The Preesall War Memorial sits on top of The Mount, on Lancaster Road that runs from Preesall to Knott End. While many a casual passer-by may presume that the mound was constructed for the monument, this is not the case. The memorial to the fallen of World War I was set up soon after the conflict ended, but the large mound it sits on top of was there long before this. It has been the subject of much speculation as to what it’s purpose was. Ideas have been put forward which range from it being a remnant from the Ice Age, the burial place of a local Viking chief to a motte from a Norman castle. Many of the explanations sound plausible, but most fall apart on closer scrutiny. Each one is examined in turn, below.
The local Victorian historian W. Thompson Watkin gives one of the earliest descriptions of The Mount. He writes that it is a “…circular mound, now about 12 feet high, and 85 yards in circumference, with a slight fosse still traceable round the base. It appears, outwardly, to be composed of a number of layers of clay, of various thickness, and very different to the adjoining soil, which at once seems to stamp it as a botontinus. On the six-inch Ordnance Map it is marked as “Mount”, and is known by that name simply amongst the inhabitants of the surrounding country. No excavation appears to have been made in it”.
A Natural Feature
One explanation is that the mound is a remnant of the last Ice Age, left behind when a glacier melted. Watkin does state that it seemed to be made from clay, which was different from that of the surrounding soil.. A field officer from the Ministry of Works in the mid 20th Century noted that he thought it could be of glacial origin, but with no similar features nearby, this would seem unlikely.
A Viking Burial Mound
Local folklore holds that The Mount is Haakon’s Mound, the burial place of a Viking chief. This explanation may seem fanciful at first hearing, but it has arisen from the derivation of nearby Hackensall. The parish were the mound is located was known as Preesall-with-Hackensall until 1910, and the two districts still exists side by side today. Both Preesall and Hackensall are derived from the Old Norse language, used by the Viking people that once lived there. The most current reliable historical source for the derivation of names is The University of Nottingham’s Key to English place-names website. This also draws heavily on the incredibly well researched book by Eilert EkwallThe Place-Names of Lancashire, published in 1922. Both these sources have been used in the section below.
Preesall was called Preshoueth in 1248. The first element, ‘Prees’, means brushwood (i.e. a dense thicket). The second element the ‘-all’ part is derived from either the Old Norse word ‘hofud’ meaning ‘steep ridge’, or Old Norse ‘haugr’ meaning ‘hill’. Preesall is a low, flat area, but part of it stands on a short ridge. Accordingly, Preesall is ‘thicket on a hill or ridge”. The fact that the word derives from Old Norse indicates that it was a name from the time when the Vikings were very active on the Lancashire coast, in the early years of 900s AD. Other Viking names in on the coastal region of the county include Formby (‘Forn’s farmstead’) and Birkdale (‘Birch copse in a valley’).
Hackensall was called Hacunesho in 1190. The above mentioned historical sources agree that the first part of the name is from the old Norse personal name ‘Haakon’ (variously spelt Hakon or Hacken). This would have been a popular name in Viking age Lancashire, and remains so today in Norway. There was a King Haakon Haraldsson in who ruled Norway from 934- 961, and the current Norwegian Crown Prince is also called Haakon.
Hackensall also has the second element ‘-all’ which as previously mentioned derives from the Old Norse for ‘haugr’, meaning ‘hill’. It can however also mean a “heap, an artificial mound or burial mound”. This second meaning has clearly given rise to the the belief that Hackensall means ‘Haakon’s Mound’, but it could equally be ‘Haakon’s Hill”.
It is not difficult to see how once this knowledge of the meaning of Hackensall to be ‘Haakon’s Mound’ became common knowledge, that such a landscape feature would be sought out for the name to be applied to. However, the mound in question has been locally referred to as The Mount by local people for generations. The term ‘Haakon’s Mound’ seems to have been more recently attached to it on websites and in local publications.
There are no known burial mounds, either prehistoric or of Viking age, on the Lancashire coast. It is doubtful that such a structure would have survived to this day. The best know Viking burial site in Lancashire is just over 20 miles away at Claughton (see our page on it here). If there was once a mound there, it had long disappeared as the burial was discovered in a woodland at ground level.
A Motte of a Norman Castle
The idea of the mound being the motte of a Norman castle may seem plausible at first sight. Some supporting evidence for this comes from Watkin’s description of it being composed of a number of layers of clay. Mottes were built with layers of soil and stone, and his assertation that could see a slight fosse (a ditch) around it gives the idea further support. It was included on a list of what he termed “botontinus” a name given to suspected mottes. However, the ditch has not been recorded by anyone else, so this might have been fanciful thinking on Watkin’s part. The field officer from the Ministry of Works that visited it in the mid 20th century reported that he could see no evidence of a ditch. He also described it as a being too small for a motte, and not in a suitable position, as there is higher ground the south east that is more easily defendable.
A Warning Beacon
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil- the queen’s ‘spymaster’) commissioned a special ‘dissidents’ map to be made of Lancashire. Based on a map made a few years early, this new version was drawn just after the Spanish Armada attack, when a further invasion attempt on England was feared. Lord Burghley believed that the Spanish would form an alliance with the leading Catholic gentry, and accordingly their houses were marked with a black cross on the map. It also featured warning beacons to be lit to warn of an imminent attack, and there was one at Preesall. However, documentary evidence shows that it was not at The Mount, but on nearby Preesall Hill.
A Windmill Mound
The idea that The Mount was the base of a windmill has been tentatively accepted by Historic England, as listed on their Heritage Gateway website. However, they note that the evidence for this is conjectural and add that the mound as it currently stands is too high for a windmill. They suggest that the mound has been raised in height when the war memorial was built on it. However, if a comparison is made of the current height of 2.3 metres with that recorded by Watkin in Victorian times, this throws their belief into doubt. Watkin states that it was ‘about 12 feet high’, which would give it a height of 3.6 metres, over a metre higher than it is today. This would seem to rule out it being the base of a windmill.
Further evidence that it was not a windmill base comes from the Yates Map of Lancashire published in 1786. The wooden post mill at nearby Pilling is marked on, but there is no windmill recorded on the map at Preesall.
A Viewing Platform
A final (and recent) suggestion is that The Mount is some kind of viewing platform. These were popular in formal gardens of large houses as a place with a good outlook over the gardens and grounds. There a viewing platform that is still in existence at Lytham Hall, and tellingly it is also known as The Mount. It gives commanding views of the gardens and onwards towards the sea. It was also used as a vantage point to watch the ‘three mile gallop’ in the hall’s grounds, where the Clifton family raced their horses.
The nearest historical house to the Mount in Preesall is Parrox Hall. The Elletson family have lived at the hall for 26 generations and are the Lords of the Manor of Pressall-with-Hackensall. There is a public footpath running from the grounds of the hall to the back of The Mount. Recently it has been speculated that horse racing was carried out here in the fields owned by Parrox Hall, which seems plausible. Proof that the Mount was owned by the Elletson family comes from the fact that a Mr H.C. Elleston of the hall donated the site of the Mount in 1919 so that the war memorial could be constructed on top of it.
When all the explanations are compared, the idea that it was a viewing platform to spectate on horse racing on land owned by the Ellestons of Parrox Hall seems the most plausible. It could have been used by the family and their friends. However the fact that it is on the main road from Preesall to Knott End might indicate that it was used by members of the public to view the races, without them coming onto the lands owned by the hall.
Preesall War Memorial
Plans for the erection of a war memorial began the year after the First World War ended. The design was carried out by the architect G. Wallace Proffitt of Manchester, and it was built by W.L. Cookson of Blackpool. General Sir A. Hunter MP unveiled it on on 3rd October 1920. The memorial has the names of 33 local men who died during the First World War, and a further six were added from the Second World War. Today the tall cross is a striking feature standing atop The Mount. A simple plaque reads “This cross is erected in honour and remembrance of the men of Preesall who fell in the wars 1914-1918 and 1939-45”. To view the names of the men, see the Imperial War Museum website here.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2020
Park on Pilling Lane, just off Sandy Lane (B5270)
Roman Lancashire, W. Thompson Watkin (1883), republished by Azorabooks (2007)
The Place-names of Lancashire, Eilert Ekwall (1922). Republished by Alpha Editions 2019
Key to English Place-names website, University of Nottingham (Note Hackensall is spelt Hackinsall on the website- an older and alternative spelling of the area.)