Townships: Little Woolton

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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'Townships: Little Woolton', A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, (London, 1907), pp. 117-120. British History Online [accessed 12 June 2024].

. "Townships: Little Woolton", in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, (London, 1907) 117-120. British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024,

. "Townships: Little Woolton", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, (London, 1907). 117-120. British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024,

In this section


This township contains 1,388 acres. (fn. 1) In 1901 the population numbered 1,091.

The greater part consists of level country under mixed cultivation, having an open and pleasant aspect. A smaller portion on the west lies on the slope of a ridge, which rises to 285 ft. above sea-level. The village of Gateacre, which lies partly in Much Woolton, occupies the south-west side, and is nicely situated in the midst of trees and gardens. The roads are good, and hedged with hawthorn trimly kept. Altogether the township wears the prosperous, respectable look of a district removed from the smoke and murk of the city, with its feet set on the edge of the country. Lee is to the east of Gateacre, and Brettargh Holt, or the Holt, to the north-east, across the brook. The greater part of the township lies on the pebble beds of the bunter series of the new red sandstone; the westernmost portion and the higher ground near the Holt are on the upper mottled sandstones of that series.

There are numerous roads and cross roads, leading chiefly to Liverpool by Childwall, or Wavertree, or Toxteth. Another road runs through the township, turning round the Lee, to Halewood Green. Gateacre gives its name to a station on the Southport branch of the Cheshire Lines Committee's railway, which crosses the centre of the township. Netherley lies on the eastern border, and gives a name to the brook which bounds the township at that side, and to the bridge on the Tarbock Road crossing this brook.

Widnes corporation have a pumping station here.

A local board was formed in 1867, (fn. 2) and the township has now an urban district council of nine members.

In the extreme western corner of the township, serving as mere stones, are the ancient Calderstones, with 'ring and cup' marks. (fn. 3) In the map of Elizabeth's time, made to illustrate the dispute as to Wavertree and Allerton boundary, these stones are called Caldway stones, Roger stones, or dojer stones; a Roger stone is marked separately to the south-west of the Calder stones. (fn. 4)

The ancient water-mill of the Hospitallers has disappeared, but a house called Peck Mill House, supposed to have been connected with it, survived till the beginning of last century. (fn. 5) Dam meadows and Damcroft are names of fields near Naylor's Bridge, where also are the Beanbridge meadows. Other notable field names are Monk's meadow (west of Lee Park), Causeway field, Hemp meadow, Tanhouse meadow, Shadows, Winamoor, and Creacre. Coxhead farm is of ancient date; an old form of the spelling is Cocksshed.


The history of LITTLE WOOLTON is bound up with that of its neighbour, Much Woolton, except for the time, about a century, during which it was in the possession of the monks of Stanlaw. Roger de Lacy, constable of Chester and lord of the fee of Widnes, after granting Little Woolton to his uncle (Brother Robert) and the Hospitallers in the time of Richard I, (fn. 6) changed his mind, took it from them and gave it to the abbey of Stanlaw, founded by his father in 1178. The charter, granted about the year 1204, states that Roger gives the monks Little Woolton in alms as freely as possible, quit from all earthly service and secular exaction, for the souls of himself, his parents, wife, and others. As a consequence, he ordered his seneschal and bailiffs to make no claim on the men of the place for any service or aid. (fn. 7) King John confirmed this arrangement, and in 1205 issued his precept to the sheriff of Lancashire not to trouble the monks of Stanlaw with respect to this manor, but to levy all dues and services to which it had been liable from other lands of Roger de Lacy. (fn. 8)

There were some earlier tenants within the township holding by charter of the lords of Widnes. One of them, Gerald de Sutton, sold his land (four oxgangs) to the monks for 11 marks, one mark to be paid to his son Robert. John, constable of Chester, granted the 'vill' of Brettargh to William Suonis, with all easements of the vill of Little Woolton, and pannage, rendering yearly 18d. to the Hospitallers. (fn. 9) John de Sutton afterwards held it, and disputes which afterwards arose were settled by an agreement that Brettargh within its known bounds should be relinquished by the monks, but that a strip of land between that place and Woolton should be a common pasture, rights of pannage and other easements to remain as before. Robert son of John de Sutton gave all his land in Hasaliswallehurst to the monks as well as 2d. rent, which he had received for a ridge in the croft by Woolton mill, and Hugh [de Haydock] and Christiana his wife released all their right in the same land. (fn. 10) Henry son of Cutus de Denton and Maud his wife, daughter of Richard the Mason, relinquished all their claim to the latter's land called Whitefield, held of the abbot; and John son of Roger de Denton concurred. (fn. 11) In 1278 Edmund son of Richard de Woolton and John de Denton sued the abbot and Alan son of Robert for a messuage and 15 acres of land in Little Woolton. (fn. 12)

About 1275 the Hospitallers revived their claim to Little Woolton, and after some negotiation the prior promised the abbot £100 for the surrender of it. Subsequently at Lancaster, in 1292, Peter de Haugham, prior of the Hospitallers, sued Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, whom Gregory, abbot of Stanlaw, had called to warrant, for a messuage, a mill, two plough-lands, and 100 acres of pasture there, and the earl acknowledged the prior's right. Thus, 'by the consent, or it may more truly be said by the compulsion,' of the earl, the manor passed from the monks to the Hospitallers, and remained with the latter till 1540. (fn. 13) The manor has since descended in the same way as Much Woolton to the marquis of Salisbury.

The priors of St. John were involved in several suits. In 1306 William son of Henry de Huyton was charged with cutting trees within Woolton, and the prior charged Henry de Huyton with entering his wood by force of arms and cutting and carrying off trees. (fn. 14) A curious case arose out of the forfeiture of Sir Robert de Holand in 1322. It appeared on inquiry that the Hospitallers held the manor of Alice de Lacy, daughter and heir of the earl of Lincoln, in pure and perpetual alms without rendering any other service; its yearly value was 23 marks. William de Tothale, formerly prior, with the consent of the chapter, had demised the manor to one Roger de Fulshaw for life, at a rent of 20 marks. The tenant transferred his right to Robert de Holand, and gave his charter back to the prior, who, without consulting the chapter or troubling to make out a new charter, passed it to Robert de Holand in the name of seisin. Roger died in 1317, when, of course, the charter ceased to have effect, but Robert continued to hold the manor during the lifetime of William de Tothale, who died in 1318, his successor, Richard Paveley, and the then prior (Thomas L'Archer), without any further grant or sanction of the chapter. (fn. 15) It does not appear that this revelation made any difference; the manor was in the king's hands, and in the next reign was restored to Maud de Holand, widow of Sir Robert; and in 1330 the prior took action against her in regard to it. (fn. 16)

In 1324 Roger son of John le Walker, of Tarbock, and Avice his wife secured by fine three messuages, 80 acres of land, and 12 acres of meadow, which in default of heirs of Avice were to remain to William de Huyton and his heirs. The story is not clear, (fn. 17) but the disputes are of interest as introducing the Brettarghs of Brettargh Holt. William de Stockleigh, in 1355, surrendered to Avice de Brettargh—apparently the daughter of Avice, who was the wife of Roger le Walker—his life interest in a third part of the manor of Huyton, and in 1358 an agreement as to a third part of this manor was made between William de Walton and Avice and William de Brettargh, the latter renouncing their title in favour of Walton. (fn. 18)

From 1358 onwards several persons bearing the name of William de Brettargh occur as witnesses to charters and in other ways. (fn. 19) In 1398–9 William de Brettargh the elder and William de Brettargh the younger claimed from Alan le Norreys and Alice his wife a messuage and 120 acres in Little Woolton, in which the latter acknowledged the claimants' right, receiving 20 marks. The land was to descend to the heirs of William Brettargh the younger. (fn. 20)

In 1502 William Brettargh was one of the justices of the quorum, and in 1514 a commissioner of the subsidy. (fn. 21) The earliest Brettargh inquisition is that of William Brettargh, who died in 1527; he had a cottage, a dovecote, and 100 acres of land in Little Woolton, held of the prior of St. John by fealty and a rent of 18d., the value being £5; his son and heir William was eleven years of age. (fn. 22) This son died in 1585, having acquired by his marriage with Anne, a daughter and coheir of John Toxteth, an estate in Aigburth. At his death he held a capital messuage called the Holt, a dovecote, a water-mill, &c., in Much and Little Woolton of the queen (as of the dissolved priory) by a rent of 18d. and other land by a rent of 1d.; a windmill in Little Woolton held of Sir William Norris of Speke; also the capital messuage called Aigburth and other lands there and in Garston, by reason of the dissolution of the hospital of St. John outside the Northgate of Chester. (fn. 23) His grandson William, son of William, was the heir, and aged fourteen years. (fn. 24)

Brettargh of Brettargh Holt. Argent, a fret gules; on a chief or a lion passant of the second.

The grandson married Katherine, sister of John Bruen of Stapleford, a famous Puritan. (fn. 25) There was only one child, Anne, of this marriage. (fn. 26) William Brettargh married secondly Anne, daughter of William Hyde of Urmston, (fn. 27) by whom he had a son Nehemiah, who took part in the defence of Lathom House with the rank of lieutenant. Nehemiah had paid £10 in 1631 as composition on refusing knighthood. (fn. 28)

Another local family was that of Orme, of numerous branches; in the reign of Elizabeth there were Ormes at the Lee, in the Portway, and at Wheathill, in Little Woolton. There was a succession of Thomas Ormes at the Lee; (fn. 29) one died in March, 1622–3, leaving as heir his granddaughter Jane, daughter of his son Thomas, whose wardship was undertaken by Sir William Norris of Speke. She married Edward Fairhurst of Liverpool. (fn. 30)

The Little Woolton court rolls of the middle of the sixteenth century have many interesting features. (fn. 31) The officers appointed were the constables, burleymen, hill bailiffs, (fn. 32) lay layers, affeerers, bailiff of the vill, and ale fonders; surveyors of the highway also occur. The 'cross in the Oak lane' is mentioned; there were two stone bridges—Astowe bridge and Benet bridge—and it was forbidden to rete hemp or flax at either of them, or to wash clothes or yarn at the former. Breaches of manorial customs were duly brought before the court for punishment—such as obstructing or diverting the water-courses, fishing in other men's waters, and disregarding the orders of the officers of the manor. The morals of the people were also cared for. (fn. 33) In 1559 it was ordered that no tenant, free or copyhold, should suffer any crow, commonly called 'ruckes or Whytebyll croeys,' to eyre or breed within his tenement. Hugh Whitfield of Gateacre had broken the pinfold and taken a lamb seized in distraint; perhaps, as a result of this, it was ordered that 'an able pinfold' be made on the green. Transfers of land made by sale or on the death of a tenant were, of course, important parts of the business of the court. Cases of assault and trespass, and also of debt, came up for trial and sentence. Hospitallers' privileges were guarded by an order that every tenant should have a cross set upon his house as was accustomed. At the same court the 'reeves of our Lady's stock at Huyton' were summoned for a debt.

In 1785 the land was owned by a large number of persons, as shown by the land-tax returns; the principal were James Okill for Lee, who paid about a fifth of the tax; James Brettargh for the Holt, and William Barrow.

In connexion with the Established Church, St. Stephen's was built in 1873 as a chapel of ease to Childwall, and made a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1893. The bishop of Liverpool is patron.


  • 1. The 1901 Census Report gives 1,389, including 2 acres of inland water.
  • 2. Lond. Gaz. 8 Jan. 1867.
  • 3. Baines's Dir. of 1825 (ii, 698) thus describes them: 'Close by the farm on which the famous Allerton oak stands, and just at the point where four ways meet, are a quantity of remains called Calder stones… . From the circumstance that in digging about them urns made of the coarsest clay [and] containing human dust and bones have been discovered, there is reason to believe that they indicate an ancient burying place … . Some of the urns were dug up about sixty years ago, and were in the possession of Mr. Mercer of Allerton.'
  • 4. For the Calder stones see V.C.H. Lancs. i, 240, also a pamphlet by Professor Herdman, and Duchy of Lanc. Maps, n. 73.
  • 5. Trans. Hist. Soc. (New Ser.), xii, 71–4. The house so marked in the Ordnance Map is some distance from the brooks.
  • 6. Assize R. 408, m. 64.
  • 7. Whalley Coucher (Chet. Soc.), iii, 801–3.
  • 8. Letters Pat. (Rec. Com.), 52.
  • 9. Norris D. (B.M.), 983. The charter indicates that Brettargh Holt was separate from Little Woolton.
  • 10. Whalley Coucher, iii, 804–6. Robert de Sutton in 1284 brought against the abbot an action of novel disseisin; Assize R. 1265, m. 5.
  • 11. Whalley Coucher, iii, 807–9.
  • 12. De Banc. R. 24, m. 4 d. 84 d.
  • 13. Ibid. 19, m. 22; 27, m. 84 d.; Assize R. 408, m. 64; Final Conc. (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), i, 166; Whalley Coucher, iii, 809–11.
  • 14. De Banc. R. 161, m. 473 d.; 163, m. 219.
  • 15. Inq. a.q.d. 17 Edw. II, n. 121. The accounts of the royal receiver for the forfeited estate of Robert de Holand show this manor of Woolton to have been farmed out to the prior of Upholland for £23 a year. The prior requested a written document; Ancient Petitions, 52/2587. In 1323–4 there was further received from sales £14 8s. 6d., made up of £13 for the crop of wheat (6 acres), beans and peas (1½ acre), and oats (3 acres); 10s. for oxen, 6d. for skins of two rams and a sheep dead of the plague, and 18s. for the timber of an old sheepcote blown down by the wind; the expenses were 8s. 6d. for wages for three weeks before the premises were let to farm. The stock consisted of 3 plough horses, 9 oxen, 5 cows, 2 heifers, 4 young oxen (2 sold), 2 calves, 2 rams (died of the plague), 194 sheep (one died of plague), 141 ewes, 70 hogs, and a goat; also a wagon, two ploughs, a harrow, &c.; L.T.R. Enrolled Accts. Misc. n. 14, m. 77.
  • 16. De Banc. R. 280, m. 320 d.; 284, m. 307 d.
  • 17. See the account of Huyton.
  • 18. Dep. Keeper's Rep. xxxii, App. 333; Final Conc. ii, 156.
  • 19. See Norris D. (B.M.). There was also a family named Brettargh at Oscroft in Tarvin; Ormerod, Ches. (ed. Helsby), ii, 307; Dep. Keeper's Rep. xxxvi, 447; Rep. xxix, 96. John Brettargh was vicar of Rhuddlan in 1406; ibid. Rep. xxxvi, 57.
  • 20. Final Conc. iii, 51.
  • 21. Duchy Pleadings (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), i, 15; Trans. Hist. Soc. (New Ser.), iii, 159; Kuerden, ii, fol. 207b.
  • 22. Duchy of Lanc. Inq. p.m. viii, n. 36. The service agrees with that in the ancient charter to William Suonis quoted above. William's wife Eleanor survived him. She was a daughter of William Lathom of Allerton and so related to the Norris and Harrington families; Pal. of Lanc. Sessional P. Hen. VIII, bdle. 2.
  • 23. Duchy of Lanc. Inq. p. m. xiv, n. 60.
  • 24. In 1591 an action was brought against William Brettargh and Maud his mother by inhabitants of Woolton respecting various customs and privileges; Ducatus Lanc. (Rec. Com.), iii, 259.
  • 25. In her short married life she lived at Woolton, as her funeral panegyric states, 'among inhuman bands of brutish Papists, enduring many temporal grievances from them; yet her knowledge, patience, mild inclination and constancy for the truth was such as that her husband was further builded up in religion by her means, and his face daily more and more hardened against the Devil and all his plaguey agents, the Popish recusants, Church Papists, profane atheists, and carnal Protestants, which swarmed together like hornets in those parts.' It was, however, her dread that her husband would renounce Protestantism. See Lancs. Funeral Cert. (Chet. Soc.), i, 37–40; and her life in S. Clark's Marrow of Eccles. Hist. One outrage their neighbours perpetrated upon their cattle is recorded in the State Papers, the Norris family being implicated. The bishop of Chester and his associates conclude their report thus: 'We commend our proceedings herein, as also the poor gentleman so greatly injured by these barbarous facts, and in them the common cause of religion and of justice, to your favour, from which only we may expect reformation of these great outrages of late committed by Catholics, not without the designments of pestilential seminaries that lurk amongst them'; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1598–1601, 482–5. In the declaration of 'Grenloe, a priest,' about 1599, occurs the following: 'What I lay down cannot be proved, unless we had as free liberty, law and favour as our adversaries have against us, viz. that Mr. William Brettargh or his disciples have said that if her majesty should grant any toleration to the papists, she was not worthy to be queen, and before that should be they would "give bobs" or "bobs should be given"; which speech of toleration was then greatly in use. Also that the earl of Essex was the worthiest to be, and that as the papists look for a change, there would be a change by Michaelmas day, as near as it was, but little to their good;' Cal. S.P. Dom. 1580–1625, p. 400.
  • 26. From her descended Anne Gerard, wife of Edward Norris, M.D. of Speke.
  • 27. Earwaker, East Ches. i, 405.
  • 28. Civil War Tracts (Chet. Soc.), 169–70; Misc. (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), i, 213. He and his sons James, John, and Edward are on the Preston Guild Roll of 1642 (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), 147. Nehemiah is described as an 'honest good fellow' by William Blundell of Little Crosby, but was most of his life a heavy drinker; going 'merry to bed' one night he was found dead next morning; Trans. Hist. Soc. xxxvi, 37. His son and heir James, according to the same authority, was 'adorned in the days of the usurpation with the virtues then in fashion; he was a singular zealot and a very sufficient preacher'; but after the Restoration the 'mask fell off,' and he ruined his health by excessive drinking. Riding home after a bout at Warrington he fell from his horse, sustaining injuries from which he died a little later; ibid. He recorded a pedigree in 1664; Dugdale, Visit. (Chet. Soc.), 57. His will was proved in 1666. The will of his widow, Deborah Chandler, was dated and proved in 1686; she desired to be buried in the chancel of Childwall church next the body of her late husband, James Brettargh. There are mentioned her daughters Hitchmough, Hanna, Phoebe Potter; her grandchildren, Thomas Brettargh, Edward and Phoebe Richardson, and Deborah, wife of Mordecai Cocker of Cockshead. James's son Jonathan, born in 1656, was educated at Huyton school, to which he presented a book; Local Gleanings Lancs. and Ches. ii, 115. He died at the beginning of 1685; Childwall Registers. His will is at Chester, dated 6 February, 1684–5, and proved 23 May, 1685. The testator desired to be buried in the family burial place at Childwall; no children are named, and the executors were his wife Anne and his brother-in-law Henry Orme; a deed of 1681 as to the settlement of his estates is mentioned. Jonathan was followed by his son James, educated at Jesus College, Cambridge; Pal. Note Bk. iii, 268, and information of Dr. Morgan, master of the College. He married Anne, daughter and coheir of John Hurst of Scholes near Prescot; Lancs. and Ches. Antiq. Notes, ii, 17; the licence was granted 23 July, 1695, the marriage to take place at Newton. This seems to have interfered with the husband's academical career, as he did not graduate. Anne Brettargh, his widow, a professor of the ancient faith, was living at Prescot in 1750; Piccope MSS. (Chet. Lib.), iii, 362, from 23rd roll of Geo. II at Preston, where her sister, the other coheir, is described as Catherine Cobham, widow. From the same document it appears that James Brettargh was living in 1741. The will of Anne Brettargh, widow of James Brettargh, esq. of Brettargh Holt, made in 1758, with a codicil of 1762, was proved in 1763, and again at Chester in 1788, after the death of James Brettargh the elder, her son. The other children mentioned are John Brettargh and Elizabeth Wagstaffe, widow; they were living in 1788, when James Brettargh the younger, 'of Pendleton, Schoolmaster,' was described as Anne's grandson and heir; Peter Brettargh and Catherine Royle of Salford are also mentioned. See also Baines' Lancs. (ed. 1836), iii, 744. James Brettargh was in 1702 recommended for appointment as a justice of the peace, but it was objected that he was 'in debt and young'; Norris Papers (Chet. Soc.), pp. 111, 164. He is described as 'of Aigburth,' but was then offering the estate for sale. He died between 1741 and 1765, his son and heir being James Brettargh, who was the last of the family to dwell at the Holt, and was buried at Childwall 28 January, 1786, aged eighty-five. The will of James Brettargh of Brettargh Holt, gentleman, dated 23 January, 1786, and proved in 1789, mentions only his 'daughter Holt,' the wife of Robert Clelland of Wavertree; the value of the estate was between £100 and £300. Members of the family settled in Liverpool, Manchester, and elsewhere; and one of them, also a William Brettargh, an attorney's apprentice in Manchester, joined the Young Pretender in 1745, becoming an ensign in the Manchester Regiment; he was captured at Carlisle, condemned for treason and transported in 1749; Pal. Note Book, ii, 118. 'Mr. Brettargh' and his son Tom (of Manchester) were friends of John Byrom's about 1724–8; Remains (Chet. Soc.), i, 97, 295. Richard Brettargh, steward of Henry Blundell of Ince, caused the births of his children to be recorded in the Sefton registers—they were not baptized at the church. One of his sons was Jonathan Brettargh, 'the devil's darning-needle,' steward at Trafford House; another, Richard, was one of the victims of the French Revolution; being then at Douai he was imprisoned and died of fever 24 June, 1794; Lancs. and Ches. Antiq. Notes, 13; Stretford (Chet. Soc.), ii, 156; Gillow, Haydock Papers, 141, 159; Gillow, Bibl. Dict. of Eng. Catholics, i, 290.
  • 29. In 1582 it was found by the jury of the manor court that Thomas Orme, or Ormeson, had died seised of a messuage called the Lee, and 19 acres of free land, held by rent and service of two barbed arrows; also of customary land for which he paid at the rate of 12d. per acre. Thomas Orme was his son and heir, and of full age.
  • 30. Norris D. (B.M.).
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Otherwise hill haywards, hill lookers, moss reeves, bailiffs of the common. Turf was dug upon the hill.
  • 33. Alice, widow of George Orme, was a 'common chider' of the neighbours, and must leave the township. Margaret Hastie kept Anne Dosen in her house, 'being a priest's woman,' and must send her away under penalty of 3s. 4d. Thomas Orme had kept unlawful 'gamoning' in his house; another had 'bulling and a bulling alley.' Peter Skillington as a resetter of 'vagabonds and valiant beggars,' was fined 6d.