Old Grammar School, Middleton

The Old Grammar School that stands today on Boarshaw Road was built in the reign of Elizabeth I. However, the school first came into existence in the porch of nearby St Leonard’s Church , having been set up by Cardinal Langley. Curates from the church would have been the teachers. Alexander Nowell and his brothers had attended the original school and, on the death of one of the brothers, Alexander used the money he inherited to re-found the school in 1572. He also set up scholarships so that some boys could proceed to Brasenose College in Oxford, where the brothers had been educated. Queen Elizabeth I, who had been petitioned to allow the re-foundation, agreed to renew the Duchy of Lancaster payments that had lapsed. Her ‘letters patent’ stated “… there shall be forever a free and perpetual Grammar School within the said town and parish of Middleton“.


Old Grammar School, Middleton. Originally ‘The Free School of Queen Elizabeth in Middleton’

In 1586, a new school building was built and this is the one we see today. It is made of local yellow sandstone blocks, the walls being over two feet thick on the north and south sides and three feet thick on the east and west ones. The mullioned windows and quoins (the dark blocks on the corner of the building) are made of millstone grit. The long rows of windows were designed to maximise light, and the fireplaces were put into the corners to give more room for the windows. The design and construction was advanced for its time, in comparison to other Middleton buildings.

Over the ensuing decades, the school had problems with endowment moneys not being paid by those that were obligated to do so. This included Brasenose College and the Duchy of Lancaster.  The situation became particularly acute during the Civil War. A letter was drafted to Oliver Cromwell after the war ended stating that the school was “unable to pay present and former schoolmasters”.

A further problem was the decline in the demand for teaching Latin, as university entry became less popular. Emphasis in other schools started to be given to more ‘commercial subjects’ rather than classical ones, but Middleton Grammar was slow to update its curriculum.

In 1777, an earth tremor caused damage to both St Leonard’s Church and the school. The following year the Rector Richard Assheton stated that the roof and windows were still in a particularly poor condition.

James Archer, a new master in 1781, led a revival in the school’s fortunes. He had large structural repairs and building work carried out. He taught Greek and Latin as well as ‘commercial education’ to the older students. The younger ones were taught by undermaster James Heywood who also used the monitorial system. This is where senior pupils (aged 10, 11 and 12) taught younger ones by rote learning. It was during Archer’s time that Sam Bamford, writer, social reformer and leader of Middleton contingent to Peterloo, attended the school. Bamford recalled that the  master taught at the east end of the schoolroom, while the undermaster had the west end. Having two classes in one room must have had led to a problem with noise and was a common challenge in single room educational establishments. Records from the time show that many pupils rode donkeys and horses to school and let them graze in the field over the brook that runs  nearby.


Side view of the Old Grammar School with the later Schoolmaster’s House joined on to it

In 1836, the Schoolmaster’s House was added on to the building and this still stands today. Made from red brick, it has its entrance on the first floor, connected to Boarshaw Road by a stone bridge. Each floor consisted of a big single room heated by a large fireplace. This later addition of accommodation for the teacher is a very similar situation to Leyland’s Tudor Grammar School, which also has a later brick schoolmaster’s house.(see our web page on it here)

When a new Church of England school was built nearby, Middleton Grammar lost pupils and was forced to close its elementary class. In response, the master raised the fees to compensate, but even more students left. When James Jelly joined as a teacher in 1851, the total on roll had declined to just 11 pupils. In 1865, he found himself unable to pay for an assistant, but worse was to come. In that year, a damning report came out following the visit of Edward Bryce for the Endowed Schools Inquiry Commission:

Bryce described the building as old and ugly. He said that the interior was neither well ventilated nor well lit. The small stove and stone floor meant that the boys had to endure very cold conditions. The brook running next to the school was described as black, foetid and prone to flooding the building. In summation, Bryce described it as the most woebegone school in Lancashire, with the exception of Oldham, and recommended a new school be built. Jelly was quick to defend the school to the local press, but its reputation, however unfairly, must have been damaged.

DSCN8052 (2)

The Whit Brook can be seen at the right hand side of the picture – flooding of the school was a real problem

Fourteen years later, the Reverend J.O. Jelly succeeded his father, becoming master to 28 pupils. He began to build up the rolls again and in 1888, when the Charity Commissioner inspected, there were 54 pupils in total. Latin was still being taught and a few pupils learnt Greek as well. Mathematics was an important part of the curriculum, but the school was criticized for its science teaching because there was no laboratory and few pieces of equipment.

By the turn of the century, the school was once again struggling as Hulme Grammar and local board schools were proving popular rivals. Reverend Jelly had to let his assistant master go and was forced to take on part time clerical work to supplement his meagre income supplied from just 18 pupils. When Jelly died in 1902, he was buried with his father in St Leonard’s churchyard. Jelly senior had been master for 25 years and his son for 23 years. Their grave can still be seen today.

The school closed and Brasenose College put it up for sale. It was bought by Alfred Butterworth, who donated it to the Parish Church Council so that it could be used as a Sunday school. This continued until the 1930s, when it fell into disuse and started to suffer from vandalism. In 1965, the Middleton Operatic and Dramatic Society took it on with a 21 year lease, but when they moved out it was again neglected. When the Parish Church Council took it on 1990 it really was in a vulnerable state, in much need of repairs and a function. A trust and restoration appeal was set up, with moneys received from Heritage Lottery Trust, English Heritage, the local council, Pilsworth Trust and Middleton Pride.

DSCN8048 (2)

The aim was to restore the exterior and interior as close as possible to its original Tudor state. The slate roof was repaired with new matching tiles, held in place by oak pegs. The later low ceiling was removed, revealing the original beams. Cement mortar was taken off and a traditional lime mix was put in its place. A stone floor was relaid and furniture and light fittings were commissioned to look like Tudor pieces.

In 1998 it was reopened. The initial idea of it being a heritage centre has not been fully realised. Its main function now seems to be for wedding and conference hire, but a building must have a use, and this way it is being preserved. It always gets a large number of visitors during the Heritage Weekends in September.

While it may be difficult for visitors to find it open to view the interior, the exterior is well worth a look. Much of the outside of the structure is little changed from when it was built in Elizabethan times, and it is an imposing Grade 2* listed building. The Whit Brook still runs right next to it. The Schoolmasters House made of red brick makes for an interesting contrast. There is parking outside the Old Grammar, just look out for the large red brick ‘Borough of Middleton Electricity Works’ sign by the road leading down to the school (see picture below).

The book Queen Elizabeth Free Grammar School Middleton (1412-2014) by has been used extensively as a source to write this page. For details see below in the reference section. It is available from St Leonard’s Church and contains a wealth of information about the school and its occupants.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2014. This text written 2018.


To view the exterior of the school, park in the car park just off Boarshaw Road. Postcode for Sat Nav M24 6BR

To see the interior you may have to wait for the next Heritage Days weekend.


The Electricity Works sign marks the entrance road to the Old Grammar School


Queen Elizabeth Free Grammar School Middleton (1412-2014) Original Version by S. Paul & W.J. Smith. Revised and Updated by R. Guest (2014)

The Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Middleton, leaflet by Roger Guest (2012)






Posted in Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Norton Priory, near Runcorn

On the south side of the River Mersey stands the remains of the once wealthy monastery of Norton Priory. The Augustinian canons founded the site in 1134, having moved from a pre-existing one in Runcorn that had been deemed too small. After draining the land, they set about building a thick-walled stone Romanesque style church. They dug a large pond for their newly constructed corn mill and set up a rabbit warren for food.


Norton Priory’s Church

The canons operated a ferry across the Mersey, as did Birkenhead Priory on the Wirral. The Norton canons were instrumental in the founding of Burscough Priory near Ormskirk and  fellow canons from their Augustinian order set up Cockerham Priory on Lancashire’s windswept coast.

As the priory grew in wealth, so did the buildings. The early wooden structures were replaced by stone ones and the church extended. The canons built their own pottery kiln to fire the tiles for their church. Twenty different styles were created, many of them unique to the site. In total 40,000 tiles were made for the church’s floor.

In the 1200s, the chapter house was extended, with the original room becoming a mere vestibule to the new one. It was not all plain sailing though as in 1236 a fire started in the kitchens which spread to the cloister and church, causing a huge amount of damage. Undeterred, the canons soon had the kitchens rebuilt along with a gatehouse and new guest quarters.

In 1287, Whalley Abbey’s records tell of miracles occurring at Norton Priory. They state that a person had their sight restored and another had their speech returned. These events were attributed to the Holy Cross of Norton. This was probably part of the ‘true cross’, brought back by Geoffrey Dutton, a patron of the priory and participant in the Fifth Crusade to Jerusalem. His stone coffin still lies at the centre of the church today, a prominent position of burial fitting for someone who had donated a third of his lands to the monastery.


Some of the stone coffins of wealthy benefactors

It was under the leadership of Richard Wyche, who became prior in 1366, that the monastery really grew wealthy. He persuaded the Dutton family to donate more land and had John of Gaunt (Baron of Halton, and uncle of King Richard II ) as a powerful patron. Wyche’s biggest achievement was to get the priory to be converted into an abbey in 1391. This included a permission from the pope for him to wear a mitre hat, normally only worn by bishops and not by abbots. Just four years later, Wyche was made president of the whole Augustinian order in Britain. The abbey was probably at the height of its powers at that time, with 15 canons and their attendant staff living there. At the time of the conversion a large statue of St Christopher was carved out of sandstone from nearby Windmill Hill quarry. It was twice life size and colourfully painted and still stands today at the site.

Building work continued into the 1400s with a new cloister and guest quarters constructed. The church was widened by addition of a north aisle with its own small chapel, giving space for more burials of wealthy benefactors. When flooding hit the site in 1429 and funds were needed for repairs, Pope Martin V granted indulgencies for those that donated. This meant that people who gave money would spend less time in purgatory after they died.

By the 1500s, serious trouble was on the horizon. When Sir Lawrence Dutton died without an heir his relative Sir Piers Dutton began a lengthy battle to claim the Dutton lands owned by Norton Abbey. A former mayor of Chester and knighted by Henry VIII, he was a powerful and ruthless figure. He concocted a lie that had the abbot, Thomas Birkenhead, arrested for forging coins and sent for trial in London. The abbot was acquitted, but this was not the end of his problems. Sir Piers became the Royal Commissioner for Cheshire, tasked with valuing the lands owned by the monasteries as a precursor to closing them down. He deliberately undervalued Norton land so that he could buy it cheaply once the monasteries were abolished. He also made sure that the abbey was one of the first to be closed. Not content with this, Sir Piers had the canons imprisoned in Halton Castle and tried to have them executed, but this was fortunately  prevented. Thomas Birkenhead retired as abbot, was given a pension and left the Augustinian order. Sir Piers never got his coveted monastery land, dying ten years later.

When the abbey was  closed in 1536, the church was demolished and the stone sold off. The land was bought by the Brooke family and they built a new country house there. They incorporated much of the abbey buildings into their home, including the undercroft, abbot’s tower, kitchens and guest quarters. However, not all the areas were treated respectfully – the cloister was used as a midden to dump waste food and household rubbish.


The undercroft was used as a cellar in the Tudor and Georgian houses

The Tudor house gave way to a later Georgian mansion, which had thirty bedrooms and a landscaped garden. The Brooke family continued to live at Norton through the Victorian age, leaving eventually in 1920. After the auctioning off of much of the contents, most of the mansion was knocked down. Fortunately, the Medieval undercroft that had been incorporated into the original Tudor house survived and still stands today.

In 1966, Sir Richard Brooke gave the site in trust to the public, and four years later Runcorn Development Corporation decided to utilise it for leisure and education. What followed was 18 years of archaeological digging, making it Europe’s most excavated monastery. Finds included 4,392 pieces of medieval pottery, thousand of floor tiles and 130 skeletons. Details of individual rooms were discovered. The kitchen features – fireplaces, bread ovens, stone water cisterns supplied by lead pipes and a stone drain to carry out the waste water – were all unearthed. The cloister’s original 11th century parts were found to have been used as rubble in the building of the later, grander one. The guest quarters had painted glass windows featuring lions, flowers and acorns. The bell foundary was discovered and in the bottom of the large pit were 200 fragments of the mould. This was reassembled and has been used to cast a replica bell.


Norton Priory’s new viewing platform sits on top of the Medieval undercroft

Recently the site has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a large new museum and viewing area. A good selection of medieval artifacts are on display, many more than were in the previous museum. From the new viewing platform, the visitor is struck by the size of the site and how much of the foundations are still in place. Immediately obvious are the large number of stone coffins clustered in the  Lady Chapel of the church, belonging to the wealthy benefactors.  The foundations of the kitchen, chapter house, cloister and refectory are all clearly laid out.

The undercroft dating from the 12th century is still intact, having been used as a cellar for storing food and drink. Connected to this is the parlour, where important guests were greeted. You can still sit on the stone seating ledge as visitors would have once done, and admire each capital arch, every one of which is different.


The replica medieval bell that visitors can ring

In the museum some of the many medieval tiles from the church are on display, along with the actual kiln used to fire them. Also on show is the 1150 ferry charter, papal seals and medieval coffin lids from the stone graves. The history of the later house and its connections with the Civil War are also given space.

In the grounds there is a restored herb garden of eight beds that are stocked with a range of plants that would have been popular for their presumed curative properties: lungwort, self heal, lavender, rosemary, Lady’s bedstraw, yarrow, fennel and sage. Nearby stands the huge replica medieval bell hanging in a low brick belfry, which visitors can ring.

This is an excellent site, with a superb museum. For anyone with an interest in the Medieval times, it is a must.

Access and Opening Times

April to October 10am – 5pm every day

November to March 10am – 4pm every day

See their website nortonpriory.org or click here


Norton Priory Museum and Gardens, Tom Hughes (2016). Current guide book available from the priory shop.

On site interpretation, both in the grounds and within the museum




Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Medieval Monasteries, | Tagged , , ,

The Starting Chair, Moor Park, Preston

Visitors to Moor Park may be surprised to see a large standing stone at its northern end. While it looks like a prehistoric stone from some long lost circle, its use was much more recent.  It is called the “Starting Chair” and marks the starting line for horse races that were carried out here before the park existed. The area used to be called Preston Moor and was used as rough grazing ground for cattle owned by a small number of freemen of the borough.

DSCN9264 (2)

The Starting Chair, Moor Park, Preston

The Historic England website states that the area was being used for horse racing at the end of the 17th century and describes the course as being ‘pegged out’. Between 1736 and 1833 annual horse races took place here and also at nearby Fulwood Moor. The Fulwood Moor track was a simple oval, while the one here had two small loops connected by a long curve, as show in the 1786 map below. The races seem to have come to an end in 1833 when Preston Corporation enclosed part of Preston Moor to create Moor Park, making it the first corporation park in an industrial English town.

DSCN9254 (2)

The stone itself would not look out of place in a prehistoric circle, which raises questions about its origin. Its rough uncarved appearance is reminiscent of Stump Cross at Mere Clough, near Burnley. Stump Cross is thought to be a prehistoric standing stone associated with the near-destroyed Mosley Height circle; however, the Historic England website states that it was one of five late-medieval guide stones that marked the route of the Long Causeway.


Preston Moor has no record of a stone circle and the nearest medieval cross is Sherburne Cross, the socket of which now stands a very short distance away (see our page on it here). This has been moved from the nearby intersection of Deepdale Road and Blackpool Road to its present position. Is it possible that the Starting Chair was once a guide stone associated with an important route? Intriguingly, the Historic England website states that the principle western Roman road linking the north and south of the country ran across the centre of Moor Park.

At the base of the Starting Chair is a bench mark. These were used when mapping an area to calculate the height above sea level. To read more about benchmarks, see the Ordnance Survey website here.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


Park in the free car park in Moor Park, opposite Preston North End Football Ground. Head out on the path that runs parallel with Blackpool Road (on your right). The Starting Chair stone is between the football pavilion and the Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory.

Nearby, just a short walk away Sherburne Cross


On site interpretation boards within Moor Park. There are lots of these dotted throughout the park to let you know the sites of historic interest.

The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire: A Revised Version: Volume III Blackburn Hundred, Volume Editor A.J. Noble (2004), North West Catholic History Society

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001309  (Moor Park page)


https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1072633 (Stump Cross page)

Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Wayside Crosses | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sherburne Cross, Moor Park, Preston

By the north entrance to Moor Park, just off the Blackpool Road, stands Sherburne Cross. The stone shaft is modern, but the base socket could well be medieval. Just beside the base is a small stone plaque that reads “The base stone was removed from Sherburne Lane and the cross erected to the Glory of God. Septr (September) 1913”.


Sherburne Cross, Preston

As the plaque states, the cross is not in its original position, although it has not travelled far. When Henry Fishwick published his History of the Parish of Preston in 1900 he stated that there was a stone pedestal for a market or wayside cross near Sherburne House on Deepdale Road. A map dated 1892-3 shows the house and Sherburne Cross opposite the junction of Blackpool Road with Deepdale Road.


The original base of Sherburne Cross

A look at a modern map reveals no Sherburne Road, but there is a Sherburne Crescent just off Sir Tom Finney Way and close to Preston North End football ground. This general area, just near the crossroads of Deepdale Road and Blackpool Road would have been an ideal spot for a wayside cross.

Historic England’s Pastscape website confirms that the cross base is medieval, but names it as Preston Moor Cross. It states that it stood at the intersection of roads one and a quarter miles north east of the Market Place. Preston Moor was the traditional name of this area, before it was converted into Moor Park.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


Free parking at Moor Park, just off Sir Tom Finney Way. Head through the park, parallel with Blackpool Road, pass the Serpentine Lake. You will see Sherburne Cross on the path coming into the park from the north. Have a look at a free map online – just type “Moor Park Map Preston City Guild” into Google.

Nearby, just a short walk away is The Starting Chair


Deepdale Conservation Area Appraisal. This undated but recent pdf is available online for free

Historic England pastscape.org.uk website Preston Moor Cross page

Moorpark Map – Preston City Guild. Pdf available online for free


Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Wayside Crosses | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Criffel Stone, Crossens near Southport

The large Criffel Stone sits just across the road from Crossens Pumping Station. It is a glacial erratic, meaning that it was carried by a glacier and left in place when the ice melted.

DSCN8296 (2)

Criffel Stone, Crossens – not to be confused with the enigmatic Snotter Stone

In 1959, the Crossens Pumping Station was built to pump water from the Crossens and Alt area into the sea and so prevent flooding of the locality. During construction, the Criffel Stone was discovered five metres below ground level. Geologists recognised it as being made from granite of a kind only found in Dumfriesshire. This type of stone is still currently quarried in the Dalbeattie area.

The Criffel stone had been carried by glacier from Dumfriesshire during the last ice age 18,000 years ago. The route it had taken was via the present day Irish Sea, which mostly would have been frozen at the time. When the ice age ended 12,000 years ago, the glacier melted and the stone was deposited at Crossens. Over the ensuing millenia it was covered by sand and soil, only to be discovered during the excavations to prepare the ground for the pumping station.

Study of the deposition of glacial erratics around the country has allowed geologists to build up a picture of where the glaciers that covered North West England once were. It is thought that the stone could not come overland via Cumbria and Lancashire as this area was  blocked by ice. Ice flowed from these areas into the frozen Irish Sea.


Criffel Stone and Crossens Pumping Station

When the early Victorian geologists started to realise that only long vanished glaciers from a remote ice age could account for much of the upland landscape of Britain, they searched out clues for the existence of glaciers. They faced much resistance, as the common belief was that the Earth was not very old and glaciers had never existed in Britain. By accumulating records of glacial erratics they showed that these stones could not have come from the local underlying rocks, and so must have been transported many miles from their original source.

Glacial erratics were also prized specimens, being interesting conversation pieces for owners of large country estates. At Towneley Hall there is an erratic at the back of the house at the end of the Lime Walk. At Worden Park there is one just by the ice house (see our page that gives more details on it here).

Criffel Stone and the Snotter Stone Confusion

There is some confusion on the internet with some website authors stating that this is the Snotter Stone. It is not, as the Snotter Stone was discovered at Hundred End near Hesketh by Reverend William Bulpit in the 1800s. It is marked on an old map near the present day Ribble Hall Farm. The updated Henry Taylor : The Ancient Crosses and Wells of Lancashire gives it a grid reference of 414 230, which places it close to Ribble Hall. The Lancashire Archaeological Society website has a brief discussion piece about the search for it here (it’s the second article on the page). Historic England’s website Pastscape states that the Snotter Stone was a medieval boundary stone in the form of a six foot tall limestone boulder. The stone stood on the boundary of the Leyland and West Derby Hundreds. (Hundreds were the original Saxon administration areas, that lasted well into modern times as recognisable districts). The Snotter Stone may well still be in its original position, but has been submerged in silt and is no longer visible. The fact that it was discovered by William Bulpit when he was digging in the area and that it has once more vanished under the shifting landscape suggests that this is still a rapidly changing coastal area.


There is a small parking place next to the Criffel Stone. The pumping station is on Banks Road, Crossens, Sat Nav Postcode PR98JQ.

Nearby, just a short drive away Southport’s Early Transatlantic Flights Sculpture


On Site Interpretation – small information plaque on the Criffel Stone put in place by Lancashire RIGS Group- now called GeoLancashire. See their website here. They publish a range of walking, landscape and history guides, available from their website to buy or download for free.





http://www.pastscape.org.uk Snotter Stone page

Henry Taylor : The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire : A Revised Version : Volume VI : Leyland Hundred, Volume Editors: J.A. Hilton, A.J. Noble, M. Pannikar, W.A. Varney North West Catholic History Society, Wigan 2007



Posted in Memorials & Monuments, | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

St Leonard’s Church, Middleton

Although there were earlier Saxon and Norman churches on the site, the basis of the building we see today is medieval, though most of the later fabric is Tudor. It was built in 1412 by Middleton-born Cardinal Thomas Langley, Prince Bishop of Durham and Chancellor to three Kings – Henry IV, V and VI. Dating from this time is the large entrance door in the South Porch with its defensive drawbar that can be used to prevent the door being forced open from the outside. Such a precaution was common in those turbulent times when Northern England could expect Scottish raids, either from an organised army, or border reivers. A similar drawbar exists at St Leonards the Less, Samlesbury near Preston, and there are records of the first Samlesbury Hall being attacked by Robert the Bruce’s raiding party.

DSCN7999 (2)

St Leonard’s Church, Middleton

Cardinal Langley also set up an endowment for a grammar school to be housed within the church, with money for two priests to be the teachers. The school continued until 1586, being replaced by the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School that still stands on Boarshaw Road.

In 1524, the church was heavily remodelled by Richard Assheton and most of what we see now is from his time of building. The famous Flodden window was installed in this period. This is thought to show Richard Assheton and his wife, with the Middleton Archers who fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. In 1666, a wooden belfry was added to the prexisting tower to house a new set of bells. This has been reclad over the years, but makes the church a rare surviving example with such a feature.


The unusual wooden belfry


Internal Historical Features

The interior has many rarities from differing periods over the church’s long existence. From the early Norman building is the broken stone altar showing three of the five original consecration crosses simply carved on top of the large surface. The distinctive Norman chevron or dogtooth pattern can be seen in the arch leading to the church tower, this attractive piece of architecture being reused when Langley remade the church.

Other internal features from the Medieval period include the two nave altars and carved misericord seats in the choir. The roof bosses feature a Green Man, an owl and a serpent chasing its own tail.

The rood screen only survived destruction during the Protestant Reformation because its carvings are secular, not religious. However, the crucifix, St Mary and St John have been removed. The rood screen contains the coat of arms of families and benefactors connected with the Asshetons, including the Radcliffes, Stanleys (Earls of Derby), Grosvenors (Dukes of Westminster) and Hugh Oldham, who was the Bishop of Exeter and founder of Manchester Grammar School.

The brasses found in the sanctuary have been moved from various places around the church. The Brass Memorial Society has declared them the best brasses in the North of England. They include various members of the Assheton family from Tudor and Stuart times. The Assheton Chapel contains the Assheton funery helmet with a boar’s head crest. This was stolen in 1960, but a London antique dealer recognized it and had it returned to the church.


Sitting on top of a hill, with an oval shape churchyard, this was probably originally a Saxon site

From the 1600s is the Hopwood box pew and a three lock alms box. The rector and two wardens would originally have had a key each to open the chest, keeping the money inside very secure.

The Victorian and Edwardian times saw many refurbishments of the church. The noted Middleton architect Edgar Wood designed the new nave roof in the gothic style. This was installed in 1907 after the previous one had become unstable. Wood also designed nearby Long Street Methodist Church as well as over thirty buildings in Middleton, many of which still remain today. For more about his work, click here.

If you visit the church, do take the guided tour if it is offered. You will see so much more in the presence of one of the very knowledgeable volunteers.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2015. This page written 2018.


Access can be arranged through contacting the Parish office, see the webpage here

The church is open on Tuesdays and Friday afternoons until the end of September, but do check first on their website first here


The Parish Church of St Leonard, Middleton: The Church with a thousand Year History, (2014) booklet available from within the church. Contributors Stuart Chesters, Colin Gilbert, Mike O’ Connor, Jack Wilson, Leon MacLeod, Geoff Wellens (available in St Leonard’s Church)


Flodden Window, Leon MacLeod (2015) St Leonard’s Church History Guide leaflet (available in St Leonard’s Church)

Long Street Methodist Church and Schools: A Brief Guide, (undated and available from Long Street Methodist Church), Friends of Edgar Wood Centre, Middleton



Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Oldest Churches,, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Liverpool Castle Replica, Rivington, near Horwich

Lord Leverhulme commissioned a replica of Liverpool Castle to be built on his Rivington estate of Lever Park, near Horwich. He had read a work about the original castle by E.W. Cox written in 1892. The description of the Liverpool castle site struck him as being similar to the promontory of Coblowe within his estate. Coblowe is a rocky area that overlooks the Lower Rivington Reservoir. He concluded that this would be an ideal place to resurrect the lost Liverpool stronghold.

DSCN9128 (2)

Liverpool Castle Replica, Rivington near Horwich

Work began in 1912 using locally quarried gritstone. The construction proceeded very slowly with only a few stone masons and labourers being employed on the project. It was never completed as work stopped after Leverhulme’s death in 1925.

However, the replica castle was always meant to look like a ruin, being based not on what Liverpool Castle looked like at the height of its defensive power, but in its damaged state after the Civil War. Now, as plants colonise its walls, we are left with a ruin that reproduces faithfully many of the buildings and features of the original.

Liverpool google

Liverpool Castle Replica, from a satellite photo on Google Maps. Courtesy of Google.

Nothing remains of the original Liverpool Castle, although you can still visit the site of the structure. Today the Queen Victoria Monument stands in Derby Square, Liverpool and a plaque marks the fact that the castle used to be located there. See our full page on the castle and its history here.

CastlePlan (6)_LI

Layout of the original Liverpool Castle, orientated to be the same way up as the satellite photograph above. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia. (LancashirePast has added the key based on the original). Key: G- Barbican; F- Gatehouse; E- Square tower; N- North West or Great Tower; T- Kitchen; R- porch; Q- Great Hall; P- South West Tower;  O- Chapel;               J- South East or New Tower

A visit to the replica castle at Rivington gives you a good sense of how it would have appeared. Although various sources claim this is a scale model, we have been unable to find out which scale has been used, and how much larger the rooms in real castle would have been.

Guide to the Replica Castle

Note: The interior of the buildings can be muddy and large puddles form after heavy rain, so wear your boots!

Enter through the Barbican area (G) that would have sat just in front of the Gatehouse (F). If you turn left you can go into one of the Square Towers (E) of the Gatehouse and see a large fireplace. In the actual castle the Gatehouse was one of the most intact parts in its later days, and tenants lodged within had to be evicted before final demolition could take place.

DSCN9133 (2)

The Gatehouse, from inside the castle

For the rest of the tour, keep right as we head around the rooms off the Bailey courtyard in an anticlockwise direction.

Head right to the North West or Great Tower (N).  Note the steps that have been taken off the inner wall, probably for safety reasons to stop people climbing up to the next level. Once inside the Great Tower, you can look up to see replica slit windows and a fireplace on the first floor.

DSCN9086 (2)

North West or Great Tower

Go back to the central courtyard and now enter the kitchens area (T). In the real Liverpool Castle this probably had a bakehouse and brewhouse attached.

Once again, go back to the courtyard and go through the couple of arches that enter and exit the porch leading to the Great Hall. In the real castle, a chaplain’s room existed above the porch.


The Great Hall

Standing in the Great Hall you can see lines of recessed arched windows. There would have also been private apartments above the hall in the real castle, this hall area forming the main part of the ‘Keep’. When you leave the hall look out for the narrow passage way that runs into the South West tower.

The next easily identifiable room is the chapel, with its curved semi-circular wall. Leave the chapel and follow the curtain wall to the very low remains of the South East or New Tower. This gives views out towards the reservoir.

It’s well worth looking at the outside of the castle walls and towers. Leave through the Gatehouse and do a complete circuit and you’ll see just how large and impressive the Great Tower and the Keep Tower are. The ivy covered parts really give the place the look of a picturesque ruin from the outside, which is presumably the landscape feature that Leverhulme was trying to achieve.


The ivy covered South West Tower

A Good Site is Always a Good Site

Coblowe as a rocky outcrop had caught Leverhulme’s eye. We strongly suspect that this was once a Bronze Age burial mound, overlooking the valley below. The word ‘Lowe’ often means burial mound – many of the Lowe names in the Peak District have provided the archaeology to prove this when dug. Unfortunately in Lancashire, the high demands of agriculture to feed the population of the first industrial county in the world means that most of our burial mounds have been destroyed.

The valley has been flooded to form the lower reservoir, which would have had a river flowing through it in the past. A common feature of the Bronze Age is to have a burial mound on a high point, overlooking a natural boundary such as a river. Interestingly, Coblowe looks  out onto another Lowe site on the opposite bank – Roscoe Lowe. Travelling north on the M61 this appears on your right. The rising ground coupled with the name hints that this too was a Bronze Age burial mound. Nothing probably remains of it now, as it seems to have an access point to an underground reservoir on top of it.

If you want to know more about the history of the real Liverpool Castle, do have a look at our page on it here.

For more on Rivington and its role during World War 2, have a look at this page on our Lancashire at War website here

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


There are two possible parking spots to see the castle, and both car parks are free.

Park at Rivington Reservoir Car Park, just off Rivington Lane. Head in a North Westerly direction on the path to reach a tree lined avenue that takes you to the castle.

Alternatively, for a longer walk park at the Great House Barn, go into the woods past Go Ape and head for the lower reservoir. Keep the reservoir on your right and the path will lead you to the castle.


Leverhulme’s Rivington, M.D. Smith (1998) Wyre Publishing

The Changing Face of Liverpool 1207-1727 : Archaeological Survey of Merseyside.  Edited by Susan Nicholson (1981) University of Liverpool, Merseyside County Council/Merseyside County Museum

Liverpool a Landscape History, Martin Greave (2013) The History Press

The History of Rivington : The Castle, West Pennine Moors Area Management Committee, undated leaflet available from Rivington Great House Information Centre



Posted in Castles & Fortified Towers, Medieval Lancashire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Liverpool’s Lost Castle

The site of Liverpool Castle is clearly marked by a plaque on the Queen Victoria Monument in present day Derby Square. There are no standing remains of this medieval fortress. However, it had a rich and interesting history and if you are prepared to travel away from Liverpool, there is a way you can still see what the castle looked like, but more on this later…


Derby Square – the site of Liverpool Castle

King John wanted a port town that he could use as an alternative to Chester. Chester was held by a wealthy Earl who kept most of the revenue it generated. John had the idea that he could set up an alternative trading city and port, both of which would generate taxes that he could collect. More importantly to him, he could build a staging post to be used to launch attacks on Ireland. The Mersey had an inlet called ‘the Pool’ which would be a safe harbour for trading and war vessels. In 1207, he issued a charter creating the borough of Liverpool and the trading town was born.

Above the Pool was a rocky promontory, which was an ideal foundation for a castle. This was built not by the king, but by William de Ferreres in 1235. Set out as a square, it had large circular towers at three of its corners. On the fourth corner was an imposing gatehouse. A strong surrounding wall connected the towers, protecting the buildings inside the castle. Within the walls were a hall, chapel, brewhouse, bakehouse and covered well. A causeway from the gatehouse ran over the moat and into Castle Street.


Museum of Liverpool Life has a small model of the Castle. This view shows the fortified gatehouse and three round towers on each of the remaining corners. On the right hand side is the hall (just behind the round tower).

The wealthy Molyneux family became the owners of the castle and would hold it for many years, along with the title of ‘Hereditary Constable’. The powerful Stanley family lived in a fortified house close by on Water Street called The Tower.  The two families would exert an enormous control over the lives of the inhabitants of Liverpool.

The castle did not have a standing army, but it could hold a garrison if the need arose. In 1323, the castle’s financial accounts stated that it could hold a garrison with  ‘186 pallet beds, 107 spears, 39 lances, 15 catapults and other engines of war’. Just four years later, the Constable of the castle was ordered not to receive an army, but refugees fleeing from the Scottish and Irish wars.

Just over two hundred years later, a Royal Commission stated that Liverpool Castle was in a poor state. The three round towers and gatehouse did not have full roofs left and the walls needed repairing. When the work was completed the West Derby Wapentake Court was to be held there, and its records stored on site. This was all duly done.

Civil War

During the Civil War, Liverpool was a divided town. Most of its citizens were Protestant and sided with Parliament, while the Catholic Molyneux and Stanley families sided with the King Charles I. The Stanley’s Lord Strange seized and held the town magazine ammunition store for the Royalists and a Royalist garrison was placed in the town.

The next year, Liverpool was captured by Parliamentarians. They set up huge mud wall barricades, strengthened the town gates and put cannons around the castle and on ships in the harbour. All this did not prevent the king’s nephew Prince Rupert from attacking and wining the town back for the crown. He then had elaborate plans drawn up by the defence architect Bernard de Gomme to upgrade the defences of the castle. These designs were never realized and the next year Parliamentary forces once again captured the town.

Conflict between the Aldermen and the Landed Gentry

Because Liverpool was set up as a trading town, there was always a tension between the established rich families of the Molyneuxs and Stanleys and the town’s aldermen (representing merchants and traders) over rights, taxes and governance. The Molyneux’s castle and the Stanley’s tower were seen as their very visible power bases.

In 1632, the First Viscount Molyneux, Earl of Sefton, bought rights from the king to enable him to act as Lord of the Manor for Liverpool. This aristocratic grab allowed him to have rights over the common, waste (rough grazing ground), river and tolls. This increase in his power made the aldermen of the town’s corporation very unhappy.  In 1668, Caryll Molyneux wanted to lay out a new road and bridge across the Pool from his orchard next to the castle, but was opposed by the merchants and aldermen. After some delay he did get this built, but in doing so was forced to sell his rights for the next thousand years for thirty pounds.

DSCN3024 (3)

By 1700, the aldermen of the corporation had purchased the annual lease on the castle and within twenty years had managed to get the full rights to the site, including the right to demolish it. The castle was now in ruins, its moat had been filled in and a new market was set up within its vicinity. However, Lord Molyneux contested the corporation’s rights, claiming his own as Hereditary Constable of the castle. This led to years of wrangling in the courts, with Lord Molyneux the eventual loser. In 1726, the last of the remains were pulled down so that a new church dedicated to St George could be built. From the time of its completion a few years later, the town’s aldermen would parade every Sunday from the town hall, down Castle Street to the church. They had vanquished the Molyneux’s powerbase for ever.

A similar fate awaited the Stanley’s tower. The corporation first managed to get the lease on it in 1739. It functioned as the town’s gaol with some of the upper rooms used for meetings and entertainments (there are echoes of this strange dual function in the later Victorian St George’s Hall, see our page on this amazing building here). The tower finally closed in 1811 when a new gaol opened, and was demolished eight years later when Water Street was being widened.

It’s a pity that nothing now remains of Liverpool Castle. However, there is still a way to get a sense of what it would have looked like in its later ruined days. Lord Leverhulme built a Liverpool Castle Replica on his estate at Rivington, and it can still be visited today, for free. We’ve written a page on it here.

Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2018


The site of the castle is marked on the Queen Victoria Monument in Derby Square.

To see artefacts from the castle visit the Museum of Liverpool Life at Albert Dock

A link to our page on Lord Leverhulme’s Replica Castle will be placed here shortly

Nearby, just a short walk away St George’s Hall

If you’re interested in another stronghold of a much later date, have a look at our page on Lancashire at War on the underground control centre Western Approaches here


The Changing Face of Liverpool 1207-1727 : Archaeological Survey of Merseyside.  Edited by Susan Nicholson (1981) University of Liverpool, Merseyside County Council/Merseyside County Museum

Liverpool a Landscape History, Martin Greave (2013) The History Press

The History of Rivington : The Castle, West Pennine Moors Area Management Committee, undated leaflet available from Rivington Great House Information Centre






Posted in Castles & Fortified Towers, Medieval Lancashire, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Formby Lifeboat Station – A World First

The lifeboat station at Formby was the first in the world. Built in the early 1770s, the boat house and life boat were there to save lives on the often treacherous Formby coast. Visitors today can still see the foundations and parts of the slipway on the beach.


Formby Lifeboat Station – A World First

The idea for the lifeboat station was the brainchild of  William Hutchinson, a Liverpool Dock Master. He led an interesting life – formerly a privateer (pirate), he went on to invent the parabolic mirror for lighthouses and author a book called the Treatise on Practical Seamanship. He knew the Formby coast could be a deadly place for shipwreck with its shifting sandbanks, constantly changing water channels and often fierce gales.

The boat house was a large shed in which to shelter the lifeboat and stood about 100 yards inland above the high tide line, to protect it from the sea. This meant that the lifeboat had to be dragged down the beach to be launched.

Richard Scarisbrick of Formby, a sailor, was appointed to take care of the boat and boathouse. He was paid two guineas a year salary, with an extra guinea for each life saved by the boat – this presumably shared amongst the rescue crew. The early boat was a Mersey Gig. This had two or three masts, with a crew of three or four men and could be both rowed and sailed.

The lifeboat was sited on the Reverend Richard Formby’s land, the local lord of the manor. In 1798 he was given the Freedom of the Borough and Town of Liverpool in recognition of ‘his unwearied and compassionate attention in a variety  of instances to the unfortunate who have suffered shipwreck on the coast near Formby, both with regard to their person and property’.


Part of the slipway

To further aid ships in the area, a 120ft landmark tower at the mouth of the River Alt was converted into a lighthouse in 1834. The tower, known as Nicholas Blundell’s Diurnal,  was originally put there in 1719 to act as a landmark to navigate by, but the addition of a light to it would obviously increase its usefulness in bad weather and at night. Joseph Walker became its first lighthouse keeper and was also made responsible for the supervision of the lifeboat.

Just two years later, Walker and his lifeboat crew were all killed as they attempted to save the schooner Bryades. The Liverpool Dock Company paid two shillings a week pension to their widows, one of whom continued to draw it for the next 42 years.

In the 1860s alone, the crew were called out 32 times, and on one night in 1863 they ventured out six times into the sea. It’s estimated that since its inception hundreds, if not thousands, of lives were saved. Generations of families could be involved. The Aindow family had at various times the grandfather, father and son all manning positions on the vessel.

In 1894, the RNLI took over the station and it continued in use until 1918. There’s footage of the the last lifeboat to be launched (as well information about other Formby archaeological sites) on the Channel 4’s Britain at Low Tide programme here, and some still images from that same footage here. The building was then used as a café, finally closing in 1935.


The later days when it had been converted into a café

The station was finally demolished in 1970. In recent years, there have been a number of surveys revealing that the visible remains of the red sandstone blocks were the foundations of the walls. These blocks are still held together by metal clamps. Part of the slipway, made of hand fired bricks, is also on view. Much more of the structure still lies under the beach and below the encroaching dunes.

Excavation and a magnetic resonance survey has revealed that the boathouse would have been about 32 feet long. The boat would have rested on a wagon and been drawn out by a team of six to eight horses, along the brick slipway and into the sea. Today the area is popular with day trippers, sitting on the sand and playing on the beach. The days when it was such a dangerous coast seem very far away.  If you visit the remains, perhaps take a moment and think about all those who were saved, and those that risked and gave their lives in the act of saving.

Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2018


Park at Lifeboat Road National Trust car park, Formby. There is a charge of 4.50.

Head into the dunes via the path to the beach. The foundations and slipways are just as you emerge from the dunes. The sand is still shifting, covering and uncovering the archaeological remains.

Nearby, just a drive away is the  Roundabout Sculpture for Southport’s Early Transatlantic Flights



Liverpool History Society Newsletter No.20, Winter 2007-08






Geophysical Survey of Formby Lightboat House for BIG Heritage C.I.C. on behalf of Sefton Coastal Landscape Partnership September 2015






Posted in Georgian Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Early Transatlantic Flights,via Southport

Many people must have driven around the Shore Road roundabout near Ainsdale and wondered why there is a sculpture of an airplane flying away from the New York skyline. Perhaps they dismiss it as some random, innocuous piece of public art. However, it is far more important than that. It actually commemorates two double transatlantic flights in the early days of aviation undertaken by the pilot Dick Merrill, via Southport.


Dick Merrill’s Transatlantic Flights, from Southport

The Lady Peace ‘Ping Pong’ Flight

In 1936, Dick Merrill was looking to do a double transatlantic flight. The object was to fly from New York to England and then back again. He teamed up with a famous broadway entertainer called Harry Richman. Richman not only owned a plane capable of doing this feat, but was prepared to finance the journey to the tune of $360,000, a huge sum in those days. His aircraft was a specially modified monoplane Vultee V-1A, which he named the Lady Peace. However, part of its modifications involved the installation of 41,000 table tennis balls in the wings and tail which supposedly would help with buoyancy if the plane landed in water. This led the press to dub it the ‘Ping Pong Flight’.

After making it successfully from New York to Wales, the plane then flew on to London. But the return trip was to prove a problem – they needed a really long runway in order to take off, as they would be carrying a lot of fuel. The largest runway in the country at the time was at Liverpool’s Speke airport, but this was deemed too short.  The solution lay relatively nearby though; the stretch of beach from Ainsdale to Birkdale was deemed ideal. At 3am on the 14th September 1936, on a makeshift runway lit by flares, the plane ran along nearly a mile of beach before successfully taking off. Bad winds and an accidental loss of fuel on the way over the Atlantic meant that they were forced to land 100 miles north of St John, Newfoundland. A week later they finished their trip and arrived in  New York.

The Coronation Flight

Just eight months later, Dick Merrill was hired to do the same double Atlantic trip again. The abdication of Edward VIII meant there would be a coronation of a new king, George VI, on May 10th 1937. The American press baron, William Randolph Hearst, wanted pictures in his papers before his competitors got them, and this led two Wall Street brokers, knowing of Merrill’s previous flight, to engage him to deliver the goods.


Merrill had to find a suitable plane and spoke with Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator. She suggested a modified twin engine Lockheed Electra, and taking her advice the Wall Street brokers paid $40,000 for one. The modifications cost another $6000 and this included six large tanks in the fuselage to carry 1,270 gallons of fuel. This would give the plane a range of 4,300 miles, more than enough if all went well.

Merrill left New York on 9th May. This time his co pilot was Jack Lambie and they set a new world record for the crossing, landing in London after just 20 hours and 59 minutes. The trip back on 13th May was once again from Southport. After a 5.30am breakfast of kippers and haddock at the Prince of Wales hotel, hosted by the mayor of Southport, they were ready to take off. As well as the photographs of the royal ceremony, it had been planned that they would take newsreel film, but this did not arrive in time. Ten thousand people turned out to watch the plane take off as it rolled down the Ainsdale and Birkdale beach in the direction of Southport pier.

Their non-stop flight of 24 hours and 23 minutes ended with them landing at Quincy, Massachusetts. They then flew on to New York to deliver the photographs of the coronation and Hearst’s newspapers were the first to print them, all as planned.

The sculptured plane at the Ainsdale roundabout represents the one used in the second of the two flights, but the information board gives details of both historic crossings. See the access section below for more details.

Site visited by A. Bowden 2018


The monument can be viewed at the Ainsdale roundabout where Coastal Road meets Shore Road. To read the interpretation board, park on Chatsworth Road and walk down (as there’s quite a lot of double yellow lines around the roundabout and the roads to and from it). There are historic pictures of the pilots and planes on the board, as well as a summary of both journeys. For more information on these remarkable flights, have a look at the websites listed below.

Nearby, just a drive away are the remains of Formby Lifeboat Station – A World First and The Criffel Stone, Crossens


On site interpretation boards at the Ainsdale Shore Road roundabout




Posted in Memorials & Monuments, | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments