A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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This township, which originally included Winstanley, has long been divided into two halves regarded as separate townships and known as Chapel End and Higher End. They form the south-west corner of the parish.
The position of Chapel End township—the eastern one—is bleak and open, and the country bare except in the south, where there are more trees and green fields about the neighbourhood of Carr Mill Dam, a fairly large sheet of water. In the middle of this lake the boundaries of three townships meet. In the north there are sandstone quarries on the highest point of the hill. There are fields where potatoes, wheat, and oats are grown, besides pastures nearer the base of the hillside. The soil is sandy, over a substratum of gravel and sandstone rock. The chapel lies near the centre of the boundary between Chapel End and Winstanley on the north. The village, with its long straggling street and stone houses, spreads from it along the road from Wigan to St. Helens, which is the principal thoroughfare. About the middle of the township it is crossed by another road which runs eastward from the chapel to Ashton in Makerfield. The south-western boundary is formed by Black Brook, near which lies Birchley; and the south-eastern by the Goyt, its affluent, on which is Chadwick Green. Two detached portions of Winstanley lie on this side. The surface rises from the two streams, a height of nearly 600 ft. being attained at the northern border. Here stands Billinge Beacon, (fn. 1) from which fine views can be obtained. The area of Chapel End is 1,161 acres, (fn. 2) and the population in 1901 numbered 2,068.
Billinge Higher End, on the north-west side of the former township, has an area of 1,571 acres. (fn. 3) The population in 1901 numbered 1,600. (fn. 4) Near the centre, by Brownlow, a height of 560 ft. is attained, the surface falling away somewhat quickly to the south-west boundary, which is formed by Black Brook, and also to the west and north. This ridge of high ground, known as Billinge Hill, is visible for miles around. There are extensive quarries of sandstone and a gritstone used for making mill-stones. In the north of the district there are one or two unimportant coal-mines. In this part the hill is not entirely bare in spite of its exposed situation, for there are plantations of small pine trees and some larger deciduous trees. The west side of the township is occupied by cultivated fields where wheat, oats, and potatoes are grown in a rich sandy soil. On the west lies Billinge Hall; to the north are Bispham Hall, Gautley, and the Great Moss. On the east a brook divides the township from Winstanley; Longshaw lies here, with the village adjacent, on the road from Billinge chapel to Upholland. The main roads are macadamized; others set with square blocks of native sandstone; they are protected by walls in the upper parts and hedges in the lower parts of the township.
A local board for Billinge was formed in 1872, (fn. 5) the district including both the townships and also part of Winstanley. This was succeeded in 1894 by an urban district council of twelve members.
The present townships of BILLINGE (Higher End and Chapel End) and WINSTANLEY were originally but one manor, rated as half a plough-land, and probably forming one of the berewicks of Newton before the Conquest, just as they constituted members of the Newton barony after it. (fn. 6) The inquest of 1212 shows that this extensive manor had long been divided into three portions, almost equal. The lord was Adam de Billinge, holding of 'ancient feoffment' by the service of 10s. rent and the finding of a judge at the Newton court. (fn. 7) The two subordinate manors were held by Simon and by Roger de Winstanley; each was considered an oxgang and a third, but the services due are not recorded. Roger's share soon became independent. Yet another tenant, Uctred Leute, held a ridding, and paid 16d. rent. (fn. 8) Adam had made grants to Cockersand Abbey and to the Hospital of Chester. (fn. 9)
No satisfactory account can be given of the descent of these manors, through lack of evidence. Adam de Knowsley had lands here in 1246; (fn. 10) and six years later he and his wife Godith seem to have had the lordship. (fn. 11) Henry de Huyton, the son of Adam, was in 1292 lord of two-thirds of the manor, the other third being Winstanley. (fn. 12) Billinge, however, did not descend with Huyton; Robert, son of Henry, becoming lord of it, either by special grant or in right of his mother. His daughters were his heirs. (fn. 13) In 1374 the manor is found to have been divided into four parts, which seem to have been held by Eves, Heaton, Billinge and Winstanley. (fn. 14) The Eves share descended to the Lathoms of Mossborough; (fn. 15) and one of the parts was later held by the Bispham family.
The Heatons also held BIRCHLEY in Chapel End, the service to the lord of Newton being 3s. 2d. rent. (fn. 16) This manor of Birchley was acquired in the 16th century by the Andertons of Lostock, a younger son settling here. (fn. 17) It is now owned by Lord Gerard. (fn. 18)
Higher End contains Bispham Hall and Billinge Hall, named after the lords of other portions of the manor. The share of the Bispham family (fn. 19) was described as a fourth part even in the 18th century, when it passed by marriage to Thomas Owen of Upholland, (fn. 20) and then by his two daughters to Holt and Edward Leigh. (fn. 21) From Holt Leigh it has descended like Orrell to Mr. Roger Leigh, of Hindley Hall, Aspull.
One of the quarters of the manor was acquired by the family of Bankes of Winstanley. (fn. 24)
Thomas and John Winstanley and Thomas Bispham, (fn. 25) as landowners of Billinge and Winstanley, contributed to a subsidy levied about 1556. The freeholders in 1600 were: Anderton of Birchley, Thomas Bispham, Richard Billinge, William Atherton, and John Wood. (fn. 26) In 1628 the landowners, contributing to the subsidy were: Roger Anderton, William Bispham, William Blackburn, Edmund Wood, and Edmund Bispham. The first and last of these, as convicted recusants, paid double. (fn. 27) Those who contributed for lands to the subsidy of 1663 were James Anderton of Birchley, Thomas Bispham, Peter Parr, Geoffrey Birchall, and Alexander Leigh. (fn. 28) In 1717 the following, as 'papists,' registered estates here: John Gerard of Ashton, John Howard, Richard Mather, and Robert Rothwell of Winstanley. (fn. 29) The principal landowners in 1787, according to the land tax returns, were William Bankes, Edward Leigh, and Sir Robert Gerard, contributing together about half of the sum total raised.
A chapel of ease was built here in the time of Henry VIII at the cost of the inhabitants, who also paid the priest's wages. (fn. 30) At the beginning of Mary's reign James Winstanley of Winstanley, 'minding utterly to destroy the same chapel for ever, out of very malice and hate that he had and bore towards the service of God, which he perceived the Queen's majesty was minded to advance and set forwards,' assembled a band of twenty 'evil-disposed persons,' and forcibly carried off the chalice and paten and other ornaments, broke the windows, turned out forms and chairs and the like furniture, and made it a barn, keeping his hay and corn there by force. (fn. 31) There was 'no preacher' at Billinge in 1590. (fn. 32) Eight years later the building was found to be out of repair; there were no books but a Bible, the curate was 'no minister, but one licensed to read.' No attempt had been made to collect the 1s. a week fine for absence from the legal services, nor were there any collections for the poor. Very few came to the communion thrice yearly; the parishioners could not say the Catechism, and many did not know the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and commandments. (fn. 33)
The Commonwealth surveyors recommended that the chapel should be made a separate parish church, but this does not seem to have been carried out. (fn. 34) The minister in charge was ejected in 1662. (fn. 35) The old building was demolished and rebuilt in 1717–18. (fn. 36) The church has been of late considerably enlarged under the direction of Mr. T. G. Jackson, R.A. The oldest part of the building dates only from 1717, and before the additions was a plain rectangle in plan, 57 ft. by 37 ft., with a small eastern apse. The elevations are very plain, divided on north and south into four bays by shallow pilasters, with a round headed window in each bay, each window subdivided by mullions into three lights. The walls are crowned with an embattled parapet, with urns at intervals on the parapet, and in the west front is the doorway, with a window of semi-Gothic style over it. All the work is very good of its kind, of wrought stone without, and the fittings of oak, while a fine brass chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Galleries put up in 1823 have now been taken away. It has lately been dedicated to St. Aidan. In 1765 the patronage was disputed, but the rector of Wigan established his right, and is the present patron. (fn. 37) The church became parochial in 1882. (fn. 38)
The curates in charge and vicars have been as follows (fn. 39) :—
|1609||Richard Bolton (fn. 40)|
|1646||John Wright (fn. 41)|
|c. 1686||Nathan Golborne (fn. 42)|
|1813||Samuel Hall, (fn. 43) M.A. (St. John's Coll. Camb.)|
|1853||Howard St. George, M.A. (T.C.D.)|
|1898||Francis Broughton Anson Miller, M.A. (Trinity Coll. Camb.)|
If Billinge has afforded some evidence, though questionable, of the existence of a vigorous Protestantism in this part of the county as early as 1550, it also affords evidence of the vitality of the ancient faith, the Andertons of Birchley sheltering the missionary priests. One of the earliest to labour here was the Jesuit Roger Anderton, who served from 1645 until his death fifty years later. (fn. 44) The present church of St. Mary was built in 1828. A manuscript preserved in the presbytery contains the Forma Vivendi of Richard Rolle of Hampole. (fn. 45)