A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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This township has an area of 5,058 acres. (fn. 1) A projecting corner, Radshaw Nook, in the north-west lies between two brooks, which there form the boundary, and after joining flow into the Alt. The population in 1900 was 1,325.
The country is generally flat, very slightly undulating on the east, where it reaches 330 ft. above sealevel. The land which lies outside the park itself is divided into rich arable fields, yielding crops of potatoes, turnips, and cereals. The soil is variable, sometimes sandy loam, or peat. In the south-eastern part of the township the geological formation consists of the millstone grit and coal measures; on the western side and in the north-eastern corner of the lower mottled sandstone of the bunter series, and all the central and northern parts of the pebble beds of this series of the new red sandstone.
The north of the township lies on the edge of mossland, the birches and bracken in the plantations being typical of moss vegetation. The village of Knowsley, which is situated in the north-west, is entirely modern.
In the north-east is Longbarrow; Bury is within the park, on the north. The well-wooded park surrounding Knowsley Hall is the principal feature of the township, occupying the eastern half of its area, and stretching over the boundary into Eccleston. 'The scenery in the park, which is beautifully undulating, is exceedingly varied, abounding in charming lawn and woodland views, with noble groups of trees in different elevated positions. From almost every part of the park, but more especially that portion of it more immediately in front of the hall, the view of the surrounding country is commanding and beautiful, not being confined to inland scenery, but embracing on the west a splendid marine and sea prospect. … The park throughout is magnificently wooded, more especially that portion which is known as the Gladewoods, in which there is one large tree constantly attracting much attention and interest from the fact of its having been twisted in the stem either by some freak of nature or other singular agency, which gives it the appearance of a huge corkscrew. The park also contains a large and artistically arranged lake, upward of 90 acres in extent. … Near the head of the lake there is a nude statue called the "White Man," the tradition being that the statue was found in the lake. … A large portion of the eastern side of the park, consisting of several hundreds of acres, forms the deer park, in which there are numerous herds of red, fallow, and other deer. The gardens and pleasure grounds, which are very extensive, are most artistically laid out and beautifully decorated with works of art.' (fn. 2)
The principal road is that from Prescot, west, north, and east, skirting the park and passing the church. Another road, crossing this, leads northward from Huyton, passing near the hall, and ultimately turning to Kirkby.
Henry, earl of Lancaster, granted a charter at Knowsley in 1343. (fn. 3)
The manors held by Uctred in 1066 take precedence in Domesday after the royal manor of Derby; and the first of them were Roby and KNOWSLEY. These were together rated at 1 hide, Knowsley by itself being 4 plough-lands. (fn. 4)
Before 1212 the whole parish of Huyton had become part of the barony of Widnes, as the Lancashire part of the Halton fee is called. Its four manors were by the lords of Halton considered as one only— Knowsley; so that this must very soon have become the principal residence of those lords or their undertenant. The superior lordship of Halton is recognized in all the inquisitions; Knowsley with its members, Huyton, Roby, and Tarbock, being considered as one knight's fee, and rated at 12 plough-lands in all. (fn. 5)
Knowsley and its members were held by the Lathom family from before the year 1200, but how they acquired it is unknown. In 1199 Amabel, widow of Robert son of Henry de Lathom, sued her step-son Richard for her reasonable dower from her late husband's estate, and the whole of Knowsley was assigned to her, as well as Anglezark. (fn. 6) Her sons appear to have taken Knowsley as a surname, and to have divided Huyton among themselves. Tarbock was held by another of the Lathom family, while Roby remained manorially part of Knowsley, though as a township it became merged in Huyton.
In the survey of 1212 it was found that the Knowsley knight's fee was held by Richard son of Robert. (fn. 7) One alteration had been made since the Conquest; for Henry II had placed Croxteth Park within the forest, so that at the inquest made in 1228 it was returned it ought to be given back to Knowsley. (fn. 8) This, however, was not done; Croxteth Park remained a royal park and extra-parochial. The service for the manor is not stated quite uniformly in the inquisitions—apart from its being that of one knight's fee. (fn. 9)
Of the Lathoms' dealings with Knowsley there is not much record. (fn. 10) Sir Thomas de Lathom about 1355 obtained a grant of free warren in Knowsley and Roby with liberty to empark, and in 1359 was allowed to enclose an adjacent place called Grimshurst. (fn. 11) It was probably at Knowsley that his son Thomas's melancholy death took place in 1382. He lay feeble and decrepit for three months before his death, and during this time his wife Joan refused to pay him any attention, living in open adultery in the high chamber at Knowsley with Roger de Fazakerley. There was no reconciliation, and immediately after her husband's death Joan sent his body to Burscough to be buried, there being present neither priests nor gentry, as there should have been. Immediately afterwards she married her paramour. (fn. 12)
It was Joan's children by Sir Thomas de Lathom who were in the end the heirs of the family estates. The eldest daughter Isabel marrying Sir John de Stanley brought Knowsley into the possession of the family which still holds it. (fn. 13) The marriage took place about 1385, (fn. 14) for their son and heir was twenty-eight and more in 1414; but it was not till 1398 that a dispensation was asked and obtained from Pope Boniface IX, it having been shown by Sir John Massy of Tatton that they were related in the third and fourth degrees. (fn. 15)
At the beginning of 1386 Sir John de Stanley was appointed deputy of Robert Vere, earl of Oxford, in the government of Ireland, (fn. 16) and subsequently held other offices under the Crown. (fn. 17) In June, 1397, he purchased from John le Strange the manor of Bidston in Wirral, with the adjacent Moreton and Saughall Massie. Soon afterwards he secured an annuity of 40 marks. (fn. 18) He received in 1405 a grant of the lordship of Man, forfeited by the Percys for rebellion. (fn. 19) In February, 1407–8, the king granted to Sir John Stanley, steward of his household, and Isabel his wife free warren within their manors of Lathom and Knowsley, and their lands in Childwall, Roby, and Anglezark, although the same were within the metes of the forest. (fn. 20) Stanley was again sent to Ireland as lieutenant, (fn. 21) dying there at the beginning of 1414. (fn. 22) His widow Isabel did not long survive him, dying in October, 1414, her son John being her heir. (fn. 23)
The heir, who was soon afterwards made a knight, had several public appointments. Just after his father's death he was made steward of Macclesfield (fn. 24) and master forester of Macclesfield and Delamere; in November, 1414, he was elected a knight of the shire. (fn. 25) He is frequently mentioned as justice, &c., in Cheshire. (fn. 26) He was at the capture of Rouen in August, 1418. (fn. 27) Sir John Stanley died at the beginning of December, 1437. (fn. 28) He granted the prior of Burscough a buck in the park of Lathom and another in the park of Knowsley in greasetime, and a doe in winter. (fn. 29)
His son Sir Thomas Stanley was thirty-one years of age on succeeding. It was in July, 1424, that he had been attacked in his father's tower at Liverpool by Sir Richard Molyneux, a dangerous tumult being created. He had taken part in the government of Ireland from 1429 to 1436, (fn. 30) and succeeded his father in his Cheshire offices. In 1446 he received a grant of the manor of Bosley, near Macclesfield, from Humphrey, duke of Buckingham. (fn. 31) He was knight of the shire for Lancashire from 1447 to 1455, (fn. 32) and summoned to the House of Lords as Baron Stanley, January, 1455–6. He died in February, 1458–9, Thomas his son and heir being twenty-six years of age. (fn. 33)
Sir Thomas Stanley, the second Lord Stanley, married Eleanor Nevill, sister of the King-maker, and succeeded to his father's dignities in Cheshire, some additional offices and lordships being added. (fn. 34) His first wife, who brought him into connexion with the leading Yorkist family, died in 1472, and soon afterwards he married, as her third husband, Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry, earl of Richmond, the hope of the Lancastrian party. (fn. 35) In 1475 Lord Stanley accompanied the king to France. (fn. 36) At the siege of Berwick in 1482 he took part in the assault which gained the town, and afterwards made several knights. (fn. 37) He and his brother Sir William stood aloof from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, and then opposed him, thereby giving the decisive turn to the contest. (fn. 38) As a reward he was created earl of Derby. (fn. 39) After the battle of Stoke in June, 1487, more substantial rewards were granted; the forfeited estates of Sir Thomas Broughton of Furness, Sir James Harrington, Francis Lord Lovell, Sir Thomas Pilkington and his wife, and Robert Hulton were conferred on him. (fn. 40)
After the execution of his brother Sir William for participation in the plot of Perkin Warbeck, the earl received a visit from the king at Knowsley and Lathom, and part of the existing hall at the former place is said to have been erected in anticipation of this visit, which lasted about a month. The earl died 29 July, 1504. (fn. 41)
His son George, made knight of the Bath in 1475, had married Joan, daughter and heir of John, Lord Strange of Knockin, and was in her right summoned to Parliament from 1482 onwards as Lord Strange. He fought at Stoke and took part in several military excursions, including the invasion of Scotland in the autumn of 1497; (fn. 42) soon after his return from this he died at Derby House, London, where is now the College of Arms, on 5 December. (fn. 43) His eldest son Thomas succeeded his grandfather in 1504; (fn. 44) a younger son James, settled at Cross Hall in Lathom, is the ancestor through whom the title has descended to the present earl of Derby.
Thomas, the second earl, married (fn. 45) Anne Hastings daughter of Edward Lord Hastings. He took part in various public affairs of the time, as in the French expedition of Henry VIII in 1513; and was one of the judges of the duke of Buckingham in 1521. This was just before his own death on 24 May of that year. He died at Colham in Middlesex, and was buried at Sion Abbey. (fn. 46) There were several inquisitions taken after his death. (fn. 47)
As Edward Stanley his son and heir was only eleven or twelve years old at his father's death, (fn. 48) his wardship fell to the king, who placed him in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. (fn. 49) Of most of the Lancashire estates a full account has been preserved for the first year of the minority. (fn. 50) From these it appears that from Lancashire the earl had a gross income of about £700, which various allowances, fees, and charges reduced to about £550. Apart from this there was the produce of the lands devoted to the maintenance of the household. (fn. 51)
The young earl, brought up by Wolsey, and after the latter's fall married to Dorothy Howard, daughter of the duke of Norfolk, (fn. 52) appears to have gone with the court. He was among the peers who asked the pope to grant the king a divorce (1530) and he assisted as cupbearer in the coronation of Anne Boleyn, being then made knight of the Bath (1533). He was also zealous in resisting the Northern risings under Aske (1536–7), (fn. 53) and took a share of the plunder of the monasteries, including Eynsham and Shefford in Oxfordshire. (fn. 54) He assisted at the coronation of Edward VI. In 1552 he was made lord-lieutenant of Lancashire.
He did not sign the letters patent of 16 June, 1553, whereby the succession of Mary was put aside in favour of Lady Jane Grey, though his eldest son Lord Strange signed; and on Edward's death three weeks later, he assisted in securing the crown for Mary, who showed her gratitude by several favours. In the religious controversies of the time it is obvious that he was hostile to Protestantism. (fn. 55) On the accession of Elizabeth when Edward's church discipline was re-enacted, the earl of Derby was continued upon the Privy Council, made chamberlain of Chester in 1559 and lord-lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire in 1569, (fn. 56) but his known opposition to the change of religion cost him the queen's favour. (fn. 57) In 1562 he with the bishop of Chester and others was appointed on a commission to enforce the royal supremacy and the use of the Common Prayer Book in Lancashire and Cheshire, but nothing much appears to have been done. Five years later, the earl and bishop were again urged to exert themselves to secure some degree of conformity to the new order, and the earl, 'upon small motion made to him, caused all such persons as have been required to be apprehended,' and showed himself 'very faithful and careful.' (fn. 58)
He was celebrated for the great retinue he maintained, and the splendour of his living. (fn. 59) He took care to entail Lathom, Knowsley, and others of the ancient possessions of the house upon the heirs male. (fn. 60) He died on 24 October, 1572, at Lathom, and was buried with great pomp six weeks later at Ormskirk. (fn. 61)
The earl was thrice married; his successor was the eldest son Henry, by his first wife, born in 1531. The new earl appears to have spent a large part of his life at court, and had from time to time various public appointments. (fn. 62)
The view of the county written in 1590 states that 'Henry earl of Derby hath in that hundred (West Derby) three of his chief houses, Lathom and New Park in Ormskirk parish, Knowsley in Huyton parish. He hath preaching in his house sabbathly by the best preachers in the county, and he giveth honourable countenance to all the professors of religion, and is very forward in the public actions to religion,' and his son 'Ferdinando, Lord Strange, giveth good countenance to religion, when he is with us.' (fn. 63) The household record bears this out. He added Burscough to the family inheritance by a grant from Queen Elizabeth. His wife was Margaret Clifford, granddaughter of Mary, the younger sister of Henry VIII. He had by her Ferdinando and William, successively earls of Derby, and three other children who died young. (fn. 64) He died on 25 September, 1593, and was buried at Ormskirk. (fn. 65)
His son Ferdinando, who had already (1589) been summoned to Parliament as Lord Strange, succeeded his father in his titles and property, and in the lord-lieutenancy of Lancashire and Cheshire. He had been mayor of Liverpool in 1588. He was a friend and patron of literature, being praised by Spenser among others. (fn. 66) He married Alice, daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, (fn. 67) and by her had three daughters. Through his mother he was one of the nearest heirs to the crown, for, excluding the king of Scots as a foreigner, in accordance with the Act of Henry VIII, he came next after Lord Beauchamp, son of Lady Katherine Grey, whom many considered illegitimate. (fn. 68) The English exiles for religion, now that Elizabeth was growing old, were endeavouring to secure the succession of a sovereign who, if not in communion with Rome, would mitigate the persecuting laws and allow liberty for the ancient worship. It was believed that Ferdinando was so inclined, (fn. 69) and Sir William Stanley, of the Hooton family, (fn. 70) and the Jesuit Father Holt, sent Richard Hesketh to sound him on the matter. (fn. 71) Lord Derby, however, handed Hesketh over to the authorities and he was executed in November, 1593. Four months afterwards the earl was taken ill, and after a fortnight's suffering died on 16 April, 1594. (fn. 72) He was buried at Ormskirk. (fn. 73)
His brother William, then thirty-two years of age, succeeded to the earldom and estates. He was called 'the wandering earl,' and was the hero of several ballads, having travelled much and lived an adventurous life. (fn. 74) He married in June, 1594, Elizabeth, sister and coheir of Henry de Vere, earl of Oxford; was made chamberlain of Chester 1603 and lord-lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire 1607; these offices were shared by his son, Lord Strange, from 1626. (fn. 75) For some reason unknown he retired from public life about this time, living as a private gentleman chiefly at Bidston and at a house he built by the side of the Dee, near Chester, Lord Strange taking up the public duties and the management of the estates. He died 29 September, 1642, and 20 years later was buried at Ormskirk. (fn. 76)
His son Lord Strange, the 'Martyr Earl,' and the most famous of the line, now succeeded to the earldom. He had served in numerous public offices; was member for the borough of Liverpool in 1625 (fn. 77); mayor of that town 1626. He married in June, 1626, Charlotte de la Tremouille, daughter of the duke of Thouars, one of the Protestant nobility of France, and a granddaughter of William of Nassau, prince of Orange. (fn. 78) After a short experience of the court he preferred to live in Lancashire, spending his time chiefly at Lathom and Knowsley. (fn. 79)
The Civil War had begun before his father's death, and he had taken his side decisively for the king. After some endeavours to secure peace in Lancashire, he attempted to seize Manchester, and was proclaimed a traitor by the Parliament. In 1643 he took part in the unsuccessful assaults on Bolton and Lancaster, and recovered Preston; he fortified Lathom House, which his countess in 1644 bravely defended against the Parliamentary forces. Lord Derby had in the meantime been settling grievances in the Isle of Man; in 1644 he joined Prince Rupert, who was hastening to the relief of Lathom, took part in the storming of Bolton, and later in the year fought at Marston Moor. His countess having retired to the Isle of Man, after this defeat he joined her there, taking no further part in the war, but retaining the island for the king. (fn. 80) Parliament retaliated by excepting him from pardon, by the renewed siege and destruction of Lathom House, and by the confiscation of his great estates. (fn. 81)
In 1651 he repulsed an attack on the island by Parliamentary forces, and having learnt that Charles II, who had been crowned in Scotland, was about to invade England, Lord Derby determined to join him, and left the Isle of Man in August with 300 men. He endeavoured to raise as many men as possible in Lancashire, but after the defeat in Wigan Lane, where he was wounded, he fled southwards to join Charles at Worcester, and fought gallantly there on 3 September. The royalist cause now appearing hopeless, the earl turned north again, no doubt wishing to reach the Isle of Man, but on the way he and his party surrendered to Captain Edge as prisoners of war. He was taken to Chester and tried on the charge of treason; his death had already been determined upon, and he was sentenced to die at Bolton on or before 16 October. (fn. 82) The place was chosen as it was supposed the inhabitants cherished a hostile feeling against the earl on account of the slaughter there seven years before. The sentence was duly carried out, (fn. 83) but it was found that the people were sympathetic instead of hostile. The executioner, named Whewell, was a farmer of the district. (fn. 84) The earl was buried at Ormskirk. Shortly after this the Isle of Man was captured by the Parliament.
On the Parliament taking possession of his estates they had first to satisfy the demands of various claimants under wills and settlements. Lady Vere Carr claimed £1,000 under the will of her grandmother the countess of the sixth earl. (fn. 85) The countess of Lincoln, formerly wife of Sir Edward Stanley, brother of the seventh earl, claimed rent-charges from various lands in Lathom, Burscough, and Childwall, and Upton Hall in Cheshire, for the benefit of herself and her sons Charles and James Stanley, under deeds of 1637, and a large amount for arrears. (fn. 86) The almsmen of Lathom also put in a claim. (fn. 87)
After the earl's execution his countess desired to compound, (fn. 88) and in 1653 was allowed to do so after the rate of five years' purchase for the estates in fee simple, four years' purchase for estates in tail, three years for estates of one life, &c., the values of the year 1640 to be taken as the standard; and personal estate after the rate of one-third. (fn. 89)
In 1647 (fn. 90) the six surviving children of the earl had been permitted to live at Knowsley. A little after this the eldest son, Lord Strange, went abroad, and in 1650 married in Holland Dorothea Helena de Rupa, (fn. 91) a maid of honour to Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. He returned to England early in 1651, and found that two of his sisters (Katherine and Amelia) were in prison in Liverpool, (fn. 92) having no allowance from their father's estate and depending entirely on charity; the other children were in the Isle of Man. He therefore 'cast himself on the wisdom and the mercy of Parliament,' being 'desirous as well to obedience and his good affection and loyalty to the Commonwealth, as to preserve some small ruins of his unhappy family.' Himself, his wife and child, and the family were quite destitute of means. After taking the engagement he was granted 'twofifths of the four parts yet undisposed of,' and allowed to live at Knowsley. (fn. 93)
He appears to have been unacquainted with his father's movements in August, 1651, but on hearing of his capture and imprisonment at once visited him, made strenuous efforts for his pardon, and attended him to his execution, and then at the burial. He lived at Knowsley, the widowed countess joining him in 1658. He engaged in the premature rising of 1659 in favour of Charles II. After the restoration he was, of course, restored to his father's honours and to much of his estates; he bore a sword before the king at the coronation, and was made lord lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire, and (in 1662) chamberlain of Cheshire for life. He wrote and published two controversial tracts in favour of Protestantism (1668–9), (fn. 94) and died at Knowsley 21 December, 1672, being buried at Ormskirk nearly six weeks later. (fn. 95)
His son and successor was William George Richard, ninth earl, who left two surviving daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth. He was lord lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire from 1676 to 1687, when he was arbitrarily displaced by James II, to be restored in the following year, when the king discovered how much this action was resented. He retained the office till his death. He preferred a county retirement to court offices, and set himself to the work of rebuilding Lathom, which, however, he did not finish. (fn. 96) His daughter Henrietta became sole heir by the death of her sister Elizabeth in 1714. She was twice married—to John Annesley, earl of Anglesey, in 1706, and to John, earl of Ashburnham, in 1714, having a daughter by each husband. (fn. 97) She died on 26 June, 1718, and her second and surviving daughter, Henrietta Bridget Ashburnham, died unmarried 8 August, 1732.
James, tenth earl, succeeded to the title and the bulk of the estates on the death of his brother in 1702. He was a member of Parliament for Lancashire boroughs and for the county from 1685 to 1702; (fn. 98) served in the campaigns of Flanders under William III, with whom he was in high favour; had court offices, was a Privy Councillor, lord lieutenant of the county 1702–10 and 1714 to 1736, and chancellor of the duchy 1706 to 1710. He was mayor of Liverpool in 1734. He rebuilt Knowsley Hall, putting up an inscription as to the ingratitude of Charles II, 'who refused a bill unanimously passed by both Houses of Parliament for the restoring to the family the estates which he had lost by his loyalty to him.' (fn. 99) He died on 1 February, 1735–6, at Knowsley without surviving issue. (fn. 100)
The title of earl of Derby, with Knowsley, Halewood, Bury, and other manors, went to the heir male of the second earl, who had died so far back as 1521, through the Sir James Stanley of Cross Hall of whom mention has been made above. (fn. 101) He had a numerous family, including Henry Stanley of Aughton, who married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Peter Stanley of Bickerstaffe, and was succeeded in 1598 by his son Edward, created a baronet by Charles I in 1627. His eldest son Sir Thomas, second baronet, strove for the Parliament in the Civil War as strenuously as his great relative the earl of Derby did for the king; he died in 1653, leaving a son, Sir Edward Stanley, who was succeeded in 1671 by his son, Sir Thomas Stanley (died 1714), the father of Sir Edward Stanley, fifth baronet, who became eleventh earl of Derby in 1736. He was sheriff of Lancashire in 1722, and knight of the shire from 1727 till his succession to the earldom; lord lieutenant 1742 to 1757 and 1771 till his death on 22 February, 1776. His widow died two days after him, and they were buried together at Ormskirk.
Their son James married Lucy, daughter of Hugh Smith of Weald Hall in Essex, and assumed in accordance with Mr. Smith's will the additional surname of Smith. He was knight of the shire (1738) till his death, also lord lieutenant from 1757, and chancellor of the duchy from 1762.
He died in June 1771, (fn. 102) and his son Edward, at twenty-three years of age, succeeded his grandfather as twelfth earl. He also was knight of the shire 1774 to 1776, and lord lieutenant from 1776 till his death. He married in 1774 Elizabeth, daughter of James, sixth duke of Hamilton, (fn. 103) who afterwards separated from him, and died in March, 1797. In the following May Lord Derby married Eliza Farren, an actress of some fame, commemorated by an inscription in Huyton church. 'A passion for horse-racing and cock-fighting was the absorbing one of his life,' and 'Derby Day' preserves his memory.
His son and heir Edward, born in 1775, had been member for Preston 1796 to 1812, and for the county 1812 to 1832, when he was summoned to the House of Lords as Baron Stanley of Bickerstaffe; two years later, on succeeding to the earldom, he also succeeded to the office of lord lieutenant of Lancashire. He took a great interest in natural history, and formed a large menagerie at Knowsley, (fn. 104) and also a museum, which he bequeathed to Liverpool, where it is still preserved. He died 30 June, 1851. (fn. 105)
His eldest son, Edward Geoffrey, the most brilliant and distinguished of the modern earls, after a successful career in the House of Commons, was called to the House of Lords on his father's barony in 1844, and succeeded to the earldom in 1851. He served in many ministries, being thrice prime minister himself (1852, 1858, 1866), and becoming leader of the Conservative party. He was celebrated as an orator, being known as 'the Rupert of debate,' and maintained his reputation for scholarship by a translation of the I liad. He died at Knowsley on 23 October, 1869, and was buried there. (fn. 106)
He was succeeded by his eldest son Edward Henry, born at Knowsley in 1826, and distinguished for a long and useful public career, having filled numerous ministerial positions. He died in 1893, (fn. 107) and was succeeded by his brother Frederick Arthur, the present (sixteenth) earl of Derby, who after being a member of the House of Commons for many years, and holding office several times, was in 1886 summoned to the upper chamber as Baron Stanley of Preston; he was governor-general of Canada from 1888 to 1893. At home, after the extension of the boundaries of the city in 1895, he was lord mayor of Liverpool. (See Pedigree next page.)
Leland in Henry VIII's time notices the place thus: 'Knollesley, a park having a pretty house of the earls of Derby, within a mile of Prescot.' (fn. 108) Camden passes it over.
Until the Civil War Lathom was the principal residence of the family, but after its destruction Knowsley took its place. Here, as already stated, the children, and then the widow, of the seventh earl took up their residence with the permission of those in power, and the dowager countess died there on 21 March, 1663–4. (fn. 109)
The house is L-shaped, with an east wing some 415 ft. long, joined towards its south end by a south wing about 290 ft. long, the latter being the older portion, and said by Pennant to have been built 'by Thomas, first earl of Derby, for the reception of his son-in-law Henry VII.' (fn. 110) Parts of the walls may be as old as this time, but there are now no architectural features which can be older than the latter part of the seventeenth century, with the doubtful exception of the three pointed arches in the kitchen. The entrance to the south wing is on the north side, somewhat to the east of the middle, and is flanked by circular stair-turrets. It opens to a passage running along the whole of the north side of the wing, as far west as the entrance to the kitchen, and opening into a line of rooms on the south. These have a cloister in front of them, and have been completely refaced on the south, a large block of building projecting southward from the middle of the south front having been added at the same time. The kitchen measures about 50 ft. by 35 ft., and is divided lengthwise by an arcade of three pointed arches with octagonal pillars, which have preserved no ancient detail, if indeed any part of them is of ancient date. It is to be noted that the walls here and for some distance eastward are thick, and may be older than any architectural features which they have to show. (fn. 111) The fittings seem to be nowhere older than the early part of the eighteenth century, to which date belongs the staircase opposite the north entrance mentioned above. At the west end of the wing, on the south side, is a modern block built round a small court, containing the estate office, muniment rooms, &c.
The east wing is of several dates, and for the middle of its length has a thick central wall which may be its oldest part. The south end of the long range of buildings seems to have been begun about 1730, and is the work of James, the tenth earl of Derby, who died in 1736. Dates on the rain-water heads range between 1731 and 1737. The range has a central portion of three stories, about 70 ft. long, flanked by shorter wings which were originally of two stories, but have since been raised to the same height as the central block. (fn. 112) It is of red brick with stone dressings, with the characteristic moulded architraves and sash windows of the time, and is finished with a rather dull panelled parapet. On its south front is a two-story portico carried by pairs of columns, and on this part of the building is the inscription which records the ingratitude of the Stuarts to the great house of Stanley, which had lost so much in their cause.
In the middle of the east wing rises a large modern tower with a high roof, and an oriel on the east face, overlooking the site of a building which formerly projected from the front at this point, and contained the chapel. From extant drawings this seems to have been a poor eighteenth-century building whose loss is not to be deplored on aesthetic grounds. To the north of the tower is a two-story range, of early eighteenth-century date, or perhaps a little earlier, with tall sash windows of good proportion, and this and the southern part of the east front are by far the most pleasing pieces of architecture in the building. At the north end of the range are modern buildings, and the whole west face has been modernized, the old sashes being replaced by plate glass with much detriment to the general effect. The main entrance to the house is now in the middle of the west front of this range, and is covered by a large modern carriage porch. The fall of the ground is from east to west, and a terrace has been formed by levelling the wide lawn which lies before the entrance.
Thomas Pennant visited the hall in 1773. 'About a mile and a half from Prescot,' he writes, 'lies Knowsley, the residence of the earls of Derby, seated in a park, high, and much exposed to the fury of the west winds; for distant as this place is from the sea the effect is visible in the shorn form of the trees.' Then, after describing the house, he enumerates the pictures, collected chiefly by James, the tenth earl, this being his preface: 'I surveyed with great pleasure the numerous portraits of this illustrious family, an ancient race, long uncontaminated by vice or folly. The late venerable peer, Edward, earl of Derby, supported the dignity of his family; aged as he was, there was not a person in his neighbourhood but wished that his years could be doubled.' (fn. 113)
Apart from the Lathom and Stanley families there is little record of the township. The Stockley family, already mentioned several times, occurs as early as 1302, when Richard son of Adam de Stockesley brought some small action against Robert de Lathom. (fn. 114)
Edmund de Prescot occurs as a landowner here in Richard II's reign. (fn. 115)
In 1717 Sampson Erdeswick, of Healy in Audley, and Thomas Howard, registered estates here as 'papists.' (fn. 116)
From the mention of the 'place of St. Leonard' at Knowsley in the charter of Burscough, it may be inferred that there was already a chapel of some kind here. (fn. 117)
In later times the English Presbyterians had a chapel in the village, the doctrine in the ordinary course of development becoming Unitarian; (fn. 118) but at the expiry of a lease in 1830, it was consecrated as a chapel of ease to Huyton, (fn. 119) Knowsley becoming an independent ecclesiastical district in 1844, and a vicarage in 1869. The incumbents are presented by the earl of Derby. A new church, St. Mary's, was built in 1843–4 at the expense of the thirteenth earl. In 1871 a memorial chapel was added at the expense of the personal friends and admirers of the fourteenth earl; a monument to him was placed therein, the recumbent figure being by Matthew Noble; stained-glass windows were added. (fn. 120)