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MUCH WOOLTON, LIVERPOOL: SAINT JOHN ALMOND, “FULL OF COURAGE AND READY TO SUFFER FOR CHRIST”

The Norris family of Speke Hall

“The Catholics of Woolton owe the preservation of the Faith in great measure to the family of Norris, of Speke Hall, two miles distant from Woolton. For several generations the Norris family played a prominent part in the life of Catholic Lancashire; one of the most interesting proofs of this is a document, preserved in the Public Record Office, endorsed ‘A Note of Papists and Priests assembled at St Winefrid’s Well on St Winefrid’s Day, 1629,’ of which a portion is printed in Vol. III Mis. Cat. Rec. Soc. as follows:

On St Winefrid’s day, 1629…

‘The Lord Will. Howard (Belted Bill), the Lord Shrewsburie, Sir Tho. Gerard, Sir Will. Norris, Sir Cuthbert Clifton, Mr. Preston of ye Manner (Furness), Mr. Anderton of Clayton, Mr. Anderton of Foarste, Mr. Gerard of Ince, Mr. Bradshaw of Haigh Hall, Mr. Harrington of Button Hey, Mr. Blundell of Crosbie, Mr. Scarisbrick of Scarisbrick, Sir John Talbot of Bashall Hall, Mr. Latham of Mossborow and his five sons who are all priests; The Lady Falkland, and with her Mr. Everard, the priest; Mr. Price, Mr. Clayton, priest; Sir Thos. Gerrard hath two priests resident in his house, namely Pittinger (Dom Dunstan Pettinger, O.S.B.) and Umpton. At Sir William Norris’s house, Speke Hall, two, namely Richardson (Robert) and Holland. At Sir Cuthbert Clifton’s two priests, Anderton and Smith; also Mr. Arrowsmith’s clothes and the knife to cut him up are at Sir Cuthbert Clifton’s house. Mr. Preston of the Manner hath two priests at his house – viz. John Mitchell and John Sefton. Mr. Mayfield, the priest (Will. Maxfield), is archdeacon under the Bishop Chalcedony, of Speke near the seashore.’

Speke Hall, ca. 1923

Speke Hall, ca. 1923

Speke Hall lies seven miles south of Liverpool on the banks of the Mersey. It was restored in the reign of Elizabeth and is now probably the most perfect example of the ancient timbered house. It contained many hiding-places for the priests who resorted to it – one in particular was said to lead to a subterranean passage affording easy access to the shore. Father Gibson (Lydiate and its Associations) gives the following instance when this passage would probably be used: ‘1586, Richard Brittain, a priest receipted in the house of Will. Bennet, of Westby, about the beginning of June last, from whence young Mr. Norris, of Speke, conveyed the said Brittain to the Speke as the said Bennet hath reported. The said Brittain remayneth now at the house of Mr. Norrice, of the Speke, as appeareth by the deposition of John Osbaldston.’

The young ‘Mr. Norrice’ mentioned above became, on the death of his father, Sir William Norris of Speke. He adhered to the ancient Faith, and had a strange altercation in 1631 with Mr. More, complaining that this latter ‘had been too precise in examining the church-wardens touching his, Sir William, not coming to church and that it was ungentlemanly dealing.’ Unfortunately the ‘altercation’ was not limited to words, for Sir William Norris later ‘drew his sword and struck the Plaintiff therewith, he being then a Justice of the Peace,’ for which assault he was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay the plaintiff £50 damages.

His wife was a ‘notorious recusant’

Regarding this family, Mr. Gillow says: ‘Edward Norreys of Speke Hall, against whose name Lord Bourghley in his map (1590) has placed a + , was the son and heir of Sir William Norreys. This latter was in so much trouble on account of his adherence to the ancient Faith in 1568. Edward Norreys, who built the greater portion of the Hall, was returned in 1590 as a suspected person – in religious matters – conforming in some degree, but of ‘evil note’; his wife was a notorious recusant, and in 1598 he had to pay £15 to the Queen’s service in Ireland. His children mostly adhered to the Catholic Faith, and at least one of his children suffered for it. Edward died in 1606. His son, Sir William Norreys, is described as ‘not conformable to the laws ecclesiastical, now established,’ and two years later he was a ‘convicted recusant,’ paying double taxes. He died in 1630.’

Thomas Norris, son of Sir William, who compounded for his estate during the Civil Wars for £508, was probably the last Catholic owner of Speke. The property was sold in 1797 to Mr. Richard Watt, but in accordance with the will of the late Miss Watt, who died in 1921, Speke Hall will again return to the Norris family.

Speke Hall, ca. 1923

Speke Hall, ca. 1923

Rev. John Almond

It was while Speke Hall was still in Catholic hands that Rev. John Almond died for the Catholic Faith. He was born about the year 1577 at Speke, so one account says, or on the borders of Alperton, as he himself states in his examination. He went to school at Much Woolton, and passed thence to the English College at Rheims and then to that at Rome. Little is known of his life on the Mission, but the following account of him is given in Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests: 

…came to suffer at Tyburn for the Catholic religion…

‘On Saturday, being 5th December, 1612, between 7 and 8 in the morning, came to suffer at Tyburn for the Catholic religion John Almond, a man of the age of 45, by his own relation; yet in his countenance more grave and staid, beginning to be besprinkled with hairs that were white – who having tarried beyond the seas about ten years to enable himself by his studies returned into his native country, where he exercised a holy life with all sincerity, and a singular good content to those that knew him, and worthily deserved both a good opinion of his learning and sanctity of life… full of courage and ready to suffer for Christ, that suffered for him.’

‘Ready to suffer for Christ, that suffered for him’

Mr. Almond, Challoner says, was apprehended on March 22, 1612, and brought before Mr. John King, lately advanced to the bishopric in London. At his examination he showed wonderful courage and most extraordinary acuteness, as the following will show. [A – Rev. John Almond; B – Anglican Bishop John King]

B. What is your name? A. My name is Francis. B. What else? A. Lathome. B. Is not your name Molyneux? A. No. B. I think I shall prove it to be so. A. You will have more to do than you ever had to do in your life. B. What countryman are you? A. A Lancashire man. B. In what place were you born? A. About Allerton. B. About Allerton! Mark the equivocation. Then not in Allerton? A. No equivocation. I was not born in Allerton, but in the edge or side of Allerton. B. You were born under a hedge then, were you? A. Many a better man than I, or you either, has been born under a hedge. B. What! you cannot remember that you were born in a house? A. Can you? B. My mother told me so. A. Then you remember not that you were born in a house, but only that your mother told you so; so much I remember, too. B. Were you ever beyond the seas? A. I have been in Ireland. B. How long since you came thence? A. I remember not how long since, neither is it material. B. Here is plain speaking, is it not? A. More plain than you would give, if you were examined yourself before some of ours in another place. A. I ask, are you a priest? A. I am not Christ; and unless I were Christ in your own grounds, I cannot be a priest. B. Are you a priest, yes or no? A. No man accuseth me. B. Then this is all the answer I shall have? A. All I can give unless proof come in. B. Where have you lived, and in what have you spent your time? A. Here is an orderly course of justice sure! What is it material where I have lived, or how I have spent my time, all the while I am accused of no evil?

He flung some three or four pounds in silver amongst the poor that crowded about the scaffold

He thus continued to parry the questions put to him through a long and tedious examination, after which he was committed to Newgate Prison, from whence after some months he was brought to trial, upon an indictment of high treason, for having taken orders beyond the sea by authority of the See of Rome, and for remaining in this country contrary to the laws. At his trial he showed the same vivacity of wit and resolution as he had done in his examination, but was brought in guilty by the jury, though he neither denied nor confessed his being a priest; and what proofs were brought of his being such do not appear.

At his execution he prayed earnestly for the king and all the royal family, and that his posterity might inherit the crown of England for ever. He flung some three or four pounds in silver amongst the poor that crowded about the scaffold, saying: ‘I have not much to bestow or give, for the keeper of Newgate hath been somewhat hard unto me and others that way, whom God forgive, for I do. For, I having been prisoner there since March, we have been ill-treated continually, for we were all put down into the hole or dungeon, or place called Little Ease, whence was removed since we came thither two or three cart-loads of filth or dirt; we were kept twenty-four hours without bread, meat or drink, loaded with irons, lodging on the damp ground, and so continued for ten days or thereabouts.’

‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my soul’

He gave the executioner a piece of gold, and desired him to give him a sign when the cart was to be drawn away, so that he might die with the name of Jesus in his mouth. He often repeated the words, ‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my soul,’ and at the sign being given, he cried, ‘Jesu, Jesu, Jesu,’ and than hanging for the space of three Paters [‘Our Father’, i.e. The Lord’s Prayer], some of the bystanders pulling him by the legs to dispatch his life, he was cut down and quartered, his soul flying quickly to Him who redeemed us all. So far the manuscript written by an eyewitness, says Bishop Challoner, who adds: ‘Mr. Almond suffered at Tyburn, December 5, 1612, in the forty-fifth year of his age, the eleventh of his Mission.’

The Molyneux family came to assist the Catholics of Woolton

It was not long after the Norris family had ceased to be Catholics, that the Molyneux family came to assist the Catholics at Woolton. About the year 1700 Hon. Richard Molyneux purchased the Woolton Hall estate, comprising the Hall and about 400 acres of land. He was then, says Mr. C. R. Hand, contemplating marriage, and like other young men in similar circumstances he became anxious about the house, and like some young men he paid for the house out of the money which his wife brought him. Although Richard’s father died in 1717, and he then succeeded to the title as Viscount Molyneux, he continued to live at the Hall until his death in 1738. Religious, political, and financial difficulties prevented him from moving to Croxteth Park, the family seat. On May 8, 1728, he made an important agreement with his lawyer, Isaac Greene, who charged in his bill for attending his Lordship at Woolton, and thus the view that Lord Molyneux lived on at Woolton is confirmed. It has recently transpired that in consequence of fines for recusancy and other disabilities the family was at this period in such straits that Isaac Greene, shrewd lawyer as he undoubtedly was, proposed to take over all the Molyneux estates and allow his Lordship a small annual income. Fortunately the kind offer was not accepted!

The family was in dire straits in consequence of government fines for recusancy etc.

During the Jacobite troubles of 1715, Lady Molyneux invited Dom Richard Holme, or Helme, of Goosnargh, to officiate at Woolton as the first priest. He had previously been chaplain to the Molyneux family at Sefton and Croxteth Halls, but he remained at Woolton until his death on December 18, 1717. Father Holme was succeeded by Dom Lawrence Kirby, who resided at Woolton till 1731, when he was removed to Childwall, dying there on July 18, 1743. He was followed by Dom William Lawrence Chapney, who died at Woolton, April 21, 1732. Dom Placid Thomas Hutton was the appointed chaplain, officiating at the Hall until his death on May 17, 1755, and after him came Dom Edward Bernard Catterall.

The founding of St Bennet’s Priory

Lady Molyneux continued to reside at Woolton Hall until her decease, and she was buried at Sefton, March 20, 1766. During the year before her death, in order to provide for the continuance of the Mission at Woolton, she gave twelve acres of land to the Order of St Benedict, and a chapel and presbytery, to which the name of St Bennet’s Priory was given, were erected, under the direction of Father Catterall, in Watergate Lane. On its completion Father Catterall took up his abode there permanently. This was probably occasioned by the proposed sale of the Hall to Nicholas Ashton. Father Catterall died at the Priory on September 9, 1781.

His house and chapel had been burned down by the ‘No Popery Association’

The noted Dom John Bede Brewer, D.D., was the next priest, coming from Bath, where his house and chapel had been burned down and demolished by the members of Lord George Gordon’s ‘No Popery Association.’ Dr. Brewer was famous as an erudite and brilliant theologian, and became later President of the English Congregation of the Order of St Benedict. It was on his invitation that the “black nuns” of the Benedictine Order came to Woolton, where they opened a seminary for young ladies in 1795, and in 1808 they removed to Abbot’s Salford, Stratford-upon-Avon. They are now settled at Stanbrook Abbey, near Worcester.

A Protestant minister, who came across the distressed nuns at an inn, amid uncongenial surroundings, kindly helped them 

Another account gives further details. On one occasion, when a party of Carmelite nuns had been beheaded, their clothes were taken and given to their English sisters in the prison. When the dresses of the murdered nuns were brought to them, the recipients received the gift on their knees, kissed them, and wet them with their tears. Thanks to the nuns being English, they did not suffer death, and when food became scarce they were liberated. They made their way across the Channel to Dover, thence to London. A Mr. Holt, a Lancashire Protestant minister, came across the distressed ladies at an inn, amid uncongenial surroundings, and he kindly undertook to find a better lodging for them. Dr. Brewer, of Woolton, hearing of them, invited the party to come to Southwest Lancashire; so, in 1795, they travelled down from London in three parties by stage coach to Woolton. Here they found employment as teachers of the seminary in connection with the Benedictine Mission in that ancient village.

In 1818 Dr. Brewer left for Ampleford College, but he returned to Woolton, where he died on April 18, 1822, and was buried at St Peter’s, Seel Street, Liverpool. His office of President of the Benedictine Order occasioning frequent duties elsewhere, he was assisted by Dom James Maurus Chaplin, Dom Stephen Hodgson (died April 9, 1822), and Dom James Calderbank (died April 9, 1821).

A man of great ability

Dr. Brewer was followed by Dom John Jerome Jenkins, who only remained here five years, being succeeded in 1824 by Dom Samuel Maurus Phillips. The latter was a man of great ability, ‘and drew large congregations’; in 1828 he enlarged the chapel, soon, however, to be in its turn too small for the Catholic worshippers of the district. Father Phillips died in 1855, and was buried in the little cemetery. Among others buried there have been a number of Catholic Irish, who, in 1847 (the fever year), had fled there, seeking in vain to escape the pestilence, Mr. Lomas, of Allerton Hall, and Mr. H. Bullen. The latter in his day was a public man; his name appears frequently in the Road Surveyor’s book, he having signed these records of the old township of Woolton. When the vault of the Bullen family, which is now overgrown with ivy, was opened to receive the body of a child, a corpse was exposed, which was found to be petrified. It was taken to a pond, washed, and replaced in the grave. In the wall of the garden nearest to Woolton Hall are two pillars. These indicate the site of the gate through which Lady Molyneux, the original foundress of the Mission, came to the church. The path through the graveyard garden is decorated with patterns formed of stones, mostly small cobbles, of a Maltese Cross, a Heart, a Monstrance, and other religious emblems.

The present church of St Mary

The Catholic population of Woolton becoming too great for the Priory chapel, it was deemed necessary to erect a larger place of worship, and the present church of St Mary was built by Dom R. P. Burchall, D.D., and opened on October 28, 1860. Dr. Burchall lived for some time at the Priory, and was the first to be buried in the grounds of the church, where his body now lies in the south-west corner. His funeral in March, 1885, was the occasion of a most imposing demonstration, as he was regarded by ‘Roman Catholics’ as by actual right the lawful Abbot of Westminster.

In 1870 Father J. P. O’Brien built St Mary’s presbytery and schools; Father J. P. Whittle, in 1878, enlarging the schools, and adding new vestries, confessionals, and a handsome cloister to the church.

The old chapel being no longer required, it was pulled down in 1872, and an addition made to the Priory on a portion of its site. There is thus nothing at all left of the former chapel. The year 1910 being the fiftieth anniversary of the building of St Mary’s, the Rector, Rev. Vincent Cornet, considered it a suitable opportunity for a complete renovation of the church, which was carried out at a cost of £1,000. The church is now considered by all who visit to be very beautiful.

A secret passage

It may further be mentioned in connection with the Priory and its chapel that the addiwere, on the left-hand side of the doorway, was mainly built of the materials of the old chapel, and erected on part of its site. The lawn immediately in front of that portion of the house is the old burial-ground. The grave-stones were levelled, and are a few inches under the surface. The right-hand side of the house is the original presbytery. Local tradition asserts that a subterranean passage under the meadow once afforded communication between the Hall and the Priory chapel.

In times of persecution the priests were so poor and danger of robbery so great, that chalices of pewter seem to have been in common use

There is preserved in the presbytery a chalice of pewter. It measures 5 3/4 inches in height, is 3 1/8 inches across the foot, and 3 inches across the bowl. It has been in the possession of the priests at Woolton for many years, and was in all probability unearthed in the old Priory burial-ground. It is now so corroded as to give it the appearance of having been at one time embossed. Mr. Charles Hand, whose ‘Notes on Woolton’ we have been following, seems to suggest that being of pewter it could not have been used in the Mass, but was merely a ‘coffin chalice,’ used at the internment of some priest. These pewter chalices are, however, so common in Lancashire, and so often occur in company with sets of vestments and other things, uncountably forming a part of the priest’s baggage, that the prevalent opinion now is that in times of persecution the priests were so poor and the danger of robbery so great, that chalices of pewter were in common use. When nicely polished, the pewter chalice could with difficulty be distinguished from that of silver.

The Woolton cross

In October, 1913, the old village cross of Catholic days was restored, the following account being contemporary. The cross now restored must have stood in the heart of the old village from the fourteenth century. The stump of the cross was removed for a time when the new Speke road was made, but was returned to its place in the year 1901 by the kindness of Colonel Reynolds, into whose garden it had been taken. It is now restored to something like its original form. The Woolton cross is Maltese in form, treated florally, and stands on a pedestal 6 feet high. On the north and south sides the Cross of the Knights Hospitallers is incised to record the association of that body with Woolton in the twelfth century, they having owned the greater portion of the land, and having a house of their Order there, the situation of which has never been ascertained. On the bronze band which serves to bind the new part with the old is this inscription:

Woolton Village Cross: Crux Potestas Dei (The Cross is the Power of God).

Colonel Reynolds, in a letter of apology for non-attendance at the opening, wrote that they had indeed come to better times in Woolton. He remembered his father begging to be allowed to be the custodian of the cross years ago, when it was demolished to allow for the widening of the Speke road. He had respected those ancient monuments of religious feeling in days gone by. The chairman of the meeting, Mr. Arthur S. Mather, through whose generosity the restoration had been made, said that the last act of the Urban Council was to arrange to have the old village cross restored, so that when the district was handed over to Liverpool they might hand over the cross renovated and restored as a momento of the good old times.

How does the silver chalice dated 1697 fit into the picture?

An interesting link between Woolton and the Molyneux family is the silver chalice, now at St. Alexander’s, Bootle. Dean Powell stated that in 1875 he bought this chalice from a dealer in old silver, who had thought of melting it down. It stands 7 inches high and weighs 13 ounces. On the underside of the foot is engraved in Roman capitals of the time: EX DONO D. C. MOLINEUX DNO RICHARDO HOLME ANGLO-BENED 1697. The giver of the chalice was Caryll, third Viscount Molyneux, who with his brother Richard raised two regiments for the King in the great Civil War, and was outlawed by Parliament. He died at Croxteth February 2, 1699. The recipient of the gift was Rev. Richard Holme, mentioned above as Chaplain to the Molyneux family at Sefton and Croxteth Halls, and latterly at Woolton.

Granting that Dean Powell is correct in his history of the Molyneux chalice, whence does the chalice now at Woolton come from? It is quite the equal of the Molyneux chalice, bears the hall mark H.L. and a lion passant, while on the foot is the lettering, ‘M.H., obiit Sepr. 2°, 1694.’ I had hoped to identify this with one of the Molyneux, so that the lettering would read, ‘Molyneux gave this chalice to Holmes.’ On the other hand, Dom Gilbert Dolan, O.S.B., in his paper to this Society (Hist. of Lancs. and Ches.) statestates that in 1717 Richard Hitchmough, the noted informer, deposed before the Commissioners for Forfeited Estates that ‘at Mrs. Harrington’s, at Aigburth, Co. Lancs., was one silver chalice and paten, which he had seen and used when officiating at the Altar there.’ But if M. H. refers to one of the Harringtons we have still to find out which Harrington died September 2, 1694; so far my enquiries have failed to do so.

How the government tried to break people’s spirits and succeeded in some cases

With reference to the statement that the Molyneux family had been greatly impoverished by fines, other examples, selected out of thousands are here given. The Norris family had an estate in West Derby, now marked by Norris Green. William Norris, of West Derby, had two sons, Henry and John, both living in 1566. Andrew, grandson of Henry, as a convicted recusant paid double to the subsidy of 1628. His children petitioned for annuities from the estate, which had evidently been sequestered for papacy. It was found that the sons were recusants, and a third of their annuities was allowed; the daughters were also recusants; the estates of Henry, the eldest brother, were under sequestration for recusancy. John Norris, brother of Henry, had three sons – Charles, Richard and Andrew – all Jesuits. But their cousin, Richard, son of Henry Norris, yielded to the persecution. Thomas Marsden, Vicar of Walton, wrote in 1681, asking a favour of him, as he ‘was not yet cleared in the Exchequer for his recusancy, and had heard his name was in the list of such as should have £20 a month levied upon their heads.’ Under these circumstances, the threat of fresh persecution, as the result of the infamous Oates plot, appears to have broken the resolution of ‘Mr. Norris, of Derby,’ who conformed to the legally established religion. It is a sad reflection that his apostasy did not save his estates; the family disappeared from notice, and all the property was later in the hands of a banker, of Liverpool (Vict. Hist., p. 37).

Instances of the fines inflicted on the poorer Catholics of those days may not be without interest. William Ballard, a leaseholder in Speke, had two-thirds of his estate sequestered for recusancy. Margaret Harrison, a widow, of Hale, had two-thirds of her estate sequestered for recusancy, and on her death her grandson, Thomas Harrison, applied for the removal of the sequestration. Thomas Lathom, of Allerton, suffered the like penalty (Vict. Hist., p. 103).

Again, in 1593 Edward Tarleton was considered ‘an obstinate recusant,’ but ‘could not be found by the Sheriff’; five years later he was, as a recusant, assessed at £10 for the Queen’s service in Ireland. His son and successor, also Edward Tarleton, in 1628, as a ‘convicted recusant,’ paid double to the subsidy. He died in 1653, leaving two sons. On account of their religion their estates had been sequestered (Vict. Hist., p. 127).”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., 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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