A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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The situation and aspect of this parish and township are sufficiently indicated by its name—the carr or marsh-land beside the Alt. It lies on the right bank of this stream, as it flows north-westward, westward, and then southward to the Mersey estuary.
The boundary on the east is practically coincident with the 25ft. level, till it reaches Lydiate Brook at the Frith Bridge. The old course of the Downholland Brook, crossed by the old Fleam Bridge, was the western boundary, but has been greatly altered, and now is led straight to Alt Bridge. (fn. 1) The narrow strip of land belonging to Altcar, which borders the Alt down to its mouth, is over two miles in length. On the widest portion, between the southern course of the river and sea shore to the west, is the Altcar rifle range. There is here a twelve-gun battery for the defence of the Mersey. The population in 1901 was 545.
The area of the whole parish is 4,083 acres. (fn. 2) The whole is flat and lies very low. The geological formation consists entirely of the lower keuper sandstone of the trias or new red sandstone, which is obscured in the western part of the township by fluviatile and some blown sand. The village of Altcar, or Great Altcar, with a long crooked street, is in the north-west, on ground which is only about 12ft. above sea level. Hill House, (fn. 3) to the east of the village, is 40ft. above sea level. To the south of this house is Carr Wood. Altcar Hall, a farmhouse, adjoins the church at the west end of the village. The township is very sparsely timbered; small trees are grouped about the scattered farms, and there are a few limited plantations to the east. As in other low-lying townships the fields are mostly divided by ditches, regularly-planted hawthorn hedges being seen along the high roads and about the villages. Corn, potatoes, (fn. 4) and other root crops are extensively cultivated, besides quantities of hay. There are now in Altcar 2,670 acres of arable land, 829 in permanent grass, and 55 of woods and plantations.
The chief roads start from Alt Bridge; that to Ormskirk going north-east and east by a very devious course through Altcar village, past Hill House. (fn. 5)
The Southport and Cheshire Lines Committee's railway, opened in 1884, runs through the parish near the eastern boundary, with two stations, called Lydiate, and Altcar and Hill House. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Company's Liverpool and Southport line crosses the western portion, beyond Little Altcar.
The history of this isolated place has been uneventful. One stormy incident, however, is recorded. It arose out of the revival of religious persecution caused by the Oates plot. In February, 1681–2, eight officers of the law visited Altcar to distrain the goods of John Sutton and Margery Tickle, recusants. They seized cattle accordingly, and waited from nine to three o'clock expecting that the cattle would be redeemed. Receiving an intimation of a projected rescue the sheriff's men tried to get away with their capture, but were opposed by a party of about twenty men and women, armed with long staffs, pitchforks, and muskets, who easily routed the officers, beating them, leaving them in the mire, and driving the cattle away. Six men were badly injured, two so severely that life was despaired of. (fn. 6) There is nothing stated as to the result, beyond a hint that the king was about to intervene to prevent further proceedings. (fn. 7)
In recent years improvements in the drainage of the district have been made, and a pumping engine is employed to keep the water under control. (fn. 8)
In former times the villagers of Altcar used occasionally to challenge those of Formby, then chiefly a fishing village, to fight, the combats taking place at Fleam Bridge, on the boundary. (fn. 9)
'Mid Lent Sunday was known as Braggot Sunday, from a specially-made non-intoxicating drink called Braggot; its place was afterwards taken by mulled ale. A labourer expected four eggs from his employer, which he took to the ale-house, where the eggs, with spices, were drunk in hot ale. This custom died when the public-houses were closed.' All Souls' Day was observed by children begging a 'soul loaf.' The rush-bearing customs died out sixty years ago. A little fair was held; a mock mayor was elected—the first man who succumbed to the effects of the drinking that took place—and he and fantastically-dressed neighbours went in procession, calling at various houses for money or drink. (fn. 10) The rushbearing took place between 12 and 19 July. (fn. 11)
'There are many trees and roots buried in the moss lands and carr lands of Altcar. Every now and then a plough comes in contact with one of these long-buried trees. … They are chiefly oak trees; the trunk of one of them must have been 2 ft. 6 in. in diameter. … There are also some trees of softer wood, which seems to be black poplar. Many of the trees have been cut down; but in some cases it would appear that the trees had been torn up by the roots by some storm in the higher grounds and then floated down the flooded waters of the Alt. … In cutting the drain-sluices, the horns and bones of wild animals have been found buried with the trees. Much of the timber is sound and undecayed, while some is so soft that it can be cut out with a spade.' (fn. 12)
In 1066 the manor of ALTCAR was held by Uctred; it was assessed at half a plough-land, and was 'waste'—the only manor in the hundred so described—and no value is recorded. It was a portion of the privileged three hides in the parishes of North Meols, Halsall, and Ormskirk. (fn. 13)
After the Conquest it seems to have been taken into the demesne of the honour, like the adjacent Formby. It is next mentioned in the perambulation of the forest made in 1228. The jurors found that Altcar had been placed within the forest since the coronation of Henry II, and should be disafforested; within its bounds had been included portions of the neighbouring townships—Ince Blundell, Raven Meols, Downholland, and Lydiate. It was disafforested accordingly. (fn. 14)
After the death of Ranulf Blundeville, earl of Chester, in 1232, his sister Agnes, wife of William de Ferrers, earl of Derby, succeeded to this part of his possessions. Within a very short time (before 1238) she and her husband had bestowed Altcar upon the Cistercian Abbey of Merivale (de Mira Valle) in Warwickshire, a Ferrers foundation. There are several charters relating to it. (fn. 15)
The monks of Merivale on being established at Altcar began improvements, in particular by draining their land. This brought them into conflict with their brother Cistercians of Stanlaw on the southern side of the river, whose lands and mill might be damaged by any alteration of the course of the Alt. (fn. 16)
The monks also made an agreement with John de Lea of Raven Meols by which he granted them for their cattle a road next to the Alt over his land, the road being 3 perches wide (each of twenty lawful feet) and extending from the King's way between Raven Meols and Alt Bridge, as far as the pasture on Alt Marsh. On the other hand he obtained leave to embank and enclose Herdebreck Pool. (fn. 17)
In 1292 the abbot was called upon to show by what right he held a messuage and a plough-land in Altcar. In reply he cited the above grants by William de Ferrers and Agnes his widow. For the king it was urged that he should also show some royal confirmation, and that being unable to do so his tenure was bad. The abbot retained Altcar. (fn. 18) In the eyre of the forest of Henry earl of Lancaster in 1329 the abbot and convent were again called upon to show their warrant for holding the manor in alms. (fn. 19)
The abbot seems to have sent two or three monks from Warwickshire to farm the land. (fn. 20)
In January, 1383–4, Sir Thomas de Stafford surrendered to the monks the grange of Altcar which he had held from them, together with the mill and crofts of the Gore, &c. In 1389 the abbot and convent leased (for his life) to Thomas Heton of Lydiate a moiety of the Gore, with hall, barn, and appurtenances, for a rent of 33s. 4d., the tenant to pay all tithes and other dues as might be levied. At the same time they leased (also for life) to Robert Coton of Lydiate a messuage called Long Houses and a meadow called Priest Meadow lying next to the Gore, paying yearly to their warden ('custos') of Altcar 18s., as well as tithes, &c. (fn. 21)
In June, 1429, Abbot John Ruggeley and the convent of Merivale leased to Edmund Lord Ferrers, Thomas Mollesley and William Donyngton the manor of Altcar for the life of the abbot, an annual rent of 50 marks to be paid. The abbot and convent undertook also to send one of their monks to celebrate divine services in the chapel of St. Mary (fn. 22) in the said manor, at the cost of the tenants. It was provided 'that if Robert Molyneux, Roger Wyrley, and Richard Lowe should die before the abbot' the monks might re-enter. (fn. 23)
About ten years after this, Sir Richard Molyneux of Sefton, brother of Robert the lessee of Altcar, endeavoured to make an exchange with the monks. He would give them two acres in Sefton with the advowson of the parish church, which they might appropriate, appointing a vicar; in return he was to have the manor of Altcar, and so much land there as would bring in the same amount of money as the rectory of Sefton would be worth to the monks. This scheme for making a profit out of Sefton church was not carried through; but it shows that the family of Molyneux had already cast eyes upon Altcar. (fn. 24)
In 1532 William abbot of Merivale complained that the Halsalls had taken possession of part of his land. (fn. 25) Sir William Molyneux and others were commissioned to make inquiry; after hearing the evidence they were to make an exact boundary, and send their report to Westminster. (fn. 26) Thomas Halsall alleged that the disputed land was part of a great moss called Downholland Moss, of one thousand acres or more. He gave his version of the boundary, and averred that he and his predecessors had received 4d. a day from persons wishing to take turf from this moss. (fn. 27) Judgement was made by setting stakes, stones, limits, and meres on the moss, beginning in the nook of the Frith Dyke and going on to the Black Mere; (fn. 28) all to the north-east to be Halsall's; all on the southwest of the meres set on the moss to the dyke following the woodside, and from the nook of the Frith Dyke to Holland Causey, to be the abbot's. (fn. 29)
The abbot in 1537 leased to Robert Molyneux of Hawton in Nottinghamshire and William his son and heir the manor, grange, and lordship of Altcar with the mill and the tithes, &c., for eighty years; the lessees being bound, among other things, to maintain a priest to celebrate in the hall, paying a monk £5 a year. (fn. 30) The suppression of the abbey quickly followed, but the Court of Augmentations ratified this lease in 1539. (fn. 31)
In 1556 a commission was appointed by Philip and Mary to make a division between the spiritualities and temporalities of the manor. (fn. 32) In 1558 for the sum of £1,000, the crown sold the manor and grange, 'lately in the occupation of Robert Molyneux and William his son,' to Sir Richard Molyneux of Sefton, with the reservation to the vicar of all his rights and endowments, the lead in the windows and gutters, and the bells. The manor was to be held as the twentieth part of a knight's fee. (fn. 33) Shortly afterwards Francis Molyneux of Hawton, who had inherited the eightyyears' lease, surrendered the unexpired term to William, the son and heir apparent of Sir Richard Molyneux, for 500 marks. (fn. 34) Thus the Sefton family came into full possession of the manor, which they have retained to the present time. (fn. 35)
In 1609 Sir Richard Molyneux purchased the spiritualities or tithes of Altcar, formerly demised to Robert Molyneux and William his son at a rent of £6 13s. 4d., but 100s. was to be allowed to the celebrant of divine offices in the chapel, in accordance with the lease of 1537. (fn. 36)
Sir Thomas Hesketh, attorney of the Court of Wards and Liveries, and Thomas Ireland, learned in the law, had, in 1604, after perusal of the charters, decided that all persons dwelling on lands at any time belonging to Merivale Abbey were free of toll and duty in all fairs, markets, towns, and villages; and the earl of Derby, as lord lieutenant, accordingly gave instructions that the inhabitants of Altcar should enjoy this immunity. (fn. 37)
Three of those whose estates were confiscated by the Parliament in 1652 were described as 'of Altcar': Edward Gore, who had land in Lydiate, Henry Lovelady, and John Tickle. (fn. 38)
The hearth tax assessors in 1666 found only four houses here with three hearths or more. (fn. 39)
Thomas, son of Cuthbert Formby of Formby, registered a leasehold estate here in 1717 as a 'Papist.' (fn. 40)
In 1720 Edward Fazakerley had a lease of land here from Lord Molyneux; also of Hill House, lately in the possession of Nicholas Fazakerley, deceased. (fn. 41)
A court-baron used to be held in May, and an adjourned court in October; (fn. 42) the tenants of the manor were bound to the service of clearing the marshes. No courts are held now.
The earliest record of any church or chapel at Altcar is that in the lease of 1429, already given, but there can be little doubt that religious worship had been maintained in the manor-house, to which the chapel would adjoin, from the time the monks of Merivale received possession of it. (fn. 43) The chapel appears to have been but poorly furnished. From that year there is clear evidence that divine service was regularly celebrated, the leases stipulating for the payment of a resident priest, normally one of the monks of Merivale. (fn. 44)
The church existing in the seventeenth century is said to have been of timber and plaster. About 1614 Altcar was described as 'a donative impropriate to Sir Richard Molyneux, Knight; no incumbent, but a bare reader and a mean pension.' (fn. 45) The Commonwealth surveyors of 1650 found that there was a church, but no parsonage or glebe lands; the tithes, worth £70 a year, (fn. 46) were farmed by Lord Molyneux under a lease for ten thousand years. The church was well situated within the parish, and there was no need for any other. (fn. 47) In 1646 the stipend of the minister was but twenty nobles (£6 13s. 4d.) a year, as the old rent of the spiritualities of the parish; but upon Lord Molyneux's property being sequestered by Parliament £50 a year was promptly added to this stipend out of the tithes of Altcar. (fn. 48) Altcar Hall was assigned as a parsonage house, with orchards, gardens, yards, stables, and outhouses. It is the old churchhouse. Afterwards it became an inn, and is still standing by the churchyard.
Bishop Gastrell in 1717 found that Lord Molyneux, who let out the tithes for £80 a year, paid the curate there about £10 a year, to which a further £1 10s. might arise from surplice fees. There were two wardens, serving by house row. (fn. 49)
Nearly thirty years later the church is supposed to have been destroyed by fire, and a new one was built, a royal brief in 1743 raising a certain portion of the cost. The new building was consecrated in 1747. It was a 'small brick edifice, with a cupola in which was only one bell. The interior was very plain.' (fn. 50)
The present church of St. Michael, (fn. 51) in the Perpendicular style, was built in 1879, the former one being pulled down.
The registers begin in 1664, but no marriage is recorded till 1680. There are parish accounts from 1714. An old font lies in the churchyard, in company with the base of a cross and the font (sundial pattern) of 1747. (fn. 52)
Altcar being a donative, no institution or licence was required; but about the end of the seventeenth century Bishop Gastrell notices that curates had been licensed. (fn. 53) Probably the monk in charge at the dissolution of the monasteries would remain at Altcar, having no longer any other home; (fn. 54) but the first curate whose name is known is Gilbert Shurlacres. (fn. 55)
It appears that the curate-in-charge might only be a 'reader,' that is, a layman licensed to read the prayers; the salary was very small, and as practically all the people adhered to the Roman Catholic faith after the Reformation there would be few offerings and other dues to increase it. The improvement in the minister's stipend made by the parliamentary authorities was accompanied by the appointment of Robert Seddon, 'an orthodox and painful godly minister,' who had been put in by Colonel John Moore, and was there in 1650. (fn. 56) The following are among the later curates and vicars, who have since 1856 been presented by the Earl of Sefton as patron:
|1656||Nathaniel Brownsword (fn. 57)|
|1657||John Walton, clerk (fn. 58)|
|oc.||1665||—Brookes (fn. 59)|
|c.||1669||Zachary Leech (fn. )|
|oc.||1671||Richard Critchley (fn. )|
|1702||Timothy Ellison (fn. 60)|
|1717||Edward Pilkington (fn. 61)|
|1724||William Clayton (fn. 62)|
|1735||Thomas Mercer (fn. 63)|
|oc.||1774||William Naylor (fn. 64)|
|1823||Thomas Garrett, M.A. (Aberdeen) (fn. 65)|
|1826||Charles Forshaw, B.A. (fn. 66)|
|1856||James Pearson, M.A. (Trinity College, Camb.) (fn. 67)|
|1862||John Thomas (fn. 68)|
|1889||William Warburton (fn. 69)|
There are a few charities, the most considerable being that founded by Peter Darwin, who about twenty years ago left £400 for the poor. (fn. 70)