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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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TOWNELEY HALL AND BURNLEY, LANCASHIRE: FINED FOR BEING CATHOLIC AND FAR WORSE

“This John, about the sixth year (1564) of her Majesty’s reign (Queen Elizabeth I) that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman Faith was imprisoned first at Chester, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gate house in Westminster, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire. And so now at 73 years old and blind, he is bound to appear, and to keep within five miles of Towneley, his house, and who has since the statute of 23 Elizabeth (1581) paid unto the Exchequer £20 a month for not going to the Protestant church and doth still; and there is paid already above £5,000.”

 

Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

 

TOWNELEY HALL AND BURNLEY

“Even previous to the so-called Reformation, Towneley Hall and its family had considerable influence in Lancashire, for in 1454 Richard, Bishop of Lichfield, granted licence to John Towneley for an Oratory and Mass at Towneley during the Bishop’s good pleasure. One of the first chaplains was Rev. Richard Parker: whilst in 1481 the Abbot of Whalley asked Richard Towneley to appoint Rev. John Green as chaplain in the place of Richard Parker, lately deceased.

Ye Chronicles of Blackburnshire

In 1590, Towneley Hall figures on Lord Burghley’s map as a marked house, indicated by the cross on it, as a sign that the Towneley family, for its fidelity to the Catholic Faith, was to be wiped out by fines and imprisonments.

For remaining faithful Catholics, the family was to be wiped out by the government with fines and imprisonments

These severe measures continued for fully two centuries, yet at the end of that period the family emerged into a state of opulence never dreamed of by the Townley of 1450, whilst their defence of the Catholic Faith was recognised as the chief cause, under God, that the old Faith was still preserved, and was able, between the years 1800 and 1900, to blossom forth with such wonderful vigour. We are fortunate in having for all this period the history of the late Rev. R. Smith, to whom the present writer readily acknowledges his indebtedness. This [article] on Townley is almost entirely condensed from Ye Chronicles of Blackburnshire.

Each stone of the Chapel was marked

The chapel, which the aforesaid priests served, was originally on the second floor. Until the year 1700, the front of Towneley Hall consisted of this chapel and library. Charles Towneley removed the chapel and sacristy to their present position. Each stone was marked, and everything removed with religious care and reverence and rebuilt on the present site. On the beautifully worked door of the confessional to the right of the altar, there is the date 1601, and the initials of John Towneley, of Richard, his son, and of the Confessor. The public entrance to the chapel was from the back up some steps, and though the door is now walled up, the mark of the stairway outside can still be seen.

In this chapel hundreds of our Catholic forefathers, under varied conditions and great fears, have heard Mass and received the sacraments

Regarding the chapel itself, which one cannot visit with feelings of deep affection and devotion, it measured 33 feet in length and 18 feet in width. About one-third of the length formed the chancel and the rest was the have. It is 12 feet high with a flat ceiling, composed of elaborately moulded oak beams and joists; but the chancel portion is double this height, thus affording room for a good altar and fine reredos, over which was a window. The entrance door to the chapel was handsomely carved, and to the north-east side of the chapel was the entrance to the small priests’ room, or vestry. In this chapel hundreds of our Catholic forefathers, under varied conditions and great fears, have heard Mass and received the sacraments; for long years in penal times it was the centre of Catholic life in the North of England. It served Catholics for many miles round, till, in 1817, Burnley Wood Chapel was built, and after that it continued as the family chapel till about 1895.

These holes were the only sources of light and air to the imprisoned priest in the hiding-place

In the Hall there are now two hiding-places: the larger and better-known one is situated at the south end of the central hall. The entrance to it is through what is really the ceiling of this secret chamber, the floor of which is composed of daub, a mixture of clay and rushes. This material would no doubt be selected in order to prevent any sounds being heard from the hiding-place: it measures 18 feet by 15 feet and 6 feet high, which is very large for a hiding ‘hole’, as they used to be called. In the walls are four holes, about 9 inches square, almost right through the masonery. My guide suggested that these had been made by inquisitive visitors, who were probing for further secret chambers; but I pointed out to him, that so far from this being the case, these holes were as old as the main walls themselves. Each hole is built of square stones until within a few inches of the outside, when the opening has evidently been closed up from outside. These holes were the only sources of light and air to the imprisoned priest, and thus they played a most important part in the designing and building of the room. But when the chapel was moved to its present site and a new priests’ hiding place was made, these holes were closed up from the outside. The second hiding-place was only discovered a fortnight before my visit in August, 1923. It measures 6 feet by 5 feet and is 4 to 6 feet high, being situated immediately above the sacristy and alongside the present chapel.

A fascinating discovery – preventions in case of a government raid (removing all traces of Holy Masses)

A very quaint paper was recently published in the Burnley Express, August 1, 1923. It had been sent to the Mayor of Burnley by Lord Abingdon, whose first wife was Caroline, daughter of Charles Towneley. It is here given in the original spelling.

A NOTE OF THE PRIVATE PLACES AT TOWNELEY.

In the library over against the closet door the middle panell slides back, and the same over against the window. On the floor over against the door, the base slides up and takes out; in the floor is a hole, in which an iron hook is to be put, and will open to a large place by lifting up the whole floor.

At the back side of the library door, the side wainscote may be taken out, and lets you into a place, where some boards may be taken up, which will let you into a large place, which held all the library books: at the chapel door taking up one board, which is not nailed fast, will let you into such another.

In the chapel the altar table draws out, and also the upper steps, which will let you into a large place, in which may be laid all the guilding, which is only put on with pegs, and takes to pieces: care must be taken not to knock the gilding in taken down or putting up.

Over the cannopy of the altar in the library lies a door for the tabernacle balls for the top of the pillars, instead of the flower pots, and also capitals and bottoms instead of the gilding, so that the place may be made use of though the gilding be taken down.

At the steps going from the stone stairs to the garret a step may be taken out, where there is a large place all over the green parlour. In the second room in the gallery the wainscote opens in the middle of the chimney upon hinges, where there is a hole in the wall not very big.

In the third room in the gallery is the close stool closet, the pannel towards the garden has a latch within, which is opened with an iron pin at a hole in the door, which lifts up the latch, which may be made faster by those within: it has a seat and will hold two persons.

No servants should be trusted with this, but upon some occasion some trusty servant may be made use off for some of the places to be used, but not made acquainted with them all.

Copied from a paper found in 1793 in my father’s pocket book and wrote by my great I grandmother, Ursula Towneley; she was D (daughter) of Fermor of Tusmore in Oxfordshire.                            C.T.

 

The Chapel at Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

The Chapel at Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

 

Before 1700 or after?

Her marriage took place in 1685 and her husband died in 1711, so that it is difficult to determine whether the note refers to the house before the alterations of 1700, or after. Then, again, extensive alterations have taken place since the Hall became the property of the Burnley Corporation. For, to make the two long galleries for which the upper storeys of the fine old castle-like building are now famous throughout the country, dividing walls had to be taken down and other changes made, whilst at different times there have been numerous alterations carried out elsewhere.

The Catholic prisoners had to bear the cost of their own food and lodging during imprisonment, and that at extortionate rates

Of the different members of the family who suffered for the Catholic Faith, the first in the long list is John Towneley, of whom a contemporary account says: ‘This John, about the sixth year (1564) of her Majesty’s reign (Queen Elizabeth) that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman Faith was imprisoned first at Chester, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gate house in Westminster, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire. And so now at 73 years old and blind, he is bound to appear, and to keep within five miles of Towneley, his house, and who has since the statute of 23 Elizabeth (1581) paid unto the Exchequer £20 a month for not going to the Protestant church and doth still; and there is paid already above £5,000.’ This fine, says Father Smith, was only one of the many which he had to pay; the Catholic prisoners, moreover, had to bear the cost of their own food and lodging during imprisonment, and that at extortionate rates.

Binding them in London, away from their family, friends and acquaintances

In 1584 the Privy Council states that Dean Nowell – one of Elizabeth’s commissioners – had requested that John Towneley, committed at Manchester for not conforming in matters of religion, and now fallen into certain diseases, might be suffered to repair to London to consult with the best physicians. The Council directed Mr. Towneley to be sent up in the company of some trusty person, so that he may not be suffered to go out of the way to any house than the ordinary inns. At the same time the Council decided that ‘both Sir John Southworth and Mr. Towneley having paid their fines according to the law, cannot be longer imprisoned, for that would be a double punishment for one offence.’ The Council thought them at liberty more dangerous in Lancashire, where they greatly allied and friended, than in London, and therefore it was better to bind them to remain in the Metropolis.

More sequestrations 

Another notable member of the family, from the Catholic point of view, was Richard Towneley, who was born at York in 1628. He became famous as an astronomer and mathematician. He sold the Nocton estates to repair the heavy fines and losses entailed upon his estates by the sequestrations of the Commonwealth. Of his children, Thomas became a secular priest, and served for some forty years on the Lancashire Mission – namely, from 1693 to 1733. Five more of his children embraced religious life on the Continent. John became a monk and Richard a Carthusian at Nieuport; Margaret and Cicely became nuns at the English Augustinian Convent, Paris; of these, Margaret was born at Towneley in 1664, and took the veil in 1683, became Subprioress in 1714, and died in 1731. Cicely was born at Towneley in 1676, took the veil in 1695, and died in 1728. Frances, their sister, married, but, being left a widow, she, too, entered the same convent as a boarder in 1719, whilst her daughter Elizabeth became a nun at Cambrai in 1712.

Richard Towneley, the father, along with Edward Tildesley, took a prominent part in the Rising of 1715. They were imprisoned, and would have lost their lives, but so great was the horror created by the barbarous way in which the other condemned prisoners had been executed, that the jury accepted the plea of Towneley and Tildesley – that what they did had, in a manner, been forced upon them – and acquitted them.

How greatly the fines for recusancy and loyalty had reduced the fortunes of this once great family may be judged from the following letter of Richard Towneley, dated February 12, 1716, to Mr. Richard Starkie, at his Chambers in Furnival’s Inn, London:

Sir,

Yours received, and I must beg you will not fail going as soon as you receive this to the Commissioners and acquaint them that Thomas Hilton came this day along with an Attorney and two Bailiffs and took forcible possession. I desire they will give me orders per the first, what I shall do, for they threaten to sell the small goods I have procured for my poor children and throw them out of doors within a few days. Dear Sir, I beg you will not fail me in this by the very first, and you will ever oblige,

Your Humble Servant

RICHARD TOWNELEY.

Unless they renounce their faith, they inherit nothing, because their late father was Catholic till the end

That the measures of repression after the Rising fell especially heavy on the Catholics is shown from the following letter from the Sheriff of Lincoln. Mrs. Towneley was a daughter of Lord Widdrington.

‘May it please your Honours, in obedience to your Honours’ precept I made enquiry… after the Widdringtons to receive their goods at Blankney House, and all has been sold except these few… the only item is a large table in the hall, supposed to be an heirloom. The family of the late Lord Widdrington are to receive nothing out of his immense estates, because their father was a Catholic, unless every child shall be educated in the Protestant religion, and orders were given to one of the principal Secretaries of State that he might proceed to sell their estates.’

These were sold in 1729, and realised the enormous sum for those days of £96,525.

How closely the Towneley were associated with the Royal Stuart family is seen from the prominent part two members took in the Rising of 1745. Sir John Towneley, a great and learned scholar, was tutor to ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ and took part in the campaign of 1745-46. After the Battle of Culloden he escaped to France, and long kept up his friendship with the Prince and his brother, the Cardinal Duke of York. Sir John died in London in 1782, aged eighty-five.

They were publicly butchered by the common hangman in London

Francis Towneley became Commander of the Manchester Regiment. He was the bravest and most faithful to his Prince of even those devoted followers, and defeated Carlisle till forced to capitulate. Contrary to the written promise of William, Duke of Cumberland, Towneley and other Lancashire gentlemen were tried and found guilty of treason. They were publicly butchered by the common hangman in London, and the horrible injustice of their death heaped additional unpopularity on George II. Towneley’s fate became the theme of the following popular ballad – William being, of course, the Duke of Cumberland.

Towneley’s Ghost

The bloody axe his body fair

Into four partes cut,

And every part and eke his head

Upon a pole was put.

 

When the sun in shades of night was lost

And all were fast asleep,

In glided Towneley’s murdered ghost,

And stood at William’s feet.

 

‘Infernal wretch, away,’ he cried,

‘And view the mangled shade,

Who in thy perjured faith relied

And basely was betrayed.

 

Embraced in bliss, embraced in ease,

Tho’ now thou seem’st to lie,

My injured shade shall gall thy ease

And make thee beg to die.

 

Think on the hellish acts you’ve done,

The thousands you’ve betrayed;

Nero himself would blush to own

The slaughter thou hast made.

 

No infants’ shrieks nor parents’ tears

Could stop thy bloody hand;

Not even ravished virgins’ tears

Appease thy dire command.

 

But oh, what pangs are set apart

In hell, thou’lt shortly see;

When even all the damned will start,

To view a friend like thee.’

 

With speed, affrighted William rose

All trembling, wan, and pale

And to his cruel sire he goes

And tells the dreadful tale.

 

‘Cheer up, my son, my darling son,’

The bold ursurper said;

‘Never repent of what you’ve done

Nor be at all dismayed.

 

If we on Stuart’s throne can dwell,

And reign securely here,

Thy uncle Satan’s King in Hell,

And he’ll protect us there.’

 

Charles Towneley – He never neglected his duties as a faithful Catholic

Charles Towneley, nephew of the above [Francis Towneley], was born in 1737, and succeeded to the estates at the age of five. At ten years of age he was sent to the English College, Douai, and thence to Paris. Later he resided much in Rome, and made a magnificent collection of statuary, which he playfully called his ‘dead family.’

He acquired a European reputation, yet he never neglected his religious duties as a faithful Catholic, nor his obligations to his friends at Burnley. He regularly spent some months of every year at Towneley Hall, embellishing its grounds, and forwarding the interests of its people. Dignified, amiable, cheerful and accomplished, untiring in his care of his tenantry and the poor of his estates, a splendid cultivator of the beautiful, the figure of Charles Towneley appeals to the imagination as that of an ideal Englishman of the eighteenth century. (Father Smith, p. 182.)

After his death in 1805, the British Museum acquired his collection, which now forms one of the very greatest treasures of our National treasure house. ‘In a general way, Lancashire is thought of chiefly as a county which has made important contributions to machinery and manufactures. It is pleasant to remember that for the enjoyment of such works of art as the Capitoline Venus, and other beautiful and noble sculptures, which compose the Towneley gallery, the thanks of the nation are due to the taste, energy, enterprise and liberalities of a Lancashire Worthy, Charles Towneley.’ (Lancs. Worthies, II Series, p. 200.)

Great is Truth, and it will prevail

Peregrine Towneley, born in 1772, succeeded in 1813, gave the land for the Burnley Wood chapel, and himself contributed £1,000 towards the building. In 1831 he was made High Sheriff of Lancashire, an office held by his ancestor John Towneley in 1532. Stirring times had indeed filled those past three centuries, but the family had been true to the motto ‘Tenez me Vraye’ (‘Hold the Truth’) and certainly few better examples could be found in the renewed prosperity of the family in the nineteenth century of another: ‘Magna eat Veritas et praevalebit’ (‘Great is Truth, and it will prevail’).

What do we know of the priests of Towneley and Burnley?

Of the priests who successively attended the Catholics of Towneley and Burnley, Robert Woodruff entered the English College, Rheims, in May, 1577; he was ordained in Rome, 1582, and sent to England along with John Nutter and Samuel Conyers. In 1586 ‘It appeareth that Robert Woodruff, a seminary priest, was received at the house of Janet Woodruff, of Bank Top, in the parish of Burnley, this half year, by common report.’ In 1590 he was arrested again at Crosby Hall, and imprisoned along with his host, Mr. Richard Blundell, who died in prison the following year. In 1603, after thirteen years’ imprisonment, Father Woodruff was reprieved and sent into exile, as reported in the Douai College Register, and after that he is lost sight of.

Father William Richmond, after his escape from York Castle, lived with the Towneleys at Towneley Hall, where he probably died in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.yer. Gillow says that he searched in vain for Father Richmond’s burial notice at St Peter’s, Burnley, and he thinks that Burnley, and especially Towneley, were too closely watched for this priest to be able to stay here long without being recaptured, so nothing more is known of him (p. 131).

Some of the district’s martyrs’ biographies

But constancy to the Old Faith was not confined to the squire and his family: the yeomanry and peasantry of the district were just as staunch. No less than three martyrs are most closely connected with the district.

Hang, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London

Of these, the first in order was John Nutter, born at Reedley Hallows, Burnley, who entered the English College, Rheims, in 1579, and was ordained in 1582. He came to England intending to land at Scarborough, but the ship foundering upon the coast of Norfolk, Mr. Nutter was put on shore at Dunwich. He was at once arrested and sent to the Marshalsea, in London, and the following year, 1584, he was tried and condemned with four other priests. After lying in irons five days in the Tower, he was drawn, together with the same four confessors, to Tyburn, and there hanged, cut down alive, bowelled and quartered.

He was prisoner in the Tower of London as early as 1583, and was tortured

The second martyr was Robert, brother of the above, who was ordained priest in 1581, and in the following year came on the English Mission. He was a prisoner in the Tower as early as 1583, where he was twice tortured with the ‘scavenger’s daughter’. He was banished in 1585, but returned, and was again imprisoned. Escaping with Venerable Edward Thwing, he was rearrested in Lancashire and executed at Lancaster, July 26, 1600, solely on account of his priesthood. (Challoner.)

He openly acknowledged that he was a priest, and as such was sentenced to death

The third martyr was Thomas Whitaker, born in 1611 at Burnley, where his father was schoolmaster. At the age of twenty-three he went to the English College, Valladolid in Spain, the Towneleys paying the expenses of his journey. He was ordained in 1638, and at once came on the English Mission. He exercised his priestly functions with great zeal for five years, until he was seized and committed to Lancaster Castle. Thence he escaped, only, however, to be captured again in 1643, when he was again imprisoned in Lancaster. After three years of most holy life in prison he was brought to trial, when he openly acknowledged that he was a priest, and as such was sentenced to death. He suffered at Lancaster, August 7, 1646, in the thirty-third year of his age and the eighth of his mission. Further details of his life may be read in Bishop Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

The number of those confirmed shows that many of the old Catholics still survived

In 1661 Rev. Peter Gifford came to be Chaplain to the Towneleys. In 1675 he was Secretary of the famous Lancashire Infirm Clergy Fund, and in 1682 was elected Vicar-General of the North. He died, aged sixty-six, in 1689, at Towneley Hall, where he had probably found moderate security under the protection of the family. During his stay at Towneley, Bishop Leyburne held a great confirmation there. King James II. had come to the throne in 1685, and had heartily welcomed the Bishop, lodging him in Whitehall, and granting him a pension of £1,000 a year. There would be much rejoicing at Towneley when the good Bishop came, and the number of those confirmed – 203 – shows that many of the old Catholics still survived. Burnley at that time was only a small town.

Pre-reformation vestments, perhaps originally from Whalley Abbey

Father Thomas Anderson, born in 1675, of the Euxton family, was the next priest. He was ordained in 1702, and in 1705 came to Towneley Hall and lived with the family. His record of baptisms, marriages, and stipends of Masses still exists. After the Stuart Rising of 1715 he was convicted as a recusant at the Lancaster Sessions, when he was described as ‘one Anderton, a reputed Popish priest at Towneley.’ That year he received from Mrs. Ursula Towneley £10 for the half-year, his annual salary being £20. Father Anderton’s notebook was sold at the last dispersion of the Towneley Hall library, and became the property of the Burnley Literary and Scientific Society, while at a still more recent date (1922) the Burnley Corporation secured the very valuable pre-Reformation vestments, which are now on exhibition at their old home, Towneley Hall. It is said that these beautiful vestments originally belonged to Whalley Abbey.

Father Anderton spent the whole of his missionary career at Towneley. He was greatly respected by his patrons, and esteemed by the numerous Catholics who formed his congregation. He was a member of the Old Chapter, and in July, 1732, was elected Archdeacon of Lancashire. He closed his days peacefully at Towneley, July 13, 1741, aged sixty-six.

He was succeeded by Rev. George Kendal, who also succeeded him as Archdeacon of Lancashire. At this time Towneley was the centre and headquarters of the secular clergy, the archdeacons, and later the vicars capos topic, residing there. In 1744 Dr. Kendal resigned the Mission of Burnley and Towneley to take charge of that at Fernyhalgh.

Rev. John Harrison, born at Cottam in 1714, was priest there in 1746, when his house and chapel were burnt down by the fanatical mob from Preston. Father Harrison removed to Towneley and served that Mission for thirty-one years, until he was no longer able (1746-1777). He then went to live with his brother in Preston, and died there in 1780. At this period (1773) Bishop Petre reported to Propaganda that there were sixty-nine residences for priests in Lancashire, and that the Catholics numbered 14,000. The following year Bishop Walton confirmed at Burnley, but the numbers – only thirty-nine – seem to show that the Catholics had been dwindling under the bitter persecution of those times. In 1784 Bishop Mathew Gibson confirmed twenty-five at Burnley.

Dear to God and the poor

Rev. Thomas Caton was priest from 1785 to 1811. He gathered together the various registers which begin in 1705, and which he himself continued till 1809. He was succeeded by Rev. Louis Merlin, whose epitaph may be seen in St Peter’s churchyard, Burnley, as follows: ‘There rests here, dear to God and the poor, Rev. Lewis Merlin, who, an exile from his home in France, first in Scotland, then in England, gave himself to works of piety and charity; at length, broken down by his arduous labours, he died at Towneley December 12, 1819, in his fifty-fifth year.’

Father Charles Lupton came to Burnley in 1819, and died at Towneley five years later. Previous to his death, Father – later Canon – Hodgson came to relieve him, and remained twenty-five years. In 1824 the Easter communicants numbered 116, and in 1825 150. In 1829 Burnley Wood Chapel was enlarged, and in 1849 it was replaced by St. Mary’s, which was opened amidst great rejoicings, Cardinal Wiseman being the preacher of the day.

The opening of St Mary’s Catholic church after centuries of suffering

But bigotry was still very rife in Burnley; the town was flooded with a most sacrilegious poster, and the walls of the town were plastered with ‘no popery’ placards; the exterior carvings round the church were greatly damaged, and the statue of Our Lady, within a niche of the church, was often shot at, but was never hit. St Mary’s Bazaar Book of 1902 truly says: ‘It is a far cry now to the time when, in 1817, the first Catholic church was built in Burnley Wood. Up to that time the chapel in Towneley Hall had been from time immemorial the only place of worship for miles round. It seems difficult to realise that, when the little Burnley Wood chapel was built, it was the only one for Burnley, Todmorden, Bacup, Colne, Barrow Ford, Nelson, Brierfield, Lowerhouse, and Padiham. Now all these places have churches of their own, whilst in Burnley itself we have four churches where our grand old Catholic Faith is practised.’

Witness of the piety and sufferings of past generations

Towneley Hall, in consequence of mining and other industrial operations, became quite unsuited for a private residence, and was sold to the Corporation of Burnley in 1902. In the following year it was opened as an art gallery and museum, so that may of our readers will be able to see round it, and to visit the chapel and priests’ hiding places, witnesses of the piety and sufferings of past generations which have borne such fruit in our own happier times.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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