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Extract from
Southport and District
Rev. W. T. Bulpit

Web transcription ©2002 Hubmaker
For reference only - Reproduction by any means strictly prohibited


An account of Rufford of necessity is connected with a history of the Hesketh Family. The Conqueror gave the manor to Roger Bussel. His grandson made it over to the Fittons. Maud Fitton in 1275 married Sir Thomas Hesketh, of Holmeswood, and brought to him half the manor of Rufford. Their grandson, Sir William Hesketh, married Alice, daughter of Edmund Fitton, and so obtained the other half of the estate. Their descendant, Sir William Hesketh, served in the French wars of Edward Ill., and obtained from the King a Charter to hold a market every Friday, and also a fair on May 1st. To this was added in 1347 leave to found a chantry in St. Mary's Chapel, which, of course, was then in existence, and most likely had been built by the Heskeths. Of this chapel the capital of a stone column, now placed by the church door, and a tombstone to the memory of Sir Thomas, son of the founder of the chantry, still remain. Alice, widow of Robert Hesketh, gave an endowment for a second chantry priest, and one of her sons became in 1522 Bishop of the Isle of Man. Her son Thomas, before his death in 1523, gave the stipend for a third priest. This Sir Thomas was the builder of the Old Hall, and was aided in this by his son Robert. Sir Robert Hesketh served Henry VIII. in France, and for his "valoure, forwardness, actyvytie, and good service, theare was knighted by the king's own hand, with great countenance and many good woordes." An ancient brass to the memory of Sir Robert has recently been discovered in the Estate Office. He was succeeded in 1539 by his son Thomas, who ruled for 50 years, and was knighted by. Queen Mary in 1553. Sir Thomas Hesketh was Sheriff of Lancashire 1563. "He served his sovraigne (Elizabeth) in Scotland at the Seige of Leethe, and theare was sore hurte in divers places, and had his strooken down, which he recovered againe, with great commendaciones, for his forwardness and good cervice, and was in his latter dayes a notable good housekeeper and benefactor to all men, singular in eny science, and greatlie repaired the house at Martholme and Holmes Wood and the chappell at Rufford." Sir Thomas was buried in the Chancel which he had built. There a monument, as desired in his will, was erected, though only a stone panel (now let into the wall of the south aisle), showing his armorial bearings, remains. The Cromwellians ruinated Rufforth Chappel, and the stipend of the minister was reduced to £322. The east wing of the Old Hall was largely rebuilt in 1662. A party of Scots rebels were overtaken in the grounds and cut to pieces in 1745.

The Hesketh ladies were patrons of the poets Pope and William Cowper. Roger Dodsworth, the antiquary, married a Miss Hesketh, and was interred in the church, Aug., 1654. His voluminous MSS. are to be found in the Bodleian Library, at Oxford, and are often referred to. Sir Thomas Hesketh was created a baronet in 1761. The present representative is Sir Thomas George Fermor Hesketh. After his voyage in the Lancashire Lass and his romantic rescue of a shipwrecked crew he received quite an ovation in the United States, and married Senator Sharon's daughter. After, at his Rufford reception, in a public speech he was wished "many heirs," and a farmer cried out "There are too many hares already!" Once there was a goodly heritage, for the family had possessions in 60 townships, and in 1524 the family stored 1,400 lbs. of plate with the Abbot of Whalley, but time brings changes. The church is a handsome building, standing in a large, well-kept churchyard. We note the Churchyard Cross, it is modern, replacing an ancient one. On the east step is inscribed, "Per crucem ad lucem", and on the west, "Quondam hic aedificata, Per secula desolata, Nune pietate restorata. A.D. 1888." The pedestal of the old Cross adjoins the new erection. Nearly half the gravestones bear the name of Caunce. Alty, Bridge, Ascroft, Baldwin, and Banks, also are not uncommon names. They predominate there like Ball, Rimmer, and Wright did in North Meols. Near the vestry door there is a large rude stone, bearing upon it in rough letters the following inscription:-

Hear : Lyeth T
He : Body : of
James : Barton
Deperted : His
Life. June. the
24 This stone
Not to be taken
By Nobody
Ann Barton 1736

An inscription of a different character is inscribed on a brass plate affixed to a headstone:- "Could goodness, youth or beauty, separately or conjointly, have preserved her invaluable life, Mary Clark, wife of the Rev. Thomas Clark, whose body lies interred near this place, had not died July 7th, 1809, aged 30."

As, a clergyman, I also took note of the following epitaph:- "To the beloved memory of Henry Alty, who for the lengthened period of 31 years filled the office of Churchwarden, honoured and respected by all who knew him, a faithful Son of the Church, a loving parent and a true friend. He died 15 Oct., 1868, aged 75 years.

The oldest stone in the churchyard has the initials T.A. (Thomas Ascroft), 1632. Philip Ascroft, who died 1690, has had many descendants. One was Town Clerk of Preston, another is Churchwarden, and another is an honoured citizen of Preston.

The present church owes its erection to the energy of the late Rector, the Rev. J. F. Goggin, and was built in 1869. The interior is very handsome. It consists of a nave, lofty and broad, resting upon ten stone arches (five on
each side), two narrow side aisles, and a capacious wide chancel. The elaborate reredos and rich stained-glass, window to the memory of Sir T. Dalrymple Hesketh give tone to the whole of the chancel. In a side chapel is a rich altar tomb, said to have cost £1000, to the memory of the late Sir T. G. Fermor Hesketh. As might be expected, there are numerous other memorials to members of the Hesketh Family, some indeed of a very costly character, one by Flaxman costing £800; but the one that most claims attention is a marble slab, dull with age, fixed in the floor. On it is represented a knight and his lady with an inscription that may be thus Englished:- "0 Lord, have mercy on the souls of Thomas Hesketh, Esquire, and Margery his wife, which Thomas died 8th October, 1363, Dominical Letter A. Robert William, Margery, Thomas, John, Hugh, William, Geoffrey, Richard Henry buried here."

At the west end of the church there is a large and very beautiful font, but perhaps more interest attaches to the ancient one now placed in the vestry, and on which is a Greek inscription reading the same from either end, and enjoining, "Wash not thy sins from thy body only, but also from thy soul."

Rufford anciently formed part of the parish of Croston, but the influence of the Heskeths was great, and they were allowed to have a chapel in connection with their Hall, and this their tenants also attended. The above-mentioned memorial to Thomas Hesketh shows the chapel existed in 1363. There were three endowed chantries, and at the suppression of the chantries by Henry VIII., three priests were found fulfilling their sacred functions. It was disclosed that the silver vessels weighed 10 ounces, that there were three elaborate copes, six rich vestments suitable to the Church seasons for the altar, and four old vestments. I dare say the appointments would be of much greater value than what was disclosed, and that much of the furniture was hidden from the Commissioners. There was a fourth priest in connection with the altars, and he was also employed at a Grammar School attached to the Old Hall. Rufford Chapel afterwards had days of trouble. It could scarcely support one clergyman instead of four, and yet the Manor had to supply £40, as it still does, to the staff of Chester Cathedral. The dilapidated chapel was rebuilt in 1734, and in 1793 a district, 3 miles by 2.25, was separated from Croston and attached as a parish to the chapel, which then, after the lapse of five centuries, became a church in name as well as in reality. Manorial hall and church generally are found together. If we look on the north side of the church we see an avenue of trees. Passing between the rows a lovely pastoral scene discloses itself. Contrasting with the emerald turf and green shrubs nestled among umbrageous trees, a ,quaint black and white building of Century XV., joined on to a red brick building, whose hues are toned by the passage of two centuries, stands Rufford Old Hall - a gem of which Lancashire is proud. The half-timbered structure is called the Dining Hall, and the chief feature of its exquisite grace is the surmounting lantern. In the old days a fire of wood and turf burned in winter in the middle of the hall, and the smoke escaped through the louvres of the lantern.

If we gain access to the interior of the dining-hall, we find it has a charm and dignity all its own. At the upper end, under a canopy is a dais with a substantial wood bench 14 feet long, but as uncomfortable as some Church ^ benches, where the lord of the manor and those whom he honoured
sat in state. At the lower end, are the approaches to the kitchen and buttery and a cyclopian screen or "Speere," which is a wonderment for its solidity and beautiful carving. The hall is 47 feet long and 23 feet wide. Its height to the wall plate is 18 feet. This was the living-room and sleeping-room of the retainers. Here they partook of their meals; here they slept on the rush bestrewn floor with very little change of clothing. As the kitchen of the farmer made a family circle, so the hall of the lord brought himself and his dependents into a social circle. Over the dais may be noticed a protuberance, showing the locality of a secret chamber. The wing once adjoining was burnt down.

Rufford New Hall lies a little remote in a lovely park, and the portico is its most beautiful feature. It was built by Sir T. Dalrymple Hesketh in 1798. Holmeswood Hall stands among umbrageous woods about six miles from Southport, and Thomas, son of Nicholas Hesketh, was born there in 1406. The rise (sloat, a brow) in approaching it is the ancient bank of Martin Mere. The old maps hung in the hall of the Southport Free Library show it with a large park enclosed in a fence. Here the lord could hunt in his woods and fish on the mere. That brave warrior, Thomas Hesketh, who was knighted in 1553, repaired and beautified the the hall, and the splayed double-headed eagle and wheat-sheaf are to be seen finely cut in stone on its walls. The building, as may be anticipated, is very, substantial. Recently it has been sold, after being in the possession of the Hesketh family for 500 years to a native of Bretherton. Tempora mutantur.

An old road now diverted ran on the south side of the hall. On the Martin Mere side of it and overlooking the lake stood, in the Chapel Field, a church perhaps of an earlier date than the one at Rufford. On the north side of the present road is a haunted spot, called King Arthur's Pit. To gain protection from the spirit the following couplet was recited:-:

Work by night and play by day,
For King Arthur must have his way.

A conflict must have taken place near the Hall, for the neighboring lane is called Wigan, which means a "fight," and a house adjoining is called Berry House, and "bury" means a fort.

Yet a word concerning another fortified building. Perhaps it was the old home of the Fittons. Not far from the Old Hall, on the road to Sollom, is a moat where once stood a building, whose origin is lost in the mists of antiquity. The site is called Peel Platt. A Peel was a house with a tower for defence.

A market cross stood in the centre of Rufford Village about 300 yards northwest of the church. It was removed in 1818, when the coach road was diverted for the formation of the park. Sir William de-Hesket in the reign of Edward III. obtained a charter to hold a market every Friday, and a fair annually on the feast (May 1st) of St. Philip and St. James. The market has fallen, owing to the nearness of Ormskirk, into disuse. The fair, a noteworthy event on the countryside, still continues, but so conservative is Rufford that it is held on the Old May Day.

Near the site of the Cross is Grey Gutter House, built in 1675 for Henry, and Mary Bank. It is a picturesque house, containing some interesting old oak furniture. I was amused with the oak tester bedstead, for H. B. informed the man where he was to lie, and the lady lay in state under the initials M.B. The Hermitage marks another old haunted site. I think that the chantry priests once dwelt there. There were more houses in Rufford 100 years ago than there are now. The Causeway, a paved footpath, about two feet wide, was a useful feature in the town. It is to be hoped that the learned and devoted Vicar, the Rev. W. G. Proctor, will rescue some of the old-world history of his parish. Times were different, when an almanac cost 3s. 6d., when a barrel organ, a bassoon, and a bass fiddle formed the orchestra at the church; when, in 1819, the singing master got excited on his 10s. weekly pay, and Warden Abram paid Thomas Mayson 5s. for "removing him." In 1819, too, there was a storm of another kind, for the church was flooded by it. In old days the Douglas and Martin Mere often united to flood Rufford. It was Martin Mere that gave the township its name of Rough Ford, for its outlet to the Douglas was crossed by the Ormskirk Road to the north, and till a bridge was built it was a very rough ford. This portion of Martin Mere furnished an ancient canoe to the 1851 exhibition. It was sent by the respected agent, Mr. Porter. According to old deeds, Martin Mere here had a Swallow Hole, where things went down and came up at a distant outlet; and also a Hell Hole, which was bottomless. The Sluice Farm has a house which has been the home of the Altys since 1672. Mr. H. Alty, of Hesketh Bank, belongs to this old family.

More local history from Rev. Bulpit