Ponthalgh Manor House

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Ponthalgh, formally known as Powtehalgh, is the name most frequently used to designate this homestead of the Rishton's, like so many more of the fine old halls of our district, has suffered the obliteration of all its ancient features. Built upon the rising ground above the bridge which crosses the Hyndburn, it is near to Church Kirk, and in ancient times had a bold and commanding situation, as its name implies. Leaving the canal bank, near to Church Kirk, on the way through Dunkenhalgh Park, Ponthalgh is the farm passed on the left.

Ponthalgh Hall in better days

The farm may also be referred to as Ponthalgh, Plowtalgh, Powtehalgh, and later Park Farm. This homestead is mainly associated with the Rishton family who occupied the homestead from the 15th to 17th century. The Rishtons finally left Ponthalgh for Preston, as a result of supporting the King during the English Civil War. In 1659 Ponthalgh was sold to the Walmsley's.

The Rishton family, who resided here, played a notable, if not, in some cases, a creditable part in the social life of the district, particularly during the 16th century. Other members of the family suffered for the ancient faith of their fathers by persecution and exile. Other branches followed the even tenor of their way, as far as the circumstances of the times in which they lived would allow. It is a tradition of the Rishton family that each generation gave a son to the Church, and nowhere is a greater contrast afforded than in the annals of the Ponthalgh branch.

For two generations its members made things very lively indeed for their neighbours and relatives in what was really a family feud. The story of Ponthalgh is as interesting as that of any novel; in fact, it would appear in this case that truth-is stranger than fiction.

About the year 1250 A.D. Uhtred de Chirche, junior, gave land in Church to Roger de Dunkenhalgh, Roger de Radcliffe, William de Koul (or Kowhill from Cowhill in Rishton), and Henry de Oswaldtwistle.

The Holt was the residence of a branch of the Rishton's who originated from Gilbert de Blackburn. He settled upon the Manor of Rishton in 1245, and ever afterwards styled himself as Gilbert de Rishton, from his place of residence. The family acquired estates in neighbouring townships, and when Richard Rishton died in 1425, he held the Manor of Ponthalgh in the township of Church, which eventually appears to have superseded Church Hall as the manor house of Church, but was one of the landowners of Rishton. The motorway link Road now runs over this site. It is interesting to note that the manor house was strongly built of massive stone blocks as a defence and protection both for the family and their tenants in times of danger.

Gilbert de Rishton, with some boon companions caused a great sensation in the district, when, after dining together, they quarrelled over a game of dice. Gilbert killed his intimate friend, William de Melver (Mellor), for which he was tried at Lancaster Castle and outlawed from his estate in 1255-56 A.D. As a result of the de Rishton family being deprived of the Manor of Rishton, they later acquired, through Robert de Rishton, the Manor of Church and all the lands, by purchase from Peter de Chirche, and his son Simon.

Thus the manorial rule of the de Chirche family came to an end. Robert de Rishton remained at Ponthalgh, where he was settled in 1329 A.D., and Church Hall ceased to be the manor house. A nephew of Robert de Rishton a few years later in 1332 A.D., acquired Dunkenhalgh from William de Dunkenhalgh.

1290 - 5 Gilbert De Rishton (the 2nd), along with his oldest legitimate son, Robert, bought the manor of Church from Adam De Church. This was Church Hall.

An inquiry was held in the nave of Church Kirk by Henry de Rishton in 1311. It reveals Henry de Rishton as holding half a carucate of land in Church, while Robert de Rishton held one carucate of freehold land in Church, subject to the rendering of six shillings and doing service for three weeks at Clitheroe Castle. This same Henry de Rishton of 1311 A.D., had a grandson name Robert de Rishton, who was already established on the estate of Ponthalgh in Church before 1329 A.D.

On the 21st May 1414, Sir Thomas Talbot, of Holt Manor, was again outlawed! The manor of Rishton now went into the hands of the King, for "treason and felony" on the part of Sir Thomas as a follower of John Oldcastle.

It seems about this time time that Ralph de Rishton of Powthalgh petitioned the King to give the manor to his branch of the Rishton family, for on the 9th September 1415, we have a document from the King addressed "to his well-beloved and loyal Richard de Radclyff, Knight, Henry de Longton, Ralph de Radclyff, and William Ambrose," asking them "to enquire into the title of Ralph, and do justice".

The de Rishtons were strongly supported in their fight for the manor by Thomas de Langley, Bishop of Durham, and in 1418 Richard de Rishton, son of Ralph, obtained the Rishton estates which had been lost by his ancestors over a century before.

Sir Thomas Talbot formally of Holt, died in 1417, "sore, troubled, and vexed for the titill of Kynge Richard", leaving one son, Edmund, "who durst not appear". This young Talbot was later to recover his lands from the de Rishtons, making them angrier than ever at losing the manor for a second time. Much feuding started with the de Rishtons carrying out destructive raids on Holt Manor, "and with mony evil - disposed persons hath diverse tymes robbed hym and his tenants of their gods (goods) and cattell to the value of Cli (£100) and more unto hym and his tenants gret undoying".

The Talbots at Holt were surrounded by the estates belonging to the descendants of Robert and the other brothers of Adam, the last de Rishton, Lord of the Manor. As one would expect, now that the de Rishtons had had lost all hope of recovering the manor again, they made great effort to cause as much trouble as possible for their supplanters, the Talbots.

Richard Rishton was succeeded by his brother Roger in 1426. He had a son and heir, Richard; also a younger son, Roger, who is stated to be the first of the Rishton's who settled at Ponthalgh, where he was living in 1474. The Rishton's of Ponthalgh made many claims to the Manor of Rishton between the years 1425 and 1478, when they seem to have had their claim acknowledged.

Ponthalgh in August 2001 rundown and neglected.

Roger Rishton was temporarily outlawed in 1447, and though the Talbot's of Bashall eventually recovered possession of Rishton Manor, it is evident from the returns of knights' fees in 1443 that the claims of Edmund Talbot had not been settled in his favour. Roger Rishton was succeeded by his son Richard, the second of the Rishton's of Ponthalgh. He was the father of Ralph Rishton, who married Anne, a daughter of Roger Nowell, of Read Hall. They had a son, Roger, of whom we hear a great deal on account of his having carried on a family quarrel or feud, in the militant methods of those days: destroying' property, waylaying and attempting to kill his relatives of the neighbouring houses of Dunkenhalgh and Antley.

The Duchy Court records give us some very interesting glimpses of Roger Rishton's career as recorded in the years 1536 and 1537. He appears to have been twice married, first to Anne Livesey, and secondly to Grace Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh. Roger, of Ponthalgh, planned an attack upon Henry Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh, his father-in-law, gathered his retainers together and proceeded to Church Kirk. Entering the Church, they "tore up, broke, and carried away the pews which had only recently been placed there by Henry Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh." Gathering together the broken pews, they made a bonfire of them in the churchyard.

The next proceeding in this miniature war was that Roger Rishton, with eight men, armed with bows and arrows, proceeded to Church Kirk, and placed two men in each of the four highways in order to prevent people interrupting him in the sacrilege of the Church. Then again, on the 2nd of April, 1536, Roger, with six of his men, their faces blackened so that they could not be recognised, broke down the bridge at Dunkenhalgh, carried away a portion, and threw the remainder into the river. Five days later he mustered an array of thirty persons, these again being disguised with black faces, and lay in wait to prevent Henry Rishton going to Church Kirk and with intent to evilly entreat him, so that he went in danger of his life. It was one of those family feuds carried on in the days when law and order were very lax, and appear to have been very common; times when the appeal to arms was often the readiest and speediest method of settling disputes, which often had a tragic ending-. Roger, as already stated, married a daughter of Henry Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh, and one wonders whether that had something to do with the enmity engendered between the families.

Pontalgh Barn in August 2001

One can quite understand how passion would be engendered among the branches of the family who were being defied and insulted by the outrageous conduct of their Ponthalgh relatives. The Rishtons of Antley at once leagued with those of Dunkenhalgh, and joined in the feud. On one occasion, when Nicholas Rishton, of Antley, was returning from a visit to Dunkenhalgh, he was waylaid by Roger and two others, who attacked him, and being outnumbered by three to one, was badly beaten and wounded in the right shoulder, which left him in great danger of his life. On Passion Sunday, Roger had a small army of armed retainers with blackened faces, which must have given them a great resemblance to " pace-eggers," once so numerous at Easter. These men were secreted in the woods, while others guarded the highway between Antley and Church Kirk, in order to prevent Nicholas of Antley and his followers from going to the Church.

Pontalgh Manor in December 2002.

It must have been exasperating to Nicholas Rishton, of Antley, as his wife and other members of the family were at that time attending service at Church Kirk. They were practically hostages in the hands of the enemy. Roger entered the Church, took away the chalice and vestments, and would not allow Mass to be said. It would be very interesting to know how Rishton of Antley rescued his family from the clutches of Roger of Ponthalgh.

National affairs at that time were in a state of upheaval on account of the suppression of the monasteries. The Government of the day had their hands too full to take any notice of local affairs.

Roger of Ponthalgh held the whole district in a state of terror, and at length the authorities were bound to interfere on being petitioned by the people of Dunkenhalgh and Antley. Roger was summoned to appear at the Duchy Court, where many charges were brought against him. This did not deter Roger, for he carried his exploits further a field by engaging in a fray at Blackburn with Sir Thomas Talbot, which ended his career. It appears that Roger and his men, while on their way to Audley Hall, one of the residences of the Talbot's, were surprised and attacked by Sir Thomas Talbot's force. Roger's men were desperately pressed, and they had to seek refuge in the house of a yeoman. After a hand-to-hand fight within the house, Roger was beaten down and left for dead, and his retainers either killed or wounded.

As Roger Rishton lay there helpless, Thomas Talbot said: " Now I will be sure and I will give unto Rishton my mark," striking him with such force that the dagger broke. Sir Thomas Talbot, showing his dagger to his servants, said ; " I have sped him; look, I have broken my dagger in his brain, and if my dagger had not been broken I would have struck the priest that held me," and with these furious words he departed. Such was the fate meted out to Roger Rishton, of Ponthalgh, whose career had been one of strife. Surely romance could not exceed the scene of strife and bloodshed in the homestead which witnessed the end of such a turbulent character and brought to a close the feud of the Rishtons.

The story of local life in the 16th century strongly exhibits the low state of morals and brutality which existed among even the propertied class of society in England during that period. It also shows that in the history of family life truth may be as full of strange circumstances and iniquitous deeds as the most highly-wrought fiction.

Pontalgh manor and Barn in August 2001

Ponthalgh was also involved in a child marriage which took place in the Church of Altham at a period when, with few exceptions, the country gentry of Lancashire, as of England generally, were what would now be deemed coarse in manners and habits, illiterate and often profligate; when men of estate lived as they liked without regard for the legality of their actions, under a civil government which provided no effective machinery for the enforcement of the law, and a corrupted ecclesiastical authority which connived at the social vices of the rich.

The transactions here recorded were, doubtless, exceptionally scandalous even for those dark times of violence and wrong, but the facts respecting the domestic life of that age, which have come down to us, is of equally disreputable import.

The Life of Ralph Rishton, and his child bride, can be found here.

Father Edward Rishton was the son of Ralph Rishton, of Ponthalgh, his full story is available here.

William, Edward Rishtons Uncle, was succeeded by his son Ralph, who died in 1624. He in turn was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who recorded his pedigree in 1664, and had twelve children. He was living in Preston in 1678, he and his son being" outburgesses in 1662 and 1682. The Walmsleys of Dunkenhalgh purchased the estates in 1659, and the name of Richard Walmsley, of Ponthalgh, occurs in the Hearth Tax returns of 1681. It would appear that the Rishtons finally left Ponthalgh for Preston, on account of the part they took on the King-'s side in the Civil War, when they compounded for their estates and eventually had to part with them.

Pontalgh in December 2002.

On the 20th May 1642, at the outset of the Civil War, Royalist Traitors Whose Estates were confiscated during the Commonwealth were revealed. The Lands and Estates of these people forfeited for Treason, were to be sold. These included Ralph Rishton Senior,  of Whiteash, his son, Ralph Rishton junior, also of Whiteash, Edward Rishton of Michaelhaies (Mickyheyes), and William Rishton of Ponthaulgh.


(The Church in Blackburnshire, J. E. W. Wallis, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, Master of Arts).

The political history of Blackburnshire briefly summed up as it is recorded in the chronicles amounts to this: That until the beginning of the seventh century the inhabitants of Blackburnshire were Britons first ruling themselves, then ruled for 300 years by the Romans, then again independent for 200 years; that there were then invasions of English, both Northumbrians and Mercian’s; that about 300 years after the beginning of the English inroads there came Scandinavian invaders who soon afterwards were forced to acquiesce in the union of all England under one king; and that a 100 years or so after this the English king is found holding Blackburnshire in his own hand.

In the year 1121 A.D. Robert de Lascy was for a second time, and finally, dispossessed of his estates, and banished from the realm. In 1122 A.D. his confiscated estates were given by King Henry I to Hugh de Laval, who had for some time been a tenant of part of them under Robert de Lascy’s grant. In June of that year the newly enfeoffed Lord not only confirmed to the monks of Pontefract by charter what they had previously held from Robert de Lascy of his own fee, but also confirmed other grants, chiefly of churches which may be presumed (with the exception of Slaidburn, which was in Robert’s fee) to be the properties to which he refers in the early part of his charter as having been granted to them by himself during King Henry’s reign. The decisive words of the charter are here quoted in a translation:- "I Hugh de Laval ... grant and confirm what ever Robert de Lascy in the time of King William the second, and I afterwards, in the name of King Henry gave to the monastery of St. Mary of Charity" ... Here follows the list of properties until we reach ..." And in Bowland the church of Slaindburn with the things which belong to it, and in Cheshire the church of Whalley and the things which belong to it, and the chapel of my castle in Clitheroe, with the tithes of everything of my demeane of the said castle and in the same place the church of St. Mary Magdalene and the church of Colne, and the church of Burnley."

Canon Wallis combines the information given by Hugh de Laval’s charter with that given by Doomsday book, and finds that at the end of the eleventh century or the beginning of the twelfth, there were five churches in Blackburnshire (not including the castle chapel at Clitheroe) and probably two more including Church Kirk and Altham.*

(*The significant word here is ‘probably’ meaning - appearance of truth that can be proved- ‘King’s English’ and Chamber’s 20th century dictionaries. Church Kirk foundation was much earlier than that of Altham (founded by Hugh, son of Leofwine the Saxon in 1140 A.D.) Richard Ainsworth F. S. A. (Scot.), Canon J. E. W. Wallis, M.A. Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, and the Rev. Doctor R. J .W. Bevan, M.A. have testified to the fact that Oswald, King and Saint of old Northumbria, was the founder of Church Kirk.)

He comments on the fact that Church is the Mercian, and Kirk the Northumbrian form of the same word. If the compound name Church Kirk could be traced back to early times we should be justified in assuming an English church of Mercian foundation to which there came a settlement of Northumbrians sufficiently powerful at least to share the place name or vice-versa.

As it is, though the existence of a church at Church Kirk cannot be proved earlier than the twelfth century, the assumption is strong that by the time the Mercian settlers had worked their way up the Calder and the Hyndburn, they had become Christian. The township itself has always borne the name of Church: 12th century charters speak of the fountain or spring of St. Oswald as a boundary mark; and the neighbouring township is Oswaldtwistle, which means Oswald’s boundary.

Richard Ainsworth in his researches on the origin of Church Kirk presumes a close association with Oswaldtwistle and deduces and elucidates the evidence which links Church Kirk and Oswaldtwistle with Oswald, King of Old Northumbria. Church Kirk and Oswaldtwistle are both ancient names, the latter portion of each name being Northumbrian origin (547 - 827 A.D.), Oswald (twistle) owes its derivation to Oswald, Saint and King of Old Northumbria.

In support of this, Canon Wallis suggests that there are three possible claimants to the name Oswald or Oswaldtwistle;

1. That Oswaldtwistle was the name of the territorial owner or Lord of the land who originally settled in the neighbourhood of Church Kirk.

2. That he was St. Oswald, first Bishop of Worcester and later Archbishop of York, who died in 992, whose Saints Day was February, 28th.

3. That he was St. Oswald, the hero king of the Old Northumbrian Kingdom, who fell in battle with the Mercian’s in the year 642 A.D.

Of the first two there is no record or evidence of any association with the district. It is to the last that all indications point as the person to whom Oswaldtwistle owes its derivation and Church Kirk its origin. The local evidence is singularly remarkable and strong in his favour, and cannot be ignored in arriving at a solution, and otherwise will require some difficulty in explaining away.

In support of the name of Oswaldtwistle originating from King Oswald allowing for variations of spelling in the early deeds, there has been no indication of any other name having been applied to the township.


St. Oswald’s Well which was enclosed in the East wall of the church yard at the time when the wall was built, is named in documents drawn up as early as the thirteenth century. There must have been some significant connection with St. Oswald to account for the existence of this well. There is one other well in Lancashire dedicated to St. Oswald, namely, at Winwick near Warrington. These two wells might very well indicate the line of direction taken by Oswald during his march through Lancashire for it is certain that Oswald sojourned at Winwick, where the church is also dedicated to him. A third well dedicated to St. Oswald is at Oswestry in Shropshire, where, as we have already mentioned, Oswald fell in battle against Penda.

These wells dedicated to St. Oswald, were held sacred and a stream of pilgrims constantly sought miraculous cures by drinking their water which was believed to have healing properties. This was the case at Winwick and Oswestry, and therefore presumably the well at Church Kirk was similarly venerated and visited by pilgrims. Probably the association of the well with the name of Oswald, and the fact that it was a centre of pilgrimage, led to the erection of St. Oswald’s shrine within the church itself, to which the people paid their devotions and presented offerings. This ancient veneration of Oswald has to some extent, been revived in recent times. For example, in the magnificent new Anglican Cathedral at Liverpool he figures in three stained glass windows, notably in the third light of the great east window which portrays famous martyrs of the Faith. At least two churches in our own vicinity are dedicated to St. Oswald. In the chancel of Church Kirk there is a stained glass window placed in memory of the late Lieut. Colonel W. Sandeman, and in one light St. Oswald is depicted holding the Cross, which is symbolic of his martyrdom. He is similarly commemorated by a stained glass window in Immanuel Church, Oswaldtwistle, and in this instance his name is linked with that of the township.

St. Oswald’s Well at Church Kirk is named in a grant of various lands to Richard, the assignee of Henry, the chaplain of Rishton, in 1250, when a messuage was also granted by St. Oswald’s Well, written as ‘Fontem Sancti Oswaldi’.


The Shrine in honour of King Oswald, was at the north side of the east end of the aisle, and it formed a chapel sacred to his name. The date of its erection is not known, but it certainly existed and was destroyed in the sixteenth century by Roger Rishton, of Ponthalgh, and three companions who committed a gross act of sacrilege, causing serious damage which included the destruction of St. Oswald’s Shrine.

"Roger Russheton (Rishton) of his malicious mind about Candlemas last came to the church with three other persons, and there with force of arms, to wit, with pynsons, hammers, axes, daggers and knyves, violently did break the Tabernacles of the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Oswald and took away such money and other silver as to the said images was offered, and upon the said images fastened, that is to say placed, ten pence upon the image of Our Lady, and sixpence upon the image of St. Oswald. This was an act of wanton sacrilege committed by Roger Rishton of Ponthalgh."

This was in 1537 A.D., as we learn from the records of the Duchy Court, where the case was brought up. King Oswald was also venerated as a saint, and as such there was a statue and shrine erected to him in Church in pre-Reformation days.

It is very suggestive that formerly the annual date when rents for lands in the Church and Oswaldtwistle district became due was St. Oswald’s day August, 5th. This is an unusual date for the collection of rents, and its significance must surely rest on the special connection of Church with the King, especially as this date applied only within the old chapelry of Church, which included Huncoat and Oswaldtwistle. This points strongly to our contention that the evidence favours St. Oswald, the King, as the one whom Oswaldtwistle has so long commemorated in its name and Church Kirk formerly by the Well and Shrine, The Saints Day or Festival of Oswald the King, August 5th, when rents in Church and Oswaldtwistle were formerly paid as early as the 13th century.

Richard Ainsworth sums up the evidence in these words: "This confirms the position of it being St. Oswald, the King, that Oswaldtwistle has so long commemorated in its name and by the ‘Well’ and ‘Shrine’ in Church Kirk".


The recorded history of Church commences in the last decade of the twelfth century and supplies us with documentary evidence of the well known families of those early days.

The first family of importance to be considered is that of "de Chirche" later spelt "Chierche", a name which takes its origin from the ancient locality of Church or Church Kirk.

Our earliest documentary information reveals to us an outstanding personality, Uhtredde Chirche (of Church), Lord of the Manor of Church, situated in Dill Hall Lane. The Manor was damaged beyond repair during a lightning storm in the early 1940’s. The occupant then was a true Englishman of the name of ‘Broderick’.

Uhtred de Chirche attested a charter concerning Great Harwood in 1192 A.D. in the reign of Richard I and during the regency of William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely. In this year, Richard, who was leading the third Crusade, captured Acre and Ascalon and defeated Saladin at Jaffa. He was unable to take Jerusalem, and concluded a truce of three years with the Saracen leader. This was in 1192 A.D. John followed Richard to the throne in 1199 A.D.

A notable date, which forms a landmark in the history of Church Kirk, is the year 1202 A.D., when Uhtred de Chirche appears concerning a settlement relating to land between himself and Henry de Cleiton (of Clayton) in a case tried at York on the 29th November, 1202 A.D.

The abstract of the case as given in the first volume of ‘Lancashire Fines’ runs as follows:

"At York on Friday next, after the Feast of St. Katherine the Virgin, 4th year of King John (29th November, 1202). Final agreement between Henry de Cleiton, plaintiff, and Uhtred de Chirche, tenant of haifa carucate of land with appurtenances in Chirche, respecting which a jury of Grand Assize has been summoned between them. Henry released his right in the land to Uhtred and his heirs, and for this release Uhtred gave Henry two marks of silver". - P.151, Vol. 1 Lancs. Fines.

Uhtred does not appear to have been very prompt in paying the fees assigned by the court. In the roll of the fifth year of King John, 1202 - 3, there is the entry: "Uctredus de Chirche deb. dim.m. quia non habit quem plegiavit". "Uhtred of Chirche owes half a mark, because he has not produced his pledge".

By the next year he had managed to scrape together and pay half of this fee into the Treasury, but he still owed the remaining 3s. 4d. "Uctredus de Chierche r.c. de dim. m. quia non habet quem plegiavit in thro xld et deb. xid." "Paid into the Treasury 40d. and owes 40d."

Uhtred senior was Lord of the Manor of Church and he lived at the manor house which was in Dill Hall Lane, where the now demolished Church Hall was formerly situated. The motorway link Road now runs over this site. It is interesting to note that the manor house was strongly built of massive stone blocks as a defence and protection both for the family and their tenants in times of danger. This, no doubt, was a formative influence subsequently in building the strong tower of Church Kirk. Uhtred also did suit and service to De Lacy, of Clitheroe Castle, by a rent of six shillings, assessed as one ploughland, early in the thirteenth century.

The date 1220 A.D. gives us the first recorded instance of an ordained minister in the person of William, chaplain of Church, as witness to a deed at Altham.

In 1250 A.D., Uhtred’s son, a later Uhtred de Chirche, granted lands and property in Church to Richard who was deputy to Henry de Rishton, the chaplain of Church. This included a house by St. Oswald’s well, written "Fontem Sancti Oswaldi", which was undoubtedly what we should now call the curate’s house, and which was conveniently near to the church. This transaction enables us to add another name to the list of Church Kirk clergy.

Agnes, sister of Uhtred de Chirche, married Adam de Radcliffe, grandson on Simon de Radcliffe, who with brothers Matthew and Henry were living in the reign of Henry 11(1154 - 1189). Simon de Radcliffe with his family had a close association with Church. His grandson, Adam de Radcliffe, was sometimes styled Adam de Chirche, as holding land in Church, in which he was confirmed by charter. This marriage linked the two families with Church.

Henry de Radcliffe, the brother of Simon, was the predecessor of the main line of the family and was mostly concerned with Oswaldtwistle. Henry’s son, William de Radcliffe, was ‘described as of the Tower, High Sheriff of Lancashire, in the reign of Richard I (1189 - 1199). In 1193, he offered five marks for having the King’s favour after the rebellion of John, Count of Mortain, later King John. William was one of the trusty knights who made the great survey, or inquest, of 1212, at which time he held among other possessions, lands in Oswaldtwistle in the county of Lancaster. Adam de Raddiffe, son of William, was confirmed in his lands at Oswaldtwistle.

The Manor of Oswaldtwistle held by Philip de Oswaldtwistle, the last of his line as Manorial Lord, was granted by him to Adam de Radcliffe, by a deed that is without date. Adam had a son, Robert, who succeeded him as Lord of the Manor, and was confirmed, in his lands at Oswaldtwistle by Henry de Lascy. He died in 1291, and was succeeded by his son Richard, who accompanied King Edward I to the wars in Scotland. The King allowed him a charter for lands in Oswaldtwistle in 1303. In 1340 his name appears in records as holding certain plough lands in Oswaldtwistle and Duckworth for Knight’s service. Richard had three sons. Robert, who succeeded him, had a son Ralph, who died without an heir; and his uncle, William, second son of Richard, was granted the heir Dom by Ralph at his death. He became known as "the great William". This same William, great grandson of Adam de Radcliffe, granted the premises to Richard, his eldest son.

A later Richard Radcliffe was slain along with his sovereign liege, King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, on Bosworth Field in 1485. The family of Radcliffe played a prominent part in the history of England, as one of the most powerful houses in the kingdom. It is with the various branches of this family that the history of Oswaldtwistle, for several centuries, is linked, as residents and lords of the manor.

"The Rat, the Cat.

And Lovel the dog.

Rule all England

Under a Hog".

This couplet cost the author, William Collingbourne, his life. It alludes, of course, to two Royal favourites, Ratcliffe and Catesby, and to Lord Lovel (whose crest was a dog) who successfully aided and abetted Richard "Crouchback", Duke of Gloucester (whose crest was a wild boar), to hew his way, with the headsman’s axe, to the throne of England.

On the death of John Radcliffe, of Radcliffe Tower (Esq.), in 1518, the manor passed by entail to Robert Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter, a courtier of Henry VIII, who took the King’s side in his divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon, for which he was rewarded by being created Earl of Sussex. His son, the second Earl, sold this manor to Andrew Barton, of Smithells Hall, in the 3rd year of the reign of Edward VI (1549).

The Knight Hospitallers (Knights of St. John of Jerusalem) had an interest in Smithells, as they had in Oswaldtwistle during the thirteenth century. Then a branch of the Radcliffes of the Tower appears as owners in 1 335, and they continued there until the time of Sir Ralph Radcliffe, who died in 1460. It was his daughter, Cicely Radcliffe who married John Barton, Esq., of Holme, near Newark. By this marriage, Smithells Hall came into the possession of the Barton's. The son and heir of John and Cicely Barton was Andrew Barton, who married Anne, the daughter of Sir William Stanley, of Hooten, related to the Earl of Derby.

Andrew Barton died in 1548. His will dated February 7th, in the reign of Edward Vi proves the transference of Oswaldtwistle Manor by purchase from Henry Radcliffe, 2nd Earl of Sussex, to his son, Robert Barton, of Smithells Hall, which from then may be regarded as the manor house. Robert Barton succeeded his father as Lord of the Manor of Oswaldtwistle, being then 24 years of age. He died in 1580 without issue, and his possessions passed to his brother, Ralph Barton. Ralph Barton’s grandson, Sir Thomas Barton, held possession of Oswaldtwistle Manor in 1636-7 during the reign of Charles I. He was the last of the male line, leaving a daughter, Grace Barton as heiress. She married Henry Belasye, son of Thomas, first Viscount Fauconberg, and conveyed Oswaldtwistle into that family. Smithells Hall, claimed to have been a royal residence of the old Saxon King Egbert, was extended by the Barton's. When Henry Belasye died, his eldest son, Thomas Bclasye, second Viscount Fauconberg, inherited the Manor of Oswaldtwistle. He supported the Parliamentary side in the Civil Wars and was a member of the Upper House of Parliament during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He married Mary, one of the daughters of the Lord Protector. This brought about the association of Mary Cromwell’s name with Oswaldtwistle.

Thomas, second Viscount Fauconberg or Faucontery, about 1722, sold the manor to James Whalley, of Sparth and Christopher Baron, of Oswaldtwistle, gentleman. From these, the manor passed from the first to the second Sir Robert Peel, Bart.

Having shown how the powerful family of de Radcliffe had roots in Church and were linked with Church by marriage to the de Chirches, Lords of the manor of Church, and their establishment for two and a half centuries as Lords of the manor of Oswaldtwistle, we now revert to Uhtred, the second Uhtred de Chirche.

About the year 1250 A.D. Uhtred de Chirche, junior, gave land in Church to Roger de Dunkenhalgh, Roger de Radcliffe, William de Koul (or Kowhill from Cowhill in Rishton), and Henry de Oswaldtwistle.

Uhtred attested a grant of land in Church, which was made between Peter de Radcliffe and Richard de Wallbank. The latter family were established in Church on land named Wall Bank, strongly suspected to be the original name for the present Peel Bank. Adam de Wallbank appears to have been the chaplain in 1290 (Victoria History of Lancashire).

Adam de Chirche, described as the brother of Uhtred, appears in a deed of 1288 A.D., by which William, the son of Richard de Wallbank, was granted a life interest in certain lands of Church. This William may be the same person as the chaplain of Church Kirk referred to on June, 29th, 1311.

Another Adam de Chirche, the son of Uhtred, succeeded his father in the Manor of Church.

John de Chirche, son of Humphrey, who was brother of Adam de Chirche, inherited lands in the Manor of Church in 1295 A.D.

1336 Henry Rishton of Rishton charged Rodger Rishton of Ponthalgh in the duchy court, with disturbance of Devine service at Churchkyrke.

1311 Inquiry:

On the death of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, an inquisition was held of the estates in the Honour of Clitheroe. An inquiry was held in the nave of Church Kirk by Henry de Rishton in 1311. It reveals Henry de Rishton as holding half a carucate of land in Church, while Robert de Rishton held one carucate of freehold land in Church, subject to the rendering of six shillings and doing service for three weeks at Clitheroe Castle. This is the earliest record of Church Kirk being used for secular purposes, as was the case in most old churches, for at Whalley, the ecclesiastical courts of justice, presided over by the abbot, were held in Whalley Church down to the dissolution of the monastery.

The name of William de Wallbank also appears in the list of Church Kirk clergy. He is the fourth chanlain of Church Kirk to be mentioned in early records and he was a great grandson of Uhtred de Chirche. His name appears on a document dated June 29th, 1311 , in which he is granted the water corn mill at Church by Henry de Chirche, lord of the manor and son of Adam de Chirche. This same Henry de Rishton of 1311 A.D., had a grandson name Robert de Rishton, who was already established on the estate of Ponthalgh in Church before 1329 A.D. The de Rishton family, as has been disclosed in the annals of Church, had become prominent in local affairs during the previous century. They acquired the Manor of Rishton in 1242 A.D. by the marriage of Margery de Praers to Gilbert de Blackburn, who then assumed the name of Rishton, and held a tenth part of a knight’s fee in Rishton, of the Earl of Lincoln.

Gilbert de Rishton, with some boon companions caused a great sensation in the district, when, after dining together, they quarrelled over a game of dice. Gilbert killed his intimate friend, William de Melver (Mellor), for which he was tried at Lancaster Castle and outlawed from his estate in 1255-56 A.D.

As a result of the de Rishton family being deprived of the Manor of Rishton, they later acquired, through Robert de Rishton, the Manor of Church and all the lands, by purchase from Peter de Chirche, and his son Simon.

Thus the manorial rule of the de Chirche family came to an end. Robert de Rishton remained at Ponthalgh, where he was settled in 1329 A.D., and Church Hall ceased to be the manor house. A nephew of Robert de Rishton a few years later in 1332 A.D., acquired Dunkenhalgh from William de Dunkenhalgh.

Other well known family names of the 13th and 14th centuries, some of which are just as well known to-day were: de Tottleworth, de Rodes, de Fuiwood, de Aspden, de Hodresal, de Hackinshaw, de Clyderhow, de Altham, de Hesketh, de Noel, de Billinton, de Holt, de Antelay, de Chedle, de Foxholis, de Duckworth, de Holden, de Cunliffe, de Halgyth the "de" meaning "of’, was deleted by the end of the 15th century.


Before the coming of the monks to Whalley, the curates or chaplains of Church Kirk were, for a time, semi-independent, but owing some obedience to the rectors of Whalley. When the monks came in 1296 A.D., however, the independent chaplains ceased at Church Kirk and they were appointed directly from Whalley. The hereditary Rector of Whalley was dispossessed, and the monks were given the advowson of Whalley Church and the Abbot and monks became the joint incumbents. A subservient vicar of Whalley was appointed by them and at the same time, the seven dependent chapelries, including Church Kirk, came directly under their sway. We gather that, while in many ways the monks dispensed splendid hospitalities and developed considerably the parochial organisation and administration, yet in other ways they were harsh and mixed themselves up in the politics of the time with ultimately detrimental consequences. Thus, while their arrival directly affected the life of the churches under their care, it was not altogether a happy day when the monks came to Whalley. A former Rector of Church, the Reverend T. F. Collins, in the brief history he wrote in 1881 A.D., says "About 1296 the monks of Stanlaw in Cheshire removed to Whalley, and for two and a half centuries flourished, but at the expense of the secular incumbents whose endowments they swallowed up, and whose functions they had degraded to those of pensionary vicars or mendicant chaplains; so the Abbey drew the rents of the Church Kirk Glebe and sent occasionally a monk, to do the service, or appointed a secular chaplain or priest at a miserable stipend".

In the middle of the fourteenth century the Abbot of Whalley, came into conflict with the parishioners of Church Kirk concerning the repair of the roof of the chancel. Certain secular affairs were conducted in the nave of the church, as was the common practice of those days, the chancel being reserved entirely for religious purposes. This may account for the origin of the screen to separate the chancel from the nave. Thus it was regar as the duty of the clergy or the ecclesiastical patron to maintain the chancel in repair and decent order, and the parishioners kept the nave in order. During a visitation by the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1334 A.D., the case of Church Kirk came to his notice, when it was disclosed that the chancel was in so bad a state owing to the dilapidation of the roof that in wet weather it was not possible to celebrate the Holy Communion. This brought into prominence the question as to who was responsible for the necessary repairs. The Abbot, who, on acquiring the advowson or the living of the parish church of Whalley, stood in the place of patrons and rectors to the dependent chapelries, was not willing to fulfil his part in repairing the fabric of the chancel, nor, as was expected of patrons towards dependent chapelries, did he help to maintain the chaplains financially. Both Abbot and representative parishioners were thereupon summoned to Lichfield to present their respective cases. Only the monks managed to get there and must have been persuasive, for it was decreed in the Cathedral Church of Lichfield, June 1st, 1335, that "the said parishioners should be effectually compelled to rebuild and repair the chancel of the aforesaid chapel of Church".

Another grave deficiency had been found at Church Kirk by the Bishop and upon this he also pronounced judgement. "That in the chapel at Church, annexed to the Parish Church of Whalley, appropriated to the monks of Whalley Abbey, there was not a clerk for serving the chaplain celebrating in that chapel. Frequently it happened that parishioners of the said Chapel on Lord’s Day and Festivals went away from the said chapel without mass On account of the want of a ministering clerk for the said chaplain in the Divine office, for the finding of whom, as it was said, the Abbot and Convent Rectors of the aforesaid chapel were held responsible".

Again, since the Abbot of Whalley and the Monastery denied responsibility, it was judged that the parishioners must themselves find the solution to the problem by taking the necessary action of maintaining the said clerk "at their own expense".

The fifth chaplain of Church of whom we have mention is Robert de Catlowe, a member of the local family of that name, whose name appears in the records as chaplain of Church in 1345 A.D. To his brother, William de Catlowe, and Beatrice his wife, he. granted lands in Church and Oswaldtwistle.

A deed of 1385 A.D. mentions the cemetery of the Parochial Chapel of Church, the burial ground being situated at the confluence of the River Hyndburn and the Aspden Brook. The district was subject to wolves. Just beyond Antley Syke, by the stream that flowed by the old Lower Antley Hall into the Hyndburn, men were assigned to guard the cattle and sheep. In spite of this protection, calves owned by De Lacy were killed in 1296 A.D. The fourteenth century brought rebellion, invasion, famine and pestilence into Lancashire. At the time when the parishioners of Church were being compelled to repair Church Kirk, in 1335 A.D., violence and disorder were rife; then in the middle of the fourteenth century came the most terrible invader of all - the dread plague - known as the Black Death, which carried off a good percentage of the inhabitants. At this time when the Ribble formed the boundary of England and Scotland, northeast Lancashire was the debateable land for contending raiding parties. For their refuge and safety the inhabitants erected strong stone towers, known as Border Peels, surrounded by an enclosure of stone or massive timber, known as the "burmkyn", to shelter the cattle during times of invasion. Without doubt the manor house of Church was such a structure, and when the de Chirche family were superseded by the Rishton’s of Powtehalgh as lords of the manor, it was deemed advisable to build a strong tower at Church Kirk close to Powtehalgh. The old church towers of Whalley, Ribchester, Chipping and Great Harwood all testify by their great strength of wall that they were built for defence if need be.


The parochial history from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries revolves chiefly around the Rishton’s of Ponthalgh and of Dunkenhalgh. During this period they were the Lords of the manor and at Ponthalgh were descended from Robert de Rishton who was settled there by the year 1329. Robert de Rishton’s grandfather, Henry, was mentioned in the 1311 Inquiry, and furthermore Richard de Rishton, brother of Gilbert of Ponthalgh, is mentioned in another source as living at Ponthalgh in 1320, thence it passed to Robert, son of Gilbert, who in turn became lord of the manor of Church. This same Robert further acquired the manor of Church from Peter de Chirche and other lands from his son Simon by purchase. The manorial rule of the de Chirche family passed to the Rishton’s, and Church Hall ceased to be the manor house as the Rishton’s remained at Ponthalgh. Dunkenhalgh estate was formerly included in the chapelry of Church, and those members of the Rishton family who lived there attended Church Kirk as their nearest place of worship. Dunkenhalgh was acquired by a nephew of Robert de Rishton in 1332 from William de Dunkenhalgh. From these two local residences, the Rishton family had an important influence on the history of Church for several centuries.

The present Ponthalgh farm, which is only of eighteenth century date, is nevertheless on the site of the ancient manor house. The barn, which still exists was part of the ancient residence and its doorway and mullioned windows are the only remnants of the ancient hail.

The period 1455 - 1485 was enlivened by the famous Wars of the Roses. In our reference to the tower at Church Kirk we have already mentioned that at this time it served the Rishton family as a watch tower in their bitter feuds against the Talbot’s of Rishton, whose local stronghold was the Holt. The Rishton’s supported the House of Lancester and the Talbot’s sided with the House of York, and, ostensibly, through political differences, they carried on a sharp personal feud which resulted in the use of Church Kirk tower by the Rishton’s as their fortress and watch tower. Meanwhile, the Talbot’s were securely entrenched within their strongly fortified residence, the Holt. There is a very vivid record of how, after many minor skirmishes, the Rishton’s made a determined attack on the Holt, mustering their combined forces, including the various branches of their family, their tenantry and servants. By night, led by Henry de Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh, a party crossed the moat, tried to scale the walls, met with determined resistance which resulted in a desperate fight. The outcome was that damages were claimed and awarded in respect of both parties. This vindictive struggle was the unhappy repercussion of the time when Gilbert de Rishton was outlawed and the consequent ascendancy for the time being acquired by the Talbot’s.

One of the Talbot’s of the Holt, Sir Thomas, was involved in the betrayal of King Henry VI when he fled for refuge after the battle of Hexham to Bolton Hall and from thence to Waddington Hall. It was here that Henry was almost captured through the interception of Thomas Talbot, with whom the King’s professed hosts, the Tempest family, were in treacherous collaboration. The King, in fact, escaped from the house but was soon captured at Brungerley Bridge* between Waddington and Clitheroe, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London until his death. The price of their treason was a reward to his betrayers by his successor Edward IV of the House of York.

* (Accrington became Crown property, the Lord of Clitheroe siding with Henry VI against Edward and the Earl of Warwick, being deprived of his estates. Leland, the historian, says of Henry’s betrayal: "King Henry was taken to Clitherwoode byside Bungerley Hippingstones in Lancastreshyre, by Thomas Talbot, sunne and heir to Syr Edmund Talbot, of Bashal, and John Talbot, his cosyn, of Colebry, which deceaved him, beying at Waddington Hall, and brought him to London, with his legges bounde to the stirropes".)


We come to the most notorious character in the whole of the history of Church Kirk, in the person of Roger de Rishton. The deeds which earned him his inglorious fame no doubt lost nothing in the telling, and, as in such cases, were coloured by exaggeration. The exploits in which he figured, however, reveal a deplorable lack of decorum and consideration on his part for the sacred edifice of Church Kirk, which he desecrated beyond measure by his wanton and vicious acts. He may have had a certain amount of excuse for some kind of outburst because he had to deal with others who may have caused him much provocation, but his excessive deeds overstepped all the bounds of decency and order, and his choice of Church Kirk as the centre and scene of his violence, was utterly unreasonable. At the age of 22, he succeeded to the manor of Church in 1527, on the death of his father, Ralph de Rishton. He revived the ancient feud with the Talbot’s, who had succeeded to the lands vacated by the outlawed Gilbert de Rishton in the thirteenth century, which fact was a constantly smouldering fire in the hearts of successive generations of Rishton’s. He also engaged in more than one inter4amily quarrel so that the sanctity of Church Kirk was violated and the peace of the neighbourhood shattered. Brawls between local landowners were not uncommon, and the Duchy Court Records reveal a dispute between Roger of Ponthalgh and his father-in-law, Henry de Rishton, of Dunkenhalgh. Roger figures prominently in this affair which took place in 1536-37. The cause was due to a claim by Roger as lord of the manor of Church to precedence over Henry regarding seating arrangements within Church Kirk during Divine Service. Henry de Rishton counterclaimed that he and his branch of the family being owners of the manor of Dunkenhalgh had been accustomed "to having a sitting place and two desks in Church Kirk to sit in and rest during Divine Service". Roger regarded this as a personal affront to his own precedence, and so decided to make a practical protest, by taking the law into his own hands. About Passion Sunday, with twenty riotous persons who were probably armed retainers, he forcibly entered the church: "Tore up and broke the pews which had only recently been placed there by the said Henry, and carried them into the churchyard and made a bonfire of them all". A further graphic touch describes Roger as placing eight of his men aided with bows and arrows alongside the four highways leading to the church. This was intended as a precautionary measure in the event of any possible interference with the destructive deed on the part of those of Dunkenhalgh who might attempt to come to the rescue. As we have seen, the pews were the private seats and desks belonging-to Henry.

Shortly after, Roger followed up this initial act of violence when on the 2nd April, 1536, he and six of his followers with blackened faces to prevent recognition, broke down the bridge at Dunkenhalgh, removing part of the stonework altogether and depositing some of it into the river Hyndburn to prevent those at Dunkenhalgh from being able to get to Church Kirk. A few days later, on the 7th April, Roger with a gang of supporters, stood guard by the river bank between Ponthalgh and Dunkenhalgh, to prevent any repair to the bridge;

Dunkenhalgh was thus cut off, and its occupants intimidated as if in a state of siege. The most lawless of all Roger’s riotous acts was when he came to Church Kirk with three companions and thereupon committed infamous sacrilege. "With pincers, axes, hammers, daggers and knives", they wrought havoc and destruction and violently pulled down the carved tabernacle woodwork of the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Oswald, and threw them into the churchyard. They stripped the silver from the images, broke into the offertory boxes at the feet of the images, and removed the contents. The reason for this outrage was that at this time Nicholas Rishton, of Lower Antley Hall, by a suitable monetary arrangement with the Abbot Paslew, of Whalley, received the tithes and offertories at Church Kirk (no doubt he paid a substantial yearly sum to the Abbot for this privilege). The atrocity perpetrated by Roger through the destruction of the images in the shrine was an act of defiance against, as well as an insult to, the Rishton’s of Lower Antley Hall. Nicholas was the head of the Antley Branch, his brothers being Robert Rishton, of Dunnishop, George Rishton, of Higher Antley Hall, and Hugh Rishton, of Jackhouse, Oswaldtwistle; each the founder of his own branch.

A number of other incidents are recorded in connection with Roger which reveal his turbulent nature, and the way in which he terrorised the locality. For example, he forced his way into the church by night with a number of followers and broke up the pews and settles which were used by the Rishton’s, of Lower Antley, and other King’s tenants of Accrington (Accrington having no lord of the manor at this time, but being held in trust directly under the Crown). They then made a huge bonfire of them just beyond the boundary of the churchyard. This again was an insult to Nicholas Rishton and other members of his family in Accrington and district. Nicholas sought help and advice from Henry Rishton at Dunkenhalgh, but on his way home was set upon by Roger and two others who wounded him severely and he reached home in a desperate condition. It should be remembered that at this time law and order were not what they are to-day, and the national government and the county authorities were too immersed in wider concerns to see to local affairs.

Finally, Roger with a band of sixty armed men roamed the roads between Church and Accrington to cause alarm, and during Divine Service he entered Church Kirk and took away the chalice and vestments, thus preventing the celebration of the Eucharist. The significance of this final act of sacrilege will be understood when it is discovered that the wife and family of Nicholas Rishton, as well as tenants of Accrington were present at the service. This time Roger was summoned to appear at Lancaster under the Privy Seal, and he escaped lightly by being bound in recognisance to keep the King’s Peace. From 1537-1541 Roger de Rishton, his son Ralph who was the "esquire" of Sir Ralph Assheton, at Middleton, and Sir Thomas Talbot, together with local men armed with weapons which had been stored in Church Kirk tower, were engaged in the Scottish Wars, and Church Kirk itself was blessed with a momentary peace. The old trouble flared up once more after the wars, Sir Richard Assheton deputed to Sir Thomas Talbot the duty of maintaining peace between the tenants of the Earl of Sussex in the lordship of Oswaldtwistle. Sir Thomas Talbot, therefore, decided to divest Church Kirk tower of the weapons which Roger de Rishton had put there on his return from Scotland. Talbot placed his men in position in the woods around Church Kirk and when the door had been forced open, the bell was tolled as a sign to his men to stand guard to prevent Roger de Rishton from interfering. The weapons were taken away and Roger made a violent protest. Talbot, in reply, blamed Roger for the fact that the doors were locked in order to prevent him from complying with the orders of Sir Richard Assheton. Sir Thomas also prevented the people of Church and Oswaldtwistle from attending Blackburn market and this caused much local displeasure. Roger meanwhile determined to take his revenge, and his last fight with Talbot took place in the vicinity of Cowhill, near Rishton. Talbot was forewarned of Roger’s intention to seek a reprisal. The result was that Talbot’s forces were able to ambush Roger and his men. After this surprise attack, the Rishton forces were considerably depleted during a short but desperate struggle. It ended in terrible hand-to-hand fighting in the kitchen of a neighbouring yeoman, during which Roger was felled and left for dead. A priest who was present, was administering the last rites when Sir Thomas Talbot arrived on the scene. He was determined to make sure of Roger’s death, and in spite of efforts by the priest to prevent him, he struck his dagger into Roger’s skull with such force that the dagger broke. He then showed the broken dagger to his followers and said "I have sped him. Look, I have broken my dagger in his brains, and if my dagger had not been broken, I would have stikken the priest that held me". So the violent and impulsive Roger died with tragic suddenness and the fateful feud between the Rishton’s and the Talbot’s abruptly ended.

*1581 trial for treason at Westminster of Father Edward Rishton of Ponthalgh with other pilgrims, included Father Campion, members of the ‘Romish Church". They were condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to banishment, and Father Rushton (Rishton) died in1585, after having endured terrible suffering for the faith of the church he held dear".

In 1556, Dunkenhalgh and Ponthalgh became jointly owned by Ralph Rishton of Ponthalgh, lord of the manor of Church, whose uncle John Rishton of Dunkenhalgh, sold him the estate because of heavy debts. But in 1571 Ralph sold Dunkenhalgh to Judge Thomas Walmsley, of Lincoln’s Inn. The Rishton’s remained at Ponthalgh until William Rishton, Ralph’s great nephew, sided with the King during the Civil War, and being on the losing side was heavily fined and lost his estates. In 1659, the Walmsley’s of Dunkenhalgh, also acquired Ponthalgh and thus became Lords of Church. During their long connection with Church, in spite of a few members of the Rishton family who were not creditable, there were others who performed notable service in local affairs. It was their proud tradition that each generation gave a son to the ordained ministry of the church, some of whom ministered at Church Kirk.*


The oldest hostelry in Church is the Stag Inn, first mentioned in 1590, when a meeting of the Commissioners appointed by the Duchy Court, was held there to settle the extent and boundaries of the claimants to a portion of the then extensive Hinfield or Enfield Moor which extended into four townships, Altham, Accrington, Clayton and Church. The host of the Stag Inn in 1590 was Charles Walmsley, the first recorded innkeeper at Church, a relative of the famous Judge Thomas Walmsley, of Dunkenhalgh The inn, occupying an important position at the junction of the four main arteries, was even then renowned for its warmth of hospitality. The old Stag Inn is also the only remaining link with the forest and the hunt that was in keeping with its surroundings, with the near proximity of Dunkenhalgh Park where the lordly stag roamed up to the eighteenth century. In that way the Stag Inn ministered to the material necessities of those who attended the Church, and was without a rival until the eighteenth century when the Thom Inn was established opposite the Church Kirk gates.

There is an interesting reference to the Assheton family in the year 1617. In this year, the second Sir Thomas Walmsley, of Dunkenhalgh, and Juliana, daughter of Sir Richard Molyneux, of Sefton, were married. They celebrated their home-coming to Dunkenhalgh with a house party. Among the guests was Nicholas Assheton of Downham Hall (of "Lancashire Witches" fame) who slept two nights at Ponthalgh with Richard Rishton, lord of the manor of Church.

Amongst the well-known family names of the 15th and 16th centuries we find:

Talbot, Stephenson, Baron, Livesey, Parker, Townley, Stanley, Baines, Tomlinson, Entwistle, Kenyon, Ridding, Fielden, Hyanson, Lache, Fielding, Birtwistle, Ryley, Jackson, Haworth, Undysworth, Grimshaw, Yates, Holme, Dale, Dewhurst, Hindle, Wyllysell, Whiteacre, Cunliffe, Hothersall, Shuttleworth, Ramsbottom, Greenwood, and Holker.


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw England and Europe passing through a turbulent period of Reformation. During the reigns of Henry VIII (1509 - 1547 A.D. ) and Edward VI (1547-1553 A.D.) allegiance to the Papacy was thrown off and the first English prayer book introduced. Such objects as statues, vestments and crucifixes, which were regarded as signs of Popery were destroyed, and the old stone altars replaced by wooden tables. In 1536, during Henry’s reign, the monasteries of England were dissolved by force. At Whalley, Abbot Paslew, who was implicated in the rebellion known as the "Pilgrimage of Grace", was convicted at Lancaster with William Trafford, the Prior of Salley, and the monks Haydock and Eastgate, on a charge of high treason. All four were sentenced to death. On the morning of March 10th, 1536-37, according to Abram, John Paslew with his monk Eastgate, was executed on a gallows reared upon the summit of a grassy knoll at a spot called the Hole Houses, at the foot of Whalley Nab on the Billington side of the Calder.

In the light of a documentary reference, it now seems most probable that Paslew was executed at Lancaster on the 10th March, 1536-37, in spite of the strong local tradition that he died at Whalley. Evidently the exact date and year of his death are obscure. There is no conclusive evidence of the place of execution but there is reason to believe that it was on March 10th, 1536-37, that the execution was carried out, yet in spite of this alleged evidence, doubt remains. Mr. Richard Broughton, a local historian, during the early part of this century, writes of the Whalley tradition thus: "The rich and powerful Abbot Paslew, the last Abbot of Whalley, was arraigned and convicted of high treason at the Spring Assizes at Lancaster on the 10th March, 1537, for his participation in the "Pilgrimage of Grace". He was afterwards executed upon a gallow erected on the summit of a mound at the foot of Whalley Nab, within sight of the Abbey at Whalley, on the l2thMarch that year, 30 years after he had been created abbot ... One of his monks, John Eastgate, suffered capital punishment along with him, while another named Haydock, was taken to Padiham and executed there the following day. On the day the sentence of the Court was carried out upon Abbot Paslew, William Trafford, the last Abbot of Sawley, suffered a similar fate at Lancaster for the same cause. The object of the authorities in bringing the abbot and his two monks to Whalley for execution was - after the manner of present day "frightfulness" - to strike terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of the district from whom considerable trouble was anticipated".

The monks were driven out of Whalley and the Abbey house and lands were divided between the Braddyl and Assheton families. Queen Mary (1553- 1558 A.D.) reintroduced the Roman Catholic faith amidst much persecution and bloodshed and there were many martyrs who died during her reign. Archbishop Cranmer was burnt at the stake as also were the famous martyrs, Latimer and Ridley. Latimer amid the flames comforted his fellow-sufferer Ridley with the words "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out". Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603 A.D.) by a compromise restored peace and order to the Church by enabling both Protestants and Catholics to worship side by side. Those, however, who felt strongly against the Roman Catholic Church, considered that this tolerant Elizabethan settlement had not gone far enough in removing what they regarded as the superstitions and errors of the Papist Church. These became known as the Puritans, and of these, the Presbyterians particularly, objected not only to singing and musical instruments in church, the sign of the cross and vestments, and observance of feast days and confession to a priest, but also to the appointment of bishops by the Crown. During the reigns of James I (1603-1625 A.D.) and Charles I (1625-1649 A.D.) a terrific struggle went on between Puritans and Anglicans, and in 1 649 after the Civil War, Charles I was beheaded, and the power of the Crown was brought down with him.

Now began the era of Puritanism, for Cromwell (1649-1660 A.D.) and his forces represented the overthrow of the traditional regime and were committed to the cause of reform, and with it the destruction of images, stained glass, corruption and Catholicism. The result of the Puritan victory and the execution of Charles I was the abolition of both Episcopacy and the Prayer Book. A great deal of destruction of such objects as decorated windows, organs, and vestments took place, and the clergy were removed from their livings. Presbyterianism was introduced into the Church of England to replace the episcopal system.


So much for the background history of the English Church during this period. During the Puritan regime the Presbyterian form of ministry was put into effect. It was authorised by Parliament, on October 2nd, 1646, but was not generally exercised until sometime in 1648. At Church Kirk three successive Presbyters or parish ministers were appointed of whom one, James Rigby, is mentioned several times in records of that period. During the changeover and until the situation became more settled, a number of lay lecturers or preachers, rather similar to our modem licensed lay readers came to the rescue, in view of the sadly depleted and scattered ranks of the ministry. They undertook to officiate in those churches which were in need of supplementary ministerial assistance. At one time such a lecturer was appointed to Church Kirk in the person of a certain Mr. Walkden during a period of interregnum. Meanwhile, the Puritans were busy re organising the system of the English Church according to Presbyterian pattern, and the country was divided up into districts. The county of Lancashire was grouped into nine Presbyteries called Classis. Church Kirk was part of the third Classis which consisted of the parishes of Blackburn, Whalley, Ribchester and Chipping. Each church was run by the minister and lay elders and was represented in the Ciassis or district council by the minister and two lay elders, although there is a record of one such meeting of the Classis at Preston, when Church Kirk had only one lay representative, Nicholas Rishton, of Lower Antley Hall. The first Presbyterian minister at Church Kirk was appointed in 1646 in the person of William Ingham, who left in 1648, after a brief stay. After him was appointed James Rigby who is mentioned in a written record of 1648 as "preacher of the Gospel at Church Kirke". He was ordained by the leading Presbyters of the Blackburn Classis as minister of Church Kirk, on August 1st, 1648.

Part of the Puritan reorganisation included fairer distribution of available funds for the better maintenance of clergy stipend. At this time the unsupplemented stipend of the minister at Church Kirk was £10 per annum. An order of September 19th, 1649 remedies this declaring

"that the yearly sum of £50 be allowed and paid out of the profits of the impropriate Rectory of Kirkham, in Lancashire, that was sequestrated from the estate of Thomas Clifton, Esq., delinquent, that is a Royalist, for the increase of the maintenance of such minister as the Committee shall approve of, to officiate in the Parochial Chapel of Church Kirk, member of the Parish Church of Whalley, and distant there from about four miles".

A further order, dated July 19th, 1650, ensures the continuance of this supplementary endowment by commanding the Commissioners for Royalist Sequestrated Estates to pay certain sums decided upon from time to time, according to an Act of Parliament, and also any arrears which may have become due from such time as he had officiated as minister at Church Kirk.


An important piece of information is forthcoming when at an inquisition held at Blackburn in 1650, it was mentioned that the Chapelry of Church Kirk was composed of the townships of Church, Oswaldtwistle, Huncoat, and part of Clayton-le-Moors, which Chapelry contained 200 families; that James Rigby, the minister, received £10 from the Lay Rector of Whalley, and £30 from the Commissioners. The parishioners requested that the chapelry should become a parish but this request was turned down and it was the nineteenth century before Church Kirk received this status. There is a letter of the 26th December, 1652, "Paid to James Rigby, minister at Church Kirke, out of the impropriate rectory of Kirkham, sequestrated from Thomas Clifton, Esq. in full of his salary until the 25th December instant, £25". He seems to have had some difficulty regarding his salary during the next eighteen months, since a special order was made on August 17th, 1654, by the Committee for Sequestrations in Lancashire, ordering that the payments due to James Rigby of Church Kirk, should be made forthwith. James Rigby either died or resigned this year, for Mr. Roger Brereley was appointed in 1654, and was thus his successor, but we know nothing of him. At the time of the Restoration under Charles 11(1660-1685), the Reverend John Kippax, of Haslingden, was officiating at Church Kirk.

The Puritan Movement was an attempt to purify the Church of England from so-called Popish errors, but it was an innovation and contrary to the traditions of the Catholic Church of England. The victory of Cromwell and the Puritans aroused a great deal of unrest among many people who did not wish to identify themselves with such violent Protestantism which spelt the defeat of the traditional English Church. With the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, both the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and Episcopacy were reintroduced, and by an Act of Uniformity (1662), the clergy were once again required to be Episcopally ordained and to adopt the Prayer Book in its teaching. Two thousand ministers who would not submit to the Act were dismissed from their parishes and so arose the Nonconformists or Dissenters, who were persecuted for their conscientious scruples.


The result of the Restoration in Lancashire was that about a hundred ministers who did not conform were expelled from their parishes, and thus Nonconformity was born. These ministers while they had been at work in their parishes during the Presbyterian era of the Puritans had exercised a great deal of influence because of their decent and sober habits and personal example. Now at their removal it was only natural that they should take with them those of their followers who continued to support them.


Cromwell’s imposition of the Presbyterian mode of Church order was far from acceptable in Lancashire, and it was resented also throughout England. Those clergy who were ejected because of their Royalist sympathies or because they would not participate in the Presbyterian system, nevertheless, secretly performed their priestly functions in manor houses or other such convenient habitations. We have already referred to the Reverend Christopher Hindle who was expelled from Ribchester because he was a Royalist, and was thus on the losing side. He was the son of William Hindle, of Aspden or Aspen, who was interred at Church Kirk on May 10th, 1633. Christopher Hindle himself continued to administer the Sacrament in secret at his residence at Cowhill, Rishton, until his death in 1657. It will be remembered that his burial is mentioned in Church Kirk register for that year.


The Recusancy Laws which were ancillary to the Act of Uniformity, were not only directed against the Nonconformists, but were also enforced with equal rigour against the Roman Catholics and even Quakers and Congregationalists (who were growing up at this time). Thus, Ralph Rishton, senior, and his wife who lived at Stanhill Hall, and his son Ralph Rishton, junior, of White Ash, were prosecuted as Recusants. The Rishton’s had suffered previously as Royalists for their loyalty to King Charles I, and now they were again subjected to penalties because they were Roman Catholics. There was persistent prosecution of Recusants, both Nonconformist and Roman Catholic, at Church Kirk as may be seen from reference in the Rucusancy papers of the Chester Registry office between the years 1665 and 1680. In 1670, for example, the returns show that the following were prosecuted as Recusants for not attending Divine Service at Church Kirk: Elizabeth, wife of Matthew Tootell, of Church; Ralph Rishton and his wife from Oswaldtwistle; Jennet Rishton widow, and her daughter Elizabeth; Mary, wife of Christopher Hindle, of Aspden; and Ellen, wife of William Broughton, of Oswaldtwistle. These same offenders again appeared as offenders in the following year except Elizabeth Tootell, whose name is replaced by that of Elizabeth Broughton, widow of Oswaldtwistle. For non- at Church Kirk they were fined heavily, and in 1680 Ralph Rishton, senior, and Elizabeth, his wife, and Jennet and Elizabeth Rishton were again summoned, together with Ralph Rishton, junior, Suzanne and Lucy Rishton, and Nicholas Horders, of Church. The charges against them were based on the fact that they were Roman Catholics.


At the east end of the rebuilt nave and above the altar there was inserted a stained-glass window, the gift of George Petre from the private chapel of Dunkenhalgh, which displayed the arms of the Walmsleys and Petres of Dunkenhalgh and Whalleys of Clerk Hill, with a figure of the Virgin somewhat mutilated. Some of this glass was fourteenth century. In 1879, when the chancel was built, this glass was removed, and in 1881 it was placed in one of the south windows of the nave and was destroyed in 1917, when there was an explosion at an adjoining chemical works.

The window in the days of its original splendour must have enhanced the interior of the church in its blaze of heraldic glory, for prominent was the lion demi-rampant, or erect, the crest of the Rishton’s of Ponthalgh. Also there were depicted the arms of the Rishton’s, a black lion passant or recumbent. The arms of the Fyttons of Martholme, formerly lords of the manor of Gt. Harwood and of Tottleworth in Rishton, were represented by three wheat sheaves. The arms of the Heskeths, successors of the Fyttons, comprised a majestic golden eagle with wings outspread. Above this was a beautifully coloured representation of the Blessed Virgin, and below were two suns and near to these was the lion rampant, the arms of the De Lacys, ancient lords of Clitheroe. One coat of arms containing two mullets may have been originally the arms of the de Althams, which should have contained three mullets. Especially is this likely as the adjoining coat of arms was a black flewry sable of the Banastre arms of Altham, together with the arms and crest of the Walmsleys of Dunkenhalgh, with other decorative ornamentations. The window would probably date from the late sixteenth century


A History of the Parish of Saint James, Church Kirk, by The Reverend R. J. W. Bevan and Victor G. Palmer, 2nd Edition 1989.

A Chronology of Accrington and Men of Mark, by R. S. Crossley, Published 1924.

1 Rishton Parish Church Jubilee 1927 by Carlton Noble.