A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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'RELIGIOUS HOUSES: Introduction', in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 102-103. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

In this section



No religious house arose in the poor and remote districts which in the twelfth century became the county of Lancaster, until nearly thirty years after the Norman Conquest. Eleven monasteries were established before 1200, but more than half of these were cells of houses outside the county. The alien priory of Lancaster was founded about 1094 and followed the Benedictine rule, which as yet was the only one introduced into England. Cells of the great Benedictine abbeys of Evesham and Durham were established at Penwortham and Lytham in the reigns of Stephen and Richard I respectively. The only independent house of the order in the county, the priory of Upholland, was founded as late as 1319.

The Cluniac adaptation of the Benedictine rule was represented by the small cell of Lenton Priory at Kersal, which dated from Stephen's reign. Of the three Cistercian houses Furness was the earliest, having been founded at Tulketh near Preston in 1124, and removed to Furness in 1127; Wyresdale existed for a few years only in the reign of Richard I; the monks of Stanlaw Abbey in Cheshire were transferred to Whalley in 1296. There were four houses of Austin Canons; the priory of Conishead was founded (at first as a hospital) before 1181, the priories of Burscough and Cartmel about 1190, and Cockerham Priory, a cell of Leicester Abbey, about 1207. Two other houses of regular canons followed the Premonstratensian or Norbertine rule; Cockersand Abbey was founded as a hospital before 1184, and the priory of Hornby, a cell of Croxton Abbey, before 1212. The total number of houses was thus fourteen. The Cistercian abbey of Merevale kept one or two monks at Altcar, but this did not rank as a cell. (fn. 1) No preceptory of the Templars or the Hospitallers existed in the county. Both, however, held lands there, and to the latter belonged the hospital of Stidd or Longridge, founded in the twelfth century, and dependent on their preceptory at Newlands in Yorkshire. Besides this there was a hospital for lepers at Preston, dating from the twelfth century, and at Lancaster one for lepers and destitute poor founded about 1190; small almshouses were established there and at Lathom in 1485 and 1500. (fn. 2)

In the thirteenth century the Dominican Friars settled at Lancaster, the Friars Minor at Preston, and the Austin Friars at Warrington. A college of secular priests was founded in the chapel of Upholland in 1310, but dissolved nine years later; the church of Manchester became collegiate in 1421.

It may be noted here that besides these regular and ordinary forms of the religious life, Lancashire had also from time to time its hermits and anchorites. Hugh Garth, the founder of Cockersand Abbey, was a hermit. (fn. 3) Kersal Cell grew out of a hermitage. William the Hermit, of Heaton, near Lancaster, is mentioned about 1280. (fn. 4) In 1366 John 'dictus le Hermit de Singleton' was licensed to have Divine service in the chapel at the foot of the bridge of Ribble for three years. (fn. 5) John of Gaunt, in 1372, granted to Brother Richard de Goldbourne, hermit, the custody of the hermitage of the chapel of St. Martin in Chatburn with its lands and other property, as the hermits, his predecessors, held it. (fn. 6) The 'hermit of Lancaster' is mentioned in 1403. (fn. 7) Five oaks were given in 1406 to Thurstan de Oakenshaw, hermit, to repair Warrington bridge. (fn. 8) The life of the hermit, though further withdrawn from the throng of men, was more open to the world than that led by the other type of solitary, the anchorite or recluse, whose voluntary prison usually adjoined or formed part of a church. Brother Richard Pekard, recluse of the Dominican Friary at Lancaster, was licensed to hear confessions in 1390. (fn. 9) This form of solitude was, as a rule, the only one possible for women, and several recorded recluses in Lancashire were anchoresses. Henry, duke of Lancaster, made permanent provision for one at Whalley, but after several of them had escaped into the world, the hermitage, as it was loosely called, was dissolved in 1437. (fn. 10) In 1493 the bishop of Lichfield issued an injunction to the abbot of Cockersand to include Agnes Booth or Shepherd, a nun of Norton Priory, who wished to lead the solitary life at the chapel of Pilling. (fn. 11)

The religious houses of Lancashire, with the one great exception of Furness, have few points of contact with general history until the eve of the Dissolution, and only one produced a chronicle. Their local influence, excluding those which were mere cells of external houses, was extensive, especially in the north of the county, where the people were poor and Lancaster and Preston the only urban centres. Furness, Cartmel, and Whalley exercised feudal lordship over wide tracts of country; Burscough and Furness were lords of the small boroughs of Ormskirk and Dalton. A considerable number of the churches of the county were in the patronage of the religious houses. Lytham Priory and others had trouble with neighbouring lords, but these turned on disputed claims to land and common rights, rather than any matter of religion. There are some records of disputes between the various houses; these, however, do not seem to have had anything to do with jealousy between the different orders. Furness naturally resented the foundation of Conishead so close to itself, and on land under its own lordship, but the quarrel was soon composed. Difficulties arose between the former house and Lancaster Priory over their respective fishing rights in the Lune, and between Lancaster Priory and the abbeys of Cockersand and Whalley, in regard to tithes and parochial rights over lands held by those abbeys in the parish of Poulton, whose church belonged to the priory. These disputes, too, were ultimately settled by legal or friendly arrangement.


  • 1. See under Altcar. The abbey and nunnery of Chester, Birkenhead Priory, and Dieulacres Abbey had also lands in the county. Nostell Priory held the advowson of Winwick for a time.
  • 2. Lanes. Chantries, 221. Lord Monteagle, who died in 1523, made provision for a small hospital at Hornby, but this was never carried out.
  • 3. See p. 154.
  • 4. Lanc. Church (Chet. Soc.), 278.
  • 5. Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, vol. 2, fol. 13.
  • 6. Misc. Bks. (Duchy of Lanes.), vol. 13, fol. 74b. Goldbourne was to pray for the souls of the duke and his progenitors.
  • 7. Cal. Pat. 1401-5, p. 225.
  • 8. Wylie, Hist. of Hen. IV, iv, 144.
  • 9. Lich. Epis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 126b.
  • 10. See p. 137.
  • 11. Chet. Soc. Publ. (Old Ser.), lvii (2), p. 30.