A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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Schelmeresdele, Dom. Bk.; Skelmersdale, 1202; Scalmardale, 1246; Skelmaresdale, 1300. There are some eccentric spellings (e.g. Kermersdale, 1292), but only one variant requiring notice, viz. Skelmardesdale and the like, occurring 1300 to 1360.
Skelmersdale is a particularly bare, unpleasing district, for the most part occupied by collieries, with huge banks of black refuse at intervals amongst tree-less fields. In the outlying parts of the township crops of potatoes and corn are grown in a soil which appears to be sand and clay mixed. That clay constitutes a large proportion of the sub-soil is evidenced by the numerous brickworks, which do not tend to render the landscape more picturesque. The River Tawd flows northward through the township on its way to the shady Lathom woodlands, quickly exchanging a monotonous landscape for one varied with foliage and pleasant meadows. The geological formation consists almost entirely of the middle coal measures, which, over a very small area on the eastern border of the township, are overlaid by the lower mottled bunter sandstones. Near Sephton's Hall in the east the underlying millstone grit is thrown up by a fault over a very small area.
The township is mostly on high ground, 230 feet being reached in the centre of the village. Its area is 1,940½ acres. (fn. 1) The village of Skelmersdale lies in the western corner; to the north-east is the hamlet called Stormy corner. The White Moss, now reclaimed, anciently formed part of the boundary between this township and Bickerstaffe.
The railway from Ormskirk to St. Helens passes through the village, where there is a station. The main highway leads east to Wigan, and west, dividing into two, to Ormskirk.
A local board of fifteen members governed the township from 1874 (fn. 2) until 1894, when it was replaced by an urban district council of fifteen members. The gas and water works are the property of the council. The population numbered 5,699 in 1901.
According to Domesday Book SKELMERSDALE was in 1066 held by Uctred, who also held Dalton and Uplitherland; like these it was assessed as one ploughland, and was worth the normal 32d. beyond the usual rent. (fn. 3) Later it was part of the forest fee, held by the Gernet family. The first of them known to have held it, Vivian Gernet, gave Skelmersdale and other manors to Robert Travers; these were held in 1212 by Henry Travers under Roger Gernet. (fn. 4)
Already, however, there had been a sub-infeudation of the manor in favour of Alan de Windle, for in 1202 Edusa his widow claimed dower in this among other manors, which she released to Alan's son Alan, upon an assignment of her dower here and in other lands. (fn. 5) From the later history it is clear that before 1290 the Holands of Upholland held a mesne manor here.
The superior lordship descended from the Gernets to the Dacres, with the rest of the forest fee. (fn. 6) The Travers mesne manor descended like Whiston, but the exact fate of it is unknown. The Holand inferior mesne manor passed to the Lovels, and after the forfeiture in 1487 was granted to Thomas earl of Derby. (fn. 7) The Windle manor passed, like Windle itself, to the Burnhulls and Gerards in succession; (fn. 8) but in the time of Elizabeth Sir Thomas Gerard sold it to Henry Eccleston of Eccleston. (fn. 9) This family did not retain it more than thirty years; it was purchased by the earl of Derby in 1615, (fn. 10) and descended to Henrietta Maria Lady Ashburnham, (fn. 11) and was sold about 1717 to Thomas Ashhurst of Dalton. (fn. 12) From Henry Ashhurst it was purchased in 1751 by Sir Thomas Bootle, (fn. 13) and has since descended with Lathom, the earl of Lathom being now lord of the manor. His great-grandfather, upon elevation to the peerage, took his title from it as Baron Skelmersdale.
The family of Ashhurst had lands in 1346 (fn. 14) and frequently occur later. The Huytons of Billinge held land here as early as 1307. (fn. 15) There was also a family surnamed Flathyrale here in the fourteenth century, as various suits show. (fn. 16) The Swift family, numerous in the district to the present time, appear in some pleadings of 1556, when Peter Swift of London claimed lands held by his father John in Skelmersdale, Ormskirk, and Sefton. (fn. 17) The father had married for his first wife Margaret, daughter of Ralph Atherton, (fn. 18) having by her a daughter Joan, who, in virtue of the feoffment made on the marriage, became possessed of the disputed property. This descended to her son John Orrell; on which Peter Swift, as heir male, attempted to oust him, but the case was dismissed. (fn. 19) At the time of the sale of the manor to Henry Eccleston, the windmill was in the occupation of Thomas Sefton, who in the inquisition taken after his death in 1593 is called 'of Skelmersdale.' (fn. 20) There was also a family named Ascroft holding lands here and in other places adjacent. (fn. 21)
The local name occurs in a complaint in 1246 by Avice de Skelmersdale against Peter de Skelmersdale concerning land which she claimed as her inheritance. (fn. 22)
There is but little concerning this township in the various assize rolls, but a complaint by Richard son of Roger de Bury relates to a disturbance there in 1348. (fn. 23) A list of the inhabitants in 1366 has been preserved. (fn. 24)
In 1608 the capital messuage of Richard Moss, (fn. 25) a recusant, of Skelmersdale, was granted on lease by the king to Edward Thurstan and Robert Webb; (fn. 26) Richard Moss was still living in 1628 when, as a convicted recusant, he paid double to the subsidy. (fn. 27) Two families of the name appear on the recusant roll of 1641— Henry Moss and Elizabeth his wife, and Joan wife of Richard Moss. (fn. 28) The hearth-tax list of 1666 shows that Richard Moss, a dyer, lived here, his dwelling having three hearths. (fn. 29) Richard Aspinwall of Albrough, and Edward Moss, as 'Papists,' registered estates here in 1717. (fn. 30)
The commons were enclosed in 1781; a copy of the award and plan are at Preston.
The Commonwealth surveyors in 1650 stated that a chapel had formerly existed in this place, but nothing further seems to be known of it. They recommended that a church should be built here. (fn. 31)
The Anglican church of St. Paul was first built by subscription in 1776, (fn. 32) and enlarged in 1823. A chapelry was constituted in 1858. (fn. 33) The vicar of Ormskirk is patron. The building had to be closed for a time owing to its insecurity caused by mining operations, but has been rebuilt. There is also a licensed mission church.
A school was erected in 1732.
There are Wesleyan Methodist, (fn. 34) Primitive Methodist, and Free Gospel chapels. The Salvation Army has a meeting place. The Congregationalists used two cottages for worship in 1878; in the following year they erected an iron chapel, (fn. 35) replaced in 1905 by a permanent church. The Welsh Presbyterians or Calvinistic Methodists also have a chapel.
The Roman Catholic church of St. Richard was opened in 1865.