A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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The ancient parish of Prescot was very extensive, comprising fifteen townships and having a total area of 37,221 acres. From early times, however, the southern half of the parish was considered a separate chapelry, with Farnworth as centre; from it, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Great Sankey was cut off to form a chapelry by itself.
The townships were thus arranged for the county lay: Prescot Division, paying twenty parts out of thirty-nine, had four quarters, each paying the same, viz. (i) Prescot, Whiston, and Rainhill; (ii) Eccleston and Rainford; (iii) Windle and Parr; (iv) Sutton. Farnworth Division, paying the other nineteen parts, had four quarters and a half, viz. (i) Widnes with Appleton; (ii) Bold; (iii) Cuerdley and Cronton; (iv) Ditton and Penketh; each of these quarters paid the same amount, and the half quarter was Great Sankey, which paid half of what a quarter paid. There were further rules for the division of the contribution from each quarter among the separate townships. (fn. 1) The more ancient fifteenth was levied thus: Whiston 20s., Sutton 40s. 8d., Eccleston 29s. 8d., Rainhill 26s. 6¼d., Windle 25s. 6½d., Parr 14s. 4d., Rainford 23s. 4d., and Widnes with Appleton 49s. 4d., Ditton 40s., Bold 59s. 6¼d., Cuerdley 34s. 6¼d., Sankey with Penketh 35s. 8d., Cronton 27s. 4d. (fn. 2)
The history of the parish has been comparatively uneventful. No Roman or other early remains have been found here. The Bolds were for long the leading family resident in it; Sir John Bold was governor of Conway Castle in the first part of the fifteenth century. By 1600 the family had conformed to Protestantism, and during the Civil War the youthful squire adhered to the Parliament, but seems to have taken no active part in the strife. The Ecclestons and many of the smaller families persevered in professing the Roman Catholic faith, (fn. 3) and suffered accordingly, alike from king and Parliament; John Travers was executed in 1586 for his share in the Babington plot, and the Jesuit father Thomas Holland for his priesthood in 1642. On the other hand, Roger Holland was burnt at Smithfield in 1558. Generally speaking, the gentry took the royal side in the Civil War, including Protestant families like the Ashtons of Penketh. Nonconformity was, however, very prevalent in the seventeenth century, and the Revolution seems to have been accepted without demur, so that the risings of 1715 and 1745 found no noteworthy supporters, except perhaps Basil Thomas Eccleston.
In modern times great manufacturing towns have grown up at St. Helens and Widnes, which have altered the character of the district. The town of Prescot has also some manufactures, though it has lost its ancient relative importance.
The agricultural land in the parish is (1905) occupied as follows: Arable land, 25,130 acres; permanent grass, 3,146; woods and plantations, 928. (fn. 4)
The most noteworthy of its natives appear to be William Smith, bishop of Lincoln, co-founder of Brasenose College, Oxford; Archbishop Bancroft; and John Philip Kemble, the Shakespearian actor.
Pennant, who crossed the parish from Warrington to Knowsley in 1773, after noticing the Sankey Canal and mentioning Bewsey Hall and Bold Hall, proceeds: 'The parish of Prescot commences at Sankey Bridges: eight miles further is the town, seated on a hill, and well-built and flourishing; the intervening country flat and full of hedge-rows; and the whole parish rich in collieries.' (fn. 5) The Rev. William MacRitchie, a Presbyterian minister, passed through it in 1795 on his way from Liverpool and writes: 'Breathe again the air of the country. See on the rising grounds above a view of Cheshire and the Welsh mountains towards Snowdon and Anglesey. At Prescot pass by, on the left, Knowsley, seat of Lord Derby. A large pottery work carried on at Prescot of clay found in its neighbourhood.' (fn. 6)
The church of our Lady stands on the south side of the town, where the ground falls considerably to south and west. It has a chancel with south vestry, north organchamber and vestry, a nave with aisles and a west tower and stone spire. The chancel is of the same width as the nave, 28 ft., and is 56 ft. long, the nave being 96 ft. long. Little evidence remains of the early history of the building, but the base of the south wall of the chancel may be ancient, and the north vestry is probably of the fifteenth century. With these exceptions the whole church was rebuilt in 1610 in a plain Gothic style, and the west tower dates from 1729, apparently replacing an older tower, while in 1818 the aisles were enlarged and altered. The outer stonework of the church is entirely modern, and the south vestry is an addition of 1900. In spite of the many modern alterations the church is of considerable interest. The chancel has a set of black oak stalls dated 1636, three returned on each side of the entrance to the chancel, three against the south wall, and two against the north. All have misericordes, but the carving beneath the seats has been removed. The fronts and standards are well carved, and the benches in front of the stalls are supported at intervals by turned balusters. The altar rails are also of the seventeenth century, and are returned westward in the middle of their length, giving kneeling space for communicants on three sides, while against the north and south walls are benches backed with seventeenth-century panelling. A bench-end on the north side seems to belong to an earlier date than any of the rest of the woodwork in the chancel. Against the north wall is an effigy placed upright, with a panel of heraldry over it, and the initials I O and the motto 'Veritas Vincit.' It commemorates John Ogle of Whiston. Near the effigy is a good example of a seventeenth-century poor-box. The roof of the chancel is not old, though following old work in its detail; and the chancel arch is modern.
The nave has north and south arcades of five bays with octagonal pillars, plainly moulded capitals, and pointed arches of one chamfered order, which, in spite of their Gothic form, doubtless date from the rebuilding of 1610, and have over them a low clearstory, with ten three-light square-headed windows on each side, and over the chancel arch a five-light window of the same character between two three-light windows at a slightly lower level. The nave roof is a fine example, with alternate tie and hammer beams with carved brackets, and wind-braces to the purlins. On one of the beams is the inscription, 'Thomas Bold, knight, 1610.'
The aisles of the nave have nothing of interest to show except some stone tablets let into the walls; one in the north aisle with the arms of Bold and 'T. B. 1610' (for Thomas Bold), and three in the south aisle, namely, one with the crowned arms of Derby and de Vere quarterly, with W. D. for William, sixth earl of Derby and king of Man; another, dated 1610, with the Bold arms and 'H. B., M. B.' (for Henry and Margaret Bold); and a third, with the Gerard coat, inscribed 'Sir T. G. Kt.' They are all of good workmanship, and form a distinctly unusual feature, and it is possible that they were here set up to record those who contributed to the rebuilding of 1610. In the south aisle also are the royal arms of George III. The west tower, though rather coarse in detail, is of good proportion, and has round-headed belfry windows of two lights flanked by Doric pilasters, and over them a heavy cornice with a group of three vases at each angle of the tower. Above is a tall stone spire with three tiers of spire lights, of Gothic form. In the second stage of the tower is a circular window on the west face, and above it an inscription recording the building of the tower, 'Conditum an° domni 1729'; while in the ground stage is a three-light west window with two plain circles in the head, and below it a square-headed west doorway, the head of which is level with the tall, moulded plinth of the tower. (fn. 7)
The fittings of the church other than those already noted are modern, the reredos in the chancel being a very good piece of work. The eighteenth-century font is of marble, tazza-shaped, with a fluted bowl, on which is an inscription recording its gift by William Halsnead.
The plate consists of two silver communion cups of 1663, with two flagons of the same date, and two patens of 1723 and 1738 respectively.
There are eight bells by Mears of London, 1845.
The registers begin in 1580.
The dial in the churchyard is mentioned in 1663. (fn. 8)
The advowson was one of the appurtenances of the manor of Whiston, held by the Forester of Lancaster; (fn. 9) it descended from the Gernets to the Dacres, (fn. 10) and was acquired from Ranulf de Dacre about 1374 or 1375 by Sir John de Nevill, lord of Raby. (fn. 11) In December, 1391, Ralph de Nevill of Raby exchanged it for the advowsons of Staindrop and Brancepeth in the bishopric of Durham, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, becoming patron of Prescot. (fn. 12) The advowson descended with the crown until conferred by Henry VI on his new college of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas at Cambridge in 1445. (fn. 13) From that time to the present the right of patronage has belonged to King's College, together with the manor of Prescot. The rectory was appropriated to the college in October, 1448, a vicarage being ordained. (fn. 14)
The annual value of the rectory was assessed at £40 in 1291. (fn. 15) Fifty years later the value of the ninth of sheaves, wool, and lambs, was declared to be £50. (fn. 16) In the time of Henry VIII the vicarage was valued at £24 0s. 9d. net. (fn. 17) From the report of the Commonwealth surveyors in 1650 it appears that King's College had farmed out the rectory to the vicar of Prescot, the earl of Derby, and others, so that they received but a small share of the revenue, the vicarage having about £60 from small tithes, as well as a house with 2½ acres of land. Various subdivisions were recommended. (fn. 18)
Bishop Gastrell in 1719 found the vicarage worth £140 a year. (fn. 19) The gross value is now stated as £650, but the district attached to the parish church has become practically restricted to little more than the town of Prescot.
The following is a list of the rectors and vicars:
|Date||Name||Patron||Cause of Vacancy|
|c.||1200||Patrick (fn. 20)||—||—|
|c.||1245||Richard (fn. 21)||—||—|
|1266||Mr. Alan le Breton (fn. 22)||Bp. of Lichfield||—|
|c.||1303||Eustace de Cottesbech (fn. 23)||—||—|
|13 May, 1309||William de Dacre (fn. 24)||Sir Wm. de Dacre and Joan his wife||d. Eust. de Cottesbech|
|5 May, 1346||Ranulf de Dacre (fn. 25)||Sir Wm. de Dacre||d. W. de Dacre|
|18 Apl. 1375||John Fairfax (fn. 26)||Sir John de Nevill||res. R. de Dacre|
|25 June, 1393||Mr. William de Ashton (fn. 27)||John duke of Lancaster||d. John Fairfax|
|23 Oct. 1403||Mr. Edmund Lacy (fn. 28)||The King||d. W. de Ashton|
|28 Apl. 1417||Philip Morgan, J.U.D. (fn. 29)||"||—|
|(?) 1419||Robert Gilbert, S.T.P. (fn. 30)||—||—|
|6 Nov. 1436||Richard Praty, S.T.P. (fn. 31)||The King||cons. R. Gilbert|
|2 Aug. 1438||Stephen Wilton, Decr. D. (fn. 32)||The King||cons. of R. Gilbert|
|4 Nov. 1441||William Booth (fn. 33)||—||exch. with S. Wilton|
|c.||1448||Ralph Duckworth, D.D. (fn. 34)||—||—|
|6 July 1471||Richard Lincoln, S.T.B. (fn. 35)||Thos. Cliff, by grant of King's College||res. R. Duckworth|
|7 Aug. 1492||Robert Hacomblene, D.D. (fn. 36)||King's College||—|
|c.||1509||Robert Noke, M.A. (fn. 37)||—||—|
|14 Dec. 1529||Simon Matthew, B.D. (fn. 38)||King's College||—|
|15 April, 1541||Robert Brassey, D.D. (fn. 39)||"||d. S. Matthew|
|25 Dec. 1558||William Whitlock, D.D. (fn. 40)||"||d. R. Brassey|
|26 Dec. 1583||Thomas Mead, M.A. (fn. 41)||"||d. W. Whitlock|
|5 Dec. 1616||John Alden, B.D. (fn. 42)||"||d. T. Mead|
|21 Feb. 1642–3||Richard Day, B.D. (fn. 43)||"||d. J. Alden|
|June, 1650||Edward Larking, M.A. (fn. 44)||"||d. R. Day|
|22 Aug. 1650||John Withins, M.A. (fn. 45)||"||"|
|8 Nov. 1662|
|29 June, 1667||Abraham Ball, M.A. (fn. 46)||"||d. J. Withins|
|24 July, 1677||Edward Goodall, M.A. (fn. 47)||"||d. A. Ball|
|18 July, 1690||John Legge, M.A. (fn. 48)||"||res. E. Goodall|
|18 Mar. 1691–2||Thomas Bryan, M.A. (fn. 49)||"||d. John Legge|
|8 May, 1700||Francis Bere, M.A. (fn. 50)||King's College||res. T. Bryan|
|28 July, 1722||Benjamin Clarke, M.A. (fn. 51)||"||d. F. Bere|
|18 Sept. 1730||Augustine Gwyn, M.A. (fn. 52)||"||d. B. Clarke|
|11 July, 1776||Samuel Sewell, M.A. (fn. 53)||"||d. A. Gwyn|
|11 July, 1815||Charles George Thomas Driffield, M.A. (fn. 54)||"||d. S. Sewell|
|9 Dec. 1848||Charles Chapman, M.A. (fn. 55)||"||d. C. G. T. Driffield|
|28 July, 1849||Lewis William Sampson, M.A. (fn. 56)||"||d. C. Chapman|
|24 Jan. 1883||Henry Alexander Macnaghten, M.A. (fn. 57)||"||d. L. W. Sampson|
|2 Feb. 1887||Harry Mitchell, M.A. (fn. 58)||"||res. H. A. Macnaghten|
The rectors were usually prominent men; as, after the patronage came into the possession of the dukes of Lancaster and the kings, the benefice was bestowed as a reward of public service. These busy officials probably never visited Prescot, discharging their duties by a resident curate. (fn. 59) Hence the bestowal of the rectory on King's College was no loss to the parish, though the new vicars, sometimes men of importance in the university and holding other benefices, were probably not seen much oftener by their parishioners than the old rectors. The first account of the resident clergy of the parish is supplied by the Clergy List of 1541–2. (fn. 60) The vicar of that time is known to have resided at least occasionally; he paid a curate. There were three chantry priests; also chaplains or curates at Rainford and Farnworth. Two priests were paid by John Eccleston, three lived 'de stipite,' and one, Ralph Richardson, by the profits of lands. There was thus a staff of thirteen clergy serving the parish church, the four chapels and three chantries, and private oratories. Eleven, including the vicar, appeared at the visitation of 1548; two of them had been chantry priests, but four of the names were fresh, so that three or four of those living here in 1541 had disappeared, by death or migration. Three others are named under Farnworth. (fn. 61)
The effect of the changes made under Edward VI becomes manifest in the visitation list of 1554; the vicar and his curate alone remained at Prescot, and the curate at Farnworth, the staff of thirteen having been reduced to three. (fn. 62) Very little improvement was effected by Bishops Cotes and Scott, the list of 1562 showing the vicar and three assistants at Prescot, and a curate at Farnworth. (fn. 63) Next year showed a decline; the vicar was absent in London, but the curate and the schoolmaster appeared; as also those of Farnworth. (fn. 64) The minimum seems to have been reached in 1565, when neither the vicar nor the curate of Farnworth appeared, the curate of Prescot being the only representative. (fn. 65)
In 1590 the vicar was described as a preacher; there was also a preacher at Rainford, but the chapels at St. Helens and Farnworth had only readers. (fn. 66) Two years later it was alleged that the vicar and curate did not catechize the youth; Mr. Mead 'appeared and stated that every Sunday and holiday he did interpret upon some parcel of Scripture both before and after noon,' but he was ordered to catechize also. The churchwardens were ordered to provide 'a decent communion table' before Christmas, also a 'fair linen cloth' for it; to use the perambulations and to make a presentment of offenders. (fn. 67) No change is revealed by a report made about 1610, but the vicar was the only 'preacher' in the parish. (fn. 68)
The parliamentary authorities temporarily expelled Mr. Day. Articles were presented against him in 1645, but he did not appear, having 'deserted' the place, and it was next year ordered that the 'rectory' should stand sequestered to the use of some godly and orthodox divine until the vicar should submit. It appeared that he had some scruples of conscience as to taking the Solemn League and Covenant. (fn. 69) Afterwards he was able to satisfy the authorities and was restored to the full enjoyment of the vicarage. (fn. 70) His successor, John Withins, conformed in 1662.
From this time onward the vicars, except Edward Goodall, do not call for special mention. It is noticeable that at the visitation in May, 1691, no clergy appeared from this parish (fn. 71); the chapels of Rainford, Great Sankey, and St. Helens were then in the hands of Presbyterians. The schoolmaster, Henry Wareing, licensed a year before, was the only representative. (fn. 72)
A grammar school was founded here before 1600. The charities, usually for particular districts or townships, are very numerous (fn. 73) The old almshouses were founded by Oliver Lyme in 1707, for poor persons in Prescot and Whiston. (fn. 74) For Prescot itself were the benefactions of the Rev. Samuel Sewell, John Lyon, Sir Thomas Birch, and others. (fn. 75) A number of charities are united under the control of the chief officers of the township, but the intentions of the several benefactors are, as far as possible, respected in the distribution. In 1861 Eleanora Atherton bequeathed £4,500 for the erection of almshouses. (fn. 76)
For Eccleston Richard Holland, Priscilla Pyke, and others left various sums. (fn. 77) Rainhill received 20s. from a gift by William Glover. (fn. 78) Whiston had a special benefaction from James and Samuel Ashton, and shares in others. (fn. 79)
To Rainford Thomas Lyon left his estate, and there were other donations. (fn. 80) Windle benefited by the gifts of Thomas Taylor, Richard Holland, and others; (fn. 81) and more substantially by land granted by Sarah Cowley in 1714, resulting in the establishment of the Cowley Schools. (fn. 82) Parr received some small benefactions. (fn. 83) Sutton shared certain charities with Bold and Windle. (fn. 84)
In Farnworth division numerous small sums have been left for charitable purposes in Widnes at different times, more particularly by the Rev. Richard Garnet. (fn. 85) Bold has a poor's stock and other moneys. (fn. 86) Cronton received gifts from T. Windle, Margaret Wright, and others; (fn. 87) an endowment exists, dating from 1794, for the relief of poor housekeepers. (fn. 88) Cuerdley once had a small poor's stock, which has been lost. (fn. 89) Great Sankey and Penketh had a similar stock, and received other benefactions. (fn. 90)