A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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This township was separated from the parish of Croston in 1793 by an Act of Parliament. (fn. 1) The church and village lie at the southern end of some slightly rising ground in the level tract between the Douglas, flowing north, and the former Martin Mere, while the hall (1798) and park, the principal features of the township, occupy the greater part of the elevation. (fn. 2) Another portion, similarly a little higher than the general level, lies to the north-west, and is called Holmes Wood. (fn. 3) The area of the parish is 3,119 acres, (fn. 4) and the population in 1901 numbered 782, mostly employed in agriculture.
The principal road is that leading north from Ormskirk. It passes through the picturesque village, and thence along the east side of the park. The Old Hall lies on the east side of the road, one branch from which goes eastward past the church and railway station and crosses the Douglas by White Bridge, while another branch goes north-west to Holmes Wood and Crossens. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Company's railway from Liverpool to Preston passes through the south-east corner of the township and has a station by the Douglas. A branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal also goes north, to the east of the main road.
The village, one of the prettiest in South Lancashire, is much resorted to in the summer by excursionists from the neighbouring towns. Many old cottages remain, one with a picturesque external stone staircase being dated 1676. Another bears the date 1692.
The soil is sand, loam and moss overlying sand. The land is occupied as follows: Arable, 1,742 acres; permanent grass, 772; woods and plantations, 257. (fn. 5) Wheat, oats, rye and potatoes are grown.
From a plan of part of the south end of the township in 1763 it appears that a large rounded field called the Great Croft occupied the centre of the village; a road went round it, joined by numerous others at different points. The Cockpit was to the east of it, the church standing further to the east. The Whitefields lay to the south of the church. Three fields were named Guild Heys. (fn. 8)
The manor was a member of the Penwortham fee, and Richard Bussel about 1150–60 gave to St. Werburgh's Abbey, Chester, one plough-land in RUFFORD in alms, which the abbot was holding in 1212. (fn. 9) Somewhat later one Richard Fitton (fn. 10) held it of the abbot by a rent of 5s., and gave a moiety to his daughter Maud, who married William de Hesketh. (fn. 11) The other moiety went to another daughter, Anabil or Amabel, who married Edmund de Lea, and in 1285 the two daughters and their husbands were in possession. (fn. 12) The grant to Richard Fitton may have been for life or a term of years, for in 1292 the Abbot of St. Werburgh's claimed Rufford, described now as 4 oxgangs of land, (fn. 13) and in the following year made a fresh agreement with William and Maud de Hesketh and Edmund and Anabil de Lea, by which the annual service was raised to 40s., (fn. 14) at which it continued down to the Dissolution. (fn. 15) This rent is now paid by the lord of Rufford to the Dean and chapter of Chester. (fn. 16) Anabil appears to have had no issue, and in 1318, as Anabil Fitton, she settled her moiety of the manor of Rufford upon John de Hesketh, (fn. 17) who had inherited the other moiety from his father, and thus became sole lord.
William de Hesketh, whose parentage is unknown, (fn. 18) was apparently a 'landless man,' the possessions of the family in Rufford, Great Harwood and Tottleworth being acquired from his wife, Maud Fitton, (fn. 19) or by purchase. He had two sons, the above-named John, who succeeded, and Adam. (fn. 20) The former, in 1323, made a settlement of the manor of Rafford and two-thirds of the manor of Harwood, the remainders being to his children—William, Alice, Katherine and Margaret. (fn. 21) He is described later as Sir John de Hesketh, (fn. 22) and was succeeded by his son William, also a knight. (fn. 23)
In 1339 Sir William obtained the king's charter for a weekly market and annual fair at Rufford; free warren also was allowed. (fn. 24) He fought at Crecy in 1346, and for his services in France was exempted from serving on juries, &c. (fn. 25) He was knight of the shire in 1360, (fn. 26) and was soon afterwards followed by a son or grandson Thomas, (fn. 27) and he by a son Nicholas, (fn. 28) from which time the descent of the manor is clear. Nicholas died in 1416 holding Rufford of the Abbot and convent of Chester in socage by a rent of 40s., also the manor of Harwood and a messuage in Rishton. His son and heir Thomas was ten years old. (fn. 29)
Thomas Hesketh (fn. 30) died in 1458 holding the same estate and leaving as heir a son Robert, thirty-one years of age. (fn. 31) Robert, married to Alice daughter of Robert Booth in 1454, (fn. 32) died in 1491, (fn. 33) leaving a son Thomas, who, in default of legitimate issue, (fn. 34) bequeathed his manors to his natural son Robert, with remainders to Charles and Ellen, brother and sister of Robert. (fn. 35) Thomas Hesketh appears to have added very largely to the hereditary possessions of his family, and died at Rufford on 14 August 1523. (fn. 36)
Robert Hesketh, afterwards knighted, thus succeeded to Rufford, and, after defeating the claim put forward by the heirs-at-law, (fn. 37) died in February 1540–1 holding much the same possessions as his father, but Rufford was now held of the king, 'by reason of the surrender of the Abbot of Chester,' the ancient rent of 40s. being payable. The heir was his son Thomas, then fourteen years old. (fn. 38) Thomas Hesketh was made a knight at the coronation of Queen Mary in 1553, (fn. 39) and he and his family are stated to have adhered to the Roman Catholic religion for some time after the accession of Elizabeth. (fn. 40) He died in June 1588, leaving a son Robert, then about forty years old, (fn. 41) who had in 1567 been contracted to marry Mary daughter of Sir George Stanley of Cross Hall in Lathom, (fn. 42) and who died in 1620, being then succeeded by a son Thomas, fifty years of age. (fn. 43) In the inquisitions for Sir Thomas and Robert the manor of Rufford was found to be held by a rent of 5s.
Thomas is stated to have died in 1646 without issue, and was succeeded by his brother Robert, who, when about eighty years of age, was threatened with sequestration by the Parliamentary authorities in 1652, though he protested he had ever been 'a most perfect and firm assistant to the utmost of his ability to the Parliament and their just and honourable undertakings.' (fn. 44) His son Robert had in 1649 asked leave to compound for his estate, his 'delinquency' being that he had adhered to the forces raised against the Parliament. (fn. 45) A pedigree was recorded in 1664, showing that the younger Robert's son and heir, Thomas Hesketh, was then seventeen years of age, (fn. 46) having succeeded to Rufford. The hall in 1666 had nineteen hearths to be taxed; it was occupied by John Molyneux. (fn. 47) The manor has since descended regularly in the male line to Sir Thomas George Fermor Hesketh, bart., the present lord, who resides at Easton Neston, Northamptonshire. (fn. 48) The estates have recently been offered for sale and considerable portions have been disposed of.
RUFFORD OLD HALL is situated on the north side of the village between the highway on the west and the canal on the cast. The site was originally far more sccluded and sheltered than at present, both the canal and the road being comparatively modern, dating only from the latter part of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 49)
The house is usually stated to have been built round three sides of a quadrangle, the fourth side, facing north, being open; but the west wing, which contained the family apartments, has completely disappeared and a new east wing was built in the 17th century. The great hall, however, which forms the south wing, remains substantially as constructed at the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century, and is an admirable specimen of the timber construction of the period.
No traces remain of the west wing, which is said to have been burned down, (fn. 50) and its size and extent can only be conjectured. It is likewise uncertain whether the east or kitchen wing was of equal size to the present 17th-century brick building, or was smaller in extent and only occupied the space now covered by the rooms immediately to the east of the great hall, which underwent a very drastic 'restoration,' or were practically rebuilt, in 1821. It seems most likely that this latter is the correct reading of the building, which, as originally designed, would be H-shaped in plan. The great chimney in what is now the entrance hall of the 17th-century east wing is sometimes said to be the original kitchen fireplace, but its position in regard to the doors in the screens would hardly seem to support this theory, and externally it bears all the characteristics of the later work.
The house was probably erected by Thomas Hesketh, who died in 1523, but the only portion of the original building now left is the great hall, a fine apartment 46 ft. 6 in. long by 22 ft. 6 in. wide with open-timbered roof, the side walls, which are of timber on a low stone base, measuring 18 ft. to the wall-plate. The high table was at the west end of the room, but the floor, which is flagged, is the same level throughout, the only mark of the dais being a wood seat attached to the wall between the two doors which opened into the west wing and the fine carved canopy above. The canopy projects about 5 ft. and the line of the front is carried up to the roof, forming a 'secret chamber' behind in the gable, to which there are now no visible means of approach. (fn. 51)
The screens occupy the usual position at the east end, the passage-way being separated from the hall proper by 'speres' standing out 4 ft. from the walls, and the space between, 14 ft. in width, occupied by a movable oak screen 7 ft. wide. There is no minstrels' gallery, the speres going up to support a moulded cambered tie-beam. The roof of the hall between the screen and the canopy is divided into five equal bays by four hammer-beam roof principals, the spaces being plastered between the spans and filled in with shaped wind braces, forming large quatrefoils. All the timber work in the hall is richly moulded and carved, or otherwise ornamented, the hammer-beams terminating in figures of angels holding shields. The posts forming the speres are octagonal on plan, standing directly on the floor, and are apparently cut out of two oak trees of slightly different girth, one being 24 in. and the other 20 in. in diameter. They are moulded and panelled their full height on each face with small trefoil-headed panels and embattled at the top. The tie-beams to the roof principals have also embattled mouldings, but the detail is such as might belong to any period between the end of the 15th and the middle of the 16th century. In the passage behind the screen are five doorways originally opening to the kitchen wing, one only of which is now in use, the others being made up. The door heads, which are slightly arched, are elaborately carved with foliage patterns, and there is a moulded and embattled string above running the full length of the passage. The wall over is of timber construction with quatrefoil panelling. The screen is a very fine and massive piece of work, panelled on each side, the panels being elaborately carved with quatrefoils in circles and with other late Gothic ornament in the cornice and other parts. On each side at the top is the boldly projecting figure of an angel holding a shield, that on the west side bearing the arms of Fitton and that facing east those of Banastre of Bank. In later times apparently the upper part of the screen has been enriched with three tall carved finials of somewhat bizarre and oriental character, but harmonizing in a grotesque kind of way with the late Gothic ornament around them, though altering in a great degree the general appearance of the whole. Between the posts and the walls the speres are panelled in oak, the upper panels having pierced quatrefoils.
At the north-west corner of the hall is a bay window 10 ft. 6 in. wide and 10 ft. in depth immediately to the north of the high table, with nine square-headed lights divided by a transom, and there are two square-headed windows, each of four lights, on the north side placed high in the wall, their sills being 8 ft. above the floor. The north wall is the original timber-framed one set on a stone base 2 ft. high, with plain panels between the wall posts, the lower portion being entirely of plaster. Above the windows, however, runs a line of panelling with arched heads and late Gothic ornament, which, together with the hammer-beams and the embattled and moulded wall-plate above, gives a very rich appearance to the room as the eye travels upward. This concentration of ornament in the upper part is indeed one of the reasons for the exceedingly good architectural effect of Rufford Hall, and it is again carried out at the west end, where the plain wood and plaster work behind the high table gives way first to the square panelling and curve of the canopy, then to the moulded and embattled tie-beam, and lastly to the gable above with its elaborate diagonally set quatrefoils. The door heads, like those in the screens, are also richly carved, giving the requisite relief to the otherwise plain lower portion of the wall.
The south side of the hall may have been rebuilt at a later time, but is of timber construction at each side of the fireplace, though very much repaired with deal. (fn. 52) The stone fireplace and chimney would probably replace an old central brazier, though the spacing of the roof principals does not actually suggest a louvre, and the date of the hall is rather late for that means of heating to have been originally employed. Externally the chimney is a substantial one of stone with deeply moulded base and four square stages diminishing in width above, and the wall is built of stone some distance on each side. The present glazed lantern belongs only to the year of restoration (1821), but that a lantern or louvre formerly occupied the same position is shown by a roughdrawn view of the hall on an 18th-century map. Whether this was the original louvre it is, however, impossible to tell. The determination of the date at which the hall was built is rendered difficult by the presence together of a louvre and the crest and badge of the Stanley family—the eagle and child carved on the roof, and the legs of Man in one of the spandrels of the bay window. (fn. 53) The use of the Stanley crest and badge could hardly have occurred at Rufford before the marriage of Robert son of Sir Thomas Hesketh to Mary daughter of Sir George Stanley of Cross Hall about 1568, which would place the building of the hall, if the carvings are contemporary, in the latter half of the 16th century. They may, however, very well be later ornament added to the old work, possibly at the time when the south side was rebuilt and the fireplace added. The arms of the Earl of Derby surrounded by a garter and with helm, crest and mantling, are in the glass of the bay window. In the reconstruction of the south wall the windows appear to have been lengthened, the sills being lowered, and the stone base was apparently raised two courses, increasing its height to 3 ft. 8 in. (fn. 54)
Externally the great hall has been a good deal restored and the oak pegs made rather conspicuous against the black timber by being picked out in white. A plaster cove runs along the north front under the eaves and round the bay window, which is hipped back to the main roof. The spaces between the windows are filled in with quatrefoils and the principal uprights have shallow wooden buttresses with sets-off many times repeated. The roof, together with those of the rest of the house, is covered with stone slates. The west gable, formerly an internal feature, is composed of simple uprights and cross pieces without a barge-board, and though severely constructional has a good effect. Externally there is little of the elaborate detail seen inside the hall, almost the only ornament introduced being in the spandrels of the door to the screens, which are carved with grotesque animals. The windows have diamond quarries, but the general effect of the north front is somewhat spoiled by the rebuilt gabled wing at the east end, which was carried out in a style meant to match that of the hall but at a rather unfortunate period. The painting of the old work has, moreover, unfortunately been carried out to harmonize with the new, in which the windows are large and ugly and the gable pierced by glazed quatrefoil openings at each end. On the south and east sides the rebuilt portion of the house is faced with red brick and has no particular distinction. In plan and internal arrangement it is completely modern, though on the first floor the drawing-room, which runs across the whole length of the wing with windows north and south, probably occupies the position of a similar room in the original building, the open-timber roof of which has been retained. This room is 44 ft. long by 17 ft. wide with a bay window at the south end. The roof is divided into six bays by five principals with embattled tie-beams which appear to be of 16th-century date, but the moulded wall posts belong to the early 19th-century rebuilding. The drawingroom contains a number of pieces of 17th-century oak furniture, some of which, however, have suffered at the hands of restorers. There are also other pieces of furniture of the same period in other parts of the house, which is now occupied by Mr. Robert Rankin.
The north-east 17th-century wing is 52 ft. long by 28 ft. in width, with a smaller wing running eastward, 40 ft. long by 18 ft. wide, containing the kitchen and scullery, to the north of which again larders have been added. The front facing west to the courtyard is a plain design in brick, with squareheaded casement windows and central doorway with semi-domed hood. It is of two stories, with an upper floor in the roof lit on the west side by a series of four dormer gables. Over the door is a stone with the initials of Thomas Hesketh and the date 1662. The front is completely covered with ivy, but at the back, facing the yard, the original 17th-century brickwork is seen, and the elevation, broken by two staircase towers and the chimney of the entrance hall, is exceedingly picturesque. The small 2 in. bricks have weathered a charming colour and are relieved by stone quoins, while the original stone mullioned windows are retained in the tower. The old staircase between the entrance hall and the kitchen is itself of no particular interest and was superseded by the modern one built in 1821 in the new part of the house. Each staircase is marked externally by an embattled tower, but the modern stairs stop at the first floor, the tower merely screening a lantern light. (fn. 55) The great chimney is carried up also in the form of a higher embattled tower in conjunction with that of the older staircase, the whole forming what must be considered one of the most pleasing examples of brick architecture in this part of the county.
The house was abandoned as a residence about 1798. After that date it was 'for a time occupied by a tenant farmer, and the banqueting hall used as a village school,' (fn. 56) until it was repaired and refitted in 1821 for the reception of the eldest son of Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh, who lived there till his succession to the estates in 1842.
The new hall is a plain two-story brick building painted white with classic colonnade, erected in the 18th century, some time before 1763, (fn. 57) but very much enlarged in 1798–9 by the addition on the north side of what is now the main part of the house, with classic portico and large entrance hall. Some of the spout heads bear the initials of Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh and the date 1811, and one is dated 1822. Architecturally the building is without interest.
The landowners in 1628 were Thomas Hesketh, Sir Richard Hoghton, Robert and Cuthbert Hesketh. (fn. 58) The estates of Richard Salvage of Rufford were confiscated and sold by the Parliament in 1652. (fn. 59)
The church of ST. MARY is situated on the east side of the village and is a modern building of red brick and stone erected in 1869 in the Gothic style of the day, replacing an older chapel built in 1736, (fn. 60) then demolished. Of the original and still earlier chapel which is known to have existed in the 14th century no traces remain, with the exception, perhaps, of two moulded capitals, now on either side of the porch, which may have been the responds of a later chancel arch built in the 16th century, and the monumental fragments hereafter mentioned. The form and appearance of the first building and the position of the chancel—apparently a private mortuary chapel— made by Sir Thomas Hesketh in 1588 are unknown. (fn. 61) The 18th-century chapel was a plain parallelogram with two tiers of windows and west door, with an octagonal bell-turret on a square base over the west gable.
The present building consists of a chancel 29 ft. by 19 ft. 6 in., with north chapel 13 ft. 6 in. by 10 ft., and south vestry and organ chamber; nave 60 ft. by 23 ft., with north and south aisles 8 ft. 6 in. wide, west porch and tower with short stone spire at the west end of the north aisle. The chapel north of the chancel is called the Hesketh chapel and contains a recumbent marble figure of Sir Thomas Hesketh (d. 1872). The Hesketh vault is below the chancel.
The building having no pretensions to antiquity is itself uninteresting and architecturally it has little of the appearance of a village church. It contains, however, an alabaster slab and other fragments belonging to the first church and some fittings from the 18th-century structure. The slab is to the memory of Thomas Hesketh (d. 1458) and Margaret his wife and is 6 ft. long by 3 ft. wide and 6 in. thick. It was until lately in the floor of the nave lying north and south, in four pieces, but was removed to the Hesketh chapel in 1907. It has incised on it the figure of a man in armour with his lady and underneath the figures of eleven children, together with the coat of arms of Hesketh. The inscription runs round the slab, 'Domine miserere animabus Thome Hesketh et Margerie | uxoris ejus qui quidem Thomas | obijt xviij die mensis Decembris ao dni mcccclviij: a litera dominicali.' At the bottom are the names of eleven children—Robert, William, Margery, Thomas, John, Hugh, William, Geoffrey, Richard, Henry and Nicholas.
In 1908 two brasses, one with the figure of a knight, 18 in. high, and the other with an inscription to the memory of Sir Robert Hesketh (d. 1541) and Dame Grace his wife (d. 1543), were found in the new hall and were placed in the church. (fn. 62)
In the Hesketh chapel is preserved an alabaster dog, lately brought from the Old Hall, no doubt belonging to a former monument in the original structure. At the east end of the wall of the south aisle, low down under a window, is an alabaster panel, 1 ft. 9 in. square, with moulded border, containing a shield of arms of twelve quarters, (fn. 63) with helm, crest (garb) and mantling, a good piece of heraldic carving of 16th-century date, possibly from the tomb of Sir Thomas Hesketh in the chancel (1588).
In the north aisle is a marble tablet to Sir Thomas Hesketh (d. 1778) with a verse by the poet Cowper, his wife's cousin, and at the east end of the south aisle a monument by Flaxman to Sophia Hesketh (d. 1817). In the vestry is preserved the board with the royal arms, 1763, and a brass chandelier in the nave is of the same date. The font now in use is a handsome modern one of red granite, a Masonic gift in memory of Sir Thomas Hesketh (d. 1872), but the 18th-century hexagonal font is still preserved, with a wooden canopy, round the bottom of which is the inscription: 'NI[PS]ON ANOMHMA MH MONAN O[PS]IN.'
The origin of the chapel of St. Mary at Rufford is unknown. As the manor was granted to a monastery it is possible that an oratory of some kind existed from early times, tides and floods over the low-lying land cutting the villagers off from the rest of the world. (fn. 64) In 1346 Sir William de Hesketh obtained the king's licence to alienate in mortmain 200 acres of land, &c., in Rufford, Croston and Mawdesley for the endowment of the chantry in the chapel. (fn. 65) The founder, according to the report of 1547, ordained that there should be three priests there, each having his special lands, to sing, celebrate, and minister sacraments as need might require. (fn. 66) Sir William and his descendants were the patrons. (fn. 67) An indulgence was granted to benefactors in 1352 by Hugh, Archbishop of Damascus, then visiting Rufford. (fn. 68) and there are some later notices. (fn. 69) In 1547 the commissioners reported that the three priests resided and celebrated according to their foundation, and the chapel seems to have been decently furnished. (fn. 70) In addition Bartholomew Hesketh had given lands of the value of £10 for the endowment of a stipendiary priest to say mass and teach the scholars of the town of Rufford. (fn. 71) The place was thus well supplied before the confiscation of the endowments by the Crown. The Heskeths were buried in the chapel, and one of the tombs is in the present church. (fn. 72)
The chapel may have continued in use after the Reformation. About 1610 it had a minister, Mr. Bradshaw, who was 'a preacher' (fn. 73); but in 1650 there was no provision for a minister 'save the benevolence of his auditory and the inhabitants there.' (fn. 74) The registers begin in 1670. Bishop Gastrell about 1720 found that the income was £22 13s., of which £20 was paid by the rector of Croston, (fn. 75) who appointed the curate in charge. The chapel in 1793 became a parish church, endowed with the tithes of Rufford and Ulnes Walton, though the latter township remains within Croston. The rector of Rufford was to pay a fifth part of the rent of £45 14s. 4d. payable to the Crown by the rector of Croston. The patronage and the benefice were given by the Rev. Robert Master, patron and rector of Croston, to his son Edward, who in 1818 sold the advowson to the trustees of Le Gendre Starkie of Huntroyd, (fn. 76) and it has since descended with this estate, Mr. E. A. Le Gendre Starkie being the patron.
|oc. 1610–19||Lawrence Bradshaw (fn. 77)|
|oc. 1632||Thomas Kirkham (fn. 78)|
|oc. 1650||—Woods (fn. 79)|
|oc. 1671||Thomas Thompson (fn. 80)|
|oc. 1674||James Thompson|
|1676||Richard Croston, B.A. (Emmanuel Coll., Camb.)|
|1684||Edward Atherton (fn. 81)|
|1706||John Wright, B.A. (fn. 82)|
|1734||John Gray, B.A.|
|1752||Thomas Barker, M.A. (Fellow of Brasenose Coll., Oxf.)|
|1757||John Kynaston, M.A. (Fellow of Brasenose Coll., Oxf.)|
|1758||Samuel Smith (fn. 83)|
|1793||Robert Master, D.D. (rector of Croston)|
|1798||Edward Master, B.A. (fn. 84) (Balliol Coll., Oxf.)|
|1835||Edward Moorhouse Hall, M.A. (fn. 85) (Lincoln Coll., Oxf.)|
|1843||Thomas Foster Chamberlain, M.A. (fn. 86) (Christ's Coll., Camb.)|
|1868||James Frederick Hogg-Goggin (fn. 87)|
|1905||William George Procter, B.A. (fn. 88) (Queens' Coll., Camb.); d. 1911.|
The school founded by Thomas Hesketh in 1523 was destroyed with the chantries. Another was built in 1712. (fn. 89)
This parish had formerly some special benefactions, but they have been lost. (fn. 90) It shares in the Lathom, Layfield and Crooke and Master charities, accounts of which are given in the history of Croston. (fn. 91) A board with a list of benefactors has recently been found by the rector and again set up. It reads:—