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