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Claughton on Brock

A Brief History by Marion McClintock (University of Lancaster)

Blessed Thomas Whitaker


The celebrations of 1994 to mark the bicentenary of St Thomas the Apostle offered an opportunity to recall how the church came to be founded and the circumstances in which the Roman Catholic faith has been upheld in the locality down the centuries.

An ancient chapel is known to have existed in Claughton. In 1357 Ellena died, the widow of Roger de Brockholes, having held lands in Claughton, Bilsborough and Catterall on condition that she paid an annual stipend of 66s 8d to a chaplain for the celebration of Mass at Claughton. This chapel fell into disuse, perhaps when the family's chantry chapel at Garstang was founded in 1499,(1) but the building survived until the time of Elizabeth I (see below). The tradition is that the building was sited at Chapel Croft, a portion of heavily wooded ground that lies to the east of the house known as The Street, in the area between that house and the present Claughton Hall. The discovery of a portable altar in this area in the mid-nineteenth century added extra weight to this surmise.(2)

By the early 16th century, as the wave of Protestantism rolled across northern Europe and the Reformation was introduced by Henry VIII to England, families who adhered to the Catholic faith became a minority in the country, and became subject to persecution for a period of over two centuries. In parts of Lancashire these difficulties were a prominent issue. Although the Protestant faith was adopted by many - the region was, after all, to provide a cradle for Quakerism - many people remained loyal to the old religion. The first evidence of this came in 1536-37, when thousands of Lancastrians were involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a revolt against the suppression of the major religious houses such as Furness, and Lancaster's "gruesome career as a place of slaughter for political and religious dissidents" began with the executions that followed the crushing of the Pilgrimage.(3)

The situation worsened under Elizabeth I. Early in her reign substantial fines were imposed on those who would not attend the Church of England. Later on, unrest centring around Mary Queen of Scots, the anti-Elizabeth Papal Bull of 1570 purporting to depose Elizabeth, and the threat to the country's security from attempted invasions by Philip II of Spain, all raised the political temperature. In addition, in 1568 a Lancashire man, Cardinal William Allen, of Rossall near Fleetwood, founded an academic centre for English Catholicism with a college at Douai,(4) and similar seminaries opened elsewhere in Europe. From these, beginning in the 1570s, came a steady flow of seminary-trained priests, highly motivated and committed to fulfilling their mission of upholding and advancing the Catholic faith in England. The Act of Persuasions of 1581 was a reaction to this inflow, making the conversion of English people to Catholicism an act of high treason, punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering: this act was followed by another of 1585 that made it high treason for a priest ordained abroad to be found in England, and a capital offence to shelter such a person. Under these acts prosecutions were readily made, and fifteen Catholic martyrs were executed at Lancaster between 1584 and 1646.(5)

The fifteenth of these, the Blessed Thomas Whitaker (alias Starkey), was born in Burnley in 1611 and educated at Valladolid at the expense of the Catholic gentry family of Towneley, where he was ordained in 1638. He returned to Lancashire and, based at Goosnargh, undertook peripatetic missionary work in the area. He was finally arrested at Blake Hall, near Barton, a fine house still extant and at that time the home of Mr Edward Midghall. After three years' imprisonment at Lancaster Castle, Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered at the gallows site near the town on 7 August 1646. Monsignor Gradwell in 1882 erected the statue of him that stands in the cemetery at Claughton (Fig. 1), the pose echoing the one adopted in a portrait in the dining room of the presbytery, and a sermon for the occasion was preached by the Rev. Isaac Webster. Built intothe base of the statue, are plaques commemorating local martyrs: Thomas Cottam of Bilsborrow ay Tyburn om May 30 1582, Willaim Marsden from Beacon Fell on the Isle of Wight on 25 April 1586, William Plessington of Dimples at Chester on 19th July 1679
.A small oak tabernacle, in which Thomas Whitaker kept the Blessed Sacrament, is also preserved there (Fig. 2).(6)

Fig.1 Fig. 2

Despite this hostile environment, the Lancashire laity were able between them to sustain the practice of their faith, especially through a network of gentry and minor gentry families. The Brockholes family were of crucial significance for the survival of Catholicism in Claughton, and the Towneley and Midghall families also deserve mention in this respect. Besides setting an example of steadfastness in adversity, keeping in touch with other Catholic strongholds around the country, and offering safe houses to priests, such families made funds available and later operated practical schemes as the establishment of endowments for apprenticing Catholic boys and girls: a local arrangement covered Lancaster, Aldcliffe, and Thurnham.(7)

We do well to remember the severity of the conditions under which these families lived. Besides the laws against priests, Papists were inter alia forbidden to educate their children in their own religion and any children so taught in turn suffered more penalties; heavy fines were imposed for saying Mass or hearing it; Catholics could not hold public office or employment, or keep arms in their houses; they could not practise law or medicine; and double land tax was levied on them.(8) Furthermore, for their refusal to attend Protestant parish worship they were labelled `Papish Recusant' and were liable to crippling fines of 20/- per month. There was also a law that entitled Protestant next-of-kin to claim the property of their Catholic relations, a clause (unsuccessfully) invoked against the Brockholes family in 1737 by a Mrs Davies, the widowed sister of Thomas Brockholes.(9) Fortunately, the enforcement of these laws and of the occasional additional proclamations that accompanied them was spasmodic, in part because the Protestant gentry were mindful of their Catholic neighbours, and frequently because government officials acted with circumspection. For example, Roger Kenyon (c.1640-1710) who held the post of Receiver-General of Papist Fines and Forfeitures in Lancashire, was prepared to negotiate with local Catholic families and reach an accommodation on the level of fines to be paid that was less intolerable for them, while satisfying his masters and enabling him to pay off a not inconsiderable mortgage of his own.(10)

Even so, the overall environment for English Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries was hostile, and yet the practice of the faith was maintained without a break in much of what is now mid-Lancashire, with Claughton as one of the strong holds of Amounderness Hundred, in Preston's hinterland. In 1590 Lord Burghley drew up his report, View of the County of Lancashire, in which the Brockholes of Claughton were reported as Papish Recusants.(11) In 1591 the Bishop of Chester investigated the family and complained that "The number of the Recusants is great, and do the dailie increase... The Papists everywhere are growen so confident, that they contempne Magistrats and their authorytie". The examination extended to the ancient chapel still standing at Chapel Croft, to see whether the lands were given for superstitious uses, and an action to that effect brought in Preston in 1595.(12) Although Thomas Brockholes (d. 1618) was prepared to offer some nominal conformity, his second wife Dorothy was sister of James Leyburne, who had been executed for his faith at Lancaster in 1583: she, like many Catholic women of the period, was not prepared to temporise,(13) and fines had to be paid for her recusancy.

The Brockholes family suffered sequestration of their property under James I.(14) They took the King's side in the Civil War and their estates were declared forfeit: for much of this period the Brockholes family resided at Heaton Hall, near Heysham. After the Restoration of 1660 the land was recovered and returned to a later Thomas Brockholes. Nevertheless, the family fortunes were not permanently damaged, for around 1694 there were 43 Catholic gentry in Lancashire with estates worth more than 100, of which Thomas' son John was worth 500 per annum.(15)

The chantry chapel at Garstang had been suppressed in the time of Edward VI.(16) There are repeated references to a chapel in the Brockholes family household, which would of course have been very much in line with the practice in other gentry families, but because the mansion built at Claughton Hall in 1817 by William Fitzherbert-Brockholes (see below) almost entirely replaced an earlier building, and is itself now the site of a modern house, there are no physical building remains to be seen.
From the 1680's, however, a priest's house was available.(17) This building, now known as Duckworth Hall (below), but previously as Priestshome, was occupied in the 1860s by one Peter Brown and by the early twentieth century had become a post office.

Duckworth Hall

Stylistic evidence points to its having been built in the 1680s: what is certain, however, is the function of the building as a chapel, housing a confessional and, no doubt when necessary, a hiding place. Recent fieldwork has confirmed that all the evidence is still in place. There are two equal-sized and well-ornamented rooms on the ground floor, one containing an ornate built-in cupboard, decorated on its doors with a design of the eucharistic symbols of wheat-ears and vine-leaves, almost identical to a free-standing cupboard of 1590(18) that until recently stood at Thurnham Hall where the Catholic Daltons lived. The large hearth is shared between this room and the one next to it, where well-ornamented stone pillars to the hearth indicate a second room of equal importance. This room has an external entry on the back wall and formerly a spiral staircase led to the room above, where, well-concealed beyond the hearth, is a space that appears to be a built-in cupboard, but in fact conceals an even smaller room beyond, built into the thickness of the chimney stack. This room, warmed by the stack, and fitted out with a wooden seat and two shelves, still shows signs of wear around the double-rebated door, and could have held a fugitive priest for many hours at a time.


Let us now consider the early incumbents at Claughton. Monsignor Robert Gradwell, to whom we owe the first narrative of the mission of Claughton-on-Brock, draws attention to the Rev. T. Walmsley, who he believes was present at Claughton in 1665: this supposition is however discounted by Joseph Gillow. Where they both agree is in placing the Rev. Edward Blackburne at Claughton, although there is some uncertainty about his date of arrival. He was born in 1633 at Stockenbridge Hall near St Michael-on-Wyre and educated at St Omer's College and the Venerable English College at Rome, and ordained in 1661. He returned to England in 1663 and worked around Garstang and in the Lonsdale Hundred. By 1673, when the Secular Clergy Fund was instituted, his name appears in the original list of members and in 1675 he was Collector for the Hundred of Lonsdale. He had family connections with Richard and Margaret Blackburne of Scorton Hall, who left part of their estate to pay for Masses for the repose of their souls. One of the trustees of the estate, William Gradwell of Barbles Moor, was also charged with looking after the Garstang Parish Trust for the support of a priest, and in 1680 he nominated the Rev. Edward Blackburne to assume this responsibility.(19)

Edward Blackburne died in 1709, his will showing some of his local family connections.(20) He had a sister, Agnes, who married into the Lancashire Taylor family: the son of that marriage, Richard, born in 1657, was educated at the English College at Lisbon and, having been ordained priest, returned to England in 1685, adopted the alias Sherburne, and was placed at Claughton with his uncle Edward. Richard purchased from Charles Butler, of the family located at Great Eccleston and Rawcliffe Hall, the site of the present Claughton presbytery and chapel, and proceeded to build a house there. Although no datestone exists, stylistic information tells us that at least part of this original building still survives in the first floor fenestration of the rear wing of the present presbytery (Fig. 4), and probably more would be revealed in related parts of the building if a full survey were undertaken, representing a modest but appropriate dwelling for a gentleman of the time. In 1709, on the death of his uncle, Richard took sole charge of the Claughton mission, but the disturbances that followed the Jacobite uprising of 1715 meant that for a time he had to live at Goosnargh, although he eluded capture. He died at Claughton in 1726 and left his property, including his house, back to his family, except for 70, of which the yearly profits were to go to "the secular clergy [priest] incumbent in consideration of his officiating monthly at our dwelling house in Claughton and keeping there the following anniversaries, to wit, for myself, my uncle Mr Edward Blackburne priest", and six other members of his family.(21) One personal relic remains at the Claughton presbytery; an oak chest that had belonged to his father, with carved upon it the initials RT and the date 1691.

The Brockholes family itself provided the next priest to the mission, Roger. The way in which this came about was that the Thomas Brockholes who had his estate returned at the Restoration had three sons, two of whom became priests. The third son, John, married Anne Barcroft in 1717, he registered the estate as a Papist, and shortly afterwards was convicted of Recusancy at Lancaster.(22) Of his six children, the eldest (John) died as the result of wounds sustained in the battle of Preston in 1715, and three others went into the priesthood. One of these, Charles, was admitted into the Society of Jesuits:(23) The middle son, Roger, took on the Claughton mission. He was born there in 1682 and completed his education at the Venerable English College in Rome. Roger was ordained in 1708 and, after a brief sojourn in Paris, returned to Lancashire and to service at Claughton, while living at Duckworth Hall, where he died in 1742.

The Brockholes property called Claughton House was at this time reputed to be part of the estate of the deceased Hugh Kighley of Goosnargh: in 1735 William Brockholes, the youngest son of John's six children, sold his interest in the estate.(24) The manors were recovered in 1739 and between 1743 and 1748 the eldest of the three priest brothers, Thomas, made a deed of gift of Claughton House to the secular clergy priest of Claughton, with obligation masses, thus yielding for their use an annual income of 9.6sh.(25) The tenor of this period is caught in Squire Tyldesley's Diary, when he recounts several occasions during this period visits to Claughton to hear Mass or to meet acquaintances.(26)

Richard Birtwistle, alias Halliwell, who succeeded Roger, was born in Lancashire in 1713 and after training at Lisbon and ordination in 1737, encountered problems with drink and left for England. After a brief spell at Bunbury in Cheshire he came to Claughton late in 1741 and died there early in 1743.(27) He was succeeded by James Parkinson, alias Cottam, the son of Richard Parkinson, gentleman, and a Brockholes relative: his mother was the daughter of Richard Cottam of Banister Hey. James was born at Broughton in 1716 and he and his brother Thomas were both educated at Douai. James was ordained at Cambrai in 1740, and came to Claughton in 1741 to assist the Rev. Birtwistle, but soon assumed charge of the mission.(28)

Shortly afterwards the mission was given a more secure financial base. In 1745 the house already built by Richard Taylor was purchased from another member of the Taylor family, Mr Lancelot Butler, for the benefit of the mission. We have already noted the money and property settled on the mission by William and by Thomas Brockholes, and the family was further to augment its finances in 1783 when James Hesketh, the last of the Brockholes family through his mother's line, gave his share of the estate to the church.(29)

During this period, as both Robert Gradwell and Joseph Gillow tell us, a chapel was created within the house. The account given by them is not wholly clear in relation to the rest of the building: inspection on site, however,(30) reveals that the chapel was an addition, built at the front of the house and subsumed into the later additions. There is mention of a flight of twelve stone steps from the road: at least two of these, clearly weathered, remain to this day enclosed in a cupboard on the first landing of the presbytery's front staircase. This was the usual arrangement for Catholic chapels of the period, generally described as "up-steps". Robert Gradwell refers to the space beneath the chapel as being a receptacle for all sorts of lumber: nowadays the chapel is a library, the space beneath has been converted into ancillary offices for the main church, and a small shutter in the library opens to allow the observer to look into the church.


James Parkinson contracted a fever and died, apparently quite suddenly, in January 1766: he was buried at Broughton and entered in the register there as "Mr James Parkinson, a Romish Priest of Claughton".(31) Some months then elapsed before the arrival, on 13 July 1766, of the Rev. John Barrow, a heroic figure in the history of Claughton mission and a priest whose service spanned a period of particular significance for the church. The Rt. Rev. B. C. Foley has written an important and very full account of his life,(32) picking up the earlier narratives by Monsignor Gradwell and Joseph Gillow, but adding much new material. The account below emphasizes the aspects of his ministry that particularly relate to the development of the mission: the reader is also recommended to look at Bishop Foley's fuller text.

John Barrow was born of yeoman stock at Westby, in the Fylde, on 13 May 1735. He entered the Venerable English College at Rome at the age of thirteen and after seven years of study of the humanities, spent a further seven on philosophy, theology and allied subjects. He cut this short, for reasons not known, but on his arrival at Plymouth was conscripted for a man-of-war and served for five years with the Navy. He escaped by diving through a porthole and swimming ashore at Dunkirk and, when caught and court-martialled, evaded conviction by successfully posing as an Italian who knew no other language. Later he returned to Douai, where he was admitted as a student for the priesthood on 16 November 1761, and five years later he was ordained and left for Claughton. Later he complained of his rough journey to Standish, where he stayed with his Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Petre, for one night,(33) before completing his journey to Claughton.

John Barrow was a man of immense energy and strong character, who did not hesitate to be outspoken in all his dealings. He took a very active role in clarifying and sorting the affairs of the Lancashire and Westmorland Secular Clergy Sick Fund, and was caught up in the controversy about an appropriate form of oath of allegiances following the First Catholic Relief Act of 1778. He worked long and hard as Over-Seer for Highways and for the poor of Claughton district, appointments that were tributes to his energy and public standing. He was also an ardent supporter of the so-called "Northern Douai" that was established at Ushaw in 1809, despite his earlier disappointment that an offer for this establishment to be based at Claughton was not accepted. We have a vivid account of his officiating there in his old age,(34) and some of his papers are held there.

None of these time-consuming activities was, however, allowed to detract from the care of the Claughton Mission. As soon as he arrived he set about improving the land; mending walls, manuring and draining, establishing boundaries, and planting, and thereby significantly increased the annual income, already benefiting from the generosity of Mr James Brockholes. He was an enthusiastic preacher and also built up a renowned choir at Claughton; he sought positions for members of his congregation and was always available to assist them; and from 1771 he established registers of baptisms conducted at Claughton, one of the first being Constantia Hesketh-Brockholes, the daughter of Joseph & Constantia (nee Fitzherbert) Hesketh-Brockholes, who died in infancy. Despite all these local, regional and at times national commitments, he still found time to ride to hounds and took great pleasure in doing so, in spite of expecting "to feel a singe for those in the flames of Purgatory, but as they were innocent pleasures as taken by me, I hope the Almighty will be favourable and forget the failings of my youth".(35)

The first Jacobite uprising of 1715 had caused deep tensions in the local community: the second, in 1745, had caused less of a rift. As the century progressed, religious persecution increasingly fell away and the Catholic gentry and priesthood were drawn into the general rise of prosperity,(36) and the development of a Catholic middle class. Gradually statutory easement came the way of the Catholics. The English Catholic Relief Act of 1778, a piece of legislation greatly assisted by the 9th Lord Petre of Thornden in Essex, freed priests and teachers from prosecution arising from the actions of informers, and permitted Catholics to inherit legally, and to purchase or dispose of property.(37) Almost immediately, and despite the fears raised by the Gordon Riots of 1780, further improvement was sought and Lord Petre again took a leading role at what times were contentious issues for Catholics, especially the relationship with Rome, and the form of the oath to the King: characteristically, matters in which John Barrow had strong and trenchantly-expressed views.(38)

On 24 June 1791 the Second English Catholic Relief Act came into effect, repealing penal legislation dating back 232 years, and at last enabling Catholics openly and without persecution to practise their religion. For the purpose of this narrative the most important section of the Act relates to the approval given, albeit by a series of negative statements, for the building of chapels.(39) Each chapel had to be registered, and the clergy to take the new oath; no steeple or bell could be included; the doors could not be barred or bolted during divine service; and Catholic priests were not to appear in public in any form of clerical garb. Mass could also be said in private houses, provided only five outsiders were permitted.

Some chapels had already been built in the North West: one ingenious example, a Jesuit mission in Liverpool, was disguised as a warehouse, complete with block and tackle.(40) However, a Protestant mob destroyed this and other Catholic chapels,(41) and even those built after the protection of the civil authorities could be invoked were placed at secluded locations where they did not excite particular interest or concern. Moreover, the form of construction (see Fig. 5) was very akin to the Nonconformist churches of the period, to a square design with galleries on three sides, and often with long, rounded-headed windows. Thus, at Lancaster, the former Catholic chapel at Dalton Square (now the City Architect's office) that was opened on 1 March 1799(42) can be compared with the Congregational Church in the High Street of 1772-73, or Chipping Catholic chapel of 1827 with the near-contemporary Congregational chapel, or Goosnargh Hill chapel of 1802, which in its appearance would do credit to any Nonconformist congregation. Claughton followed this trend: not surprisingly, John Barrow "was straining every nerve to build a new chapel... 230 had been given towards its erection. It cost almost 700, a sum much above my abilities". He was greatly helped in the funding of the building with £200 given by Mrs Elizabeth Heneage(43), mother-in-law to 'Pink William' - William Fitzherbert-Brockholes (1758-1817) who as William Fitzherbert of Swynerton inherited the esate from his cousin Constantia Hesketh-Brockholes and adopted the name of Fitzherbert-Brockholes for the first time. Yet this sum, while daunting for a small community, was exceeded within the Preston area: St Wilfrid's in Fishergate cost five times as much, and interestingly also drew on a Brockholes legacy.(44) By the summer of 1794, only three years after the 1791 Act and twenty-eight after his arrival at Claughton, he was able to write:

"Next Sunday the Chapel to be opened. Benches to be let all the week and particularly today after prayers and in the afternoon.
Money to be paid in advance. Benches not to be taken nailed up. Convenient and good places to kneel and sit for those who are old and poor."

In common with other local examples, Claughton chapel had side galleries (removed probably around 1835) as well as one at the rear of the nave, and it is said that 700 people could be seated when it was first opened.(45) The building material was stone, and the dimensions (before the addition of the sanctuary) were 56 feet long and 36 across, with windows that were 11 feet tall and contained plain, "second-best" glass (Fig. 6). The western half of the chapel was flagged, and the eastern half and the vestry had boarded floors. Some of the benches came from St Mary's Preston, which was temporarily disused.(46)

John Barrow remained a turbulent priest to the end of his life, impetuous and ready to pick a quarrel, and unwilling to brook opposition. Nevertheless, his contributions to Claughton stand as a monument to him, and he inspired great affection as well as dismay. In his declining years he had the Rev. Thomas Sherbourne as his assistant, followed in 1809 by the Rev. Robert Gradwell. John Barrow died in February 1811 and was buried at Newhouse, accompanied to his grave by an immense concourse of clergy and laity.(47)


Barrow was succeeded by Robert Gradwell,(48) who was born (with his twin brother John) at Clifton in January 1977, and was sent to Douai in 1791. He was imprisoned there at the Revolution and was able to rescue and bring back to England some of the Douai diaries. He eventually completed his education at Crook Hall, Co. Durham, was ordained in 1802 and taught at Ushaw before joining John Barrow. Robert Gradwell stayed at Claughton until 1817, and was responsible for enlarging the presbytery by adding the dining room and the rooms above it, thus completing the living accommodation that still stands. He was to go on to a distinguished ecclesiastical career, being appointed rector of the English College in Rome and subsequently becoming coadjutor to the Vicar Apostolic of the London District.(49)

Robert left Claughton in the charge of another brother, the Rev. Henry Odo Gradwell, who was born in 1792 and educated at Crook Hall and Ushaw. Henry was not yet 25, and had said his first Mass only the day before, when he succeeded to the Claughton mission on 15 September 1817, where he stayed until his death in 1860. During this lengthy incumbency he became secretary of the Infirm Clergy Fund, and later its treasurer. Henry Odo Gradwell was also involved in the further development of the church building and of the local Catholic community. As his nephew wrote:
"In 1835, the spirit of improvement in the structure and decoration of churches had begun to make itself felt in many quarters, and a wave of the movement reached Claughton. It was resolved to enlarge the church by adding a sanctuary, and to improve its usefulness and appearance by raising its height".(50)
For this work to be accomplished, further funding was required, and once again the Brockholes family, now the Fitzherbert-Brockholes,(51) proved themselves to be benefactors: Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes (1799-1873: the "Old Squire"), contributed 300, and his younger brother and sister also helped, as did members of the congregation, amounting to a total of 1400, double the amount of the original building cost and an ambitious undertaking. This was probably the time when the side galleries were removed (see Fig. 7).

A few years later Henry Gradwell, supported by personal friends and members of the congregation, donated the organ and the monstrance (a vessel for the display of the Host), at a further approximate cost of 800.(52) He also set to work to establish a school, helped by Catherine Gill, nee Barton, who left enough money in her will to put the schoolmaster's house in order, and by Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes who, "though they differed in many things, agreed on this - that they [i.e. the school buildings] were to be handsome, commodious and substantial". By the willing co-operation of all parties, not omitting the congregation, whose assistance in carting material was valued at 100, the primary school was rapidly completed; not only did the buildings supply a great and growing want, but formed an ornament to the neighbourhood. Moreover, the schools were established in the new atmosphere of religious toleration, evident in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, stating that:
"To these schools children without distinction on account of religious persuasion or belief shall be admissible for education and on the same terms"
(see Fig. 8).(53)

By the time this work was accomplished, Henry Gradwell, now rural dean and canon of the Cathedral Chapter of Liverpool, was becoming infirm. He took as his assistant his nephew, the Rev. (later Mgr.) Robert Gradwell, who was "then at St. Augustine's Preston - [he] was at the time failing in heath, more indeed from inherent delicacy than the weight of his duties".(54) Nevertheless, when Henry Gradwell died in May 1860 and was interred in the Gradwell family vault at St. Augustine's, Robert served the mission from then until his own death in 1906, thus completing between the three Gradwells almost a complete century of service to Claughton.

Robert Gradwell was born in Preston in October 1825 and educated at St Cuthbert's, Ushaw, where he was ordained priest in 1849, "and [according to his own account of 1885] remained as professor for nearly one year, when failing health compelled him to leave ... in 1856, he served at St. Augustine's, Preston, when again infirm health compelled him to retire from the labours of a town and seek the comparative repose of a country mission. Since 1860 he has been in charge of Claughton; in 1869 increasing infirmities made an assistant necessary, and for 15 years he has done no regular missionary duty. Besides the care of the flock, it has been his constant study to add to the beauty of the church and its fittings, and to the improvement of the rectory property".(55)
He then goes on to describe the "friendly rivalry" between himself and the "Old Squire", which we can perhaps interpret as the final stage of the change in the relative status of the gentry and the priesthood that had begun with the Catholic Relief Acts, in adorning the Sanctuary.

We are fortunate in having not only this personal memoir written by Robert Gradwell himself, but an eye-witness account of the interior of the church by the local Catholic historian, Anthony Hewitson, just at the moment when remodelling work was in hand. Hewitson described Robert Gradwell as "a very tall gentleman, has a large thoughtful eye, a massive head, and a kindly heart. He is a sound scholar, has a quick sense of humour, is genial and sunshiny when well, and has been an earnest and faithful priest".(56) He then gives an extended description of the chapel, as it looked in about 1870:

"What an excellent place it is! The outside is not very extraordinary; the inside is really beautiful. Three things distinctly strike us - the decorative excellence of the chapel, the substantial character of all its fittings, and the thorough cleanliness of the place. The building is oblong, its walls are painted a stone colour and divided into squares, and its roof is flat. Along the walls "stations" are fixed, and whilst we admire their artistic excellence, we cannot help seeing a drawback in the crowded position they assume... The sanctuary is most magnificently decorated; the tabernacle itself costing 120 (see Fig. 9). The general altar rises to a lofty altitude, and is surmounted with a beautiful cupola or dome upon which stands a cross... The walls of the sanctuary are of an amber coloured marble hue, and are supported with Corinthian columns; and along the summit of them there runs a deep richly-moulded frieze. The principal statutory of the altar was worked by a man in humble life - we believe he was a journeyman carpenter! - and in both outline and detail it is exceedingly elegant. Two small altars flank the chief one; but it is intended to remove them, and put in their place something more ornate and beautiful. It is also, we understand, intended to fix on each side of the sanctuary two handsome stained glass windows. At present all the windows in the chapel are plain. Everything, however, connected with the fit up of the building is good, well-finished and durable. There is not a morsel of sham finery nor of spangled superficiality in any portion of the edifice. The seats are open, even, strong and ornamental. All is marvellously clean. You might roll on the floor in your best Sunday coat, and hardly get any dust upon it. 18If you doubt this statement, have a roll, and test it. There is a rather powerful looking gallery at the western or entrance end. Here the singers sit... In the south-western corner of the chapel there is a very handsome stone font - carved, octagonal in shape, lined with white marble, and surrounded by a remarkably strong iron railing. The chapel will accommodate 320, and the average congregation numbers about 270. During our visit there was a very numerous congregation of respectable agricultural people, and where they had all come from - seeing how few and far between the houses of the district are - was to us a thorough puzzle. All were tidily dressed, homely in look, moderately sun-burned, quite healthy, and evidently constituted a very devoted congregation."(57)

Some two years later there was further cause for rejoicing when, on 8 June 1872,

"Two magnificent marble alters have been erected, at a cost of 1300, seven windows of stained glass have been inserted, and almost the whole of the interior of the sacred edifice has been substantially painted. The altars are worthy of particular attention. Our Lady's altar, standing on the Gospel-side of the High Altar [given by the Old Squire] is 8ft Tins in length and 3ft 3ins in height... In the centre is erected a magnificent statue of Our Lady in Carrara marble, which is 4ft in height, the crown encircling her head being 20ins in diameter... But it is in the little scene breath the altar that the sculptor has given the best proofs of his taste and artistic skill. It is a rock cave, in vein marble, with a group of figures in Carrara, representing the Nativity of the Redeemer... (see Fig. 10). If we pass from the Gospel side to the Epistle side of the High Altar we find ourselves in presence of the altar [given by Robert Gradwell] dedicated to St Joseph which in point of architectural proportions of style of marble, height of pedestal and statue, in every way is similar to the one we have just examined. On the whole, these two altars may be looked upon as CHEF D'OEUVRE of art, and reflect the greatest credit on the eminent sculptor, Mr W. J. Hastings, who heedless of any percuniary consideration has worked the figures up to a high state of perfection... The morning preacher for this august occasion was the Rev. G. Gillow, and during the evening service, as the Benediction was sung, there was a procession of little girls arrayed in white, with green and white flower garlands on their heads, all round the church. The day ended with a celebratory dinner at the Brockholes Arms."(58)

Interestingly, the anonymous witness of this occasion also commented that:

"From what has been stated it may be inferred that the church, when entirely finished, will present a very imposing appearance. But the outside is so unworthy of the inside, that it is not very likely that the good folks of Claughton will long remain content with it, and indeed there is some talk already of building a tower at the south-east front looking upon the road".(59)

Thus not only had popular taste changed in the three generations since the chapel had been built in late Georgian style, but the sense of good fortune at having a chapel at Claughton at all had also been overlaid with other preoccupations.

Of course, other Catholic churches were at this period being extensively remodelled or rebuilt: Thurnham is one local example and St Wilfrid's at Preston another.(60) We can speculate about why Claughton did not, in spite of the opinion voiced above, follow suit: perhaps the resources already lavished on the interior, in a small rural community, meant that no further outlay was feasible. However, the Old Squire in the last year of his life gave a "plot of land adjoining the church for a cemetery, and he undertook to lay it out, fence it and hand it over to the ecclesiastical authorities finished and complete" (Fig. 11).(61) A baptistry was added in 1883, and a belfry was erected in 1897 in memory of Queen Victoria's jubilee:(62) these mark the end of the building work at Claughton, although in recent years a very pleasant garden has been laid out in the area between the church and the cemetery. Mention should also be made of a very fine altar, originally made by Gillows for Mains Hall, that stands at the back of the church.


The assistants appointed to support Robert Gradwell between 1869 and 1889 were young priests - George Dobson, Isaac Webster, William Pinnington, and James Cross - who subsequently moved on to careers of their own!(63) Despite the fragility of his health, Robert was able to devote himself to literary pursuits, including the study of archaeology, and his articles appeared in the Transactions of Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society. He was a generous benefactor to the ecclesiastical seminary at St Joseph's, Upholland, as well as to the schools and church of Claughton, and during his rectorate the Claughton mission sent forward no fewer than twenty young men to the priesthood. Leo XIII, in recognition of these attainments, conferred the title of Monsignor on him in 1882, and later he was appointed as a domestic prelate to the Pope. In 1899 he celebrated the golden jubilee of his priesthood and received from his congregation and fellow clergy a set of vestments and illuminated addresses. He died in May 1906 and, after a requiem mass celebrated by the Bishop of Liverpool, was interred in a tomb close to that of the Old Squire with whom he had sparred for so long.(64)

The Rev. Henry Holden had been appointed to the mission in 1889 and, because of Robert Gradwell's infirmity, had done all the work there.(65) He succeeded as rector in 1906, and in 1913 was himself "the recipient of a purse of gold and illuminated address from his congregation, in recognition of his twenty-five years' work at Claughton".(66) He died in 1916 and was succeeded by the Rev. Henry Roberts, who had been trained at the English College, Lisbon and ordained for the (then) Diocese of Liverpool in 1872. He stayed at Claughton until 1921 and died in July 1932 at Cottam.(67)

Canon James Lowry, who was priest at Claughton from 1921 to 1926, was born at Bootle in 1868. He was educated at St Edward's College, Everton and St Joseph's College, Upholland, where he was ordained in 1893. After serving in parishes of the Liverpool diocese, he came to Claughton as both parish priest and diocesan inspector of schools. Subsequently he went to Kirkham and became a canon of the Diocese of Lancaster, and from 1931 became the diocesan treasurer. He died in September 1944 at Grange-over-Sands, where he had been parish priest since 1933.(68)

The Rev. Francis McKenna, who succeeded James Lowry, was born in Liverpool in March 1875 and spent sixteen years at Ushaw as student and teacher. He was ordained in 1904 and after eighteen years at St Augustine, Preston, and five at the Sacred Heart, Ashton, he came to Claughton in 1927 and remained there until his death in January 1951. Besides his duties as parish priest, he undertook research into the records of the parish and the history of the locality, and also fulfilled various diocesan tasks, including the treasurership of the Ecclesiastical Education Fund. He was interred at Claughton and shares a double tombstone with his life-long friend, Canon Joseph Leo Prescott.(69)

The Rev. Thomas Vincent Baron, who served as priest at Claughton from 1951 to 1955, was a Lancaster man, educated at Upholland College and ordained in 1939. He had been a Chaplain to the Forces and served with Bomber Command during World War II. He subsequently served at Blackpool, Milnthorpe, and Cockermouth, where his Requiem Mass was held.(70)

Canon Edmund Whiteside was born in 1906 of a family that within the space of two generations produced ten priests and a nun. After being educated at Stonyhurst and Ushaw he was ordained at St Kentigern's, Blackpool in 1933, and served in a variety of parishes in what we now know as Cumbria. He came to Claughton in 1955 and served for twenty-one years. He came from a family of builders and put his skills to good use in the repair of the church roof. He returned to Blackpool in 1976, died ten years later, and is interred at Claughton cemetery.(71)

Canon W. Jackson, who succeeded as priest to Claughton in 1976, was known as a countryman and an expert on keeping animals, especially goats. He worked with Mr M. J. Fitzherbert-Brockholes in 1984 on the successful fight to save St Mary's School from closure.(72) He left in 1984 and subsequently served at Dodding Green and Sedbergh. Canon Jackson was succeeded by the Rev. J. Heaney, who served from 1984 to 1987 before moving to a parish at Barrow-in-Furness.

Monsignor Martin Molyneux, in whose priesthood the bicentenary of St Thomas is being celebrated, was born at Westhoughton and attended Wigan Grammar School. He read for first degrees in combined studies at the University of Manchester and theology at the University of Oxford, where he also worked for a B.Litt. on a study of Dante: later he also obtained an S.T.L. He studied at the University of Freibourg for five years and was ordained there, and for eighteen years served in Rome as the vice-rector for the Pontifical Bada, a seminary for late vocations to the priesthood. Illness in his family brought him back to Lancaster where he served briefly at St Luke's, Skerton, before becoming parish priest at Claughton in February 1987. He retired to Boarbank Hall in Cumbria in 1999 until his death in 2006.(73)

Father John Dobson succeeded Monsignor Molyneaux till his retirement in 2004. Fr John Dobson was succeeded by Fr Stephen Cross who remained as parish Priest until 2008.

The current parish priest is Father Anthony Keefe, who has family connections to Claughton.

And thus more than two hundred years of the life of the church, and the longer period of the life of the mission, have been fulfilled; and like Anthony Hewitson, we "bid adieu to Claughton, with its beautiful mission, its fine line of priests ... and its glorious woods".(74)


The author is delighted to acknowledge the support and assistance at all stages of Mr and Mrs M. J. Fitzherbert-Brockholes of Claughton Hall and Monsignor M. Molyneux, and invaluable discussions of an earlier draft with Dr M. A. A. Mullett of the University of Lancaster.


  1. . W. Farrer and J. Brownbill (eds.), Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vols. 1 to 8 (London, 1906-14); vol. 7, p.330 (henceforth VCH).
  2. J. Gillow, letter to The Tablet, 16 February 1889; A. Hewitson, Our Country Churches (Preston, c.1870), pp.287-8.
  3. Michael Mullett, "Reformation and Renewal, 1450-1690", in A. White (ed.), A History of Lancaster, 1193-1993 (Keele, Staffs., Ryburn, 1993), p.59ff.
  4. Anon, "A memory of the Armada: Mains Hall, on the Wyre", Preston Guardian, 22 October 1904; and Leo Warren in Lancaster Diocesan Directory (Lancaster, 1994), p.11.
  5. Michael Mullett and Leo Warren, Martyrs of the Diocese of Lancaster (Preston, 1987); Sharon Lambert, Monks, Martyrs and Mayors (Lancaster: University of Lancaster Enterprise in Higher Education Project, 1991).
  6. Robert Gradwell, "Mission of Claughton-on-Brock", Liverpool Diocesan Almanac (Liverpool, 1885), pp.80-1; Joseph Gillow, "The Catholic Registers of St Thomas..., 1771-1834", Catholic Record Society, XX (1916), pp.270-1, 279. An account of the blessing of the statue is given in the Preston Chronicle for 9 September 1882.
  7. B. C. Foley, Some Other People of the Penal Times (Lancaster: Cathedral Bookshop, 1992), pp.113-24.
  8. B. C. Foley, Some People of the Penal Times (Lancaster: Cathedral Bookshop, 1991), Appendix 2.
  9. VCH, vol. 7, p.327; Mrs Davies' deposition is in the L.R.O., DDF-2:212.
  10. Foley, Some Other People, pp.133-41; and information supplied by Dr M. A. A. Mullett.
  11. Winifred, I. Haward, Secret Rooms of North West England (Yorks, Dalesman, 1964), pp.13-14, 49.
  12. Gillow, letter to The Tablet; Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.269.
  13. J. A. Hilton, Catholic Lancashire: From Reformation to Renewal, 1559-1991 (Phillimore, Chichester, 1994), p.12.
  14. Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.269.
  15. Hilton, Catholic Gentry, p.50.
  16. Gillow, letter to The Tablet.
  17. See: VCH, vol. 7, p.330; M. E. McClintock and R. C. Watson, Bowland's Vernacular Architecture (forthcoming); Haward, Secret Rooms, pp.49-50; The Preston Guardian, 5 December 1908; Hewitson, Our Country Churches, pp.290-1; Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.274.
  18. Now housed in Lancaster Priory.
  19. Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.272; G. Anstruther, The Seminary Priests (4 vols. 1976); vol. III (1660-1715), p.17.
  20. Will of Rev. Edward Blackburne of Claughton, L.R.O., RCC1.1.1.
  21. Will of Rev. Richard Taylor of Claughton, L.R.O., RCC 1.1.5: see also Anstruther, III, p.222.
  22. VCH, vol. 7, p.327.
  23. For a brief account of the lives of these five Brockholes priests in two generations, see Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", pp.269-70, and Anstruther, Seminary Priests, III.
  24. "Wm Brockholes Esqre, release of Right of and in an Estate called Claughton Hall", L.R.O., RCCI.1.10.
  25. Thomas Brockholes of Chillington to Rev. James Parkinson of Claughton, L.R.O., RCC1.1.11.
  26. J. Gillow and A. Hewitson (eds.), Tyldesley Diary, 1712-14 (Preston Chronicle, 1873).
  27. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, IV, (1716-1800), p.34.
  28. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, IV, pp.202-3.
  29. Gradwell, "Mission", pp.83-4; Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.275.
  30. Ibid. Site visit made on 9 July 1992.
  31. Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.275.
  32. Foley, Some Other People, pp.63-82: see also Anstruther, Seminary Priests, IV, pp.22-3.
  33. Foley, Some Other People, pp. 63-4. From 1623 England had been divided into five vicariates, each with a vicar apostolic: in 1840 the northern vicariate was divided again into a Northern, a Yorkshire and a Lancashire (including Cheshire) district, each with its own vicar-apostolic: see Hilton, Catholic Lancashire, pp.25 and 84.
  34. Ibid, pp.65-77.
  35. Ibid, p.65. See also Hewitson, Our Country Churches, pp.291-3, for another affectionate account of John Barrow's character.
  36. Nigel Dalziel, "Trade and Transition, 1690-1815", in White (ed.), History of Lancaster, pp.106-9.
  37. Foley, Some People, pp.109-12.
  38. Ibid, p. 71.
  39. 39. Ibid, Appendix 14, for the text of the 1791 Act.
  40. Hilton, Catholic Lancashire, pp.64-6.
  41. Ibid: see also VCH, Vol. 7, p.291.
  42. Lambert, Monks, Martyrs and Mayors: private communication from Dr Mullett.
  43. Warren, Directory, p.10.
  44. Leo Warren, A Short History of St Wilfrid's Church, Preston (Preston, 1972), pp.8-10.
  45. Hilton, Catholic Lancashire, p.70, notes a report of 13,800 communicants in Lancashire, spread between 69 missions.
  46. Foley, Some Other People, pp.80-1.
  47. Ibid, p.81.
  48. The Gradwells (formerly Graddells) were able to trace their ancestry back through 900 years, all of it based in pre-1974 Lancashire (letter in Preston Guardian, 27 August 1904).
  49. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, IV, pp.115-6; Gradwell, "Mission", p.89; Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.276.
  50. Gradwell, "Mission", p.90.
  51. After the male line of the Brockholes had died out, the female line married first into the Heskeths of Rufford and secondly into a family to which they were already related by marriage, the Fitzherberts of Swynnerton in Staffordshire. The name of Brockholes was in each case retained. Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes, known as the Old Squire, was the son of William Fitzherbert-Brockholes who had built Claughton Hall and died in 1817. (Information supplied by Mr M. J. Fitzherbert-Brockholes.)
  52. Gradwell, "Mission", pp.90-1; L.R.O., RCC1.4.6.
  53. Extract from the Agreement of 20 December 1855, quoted in "St Mary's R.C. Primary School, Claughton-on-Brock: The Case Against Closure" (1984).
  54. Gradwell, "Mission", p.92.
  55. Ibid, pp.92-3.
  56. Hewitson, Our Country Churches, p.294.
  57. Ibid, pp.295-6.
  58. Preston Chronicle, 8 June 1872.
  59. Ibid.
  60. N. Pevsner, Lancashire: The Rural North (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1969), p.246; Warren, St Wilfrid's, pp.20-1.
  61. Gradwell, "Mission", p.93.
  62. Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.278.
  63. Ibid.
  64. Ibid; see also the extensive accounts of Robert Gradwell's life in the Preston Guardian, 19 May and 26 May, 1906.
  65. Gillow, "The Catholic Registers...", p.279.
  66. Article in Preston Herald, 26 March 1916.
  67. Information supplied by Monsignor Martin Molyneux (hereafter MMM).
  68. Information supplied by Brian Plumb and MMM.
  69. Lancaster Diocesan Directory (Lancaster, 1952), pp.150-2.
  70. John A. Dobson in Lancaster Diocesan Directory (Lancaster, 1992), p.60.
  71. Valentine Farrell in Lancaster Diocesan Directory (Lancaster, 1987), pp.81-2; and information supplied by MMM.
  72. Information supplied by MMM.
  73. Information supplied by MMM.
  74. Hewitson, Country Churches, p.297.

I would like to thank Mrs McClintock for allowing me to use her material, but with one or two inclusions.

This material is copyright: ©Marion Mclintock 1994.

ISBN: 0 901800 39 2

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