A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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Leigh (A.S. leáh = pasture, meadow) was the name of a district embracing 13,793 acres, bounded on the north, east, and partly on the south by the hundred of Salford, on the west by the parish of Wigan, and on the south-west by the parish of Winwick. As its name denotes it was a district rich in meadow and pasture land, and the produce of its dairies—the Leigh cheese—was formerly noted for its excellence. (fn. 1)
The town of Leigh, standing upon the high road from Bolton-le-Moors to St. Helens, at one time mainly a pack-horse road, lies mostly in the township of Pennington, but partly in Westleigh. The name of the ancient parish may be regarded as first legally applied to the town of Leigh upon the amalgamation of the three local boards of Westleigh, Pennington, and Bedford in 1875, but for centuries it was understood to denote that part of the ancient parish which comprised the townships of Westleigh and Pennington, sometimes also that of Bedford.
A market is held on Saturday and two fairs on the eve of the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist (24 April), and on the eve of the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (7 December). (fn. 2) The marketplace lies in the ancient township of Pennington.
Silk-weaving is a considerable industry in the town. (fn. 3) Nail-making, linen-weaving, and the manufacture of fustian were largely conducted here in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, (fn. 4) and now the manufacture of cotton goods, and machinery of various kinds, provides employment for a large number of workpeople.
The excellent beds of coal underlying the district have been worked more or less for five centuries, but the rapid advance of this industry, which set in towards the end of the eighteenth century, was due to the linking up of communication with Manchester by the duke of Bridgewater's canal. The development of the town is well illustrated by the churchwardens' and overseers' accounts for the township of Pennington. (fn. 5) Concurrently with its industrial resources the district used to be noted for the excellence of its agricultural productions. In Bedford and Astley there were formerly a number of kilns employed in burning the Sutton or terras lime, obtained from the magnesian limestone rock of the Permian series, producing a hydraulic cement. The soil is a rich loam, somewhat stiff in quality upon the rising ground. There is also a considerable amount of alluvial land by Pennington Brook, and moss land in the neighbourhood of Chat Moss, and of the detached Black Moss and Tyldesley Mosses, which makes excellent and easily cultivated arable land. The agricultural land of the parish is now used as follows: Arable, 4,815 acres; permanent grass, 5,201; woods and plantations, 27½.
The town of Leigh (fn. 6) is notable as being for some years the abode of Thomas Highs, a reed-maker, and John Kay, a clockmaker, who were associated with Richard Arkwright, barber and hairdresser of Bolton, the reputed inventor of roller spinning as effected in the now ancient 'spinning jenny.' (fn. 7)
At the end of the year 1642, (fn. 8) the inhabitants of this district distinguished themselves in an action at Chowbent against the forces of the earl of Derby, whom the zealous but untrained husbandmen of the district repulsed and drove beyond Lowton Common. The local historian of the time describes how 'the naylers' (nail-makers) of Chowbent busied themselves in making bills and battle-axes, instead of nails, in anticipation of further engagements. (fn. 9)
Richard Higson and Charles Rogers of Leigh issued tokens in 1666 and 1668. (fn. 10)
In 1698 a division of the highways within the township of Pennington was made, establishing the rods of highway which each owner or occupier should make. (fn. 11)
In 1745 part of the troops of Prince Charles Edward were quartered at Leigh on the night of 28 November, in their march from Preston to Manchester. Mr. Lowe, then constable for the higher side of Pennington, expended £14 5s. for horses and billeting the rebels, and 27s. for the watch at the watch-house and in coals for the bonfire. (fn. 12)
In 1863 the townships of Pennington, Westleigh, and Bedford adopted the Local Government Act, 1851, but in 1875 the three local board districts were dissolved and constituted into the Leigh Local Board District, the three townships forming one large town, subsequently controlled by an urban district council under the Local Government Act, 1894. In that year the three townships with a portion of Atherton were formed into the civil parish of Leigh. (fn. 13)
In 1899 a charter of incorporation was granted to the urban district, under which the borough is governed by a mayor, eight aldermen, and twenty-four councillors. The borough comprises the townships of Westleigh, Pennington, Bedford, with part of Atherton, and is divided into eight wards. (fn. 14) The same year the new borough obtained a grant of arms. (fn. 15) In 1903 a borough bench was erected and a Commission of the Peace issued to thirty-three local gentlemen. The town is now connected by a system of electric tramways with Bolton, Wigan, Atherton, Tyldesley, Hindley, and Lowton. There are gas works, and an electric lighting station erected in 1899–1900. A thorough system of drainage was established in 1898 with sewerage and disposal works, the latter being the joint property of Leigh and Atherton.
The Town Hall in King Street, a plain red brick building with stone facings, formerly a police station, was acquired in 1875. There are public baths in Silk Street, erected in 1881, a drill hall in Ellesmere Street belonging to H Company, 1st Volunteer Battalion, Manchester Regiment, formerly used for public meetings before the erection of the Assembly Room in 1878, a public library in Railway Road, opened in 1894, and a technical school, in connexion with which a spacious and well-equipped gymnasium was erected in 1903 in commemoration of the reign of Queen Victoria, the cost being defrayed by the late W. E. Marsh. There are also Liberal and Conservative clubs, a theatre, and a fine range of buildings erected by the Leigh Friendly Co-operative Society, which includes two large halls used for public meetings, lectures, and concerts. An infirmary is in course of erection, and a new town hall to cost £60,000 will, it is expected, be opened in 1907. (fn. 16)
The church of St. Mary the Virgin, anciently described as 'the church of Westleigh in Leigh,' was originally consecrated in honour of St. Peter. The nave and most of the churchyard lay in Westleigh, a small portion of the latter and the chancel lay in Pennington. The old church (fn. 17) was rebuilt, with the exception of the west tower, in 1873. It has a chancel of two bays, continuous with a nave of six bays, with a clearstory running the full length of the building. There are north and south aisles to both nave and chancel, the east bay of the north aisle being used as a vestry, and the second bay containing the organ, which has an eighteenth-century wooden case. It was made by Samuel Green of London in 1777. The former nave was narrower than the present, as may be seen by the springers of the western responds which remain in the east wall of the tower; the arches were of two chamfered orders. (fn. 18) The roof of the north aisle of the nave is the old roof reused. The tower opens to the church with a tall arch of two chamfered orders with half octagonal responds and moulded capitals. The tower is of poor detail and late date, said to have been built in 1516, and has a west doorway with an elliptical arch, and over it a three-light window with uncusped tracery. In the second stage are plain loops, and the belfry stage has two two-light windows on each face, with transoms and uncusped tracery, and is finished with an embattled parapet.
On a pew west of the second pillar of the north arcade of the nave is a brass plate, marking the burial place of Henry Travice of Light Oakes, 1626, who founded a charity by which 5s. was to be given to forty poor people yearly on Thursday in Passion Week near his gravestone. The font is modern, octagonal, with panelled sides. There are eight bells, all from the Rudhalls' foundry at Gloucester, the treble and second of 1761, and the rest of 1740, by Abel Rudhall. There is also a small bell, cast at Wigan in 1715.
In 1693 the church possessed four bells said to have been given by Queen Elizabeth, (fn. 19) two of which—the great bell and the third bell—had been cast at Leigh in 1663. (fn. 20) A fifth bell was added in 1692, and in 1705 the second and fourth were re-cast by Gabriel Smith of Congleton. The bells were found unsatisfactory, hence the re-casting in 1740.
The church plate consists of a tall communion cup of Elizabethan shape, with an engraved band near the lip, and no mark but that of the maker, G E, repeated twice; a plain cup of 1650; a set of plate given by Mr. Henry Bolton of Leigh, mercer, 1724, comprising two cups, one paten, two flagons, and one almsdish, all being of the Britannia standard, and dated 1724, except the paten, which is of 1723; and a plate of 1894, given in the following year.
The registers begin in 1559. From the commencement to March, 1625, they have been printed by the present vicar. (fn. 21)
Public declarations were made upon oath in the church in 1430 and 1435 as to the title to lands in the neighbourhood; and in 1474 an instance of 'cursing by bell, book, and candle' occurred. (fn. 22)
The Atherton chapel occupied the eastern end of the south aisle from a little south door eastward, and measured 7 yards each way. It was in a ruinous state, the windows and roof decayed, in the time of John Bridgeman, bishop of Chester (1619–52), who threatened to lay it to the body of the church unless the lord of Atherton repaired it. In 1654 John Atherton was alleged to have set up a new screen enclosing some yards of the south aisle additional to that occupied by the old chapel, and enclosing the place where the pews and burial places of Roger Bradshaw, Henry Travis, gents., Mr. Shuttleworth, Mr. Thomas Sergeant, George Starkey, Gilbert Smith, Ralph Smith, and others had formerly been. In 1664 the title to part of the south aisle thus alleged to have been encroached upon was the subject of proceedings in the Consistory Court at Chester, brought by Lawrence Rawstorne, esq., as trustee for Atherton, against Sir Henry Slater, knt., Richard Bradshaw, esq., and Frances Bradshaw, otherwise Shuttleworth, widow. (fn. 23)
The chantry chapel of St. Nicholas, called the Tyldesley chapel, is believed to have been erected about the end of the fifteenth century. The roof is all that remains of the building. Sir Thomas Tyldesley the cavalier, who was slain at the skirmish of Wigan Lane in 1651, lies buried here. A modern brass has lately been placed to his memory. (fn. 24)
The history of the advowson of the church before the end of the thirteenth century is obscure, but may be conjectured with some degree of probability. The priory of Marsey, Nottinghamshire, was founded before 1192 by Roger son of Ranulf de Marsey, (fn. 25) who in addition to his fee between Ribble and Mersey, to which reference is made below, held three knights' fees in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire of the honour of Lancaster. (fn. 26) During the reign of Henry III the priory acquired by purchase 11 oxgangs of land in Marsey, in the honour of Lancaster, and in the time of Edward I half the advowson of the church of Marsey with four solidates of rent by purchase from the nuns of Wallingwells. (fn. 27) It is possible that the founder gave to Marsey his rights in the church of Leigh, parcel of his fee in Westleigh, and that the priory subsequently exchanged these rights with Wallingwells for lands held by the latter in Marsey. At the same time a gift of the church to Wallingwells by Richard de Westleigh in the time of John is not less probable, for the prioress of that house was engaged in 1238 in litigation with Adam de Westleigh touching the presentation to half the church of Leigh, which Adam was claiming from her. (fn. 28) The result of the plea was apparently in favour of the prioress, but the right of her priory does not appear to have been thoroughly established, for in 1290, Margery, then prioress, was suing Richard de Urmston and Siegrith his wife for the church and advowson, alleging in evidence of her right the presentation of Henry de Ulveston to the church, presumably in 1238, by her predecessor Isolda. (fn. 29) The suit was terminated two years later by the prioress conveying to Richard and Siegrith in consideration of £20 the advowson of the church of 'Westlay in Legh,' respecting which a recognition of grand assize had been summoned between the parties. (fn. 30) These proceedings are fully referred to in the account of Westleigh, where reference will be found to the mansion and glebe of the early parsons of Leigh.
A reference to John the parson of Westleigh, in a grant made in the early part of the thirteenth century, as the father of the grantor (fn. 31) carries back the period of his career to the reign of Richard I, proving that a church then existed here, and affording a reasonable supposition that a church had existed here at the Conquest. There are references to the church in the time of John, (fn. 32) again in 1238, and in 1264, when Roger bishop of Lichfield petitioned the king for aid against certain persons who had seized the churches of Leigh, Bury, and Winwick. (fn. 33) The church was valued at £8 in Pope Nicholas's taxation completed in 1292. (fn. 34)
In 1318 Richard de Urmston, son of Richard and Siegrith, sold the advowson with one acre of land appurtenant thereto in Westleigh to Robert de Holand, knt., for 50 marks sterling. (fn. 35) Excepting for a brief period after the attainder and death of Thomas earl of Lancaster, in 1322, (fn. 36) the advowson descended in the Holand family and so by marriage to the Lovels. (fn. 37) In 1365 Robert de Holand, chr., obtained licence to alienate the advowson in mortmain to the prior and convent of Upholland, but he did not do so. It was at this time held of John duke of Lancaster, and Blanche his wife, for a rose at Midsummer for all service. (fn. 38) In 1445 the Augustinian canons of Erdbury in Warwickshire obtained licence to acquire lands to the value of 100 marks yearly, (fn. 39) and thereupon obtained a grant of this advowson from William Lord Lovel, and the year following had letters patent for the appropriation of the rectory. (fn. 40) In 1448, at Westleigh, the church was duly appropriated to the prior and convent of Erdbury, of which William Lord Lovel, Burnel and Holand, knt., and Ralph Botiler, knt., lord of Sudeley, were founders. A vicarage of 16 marks yearly with a tenement was ordained, (fn. 41) and an allowance of 6s. 8d. to the bishop, 3s. 4d. to the archdeacon of Chester, and 6s. 8d. to the poor. (fn. 42)
In 1488 the prior of Erdbury leased the parsonage of Leigh—that is, the Kirk Hall, with the glebe lands, rents, tithes, and profits—to Gilbert Urmston, esq., John Urmston his son and heir, Mr. Gilbert Urmston, clerk, William Urmston, vicar of the church of Leigh, and Roger Urmston, for a term of forty years, paying yearly to the prior £20, to the vicar of Leigh £12, to the parish priest for his wages 50s., and certain sums for the redemption of certain plate and a cross of gold which had been laid in gage. (fn. 43)
Twenty years later William Urmston gave his estate in this lease to John Urmston, the son and heir of his brother John Urmston. (fn. 44) In 1515, or fourteen years before its expiration, the lease was renewed for a further term of years to John Urmston and John Astley, chaplain. (fn. 45) The gross rental was stated to be about £43 in 1531. (fn. 46)
At the dissolution the rectory, tithes, glebe land and advowson of the vicarage were granted to Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, (fn. 47) who subsequently obtained licence to alienate, (fn. 48) and in 1545 sold the rectory and tithes for £800 to Robert Trapps, citizen and goldsmith of London. (fn. 49) In 1557 Thomas Leyland of Morleys, esq., and John Urmston of Westleigh, gent., presented to the vicarage pro hac vice probably as purchasers of the next presentation. In 1561 Francis Trapps, gent., conveyed by fine to Sir Thomas Gerard, knt., the rectory of Westleigh, that is, the moated Kirk Hall, the glebe lands, all tithes of grain and hay, and the advowson of the vicarage, in consideration of an annuity of £40 a year. (fn. 50) Gerard appears to have immediately sold one half of the tithes to Richard Urmston for £420. (fn. 51) In 1573 Richard Urmston appears to have established his title to the rectory and tithes. (fn. 52) In 1609 Edward, earl of Hertford, obtained a grant of the advowson, (fn. 53) but notwithstanding a caveat entered by his successor in 1619 against Richard Urmston's presentation, (fn. 54) the earl's claim was set aside. In 1636 the then vicar preferred a petition to the king complaining of the poverty of the living. A subsequent inquiry held by the diocesan elicited the fact that the vicar received but £28 1s. 4d. yearly, out of which he had to pay £5 10s., whilst the total value of the propriate rectory was £632 per annum. (fn. 55) In 1645 the rectory impropriate was sequestered from Richard Urmston, 'Papist,' for his delinquency, £50 being paid out of the issues to the vicarage of Leigh and £40 for the maintenance of the minister of the then lately-erected chapel of Chowbent in Atherton. (fn. 56) In 1650 the Parliamentary Commission returned the value of the vicarage at £16 14s. 8d., the parsonage house and demesne with leased lands at £97 11s., the tithes of the parish at £173 5s., and the small tithes at £4 5s. (fn. 57) After the Restoration the advowson and tithes were restored to the heirs general of Richard Urmston, but in 1715 fell into the hands of the commissioners for forfeited estates, (fn. 58) by whom threefourths were granted to Sir More Molyneux, knt., who in 1750 conveyed the rectory to John Probyn, esq., (fn. 59) who probably conveyed to James Scholes, gent., who presented to the vicarage in 1767 and 1784. Scholes sold the advowson in 1785 to Robert Vernon (Gwillym) Atherton, esq., whose eldest daughter and coheir married the Hon. Thomas Powys, 2nd Baron Lilford, great-grandfather of John, Lord Lilford, the present patron.
|temp.||Richard I||John, parson of Westleigh (fn. 60)||—||—|
|temp.||John||Robert Coucy (fn. 61)||Richard de Westleigh||—|
|c.||1240–70||Henry de Ulveston (fn. 62)||Isolda, prioress of Wallingwells||—|
|1275||Nicholas de Wigan (fn. 63)||—||—|
|oc.||1276||John de Urmston (fn. 64)||—||—|
|temp.||Edw. I||William de Urmston (fn. 65)||—||—|
|c.||1304||John de Urmston (fn. 66)||—||—|
|—1305||William Banastre (fn. 67)||—||—|
|oc.||1309||John de Urmston, pr. (fn. 68)||Sir Robert de Holand, knt. res. said John|
|8 July, 1318|
|20 Sept. 1326||Henry de Rixton, cl. (fn. 69)||William de Urmston||d. J. de Urmston|
|5 Jan. 1327||John de Blebury, cl||Edward III||rem. H. de Rixton|
|20 Dec. 1339||John de Holand, cl.||Sir Robt. de Holand, knt.||d. J. de Blebury|
|4 May, 1346||Thomas de Tansouere, chaplain||—||d. J. de Holand|
|5 April, 1346|
|15 Dec. 1349||Peter de Wigan, cl. (fn. 70)||The bishop by lapse||—|
|23 May, 1366||William de Chiselden, pr. (fn. 71)||Sir Robert de Holand, knt.||d. P. de Wigan|
|3 May, 1366|
|22 Apr. 1378||John de Haverbergh (fn. 72)||—||exch. benefice|
|9 Nov. 1382||William Osgodby, pr. (fn. 73)||Sir John Lovel, knt||d. John de Haverbergh|
|30 Aug. 1383||Thomas de Dalby (fn. 74)||—||exch. benefice|
|? 1386||William de Chiselden||—||—|
|18 Sept. 1396||Thomas Hyne, pr. (fn. 75)||John, Lord Lovel and Holand d. W. de Chiselden|
|31 Mar. 1410.||Ralph Repington (fn. 76)||—||exch. benefice|
|Vicars (fn. 77)|
|20 Mar. 1440||James Hall, ch. (fn. 78)||—||—|
|14 Aug. 1453||John Bothe, LL.B. (fn. 79)||Erdbury Priory||res. J. Hall|
|13 Feb. 1455||John Deping, ch. (fn. 80)||"||res. J. Bothe|
|12 May, 1456||Thurstan Percivall, ch. (fn. 81)||"||res. J. Deping|
|2 Aug. 1483||William Urmston, cl. (fn. 82)||"||d. T. Percivall|
|20 Sept. 1504||Gilbert Heaton, ch. (fn. 83)||Erdbury Priory||d. W. Urmston|
|4 June, 1526||Richard Clerke (fn. 84)||Thomas Purefey, esq.||res. G. Heaton|
|Ralph Purefey, esq.|
|24 Sept. 1557||Roger Feilden (fn. 85)||Thomas Leyland, esq.||d. R. Clerke|
|John Urmston, esq.|
|16 Oct. 1574||Robert Eaton (fn. 86)||Bishop of Chester||d. R. Feilden|
|c.||1595||Gervase Lowe (fn. 87)||—||rem. (?) R. Eaton|
|c.||1616||James Gregson (fn. 88)||—||d. G. Lowe|
|2 May, 1620||James Gatley (fn. 89)||Richard Urmston||d. J. Gregson|
|c.||1646||Bradley Hayhurst (fn. 90)||—||d. J. Gatley|
|30 Mar. 1662||Jonathan Gillibrand (fn. 91)||Thomas Mossock, &c.||—|
|9 Aug. 1685||William Barrett (fn. 92)||Anne Mossock, &c.||d. last incumbent|
|21 Aug. 1691||John Harrison||"||"|
|15 Apr. 1696||George Ward (fn. 93)||Richard Shuttleworth||"|
|14 Jan. 1734||William Farington, B.D. (fn. 94)||William Rawstorne, &c.||"|
|28 Dec. 1767||John Barlow, M.A. (fn. 95)||James Scholes, gent.||"|
|23 Dec. 1784||James Hartley||"||"|
|26 Apr. 1798||Henry William Champneys (fn. 96)||T. Powys, 1st Lord Lilford||"|
|11 Feb. 1800||Daniel Birkett (fn. 97)||"||res. last incumbent|
|24 Nov. 1821||Joseph Hodgkinson, M.A. (fn. 98)||T. 2nd Lord Lilford||d. last incumbent|
|30 Oct. 1826||Jonathan Topping||T. 3rd Lord Lilford||d. last incumbent|
|29 Dec. 1839||James Irvine, M.A. (fn. 99)||"||"|
|24 Nov. 1874||Joseph Heaton Stanning, M.A. (fn. 100)||T. 4th Lord Lilford||"|
A dispute as to the patronage occurred after the death of John de Urmston in 1326. Henry de Rixton, clerk, was admitted 20 September, 1326, upon the presentation of William de Urmston, (fn. 101) against whom, however, the king recovered his right to present, by reason of the lands of Robert de Holand being in his hands, and Rixton was removed on the nominal plea of his being a married man. (fn. 102) The king then presented John de Blebury, clerk, on 5 January, 1327. (fn. 103) Protracted proceedings ensued consequent upon Urmston's presentation. Rixton refused to give up possession, and being cited to appear at Lichfield on 4 January, 1328, to show cause why he should not be removed, failed to appear, and Blebury was again instituted on the day following. Rixton still retained possession and appealed to the court of the primate, who ordered the parties to be cited before him, but afterwards his official withdrew the inhibition issued against Blebury. Meantime the parishioners had been holding the church and rectory against Blebury. At length, on the morrow of Midsummer, 1328, the prior of Holland, by the direction of his diocesan, proceeded to Leigh and inducted Blebury, his opponents having withdrawn their opposition under threat of excommunication. (fn. 104) Upon Blebury's death John de Holand, clerk, was admitted on 20 December, 1339, being presented by Sir Robert de Holand, knt. (fn. 105) He died in Lent, 1346, when the same patron presented Thomas de Tansouere chaplain. (fn. 106)
The Clergy List of 1541–2 shows that in addition to the vicar there were four priests at Leigh, one of them being the curate. (fn. 107) The Visitation List of 1548 records eight names, but one died about that time and another was absent. The number was quickly reduced, as in other places, and only four appeared in 1554; in 1562 and later visitations the vicar and the curate were the only clergy recorded. (fn. 108)
That the changes in outward ceremonial were at once carried out in Leigh is known by the story of Geoffrey Hurst, who, associated with Simon Smith, Henry Brown, and George Eckersley, was one of the Elizabethan commissioners to 'see the queen's proceedings take place.' Henry Brown was afterwards reproached with having pulled down the crosses, roodsollar, and images of the saints which stood in the church. Thomas Leyland of Morleys, an adherent of the old order, 'did very few times come to the church, but said he was aged.' When he did appear he brought 'a little dog which he would play with all service time, and the same dog had a collar full of bells, so that the noise of them did molest and trouble others as well as himself from hearing the service.' (fn. 109)
In 1575 'great misorders' were committed in the church owing to Thomas Langley, steward of the lord of Atherton, claiming to nominate a curate, apparently in right of the former chantry. The vicar stated that 'on Innocents' Day Langley and his associates swarmed about him in the chancel like unto a swarm of bees, he being himself alone in the quire,' saying that their old curate, one Horrocks, should serve them in spite of all men; and that 'such a boy' as the vicar's nominee was not able to serve them, and should not serve, though 'he were as well learned as the Dean of Paul's.' (fn. 110) In 1590 the vicar, a 'preacher,' was resident in Cheshire, and his curate, who was 'no preacher,' does not appear to have had any assistance in a parish supposed to have 2,000 communicants. (fn. 111) In 1592 it was found that the church needed repairs; there were no perambulations. The vicar refused to wear the surplice, and the youth were not regularly instructed and catechized; the curate imitated his superior, but amendment was promised. (fn. 112) About 1611 the incumbent was described as being no preacher, but Mr. Midgeley, one of the king's preachers, had been placed there. (fn. 113)
Chapels were built at Astley in 1631, and at Atherton in 1648, both probably under the influence of the Puritan movement, and their ministers were resident in 1650. (fn. 114) These chapels, after the Restoration, continued for a long time in the hands of the Nonconformists, the parish church remaining the only place for the Established worship until the beginning of the eighteenth century. (fn. 115)
In 1836 there were in addition to the parish church sixteen places of worship, which by 1851 had increased in number to twenty-eight. At the present time there are altogether fifty-four places of worship in the ancient parish, including fourteen Church of England, four Roman Catholic, (fn. 116) and thirty-six Nonconformist.
Wesley preached in the district in the year 1748 (at Shakerley), 1749, 1751–2, and in 1774 'at a preaching-house just built at Chowbent, which was lately a den of lions, but they are all now quiet as lambs.' He preached here again in 1776 and 1781. (fn. 117) The chapel was probably Harrison Fold Chapel, built by the Presbyterians, ultimately becoming Unitarian, and now made into cottages. (fn. 118) A Sunday-school was opened in 1784 in a small house at Green Lane End. The first chapel was erected in Chapel Street, Bedford, in 1793, being included in the Bolton circuit until 1805, when the Leigh Wesleyan circuit was founded. It was rebuilt in 1873. In Pennington the first Wesleyan chapel was built in 1815 in King Street, and was known as Leigh Chapel. A new chapel, also situate in King Street, but not upon the site of the old building, was opened in 1871, when the old chapel became the Sunday-school, which has also been recently rebuilt. In Westleigh the first chapel was erected in Wigan Lane in 1850; the present chapel in 1878, at the cost of James Hayes. There are also a mission chapel at Butts, in Bedford, a Welsh Wesleyan chapel in Orchard Lane, Pennington, and a chapel at Glazebury, built in 1865.
The Baptists commenced to hold services in Pennington about 1866. A school chapel was erected in Church Street about 1876; a larger building has since been opened. They have also a small school chapel in Smallbrook Lane, Westleigh.
The Independent connexion had its origin in 1805 through the efforts of the Rev. William Roby of Manchester, who in that year began to hold frequent services in a cottage in what was known as 'The Walk'; (fn. 119) the first chapel was opened in 1814. In 1877 a new Congregational chapel was erected.
The Primitive Methodist cause commenced in 1834, with a school chapel in Bradshawgate. A new chapel was erected in 1869. This was purchased by the Corporation in 1903 for improvement purposes, and the present commodious chapel was opened in Windermere road in 1904.
The Independent Methodist connexion opened a preaching station in King Street, Pennington, about 1876, a school chapel in the Avenue in 1878, and a larger one in 1890. They have also a mission chapel in Westleigh.
The Meeting House of the Society of Friends in Twist Lane was erected in 1872–3, on the site of an earlier building. (fn. 120)
In 1614 James Starkie of Pennington, tailor, bequeathed 40s. to the vicar, Mr. Lowe, for a free grammar school 'which I pray God may be in good tyme att Leigh,' or in default for hiring a preacher. (fn. 121) Probably the school was founded shortly after. (fn. 122)
The principal ancient endowments of the grammar school are a rentcharge of £5 a year on two closes called Black Fields in Pennington, given in 1655 by John Ranicars of Atherton, and a rent-charge of £6 a year on a moiety of the corn-tithes of Pennington, bequeathed in 1681 by Richard Bradshaw of Pennington. James Wright in 1679, Randell Wright in 1686, and Henry Bolton in 1723 bequeathed small sums, the interest of which should be paid to the schoolmaster to teach seven poor children from Pennington free. (fn. 123) In 1624 Henry Travice bequeathed a rent-charge of £10 a year on lands in Croston for distributing 5s. yearly on Thursday in Passion Week amongst forty poor people of the parish. (fn. 124) In 1701 John Sale of Westleigh, cooper, gave £100 to provide white bread for distribution amongst the poor resorting to church on every Lord's Day. In 1682 Richard Hilton gave 26 acres of land in Bedford to provide for the preaching of a sermon yearly on St. Stephen's Day, the residue of the yearly rents to be distributed amongst forty poor persons who should come to hear the said sermon. (fn. 125) In 1777 the then vicar and ten other persons were empowered to erect out of moneys collected by public subscription (and the year following did so erect) a north gallery in the parish church, and an organ loft and organ, and to sell or let the pews to those requiring them, employing the income in payment of the organist's salary and keeping the gallery and organ in repair. In 1900 this fund consisted of a capital sum of £994. (fn. 126) In 1823 Rachel Prescott of Bedford bequeathed £1,200, the interest of which was to be paid yearly to aged poor of the parish of the established religion, who had received no parish relief. (fn. 127) There are also other charities of more recent creation.