A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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Ulventune, Uvetone, Dom. Bk.; Wlvinton, 1188; Wolventon, 1305, &c.; Wolvinton, 1341. The commoner form is Wolveton, with variants Wolfeton (1347) disclosing the local pronunciation, Mikel Wolveton, 1301; also Wlvetun, 1220, &c.; Wolton occurs from 1345; Wollouton, 1345; Woleton, 1350; Wlton, 1380; Miche Wolleton, 1429. Other D.B. name: Wibaldeslei. Brettargh appears as Bretharue and Bretarwe in the Whalley Coucher.
This township measures about a mile and a half in length by three-quarters across, and has an area of 795 acres. (fn. 1) It consists of park-like country on the southern slopes of a ridge which runs north-west and south-east. The village of Much Woolton with its residences, grounds, park, and golf-links occupies the greater portion of the township. The eastern portion is devoted to agriculture, crops of corn, potatoes, turnips, and hay thriving in the shelter of the wooded hillside. The good and wide roads are pleasantly shaded by trees. The bunter series of the new red sandstone or trias underlies the township; the upper mottled sandstones to a small extent in the eastern, the pebble beds in the remaining portion. The population in 1901 was 4,731.
The eastern and western boundaries lie along roads from Liverpool which meet at the south-eastern corner of the township, near the station (Hunt's Cross) of the Cheshire Lines Committee's railway from Liverpool to Manchester. A third road passes between them through the centre, and this is crossed at the village by the road to Garston.
A local board was formed in 1866, (fn. 2) and was succeeded by an urban district council of nine members in 1894. There are a free library, opened in 1890, and public baths, a village club and a mechanics' institution, this last dating from 1849.
A wake used to be held on the Green on Midsummer Day. A cross formerly stood in the centre of the village; the remains were standing until 1900, (fn. 3) and after displacement have been re-erected.
The Liverpool Convalescent Institution on the hill side was built from the surplus of the Liverpool fund for the relief of the Cotton Famine in 1862; it is intended chiefly for patients who have been treated at the Liverpool Hospitals, but there is a wing for private patients. The police forces of Liverpool and Bootle have an orphanage.
The townships of MUCH and LITTLE WOOLTON having early come under the lordship of the Knights Hospitallers were said to contain five plough-lands in all. In 1066 there were here four manors, viz.: 1. Ulventune, with two plough-lands and half a league of wood; it was held by Uctred and worth beyond the customary rent the normal 64d. 2, 3. Uvetone, with one plough-land; held by two thegns for two manors and worth 30d. 4. Wibaldeslei, with two plough-lands; held by Ulbert and worth 64d. (fn. 4) Before the date of the Domesday Survey the whole had become part of the Widnes fee, and before 1212 had been granted out in alms as follows: Two plough-lands to the Hospitallers, by John, constable of Chester, who himself was a crusader and died at Tyre in 1190; three plough-lands to the abbey of Stanlaw by his son Roger, who died in 1211. (fn. 5) This latter grant was in Little Woolton.
The Hospitallers established a Camera at Woolton; in 1338 it had one messuage, fifty acres of land, five acres of meadow, a water-mill, and £8 of annual rent, and was let to farm for 20 marks. (fn. 6) The manor of Much Woolton had the Hospitallers' lands in South Lancashire attached to its jurisdiction, but was itself subordinate to the preceptory of Yeveley or Stidd in Derbyshire. A rent of 5s. a year for the five 'caryks' (plough-lands) was paid by the Hospitallers to the receiver of the honour of Halton. (fn. 7) The superior lordship was still supposed to reside in the barons of Halton; thus in the Halton feodary the two Wooltons are said to be held as part of the Widnes fee for five plough-lands and to pay the relief of half a knight's fee, that is £2 10s. (fn. 8) It descended in the earldom and duchy of Lancaster, and so to the crown. (fn. 9)
In 1292 the prior of the Hospitallers was summoned to answer the king by what right he claimed waif, infangthief, outfangthief and gallows in Woolton, fines for breach of the assize of bread and beer, and to have the chattels of fugitives, condemned persons and other felons in Woolton, Linacre, La More, Bretharche, and about a hundred other places in the county, and to be exempt from common fines and amercements of the county and suits of county and wapentake courts. The prior in reply showed the charter of Henry III confirming all the possessions and franchises of his order, which charter had been duly confirmed by the king himself in 1280. The right of gallows was claimed in Woolton only. It was objected that in the case of lands more recently acquired the prior was liable to the king for the services rendered by previous tenants; and the jury very considerably limited the rights claimed. (fn. 10)
Probably the whole of the land was granted out in small tenements. (fn. 11) In 1327 the then prior made a claim against William the Woodward of Woolton for a reasonable account for the time he was bailiff in Woolton and receiver of his money. (fn. 12) Later there occurs a complaint concerning a rescue of the prior's cattle, taken for customs and services due. Gilbert le Grelle had with force and arms prevented their being taken to the pound and had rescued them. (fn. 13)
After the suppression of the English branch of the Hospitallers by Henry VIII the lordship of the manor remained in the crown for many years, (fn. 14) but was in 1609 granted by James I to George Salter and John Williams of London in part payment of money lent by London merchants. (fn. 15) It was soon transferred to the earl of Derby, and, descending in the same manner as Childwall, is now held by the marquis of Salisbury. (fn. 16)
The neighbouring families—Ireland of Hale, Norris of Speke, and others—appear in extant charters as holders of land in Woolton, as well as a number of smaller families, including one or more using the local surname. In 1301 Roger son of Alan of Much Woolton sued Richard son of Hugh le Fizorm in a plea of mort d'ancestor; (fn. 17) and William son of Adam son of Richard of Much Woolton appeared against William le Smale and his wife Alice in 1308–9. (fn. 18)
In Edward II's reign Nicholas son of Henry de Smerley had granted land in the New Branderth abutting on the Portway on the east and Carkenton on the west, to Henry de Garston, who transferred it to his son Adam; (fn. 19) and shortly afterwards Nicholas son of Henry le Rede of Smerley and Ellis his son, Henry de Garston, Alice daughter of Robert son of William the Reeve, Adam son of Robert del Brooks, and others were accused of having disseised Juliana, widow of William son of William the Reeve, of her tenement in Woolton—two messuages and an oxgang of land. (fn. 20) William the Reeve seems to have had three sons—William, John, and Robert. (fn. 21) The Brooks family was concerned in a large number of charters; the two principal members of it at the end of the thirteenth century were Robert and Alan. (fn. 22)
William de Laghok (fn. 23) occurs down to about the end of Edward II's reign; he was succeeded by his son Roger, living in 1345, and he in turn by William his son, with whom the direct line ends, the property in Woolton going to his relatives in Speke. (fn. 24)
The interest of the Irelands commenced in the time of Adam Austin. (fn. 25) His son John de Ireland acquired land from Adam son of William the Woodward in 1349, and made a grant to John son of Alan le Norreys of Speke. (fn. 26)
The Norris family had, however, before this begun to acquire lands in the township, Alan le Norreys of Speke being apparently the first to do so. (fn. 27) A younger son of Alan, John le Norreys, established himself at Woolton. (fn. 28) John's elder son John, who succeeded, is mentioned in the settlement made by Sir Henry le Norreys in 1367. (fn. 29) His marriage was arranged in 1382, when it was agreed that he should take to wife Anilla, daughter of John Grelley, deceased; for which Isabel Grelley, the widow, gave him 26 marks; besides which she was to provide for him and Anilla at her table for the first year after the espousals. William de Slene also gave 40s. to John le Norreys on the day of the marriage. John le Norreys occurs down to 1414. (fn. 30) John le Norreys and Anilla had three daughters, viz. Katherine, who married Roger Prestwich; Joan, wife of Henry Mossock; and Margery, wife of Thomas Bridge of Fazakerley. The last-named, in her widowhood, in 1433–4, relinquished all her inheritance to Joan Mossock. (fn. 31)
From 1329 to 1331 a number of grants were made to Richard de Alvandley, otherwise de Bold. (fn. 32) He was succeeded by a son Nicholas. (fn. 33) The Blackburnes of Garston also had land in Woolton. (fn. 34) The Charnocks of Charnock, (fn. 35) Lathoms of Allerton, (fn. 36) and Ormes (fn. 37) of Little Woolton were also landowners.
A Norris of Speke rental compiled about 1460 has been preserved. At the end is a 'Rental of Much Woolton, taken out of all the old rentals that were made when it was first given to God and Saint John, of certain chief of all the freeholders with their obits.' (fn. 38)
About the beginning of Elizabeth's reign the Brettarghs of the Holt in Little Woolton acquired lands here. William Brettargh, who died in 1609, held a cottage in Much Woolton in socage by fealty and 1d. rent. (fn. 39) The family are said to have owned the site of Woolton Hall, which descended to the Broughtons, and in 1704 became the property of Richard, fifth Viscount Molyneux, whose widow died there in 1766. Soon after this it was purchased by a Mr. Booth and came into the possession of Nicholas Ashton in 1772. (fn. 40) He died in 1833, aged 91, having greatly improved the house and grounds. The following description is given of its amenities about 1800:—'Woolton Hall, about six miles from Liverpool, upon an eminence commands grand and extensive prospects, the two extreme points of view being the Cumberland and Westmorland hills to the north, and the Wrekin near Shrewsbury to the south; from thence also may be seen Blackstone Edge in Yorkshire and several of the Derbyshire and Staffordshire hills; to the eastward the rivers Mersey and Weaver join in view about four miles from this house, and very soon opening into a fine sheet of water, continue their course to the port of Liverpool. The prospect to the south-west is terminated by an irregular scene of Welsh mountains.' (fn. 41) Charles Ellis Ashton, son of Captain Joseph Ashton, and grandson of Nicholas, sold the house in 1865 to James Reddecliffe Jeffrey, of Compton House, Liverpool. It was afterwards purchased by Frederick Leyland, a Liverpool shipowner, and sold again upon his death, Mr. Peter McGuffie being the present owner. It is used as a hydropathic establishment.
The commoners at the passing of the Enclosure Act in 1805, included Bamber Gascoyne (one-ninth), the earl of Derby, Nicholas Ashton, James Okill, Thomas Rawson, John Weston, Joshua Lace, and William Slater. Among other matters the Act provided for the formation of Church Road. Some land in Quarry Street is said to belong to 'the poor of Dublin,' and rates are paid by a person representing them. (fn. 42)
For the Established worship the church of St. Peter was built in 1886–7 to replace that erected in 1826 on an adjacent site. (fn. 43) The bishop of Liverpool has the presentation and the incumbents are styled rectors. A mission church of St. Hilda has been founded as the result of a bequest by Lucy Ashton, granddaughter of the above-named Nicholas.
In the High Street are the new Wesleyan church (St. James's) and the Congregational church, built in 1864–5. An effort was made to establish a church in connexion with the Congregationalists as far back as 1822, but it failed. A second effort in 1863 proved more successful. (fn. 44) The old Wesleyan chapel, built in 1834, is now used for unsectarian services.
The Unitarian chapel at Gateacre, formerly called 'Little Lee' chapel, is the oldest ecclesiastical building in the township, having been licensed as early as October, 1700, for an English Presbyterian congregation already formed there. It is a plain stone building with a bell turret. The bell is dated 1723, and there is a 'cup of blessing,' dated 1703–4, and presented in 1746 by Joseph Lawton, minister for over thirty years. The building remains with very little alteration from its original condition. (fn. 45) It has various endowments, £6,000 having been paid by the Cheshire Lines Railway for land. (fn. 46) Among its ministers is numbered Dr. William Shepherd (1768–1847), author of a biography of Poggio Bracciolini. (fn. 47)
The first Roman Catholic church of St. Mary was built in Watergate Lane in 1765, the mission having previously been served from Woolton Hall. (fn. 48) A new cruciform church was built in 1860 in Church Street. The English Benedictines are in charge. From about 1782 to 1818 Dr. John Bede Brewer, one of the ornaments of this congregation, was in residence; it is said that he was on very friendly terms with Dr. Shepherd, of Gateacre. (fn. 49) From 1765 to 1807 a community of English Benedictine nuns from Cambrai was established in the village. They are now at Stanbrook, near Worcester. Richard Roskell, bishop of Nottingham from 1853 to 1874, was born at Gateacre. (fn. 50)