Kersal Cell and Kersal Moor, Salford

Kersal Moor

Kersal Cell and Kersal Moor have long, interesting and sometimes intertwined histories. The moor today is a nature reserve and there is open access for visitors. The Kersal Cell building is now split into private houses, but good views of it can be seen from the road. We’ll start by examining the history of the moor and then move on to Kersal Cell which has been the site of a Medieval Monastery and then a Tudor manor house.


Kersal Moor

This was the site of the first horse racecourse in Manchester, beginning in 1687. The London Gazette advertised the races stating that there would be three heats on the 18th and 19th May and each race was 4 miles long. John Byron, the famous Manchester author (and owner of Kersal Cell – more about him below), objected to the racing and wrote a pamphlet condemning it. Although the races were stopped in 1746, within just a few years they had started up again and ran until 1846. This was not the only sport on the moor. During the 1700-1800s it was a popular site for archery practice and in 1818 the second golf course outside Scotland was set up by local business men. It was only 5 holes big to begin with and it lasted for almost 50 years.


The double spire of St Paul’s, through the mist

The moor also has a tradition of being a meeting place for those pursuing social justice. In 1818, local coal miners met to call for greater pay and raise awareness of the dangers they faced. The most famous meeting occurred in 1838 when the Charitists held a huge assembly to elect delegates to the Chartist national convention and as a show of strength. They met initially outside Manchester’s Collegiate Church  (see our page on it here) and then walked the four miles to the mass meeting on Kersal Moor. In total there was a crowd of 30,000 present and hopes must have been high that they would achieve their main goal, namely that all men were able to vote in Parliamentary elections, not just those that owned property. However, within two years, most of their leaders would be in prison.

Soon after, Friedrich Engels declared Kersal Moor to be the Mons Sacer of Manchester, in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England. (Mons Sacer was the hill the poorer citizens in Rome withdrew to in 494BC in an act of civil protest against the ruling rich). Engels, best known for being the co-author with Karl Marx of The Communist Manifesto, had conducted first hand research in Manchester on the terrible conditions of the working poor. The wishes of the Chartists for all men to have the vote was not achieved until 1918, and for women it was 1928. Whatever Marx and Engels’s view on government may or may not have been, communist countries that were inspired by their writings never allowed citizens to vote in democratic elections.

Our Salford correspondent Jim, who introduced us to this site and accompanied us on the walk, noted that when he used to work in the area the moor was mostly just open grassland. In recent years we can see the ecological process of ‘succession’ happening. This is where new plant species move in and displace the old ones. First to displace the grass species on sandy soil is Heather and Gorse, and we can see both of these in abundance now. Once these are established then trees start to grow, with Silver Birch always the first to colonize. Other broadleaves have already started to follow, including Oak. If left ungrazed and uncut, the trees will become the dominant species in the next two decades, turning the moor into a woodland. The moor has already been designated a Site of Biological Importance and a Local Nature Reserve, with a Friends of Kersal Moor volunteer group (see their webpage here ).

Kersal Cell

Kersal Cell had grazing rights on the moor

This small monastery of Kersal Cell was founded by the Earl of Chester, Ranulf Gernons, around 1145. It was dedicated to St Leonard, with its mother house being the Cluniac priory at Lenton, near Nottingham. Its right to exist was reaffirmed by King Henry and his son King John, and during John’s time we know that there was a hermit there called Hugh de Buron. A former Crusader, he gave up his worldly life to live at the monastery when his wife died. The cell had the rights of fishery in the River Irwell as well as grazing and improvement of the ‘waste’ i.e. Kersal Moor. A History of County of Lancaster states it received “grants of two parcels of land in the parish of Ashton-under-Lyne; Matthew son of Edith gave a portion of his land in Audenshaw, and Alban of Alt half Paldenlegh”.

In the 1200s there was a dispute between the cell and the Rector of Manchester, Albert de Nevill. This was over the right to collect tithes, offerings and payments given to the cell’s chapel and cemetery. An agreement was reached whereby no parishioners could be buried or make offerings at Kersal without paying compensation to the Rector of Manchester’s church. The cell also could not admit parishioners to the sacraments given by the monks, which were carried out once a day. Finally it had to give the Rector a gift of two candles of one and a half pounds of wax every year!

The cell never grew very big, and probably only ever had a monk and a prior in residence at most (hence it is sometimes referred to as Kersal Priory). In 1535, at the start of King Henry VIII’s destruction of the monasteries, it was valued by the king’s commissioners to be worth £9 6s 8d. Three years later it was dissolved and the crown took the building and the land. The land was leased to John Wood for 21 years and the building itself was sold to Baldwin Willoughby.

The later Tudor house- also called Kersal Cell

Kersal Cell- the Tudor house built on the site of the original priory cell

There is good evidence that the house we see today is built on the site of the original Cell, pretty soon after Willoughby bought it. (Thirty sandstone blocks were discovered in a recent excavation that would have come from the priory.) It is a ‘cruick-framed’ construction (like so many medieval halls and barns were) and the roof timbers date from the early 1500s.  Inside is a plaster wall painting from the same century. This has been described by a local newspaper as featuring “many weird creatures, notably a lion’s head in the centre, and two grinning faces, one on either side. Toads, fish, snakes, and several unknown creatures are also represented”.

Its most famous resident was the writer John Byron. He’s best known for inventing a form of shorthand writing and for his hymn Christians, Awake. He also wrote poems in local Lancashire dialect. Here’s a snippet where one of his characters gives his views on what makes a good sermon…

But I ha’ thou’t sometimes haooever good/ A sarmon meeght be better, if it wou’d /

‘At if it cou’d no’ make folks e’en to weep/ It sartinly m’t keep ‘um aw fro’ sleep. /

Yet I ha’ seen ‘um nodding toimes enoo,/ Not only childer, but churchwardens, too.

The house has been a boarding school, country club and pub. Its later large extension has now been demolished, leaving us with the oldest, Tudor parts of the house. It has now been divided into three private residential properties on Whitewater Drive. Viewing the outside today we can still see the essential historical character of this Grade II listed property, with its mullioned windows and wood and plaster construction.

Before we leave Kersal Cell, it’s worth just mentioning the local folklore about hidden underground passages. There is a claim that a passage runs from the house to Manchester Cathedral. There are many such stories connected to old houses and old churches, all around the country, and little evidence that any of them are ever true. However, there is good recent eyewitness testimony that Kersal Cell does have an underground passage – but not to the Cathedral. The tunnel was constructed sometime around 1750 and is said to run from under the stairs to the nearby banks of the River Irwell. For more details on both these claims see Keith Warrender’s excellent Underground Manchester book (details below).

Site visited by A. and J. Bowden 2017


Kersal Moor is a local nature reserve and is open access. Park on Moor Lane.

Kersal Cell is now private houses. You can get good views of it from the road on Whitewater Drive in Salford, but please respect the privacy of the residents.

Just a drive away, Brindleheath and Old Jewish Cemeteries, Pendleton


For Kersal Moor

Friends of Kersal Moor Facebook page

For Kersal Cell

House of Cluniac Monks: Kersal Cell in A History of the County of Lancaster, Volume 2, ed. William Farrer and J Brownbill (London 1908)

Pastscape webpage for Kersal Cell this website pdf contains a scrapbook of newspaper clippings including:  City News February 26th 1916- This gives and eyewitness tour of the inside of the house from a hundred years ago and is well worth a read. Also Manchester Weekly Times May 8th 1896 which includes discussion of John Byrom’s work

Underground Manchester: Secrets of the City Revealed, Keith Warrender (2007) Willow Publishing




Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Medieval Monasteries,, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Holker House and Darwen Heritage Centre, Darwen


Holker House : Darwen Heritage Centre

Holker House was built in 1871 for Dr. George Hindle who named it after his family home in nearby Hoddlesden. It is a grand structure, built of finely cut stone in the ‘Italianate’ style. However, the site of the house was initially less appealing. Today it overlooks Darwen Marketplace (soon to be part of a big redevelopment for outdoor events). Back then though this space was dominated by bleaching factories and a contemporary account describes the area as “full of mouldering buildings and malodorous lodges”. George had begun his working life as an apprentice pharmacist and went on to study to be a medical doctor, practising in Darwen. The fact that five of his seven children died in infancy is a mark of how tenuous life was then, even for middle class families.

In 1873 he was appointed as Darwen’s first Medical Officer of Health and conducted a survey of the town, warning that the poor sanitary conditions left it vulnerable to the outbreak of diseases. Unfortunately the next year his warnings proved true and the town faced a devastating typhoid epidemic. The severity of the outbreak was so great it was even reported in America in the New York Times.  In 1887 while preparing one of his  annual reports for the town he became ill and left to recuperate in Morecambe. Although he managed to finish the report it was to prove to be his final one, as he died the following year. His wife Alice sold Holker House and moved away to Ilkley to work as a housekeeper for her uncle, and later remarried.


Holker House overlooks Darwen Market- soon to have the open space in front of it made into an events area

Dr. James Todd Ballantyne  bought Holker House from Alice and was to remain there for almost 30 years. He had begun his working life as an apprentice carpenter, then studied art at Glasgow University before switching to medicine. A successful doctor, he had three medical surgeries in Darwen and also became the mayor in 1898. During his time as mayor he was instrumental in the electrification of Darwen’s  tram network. (For more on Darwen’s tram system see our page here).

James died in 1917 and his wife stayed on in Holker House for a couple more years, before selling it to Darwen Council. For over six decades it was used as the council’s education offices, right up until 1974. For the next ten years it was the Education Architect’s Office and was then taken over by Blackburn College for twenty years. This continuous use had kept the building well maintained, but once the college left in 2005 it became in rapid need of maintenance and repair. Fortunately this was done in 2007 and the house was converted into office space. Most recently, in 2016 The Livesey Foundation Charity purchased the building so that the people of Darwen can use it as a community hub to promote history and the arts.

Holker House is now the home of Darwen Heritage Centre. The aims of the organization are to educate and engage the public on the history of Darwen, and support local community groups. It has exhibitions on the local history of the area, as well as space for artists to display their work. The building can also host space for meetings and conferences, and is the regular venue for Darwen Local History Society every third Monday of the month at 7.30pm. The centre is still in its relatively early days as an organisation, but is already achieving much. The volunteers at the centre had a very successful time during the annual Heritage Open Days (each September) and are actively looking for more people to become involved in their important work to preserve and promote Darwen’s legacy. When we visited on a recent open day on Easter Saturday the members were very friendly and welcoming, and had organized a self guided quiz to really get you to look carefully at the exhibits and photographs they had on display. There is also a small shop that sells booklets about the local area, as well as free leaflets on things of historical interest nearby.

Their current booklet Holker House: Darwen Heritage Centre (2016) by Tony Foster and Anne Hull was used to supply much of the information for this blog post.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


Current opening times are Wednesday 10.00 -12.30 pm and Friday 10.00 – 4.00 pm

Also open on some Saturdays- check their Facebook site for details here

Their website is still under construction (at the time of writing April 2018) : or click here

Their Twitter account is here


Holker House: Darwen Heritage Centre (2016), Tony Foster and Anne Hull, available from Darwen Heritage Centre

Darwen Town Centre Local History Walk (undated), available from Darwen Heritage Centre

Darwen Heritage Centre: Community, Arts, Heritage (undated) leaflet available from Darwen Heritage Centre

Lancashire Not Forgotten: Darwen town centre heritage trail (undated) leaflet available from Darwen Heritage Centre

Darwen Days website!date=2045 BC-05-04_19:37:08!

Posted in Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Edisford Bridge, Clitheroe


Edisford Bridge, Clitheroe

Before the first bridge was ever built at Edisford this was an important crossing point of the River Ribble. Anyone visiting today can see how shallow parts of the river are here, and that there is a natural ford.  Rivers were often huge barriers in the landscape, and knowledge of the location of the relatively few fords and bridges was essential in medieval times. Foot and cart traffic could pass by fairly easily on the route out of Clitheroe to Lancaster via Edisford.

Fords were also important strategic points and this could be the reason it was the site of a medieval battle, during the turbulent  reign of King Stephen. Civil war gripped England in a period that has come to be known as ‘The Anarchy’. King Stephen’s forces fought a whole series of battles against those of his rival claimant to the English throne, Empress Matilda. The King of Scotland, David I, sided with his niece Matilda. He also sensed that he would be able to expand his own kingdom further into England. To this end he sent his nephew William fitz Duncan with an armed force down to raid the Furness and Craven regions. William came via the Trough of Bowland and on arriving at Edisford fought against an Anglo-Norman  force. He beat them resoundingly on June 10th 1138, this event becoming known as ‘The Battle of Clitheroe’. The victorious Scots went on to  join the rest of their massed ranks in Yorkshire, near Northallerton. Here they fought the Battle of the Standard at Cowton Moor- a much larger conflict, but this time they lost to Stephen’s troops.

River Ribble at Edisford, wide but shallow

Records show that there was a medieval leper hospital at Edisford close to where the bridge is now, dedicated to St. Nicholas. It came into existence sometime in the late 1100s to early 1200s and was built on land given by Roger de Lacy. It was still in existence in 1317 as evidenced in a cartulary (a charter) owned by the Towneley family of Towneley Hall. By 1350 though, just a few years after the first bridge at Edisford was built, it was stated that there had been “no lepers at Edisford for some years past” and its assets had been transferred to Whalley Abbey. By the time of the dissolution of the monasteries its buildings were said to be “ruined and decayed”. Leper hospitals were monastic institutions and so had attached chapels that were  important buildings in their own right. There is some evidence that the chapel here continued for perhaps another 200 years after the hospital was vacated. (For a good comparison, see our page about St Mary Magdalene’s leper hospital in Preston here.)  Local historian and author  Elizabeth Ashworth’s website has some discussion on a page about leprosy as to the whereabouts of the hospital (see her website page here). She believes it was located where the Edisford Bridge Inn hotel stands today. Two recent planning applications to Ribble Valley Borough Council discuss other possible sites- Edisford Hall Farmhouse and Roefield House. There is no evidence for the farmhouse being the location for the hospital (other than local tradition), but the Roefield House has a stronger case. The reasoning for this is that a 1700 map shows fields in its area called Chapel Ground and Far Chapel Ground, presumably named after the hospital’s attendant chapel.

The original medieval bridge was built in 1339 after a ‘Grant of Pontage’ was issued. It was widened in the 1800s but still contains much of the original medieval elements. The historian Jessica Lofthouse states that the medieval mason marks can still be seen on the underside of it. Made from finely cut sandstone it has arches of varying sizes. Its historic importance means that it is now recognized as a Grade II listed monument.

Soon after the bridge was built it was severely damaged in floods. To fund repairs a toll was set up. In her book The Bridges of Lancashire and Yorkshire, Margaret Slack gives the complete list of goods that carried a charge. Items crossing the river were individually priced, some high, some low depending on their rarity value. Pepper, wine, wax, honey and lead all carried a high tariff. Sheep and pigs were very cheap, literally as she notes “ten a penny”. Some indication of the industries that were being supplied can be seen in the charges for individual specialist items: for the woollen industry there were teasel flower heads (to knap wool), and woad (for dying it). Alum was also being transported and this can be used as a dye as well as for tanning leather.  There was even a catch-all category for “anything for sale, not yet specified, exceeding the value of 5 shillings”.

Until 1600s this was the only bridge crossing the River Ribble north of Preston. However, its importance didn’t stop the local authorities in Clitheroe from trying to wriggle out of their duty to maintain it. In 1657 they claimed that they had the right to be free of all dues and taxes levied on bridges, thinking that they should have no reason to pay towards its upkeep. Not only was this granted, but they also received a refund for money previously paid!

Today Edisford Bridge is still part of a vital route in and out of Clitheroe as well as being  a well loved  local ‘beauty spot’. For generations it has been known to campers, walkers and picnickers alike. It’s well catered for with a large visitor car park on one side of the river and the Edisford Bridge Inn on the other side. Next time you pass over the Ribble here perhaps take a moment to think of all the many people that have done just the same, in the past thousand years of history.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


There is a very large pay and display car park by the bridge on the Clitheroe side. Then just follow the footpath down to the river for good views of the Ribble and Edisford Bridge. It is a popular picnic site and the pub, also called Edisord Bridge is on the other side of river.

Nearby, just a walk away Clitheroe Castle


The Bridges of Lancashire and Yorkshire, Margaret Slack (1986), Robert Hale: London

Lancashire Countrygoer, Jessica Lofthouse (1964), Robert Hale Ltd

Historic England Edisford Bridge entry

Wardell Armstrong : Land at Henthorn Road Clitheroe Archaeological Desk Based Assessment  (2010) availabe at

Edisford Hall Farmhouse Archaeolgocial Assessment available at

‘Townships: Clitheroe’, in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6, ed. William Farrer and J Brownbill (London, 1911), pp. 360-372. British History Online [accessed 5 April 2018].




Posted in Bridges, Georgian Lancashire, Medieval Lancashire | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Towneley Hall, Burnley


South Wing of Towneley Hall

The first hall was built at Towneley in 1380 and was a large open barn-like medieval building, similar to the ones still seen at Smithills in Bolton and Warton Old Rectory near Carnforth. Seventy years later the huge south wing with its very thick walls was constructed. The picture on the left gives some idea of the sheer scale. Careful viewing of the photograph to the left (click to enlarge) shows on the right hand side the ghost gable in the brickwork of the original medieval hall.

John and Mary Towneley

When Queen Elizabeth I ruled England the Towneleys like so many land holding families in Lancashire fell foul of the government’s anti-Catholic laws. John and Mary Towneley were determined to continue to worship as Catholics, but this had been made illegal (for the full range of anti-Catholic legislation have at look our the page on Stonyhurst here). John was known to have kept Catholic priests who performed Mass for the family. The couple were punished with heavy fines from the Protestant Inquisition Council. Despite the persecution, John refused to give up his faith and went to prison many times for his beliefs during the next thirty years. A family portrait in the hall lists the various places he was imprisoned which included Chester and York Castles, Blockhouses in Hull, Gatehouse in Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge. In 1601 after his last gaol sentence he was fined over £5000 and was ordered not to venture beyond five miles of Towneley.

Civil War and Jacobite Plots

Over the next few decades the family debt hugely increased. The first reason was their ambitious building program. Richard ‘The Builder’ Towneley had the Great Hall we see today constructed and eight years later the present North Wing was added.

Towneley Central Wing – the Great Hall

The second reason for the debt was because the family were frequently fined for recusancy (the refusal to worship as a Protestant). On the eve of the Civil War their debts were huge- three times their annual income. Charles ‘The Cavalier’ Towneley stored arms and ammunition for the King Charles I’s forces at the hall. In 1643 Charles was involved in defending Preston which was under siege from Parliamentarians. When the town surrendered he escaped, but his wife was taken prisoner. After hiding out near Towneley, he went on to fight at Marston Moor and died in the battle. For being on the losing side of the war, the family had a large portion of their estate seized at Cliviger and Hapton and put up for sale.

Through the rest of the 1600s and into the 1700s successive generations of members of the Towneley family were involved in plots to overthrow  whichever Protestant king was on the throne, and continued to worship as Catholics. In 1707 Ursula Towneley listed seven hiding places in the house (including priest holes). Five years later Richard Towneley cut down a woodland of oak trees at Parks Wood Fields to pay his expenses after his treason trial.

Charles ‘The Collector’ Towneley

Charles ‘the Collector’ Towneley toured Italy several times, and collected gems, coins, pottery and statues. His collection of classical sculptures were purchased by the British Museum and his portrait surrounded by statues painted by Zoffany is now in the art gallery at the hall. He employed John Carr of York to make alterations to the house. Carr was the best known architect in the north of England during the Georgian period, over a career of 55 years, he modified more than 90 houses. In Lancashire his work can be seen at Lytham Hall (see here).

Charles’s son Francis was involved in the 1745 Young Pretender uprising to overthrow King George II. When Charles Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) marched down to Manchester, Francis helped muster 300 troops for his cause. After a service at the Manchester’s Collegiate Church they set out for Derby. However, when they received word of two large government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland and Marshal Wade heading to meet them, they decided to retreat back north. Holing up in Carlisle Castle, Francis was part of the group that held the town against the government forces while the Young Pretender escaped. Francis was executed for his part in this venture.

The Later Towneleys

North Wing

It wasn’t until the early 1800s that all the anti-Catholic legislation was abolished. When it was Peregrine Edward Towneley was able to hold high office, becoming High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. He was seen as a shy and generous man, and his dressing in rough tweed clothes often made people think he was not part of the local gentry. Very much interested in local charities and civic organisations, he was involved with the building of St Mary’s Church in Burnley and was the first president of Burnley Mechanics Institute. Changes to the hall he instigated during his time included employing the architect Jeffry Wyatt to remodel the south wing Regency Rooms into the appearance that we see today. He oversaw a huge amount of trees planted- almost 10,000 were put in, including oaks, larches, firs and problaby much of the rhododendron cover that is still visible in the grounds.

The last Towneley at the hall was Alice Mary, known as Lady O’ Hagan after her marriage at 25 years old to Thomas Baron O’ Hagan, aged 59. In their fourteen years together they had seven children. She was a patron of the local blind and deaf societies, helped fund a military hospital in South Africa, was a keen campaigner on votes for women and set up mother and child welfare schemes. She was the driving force behind a new convent to “rescue young girls from bad surroundings and train them to be thorough domestic servants”. She broke with the family tradition of Catholicism and joined the Unitarians, and also changed political parties from being a Unionist (Conservative) to become a Liberal. After the death of her husband, much of the Towneley estate had to be divided between the remaining extended family, and she only retained the hall and 62 acres around it. It became clear that the estate could not be self sustaining anymore and in 1901 she sold the building and grounds to Burnley Corporation.

The Hall Belongs to the People

The park and hall were then opened up to the public. The hall had hardly any furniture or pictures left behind by Lady O’ Hagan, but the vision was for it to be a museum and art gallery. Edwards Stocks Massey, a wealthy local brewer, donated money for purchasing pictures and his bequest is still active in funding displays today. Lady O’ Hagan gave a mummy and mummy case from an Egyptian expedition she had funded. These are now in the Collectors’ Room along with other original donations from the people of Burnley. Gradually the rooms were refurnished and today it houses an excellent selection of furniture contemporary to different periods that the rooms represent- from Tudor to Victorian.

Italian Garden

The uses of the grounds over the decades has been very varied. Parts of the park have been variously: small holdings, plant nursery, tennis courts, bowling green,  greyhound course, speedway track, golf course, playing fields and a bird sanctuary.

In more recent years there has been an emphasis on developing the historic and nature value of the park. In 1986 it was designated by English Heritage as a Historic Park and Garden. ‘Offshoots’ permaculture (an organic, no dig approach to gardening) can be seen in the walled garden and Wilson’s Smallholdings Wood was created in 2000 as part of the Forest of Burnley.

Visiting the Hall Today

The entrance hall we see today was constructed in 1726 in the baroque style. The plasterwork is by Francesco Vassalli and his assistant Martino Quadri. They include portraits of Roman Emperors, six flying infants, a statue of Venus and a dancing faun. All these are mimicking the Italian style and subject matters that the Towneleys would have seen on their trips to Rome.

South Wing on its more modern side with the Regency Rooms inside

The South Wing originated in the 1400s, but the two rooms inside, the green and red Regency Rooms, were designed in the 1820s by Jeffry Wyatt . They are now hung with paintings and numerous life sized human sculpture stand at the large Georgian windows. Upstairs is the Long Gallery dating from the 1600s. It features extensive wood panelling from this time and acted as a lobby or meeting area for the guest bedrooms that lead off from it. The family portraits have long gone, but interestingly the names associated with these are still painted on the walls. The bedrooms are now furnished with an excellent selection of furniture from the 1600s typical of the local Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire styles of that time.

The art gallery permanently opened in 1907 and occupies the place where the family bedrooms once were. There is a large collection of Victorian paintings including the      Pre-Raphelite artists J.W. Waterhouse and Edward Burne-Jones. Other highlights include a Turner view of the hall and a portrait of Charles ‘The Collector’ Towneley with his sculptures.

Entrance door to the Great Hall- note the carvings

Links back to the family’s very strong Catholic faith can be seen outside the chapel. Here are housed the incredible Abbot’s vestments from Whalley Abbey, dating to the early 13th century. They came into the ownership of the Towneley family when the abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII (see here). As well as displaying scenes from the nativity they are decorated with embroideries of strawberries, and are said to be some of the finest English embroidery to survive from this period. The chapel itself dates from the 13th-14th century and features an altar piece installed by Charles ‘The Collector’ Towneley during Napoleonic wars, made at Antwerp around 1520.

The kitchen dates from the 1800s and appears completely frozen in time with its coal fire range, spits and all the latest Victorian paraphernalia. It seems almost untouched from 1901 when Lady O’ Hagan vacated the house. You can examine the kitchen in greater detail if you go on one of the guided tours (which are free once you’ve paid admission) or you can wander the house at will and talk to the guides in the room. The hall is so interesting and varied that you might want to do both !

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2017 and 2018

Towneley is another in a long line of halls and grounds in Lancashire that were once the preserve of the privileged few, but are now held in trust by a local council for all of us to enjoy. To see more of these, many of which are now free to visit click on the Tudor & Stuart and the Georgian & Victorian tabs at the top of this site.


There is an admission charge to the hall (currently £5 adults and free for children), but it allows you to return as many times as you like during the year. There is also a small parking charge.

To see the opening times and admission charges follow the link to Towneley Hall website here or visit

There is a very active Friends of Towneley Park group. See their website here or visit

Nearby just a few moments away:

Foldys Cross

Sandy Holme Aqueduct, Thompson Park


An Architectural History of Towneley Hall, Burnley, W. John and Kit Smith (2004) Heritage Trust for the North West

Towneley Hall Burnley Art Gallery and Museums, Tony Kitto (2004) Burnley Borough Council

Towneley Hall: A tour of the outside, Tony Kitto (2004) Burnley Borough Council

Towneley Park: The Changing Landscape, undated leaflet from Friends of Towneley Park

Towneley Walkabout Guide, undated leaflet from Burnley Council and Towneley Hall



Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Medieval Lancashire, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Tottington Dungeon, Bury

DSCN1826 (2)

Tottington Dungeon

The Tottington Dungeon is an early Victorian town lock up. It was built in 1835 next the original Dungeon Inn, (the current one is now located further up the road.) The dungeon is thought to have been originally managed by the publican to temporarily incarcerate uncooperative drunks. Later it was taken over by the local constable, perhaps acting as a temporary holding cell. It had capacity to accomodate six people. Prisoners would wear arm and leg shackles while seated on the stone bench and you can see a picture of one of the ring shackles on the Greater Manchester Museum Group website here.

DSCN1828The building was last used as a lock up in 1884.  Today it is in good condition and well worth a look. The formidable iron entrance door consists of six open panels with bars behind, a substantial mortice lock and lion’s head door knocker. The dungeon walls are built from large stone blocks. These are carved to look like weathered rock and have had regular lines of punched holes banged into them. This ‘rusticated style’ is similar to the canal viaduct in Thompson Park, Burnley (see here). The stone work also has intriguing carvings – there are eight skull like faces, a key by the entrance door and a ring with a dot inside. The person responsible for constructing the building is not known, and the reason for the carvings is also unclear.

In 1964 there was a plan to move the dungeon to Lark Hill Place (Salford Museum’s Victorian street), but this was resisted by  Tottington residents. More recently Tottington District Civic Society have obtained a key for it and it is opened up on special occasions (see their website address on our Lancashire Links page here). Even when locked, it’s well worth a visit as most of the features can be seen from the street.

The Images Summerhouse (private garden) as seen from Brandleholme Road

Interestingly there is a nearby folly that has a similar style of construction to the dungeon on Brandlesholme Road in Greenmount. The building is a summerhouse called ‘The Images’ and is in the private garden of Nabbs House. Keith Warrander in his recent book Manchester Oddities states that it was built in 1835, the same year as the Tottington Dungeon. The then owner of the house was John Turner, a local industrialist, and the images are supposedly of local people that he did not like. Although the site is private, in winter you can see a little of the features from the main road without disturbing anyone, both carvings and the distinctive blocks (click on the pictures above and below to enlarge them). Could both buildings have been commissioned by the same man, or built by the same builder?

In 1976 Ken Howarth, then of Bury Museum, visited and wrote a description of the garden. Among the features he lists are a grotto built under a massive amount of rock, a long underground passage and a substantial summerhouse decorated with gargoyles and carvings. He states that inside the building are the remains of two fireplaces and an anteroom. Not much can be seen from the road, but the reader is recommended to have a look at Keith Warrender’s Manchester Oddities book which contains four pages of colour photos of this intriguing garden and its structures (the book is still in print and available to buy online- just type the title and author into your search engine).

Below we outline a walk that can take you between the two sites:

From the Tottington Dungeon on Harwood Road, turn back and walk to the main road through Tottington (Tottington Road). Turn right, past the Co-op, until you reach the Hark To Towler pub. Then turn left down Kirklees Street. At the crossroads with Royds Street, bear right into a short wooded footpath. This takes you to “The Lines” – the old Railway track from Bury to Holcombe Brook. Turn left onto it and keep going, over the viaduct, all the way to Greenmount Village (just over half a mile). When “The Lines” finishes you will be at the junction with Brandlesholme Road – opposite a new cafe. Turn right along Brandlesholme Road for about 400 yards and the Images summerhouse folly is on your left, marked by a public footpath sign.

Sites visited by A. and R. Bowden 2017 and 2018


Tottington Dungeon is located on Harwood Road in Tottington, Bury. The site is open access. The Images summerhouse on Brandlesholme Road in Greenmount is private, though a part of it can be seen from the main road when there are no leaves on the trees.

Nearby, Cann Street Well   Tottington Mill Printworks Ruins

Grants Tower


Manchester Oddities, Keith Warrender (2011) Willow Publishing

Nab’s Lane Garden, Greenmount, Holcombe Brook, Bury  25th Nov 1976- From the diary entry of Ken Howarth, then at Bury Museum.

Posted in Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Stonyhurst Hall and College

Stonyhurst Hall and College

Richard Shireburn inherited the estate at Stonyhurst in 1537. He decided to do away with most of the medieval buildings to construct a bigger, grander hall. He held important posts in the county- at various times he was a magistrate, Member of Parliament, Master Forester of Bowland and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire. He’d also been knighted for his part in fighting the Scots at Leith when he was 21. Despite all these positions of authority he was not trusted by the government of Queen Elizabeth I as he was from a Catholic family. Richard Shireburn could be seen as a ‘church papist’- that is someone who was Catholic but attended Protestant Anglican services. His wife was a ‘recusant’ meaning that she refused to attend church and so could be prosecuted. It was strongly suspected that Richard gave shelter to Catholic priests who would say mass for his wife.

During her reign Elizabeth I introduced a whole raft of anti-Catholic legislation. No Catholic could hold public office or be a teacher, doctor or lawyer. All church services had to be Protestant Anglican, all clergy had to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Church of England and anyone not attending church would be fined. Catholic priests were expelled from England and any found remaining would be killed, as could anyone giving them shelter.


As the decades passed the Shireburns continued to fall foul of authority because of their faith. The third Richard Shireburn had the County Commissioners insist that he take the Oath of Allegiance or they would confiscate two thirds of his estate. His monument in Mitton Church’s Shireburn Chapel states that he was an ‘eminent sufferer’ for his loyalty to King Charles during the Civil War. He was forced to provide shelter for Oliver Cromwell and his troops on their way to the final conflict of the war, the Battle of Preston (1648).

A fourth Richard Shireburn was imprisoned in Manchester gaol during the reign of King William of Orange, and died there. Better times began for the family when his son Nicholas married Catherine Charleton who brought with her a huge fortune to Stonyhurst. They used the money to further develop the house and gardens. Terraces, canals, fountains, lead statues and a yew wilderness were added, all in the latest Dutch style. However conflict re-emerged in 1715 when there was a Jacobite Rising to put James Stuart ‘the Old Pretender’ on the throne. Jacobite supporters from Preston went to Stonyhurst seeking Nicholas’s help. They left with guns, pistols and four horses for the second Battle of Preston. A contemporary family to the Shireburn’s with an even longer association with Lancashire are the Towneleys of Towneley Hall, Burnley. They too were persecuted Catholics  and also took part in Jacobite plots (see here).

DSCN7051When the Shireburns reached the end of their line the house and estate was passed by marriage to the Weld family. The Welds did not at live at Stonyhurst and for 40 years the house was left empty and began to become dilapidated. The owner Thomas Weld had three sons at the English Academy in France and decided to bring them back to England after the French Revolution. It was a turbulent time on the continent and the school had already moved first from St Omer, then to Bruges and was currently residing in Liege. The town authorities could no longer guarantee the safety of the boys and staff from the French Revolutionary troops, so Thomas invited the college to move to Stonyhurst. Many boys went home to see families in England first, but a small contingent of priests and pupils continued on to their new school. From this group the first boy to reach the hall was George Lambert Clifford.

Work began in earnest to convert the stately home into a functioning school. The Long Room and Duke’s Room were split up into partitions to make small cubicles for the priests and boys. The lead statues from the gardens were melted down to use the metal to repair the roof. The medieval Duchess’s Rooms were destroyed using dynamite and the Great Drawing room was demolished. Thomas Weld seemed to be fine with all this dramatic reconstruction, and continued to gift more of the surrounding estate to the school. He maintained close links throughout the rest of his life, dying from a stroke at a school banquet after singing his favourite song.

DSCN7035 (2)

There are quite a few famous literary associations with Stonyhurst. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, taught there. When Arthur Conan Doyle was a pupil at the college there were two Moriarty brothers and a Sherlock in attendance. In his novel The Hound of the Baskervilles he is thought to have based the look of Baskerville Hall with its ‘central block and twin towers’ on the front of the college and the Dark Walk  in the gardens is the setting of Charles Baskerville’s dramatic meeting with the hound.  During the second world war the English College in Rome was evacuated and came to Stonyhurst.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s son John when studying to be a priest was evacuated from Rome to Stonyhurst, during the Second World War. Tolkien and the rest of his family often visited Stonyhurst to see him. He wrote some of The Lord of the Rings in the college and at its guest house, and was known to give the occasional lesson. Like many authors he would have used names and places that he came across as inspirations for his fiction. The list of vicars at Ribchester Church may have given him ideas for hobbit names see here. There is a Shire Lane in nearby Hurst Green (as well as the River Shirebourn).  The River Loud is reminiscent of the book’s Loudwater. The ferry at Hacking Hall was still in use, which may have been the model for Buckleberry Ferry. There is also a claim that the vista from New Lodge gave rise to the inspiration for that of the view from Tom Bombadil’s house. The Tolkien connection continued when his son Michael taught classics at the college in the late 1960s to early 1970s.

DSCN7043The college has always been at the forefront of innovation. In the early 1800s Stonyhurst had the first school physics and chemistry labs in England. In the 1830s it had added the old observatory and weather station. Anti-Catholic legislation meant that believers were not allowed to study at university even as late as the 1840s. Stonyhurst entered into an arrangement with the University of London which was able to grant degrees to external candidates. These older students were Stonyhurst’s ‘Gentlemen Philosophers’ and were the first Catholics to gain a degree since the time of  Elizabeth I.

In 1811 Samuel Clegg built a gas works on site which supplied gas for lighting, previous to this the school had relied on weak tallow candles. His lime purifier removed hydrogen sulphide gas from the mix which is harmful to health. Later Stonyhurst became involved with the setting up of the Preston Gas Light Company and Preston was one of first towns to be lit by gas.

Tradition is also a big part of the Stonyhurst heritage. Today the Lower Line girls wear exact copies of the tartan that Bonnie Prince Charlie (the Young Pretender) wore on his flight from Culloden. The college possesses one of three surviving fragments of the fabric. In 1997 one of the twin 300 year old stone eagles fell from its tower and smashed to pieces on the ground below. Copies were made of the original by John Schofield, master sculptor of Liverpool and the eagles were re-erected four years later. The gatehouse clock has also been restored and its chimes can be heard as far away as Hurst Green. The enigmatic handball walls are still in good condition and can be viewed in the college gardens (see picture above). Visitors taking the guided tour can see that although this is very much a working school, much of the oldest history has been preserved and is on show.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2017

Access and Opening Times

It’s best to look at Stonyhurst College website here to see the opening times. See here

Currently it mostly seems to be catering for prebooked group tours. However there is an open weekend in August when you can just turn up and join a tour. See here


Stonyhurst, T.E. Muir (2006) St Omers Press

A Stonyhurst Museum Guide, Janet Graffius (undated publication, available from the College on open days) T. Snape & Co. Ltd, Preston

In the Footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien, undated leaflet, Ribble Valley Borough Council









Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Craggs Row Windmill, Preston

DSCN5918Tucked away on a side street just off Moor Lane near the centre of Preston is a Grade II listed windmill. Built out of red brick in 1760, it would capture the energy of the prevailing  wind blowing across from the Fylde. After the sails were removed in the 1880s and its flour grinding days were over it was put to a whole range of different uses. It has been an overflow prison, piano workshop, garage, cinema (during the second world war) and a merchant’s storage warehouse. (There are also claims it was used as a shot tower – molten lead being dropped from on high, forming spherical gun shot on the way down before hitting the water below. This claim is disputed though, with some commentators pointing out that it simply isn’t high enough for the process to work. The nearest definite shot tower we have in our region is to be found still standing in Chester.

In the 1960s the building was under threat of demolition as the North Western Electricity Board was looking to develop the area. Fortunately, the value of the mill was recognized and it was saved and given a Grade II listing. In the early 2000s the plan was to turn the building into modern office space and make it a local landmark lit up by night, but this didn’t happen. The owner then decided to convert it into luxury flats, but that didn’t happen either. At the time of writing (2018) it is currently for sale.


If you pay a visit today you will find the windmill nestled amongst other buildings on the narrow street of Craggs Row. The first thing that strikes you is the very large three stage ‘slot’ that runs down the middle of the tower, facing into the street. At the top  of the slot is the remnants of a winch presumably to load up the sacks of grain, or haul out the bags of flour. The lowest door in the slot is a  modern metal security door, the middle one above is boarded up, but the top stage still has a proper two part wooden door. This has two metal handles fixed either side of the slot. Looking further up you can see three small square windows and the flat cap above them is a modern one.

At the side of the tower is a connected two story building with a pitched roof. It has a modern garage-style door (obviously a later addition- see the photograph below). This structure  could well have been the grain drying kiln, and a similar building can be seen at  the well preserved Marsh Mill windmill at Thornton on the Fylde.

DSCN5926Access The site is open access. Craggs Row is just off Moor Lane in Preston. There is parking on Moor Lane by the row of shops. Cross over Moor Lane and head up Craggs Row to see the windmill tower (no parking on this street- it’s all double yellow lines).

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018

Nearby, just a short distance away              St Walburge’s Church, the Lost Medieval Leper Hospital and the Lost Friary of Preston

A short drive away Preston Dock Curiosities








Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Victorian Lancashire, Windmills | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Hob Cross, Lathom, West Lancashire


Hob Cross near Lathom

The site of Hob Cross  would have dated back to Medieval times, and even possibly before. Hob is a word to describe a type of supernatural being that lived in the more remote areas of the countryside. In Lancashire a similar term might be a boggart, and we see that name still in our present day places, for example Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley near Manchester. However, Westwood and Simpson in their huge book of English folklore  The Lore of the Land note that in the North of England and Midlands the preferred name seems to be hob, with the alternatives of hobthrusts, hobmen and hobbits (this last one they point out was in existence before Tolkien ever used it). These beings were not clearly distinguished from boggarts or brownies. They note that a hob was usually associated with a named location, be that a cave, a prehistoric burial mound or in this case, a wayside cross.

Aidan Turner-Bishop in his chapter on fairy and boggart sites in Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape notes that Simpson and Westwood list Lancashire, Northumberland and Derbyshire to have the most fairy sites of all the English counties (a fairy here being a catch all term for any supernatural human-like being). This may well be due to the remote moorland aspect of so much of these three counties.

When Henry Taylor conducted his epic survey in the early 1900s of all the crosses and holy wells in Lancashire, he noted that only the pedestal, or base of the Hob Cross remained. Record show that it was still in place in 1957 but is now long disappeared. This has been the fate of many of our wayside crosses in Lancashire, where all we have for evidence of what once was there is the marking on a map of ‘site of cross’. However, in 2011 local councillors gathered to see the newly reinstated Hob Cross, one of a pair, the other being Priory Cross at nearby Blythe Lane. Both are made from recycled stone gate posts and look built to last. The money came from the District Council and from an anonymous donor, with  the reinstatement being part of a scheme to highlight the historic aspects of Lathom. We cannot always preserve the past, as in this case where the original cross has disappeared, but we can make sure it is not forgotten by continuing to mark and honour the county’s ancient traditions. Crosses marked boundaries, procession routes, functioned as guide posts and meeting points. With so many in our landscape now gone, it’s heartening to see these two replacements.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018

Access Hob Cross is on Hobcross Lane, near the Ring of Bells, Lathom. There is no pull in point directly by the cross (although you can drive right next to it). You’ll need to look for a pull in space a little away from it, so do park carefully.

Nearby Newburgh Cross and a little further away Parbold’s Bottle Monument


The Lore of the Land: A guide to England’s Legends, J.Westwood and J.Simpson (2005) Penguin

Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, edited by Linda Sever (2010) The History Press

Historic England Pastcape website entry on Hob Cross

Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Wayside Crosses | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Longridge Cluster Schools’ Armistice Project

DSCN5530As we move into the final year of centenary events for the 1914-1918 conflict, a group of schools in Longridge and its surrounding villages are engaging in a whole series of projects to remember World War 1. The work will culminate in a performance of the musical dance drama  “Armistice” at Preston Guild Hall.

The local community is also aiming to knit 19,240 poppies- the exact number of men killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  The children will be making silhouettes of the soldiers whose names are remembered on the war memorials in Longridge and its outlying villages. There is also going to be an archive of stories from relatives about those that served in the war. Some of these have already been posted on the Facebook page (see here ). In school the children will learn through their  curriculum subjects about the causes of the first world war, and about the reality that soldiers faced on the front.

The “Armistice” event on the 11th November 2018 is to involve 500 children and 100 adults giving two performances. To hire the Guild Hall, pay for transport of the children, props, costumes, instruments and for the use of museum services they are aiming to raise £50,000. If more money is made, it is to be passed on to the Royal British Legion charity. This well known charity was formed by World War 1 veterans and gives support to our Service men, women and present day veterans.

In a time of rising xenophobia and hostility between countries we are reminded that those who do not learn from history are in danger of repeating it. Commemorations and educational events like this help us to see why understanding our past history is so vital.

Thanks to John McHugh, Headteacher of St Wilfrid’s Primary School Longridge for bringing this worthwhile project to our attention.

To find out  more about the Longridge Schools Armistice Project, follow the links below.

Longridge Cluster Schools Armistice Project  Facebook page  here.

If you would like to donate towards funding to the “Armistice” performance at Preston Guild Hall then see the Just Giving website here.

The Royal British Legion  website is here


Posted in Uncategorized

Fred Dibnah Statue and Corliss Steam Engine, Bolton

Fred Dibnah Statue with Bolton’s Corliss Steam Engine behind him

In Bolton town centre stands a larger than life statue to the late, great steeplejack Fred Dibnah next to a Corliss Steam Engine. Fred always said that he was a man born in the wrong time, that he should have lived in the Victorian age. He was a tireless promoter of all things steam, and it is fitting that his statue has been placed next to this Bolton built steam engine.

Fred’s occupation as steeplejack involved repairing chimneys and church spires. He was the first to note the irony that although he had grown up wanting to preserve the great mill chimneys of Bolton, he ended being the man who was paid to demolish so many of them when they had come to the end of their useful life. His great skill in repairing church steeples and fitting them with new weather vanes means that we can still see his work in the Lancashire landscape around us today. His repairs to Bolton Parish Church gave him the publicity he needed to launch his steeplejack career in the 1970s.  This work carried on until the end of his life when he worked on the third tallest spire in the country, that of Preston’s St Walburge’s Church  (see our page on the iconic church here).

Following his death in 2004 it was decided to erect a statue in his honour, by public subscription. Thousands of individuals gave money, along with differing organisations and companies. In total more than £45,000 was raised by the Bolton Civic Trust.

His statue stands in Oxford Street and was created by Knutsford based figurative sculptor Jane Robbins. One of the four plaques at the base sums up his life as “Steeplejack and demolition expert, intuitive engineer, steam enthusiast, devotee of industrial heritage, raconteur and television celebrity, revered son of Bolton, 1938-2004”

When we viewed the statue on a busy Saturday in Bolton, we were pleased to see other passers by admiring it and photographing it too. One curious point jumped out at us: Fred’s waistcoat and jacket are buttoned on the “wrong” side, that is on the left. By convention men’s buttons are on the right, but Fred’s are clearly on his left. He is in good company here as the buttons on the Robert Peel’s statue in Bury are also on the left. The reason for this anomaly has been explained by the sculptor Jane Robbins. She had listened to Fred on one of his television programmes narrate the story of how a sculptor had killed himself after he realized that a statue he’d created had the buttons on the wrong side. (This is a well known historical myth, told about statues around the country). Jane purposely put the buttons on the left side and has been quoted as saying “… I thought it would be a sort of nod to the man- a kind of ‘in’ joke for Fred.”

Fred wasn’t the first famous Lancashire Steeplejack, he had a Victorian predecessor who lived in Ramsbottom and for more details see our page here.

Bolton Steam Engine on Oxford Street

Behind Fred’s statue stands the mighty Corliss Steam Engine. Built in Bolton in 1886 it was in use until 1969 in a silk spinning mill owned by Ford, Ayrton & Co in Bentham, North Yorkshire. It was donated to the people of Bolton by the manufacturers Hick Hargreaves & Co Ltd of Bolton. It represents a typical steam engine that would have powered so many of the mills throughout our region.

The original Corliss steam engine was invented in 1849 by George Henry Corliss of Rhode Island, America. He managed to create an engine that was 30% more efficient than conventional ones. This was an important breakthrough as it meant that for the first time steam power became more economical than water power. This in turn meant that factories no longer had to use water to turn their wheels, but could use a steam engine and so be built anywhere- not just next to a suitable river. The Corliss engine was ideal for textile mills as it had adjustable speed and power, which is useful when dealing with being connected to machines for the spinning of delicate thread.

The Bolton engine was placed in its huge glass case by Bolton Corporation when Oxford and Newport Streets were pedestrianized in 1973. There are great views of the machine on all four sides of the case. In our youth we remember the engine’s large wheel turning on a Saturday, but have not seen it rotate in recent years. It is clearly being maintained though as an oil can rested on one side and an oily rag had been carefully stowed on the other.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018. Thanks to our Bolton correspondents Ste and Sue.

Access  The site is open access in Oxford Street, Bolton


The Bolton News 10th August 2007 and 17th April 2008

Posted in Lancashire Mills,, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments