Dalton Castle, Dalton in Furness

Dalton Castle

Dalton Castle is a 14th century Pele tower and was owned by the abbot of Furness Abbey. From here he would administer the law in the region of the Lordship of Furness, Lancashire North of the Sands. There would have been an earlier timber framed building on the site which also contained a gaol and courtroom, but continual raids by the Scots in the early 1300s meant that it was a target of burning. Setting fire to property, robbery and the taking of prisoners were the main aims of the Scottish raiders in these lawless times. Despite abbot John of Cockerham paying money to Robert the Bruce in 1322, plunder and burning went ahead. The reason for such open hostilities was that during this century  England and Scotland were either at war, or maintaining an uneasy peace which did not stop raiding from either side. This lead to the building of  fortified Pele towers throughout the region, even as far down as Radcliffe Tower and Turton Tower in south Lancashire.

By  1327 the monks of Furness had a Pele tower constructed on nearby Piel island, which they would use for refuge during Scottish  attacks. It’s thought that Dalton Castle was constructed at the same time, as it shares many similar features (such as the window design). Dalton Castle was not for refuge  as such, but was clearly an important building that needed its contents preserving so that justice could be dispensed.

The original stone tower was built with limestone and red sandstone edgings. For security it had a single entrance on the ground floor leading to a guard room. From there a spiral staircase  was built into the west wall for added protection. The stairs led up to three more floors, the top one of which was the abbot’s courtroom. This had large traceried windows to let in a lot of light, but the lower floors would only have had defensive arrow slits for illumination. At the very top of the  tower was a parapet  with arrow loops. Below the ground floor was the dungeon which was accessed by a removable ladder through a floor grate.

During the 133os the abbot’s power grew, meaning that he could preside over a larger range of criminal cases. These  included those involving bloodshed and he also held the right to appoint a coroner. He would hold an Abbots Court every three weeks that dealt with debt and trespass crimes, and a Full Court Baron session twice a year that could resolve local disputes.

Red sandstone contrasting with surrounding limestone

In 1537 the last abbot Roger Pele surrendered the ownership of Furness Abbey to Henry VIII’s agents at Whalley Abbey. Despite his taking part in the Pilgrmage of Grace (the northern protest against the dissolution of the monasteries) he was allowed to stay on as the Rector of Dalton. In the same settlement some of the recently unemployed Furness Abbey monks received a pension. Eight years later Henry VIII wrote to his royal officers in Furness enquiring about the condition of Dalton Castle. He knew that it was “now in great Ruyn and Decay to our hurte and losse”. He suggested that repairs could be carried out using “what store of stone, leade, timber and other stuffe we have within or about our late monastery there.” This was duly done.

Just over a hundred years later Charles II was looking to reward those who had helped restore him to the throne after the rule of Oliver Cromwell. One of those was General George Monk who was given the Lordship of Furness and the Manor of Dalton, and with it ownership of Dalton Castle. The king also made him the  Duke of Albemarle. From here on the Pele tower remained in the hands of local powerful aristocratic families.  From the Albmarle family it later passed to the Montagu family  and from them to the Buccleuchs who owned it until 1965.

Over the years it has been modified numerous times, with stables being added on the ground floor at one point and some of the upper floors removed. It has also been a masonic temple (the Baldwin Lodge) in the Victorian era and an armoury for the Dalton Battalion of Rifle Volunteers. Throughout much of its existence though, it remained a court up until the early 20th century. In 1965 it was given by the Eighth Duke of Buccleuth to the National Trust, who are the current owners.

On visiting today, much of the original fabric of the building can be seen and it is in a very good condtion. On the ground floor is a museum room with lots of curious locally collected items. These include a stone head from Furness Abbey and a rare  Iron Age carved head.  The building is also home to the Henry Kellet Geology Collection and there are temporary exhibitions in the large room on the first floor. Many of the original features can still be seen, including  a look down into the underground dungeon.

Outside the tower today is a small plaque set in the ground. This gives the words of a charter that was drawn in 1239 granting the right of the abbot and monks of Furness to hold an annual fair from the 31st October to 2nd November:  “…on the day before and on the day and on the morrow of All Saints day, unless the fair be damaging to neighbouring fairs”.  Around the edge of the tower are grown medieval medicinal herbal plants. A few steps away is the parish church of Dalton, and it’s well worth a look too.

Access

Dalton Castle is in the quiet high street of Dalton and so the outside features can be seen at any time.  To view the interior, it is open on Saturday afternoons 2.00-5.00 pm from the end of March until the end of September. Admission is free. On street parking is available in the high street.

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dalton-castle or click here

References

Dalton Castle Cumbria, National Trust booklet (1996). This is available from Dalton Castle.

On site interpretation boards at Dalton Castle

A History of St. Mary’s Church and Parish Dalton in Furness booklet (2007). Available in the church.

 

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

Platt Hall, Platt Fields Park, Rusholme

Platt Hall, Rusholme, Manchester

Platt Hall, Rusholme, Manchester

Raphe Worsley bought the Platt estate in 1625. He’d made his money  supplying yarn to local handloom weavers from Rusholme and selling the cloth they produced in Manchester. His son Charles was a high ranking officer in Oliver Cromwell’s army,  raising a regiment in Manchester and later taking command of Cromwell’s own regiment. In 1655 Cromwell reorganized the country into ten districts, each with it’s own Vice Regent in charge. Charles became the  Vice Regent for Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. The next year he had 100 alehouses closed down  in Blackburn and is recorded as saying ‘we are catching up all lose and vile persons’. He died that same year aged 34 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Around a hundred years later Deborah Worsley inherited the estate and married John Lees, a wealthy textile merchant.  John took her family name of Carill-Worsley and his son Thomas (from a previous marriage) was named as heir to the estate. The original timber frame  Platt Hall was dismantled and a new brick hall was constructed in 1762-4 and is the one we see today.

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Platt Hall South side

It was designed by the famous York architect John Carr who also created the spectacular Lytham Hall. The new Platt Hall was a three story building with rows of  what we now refer to as Georgian sash windows, all symmetrically laid out either side of the central grand entrance. His plans  were modified by Timothy Lightoler, a former Lancashire wood carver and carpenter. The front of the house would look out onto formal gardens and beyond that was a classic parkland view: the wide stream of  Platt Brook flowing  by, cattle grazing in the distance  and a Ha Ha ditch to stop them straying into the house gardens.  Behind the hall a wooded area was created that included walks, mazes and open glades.

For the interior, Lightoler designed a circuit of interconnecting rooms for guests to move through on what is  called a ‘parlour floor’. Starting in the common parlour, they would proceed to the grand dining room, then to the drawing room and bed chamber. Here they would dance, eat, play cards, listen to music, and discuss the furnishings and ornaments.

Platt Hall North side

Platt Hall North side

Today the  dining room still survives and has been restored along with the central room on the first story. The grand staircase with its large Venetian window is another remnant from the time. Much of the original stucco plasterwork can still be seen and the wall colour scheme  of grey, green and blue from John and Deborah’s time has been  restored. Thomas inherited the estate in 1799 and many years later his clothes trunk was reacquired by the hall. This contained several of his everyday suits, coats, waist coasts and a pair of his shoes that still bear his name ‘Mr Worsley’. All are now on display, giving us a sense of what the gentry wore on a daily basis.

At the start of the 2oth century the family were looking to dispose of the estate and house. It was sold to a builder who intended to knock down the hall and use its bricks to build hundreds of  houses over all of the estate. This would also entail  cutting down  the large mature trees of the parklands. William Royle of Rusholme stepped forward to stop this happening, saying the parkland was a green lung of the city and that it should be bought by Manchester Council for all of the public to use. He worked tirelessly,  organizing a campaign group, producing leaflets and writing  letters to the local paper.

Platt Fields

Platt Fields

The strategy worked and in 1907 the council bought the estate for £59,000 with the intention of turning it into a public park. Unemployed labourers were brought in to landscape it, create  flower beds and a boating lake. They also constructed a bowling green and tennis courts. William Royle’s work was  commemorated in the 1920s by the creation of a  large  seat near one the the Wilmslow Road entrances, dedicated to him.

In the first world war the army used the park to recruit soldiers. There they would parade and also practice digging trenches. Returning injured men would learn to walk again on their artificial limbs in the Grangethorpe Fields area. In the second world war bombs fell on Rusholme and in response long double air raid shelters were dug running along the lime avenue from Platt Lane. They were made of concrete and had mounds of earth put on top to reinforce them. Barage balloons were moored in the park and anti aircraft guns set up, manned by the Home Guard. A steel structure known as ‘Bailey Bridge’ was built for soldiers to practice taking control of bridges.

The role of the hall changed over the years in Platt Fields Park. It had been originally reopened as a café in 1910, and became an art gallery in 1925 featuring 18th century furniture and costumes. In 1947 it became the Gallery of English Costume having recently acquired the enormous Cunnington Collection of Victorian dresses.

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Platt Fields Park Site Manager’s House

The park was still thriving in the 1970s with over 50 garden maintenance staff and a manager living onsite with his family.  During the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s it began to struggle. Due to extensive job cuts only a  few maintenance staff remained  and these were shared between other parks. It was left unlocked at night and became subject to vandalism and general neglect. In 1997  the Friends of the Park group set about trying to tackle the problems. Working with the council, volunteers came in to do programmes of  improvement including  bulb planting and bird box making.   Construction projects included new playgrounds and a  sports zone with basket ball courts, a skate park and a BMX track. It still has many tranquil parts, such as the Shakespearean Garden (see the Nico Ditch post here), wide open grassed areas, mature trees and remnants of an old orchard. Large events began to take place, including the Manchester Mela. In 2010 the park celebrated its centenary and is back on track as a people’s park once again.

Platt Hall is now run by the  Manchester Art Gallery group as the Gallery of Costume. It  has 23,000 items in its collection and in 2006 was designated of National Importance by Department for Culture Media and Sport. Television and theater costume designers use its extensive collection for research.  In 2009 a million pounds of building work was carried out by Manchester City Council to create a lecture theatre, workshop space and temporary exhibition gallery. You can visit Platt Hall today and enjoy both its historical features and its costume collection – all for free.

Opening times for Platt Hall and Gallery of Costume

Thursday and Friday 1-5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm

Platt Hall website see here

Access for Platt Fields park

Open access site in daylight hours

Friends of Platt Fields see  here 

Nearby, just a few minutes walk on foot the Dark Age mysterious Nico Ditch

References

Fabric of Society: A century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870, Jane Tozier and Sarah Levitt revised edtion 2010 Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester City Council (available from Platt Hall Gallery of Costume)

A Centenary Celebration of Platt Fields Park Manchester 1910-2010, Jonathan Schofield (editor), Browns CTP Oldham and Heritage Lottry Fund (available from Platt Hall Gallery of Costume)

http://manchesterartgallery.org/visit/gallery-of-costume/ (accessed 27/12/16)

http://www.plattfields.org/ (accessed 27/12/16)

Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses, | Tagged , ,

St Walburge’s Church, Maudlands, Preston

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St Walburge’s Church Preston

By the late 1840s many of Preston’s churches had become very overcrowded, so a decision was made to found a new one dedicated to                        St Walburge. It was designed by the architect Joseph Hansom, the famous designer of the original two wheeled horse drawn Hansom Cab. A huge fundraising push took place, where it was said that even the poorest gave a penny a week. Building began in 1840 and  the church was opened four years later. The famous spire was added in 1867 and at 309 feet it is thought to be the tallest of any parish church in England (only a handful of cathedrals have a larger one). The colour of the spire  contrasts to that of  the main body of the church because it’s made of a different stone- a limestone full of fossils.

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St Walburge’s Rose Window

In 1873  the far end of the church was extended and a curved aspe was created. Today the volunteer guides will tell you that during the building work bodies were found that dated back to the former use of the site. The Medieval leper hospital of  St Mary Magdalene once stood here and for the full history of this lost building see the blog post here.  St Walburge’s has been restored over the years and on one occasion, the statues of the saints were put back in the wrong order on their roof plinths, and their names painted over. All their identities  have still not been sorted out- but it’s hoped they will be during the current restoration. Intriguingly, the statue of King David  has been cut down the middle, with one half of  the king on one side of the church and the other half on the opposite side. Each half of King David looks across the aisle at its missing part.

One of the most interesting pieces in the church is the war memorial. The oak crucifix at its centre is from Medieval Germany, dating sometime around the 1300s. It was salvaged from a French abbey that had been destroyed in the First World War. From there it went to Belgium, until finally ending up at St Walburge’s. For more on this fascinating memorial see World War 1 Cemeteries website here .

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View from the tower looking toward Preston Docks

The interior of the church is stunning, and before you visit, why not have a look at the 360 degree tour on the church’s own website here. If you are going to visit, then on many Saturdays the church tower is open. The views over Preston and beyond are fantastic and you may see or hear the resident Peregrine falcons which live in the tower.

The future of the church was in doubt in recent years, but has now been assured after the Bishop of Lancaster has declared that it is a ‘shrine’ for pilgrimage. The running of the shrine has been entrusted to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Catholic missionary society. All visitors are welcome.

Access

The church is open every day. On Saturdays their are also guided tours and the steps up the tower and steeple are often open then.

To see more about the Lost Leper Hospital of St Mary Magdgalene which used to be on this site, click here

Links

St Walburge website http://www.stwalburge.org see here

References

Look at St Walburge’s Church, (1989) Preston Bessacarr Prints. Booklet currently in print and available when you visit the church.

The Spire Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest website – http://www.stwalburge.org

Historic England list website https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1207341 (accessed 12/12/16)

This blog post also makes use of on site interpretation at St Walburge’s Church, and conversations with the church’s volunteer guides.

 

 

Posted in Victorian Lancashire | Tagged ,

Nico Ditch, Platt Fields Park, Manchester

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Nico Ditch Plaque

Visitors to Platt Fields Park today may come across an unusual Dark Age relic in the form of the mysterious Nico Ditch. Tucked between the boundary wall of Manchester High School for Girls and a long set of iron railings, the scheduled monument runs for around 140 metres. At the end closest to the boating lake is a small stone plaque hidden in the undergrowth that states: “Part of the very ancient Mickle or Great Ditch sometimes called Nico Ditch. Well known A.D. 1200. Extending over five miles from here to Ashton Moss and bounding several townships. Described fully in Vol.XXIII of  Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society“.

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Nico Ditch in Platt Fields Park

Old maps show that the ditch stretched from Platt Fields and headed  east for some way, before it curved north to Ashton Moss.  Much of the route can still be traced, using a modern map. Although most of the ditch is now covered up, it still remerges today in Mellands playing fields and on Denton golf course. The route is easy to trace along modern streets, so reach for an A-Z or Google maps to see its full extent once it leaves the park:

The route of the ditch leaves Platt Fields at  Platt Chapel  and follows a virtually straight  line eastwards along Old Hall Lane, Park Grove and Matthew Lane. On this same bearing it reappears and can still be seen at Mellands playing fields. It takes a north-easterly tack from then on, going around the edge of Gorton Cemetry and onto Laburnum Road. From here it goes onto Denton golf course where it can be seen in its most impressive form today. Swinging north it passes under Audenshaw Resevoirs and then follows the route of Lumb Lane. From there it extends to Littlemoss.  The Northwestern edge of Ashton Moss is the terminus of Nico Ditch in the east.

dscn1033Historians believe that the Nico Ditch also ran westward from Platt Fields. Its route can’t easily be traced today, neither on maps nor on the ground. By looking at maps of old field systems they believe that it ran from Hough Moss  (grid reference 828 941) to the mossland of Moorside in Urmston (grid reference 783 950). The grid references can be looked up on a modern A-Z to get an idea of the distance.

What the Nico Ditch created was an effective defensive barrier, which incorporated the boggy and frequently impassable mosslands. This would give a defensive structure between the River Irwell and Moorside peat bog in the west, and the River Medlock and Ashton Moss peat bog in the east. In between the two mosses lay the large defensive ditch, so anyone approaching from the south had to pass over it or attempt to get through bog country either side.

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Nico Ditch runs by the Shakespeare Garden

Although the ditch was built in Saxon times, it continued in use as a landscape marker well into the medieval period. It is mentioned in  two charters granting land in Audenshaw to the monks of Kersal Cell in Salford. It was called ‘Mykelldiche’ and the Latin ‘magnum fossatum’ which means ‘great big ditch’.  A century later in the early 1300s it was variously called ‘Mekeldyche’, ‘Mikeldiche’, ‘Muchildiche’ and ‘Mochelidich’. It’s name today ‘Nico Ditch’ is probably just a corruption of the these various spellings. It’s route is still marked in places today by the modern administrative boundaries between Manchester and Stockport as well as  between Manchester and Tameside.

Archaeological excavations have taken place from the 1980s onwards at various points along its line  and have shown the ditch to be somewhere between 4 metres  wide and      up to 2 metres deep. Therefore it was a significant structure- but who were the defenders and who were the aggressors ? There are currently three historical ‘theories’.

Theory 1 –  Saxons against Vikings. Local folklore has it that the Nico Ditch was dug in a single night by the Anglo Saxons of Manchester to defend themselves from the Danish Vikings. Each man supposedly had to dig a ditch and build a bank equal to his own height. Such swift construction is highly improbable, but were the local Saxons really defending themselves against the Vikings, and if so when? Some might place this event around 869-70 AD when the Viking Great Army invaded England.

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Nico Ditch runs by Cathedral Arch

Others place it later in 919 when King Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, came to Manchester to refortify its burh. He was actively campaigning against the Vikings in the midlands and the north at this time.  A burh is a fortified settlement placed at a strategic point- the walls most likely being made of earth and not stone. His strategy was to build or repair the burhs and use them to dominate the land around. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle which was written at that time tells us: “In late harvest time King Edward went with an army to Thelwall and ordered the stronghold to be made and occupied and manned. And while he stayed there he ordered another army, also from the nation of Mercians, to go to Manchester in Northumbria to improve and man her.”  However, historians believe the ditch is older than this, so lets turn to the next two theories…

Theory 2 – Saxons against Saxons. The second idea is that it was constructed by the Northumbrian Saxons against the Mercian Saxons, and was built in the late 700s to early 800s. The traditional territorial divide between these two kingdoms is the River Mersey, but this would also provide  a defendable land marker on the Northumbrian side.

Theory 3 –  British against Saxons. The third theory is really tantalizing. Dr Mike Nevell (of the University of Salford) in his book Tameside before 1066 discusses the above two ideas, but then adds a third. He believes it could be even older and have been built by the British people of the Kingdom of Rheged, against the newly invading Saxon armies in the 600s. When the Roman soldiers left for good, Romano- British society was shattered and the remaining people banded together under warlords. These people are what historians call the ‘British’.  Similar ditches exist around the British Kingdom of Elmet (which had its capital in Leeds). This has the ‘Great Ditch’ in  North Derbyshire and ‘Aberford Dykes’ in West Yorkshire, which were both created to defend against the incoming Saxons.

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Nico Ditch at Platt Chapel

Viewing the Nico Ditch: To see the ditch in Platt Fields Park just follow the park interpretation signs to find it near the boating lake (see the  access description below). Although it is partly obscured by the railings, you can follow along with the railings on your left for most of its length. On the way you’ll come across the sunken Shakespearean Gardens which used to be part of the grounds of Ashfields House, now demolished. Here are planted trees and shrubs mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Also of interest is the Cathedral Arch, which is made from the remains of several Medieval window arches from Manchester Cathedral. During restoration in the 1800s a series of window arches were removed  and placed here and this is the last remaining one. From here follow the line of the fence out onto Wilmslow Road by Platt Chapel. Looking back from this point you can see a really good profile of the Nico Ditch.

Access

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Platt Chapel

Visiting the Nico Ditch in Platt Fields park today: Throughout the park are interpretation boards that show where the ditch is. A map can be downloaded from the Friends of Platt Fields website here. The park has car parking facilities, or just park on Platt Lane. Once in the park  head towards the point between the boating lake and the wall of Manchester High School for Girls (Number 15 on the map) to pick up the ditch at its westerly point and see the stone plaque partially hidden in the trees. You can walk its length all the way down to Platt Chapel on the Wilmslow Road.

As discussed above a section of the ditch also runs through Mellands playing fields, but we have not visited it yet. There is also an impressive section on Denton golf course, but we are unsure how easy this is to access at the moment. A little searching on the web turns up all sorts of photos along its route.

Links

Friends of Platt Fields (www.plattfields.org) see here

References

Tameside Before 1066, Michael Nevell (1992) Tameside  Metropolitan Borough Council with The Greater Manchester Archaeology Unit

The Kingdom of Northumbria AD 350-1100 N.J. Higham (1993) Alan Sutton

A Centenary Celebration of Platt Fields Park, Manchester 1910-2010 edited by Johnathan Schofield , Browns CTP Oldham, (available from Platt Hall Manchester Museum of Costume)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, translated and edited by Michael Swanton (2000) Phoenix Press

Historic England List entry for Nico Ditch in Platt Fields https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1015132 accessed 8/12/16

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Saxon and Viking Lancashire, Saxon and Viking Landscape Feature | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Radcliffe Tower, Radcliffe near Bury

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Radcliffe Tower

After the Norman Conquest of England, Nicholas FitzGilbert de Tabois was given confiscated Saxon manor land in the present day Radcliffe area. He took the name ‘de Radclyffe’  (which means            of Radcliffe) and his descendants continued to live in the area for hundreds of years. They built a manorial house with a church alongside it on this naturally defendable site, which is protected on three sides by the River Irwell. The ‘red cliff’ on one side of the river gives Radcliffe its name.

The earliest record of a fortified Pele tower is from 1358. It is probably this ruined structure that remains today, but why was it built ? The 13oos was a time of on going war between England and Scotland. The Radcliffe family were participants, as Richard de Radcliffe fought with Edward I and his son Edward II in the Scottish Wars. In between these battles were devastating raids by both side into each other’s territory. This led to Pele Towers being constructed mainly in present day Cumbria and North Lancashire. Scottish raids could reach as far as South Lancashire, where Radcliffe is today, and so defendable manorial homes were an option for a wealthy family.

After the wars were over there followed two centuries  of unrest where the inhabitants of the North were at the mercy of families acting as armed bands of thugs, namely the Border Reivers. Again, an attack this far south was not as likely as it was for those living close to the border, but South Lancashire was still within striking range.

As a typical Pele tower, Radcliffe Tower was three stories high. Storage would be on the ground floor in a strong  stone vaulted room, and accommodation would be above.  A Pele was built to repel attackers and Radcliffe Tower incorporated the following : massively thick walls, some 1.5 metres wide; huge draw bars that could be pulled across the backs of the doors to stop them being forced open; narrow ground floor windows to prevent entry, and restricted access to the first floor (in the form of a removable ladder or stairs). This latter measure meant that if attackers  broke into the ground floor they could not easily get to the rooms above.

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The footprint of the Medieval Great Hall

Radcliffe Tower would have been connected to a Medieval Great Hall, which would butt up directly against it. The Great Hall would be a timber frame building, consisting of a huge open room. At one end would be a large table where the family ate. At the other end would typically be doors leading to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. These would be blocked off from view by a large moveable wooden screen (an example of which can be seen at Rufford Old Hall).  The footprint of the Great Hall has been laid out in the grass on the site today, so you can get a feel for its size. For an idea of what both the outside and the inside would have look like, visit nearby  Smithills Hall at Bolton.        It was built in the same era  and its Great Hall still survives to this day. It was also owned by the de Radcliffe family.

Smithills Medieval Great Hall, in Bolton

Smithills Medieval Great Hall, in Bolton

On 15th August  1403 King Henry IV gave James de Radcliffe a ‘licence to crenellate’ which meant permission to fortify his house. James had fought in the Battle of Shrewsbury and this could have been his reward for doing so. Seeing how he already had a Pele Tower, this was probably a permission for further fortified building work. Indeed the licence was for a new Great Hall with  two thick walled stone wings, all enclosed by an outer wall. It appears that the second stone wing was never built, but the hall and tower were probably remodelled at this time.

In 1517 the manor of Radcliffe passed to a more distant branch of the family, that of Robert Radcliffe Lord Fitzwalter who later became the Earl of Sussex. His descendants sold Radcliffe Manor in 1561 to the local Assheton family who lived at Middleton Hall (near Rochdale). The Asshetons did not move in, but leased the hall and its lands to tenant farmers. In 1765 the Earl of Wilton from Heaton Hall near Prestwich took ownership and it would remain with the Wilton family until the 1950s. Again it continued to be let to tenants and not occupied by the family themselves. By  the early 1800s much of its former grandeur was gone and people only continued to live in the small west wing. The Great Hall was converted to a barn and the Pele tower began to be used as farm buildings. This saw  the huge ground floor fireplaces being knocked through on the south and east walls, probably to give access to either farm carts or animals.

South wall of Radcliffe Tower, showing one of the huge fireplaces

South wall of Radcliffe Tower, showing one of the huge fireplaces

By 1840 the Great Hall and west wing had been demolished as both were in a poor state of repair. Some of the stone from their foundations was used to make cottages close by.  A new farmhouse was built to the north of where the Great Hall had stood. The Pele tower was spared, but it continued to be used as a farm building.

Throughout the twentieth century the site around the tower saw huge change. Although the tower was scheduled in 1925, the land around it was not protected and in the 1940s gravel quarrying began to the south of the tower.  By the 1960s  the farmhouse and cottages  had been demolished.  Starting in the 1970s the quarry was used as a landfill, with huge trucks rumbling right past Radcliffe Tower. It was in a very sorry state, being protected only by a fence around it.

Gradually, the fortunes of the tower begun to turn and in 1988 Bury Council took over ownership. Conservation and stabilization of the structure followed- which included blocking the fireplace arches and two windows. The scheduling of the monument was extended to include the land that the Great Hall had stood on. By 2007 the landfill was gone, and Bury Council acquired the land surrounding the tower.

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East wall of Radcliffe tower with another fireplace blocked up

From 2012 there  followed a series of archaeological excavations. Many of these involved the local community, as well as Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford. In 2013 the Heritage Lottey Fund gave £267,000 to the Radcliffe Heritage Project to investigate the site and publicise their finds. Not only were the tower and hall site investigated, but also the later farm and cottages that were built nearby.  Finds revealed that the Great Hall would have had a floor made from glazed tiles. Green ridge roof tiles were also discovered, which would have topped the thatch of the hall. Pottery included 15th century Cistercian ware which is  made of a red clay with a brown iron glaze. This included drinking pots, some with one handle and some with two, as well as storage jars.

The diagonal roof line shows where the Great Hall would have met the tower. Note also the finer brickwork which would have had plaster on it for the inside of the hall

The diagonal roof line shows where the Great Hall would have met the tower. Note also the finer brickwork which would have had plaster on it for the inside of the hall

Today the medieval fabric of the tower has been professionally conserved and restored, and the area around it landscaped. Interpretation notices tell you all about the history of the site. If you examine the ground in front of the large doorway, you can see where the Great Hall would have butted up against Radcliffe Tower, as the archaeologists have helpfully left its footprint in the grass.  If you look at the photograph on the left (click to enlarge it)- the diagonal roof line of the hall can be seen, and smaller irregular stonework of the interior wall which would have been plastered can also be made out. The three blocked large fireplaces are very obvious on three of the sides of the tower, created when the bottom floor was converted from a storage room to a kitchen.

Today Radcliffe  Tower has been incorporated into Close Park which also has a heritage trail. An excellent website has been set up (the Radcliffe Manor Website- see link below) to give lots of details and pictures of the site and you can view the trail and more history by visiting it. The Tower and Park are supported by two groups: Friends of Radcliffe Manor and Friends of Close Park, and their links are also given below. It’s a remarkable journey the tower has been on, and it is now a fantastic heritage destination for Radcliffe and the whole of the Lancashire region.

Access

This site is free to visit and  is open access through Close Park or St Mary’s Church in daylight hours. These are the only gates that are unlocked- there is a large fence around the perimeter of the site and there is no access through any of the other gates.

Just a short drive away Bury Castle ruins

Links

Radcliffe Manor Website http://www.radcliffeheritage.co.uk click here

Friends of Radcliffe Manor group click here

Friends of Close Park group click here

Bury Archaelogy dug the site in the 1970s, keeping alive interest in the tower. See their website here

References

Radcliffe Manor: A Medieval Tower in Context, Greater Manchester’s Past Revealed: 16, Mike Nevell, Vicky Nash and Sarah Cattell, (2016) CfAA, Salford University

Radcliffe Tower: An Introduction to the Scheduled Monument, Peter Arrowsmith, (1995), Bury MBC (with the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit)

 

 

 

Posted in Historic Houses,, Medieval Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Jubilee Tower, Quernmore, near Lancaster

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Jubilee Tower near Quernmore

James Harrison was a wealthy Liverpool shipbuilder who lived in Hare Appletree, near Quernmore. To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, he did two things. In a  fit of patriotism  he lit a beacon on nearby Clougha Pike on the date of the Jubilee, making a precarious assent in his pony and trap. His second deed was rather more enduring- he commissioned a local mason to build a folly view tower. The mason was called Gifford and he  had also worked on nearby Quernmore church and chapel. His work endures to today, and the tower is well worth a visit.

For almost a century the tower remained in private hands, but in 1973 it was donated by a Mr Adam Leigh also of Hare Appletree to Lancashire County Council. The council set about building a large car park across from it, and in the course of doing so the enigmatic Quernmore Dark Age burial was discovered (see here). The remains of the burial can be viewed today in Lancaster City Museum.

Over the next few years the tower stonework was repointed, the handrail on the stairs fixed and the platform itself restored into good order by the council. It remains a popular place for both walkers and drivers today, with its spectacular vistas in all directions.

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Ordnance Survey Bench Mark

On visiting the folly we see a square block shaped building with castle like crenellations on the roof. It does not appear to have an inside to it as there are no windows or doors visible. Perhaps interior rooms would have weakened the structure, so we are looking at what is probably solid stone blocks, all the way through.

On the side facing the road, low down you can see a small metal plaque with OS BM 10825. This stands for Ordnance Survey Bench Mark which was used to measure height above sea level. This was part of the national system to record and measure the height of the land throughout Britain.  The one here is classed as a ‘flush bracket’ and 10825 is its unique identification number. The tower stands at 950 feet above sea level.

Just before you climb the steps to the top, look up and see the stone plaque carved into the structure. It says “This tower was erected by James Harrison of Hare Appletree in commemoration of the Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria ANNO DOMINI 1887”.  

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Moorland, Farmland and Coast with Mountains beyond

This was built to be a viewing tower, and so here is some of what can be seen: Face out to sea and look at the great views of Lancaster close by, with Heysham and its power station beyond. To your right, looking north on a clear day shows the Lake District and it’s southern mountains. Behind you is Hare Appletree Fell and a path up to Clougha Pike. The road to your left will take you to the Trough of Bowland, a fantastic drive through this designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is a well built platform, and in its over a hundred years of existence must have withstood some extremes of weather in this exposed spot. Snow, hail, wind and rain have all driven against it, but at over a hundred and twenty years old it’s still looking in good shape.

Access

The tower and car park are open all year round. Look out for the plaque in the car park for the Quernmore burial (read more about that here). The easiest way to reach the car park is to follow Wyresdale Road from Williamson Park in Lancaster which will take you straight there.  If you are coming from another direction then the postcode for the monument on the Visit Lancashire website is LA2 9HJ- but navigate with a road map as well ! The tower is also marked on Google Maps.

References

Ivory Towers and Dressed Stones Vol 1: Lancashire, Jim Jarratt (1994), Cicerone Press

Lancashire’s Fair Face, Jessica Lofthouse (1976), Robert Hale and Company: London

https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/benchmarks/ (accessed 25/10/16)

http://www.bench-marks.org.uk/bm711 (accessed 25/10/16)

 

Posted in Monuments, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Quernmore Dark Age Burial, near Lancaster

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The plaque marking the burial discovery

A link to the Lancashire Dark Ages was revealed when a car park was being constructed  for the Jubilee Tower near Quernmore. In 1973 a local man, James Marshall was walking his dog near the folly, when his attention was caught by a wooden object sticking out of the soil. A mechanical digger had been involved in cutting a drain for the new car park, and in the process of removing the peat had revealed what looked like a canoe. Staff from Lancaster City Museum were called to the site, and they discovered that there were actually two of these boat shaped objects. The first was largely intact, but the second had been severely damaged by the machine. All was not lost though, as the second one could in large part be reassembled.

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Looking from Jubilee Tower to the car park where the burial was discovered

The team kept the wooden objects and their mysterious contents from degrading by using wet newspaper and polythene sheets- without this quick intervention the wood would have dried out and spilt, perhaps even disintegrated on being exposed to the surrounding air. Upon examination the two boat like objects turned out to be the top and bottom parts of an oak coffin originally pegged together, with each half  shaped like a dug out canoe. The upper half had been damaged first by plant roots and then shattered by the digger.

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Close up of plaque giving a sketch and brief history of the find (click to enlarge)

Inside the coffin were two pieces of woolen cloth. They had been originally been one large sheet in the shape of a square, but a corner had been cut off. The cloth was a 5 foot  burial shroud that contained the remains of a body- not the skeleton, it had long since disintegrated into the acidic soil. All that was left was the deceased’s  hair along with their finger and toe nails. These are all made of keratin, which are more durable than bone in peatlands. The shroud is the largest piece of fabric that has been discovered  from this era. The body had been lain diagonally across it, so that it could be enclosed from head to foot. Unfortunately the feet were not covered as the sheet was not large enough. This led the people who prepared the corpse to cut off a triangular portion of the cloth from one side, which they wrapped separately around the feet.

The radiocarbon date from the wood put it at 1340 years before the present (with an error factor of plus or minus 110 years), so the burial occurred some time around the 600- 700 AD mark.  This placed it firmly in the Dark Ages for Lancashire- which to the historian really are dark as little is known about the region at that time.  Interestingly, some similar burials of oak boat shaped coffins, again in two parts and pegged together have been found in the North Pennines. These were discovered at Wydon Eals Farm in Featherstone and  a little further north at the old churchyard at Haltwhistle. The radiocarbon date of the finds at Featherstone is similar to our one at Quernmore, so we are clearly looking at a style of burial from the early Saxon era.

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Similar boat shaped coffins found in the North Pennines

What is the significance of the shape of the coffins in these burials ? When they were first found, they were recorded as ‘boat burials’. Clearly they look like dug out canoes, but whether this has a ritual significance or is just a common wood working technique of the time, is not known.  The carefully prepared coffin was slotted into a place in the clay that underlay the 18 inches of peat above. The setting was and is still now a very dramatic one, with views of the Irish Sea,  the Cumbrian mountains and the Bowland fells.

Today the remains of the coffin are on display at Lancaster City Museum, having been donated by Lady Sefton on whose land it was discovered. It goes without saying that the museum is superb, and always worth a visit.  It’s also worth going to the Quernmore site where you can view the plaque and enjoy the amazing scenery from the top of the Jubilee Tower.

Access

The car park for Jubilee Tower contains the plaque for the Quernmore Burial.  The easiest way to reach the car park is to follow Wyresdale Road from Williamson Park in Lancaster which will take you straight there.  If you are coming from another direction then the postcode for the monument on the Visit Lancashire website is LA2 9HJ- but navigate with a road map as well ! The tower is also marked on Google Maps.

Just across the road…. Jubilee Tower See the full blog post on Jubilee Tower by clicking here

References

The Quernmore Burial Mystery, Dr A.J. White (2001) Lancaster City Museums

Museum Notes 1) The Quernmore Boat Burial, A.J. White http://lahs.archaeologyuk.org/Contrebis/1-19-White.pdf (retrieved 22/10/16)

Historic England Pastscape website http://www.pastscape.org.uk Monument No. 42869 (retrieved 22/10/16)

North Pennines Virtual Museum website http://www.npvm.org.uk/objects/06/index.htm (retrieved 22/10/16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Saxon & Viking Age Sculpture,, Saxon and Viking Lancashire | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Lost Leper Hospital of St Mary Magdalene, Preston

dscn0150The site of St Walburge’s church is believed to be the location of a Medieval leper hospital, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. Nothing now remains of this building, but what evidence do we have that it was located here ?

The general area around the church is called Maudlands. This is thought to derive from ‘Magdalene lands’, which itself comes from the leper hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. We know for a fact that there was a leper hospital in Preston, because it’s mentioned in  the historical records of the Lancashire Pipe Rolls in ‘letters of protection’ granted by King Henry II in 1177. From those documents we know that it had a warden and what were described as ‘leper brethren and sisters’.  The general size of the buildings, its staff and the  number of patients it could cater for  is not known. The hospital also had a chapel and received donations of  land from local benefactors.

A further letter of protection was granted by Henry’s son King John in 1206. The Magna Carta Project website publishes it in full, but only in its original  Latin. Our Lancashirepast.com resident Latin expert has translated it as follows: “John, by God’s grace King of England, Master of Ireland and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine with Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, counts, barons, justices, sheriffs, and to all the ministers and loyal subjects, Greetings.

Know that the hospital of St Mary Magdalene, Preston and the lepers there are in our hands, care and protection, therefore we command that it, and the lepers and all their possessions, is maintained, protected and watched over, so that there is no injury, damage or disturbance done to them or permitted by anyone, and if anyone shall presume to do this they shall make amends without delay. This to do as stated in our father King Henry’s letters of patent which have been witnessed as reasonable. According to me at Chester, 29th February , in the seventh year of our reign

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St Mary Magdalene Seal from Bristol Leper Hospital

The hospital’s seal still survives in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It shows Mary Magdalene holding a flowerpot in one hand and an ointment box in the other. It bears the legend SIGILLV: COMMVNE: FRATRVM: PRESTONE. Here at Lancashirepast.com we think this translates as “Seal of the Community of Brothers at Preston”. We were unable to find a picture of it, but here is a replica of a similar one for the St Mary Magdalene leper hospital at Bristol, which is preserved in the British Museum.

 

In the time of its second warden, John of Coleham, who served between 1270 and 1313, records survive of some of the donations given to the hospital by local people. William, son of William the Leech (described as a ‘medici’-so presumably a doctor) gave a grant of an acre of land in Preston. Margaret daughter of William Kibald gave six perches of land in a field in Tulketh. Most intriguingly, Robert son of Robert de Hunte of Thelwall gave a grant of a ‘villein, his issue and chatel’- presumably a man, his children and possessions ? To see more of these intriguing gifts to the hospital  have a look at the Links section toward the bottom of this page.

The chapel was a site of pilgrimage especially on the feast days of St Mary Magdalene and  St Thomas of Canterbury. During the Feast of the Invention of the Cross on May 3rd 1358  a riot broke out. The chapel was invaded by various people, including  someone described as a Preston schoolmaster. The records of the Duchy of Lancashire Assize (court) tell us that some of the rioters were held as prisoners there for the next day.

Looking down from St Walburge church tower

Looking down from St Walburge church tower

By 1465 the leper hospital was no longer in use, but the chapel and its attendant lands were still a going concern. In 1525 the last chaplin, Thomas Barlow leased it and the lands to James Walton, who had to make sure that a mass for the King was said there once a week. He passed this obligation on to the local Franciscan Friars (of Friargate in Preston) along with leasing some  land to them called ‘Widowfield’ . The Friars decided that they owned the land, and the History of the County of Lancashire tells us  that ‘two friars and others forcibly entered the field’, causing him to appeal to the Chancellor of the Duchy. Seven years later he came under attack once more, this time the above mentioned volume states “the land was again seized by his opponents, who pulled down the mansion house attached to the chapel and carried off the ornaments of the chapel itself”.

After closing the monastries and stripping their assets, King Henry VIII sought to do a similar thing with the smaller independently owned chantry chapels. He sent his Chantry Commisioners out in  1546 to asses the value of each of these across the counry. They described the  chapel of St Mary Magdalene  as ‘defaced and open at both ends’ and as having ’58 acres of land’. It was dissolved two years later, and Henry’s son, King Edward VI gave what was described as the ‘Maudlands property’ to two London gentlemen, who soon sold it on.

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Bones from the cemetery were discovered when the nearby railway cuttings were made

The site of the graveyard from the leper hospital must be somewhere around the present day church of  St Walburge. The Heritage England Pastscape website tells us that five skeletons and other human bones were found in 1836 when the new streets were being constructed in Maudlands. When St Walburge’s Church was built in the early 1850s a stone coffin and more skeletons were discovered, and similar finds of bones were located when the nearby Lancaster Railway cutting was made. Interestingly, at the site of Marsh Lane in the vicinity of the Franciscan Friary, a cemetery was discovered very recently and the bones of the occupants also showed signs of leprosy. For the full blog post on Preston’s Friary click here.

Today, nothing remains of the medieval leprosy hospital or chapel of St Mary Magdalene. But Maudlands is still an interesting place to visit, and on Saturdays St Walburge’s Church is open, often with trips up to it’s famous tower, so why not go  and view the vicinity for yourself ?

Access

St Walburge’s Church is on Westlands Street, Preston. It is open every Saturday, and as stated above, there’s often the facility to climb the steps of its very tall tower and survey the surrounding area.

Nearby, why not visit the site of Preston’s Lost Medieval Friary

Links

To read more about gifts to the hospital of St Mary Magdalene, have a look at the National Archives webpage – click here

To read the letter of protection from King John written in Latin and to have a look at the Magna Carter Project website click here

References

The Magna Carter Project website : (accessed 18/9/16)

http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/newly_discovered_charters/Notification_of_the_King_s_grant_of_protection_to_the_Hospital_of_St_Mary_Magdalene__Preston

Historic England Pastscape Website:(accessed 18/9/16)

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=42498

The National Archives website detailing the Duchy of Lancaster Deeds (accessed 18/9/16)

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/browse/r/h/C5687172

British History Online website(accessed 18/9/16) transcript of  A History of the County of Lancaster Volume 2 edited by William Farrer and J Brownbill (1908):

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol2/pp163-164

British Museum website.  (accessed 18/9/16) The webpage about the St Mary Magdalene Leper Hospital Seal from Bristol:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=47363&partId=1

 

 

 

Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Medieval Monasteries, | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Five Lancashire Museums Will Now Close, but there’s still hope….

Lancashire County Council has made the decision to close five museums at the end of September 2016, but four organisations have come forward with bids to run them. One organisation is looking to run both Helmshore and Queen Street Mills, and the Museum of Lancashire, Fleetwood Maritime Museum and Judges’ Lodgings Museum each have one different organization bidding to run each of  them. The best case scenario is that these bids would be successful and the running of museums transferred over to these organisations by the start of  January 2017. At this time it is not clear who has been bidding to run the museums. That knowledge is not in the public domain, it’s known only by Lancashire County Council.

For the full report click here

Below is an edited version of the Lancashire County Council’s report on the Evaluation of Detailed Applications for Museums

23 August 2016

The Cabinet Member for Environment, Planning and Cultural Services is recommended to agree:

  • to the closure of the 5 museums (Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster, the Maritime Museum in Fleetwood, the Museum of Lancashire in Preston, Queen Street Mill in Burnley and the Helmshore Mill in Rossendale) on 30 September 2016, and move all of the 5 museums into a ‘care and maintenance’ regime
  • that negotiations commence with the organisations who have submitted applications in respect of taking over the museums 
  •  that the negotiations …. be concluded as quickly as possible, with a view to effecting transfers as soon as practicable, with a target date of 31 December 2016

Organisation 1 (for the Judges’ Lodgings) This application is of very high quality, and has been deemed by the officers undertaking the evaluation as an exemplar offer. The applicants have articulated their vision for the future of the museum very clearly, and their business plan for the future stands up to scrutiny. They have clear financial objectives and have not requested any ongoing financial support from the County Council. Their business model is based on the use of volunteers, with some paid staff, and the group contains a wide ranging mix of professionals and experts in the field. They have identified a wide variety of income generating opportunities and have a very clear understanding of the community need and how they will meet it. The recommendation in respect of this application is for officers to proceed immediately with negotiations to effect a transfer, with a view to concluding negotiations by 31 December 2016. The museum will move into a ‘care and maintenance’ regime from 1 October 2016, whilst negotiations take place. One of the key features of the negotiations will be the arrangements for the current contents of the museum, which include a valuable collection of furniture, which the County Council and the applicants are seeking to cover by a lease arrangement.

Organisation 2 (for the Maritime Museum in Fleetwood)

This application is also of very high quality. The applicants have a very good understanding of community need and have identified a number of opportunities to enhance the existing service. They have already obtained additional funding from the Parish Council and their financial position is stable. …

The recommendation in respect of this application is for officers to proceed immediately with negotiations to effect a transfer, with a view to concluding negotiations by 31 December 2016.

Organisation 3 (for the Museum of Lancashire)

This application is based on a consortium. The offer demonstrates a good understanding of community need and contains a number of potential opportunities to enhance the current service. The offer is based on a business case which has been prepared on behalf of the consortium by a consultant. The business case contains four possible business models, based on the transfer of a number of buildings on the site, and the possible merger of the museum with another north west based museum (for operational management purposes). The main concern with each of the business models on offer is that each of them requires an ongoing revenue contribution from the County Council (and Preston City Council). This was not the basis of the invitation for expressions of interest, which was on the basis of no ongoing financial liability for the County Council. However, officers’ assessment of the offer is that the staffing costs contained within the business case could be reduced, with greater use of volunteers, and some of the other costs (operational running costs) could also be reduced.

The recommendation in respect of this application is for officers to proceed immediately with discussions with the consortium, with a view to a better understanding of the financial position of the offer. If the offer is wholly reliant on a financial contribution from the County Council then the recommendation is to halt the negotiations and assess the position at that point.  
If the financial position can be revised, resulting in no on going costs for the County Council, then the recommendation is to conclude negotiations for a transfer by 31 December 2016. The museum will move into a ‘care and maintenance’ regime from 1 October 2016, whilst negotiations take place. Arrangements for the current contents of the museum will also need to be considered, with a view to entering into a lease arrangement for the current contents that belong to the County Council.

Organisation 4 (for the Queen Street and Helmshore Textile Mills)

No detailed applications have been received in respect of the two mills. However the Chief Executive of a national body has written to the Chief Executive of the County Council to request that further time be given for their Board to consider putting forward an offer for the mills. The Board is due to meet in September. If the outcome of the meeting is positive and an application is received then the recommendation in respect of the 2 mills is for officers to commence detailed negotiations with the national body in September, with a view to effecting a transfer of the mill museums as soon as practicable, on terms acceptable to the County Council.
Reference

Lancashire County Council website Evaluation of Detailed Applications for Museums:

http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=9161 (accessed 20/9/16)

 

 

Posted in Lancashire Mills,, Latest News | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Lytham Hall, Lytham

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Lytham Hall

In 1606 Cuthbert Clifton bought the site of Lytham Hall and 5,500 acres of land from the Molyneux family.  He ordered the old manor house to be levelled so that he could have a new one built. This Jacobean house still exists today, connected to a later Georgian hall.

In 1752 Thomas Clifton had a new house begun, which is the imposing one that greets visitors to the site today. Taking 12 years to construct, this Georgian building was designed by John Carr of York. He used  a style mimicking the Italian  16th century architect Palladio, with an emphasis on  symmetry and design inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.

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More Georgian Symmetry

The Cliftons became an increasingly wealthy family, in fact one of the richest in the country. By the 1800s they spent little time at Lytham, and the estate was managed in their absence by trustees and land agents. Of the later family members, notable was John Talbot Clifton. Throughout his life he was seen as a benefactor to Lytham and St Annes, laying the foundation stone to the latter when he was 7 years old.  Well travelled,  at 39 he married Violet Mary Beauclark who he met in Peru.  He died in 1928 on expedition to Timbuktu.

But it was their son, Harry (Henry Talbot de Vere Clifton) that led to the unravelling of the estate and family fortune. Inheriting everything before the age of 21, he began a life long spending spree, disposing of the family wealth. His lavish expenses included keeping permanent suites at the best hotels. In 1935 he was visited by his friend the author Evelyn Waugh. The novelist described the house as “very beautiful” but the Cliftons as “tearing mad…all sitting at separate tables at meals.” Some sources claim that Harry was part of the inspiration for the ill fated Sebastian, in Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisted.

DSCN7067By 1957 Harry’s rising debts meant the house could have been repossessed. To prevent this his mother  Violet, who had not been resident for some years, returned to make sure the house was permanently lived in. She had been living under the name Sister Seraphim in a Poor Clares convent in Sussex.  After her death Harry sold the hall and parkland to Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance. In 1978 he sold the title ‘Lord of the Manor’ and died a year later, leaving a mere £30,000 in his will, a fraction of what he had inherited.

The hall and surrounding parkland had been bought by Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance back in 1963. The organization proved to be a  good steward, restoring and maintaining the property. In 1996 the hall became available again to buy and the Lytham Town Trust stepped forward to purchase it for the local community. It is now leased to the Heritage Trust for the North West who will undertake to further conserve it and develop the park and hall as a tourist attraction.

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So, on visiting this Grade I listed building today what is there to see ? Both the Georgian and Jacobean parts are open to visitors and there are a large number of rooms to view. On viewing the exterior of the Georgian part, symmetry is a key feature.  The same number of windows can be seen either side of the entrance way. This pattern  is preserved  on each face of the Georgian hall by having a number of dummy windows that have no counterpart on the inside. Likewise some of the interior rooms feature both real doors and their dummy counterparts that cannot be opened, but preserve the symmetry of the rooms.

Much of the Georgian house interior is designed in  the rococo style from the 1700s. This used curving patterns with rocks, shells, flowers and scrolls. Lavish use of mirrors and  Stucco plasterwork (a decorative lime plaster) are also a feature of this style. Incredible ceiling plasterwork  can be viewed in the Entrance Hall and in the Staircase Hall, the latter boasting a spectacular piece featuring Jupiter, lord of the gods at its centre.

Lytham Hall dovecote

Lytham Hall dovecote

The stunning Drawing Room features  Gillows console tables each supporting a  huge ‘pier glass’  (a large tall mirror masking the wall between two windows). Gold dominates the room, covering the tables, the edges of the mirrors as well as the wall panels which are hand stenciled with gold leaf.  Gillows furniture can also be seen in other rooms- the Entrance Hall has Gillows chairs and the Dining room features a large Gillows sideboard and huge curtain rail.

Upstairs is the  Long Gallery from the earlier Jacobean hall, common to houses of that era. The room would be where the ladies of the time would walk up and down to exercise in bad weather. During World War 2 the Long Gallery was converted into a convalescent hospital ward for the military. The upstairs bedrooms and furnishings give a more intimate feel of the hall in its later years, reflecting the tastes of John, Violet and Harry Clifton.

Restoration of the gardens is underway

Restoration of the gardens is underway

The 78 acres of Grade II historic parkland is being restored. The woodlands are being managed, new trees planted and paths cleared. Of particular interest is the restoration of the Mount from the 1700s. This was used as a viewing platform, giving vistas over the estate to the sea. In it’s time it even had an icehouse built into it.  Today new steps have been put in, so that visitors can climb up it once again. A restoration of the Italian style garden and Kitchen garden is also underway. The dovecot with its 850 nestboxes will be a future project.

Lytham Hall and grounds are a hugely  important Lancashire site, which for so long has been on the  ‘heritage at risk’ register but is now well and truly open for all to enjoy. Some say that the hall is the finest Georgian House in Lancashire- why not visit and see for yourself.

Access

House Open: Thursdays, Friday, Sundays (and Bank Holiday Monday)- adults £5.00

Parkland Open: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday – Free or £1.00 depending on day

Café Open: Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday

(See link below to check opening times)

Links

Lytham Hall Website www.lythamhall.org.uk Visit this for all the latest news and the opening times.

Heritage Trust for the  North West  website www.htnw.co.uk  Have a look at the excellent work this organization is doing throughout our region.

References

The historical information for this blog post is drawn from the following publications:

Lytham Hall and Historic Park, Dennis Leyland, undated, Heritage Trust for the North West,  booklet currently in print as of 2016 and available from the house

Lytham Hall: A brief tour of the house and grounds, leaflet, undated, currently in print as of 2016 and available from the house

 

 

 

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