.

The site where the Hall now stands has been uses as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800

In any case, the site where the Hall now stands has been used for Catholic services, as a Benedictine cell from 1199 till the Reformation, and as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800. It certainly has associations venerable to the Catholics of to-day. From 1800 to 1839 Mass was said in a tythe-barn fitted up as a chapel, the priest living in a house close by. In 1839 the present church, dedicated to St Peter, was solemnly opened by Bishop Briggs, and thus the days of the Hall chapel, with its services in concealment and secrecy, passed away, and the Catholics of Lytham rapidly increased in numbers and importance in the town.

Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled by the Government agencies, but he managed to return

MrMr. Gillow (Cat. Rec. Soc., Vol. XVI) gives a complete list of the priests who served the Mission of Lytham, of which the following is an abbreviation. The first was Rev. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias Scroop, alias Hart, who wrote many learned works under the pseudonym ‘John Brereley, Priest.’ He had studied at the University of Cambridge, where he gained the title of ‘Silver-mouthed Anderton.’ He published several controversial works, which were printed at the secret printing press at his cousin’s house at Lostock Hall, and later at Birchley Hall. At some period Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled, but he seems soon to have returned to the Mission, and it is probable that he became chaplain to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, when this latter removed from West by to Lytham till his death in 1643, aged sixty-seven. In 1629 we have the mention of ‘Anderton and Smith, two priests at Sir Cuthbert Clifton’s’ (Cat. Rec. Soc. Miss., III, 108).

Father William Shackleton, alias Stanton, alias Bannister, S.J., succeeded Father Anderton at Lytham Hall, where he is found baptising many of the Cliftons. He died there in 1655, aged seventy-one.

He received a letter which apparently had been intercepted

Father Augustus Heneage, alias Newby, S.J., came to Lytham in 1653, two years before Father Shackleton’s death. He was brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Clifton, whose wife Bridget was Father Heneage’s sister. From a letter of the Earl of Derby to the Duke of Albemarle dated from Lathom House, March 10, 1664, it appears that Father Heneage, like his predecessor, was an active controversialist. The Earl enclosed a letter, dated February 21, 1664, which apparently had been intercepted, from Augustus Heneage, ‘a supposed priest, living in Sir Thomas Clifton’s house, to Mr. Edward Keynes, S.J., who lived with Sir Cecil Trafford.’ Father Heneage had had ‘verbal skirmishes with his old friends, the Nigri (Anglican ministers), who showed ignorance and knavery,’ and asked Father Keynes to send him John Lewgar’s Erastus Senior, published in 1662. This book, says Mr. Gillow, whose account we are following, referred to the question of the validity of Anglican ordinations, and made so great an impression upon the Anglican clergy, who thereby became sensible to the defects of the ordination forms of the episcopacy and priesthood hitherto in use, that immediately after its publication in the year 1662 it was made obligatory by a decree of Convocation to use more explicit forms. In consequence both Father Heneage and Father Keynes had to fly from their respective stations. The former went to London, where he died a victim to the plague, January 18, 1669, aged fifty-two.

He was taken to the Tower of London to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge

Father John Stevenson, S.J., came to Lytham Hall in 1676, and remained there till his death in 1692, when he was succeeded by Father Thomas Blundell, S.J., third son of William Blundell, of Crosby. Two years later Sir Thomas Clifton was arrested at Wrea Green, July 17, 1694, taken to the Tower of London, and brought back to Manchester to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge of high treason, with Sir William Gerard of Bryn, and a number of other Lancashire gentlemen. He was acquitted, but the strain had been too great, and he died on November 13. It is probable that he died before he could return to Lytham. Anyhow, his body was carried to Kirkham for internment with his ancestors in the parish church.

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

‘O death, where is thy victory?’

But before starting on its last journey, ‘a funeral sermon upon Sir Thomas Clifton,’ under the text ‘O death, where is thy victory?’ was preached by Rev. Richard Jameson. Father Blundell remained at Lytham Hall till his death ‘in Mr. Clifton’s house on Wednesday, 27th May, 1702. His body was carried to Crosby and buried in ye Harkirke on ye 29th. He was a learned man, aged 55’ (Crosby Records, p. 81). These were wonderful times, when the Catholic lord of the manor died in prison, or at any rate died as the result of imprisonment, as did Sir Thomas Clifton, whilst his chaplain only eight years later was carried in funeral procession the long distance from Lytham to Crosby. But then the good priest wished to be buried in consecrated ground, and certainly no more beautiful spot could be found than the little Catholic cemetery of Harkirke, which had cost his forefathers so dear. [Footnote: ‘Blundell of Crosby was fined £2,000, equal to £20,000 of the present money [around 1923], for burying Papists and other excommunicated persons in Harkirke.]

The feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass

Father Ralph Hornyhold, alias Glover, S.J., was priest at Lytham from 1702 till 1722; Father Christopher Burton, S.J., 1722 to 1728; Father John Gosling, alias Bennett, S.J., 1728 to 1741. Early in 1729 the Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District, Bishop Thomas Williams, O.P., made his visitation at Lytham, and confirmed in the Hall chapel 247 persons belonging to the Lytham and West by congregations. Father Berington, alias Harper, S.J., was at Lytham only two years when he died, and was interred in Lytham parish church, the registers of which contain the entry, ‘John Harper (R.C.) from ye Hall, 18 Aug. 1743.’

Father John Talbot, alias Mansell, came to Lytham in September, 1743, and his salary from the Cliftons seems to have been increased to £13; no mean figure, be it noted, for 100 years after this the allowance from Propaganda to the priests in the Highlands of Scotland was only £12. After the rising of 1745 in favour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel at Lytham Hall had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass. In a report to his superiors in 1750, he returned the number of communicants in his congregation at 230. In January, 1753, he began the existing baptismal register. In 1767 the Protestant Bishop of Chester had a report drawn up of all Catholics in his diocese, and ‘John Mansell, alias Talbot, Jesuit priest,’ appears as chaplain to Thomas Clifton, Esq., the congregation being estimated at 384. In 1774 Bishop Walton confirmed 148 persons in the Hall chapel, and ten years later Bishop Mathew Gibson confirmed eighty-six persons…

In 1791 Father Mansell, enfeebled by age, retired from Lytham, where he had been priests in charge for nearly fifty years. He died at Walton-le-dale, near Preston, in 1799, aged ninety. Meanwhile the Society of Jesus had been suppressed in 1773, and as the ‘gentlemen of the ex-Society,’ as they were called, gradually became reduced in numbers, they withdrew from the Lytham Mission, to which a Benedictine in the person of the Rev. William Blacow, O.S.B., was appointed, who remained till 1793.

A tythe-barn was fitted up as a chapel

Dom Richard Pope, O.S.B., was here ten years – 1793 to 1803. It was during his incumbency that the chapel in the Hall was closed, and a tythe-barn just outside the park was fitted up as a chapel. The Mission was then handed over to the Bishop of the Northern Vicariate, who appointef Rev. Thomas Dawson. Owing to ill-health, he had numerous assistants, Rev. John Lawson being definitely appointed as his curate in 1820. Both these priests left in 1829 for Croston Hall, and later they together started the Mission at Mawdesley.

Of Mr. Pope the story is told that he used to ride a very poor-looking old pony, and riding one day in the neighbourhood of Chorley he was overtaken by several young gentlemen also riding – one of them being the late Mr. Townley Parker – who had recently been made magistrates (J.P.). They began to chaff him about his pony, and advised him to get a donkey instead. He very quietly said, ‘I would, but, unfortunately, they are very bad to get, as they have all been made J.P.s.’

In 1839, the present church was opened

Rev. Joseph Walmesley came to Lytham in 1829, and remained till his death in 1873, when he was buried at The Willows, Kirkham. In 1839 he opened the present church, dedicated to St Peter, and fitted up the new church with benches and other furniture from the old tythe-barn chapel. After being Rector of the Mission for over forty-four years, Mr. Walmesley died in harness, August 16, 1873, aged seventy-one, respected by all the inhabitants of Lytham, and held in affectionate memory by many people to this day.

Rev. Roger Taylor was priest at Lytham from 1874 to 1885. In 1874 he enlarged the schools and built an infant school. In 1875-76 he erected new sacristies and constructed the side chapels, and in the following year he added a new high altar, Lady altar, and altar of St. Joseph. He was succeeded by his brother, Canon James Taylor, who built the spacious new rectory, and in 1892 opened the cemetery and mortuary chapel. Canon O’Reilly, the present rector, succeeded, and has recently entirely renovated the church building…

Colonel Talbot Clifton, who had been reconciled to the Church in 1878 built the handsome tower at the cost of £1,000; he likewise re-leased the rectory for ninety-nine years and the church for 999 years on a nominal chief rent. His funeral was one of the most impressive events in the history of Lytham, the priest having most thoughtfully sent a mortuary card to each and every Catholic house in the parish, feeling sure – as he said – that they would be glad to possess a moment of one who had endeared himself to all. As the local paper expressed it: ‘The fact of the family having been members of the Catholic Church accounts for the non-appearance of the name of Clifton on the roll of Sheriffs from the time of the Reformation. Their long and steadfast adherence to the ancient Faith was no doubt one of the principal means of so large a portion of The Fylde remaining attached to the Catholic Church.'”

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





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The Mission of St Augustine to Kent in A.D. 597 is the most important event in the Christian history of Kent and of England. It had two important results. Firstly, it re-established the Catholic Faith in England, centred on the unity of the Apostolic See, after it had been almost eradicated by the heathen invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries.

Secondly, it re-established cultural and intellectual contact with the Continent, particularly Rome, which was still looked upon as the capital of the western world.


The most important source of our knowledge about St Augustine comes from the ‘Epistles of Pope Saint Gregory the Great’, preserved in Papal Registers in Rome. These documents consist of letters of Pope St Gregory to St Augustine or other Members of his Mission. They give instructions and advice, sometimes they are letters written to others about the Mission asking for their help in aiding St Augustine. Unfortunately, these letters have not been preserved in chronological order. Many are undated, and different editors have put them in different orders. As well as this, not all of them have survived, and for detailed content of some we must rely on the evidence of Bede (see below). The consequence of the letters being undated, sometimes missing or merely described by a later author, is that it is sometimes extremely difficult to grasp the speed with which events took place.

The other important source of our knowledge is the Venerable ‘Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation’, written about A.D. 731, some four generations after the Mission had taken place. Bede was a very careful historian, and sent researchers to Canterbury and Rome in search of trustworthy information. It is certain that earlier documents about the Mission were still being kept in Canterbury and Rome in the early eighth century.


The story begins with the familiar tale of Gregory’s meeting with fair-haired pagan Anglian slaves in the Roman Forum, probably in the 580’s. He was told that they were Angles. ‘Non Angli, sed angeli si Christiani’ (they are not Angles but angels if they are Christians), was his famous reply. Gregory’s informant added that they were from Deira (roughly equivalent to modern Yorkshire): ‘de ira (delivered from wrath) they would indeed be,’ said Gregory, ‘once they had been called to the mercy of Christ.’ On asking the name of the king of that province, Gregory was told that it was Aella. Alluding to the name, Gregory concluded: Alleluia, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.’

At the time of this celebrated exchange, Gregory was Abbot of St Andrew’s Monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome, and a little while later, determined to bring about the conversion of the Angles, set out on a missionary journey to England. However, he was recalled by the Pope, Pelagius II, urged on by the people of Rome who did not want their beloved Gregory to leave the City. In A.D. 590 Gregory became Pope, and that naturally put an end to any hopes he might have had of journeying to England himself. But he never forgot his meeting with the Angles in the Roman market-place and his resolve to evangelise the English.


In A.D. 596, probably in the autumn, Gregory, the new Pope, having heard that the English rulers were favourably disposed, commissioned Augustine, the Prior of his former monastery, St Andrew’s, together with forty monks to undertake the Mission to England. The party crossed the Alps into Provence. It appears that when they reached Aix some of the monks began to have misgivings about the task they had undertaken. They heard accounts of the length and the dangers of the journey and of the barbarism of the English. They began to lose heart, and Augustine was sent back to Rome to implore Pope Gregory to call off the Mission. The Pope issued a stern reproof to Augustine for having turned back after setting his hand to the plough, and he was ordered to rejoin the party at Aix with his position as leader of the Mission confirmed; he was made Abbot and given letters of recommendation to various bishops and leaders in Gaul urging them to give Augustine and his fellow monks every assistance. After many adventures, in the spring of A.D. 597 Abbot Augustine and his forty monks, together with some Frankish priests to act as interpreters, landed on the Isle of Thanet off the Kent coast.

A.D. 597

On arriving in Thanet, Augustine sent a message to Ethelbert, King of Kent, who replied that the newcomers should remain on the island until he could visit them. Shortly afterwards a meeting took place in the open air – Ethelbert insisted on this as a precaution against magic. Historians debate the exact spot where this meeting took place, but it could well have been at Ebbsfleet where a Victorian monument, called ‘St Augustine’s Cross’, now stands. Ethelbert gave the missionaries permission to cross the Wansum Channel, a stretch of water which separated the Isle of Thanet from Kent, to the Kentish mainland to preach the Gospel. In due course the party reached King Ethelbert’s capital, Canterbury. Bede gives us a vivid description of the procession as it entered the city chanting a litany and carrying on high a picture of Christ. Tradition has it that Augustine was exceptionally tall and towered head and shoulders above his fellow monks.


Once in the city Ethelbert provided Augustine and his party with lodgings by the Stablegate (near the present redundant church of St Alphege) and the use of St Martin’s church which had been restored some years earlier for the use of his queen, Bertha, who was already a Catholic. Bertha was the daughter of the Frankish king, Charibert, and her presence at the Kentish court was certainly a major reason why Pope Gregory judged that the time was right for a Mission to the English.

The conversion of her husband, Ethelbert, seems to have taken place soon after, for tradition says that he was baptised at Whitsun A.D. 597, possibly in the font which is still to be seen in St Martin’s church. About the same time, King Ethelbert gave Abbot Augustine a grant of land within the city walls, the site of the future Canterbury Cathedral and the Monastery of Christ Church.


There is little doubt that Ethelbert’s conversion was followed by that of his principal nobles and officials. The rapid and spectacular success of the Mission and the need to give the Church formal organisation led to Augustine’s return to the Continent, probably in the autumn of A.D. 597, to be ordained bishop by Vergilius, Bishop of Arles.

On his return to Canterbury, Bishop Augustine sent Laurentius and Peter, two of his companions, to Pope Gregory with a report on the progress of the Mission to date and a list of questions, some theological and some administrative, which were bothering him. In his reply, which was delayed until A.D. 601 on account of illness and his preoccupation with the Lombard invasions, Pope Gregory confirmed Augustine’s authority over other bishops to be created in England. With his reply, carried by Laurentius and Peter, the Pope sent a second group of missionaries, for it was obvious to him that more were urgently needed. In this second group of missionaries were two monks, Justus and Mellitus, who figure later in the story. At the same time, it appears that Pope Gregory sent Augustine the pallium, originally a sort of wrap-around cloak but nowadays a white woollen band with crosses worn over the chasuble, which is the sign of a Metropolitan Archbishop.


The Christianisation of Kent went ahead rapidly. We are told that 10,000 people were baptised, either in the Swale or the River Medway, at Christmas A.D. 597.

In A.D. 604 the second Kentish See was established at Rochester with Justus as bishop. Soon after, the Faith reached the Kingdom of the East Saxons (Essex), doubtless through Ethelbert’s influence with the East Saxon king, Saberht, who was his nephew. London was at that time the capital of the East Saxon Kingdom, and at the highest point in the city a church, dedicated to St Paul, was built, Mellitus becoming the first bishop of London.


It was about this time that Augustine had his first meeting with the Celtic clergy. Catholicism had survived uninterrupted in the North, Wales and Ireland since the period of the Roman Occupation of Britain.

The Celtic Church, because of its long isolation caused by the heathen invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries, had become only loosely affiliated with the rest of Christendom and had developed its own practices. It had, for example, different ways of calculating the date of Easter. Moreover, it was more monastic in its organisation. Its bishops had no clearly defined dioceses as they had on the Continent, and there were different practices surrounding the consecration of bishops and the form of the tonsure.

The meetings of Archbishop Augustine with representatives of the Celtic Church took place on the bank of the River Severn at a place which Bede tells us was known in his day as St Augustine’s Oak, and may well be the place now called Aust opposite the mouth of the River Wye. We have to rely on Bede, who was not favourably disposed towards Welsh Christianity, for the account of what happened at these meetings.

At their first meeting the Celtic clergy were loath to abandon the practises of their Church and to embrace the full unity of the Catholic Church, centred on the Apostolic See, which Augustine sought to bring, and it was decided to seek divine guidance through a miracle. A blind man was brought. The Celtic priests tried to heal him and failed; Augustine succeeded. Thereupon the Celtic clergy said that they could not give a final answer until they had consulted their colleagues. A second meeting was arranged, and on their way the Celtic representatives called on a hermit with a great reputation for holiness to seek his advice. The hermit said that if Augustine was a man of God they should heed his words, and when they asked how they should know this, the hermit suggested they should arrange to arrive at the meeting after Augustine. If he were a true follower of Christ he would be humble and rise to meet them: if he remained seated it would show him to be filled with pride. The advice was followed. Unfortunately, Augustine remained seated when the Welsh bishops arrived, and in consequence the meeting broke up without achieving anything. The Celtic Church went its own way for several decades longer, and it was not until the Synod of Whitby in A.D. 664 that the full unity of the Church, centred on the Holy See, for which Augustine laboured, was achieved.


Augustine died on 26th May, probably in the year A.D. 604, although the year is not certain. Shortly before his death he consecrated Laurentius as his successor, perhaps to avoid instability in the infant English Church.

He was buried in a roadside cemetery on the east side of Canterbury outside the city walls, the exact location of which has been lost. However, we do know that Ethelbert, prompted by Augustine, built a monastery on the east side of the city dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul which was incomplete at the time of Augustine’s death. Later in A.D. 613 when the abbey had been finished, Augustine’s body was transferred from its first resting place into the new abbey (which was later additionally named St Augustine’s Abbey by St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, in A.D. 978). The site of Augustine’s first tomb within the Abbey can still be seen as well as the tombs of several Archbishops of Canterbury and Kentish kings.

Over the next four centuries, various alterations, improvements and enlargements were made rto the original abbey building, founded by Augustine himself. In Norman times it was decided to completely rebuild the abbey on a far more splendid scale, and the original Saxon abbey was demolished. As part of the demolition and re-building process, the tomb of St Augustine was opened by Abbot Wydo on 6th September A.D. 1091. The body of the saint, dressed in his archiepiscopal vestments, was, according to contemporary accounts, found to be incorrupt. In due course, once the building of the new Norman abbey had been completed, St Augustine’s tomb was translated to an imposing shrine in the apse behind the high altar with Laurentius, the second Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mellitus, the first Bishop of London, on either side of him.

We are told by Goscelin, a monk of Canterbury who lived a little later in the 12th century, that the inscription on the tomb read: ‘Here lies the body of Saint Augustine, the noble and holy patron of the English, and their glory on high.’ After the new tomb had been dedicated, in fact that very same night, Abbot Wydo and a few of the older monks, removed the body from the tomb so as to prevent it falling into the hands of Danish raiders. They left a few small bones and some ashes in the tomb which had been dedicated that day and hid the body in a stone coffin in a wall under the east window. The knowledge of its real resting place apparently died with those concerned with its removal and re-burial, although there is strong evidence to suggest that in A.D. 1221 the tomb was rediscovered and the body reinstated in a dignified position within the Abbey. There it remained for a further three hundred years.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in A.D. 1538 under King Henry VIII it is very probable that the monks of St Augustine’s Abbey secretly removed St Augustine’s body, just as the monks of Christ Church probably secretly removed the body of St Thomas Becket from Canterbury Cathedral. One tradition states that St Augustine was buried at Chilham Church, some six miles south-west of Canterbury, but his remains have never been discovered…”
– This is an excerpt of the booklet “The 1400th Anniversary of St Augustine’s Mission to the English: AD 597-1997” by Canon Michael Bunce

Reproduction is permitted for personal use only.

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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Prayers for Ordinary Time


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