Warton Old Rectory is a large stone medieval house dating from the 1300s. It stands back from the road, opposite the parish church and its name comes from the fact that it was lived in by the rector of the church. Its hall was used as the manor court.
Initially, it was built and owned by the de Thweng family. Marmaduke de Thweng had the right to appoint the rector and it was probably two of his sons that had the building constructed. It became one of the wealthiest rectories in the whole of the diocese of York. The right to control the appointment of rectors, traditionally owned by the de Thweng family and their descendants, was disputed by the Duke of Lancaster, who was also the reigning monarch, until the 1500s. This sometimes led to aggressive conflict.
In 1490, when one of these descendants, John Laurence, held the right to appoint the rector, the king installed his own candidate called Richard Dudley. In retaliation, Laurence sent a group of around 80 men to Warton. They broke into the rectory, locked the parson out of the church and proceeded to roast meat inside it. They also stole corn from Dudley’s barns and placed an armed garrison in the church steeple. It is interesting to note that John Laurence held the role of Commissioner of the Peace!
The layout of the medieval rectory
The building would have had the typical medieval layout of a Great Hall and its attendant service rooms. (There is a surviving example of a medieval hall at Smithills Hall in Bolton). It would have had an open timber roof, high windows on its east and west side and a central hearth. The entrance into it from the outside would have been screened by a passage way.
At the south end was a raised dias, where the rector would have taken his meals. This would also have been used when the court was in session. At the opposite end to the dias were the service rooms – the buttery and pantry – and their entrances sat either side of a corridor to the kitchen. The three doorways would have had a screen in front of them.
Above the buttery and pantry was an upper room, which had a fireplace in its north wall and a small inner chamber for a garderobe (toilet).
The destruction of the monasteries did not affect the rectory, but we know that over the next three hundred years it had become a partial ruin with only part of it habitable. Against its north wall, in the area where the kitchen would have been, a cottage was attached – probably built sometime in the 1600s. This seems to have been lived in well into the 20th century. It is described as consisting of “one living room from which a ladder led up to a wooden platform covering the ground floor to make a hay loft for sleeping accommodation”. When, in 1971, the government’s Ministry of Works took over, the cottage was in a very bad condition and the decision was made to knock it down, and just preserve the Medieval parts of the hall.
Visiting the Old Rectory
Here’s a short guide to what can be seen today: You enter through the pointed archway of what would have been the west porch. No trace of the screened passage way remains, so you look directly into the Great Hall. At the south end we can still see a high status quatrefoil window. Below this would have been the raised dias at which the rector sat.
The three doorways to the service areas can be seen at the opposite north end. You can go into both the buttery and pantry rooms. If you go through the middle doorway this would have taken you to the kitchen. Look up to see the upper chamber’s fireplace in the north wall. Follow the passage way out past the north wall. This is where the 1600s cottage was, but all that remains of its now are its cruick beam timbers, not in their original place but attached to the garden wall.
Once in the garden area, look back towards the Great Hall. You can see remnants of one of its porches, and in here would once have been the steps up to the upper chamber. Go back into the Great Hall to view the modern vicarage. The large traceried window might well have been contemporary to the rectory and could have been part of a private chapel on the first floor of this building.
Warton Old Rectory is a free site to visit and is open in daylight hours throughout the year. Do take time to visit the church opposite as well.
There is a free car park on Crag Road, Warton.
Nearby, just a short drive away
Heritage Unlocked: Guide to Free Sites in the North West Sarah Yates Editor (2002) English Heritgage
Onsite interpretation boards at Warton Old Rectory
How it Was: A North Lancashire Parish in the Seventeenth Century Mourholme Local History Society (1998) pdf available online from Mourholme Local History Society- see on our Lancashire Links page
Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire Vol.LVII 1906, The Old Recotry House and Rectory of Warton by J. Kestell Floyer, F.S.A available at the Internet Archive: