Hesketh with Becconsall can feel pretty remote even today with the rivers of the Ribble to the north and Douglas to the east, and the large expanse of Hesketh Marsh to the west. With our modern road links and bridges we take it for granted we can easily reach these sparsely populated areas of Lancashire. This was not so in the 1500s when the local inhabitants faced a long walk to their nearest church at Croston. Their most straightforward route would be cut off whenever the River Douglas flooded. This would then mean a walk of five miles to Rufford Bridge and a further three miles to Croston over the boggy Croston Moss. A new church on the west side of the Douglas was the obvious solution. Croston Church created three outlying chapels – one at nearby Tarelton, another at Hoole and in 1535 one at Hesketh Bank. The church was small, just 21 feet long by 12 feet wide and made of wood.
In 1765 funds were raised for a new church, a sum of £60 by local farmers and levy of £30 on the parishioners. The wooden church was dismantled and in its place the one we see today was erected, constructed with bricks supplied by the lord of the manor Sir Thomas Hesketh. It was used as a domestic chapel-of-ease by the Becconsall family of nearby Becconsall Hall.
The busy Lancaster to Chester route would usually pass through Preston, but by making a detour via Hesketh Bank, travellers could bypass Preston and shorten the journey by 28 miles. The Ribble crossing between Hesketh and Freckleton Naze was fordable at low tide and guides could be employed to safely show the way. Hesketh Bank could be a bleak and dangerous landscape on foot or by boat. In 1535 the Duchy of Lancaster gave an annual payment of £2, 16 shillings and 5 pence for prayers to be said at the church for mariners on the Ribble. The payment is still made but has not been adjusted for inflation. A copy of the a Duchy cheque written on the 29th September 2000 for £2.82 is displayed in the church today !
In 1655 William Tomlinson of Warton complained he had lost more than ten horses over his 40 years as a guide and petitioned for a new one. James Blundell’s 1844 grave near to the door of the church carries the poignant epitaph: Often times I have crossed the sands, and through the Ribble deep, but I was found in Astland drown’d, which caused me here to sleep. It was God’s will it should be so, some way or other all must go. (The Astland refered to here is an alternative name for the River Douglas.) Reminders that the landscape is still steeped in water cluster around the church. There is the Ferryman’s house almost next door and a boatyard lying just outside the bounds of the church. Nearby Douglas House Farm was the customs house for the River Douglas through Georgian and into early Victorian times.
In 1919 the new church of All Saints began to be built on Station Road. When it was finished in 1925 the whole congregation transfered there. Once a year they returned to the Georgian building on ‘Old Church Sunday’. Eventually the older church became so dilapidated that the building could not safely be used, and the services took place in the nearby field.
During the Second World War bombs dropped by a German plane damaged the gravestones in the churchyard badly, and caused some damage to the church too. The blast and shrapnel marks can still be seen by visitors today, if they stand at the entrance to the church and look back towards the gravestones. For the full story of this incident see our sister website Lancashire at War here .
Through the 1980-90s a movement began to try to save the church, with many worried it would be demolished if a function for it could not be found. Ideas such as converting it to a youth hostel, tea room or agricultural museum were just some of those mooted. None of these came to pass, but in 1997 the Church Conservation Trust took over. This excellent organization looks after 325 churches throughout Britain. Huge amounts of restoration took place on the fabric of the building, and the original bell was brought back from the new All Saints and placed in the repaired belcotte on the roof above the entrance doors.
On visiting today (see below about how to gain access) there is still much to see. You enter in at the west end, passing under a choir gallery supported on four fluted wooden columns. Walking up the gallery steps gives you a good view over the interior of this small Georgian chapel. On the ground floor only two of the original pews remain . The pulpit and font are contemporary to the church’s time of building, the altar and reading desk were added in the restoration of 1875. Two painted wall boards display the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and Apostles Creed. The large late Georgian windows are in excellent condition and flood the room with light. At the back of the church are displays featuring lots of newspaper clippings from over the years about the attempts to save the building. Details of the restoration, maps of the area and other local history snippets are also featured. The Friends of Becconsall church (see their website here) organize events during the year to make use of the building.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2017
Thanks to local residents Sheila, Malcolm and Bob for their help.
The churchyard is open access. To view the interior of the church, a key can be obtained from two of the houses nearby. The information board at the entrance to the building tells you which ones. The church itself is towards the end of Becconsall Lane.
Nearby, just a short drive away Bank Hall, Bretherton
Becconsall Old Church of All Saints, Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, (2001) Series 4 No.51, The Churches Conservation Trust. Booklet currently available from within the church
Hesketh with Becconsall Heritage Trail leaflet (excellent free pdf, available at http://visitseftonandwestlancs.co.uk/ -click on the walking routes tab)