Hoghton Tower sits on a prominent steep hill, dominating the local landscape. Although built in Tudor times, the de Hoghton family were living in the area well before this. They had a manor house in nearby Hoghton Bottoms and a Pele Tower on top of the hill. The de Hoghtons were members of the local landed gentry and, accordingly, they served as Knights of the Shire, Sheriffs of Lancaster and Members of Parliament. However, like so many ruling Lancashire families, they often found themselves in conflict with royalty and the government of the day.
Permission to empark the wooded estate that we see still today was granted in 1300s. During the building of Lancaster Castle two hundred oak trees were sent from Hoghton, showing this area had a substantial amount of mature timber. Living amongst the trees would have been wild boars and the distinctive Hoghton breed of white cattle, featured on the family crest.
Thomas Hoghton builds Hoghton Tower
Thomas Hoghton built the house in the years 1560 to 1565, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Using gritstone quarried from the parkland, the design was very much in keeping with local traditions of the times. Perhaps it needed to have its fortified look, as private war with neighbours was still an ongoing occurrence in Lancashire. Thomas got into a dispute over cattle with his neighbour Thomazine Singleton, and decided to settle the matter by force. His army of 30 men was met with one of 80 that supported her, and in the fighting his younger brother was killed. For the full story of the conflict and its repercussions, see our page on nearby Broughton Tower here.
Thomas had very little time to enjoy his newly-built house – he left Hoghton Tower four years after its completion, to go into exile. Refusing to conform to the anti-Catholic laws of Elizabeth I’s government, he went overseas to Holland. He was accompanied into exile by his friend Dr. William Allen of Rossall (who later became a Cardinal). Dr. Allen persuaded the pope to excommunicate the queen, and declare her “the pretend Queen of England and the servant of crime.” He was also a supporter of the Spanish Armada’s planned invasion of England. Dr Allen was instrumental in the setting up of the English College in Douai and Sir Thomas helped with the funding of it. Its mission was to train English Catholic priests and send them back into Protestant England undercover. For more on William Allen’s subversive work, see our page on St Chad’s Church here.
While Thomas was away, his brother Richard looked after the estate. He visited Thomas twice having been granted license to travel by Elizabeth I, but Thomas was never to return and died in exile after eleven years. His butler did come back though, and eked out a living as a handloom leaver in the old dilapidated manor house in Hoghton Bottoms.
Sir Richard and the visit of King James I
The story of the tower now moves on to the time of King James I, Elizabeth’s chosen successor. Sir Richard Hoghton was more successful at gaining favour with royalty than his predecessors. He had grown up at the court of Elizabeth and had served in Ireland. Richard was created a Baronet in 1611, a hereditary title the family still holds.
His monarchy connections enabled him to gain a Royal Concession from 1608 to 1629 to mine locally for alum, coal, copper and slate. In Tudor times trade was heavily regulated, with monopolies being granted to certain individuals, but at a price. The event that changed his life was the announcement that the King was to come on a three day visit to the tower. With only two months to prepare, Sir Richard must have spent a huge amount of money to entertain and accommodate not only the king but the court that would have travelled with him. This included dukes, earls, lords, baronets, knights and the Bishop of Chester. Added to this was the list of local aristocracy that would attend the visit. It would have meant that he would have faced a sizeable bill, the debt of which took Richard years to clear and nearly bankrupted him.
Sir Richard rode with King James from Preston. As they approached the tower, his son Sir Gilbert and the local landowning families were assembled to greet them. It’s recorded that the king rode through an avenue of javelin bearers to be greeted by trumpets and pipers at the tower.
The food menu contained an enormous quantity of meat: deer, chicken, sheep, pig, cow, turkey, goose, heron, ducks, quails, plovers, curlews had been variously boiled, roasted or put into pies. Local tradition holds that during one of the meals the King James was so impressed with the beef that he knighted it “Sir Loin”.
Locals would have received the King’s touch for scrofula, also known as the King’s Evil. This was a bacterial infection that caused large swellings on the neck, but was often a self-limiting disease, so that any spontaneous cure would be attributed to the king. They were also allowed to petition the king about their grievances. Many requested that he overturn the ban on Sunday sports, which he later did, publishing his laws in the Book of Sports. This allowed the reintroduction of the pursuits of archery, ale-drinking, leaping, vaulting and maypole dancing.
King James also visited Sir Richard’s alum mines and entered into a joint contract with him. When the king left on the Monday, the local gentry was taken down into Sir Richard’s cellars where they drank so much that Nicholas Assheton recorded in his diary that they were “as merry as Robin Hood and all his fellows”.
Sir Gilbert, the Civil War and Royal Restoration
Sir Richard’s son, Sir Gilbert, was very much in royal favour, having been knighted in London, at the age of only 15, by James I. He had a passion for dance, including appearing in performances for the king, and was a patron of various writers and poets. Like many of his predecessors he held the post of Sheriff of Lancashire, and was an MP for Clitheroe and the county three times.
However, when the Civil War broke out he was in a difficult position. He supported James’s son King Charles I and trained men for the Royalist cause. He was active in both the battles of Blackburn and Preston. Hoghton Tower itself did not escape damage. It was seized by Captain Starkie with a company of 100 men for Parliament. During the troop occupation the gun powder stored in the Great Keep of the Pele Tower caught fire and the building was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt. (The story of how this happened is contentious, and we’ll publish more on this on our Lancashire at War website soon and put a link here).
When Sir Gilbert died in 1648, his estates were confiscated by Parliament. However his son, Sir Richard II, was a Parliamentary supporter and was able to regain the family lands. When King Charles II was restored to the throne, he swapped allegiances to the Royalist cause and managed to curry favour to became a Gentlemen of the King’s Bedchamber. Prominent dissenting ministers preached at the house, and the de Hoghtons become non-conformist and Presbyterian in their religion.
Sir Henry and the Jacobite Rebellions
The first Jacobite Rebellion occurred in 1715 when King Charles II’s nephew, James Francis Edward Stuart (nicknamed ‘The Old Pretender’) tried to take the throne. Sir Henry Hoghton was in charge of the local militia and defence of Lancaster. He tried to recover six cannons from a ship near Sunderland Point, but the Jacobites managed to capture the guns first. They then stole the wheels from his coach to bring them to Preston and attack the town. The ignominy was that his own town house in Preston was hit by two of the cannons. Thirty years later, during the second Jacobite Rebellion, the same Sir Henry had the militia ready. He used his other residence, nearby Walton Hall, as a base to restock their food supplies.
Decline and Restoration
During the 1700s, the family moved permanently to Walton Hall in Walton-le-Dale. Hoghton Tower was let out to weavers, spinners and a calico printer. During the early 1800s, the rot had really set in to the fabric of the building. The only people living there at the time were game keepers. Charles Dickens visited on a walk from Preston to Blackburn and used the setting in a short story he wrote called George Silverman’s Explanation. (NB in the text Dickens adds an ‘s’ on to tower, calling the place Hoghton Towers). The text reads “…by some rugged outbuildings that had once been fortified, and passing under a ruined gateway we came to the old farmhouse in the thick stone wall outside the old quadrangle of Hoghton Towers… A house, centuries old, deserted and falling to pieces, its woods and gardens long since grassland or ploughed up, the Rivers Ribble and Darwen glancing below it, …among the ancient rooms, many of them with their floors and ceilings falling, the beams and rafters hanging dangerously down, the plaster dropping as I trod, the oaken panels stripped away, the windows half walled up, half broken; when I discovered a gallery commanding the old kitchen, and looked between the balustrades upon a massive old table and benches, fearing to see I know not what dead-alive creatures come in and seat themselves…” His description is more extensive than that just quoted, and to read it and the full story for free, see the Reference section at the bottom of the page.
The restoration of Hoghton Tower was began in 1862 by Sir Henry and continued with his heirs for the next two generations. In 1901 the process was complete. The house was first opened to the public in 1946 and it remains a popular tourist destination to this day. It is still lived in by the de Hoghton family.
Hoghton Tower in the Modern Era
The house we see today is built around two courtyards, an upper and lower one. The lower one housed the servant quarters and the upper one the family quarters and banqueting hall. The Great Barn was constructed in 1692 and is now used for events. The gardens are not extensive, but are worth viewing and include a turf maze. Visitors can climb up on the garden battlements to survey the excellent panoramic views.
The interior of Hoghton Tower can only be seen by guided tour. These are run regularly for visitors on the many days each year when the house is open or when an event is taking place in the grounds. The tour takes around an hour and a half and is a fascinating gallop through the history of the house and its visitors.
Its long history stretches from the Tudor times to the present, but it contains even earlier artefacts that reach back to the Medieval period. It is thought that an arch from the chapel originated from Whalley Abbey, as well as the bell in the upper courtyard which was given to the family by the aforementioned Dr. William Allen of Rossall.
The Hoghton family’s old State Room features a heavily carved bed from nearby Samlesbury. The bog oak marquetry is similar to that of the small altar in St Joseph’s Church in Brindle. The original Great Kitchen is now a working kitchen preparing food for the restaurant. The whereabouts of a number of Priest Holes to hide visiting Catholic priests are discussed on the tour.
The Tudor Well Room has been recently restored. The deep shaft is impressive and particularly fascinating are the taper burn marks from candle flames, deliberately placed on the original wooden support structure. The belief was that the devil would ignore things with imperfections and so leave them alone. There is also a superb Daisy Wheel on the structure, which is a protection mark against witches. Another protection mark is on the internal door from the chapel to the Great Hall with two overlapping ‘V’ letters on it (‘Virgo Virginium’, for the Virgin Mary).
Many of the rooms have a connection to the visit from King James I. The Buckingham Room is named after the right hand man of the king, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. It is believed that he stayed there for the duration of the visit. Today it features a powder room for wigs and an elegant Hepplewhite-style bed. On the opposite side of the house is the antechamber where James would have received important visitors. This leads to the James I bedroom. It is thought that this was selected by James because it had only one entrance door into it, plus a large drop from the windows facing the outside of it, making it easy to defend.
In the Great Hall, King James is reputed to have knighted the loin of beef at the long table that still stands there today. Its external doorway into the courtyard features both a larger summer door and a smaller winter door encompassed within it. The decorated ceiling is original, as is the Minstrels Gallery. The north and south windows contain 4000 panes of Flemish stained glass. Over the years many visitors would have been entertained here. The most famous would have been William Shakespeare (in his ‘missing years’ it is claimed he resided both with the Hoghtons and the Heskeths of Rufford Old Hall); Edmund Campion (the undercover Jesuit missionary) and King William III (the Dutch-born ruler of Britain and Ireland). More recently it has hosted Condoleezza Rice in her role as U.S. Secretary of State when she visited local MP Jack Straw.
Restoration work was done in the Guinea Room and Ballroom by the famous firm of Gillows of Lancaster. The Guinea Room features golden guineas painted in the four corners of each panel throughout the room, and was used in the Georgian times for gambling. Gillows are responsible for the panelling and doors. In the Ballroom, they took part of an original panel as the inspiration for the extensive wood panelling throughout the room. They also created the two marble stone fireplaces. There are mementoes on display of Major-General Daniel Hoghton, who was killed at the Battle of Albuera during the Napoleonic wars.
Hoghton Tower holds a range of special events throughout the year, as well as being open for guided tours of the house. Farmers Markets, Vintage Fairs, music concerts, plays and historical re-enactments are all regular events.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2019
The house and grounds are open April through to September, but not every day. Check the website for details. Special opening days also occur in November and December.
Hoghton Tower website is here
Nearby, just a short drive away
Hoghton Tower, Frank Singleton (1999) Hoghton Tower Preservation Trust. Available from Hoghton Tower gift shop.
Hoghton Tower, Frank Singleton (undated much earlier version of the above booklet) W.S. Heane Ltd
Lancashire Halls, Margaret Chapman (1990) Printwise Publications Ltd
Guided tour of Hoghton Tower autumn 2019
George Silverman’s Explanation Charles Dickens (1868). There are free copies of this available online, and on the Amazon Kindle device. It is worth reading, not only for the story but for the extensive use of Hoghton Tower as a setting. The story begins with an orphan in Preston, who is moved to ‘Hoghton Towers’ (Dickens added an ‘s’ to tower).
Daniel Hoghton: Hero of Albuera, Margaret Panikkar (1993). This short book gives a fascinating insight into the Napoleonic Wars. Available from Hoghton Tower gift shop.
Rufford Old Hall, Richard Dean (2007) National Trust