Nico Ditch, Platt Fields Park, Manchester


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


Friends of Platt Fields ( see here


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 accessed 8/12/16






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

Radcliffe Tower, Radcliffe near Bury


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.


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 (see here).        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.


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.


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


Radcliffe Manor Website 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


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 , | 3 Comments

Jubilee Tower, Quernmore, near Lancaster


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.


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”.  


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.


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.


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 (accessed 25/10/16) (accessed 25/10/16)


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

Quernmore Dark Age Burial, near Lancaster


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

Museum Notes 1) The Quernmore Boat Burial, A.J. White (retrieved 22/10/16)

Historic England Pastscape website Monument No. 42869 (retrieved 22/10/16)

North Pennines Virtual Museum website (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’  – presumably monks and nuns who tended the patients. 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 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


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 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.


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 (see here), often with trips up to it’s famous tower, so why not go  and view the vicinity for yourself ?


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, St Walburge’s Church and just a short walk away the site of Preston’s Lost Medieval Friary


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


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

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

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

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):

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

The Wharncliffe Companion to Preston : An A-Z of Local History, David Hunt (2005), Wharncliffe Books




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.

Lancashire County Council website Evaluation of Detailed Applications for Museums: (accessed 20/9/16)



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

Lytham Hall, Lytham


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.


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.


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.


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)


Lytham Hall Website Visit this for all the latest news and the opening times.

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


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




Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Lancashire Museums have a short stay of execution

For the very latest on this story as of autumn 2016 click here

The five Lancashire Museums that faced closure at the end of March, have a stay of execution until the end of September. Lancashire County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for Environment, Planning and Cultural Services says that there are active discussions on going with interested groups looking to take over the museums. The county council is also giving this extra time so that more parties who may want to run the museums can come forward.

The plight of the museums has had some coverage in the national press. There have been three separate articles in The Guardian- see here 1, here 2 and here 3. The Independent also published an article about the fate of northern museums, see here.

In the meantime, if you have not done so already, please consider signing the petitions. The links to the petitions can be found towards the bottom of our webpage which covered the announcement of the initial closures- click here

Please also consider visiting these wonderful museums. Their opening times can be found by following this link here

If we go to the museums, sign the visitors book, spend some money there, this will surely help them in their talks with outside organizations that are interested in taking them over and keeping them open.


Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Lancashire Mills,, Latest News | Tagged ,

Lydiate Abbey, the Church of St Catherine, Lydiate

Lydiate Abbey St Catherine's Church

Lydiate Abbey
St Catherine’s Church

The ruined church of St Catherine is known locally as Lydiate Abbey. It was never a real abbey, but was the private chapel built by the Ireland family of Lydiate Hall, sometime around 1470s. It was built for husband and wife Laurence and Katherine Ireland.

Made from sandstone, it features four large perpendicular style windows on its south side. These once had fine tracery (some of which can still be seen at the top of the windows today) and excavations  have revealed they once contained stained glass.  A curiosity is that the building has no windows at all on its north side. Most churches do, so various ideas have been put forwards to explain this such as a lack of money, a shortage of skilled masons or even insufficient available glass. However, none of these explanations seem very satisfactory when you view just how grand the rest of the church must have been. It is interesting to note that the north side of a church is traditionally referred to as the ‘devil’s side’- and always tends to have less grand windows and doors than the south side- could this be the reason for their absence ?

Perpendicular style windows

Perpendicular style windows

When Henry VIII abolished the monasteries the law also impacted on private chapels, and most were decommissioned. They then either fell into ruin or on occasion were able to become parish churches. Interestingly neither of these things happened to St Catherines and it continued to be  used after 1550. Why this was is not clear but perhaps it served the Catholic people in the area of Lydiate, even while Catholicism was being actively repressed by the crown. Records show that Jesuit priests were sectetly buried in the grounds in the years afterwards.

Looking up the tower

Looking up the tower

Once it had lost its roof in the 1700s it was only a matter of time before the weather, general neglect and vandalism took their toll. That said, visitors today can see a rather robust looking ruin. As you approach from the back of the church the view afforded you shows that all of its walls are intact. Heading through the Tudor south porch leads you into the interior and face to face with the huge, blank, windowless north wall. The imposing tower is also in good condition with impressive arches, windows and belfry on top. Some of the buttresses have seen better days, and stone has been robbed away from these at the base, leaving them in a very poor state. Old but still readable on  site interpretation  provides a short history and a useful plan of the building.

The burial ground is interesting too. This is a rectangular enclosure surrounded by an earth bank and ditch. There are numerous gravestones, some dating from the early 1700s.

Some years ago Tudor alabaster panels depicting the life of St Catherine (or St Katherine)were discovered in  Lydiate Hall and these presumably had come from this church. They are now safely housed nearby in the Victorian Catholic Church, just across the road from Lydiate Hall Farm.

DSCN8635 (2)

At present things are looking a little more hopeful for the ruin. It is a Grade II* listed building and is part of a conservation area that includes the nearby Lydiate Hall.  A ‘Friends Of The Abbey’ group has been set up and they hold events during the year such as picnics and concerts so that the building and grounds are put to good use. You can see more details of their activities on the Lydiate Parish Council website (see reference at the bottom of this page or click here).


The site is free to visit and open access. Park at the nearby village hall on the main road. Alternatively park at Lydiate Hall Farm tea rooms and walk down, or in the Scotch Piper pub car park next door to the ruin. Be sure to give them some custom if you use either of these car parks- let’s support our local businesses !

Nearby, just a short walk away: Lydiate Hall ruins


Friends of the Abbey on Lydiate Parish Council website                                                          click here

On site interpretation boards – funded by English Heritage amongst others

Historic England Website

Pastscape Website






Posted in Oldest Churches,, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Lydiate Hall ruins, Lydiate, West Lancashire

Lydiate Hall

Lydiate Hall

The original Lydiate Hall was built by Lawrence Ireland sometime in the 15oos. He had exchanged his land at Garston (near Liverpool) for estates at Lydiate and Maghull. The original hall he built was a single range, possibly made of stone. By the late 1500s three timber wings had been added to form a quadrangle around a central courtyard.  In this phase of its life the hall would have resembled the ones at Rufford and Speke. Earthwork evidence on the western side of the site indicates that this was probably a moated building.

In 1673 the  Ireland family line reached its end and ownership was passed to Sir Charles Anderton of Lostock Hall near Bolton. He initially leased the building to tenants, but his son Sir Francis did come to occupy the hall in his retirement.  A date stone with his initials  F A 1741 can be seen on the stable building that houses the  modern day tea rooms on nearby Lydiate Hall Farm.


In 1760 the hall passed to the Blundell family and once again it was leased out to tenants. Under the Blundell’s ownership the hall was extensively remodeled. The original stone east wing was destroyed, as were parts of the later timber frame sections . A brick rebuild of the north side of the hall occurred around this time and some of what we see today probably dates from then.


The imposing stone fire place of the Great Hall

As the hall entered the late 1800s it began to suffer from serious decay, despite some effort at improvement and repairs towards the end of the century . By the 1940s it was described as ‘fallen into complete ruin’. In 1957 the Blundell family passed ownership to the Lever Estate and  plans were put in place to save what remained.  The ruins were stabilized and made safe and are now classed as a Grade II listed.



One of the many Tudor fireplaces and chimneys

The landscape around the hall is now being more actively managed. For example, the geometrical pattern of lime trees in Crow Orchard to the west of hall has had missing trees replanted and the undergrowth cleared back. The hall is currently under the management of the Leverhulme Trust along with the present tenant farmer of Lydiate Hall Farm. Today it’s part of the tourist attraction that includes Lydiate Hall Farm tea rooms (The Hayloft Tea Shoppe). The grounds also contain a popular farm shop. Visitors to the site can enjoy the company of the ducks from the nearby pond, and also more unusually, they can marvel at the huge number of peacocks who roam freely !



Click on this plan to enlarge it

On visiting the ruin today, you will find that interpreting the site is a little tricky as you navigate the remains and the vegetation that covers much of the ground and some of the walls. The most easily picked out of the  features are the large old fire places and chimney stacks. These are very old, dating from the Tudor period of the hall. The stone fire place of the Great Hall is particulary imposing, and can easily be found. Sizeable portions of the building constructed from brick and stone still remain. It is obvious that quite a lot of the brick work and windows are much later in the hall’s history, although some of the surrounding stonework appears to be from lot earlier. The ivy and other climbing plants give the site a very picturesque feel. A path travels around one side of the hall and  there are walks into the surrounding countryside.

Access Parking is in the car park at Lydiate Hall Farm, for their tea rooms and farm shop. The ruin forms part of the tourist attraction, and is located just a few metres from the car park. Look for the wooden sign saying “Leverhulme Estate – Lydiate Hall and Wood” and a kissing gate into the woodland.

Nearby, just a short walk away Lydiate Abbey ruins


On Site Interpretation Boards were used in the writing of this blog. They are fast becoming history themselves as the vegetation and sunlight start to destroy them.

Historic England Pastscape website

Historic England website

Lydiate Parish Council website



Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment