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OUTLAWED FOR BEING A CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN: ACCOUNTS OF BRINDLE & HOGHTON TOWER, LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND

From then he was declared an outlaw

“Whether we consider the castellated tower – one of the finest in the kingdom, or the pride of the de Houghtons – or the heroic sacrifice which the head of the family made in leaving it and his country for religion’s sake, or, again, the constancy of the country people which has persevered to this day, despite the forcible Protestantism of the hero’s grandson, on each of these accounts Hoghton and Brindle are unequalled in interest even in Catholic Lancashire.

‘At Houghton Hygh, which is a bower

Of sports and lordly pleasure,

I wept and left that lofty tower

Which was my chiefest treasure.

To save my soule and lose ye reste

Yt was my trew pretence;

Lyke frightened bird, I left my neste

To keep my conscience.’

Mr. Gillow says on the death of his father, August 5, 1558, Thomas Hoghton succeeded to the family estates. At this period William Allen, afterwards Cardinal, visited Lancashire, and was a guest at Hoghton Tower. In common with the gentry and people of Lancashire, Hoghton repudiated the new religion which was being forced upon the country.

Every type of pressure was devised by the government to force Catholic Christians to renounce the Faith

Every kind of pressure was devised by the Council to drive the people into attendance at the Protestant service. Fines and imprisonment were inflicted in rapid succession, and Catholics were outlawed and deprived of all protection. Under these circumstances, feeling that he could not remain in the country and keep his conscience, Hoghton took the advice of his friend Vivian Haydock, and in 1569 he hired a vessel and sailed from his mansion of The Lea, on the Rible, to the coast of France, and thence proceeded to Antwerp. From this he was declared an outlaw, and possession was taken of his estates.

The state took possession of his estates

On March 17, 1576, his half-brother Richard obtained a licence from Queen Elizabeth to visit the exile in Antwerp, with intent to persuade him to submit to the royal pleasure. Hoghton was anxious to return, but could not make terms with the Court to retain his religion; he therefore remained in exile until his death, which occurred at Liege, June 2, 1580, aged sixty-three. He was buried under the high altar of the English College, Douai, which he had helped to found. He charged his executors to remove his body to the place where his ancestors lay in the parish church of Preston, of which the Hoghtons were patrons, when God should have mercy on his country, and restore to it the Catholic Faith and service.

‘Hys lyfe a mirrour was to all,

Hys death wythout offence;

Confessor, then, lett us him call,

O blessed conscience.’

His son and namesake, Thomas Hoghton, went with his father into exile, and was not recognised on the escheat in 1580. He was placed with Dr. Allen at Douai College, whence he left to visit his father in Brabant in 1577. He probably returned, for he matriculated in the University of Douai, was ordained priest, and proceeded to the English Mission. He had no sooner arrived in Lancashire than he was seized and thrown into Salford Gaol, where great numbers of recusants were confined.

The great band of confessors of the Faith who perished in prison unrecorded

There his name appears in the list of priests returned to the Council by Edmund Trafford and Robert Worsley in 1582. He was one of those who ‘do still contynue in their obstinate opynions; neyther do wee see anye likelyhoode of conformytie in any of them.’ His name continues in the lists of recusants imprisoned at Salford until January, 1584, after which it is lost sight of, and in all probability he went to swell the great band of confessors of the Faith who perished in prison unrecorded.

The half-brother of the exile, and curiously his namesake, Thomas Hoghton, was slain in a feud with the Baron of Newton in 1589, and his eldest son, being a minor, was given in ward to Sir Gilbert Gerard, the Master of the Rolls, to be brought up a Protestant. This system of gaining over Catholic families to the new religion was constantly practised, as in the case of Sir Roger Bradshaigh and others who were cruelly robbed of the Faith. All the rest of the family were true to the old religion, and the Hoghtons would still have been Catholics but for this unjust proceeding. Thus wrote Mr. Gillow in 1887, but recently the heir to the Hoghton estates has become a Catholic, and having married a Catholic lady, their children are being educated in the Faith for which the de Hoghton of 1580 was so staunch a confessor.

It is of interest to remember that it was at Hoghton Tower in 1617 that King James, in the present banqueting hall, solemnly knighted the Sirloin of Beef, an incident which the writers of the Victorian History of Lancashire, despite their very full account of Hoghton, have thought fit to omit. Possibly the facts are none too decorous, but the incident tells us much of the manners of the royal guest and his court.

Venerable Edmund Arrowsmith

To turn now to matters more ecclesiastical, the earlier directories of the Archdiocese of Liverpool (e.g., 1915) give the date of the Brindle Mission thus: 16 – , 1786. The latter is the date of the present church, cut in stone above the doorway of the chapel, and very pretentious the date looks. The former figures, 16 -, need some completion. Fortunately, there are plenty of records from which to compile our story.

Venerable Edmund Arrowsmith

Venerable Edmund Arrowsmith

The chief jewel in the crown of the Brindle Mission is the holy martyr Edmund Arrowsmith, who attended to the Catholics in the district for some years, and the story of whose arrest is so graphically given in Dom Bede Camm’s Forgotten Shrines. Father Arrowsmith came to the English Mission in 1613, the year after his ordination, and resided for the most part with relatives of his family at Denham Hall. Mr. Gillow in his Notes on Brindle (Cat. Rec. Soc., vol. 23) mentions that about 1622 Father Arrowsmith was apprehended and brought before Dr. Bridgeman, Bishop of Chester, with whom he had a controversy before being committed to Lancaster Castle. Thence he was released about the time of the negotiations for a marriage between Prince Charles (later Charles II) and a Spanish Princess. Shortly afterwards he joined the Society of Jesus, as he had long desired, making his novitiate on the mission, but spent two or three months in Essex before his profession under the name of Rigby in 1624. From that date he continued to serve the Mission at Brindle and the neighbourhood till his apprehension in 1628. He was arraigned at Lancaster, condemned to death for being a priest, and martyred August 28, 1628, aged forty-three. The martyr’s right hand was secured by the Gerards of Bryn, and to this day is held in great veneration, at Ashton-in-Makerfield.

A spring of very clear water

According to Mr. Gillow, the usual residence of the priest about this time was at St. Helen’s Well, where also was the principal place where Mass was said in the district. The house and well are thus described by Kuerdon, writing about 1675: ‘Over against Swansey House, a little towards the hill, standeth an ancient fabric, once the Manor House of Brindle, where hath been a chappel belonging to the same, and a little above it a spring of very clear water, rushing straight upward into the midst of a fayr fountain, walled square about in stone and flagged in the bottom, very transparent to be seen and a strong stream issuing out of the same. This fountain is called St Ellen’s Well, to which place the vulgar neighbouring people of the Red Letter (Catholics) do much resort with pretended devotion on each year, upon St Ellin’s day (Aug. 18).’

From the Forfeited Estates Papers in the Public Record Office

Mr. Henry Taylor, in his Ancient Crosses and Wells in Lancashire, gives some diagrams of the Well along with his interesting account, in which he says: ‘I could not find the chapel, but some of the stairs in the dilapidated house close by may have formed a portion of such an edifice.’ This was the residence of the Gerards of the Well, and so continued till the early part of the eighteenth century, of whom William married in 1619; Oliver Gerard of the Well was buried in 1664; the will of James Gerard of St Ellen’s Well was proved at Chester in 1665, and that of Alice Gerard of the Well in 1679; besides many later entries in the Brindle parish registers.

This Alice Gerard may justly be considered the foundress of the present Brindle Mission. Previous to her death in 1679, probably about 1677, she gave the site, and built upon it a new chapel and house in Gregson Lane, known as Newhouse. Among the Forfeited Estate Papers in the Public Record Office are several depositions made before the Commissioners in reference to this chapel. ‘George Hinton, of Brindle, Co. Lancaster, swore this 18th July, 1718, saith he hath known Newhouse ever since it was built by Alice Gerard, viz. about forty years ago, that one Green lived there about ten years and died about thirteen years ago, and this deponent did frequently hear the said Green say Mass there, after whose death Mr. Hutchison, a Roman priest, succeeded him, and now usually resides there; That there are about twelve acres of ground belonging to the said house.’ Forty years from 1718, the date of the above deposition, would take us to 1678, which may thus be safely inserted in future Catholic directories as the date of the Brindle Mission.

Similar evidence to that of George Hinton was given by William Hinton, William Turner, Thomas Oram, who mention Mr. Green, Mr. Hutchison, and Mr. Huddlestone as successive priests, and the date at Newhouse of its beginning as forty years previously. Samuel Peploe again, in his account of estates granted to superstitious purposes in and about Preston, Co. Lancs., reported: “Newhouse and grounds belonging to it in Brindle is mostly let in parcels. One Hutchison, a Popish priest, has lived on it some time, who succeeded Mr. Green, a priest, who died there.’

From the above we gather that Mr. Green came to Brindle in 1695. He died in 1704, and was buried at the parish church of Brindle. Mr. Hutchison succeeded, and died at Brindle August 24, 1717. Mr. Huddlestone had charge of the Mission till 1721, when he was succeeded by Dom William Placid Naylor, the most distinguished of the monks in charge of Brindle, who during the last three years he was there was President-General of the English Congregation. His earlier years at Brindle were full of activity. He first acquired a cottage and 3 1/2 acres of land from a family of the name of Coope, and in 1726, with the aid of various benefactions, he obtained possession of Stanfield House with the grounds on which it stood. Mr. George Hull, in his historical sketch of Brindle, mentions that before he built the chapel Father Naylor, like his predecessors, did duty at several Mission stations. One of these was Jack Green, which in 1860 belonged to a Mr. Livesay. When the old house there was pulled down, Father Smith (Brindle, 1829-1874) brought the old chalice and the vestments from the garret to his own house. Another station was at Woodhouse, going towards Clayton Green; another was at Slack, where the Fazackerleys lived; another at Thorpe Green. At these stations the priest celebrated the rites of the Church, and on one Sunday he announced where he would officiate the next; for he could not take them in rotation, because then Catholics had to go to Mass by stealth, and it was dangerous to allow it to be known where services would be held.

It was dangerous to allow it to be known where Mass would take place

Mass was also said at a house, one end of which now faces the entrance to Gregson Lane Mill. This old house has strong claims – even at the risk of a slight digression – to a passing notice here. It is believed to have been erected about 1580, and is a fine example of the comfortable yeoman’s dwelling of that period; an interesting feature of the building being a small room in which the ironwork round the fireplace is hammered into a representation of the wheat and vine, emblematic of the bread and wine used in the Mass. It is said that at the beginning of the eighteenth century this house was the residence of the Gregsons of Gregson Lane, one of whom placed his initials, ‘G. G.,’ with a cross and the date, ‘1700,’ on the lintel of the porch, thus giving later generations the erroneous impression that the building was erected in that year. From it were taken, about 1880, some ancient vestments, which are now in the museum at Stonyhurst College. Near this house, about twenty years ago, was dug up a very ancient font, possibly of the ninth century; and in the garden of a cottage close by stands a beautiful old wayside cross. Local tradition asserts that at this same old house the Venerable Edmund Arrowsmith, the Jesuit martyr, said his last Mass. There are other interesting traditions of his presence in this neighbourhood.

Brindle Presbytery and former chapel, ca. 1923

Brindle Presbytery and former chapel, ca. 1923

He had laboured long in his Mission

Mr. Hull continues his historical sketch: ‘The former priest’s house at Brindle and part of the chapel, Brindle, erected for and by Father Naylor, are still standing. They adjoin the present priest’s house, a portion of which, in its turn, formed part of the second chapel, the present church being really the third building erected for divine worship on this spot.’ As priests could not then hold property, the buildings erected by Father Naylor were conveyed to him in the name of Mr. Woodcock, a Protestant friend, who lived at Walton, and whose successors lived at Bury, where Father Smith saw them, when he arranged for the transfer of the property. Father Naylor, on account of his position as President-General, appears to have been absent from Brindle, on business connected with the Order, from time to time; for it is on record, in the register of the Mission, that he left Brindle for ‘the last time’ on July 16, 1769. He then retired to his Monastery of St. Lawrence at Dieulouard, in Lorraine, and when he got there he told his brethren – to quote Father Smith’s account – ‘that he had laboured long in his Mission and had come to lay his bones in his old monastery. He lived there two years before he went to his rest.’

He had, indeed, laboured hard on the Mission, and most of the time filled important posts in the English Congregation. He was Definitor of the Province in 1733, Definitor of the Regimen 1737, Provincial of York 1741-1766, in which year he became President-General. It was he who built up the Brindle Mission, so that it became the parent of several others in the neighbourhood, and the Catholics of the district owe much to his remarkable foresight and ability.

Many of the judges and magistrates were heartily ashamed 

Not content with labouring hard himself, Father Naylor appears to have done much to induce others to take up the then arduous and perilous work of the priesthood, for there are records of at least three members of his congregation who left Brindle to be educated at the houses belonging to the English Congregation which were then maintained on the Continent. These were the Rev. John Anselm Bolton, who was professed at St Lawrence’s, Dieulouard, in 1751; the Rev. William Dunstan Garstang, professed at St Edmund’s, Paris, in 1753; and the Rev. Ambrose Waring, professed at Dieulouard in 1761. The name of the first of these three – Father Bolton – is connected with what was most probably the last of the trials for high treason to which Catholic priests were liable until the end of the eighteenth century. During the time he was chaplain and incumbent at Gilling Castle, Yorkshire (1764-1793), he was, through the ill-will of a discharged bailiff, accused and tried for his priesthood; or, in other words, simply for having taught the Catholic Catechism to his parishioners. Many of the judges, magistrates, and other authorities of that date were heartily ashamed of the atrocious penal laws which they were called to administer. This seems to have been especially their feeling in the case of Father Bolton, and the learned counsel who appeared for him took full advantage of it.

He procured a catechism, took out its pages, and substituted pages of blank paper. When the proper time came he asked the discharged bailiff who had betrayed Father Bolton if this book, which he held up, was anything like the book from which he had seen Mr. Bolton teach Popery. The ex-bailiff boldly declared that it was ‘the very same book.’ ‘Was he sure?’ ‘Quite sure.’ ‘On his oath?’ ‘Yes.’ Counsel passed the book over to the Judicial Bench, and from there it went to the jury. It was, of course, found to contain not a word of Popery; and the priest was, to the credit of the Court, acquitted. This Father Bolton afterwards had charge of a mission at Ampleforth, in Yorkshire, and from his house, which still stands, grew the noble pile now known as St Lawrence’s Abbey. He died on December 22, 1805, and a fine portrait of him is to be seen at Ampleforth, which has been reproduced by Dom C. Almond in his History of Ampleford Abbey, where he most generously acknowledges the share the good monk from Brindle had in establishing what was to be the successor of his own Alma Mater at Dieulouard.

A succession of remarkable men

Father Naylor’s successor at Brindle was Rev. Joseph Lawrence Hadley, who was there from 1767 to 1802, having acted for two years as Father Naylor’s assistant. Father Hadley built the present spacious and substantial church, which bears the date, as already mentioned, over its main entrance. After serving Brindle for nearly thirty-six years, Father Hadley retired to Liverpool, where he died. He was, in common with other Catholics of that date, interred in the burial-ground of St James Protestant Church, at the top of Parliament Street. At this time the congregation numbered about 600, whilst in 1784 Bishop Mathew B. Gibson confirmed 168 persons at Brindle. About this time the children of the district received such education as could then be afforded them at several small schools. One of them, known as ‘Old Betty Slater’s,’ was at the Straits; another, kept by one ‘Dicky’ Wilson, was at Coupe Green, which is said to have taken its name from the local family already mentioned. On the erection of the present church, the former chapel is believed to have been used as a school.

Immediately after Father Hadley’s retirement in 1802, the Mission was placed under the care of Rev. James Alexius Pope, and of him his successor, Father Smith, said that ‘he believed no mission ever had a more deserving or a better priest than Mr. Pope was.’ But the same words might have been used with equal propriety of Father Smith himself, the truth being that during the long period of 153 years the Brindle Mission was blessed with a succession of remarkable men, the four of them sharing between them the century and a half. Father Smith’s great desire was, if he knew a boy who was promising for the Church, to get him to college and ultimately admitted to Holy Orders. In this he was singularly successful. Among those whom he was instrumental in getting thus trained were Rev. J. C. Proctor, O.S.B.; V. R. Canon Carter, afterwards of Bolton; Rev. M. G. Brierley, O.S.B.; V. R. Canon Baron, afterwards of Corby, Lincolnshire; Rev. Will. Baron; V. R. Canon Walmesley; Rev. William Crook; Rev. Edmund Crook; Rev. Henry Ryley; Rev. James Thompson; Rev. Thos. Parkinson; Rev. J. A. Worden, O.S.B. There was one embargo that Father Smith always put upon the priests who owed their training to his efforts, and that was that in the Holy Sacrifice they should never forget the congregation of Brindle. The good Father died at his post on January 29, 1874, and was interred in the graveyard adjoining the church. In the early days of his incumbency a former Brindle boy, who had risen to a position of affluence by his industry and integrity, built the schools which have now done duty for three generations, and on which the following inscription may still be read: ‘Erected by Mr. Joseph Knight, of Chelsea, for the benefit of the Brindle congregation, and as a token of respect for his native place, A. D. 1831.’

…in times of prosperity as in times of suffering and persecution

The Brindle Mission is the ‘mother’ of Brownedge, Walton, Clayton Green, and Leyland. ‘It is,’ says Mr. Hewitson, in his Country Churches and Chapels, to which we would refer the reader for further ‘racy’ details, ‘an elevated pastoral district, with a peaceable, widely-spread population, and has some of the most puzzling roads in the Western hemisphere. We have managed a few roads in our time, but in all our wanderings we have met with none more mixed up or perplexing then those in the arcadian region of Brindle. It is indeed an old-world spot, the chapel snugly hid away in a deep dell and not seen until one is within fifty yards of it. But it was placed there in times of persecution; and all the surroundings have the same air of peaceful retirement so greatly favoured by our Catholic forefathers.’ But the days of retirement are past, and we may justly hope that Brindle and Hoghton will remember their former glories and be an example to Catholic Lancashire in times of prosperity, even as they were in times of suffering and persecution.”

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

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BIRCHLEY HALL, WIGAN: THEY REFUSED TO SIT IDLY BY, WHILE THEIR FAITH AND THE FAITH OF THEIR FATHERS WAS TORN UP BY THE ROOTS

“They refused to sit idly by while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots”

He purchased Birchley Hall, Lancashire, in the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558)

“Birchley Hall and its chapel are fortunate in having for their historian the late Dean Powell, for many years priest at Birchley. A large portion of the following account is taken from a folio volume, now kept in the priest’s house, while much of it is derived from two articles in the St. Helen’s Lantern of February, 1889, for which the good Dean supplied the information.

Passing over the earlier history of the Manor of Birchley, and the derivation of the name, we get to the solid ground of fact in 1558 – the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth – when Christopher Anderton, the founder of the Andertons of Lostock, purchased Birchley estate from one Roger Wetherelt. This Christopher Anderton was a successful lawyer, and appears to have acquired the property for ‘an old song.’

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Everything was disorganised at that time

Everything was disorganised at that time, and land was about the worst investment a man could make, unless he meant to be a lay ‘Vicar of Bray.’ The Sovereigns of those ‘merrie days’ simply played shuttlecock with Catholic estates. However, Christopher, thanks to his legal acumen, and, it must be added, to his ‘dangerous temporisings,’ died in 1593, a man of many acres. He was succeeded by his son, James, also a lawyer, and also a dangerous temporiser, and it was he who built Birchley Hall. He died without children in 1618, leaving the extensive family possessions to his younger brother, Christopher. This gentleman lived to enjoy them only one year, and having several children, he left Birchley as a separate estate to his third son, Roger, who thus founded the Andertons of Birchley.

He set up the first Catholic printing press in England since the Reformation

Regarding the chapel, it is not quite clear whether James or Christopher built it, or who served it till 1645, but it is certain that it was erected about 1618, and it is probable that some member of the family did duty in it in the interval. There was scarcely a family of note in those days but numbered a priest among its members; the high-spirited gentry refused to sit idly by, while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots. Certainly the Roger just referred to, unlike his uncle and grandfather, was a staunch recusant, and not satisfied with merely acting on the defensive, he carried out an aggressive warfare through the medium of a printing press which he set up in the Hall – the first Catholic press in England since the Reformation. Roger was a very learned man, and he wrote some of the works himself, but there is much confusion as to the authorship of many of the books. Those written under the name ‘John Brereley’ are now thought to have been the work of Lawrence Anderton, nephew of Roger. On this point Mr. Gillow says: ‘Among the Blundell of Crosby MSS. is a list of works ascribed to Roger Anderton by his own son Christopher in 1647, but other hands are known to have written many of these works; and it is therefore pretty clear that Roger Anderton again set up the press at Birchley, and that most of the works in the list were only printed by him.’ The list is given here, as it shows the style of literature of our Catholic forefathers. This, be it remembered, is the list sent in 1647 to William Blundell by Rev. Henry Heaton, being a copy of one sent to the latter by Christopher Anderton.

1. The Christian Manna.

2. White Dyed Black. (This work is ascribed by Oliver to Thomas Worthington, D.D.)

3. Keepe your Text.

4. The Pseudo-Scripturist. (By Fr. Silvester Norris, D.D., S.J., 1623.)

5. One God; One Faith. (By Fr. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias John Brereley, under the initials W. B. 1625. He was about this time in Lancashire, and probably resided with Roger Anderton.)

6. The Legacy. (The Bishop of London His Legacy or Certain Motives of D. King, late Bishop of London, for his change of Religion and dying in the Catholic and Roman Church. 1622. Written by Musket, a priest, says Gee, who is very wrath about it.)

7. The Converted Jew. (Published in 1630 in the name of Fr. John Clare, S.J., though it was not written by him. Dr. Oliver remarks that the ‘printer’s office possessed no Greek type, and there could have been no efficient reader or corrector of the press.’ If this were printed by Roger Anderton, the date, 1650, clearly proves that the press was again set up after the seizure.)

8. Rawleigh, His Ghost; (or a feigned apparition of Sir Walter Rawleigh. Translated by A. B. 1631.)

9. Campion Translated. (This was probably the English translation of Campion’s Decem Rationes, of which an edition was published in London in 1606.)

10. The Non-Entitie of Protestancy.

11. Puritanisme the Mother; Sinn the Daughter.

12. An Apologie of English Armenianisme.

13. An Antidote against Purgatorie.

14. Maria Triumphans, Being a Discourse wherein the B. Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is defended and vindicated from all such Dishonours and Indignities with which the Precisions of these our days are accustomed unjustly to charge Her.

15. Adelphomachia, or Ye Warrs of Protestancy.

16. Bellarmin of Eternal Felicitie. (Translated.)

17. Bellarmin of the Lamentation of ye Dove, translated. (This may be the translation made by William Anthony Batt, O.S.B.: The Mourning of the Dove; or of the great Benefit and Good of Teares. III Books. Written in Latin by the most illustrious Card. Bellarmine of the Society of Jesus, and translated into English by A. B., Anthony Batt, O.S.B. 1641.)

18. Bellarmin of ye Words of Our Lord.

19. Clavis Homerica.

20. Miscellanea.

21. Luther’s Alcoran.

22. The English Nunne; (being a treatise, wherein the Author endeavoureth to draw young and unmarried Catholike gentlewomen to imbrace a votary, and religious life. Written by N. N. 1642.)

23. The Catholicke Younger Brother.

24. A Panegyricke, or Laudative Discourse.

25. Bellarmine’s Controversies (the whole of which were translated into English by Roger Anderton, and sent by him to Rev. Henry Heaton at St Omer, in two large tomes, but were never printed.

A great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England

Probably all the other works in the foregoing list were printed at the Anderton Press. Roger Anderton by his printing press thus rendered a great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England, and we cannot too highly praise the sportsmanlike pluck which Roger showed in daring such risks as he did in setting up the press at a time of most bitter persecution, and in again restarting it after it had been destroyed by order of the Council.

At a time of most bitter persecution

He had six sons and four daughters: four of his sons became priests and three of his daughters nuns; one of his sons turned soldier and fell in 1645 while defending Greenhalgh Castle, near Garstang, for Lord Derby against the Parliamentarians – a fact which goes to prove how true Catholics were at this time, as indeed they have ever been, to the Throne. The elder daughter, Elizabeth, married John Cansfield, of Cansfield and Robert Hall, North Lancashire, an ancient Catholic family now represented by Lord Gerard of Bryn. The Cansfields, says Mr. Gillow, appear in the Recusant Roll from the very first, until the family became extinct, and the immense sums they paid in penalties for the recusancy of both their sons and daughters is something astonishing. Mary, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Cansfield, taking to him as her dower the Birchley estate. Thus did Birchley become the property of the Gerards , after which it became of only secondary importance, and was assigned as a residence to the dowagers of the family. It was bought in 1898 by Mr. John Middlehurst, largely through the efforts of Dean Powell, who thus had the great satisfaction of saving it from falling into non-Catholic hands.

I was always a Catholic and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life

Of the priests who served the Birchley Mission, Roger Anderton came in 1645. He had been educated at St Omer’s College, in the North of France, and at the English College, Rome, where he was entered under the name ‘Edward Poole’ – Poole being the surname of a family connection. In Foley’s Records of the English Province, S.J., is the following passage about the youth. In answer to the usual questions put to students on entering the English College, he says: ‘My name is Roger Anderton. I am 18 years of age, and was born in the County of Lancaster. My parents are Catholics, wealthy and of high family. I have six brothers and four sisters. Nearly all my relations are Catholics. I made my rudimentary studies at home and at St Omer’s College. I was always a Catholic, and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life.’ The examination is endorsed ‘Edward Poole.’

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names. Roger above adopted the name ‘Poole’; two of his brothers assumed the name Shelley, and another that of Stanford, the latter being their mother’s maiden name. Roger was ordained priest in 1645, and in the September of that year he came to take charge of the Mission of Birchley, forming thus the first link in an unbroken chain of priests that have since laboured in this Mission.

Supplying imprisoned priests with food

He was created Archdeacon of Lancashire – a dignity which no longer exists – and was the first Secretary of ‘The Lancashire Infirm Secular Clergy Fund,’ which in those days was devoted to supplying imprisoned priests with food. He died, full of years, in 1695, leaving a sum of £200 for the maintenance of a secular priest to officiate at Birchley on two Sundays every month; a bequest which his niece, Same Mary Gerard, subsequently, in 1723, enjoined her executors to respect, in a long document, copy of which is in the folio volume before-mentioned.

Clad in a white sheet, a certain man of the Congregation confessed his crime

After the death of Roger Anderton, Rev. Richard Jameson settled here for a time, but his brother, Thomas Jameson, alias Seddon, was the real parish priest, and attended to the Mission from 1698 to 1717. Then Rev. Thomas Young, alias Brooks, figured here for a few months. In 1719, Rev. Thomas Lancaster appeared on the scene; he served Garswood and Orrell, as well as Birchley. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. Emerick Grimbaldstone, a yeoman’s son – and could any name bear a more yeomanlike ring? He was born at Standish, near Wigan.

The next priest was Rev. Henry Dennett – the hero of the canonical penance incident as follows: The discipline of the Catholic Church in past ages required that those who had shocked the public conscience – particularly by sins against the Sixth Commandment – should publicly expiate the scandal. It happened in the year 1801 that a certain man of the Congregation created a great scandal by a gross act of immorality; and one Sunday, clad in a white sheet, he was made to kneel at the altar-rails, confess his crime, and receive the reproofs of his pastor. This, claimed Dean Powell, was the last canonical penance of which there is any record in England, though I may mention that in the Highlands of Scotland such penances were not uncommon at a later period than 1800.

Fr Penswick was the last survivor of the old Douai priests

Father Sennett died in 1803, and was followed by the man who left the deepest mark on the Birchley Mission – the Rev. John Penswick, son of the then agent for the Gerard estates. He was a great favourite with the Lord Gerard of the time, and died in retirement at Garswood in 1864, at the venerable age of eighty-six. He was the last survivor of the old Douai priests, and lies in the churchyard at Birchley, all his predecessors having been buried at Windleshaw. It was he who built the present church in 1828. There is a very fine portrait of him in the sacristy at Birchley. Rev. Patrick Fairhurst succeeded; then came Rev. John Hardman, who built the schools in 1860; Rev. Thomas Walton; Rev. Joseph Wrennall, who built the chancel of the church and the presbytery; Rev. Austin Powell, who was priest from 1872 till 1910; and Rev. Joseph Rigby, at present in charge of the Mission.

No government informers ‘polluted’ this particular neighbourhood

In connection with some of the earlier history of Birchley, Dean Powell remarks: ‘It will not be out of place to consider here some of the disabilities under which Catholics suffered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Passing over the more bloody persecution of Queen Elizabeth’s days, by the laws still in operation in 1778, a priest convicted of saying Mass was liable to imprisonment for life; a Catholic who received his education abroad forfeited his estates, which could be claimed by the next Protestant heir; a son who became Protestant could take possession of his Catholic father’s property; no Catholic could acquire any legal right to property by purchase; and if we enquire how it was that none of the priests at Birchley in early times fell into the hands of the law, the answer, of course, is that no informers ‘polluted’ this neighbourhood.

It was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that priests were allowed to wear black clothing

Living at the Hall, or at all events in the same block, the priests appeared in the public eye to be merely country squires. They farmed, until not many years ago, a large part of the estate; they were not then, as now, addressed as ‘Father’; indeed, there was nothing in their dress to denote that they were priests – for it was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that they were allowed by law to wear black clothing. And what is here said of Birchley is true of all the Catholic districts of Lancashire. The Catholic people were so numerous, and so devoted to their priests, that these could live amongst them in safety even though the laws condemned them to the aforesaid penalties.

Reporting Catholics as a source of extra income

By degrees also the Protestant magistrates came to have a great respect for the priests, of which numerous examples might be quoted. For instance, in 1778, the Rev. Thomas Weldon, who is buried at Windleshaw Abbey, was arrested and taken before Mr. Hughes, J.P., of Sherdley Hall, on the charge of exercising faculties as a priest. Some informer, in the hopes of obtaining the reward of £100 awarded by the Act of William III, had set the law in motion, but Mr. Hughes declined to hear the case, saying that Mr. Weldon was a quiet, amiable neighbour.’

Elizabethan style

And now to return to the Hall, the centre of so much Catholic activity. Of the many historic sites in Lancashire interesting to Catholics, not one that I have visited is in such perfect preservation as Birchley. The house is in the Elizabethan style, with large mullioned windows, and although these had been replaced by modern window-frames, in many cases the present tenant has restored them to their old style with most pleasing effect. The rooms are large, all the ceilings being supported by fine oak beams, and a portion of the old staircase remains, though the greater portion of it has been removed elsewhere. The furniture throughout is of date similar to that of the Hall itself, and the whole is in the most perfect order, thanks to the care of the present family, to whom the Catholic associations of the Hall give it a title to their veneration and respect, which is most charming to witness.

Keeping guard on the roof against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers

The chapel portion is the left wing as you approach the Hall. The old priest’s house was on the ground floor, and was, until the building of the schools, occupied by the teachers. The chapel is reached by a flight of stone steps on the outside, and is of very considerable size, considering the period at which it was built. It measures 30 feet long, width 22 feet, and height 18 feet. The old altar and altar-rails still remain, whilst round the walls are quaint Stations of the Cross. We can well realise that ‘when finished it created great excitement amongst the honest country folk, who thought that their chapel could now vie in splendour with any in the land’ – and where, indeed, in Lancashire did such a chapel exist in 1618, and if not in Catholic Lancashire, then where else within these islands?

A trap-door and a hollow wall with a secret panel in it

On the epistle side of the little sanctuary is the vestry, and here in the floor is a trap-door some 2 feet square. A hollow wall with a secret panel in it used to stand over this trap-door, which gives access to the room below, whence the pursued priest could either remain in concealment till the danger was past, or make his way through another secret door into the Hall. In the room adjoining the chapel is an opening, now built up, which led on to the roof. This would no doubt be used by watchers, for it was the custom of that time to keep guard against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers, more particularly while Mass was being celebrated.

A ‘mobile’ altar 

Some years ago a chalice of pewter and vestments were found in the priest’s hiding place mentioned above; these are now preserved in the Presbytery. Here, too, are three or four altar-stones of early date, thin and small, so that they could easily be carried from place to place, as was necessary when the priests had no fixed chapels wherein to say holy Mass. Another chalice, small, but very handsome, bears the inscription, ‘Ex dono Annae Blounte, uxoris Jacobi Anderton… 85,’ which Dean Powell considered to be 1685. James Anderton died December 16, 1673; he had married Anne, daughter of Sir William Blount, Bart., of Todington. The chalice is beaten silver, gilt, and hashas all the appearance of being earlier in date than the gift date noted above.

Perpetual Masses are celebrated annually for Sir William Gerard, fifth Baronet, who died in 1721, and for Dame Mary Gerard, his widow; for Sir William Gerard, son and successor of the above, who died in 1732; also for James Anderton, second husband of Dame Mary Gerard. I cannot better conclude this sketch of one of the most interesting Missions of Lancashire than in the words of Dean Powell, written many years ago. ‘It is fitting,’ wrote the good Dean, ‘that the following priests and Benefactors of the Birchley Mission should long be remembered and their anniversaries duly celebrated:

‘March 6. – Sir Robert Gerard, ninth Baronet, who died in 1784. He increased the annual interest of the monies left by Mr. Roger Anderton from £12 to £20.

March 15. – Robert, first Lord Gerard, died in 1887. He gave £300 and the land for the school…

April 8. – Rev. Emerik Grimbaldstone. He long served Birchley and died in 1786…

August 2. – Sir William Gerard, eleventh Baronet, who died in 1826. He gave the Church land and £1,000 towards the building…”

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

 

 

 

 

 

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