The history of the mission at Fernyhalgh is obscure. The name refers the area of the well rather than a recognisable village as such, being little more than a number of scattered houses and farms with no real centre other than the church with its once flourishing school (now a day nursery). Today new housing estates reach out from Preston leaving only a field or two between, though the M6 motorway - now widened to four lanes each way - probably helps to keep the two apart, though not so peaceful as it once was.
The ancient well, known as 'Ladye Well' was famous as a place of healing from at least the middle of the 14th century. At that time a licence was granted by the archbishop to Thomas de Singleton, son of Gilbert, to have a chaplain to say Mass there for three years, it being within the manors of Broughton, Fernyhalgh and Farmholes. Perhaps this was within his own house. It was quite common to have private domestic chapels but they were not allowed to have Mass or the Sacrament reserved without special permission. There may have been other chapels within the manors, possibly a predecessor to the church of St John the Baptist though the history of that church has only been traced back to a century later. Little was written down but legends abounded.
After the destruction of the monasteries, all Chantries and free chapels, together with all their regular offerings, were sequestered by the Crown and in 1547 the chapel at Ladyewell was destroyed. However, the area was well hidden among trees, with easy escape to the wilderness of the fells and Bowland forest, so in 1685 during the reign of James II a new chapel was built by the well, disguised as a house with the priest living below and the chapel being on the upper floor, at a cost of £225 7s 2 1/2d. A thousand year lease was sold by Hugh Charnley to
"George Leyburne of Nateby,
Nicholas Wadsworth of Haighton,
Cuthbert Hesketh of Whitehill, Goosnargh, and
Robert Shepherd of Broughton, gentleman,
with a yearly rent of one peppercorn, if the same should be lawfully demanded."
This is still substantially the same house today, with a resident priest and a chapel upstairs, though there is a new, fairly recent, purpose built chapel in the garden. The well is just to the left of the house as seen above. (See also the photo album, May 2004)
The size of the chapel would have been nowhere near large enough for the 1,099 confirmed there on Sept.8th 1687 by Mr Leyburne, the Vicar Apostolic (i.e.Bishop) so the ceremonies probably continued all day, perhaps without a very large crowd at any one time as the already large number would have been vastly increased with sponsors and probably a few relatives as well. There were domestic chapels where Mass was said secretly in Cottam, Woodplumpton, Barton, Broughton, Fulwood and further afield throughout penal times but recorded confirmations were held for the whole area in one place at a time, not split into smaller groups. The Vicar Apostolic would not have been able to return frequently as he had the whole of the north of England to visit. It should also be remembered that, especially before the Industrial Revolution and large-scale migration to the towns, the population of the countryside was in fact considerably higher than nowadays and that the proportion of Catholics to the rest was particularly high in this area.
There would have been no singing, no responses from the congregation, only quiet words in Latin said by the Vicar Apostolic. Although the risk of persecution and arrest was less than before, it was still wise to keep proceedings quiet and to come and go without drawing unwelcome attention to oneself. Mr Christopher Tootle (Tuttell, Tootall or Tootell etc) who came to the mission in 1699 from the college in Lisbon, Portugal, had to flee in a hurry at least three times, in 1700, in 1715 - the time of the Jacobite rebellion - and again in 1718. In 1719 he was appointed as Vicar General of the northern district in succession to Mr Edward Barlow and was able to reopen the mission in 1723, with 580 people being confirmed there in 1725. Many of Mr Tootle's letters are preserved and are very important in the picture they give of Catholic life in Lancashire at the time.
Dame Alice's school
It was in the 18th century that the school was opened near the well. It may have been started by the priest as early as 1651 but it was subsequently known as 'Dame Alice's'. Alice Harrison, a convert, received into the church by Mr Melling (nephew of Mr Christopher Tootle) in 1708, provided what was basically a preparatory school for boys wishing to be priests who would go on - illegally, for it was still forbidden for Catholics to send their children abroad to school* - to the College at Douai, France, or to others in Spain or Italy. The resident priest himself had begun a small school, as was common in other places such as Kirkham, at least by 1651 and when Dame Alice retired, about 1760, it continued to be maintained as a school. After about 1795 when the new church was completed at Fernyhalgh, the priest's house by the well was used for this purpose.*The Act of 1606 obliged Catholics to obtain licences for travel further than five miles from home. It was not well enforced and was largely ignored
Among pupils of Dame Alice's school were Peter Newby who was born in Westmorland in 1745,went ot Douai but left in 1764. Afte teaching in Liverpool for a while he set up a school at Great Eccleston in 1775. Later he retired to Gerrard Hall, Haighton and died in 1827. Another pupil was Mr Alban Butler who wrote the famous 'Lives of the Saints'.
Mr Tootle died at Ladyewell in 1727 and was succeeded by his nephew Mr Edward Melling who had assisted him for some time, followed by Mr John Cowban in 1737. Next was Mr George Kendal who was there during the 1745 rebellion when the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, marched down from Scotland through Lancaster to Preston. In 1755 Mr John Chadwick was appointed and then Mr Robert Banister who started the parish register on 11 Jan 1771 with the following entry:
Anno Dni 1771 die 11mo mensis Januarii ego Robertus Banister Sacerdos Missionarius ad Capella Beatissimae Mariae Virginis in Fernyhalgh baptizavi infantem masculum pridie natum ex Joanne Chew et Margarita Johnson catholicis conjugibus in Fullwood: cui impositum est nomen Gulielemus. Patrinus erat Thomas Chew Patruus: matrina Anna Johnson matertera. In the year of Our Lord 1771 on the 11th of January, I, Robert Banister Mission Priest at the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fernyhalgh, baptised a male child born the day before to John Chew and Margaret Johnson, a Catholic married couple in Fulwood: the name William was given to him. Godfather was Thomas Chew, paternal uncle: godmother [was] Anna Johnson, maternal aunt.
Fernyhalgh new church
Mr Banister was followed in 1773 by Mr Anthony Lund who had been a professor at Douai. Mr Lund was personally wealthy and wanted to build a church which would be large enough for the growing population. Finding there was not enough land for sale by the well he compromised and bought six acres a quarter of a mile away, planning the layout of the church (above) and also the cemetery.
The new church was begun in March 1794 and completed and paid for (at a cost of £1,258 12s 8d) by 1795 for it was then consecrated by the Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District, William Gibson.
Mr Lund retired in 1811 due to ill health, and died on 23 September, being buried in the church before the altar. He was succeeded by Mr Robert Blacoe who served there until 1823, when Mr Richard Gillow took over. The latter had only been ordained two years before at the new English seminary of Ushaw. He was there for forty years, becoming the first 'Missionary Rector' after the restoration of the English Catholic hierarchy in 1851 and was responsible for the much admired Rosary window showing all 15 meditation
Through the years that followed the house was rarely empty. By the middle of the 20th century it was being used as a retreat house for the Holy Child nuns of Winckley Square in Preston and then for a short while as a conference centre. The house has been altered and modernised many times, so it is not easy to see what is original. Its chapel now just serves the well, independently of the church, with its own resident priest who has added a new chapel at the back with doors that can be opened onto extra seating outside, and a covered area with seats by the well itself. Until a few years ago access was not easy, the longer road being stony and full of potholes and the other, through the woods from the direction of Squire Anderton's, steep and muddy, but the road to the church is now metalled and car parks have been provided for pilgrims.
Some details from various sources are given below. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list or copy from the registers, merely to give the flavour of the documents. It would also be impossible to pluck a name from here without extensive and careful research backwards from the present to make any reasonable assumption about relationship to a person in the 21st century. It would then be desirable to consult these actual volumes, fortunately now transcribed and available from the North-West Catholic History Society, rather than the very fragile originals in the record office in Preston..(There are indexes of the names).
Some families moved quite a distance, especially of course on marriage. Farmers migrated according to their means to larger or smaller farms, usually leasehold or rented, often some distance across their part of the county. The movement into the towns had been ongoing since the middle ages, though not yet given the enormous boost it had in the next century when Preston itself became home to the cotton industry with the invention of the Spinning Jenny by Arkwright. Then bit by bit, with the larger-scale use of coal and steam power, by the 19th century, Preston turned into the 'Coketown' of Charles Dickens' Hard Times.
A modern chapel for pilgrims, built in the garden at Ladywell, has plaques all the way round, listing the names of the priests and laymen who died for their faith. From this area of Lancashire were (among many) George Beesley (Hill Chapel), George Haydock (Cottam), William Marsden (Goosnargh), John Plessington (Garstang), John Wall (Chingle Hall, Goosnargh), and Thomas Cottam (Dilworth, near Longridge). Edward Bamber (Blackpool), Richard Hayhurst (Broughton),and Robert Nutter (Burnley) were executed at Lancaster., as were many more, particularly recusant priests, who served in what is now the Lancaster diocese.
Bishop Leyburne's Confirmation Register of 1687
Confirmations at Fernyhalgh in 1687 fill fifteen and a half pages in two columns, too many to include here! Whether the names were set out in any particular order it is impossible to tell, though there may be some significance in the groupings. For example 'Will Gregson, Hen Gregson and Rob Gregson' listed together could obviously be from the same family, and likewise 'Ellin Walmsley, Ann Walmsley and Eliz Walmsley' or 'Rich Waring, Tho Waring, Eliz Waring, Mary Waring, Will Waring'. Some of the spellings seem odd at first, like 'Phiswick', but this is quite a common rendering of 'Fishwick' (and found elsewhere in the list as Fiswick, and possibly also Fisakary. The double f, 'ff' also appears, typically as an initial letter, interchangeable with the capital, as in ffletcher in one place but Fletcher in another. Whether Swithurst or Swinletwist are names related to Swindlehurst it is difficult to be sure, and perhaps Hollad is a mistake for Holland and Hadersell a version of Hothersall. The vast majority of the names are either the same as modern spellings or are easily recognisable - as Stursicar, (elsewhere Sturzaker), Baitson, Almand for the local Almond, Channley and Chornley (for Charnley), or Haghtre (presumably Hayter). Many are local place names though Albasdeston is an unusual variant on Osbaldeston (in the Ribble valley), like Eyves for Eaves (Woodplumpton).. Others are more unusual, Comalatch, or Comalech. Cardless, Churseley, Cathreff, Kaliland, Rullin, Wellin, Wollin, Raleland, Scorislett, Shedlett, Standishettle, or Shesett - though some of these are difficult to decipher. These however are only the exceptions. The majority are typical local names which appear frequently in all the records, among those not yet mentioned being the very common names such as Beesley, Blacoe, (or Blako etc), Carter, Cowell, Cross, Fidler, Hardiker (Hardacre), Hardman, Haydock, Hodgson, Hodgkinson, Holm, Kitchin, Naylour (Naylor), Noblett, Parker, Parkinson, Shepherd, Shuttleworth, Sudell, Turner and many more. Many are from obvious local place names, Cottam (Woodplumpton), Dilworth (near Longridge), Holland (south of Preston in the West Derby Hundred), Singleton (near Poulton-le-Fylde), Kendal(l) (now in Cumbria, formerly Westmorland), Westby (near Kirkham), Curedan (Cuerden, south of Preston), Wheatley (near Longridge).
The register was published by the North-West Catholic History Society in 1997. [ISBN 0 9514615 8 3]
Lancashire Recusants 1687 [ISBN 0 9531020 1 7]
The principal lists were drawn up in 1678, 1679 and 1682 and are also published by the North-West Catholic History Society. The introduction explains: 'In 1606 an Act for the better discovering and repressing of popish recusants required among other things, that the churchwardens and constables of every town, parish or chapel, once in every year, bring before the justices of the peace for trial at quarter sessions, all popish recusants who had not attended Church of England divine service for one month; the penalty for recusancy was set at £20 for every month...'
A new house of Parliament was returned in 1679 which was dominated by Whigs and fiercely anti-Catholic. The infamous Titus Oates, eager to entrap Catholics, was himself an ex-pupil of the Jesuit College at St Omer in France from which he was expelled in 1678. In revenge he made allegations to the English Protestant press and succeeded in frightening the general population into believing that the French, Scottish and Irish were about to invade and impose Catholicism on the country.
There are 4,703 names in the 1678 register and 1,079 in that for 1679. The churchwardens would have known most of the local inhabitants who did not attend church though they were not always aware of the first names of some of the married women, nor of visitors, and some of the Catholics, particularly among the gentry, could well have been away in other parts of England or even abroad. Nonconformists, such as Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers also appear in the records, particularly in some areas in the north and in the south-east of the county. The records cover the whole county from Liverpool to Lancaster, divided by parishes and hundreds.
The missions around the northern side of Preston were grouped in Amounderness hundred. This stretches from the Ribble in the south to Scorton and the border of Cockerham to the north, west to the coast and east to Samlesbury and into Bowland Forest. The recusant records for Amounderness appear in the collection for 1678. Cottam is grouped with Lea, Ashton and Ingol. Broughton, Woodplumpton and Goosnargh have sections to themselves but the Catholics of Fernyhalgh must be scattered between these other groups. Having no parish church it does not appear by name except as 'Haighton'..Many of the names listed above appear in these pages, particularly Almond, Dilworth, Fidler, Charnley, Clarkson, Singleton and Walmsley with added details of huband/wife or husband/widow relationships and also occupations which are of more help in trying to identify the persons concerned.
This hamlet between Fernyhalgh and Broughton was home to Mary Cowbin (spinster), Margaret Wadsworth (widow), Elizabeth ffarclough (=Fairclough) servant of , Thomas Burton, Anne ffarclough (widow), George Charnley (servant), Anne Procter (servant), Ellen Clemens, Henry Walmsley (cooper) and Ellena Turner. (Spellings unchanged)
Lancashire Recusants 1682 [ISBN 0 9531020 6 8]
Again Fernyhalgh does not appear by name but there are a large number of entries for Broughton, Goosnargh, Grimsargh, and Woodplumpton, inclduing just three from Haighton, Henry Walmsley, cooper, Ellena Clemence, spinster, and Anna Cooper.
A recusant who had reached the age of eighteen was obliged to provide two sureties of at least £200 "to ensure good behaviour until such time as he or she conformed to the Established Church." This money - a very large sum at that time - would of course not be returned unless they did.
The registers transcribed in this collection are from schedules of Pipe Rolls, copied following Quarter Sessions. They contain many entries for Quakers (7 in Lancaster and 31 in Warrington) and other nonconformists, Catholics making up only about 1% of the total number of entries - though enough to fill a volume of 316 pages. 1681 was a bad year in Preston with not enough barley sown in the spring, a drought and then an epidemic of smallpox which led to the the deaths of many children in the town. Many of the farmers were Catholic so the persecution of them probably led to neglected farms, many of them selling their seed corn to pay for the various penalties imposed on them. It is thought that many of the emigrants to Maryland at this time were from among these Catholic farming communities. Among the names for the families at the 'Higher End of Whittingham' are couples called Slater, Sturzaker, Duckett, Clarkson, Cottam, Sowerbutts, Rogerson, Sharples, Keighley, and Hurst, families of 7 Sturzakers, 3 Clarksons, widows called Wareing and Stanistreet.