|Pages from the Church
By Betty Brown
|The Early Beginnings of Christianity in Prescot|
The Leyland Window
A Processional Cross is a cross which is carried
in Christian processions. The cross is carried by a server in outdoor processions
such as Palm Sunday and other festive occasions. It is carried each Sunday
when the choir and clergy process into church and when processing out, or
around the church, such as Patronal Sunday and is also used sometimes at funerals.
Placed at the top of a long staff, the cross is held high, so that it can
be seen clearly as a Christian sign and symbol, as the procession passes by.
Such crosses have a long history, and according to the Venerable Bede, when
Saint Augustine of Canterbury and his entourage arrived in England from Rome
in 597, sent by Pope Gregory I to bring Christianity to the Anglo Saxons,
Augustine carried a crucifix before them “like a standard”. There
are many symbolic interpretations and variations of the cross, together with
its design and shape, which have accumulated over the centuries. Generally,
the cross is representative of the Christian faith and the love of God for
sinful man. The simplest and most common Christian cross is the Latin cross
(an upright cross, having the lower limb longer than the others) used for
centuries as an emblem of the Christian faith, probably coming into use in
the second or third centuries. The empty cross favoured by Protestants reminds
Christians of the Resurrection while the crucifix, with the body of Jesus
on it, is favoured by Catholic and Orthordox churches, and is a reminder of
Christ’s Sacrifice for all. During the Civil Wars in England (1642-1651)
the Puritans were very much opposed to items considered to be of an ‘idolatrous
nature’ and many of these crosses were destroyed.
Prescot Church has two carrying crosses – each completely different in design. The first is dedicated to the memory of a child – Neil Alfred Taylor, son of Alfred and Mable Taylor of Prescot. Neil Alfred Taylor was born on 30th October and baptised on 6th November 1932. His death was a tragedy for the family because he met with a terrible road accident whilst crossing High Street on his way to Hunt’s Dairy to buy ice cream. He died at the age of 6 on the 5th August and was buried on 9th August 1939 at Prescot. An extract from the PCC Annual Report of 1940 reads:
“Our deepest sympathy goes out to Mr and Mrs Alfred Taylor in their very sad bereavement, and we are deeply touched by their desire to give a processional Cross to the church in memory of their little son. The Council accepted this gift on the 28th December 1939……”
The Latin cross, in memory of Neil Alfred, is of polished wooden oak in the shape of a Budded Cross as the tips of the three arms are in a trefoil shape. In each tip is a bunch of three superbly carved acorns. Both sides of the cross are of the same design and the arms and lower limb are beautifully carved with oak leaves. At the foot of the cross, which joins the carrying staff, are two scroll like circles, carved with fruit of the vine and acanthus leaves. Beneath this, is a brass circlet around the staff, inscribed with the name, age, birth and date of death of Neil Alfred Taylor. The cross is clipped to the east wall of the north aisle, just to the left of the organ pipes. The significance of the oak tree, acorns, and oak leaves goes back in antiquity. The oak holds the first place among trees and the three acorns signify the Trinity. According to legend, it was under an oak tree in AD597 that the first meeting was held between Ethelbert King of Kent and the monk Augustine when he arrived in Britain to convert the Anglo Saxons to Christianity. However, the Christian faith had been established during the time of the Roman occupation and after they vacated Britain in AD410, the Celtic Christians continued spreading the Christian faith. In 603, Augustine desired to bring them into line with the Church of Rome, but the Celts followed the simple humility of Christ, and after polite exchanges, continued to worship in their own way. Augustine died in 604/5 and it was not until 663, at a General Synod at Whitby, that the Celtic church and Church of Rome combined but, even then, some members of the Celtic church didn’t conform until a few hundred years later.
The second Processional Cross is very different in design and dedicated in memory of Mrs Ada Grimshaw. Ada was born on 28th May and baptised on 13th June 1894, daughter of Edward and Sarah Hunt. She died on 24th September 1972, aged 78.
Designed by Francis Coote of Little Hampton, W. Sussex, it is made of 18th century antique polished rose wood in the shape of a Latin cross with flared ends. The cross has a design on each side. On the front - which is carried facing forward - is a Greek silver cross in the form of a quadrate i.e., having 4 arms of equal length. At the intersection point is a silver square and in it is a smaller Greek cross on a background of red enamel. (The Greek cross is a very early form of Christian cross and suggests the Christian Church, and not a symbol of the suffering of Christ). On the reverse side, at the intersection, is another square in silver with a background of blue enamel in which is a silver fleur-de-lis. It symbolises both the Trinity, and the lily flower, specifically associated with the Blessed Virgin. A very fitting symbol since our church is dedicated to St Mary-the-Blessed-Virgin. This Latin cross rests on a silver ‘cuplike’ holder and underneath, inscribed on a band around the carrying staff: “1973 - In Loving Memory of Ada Grimshaw obit 24th September 1972”. This processional cross is kept at the east end of the chancel, where it rests in brackets at the side of the choir stalls. The cross was given in 1973 by her children Joyce and Raymond.
(Refs: Internet; and with thanks to Mr Robert Taylor, Mrs Joyce Dutton,
Mrs Myra & Mr Ray Grimshaw)
Since the dawn of Christianity,
candles have been used. Judaism, and other religions in the ancient world,
used candles in symbolic ways, principally as a light source in ancient times
and most clergy will tell you that the candle represents Jesus as the Light
of the World.
On the 2nd February, the first Sunday in that month, we celebrated the Feast of Candlemas, known as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple and, at the same time, The Purification of the Virgin Mary. During the service, the congregation lit each other’s small candles and the Vicar, servers and choir processed around the church with theirs and stood under a stained glass window above the door in the south aisle. This delightful window shows the occasion when Simeon and Anna in the temple recognize Jesus as being Israel’s Messiah. The lit candles are a symbol of Christ being the Light of the World and we kept them lit while the relative bible text was read.
Prior to celebrating the birth of Jesus, on the fourth Sunday before 25th December an Advent Wreath, made from evergreens, is placed on a wrought iron stand next to the pulpit. It has five candles - the first one is lit on the 1st Sunday in advent, representing the Patriarchs, Abraham, Sarah etc., 2nd Sunday - The Old Testament Prophets, 3rd Sunday - John the Baptist, and the 4th Sunday the Blessed Virgin Mary. The 5th, and centre candle, is lit on Christmas Eve, symbolizing the birth of Jesus – again as The Light of the World. Candles are also a special feature at the annual Carol Service when the congregation each holds a small candle during part of the service when the church is swathed in candle light.
The largest candle in the worship space is the tall white Paschal candle, resting on a large black and gilt stand. It is sometimes referred to as the “Easter Candle” or the “Christ Candle”. The term Paschal comes from the word ‘Pesach’ which in Hebrew means ‘Passover’ when the Israelites, in their Exodus from slavery, were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Each year, a new Paschal candle is lit on the Saturday when celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place before Easter Sunday. The candle is lit and blessed, representing the Light of Christ coming into the world symbolizing life and dispelling darkness (death). The candle displays several symbols – the cross; Greek letters alpha and omega (God is the beginning and the end); current year; five brass studs representing the 5 wounds of Jesus. These are the 3 nails that pierced his hands and feet, the spear thrust into his side and the thorns that crowned his head. It is used throughout the Pascal season which is during Easter and then throughout the year on special occasions such as baptism and funerals. (At baptism, a small candle is given to each child to keep). The black and gilt stand was given at Easter 1989 in memory of James and Louisa Cowen by their children Ron and Elaine.
Two altar candles are placed on the reredos shelf at the main altar and lit for all services including Holy Communion. The black and gilt stands were designed and given by Robin McGhie at Easter 1989 in memory of his mother Edith McGhie 1893-1984. Whilst some churches have 3 sets of candles in the altar area, at Prescot we have two sets. We are fortunate to have an interesting reredos and by having just two sets, this does not detract from the beauty of our reredos. Placed either side of the altar on the marble steps are a pair of acolyte candles. Black and gilt stands support the candle holders, each supporting a candle. Altar ‘Servers’ sometimes called ‘Acolytes’ can be of either sex and any age, but usually no younger than 10. They assist in worship by carrying a processional cross, lighting candles, holding the Gospel Book when being read by the Minister, and two carry the acolyte candles to the spot in the Nave where the Gospel is read from. They wear an alb, a long white robe, tied around the waist with a rope called a cincture. These candle sticks were given in memory of Sarah Elizabeth and John Yates by their family in 1990. On the small moveable altar, there is pair of black and gilt candlesticks given in memory of Norman Barker 1921-2005.
Standing to the right of the lectern is a black wrought iron Votive Candle stand. This is regarded as a ‘prayer centre’ where small ‘nightlight’ type candles are lit by members of the congregation who wish to say a prayer for someone, or wish to make mention of a person during a service. It was given in memory of Margaret Jones (1907-1998) by her family and friends.
An interesting light is mounted on the wall at the North East end of the North aisle, next to the Aumbry Cupboard which is used for storing reserved, consecrated elements of bread and wine which is used for those who are housebound, in hospital or in nursing homes. The light is white, which when lit, indicates that the reserved sacrament is present in the aumbry. It was given in memory of Margaret Rowlands 1912-1999, by her family.
A constant reminder of Jesus being the Light of the World in our church is the figure of Jesus, holding a lighted lamp, depicted in a lovely mosaic, hanging on the wall to the right of the east window. The mosaic is based on a painting by Holman Hunt (1827-1910), a Pre-Raphaelite painter, entitled “The Light of the World” painted in 1853/4.
Over the past few months, great
interest has been shown in the maintenance of the churchyard - the churchyard
provides the eye with a setting for the church. If weeds and nettles almost
reach across pathways, and if the tops of the headstones appear just above
a sea of grass, the whole area looks like an untidy mess and distracts the
viewer from appreciating the church building itself. Many churchyards are
overgrown and untended, some are cleared - perhaps twice a year - by some
local group whilst others are kept generally tidy. In small villages, sheep
can be seen around the church and they keep the grass short as part of their
diet! The churchyard is one of the few places in a town where natural life
can develop as it should. It is more than a garden around a church it is a
natural setting where people can come for quiet reflection whilst tending
the graves of their loved ones. On the other hand, old churchyards are cluttered
with graves which have not been personally attended for many years because
the last of the local line have themselves died or near relatives have left
the area. For the researcher into family history a stone hidden by grass or
an overgrown shrub might hide a large piece of genealogy.
A group of people “Friends of Prescot Cemetery and Churchyard” is an organisation formed in September 2013 to work with Knowsley Council and the church, plus other groups, to improve and maintain Prescot churchyard and cemetery. Thanks to them the place looks a lot tidier. The Friends picked up litter, pulled weeds, swept walkways and removed dead flowers. Recently they have planted spring bulbs along the footpaths and on 8th December 2013, a Christmas Tree of Remembrance was planted and dedicated and names of loved ones, to be remembered, were placed on the tree. Donations were given towards a children’s memorial for the many babies and stillborn infants buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard and cemetery.
The churchyard now has, at the south side, a new War Memorial commemorating BICC employees who gave their lives in the first and second World Wars. It was dedicated in October 2011. The Bronze memorial plaques had originally been mounted on a wall inside the main factory gates in Station Road. At the time of the Great War the company, then British Insulated & Helsby Cables, lost 116 employees who had fallen in the conflict. After WWII, another bronze panel memorial was dedicated to 73 employees who had perished. By then, the company was British Insulated Cables Limited. After the war it was renamed British Insulated Callender’s Cables Limited after merging with Callender’s Cables & Construction Company in 1945. The company vacated the Prescot site in the 1990’s. There are 21 servicemen’s graves from the Great War in the churchyard.
Over the last century, the appearance of the churchyard has changed greatly. Before 1900, there were few trees either side of the walkway, now lined with lovely lime trees. Most of the flat slab graves had small wire fencing bordering them – now all gone. Glass domes covered delicate porcelain flowers, mostly on infants’ graves, but they were never vandalised until recent years. In some cases, headstones have been removed to create a park like environment, and this is what happened on the south side of our Parish Church in the 1960’s. Numerous grave memorials – many being chest or table tombs were uprooted and the top slabs moved to provide a walkway around the church. The change also made a space for the re-siting of the Prescot War Memorial which was removed from Church Street. Lots of old trees, on the south side of the church especially hawthorns, were uprooted, and it was beneath these trees where stillborn babies, would have been buried. Some existing memorial stones are of the seventeenth century at the earliest and Georgian memorials, plus upright Victorian stones, are interesting to read.
A churchyard should not be confused with a graveyard or a cemetery. Whilst churchyards were historically often used as graveyards, they can also be any patch of land on church grounds. Graveyards were usually established at the same time as the building of the relevant place of worship which can date back to between the sixth and fourteenth centuries - Prescot was created a parish at the end of the seventh century. A churchyard would almost certainly have been consecrated at that time.
It is amazing to think that the churchyard cross was the only memorial in those days for some families who could not afford to be buried inside, or beneath, the place of worship itself. Up until the eighteenth century, unless a family was rich and influential, people could not buy plots as they can today, and the closest many got to interment in a coffin was a temporary residence in one which belonged to the parish. The corpse was wrapped in a shroud, tied at head and foot, and placed in a ‘mort coffin’. At the graveside it was lowered part way down and bolts were then withdrawn allowing the floor of the coffin to swing open and the body to fall into the grave. The ‘mort coffin’ was then lifted out ready for further use. The ground would often be reused for further burials and only affluent families could afford any memorials. It goes without saying that a charnel house near the church - i.e., a vault or building where human skeletal remains are stored, would have existed at Prescot, when considering the known burials which are recorded from 1524. Bones, unearthed whilst digging for new graves, would be removed and placed in a charnel house. Times have changed and nowadays, most families have a memorial stone for their loved ones, and it is so much nicer to see them in a well maintained environment.
(Ref: Prescot Roll of Honour, Stephen Nulty; Discovering Churchyards Mark Child)
The Lancasters of Rainhill were
a landed gentry family who lived in Lancashire from the middle ages. They
used a version of the Lancaster arms which is most associated with the Lancaster
family, Barons of Kendal, from which the family of Rainhill seems to have
claimed decent. They came into possession of a moiety (part) of Rainhill in
early in the 14th century when John Lancaster married Margery Molyneux and
with her came part of the sub-manor of Rainhill in the Parish of Prescot -
their seat being the old Rainhill Hall. Members of the Lancaster family are
mentioned in the 16th century Prescot Court Leet Records, and also in the
Church Wardens’ Accounts. The family appear to have been a large one
with various branches. One interesting member of the Rainhill family is a
Thomas Lancaster from whose Will we learn about family members and his connection
with Prescot church. Thomas c.1544 was the eldest of four sons born to Richard
Lancaster of Rainhill and Jane Hesketh of Rufford. He married Margaret Layton,
daughter of Thomas Layton of Prescot Hall. Margaret died and was buried on
the 14th February 1602.
In Thomas’ Will, dated 12th January 1606, during the reign of James I, he makes a number of requests:
….My bodie to be Chested (put in a coffin) brought and buried within my ‘chappall’ in the parishe church of Prescott….so neer to my ancesters as conveniently mae be,..
….I Will that my Armes be sett in collor rightlie approved by law in the south glasse windowe in the glasse in my said chappell. I give to the discharge of the said Armes in glasse soe to be sett, as aforesaid xxs. (20shillings).
Thomas died and was buried at Prescot on 21st January 1606. The Lancaster Coat of Arms is made up of two bars of white/silver and two bars of red with a lion passant guardant in gold. It is evident from Thomas Lancaster’s Will that, after his first wife Margaret died in 1602, he re-married to an Anne Rishton. He refers to this second wife Anne and her family. His own surviving sons and daughter are named: Thomas, John, Richard, Percevill and daughter Jane who was married to William Mooreton. Thomas’ eldest son Gabrielle born c.1570 pre-deceased him by five years, and was buried at Prescot on 28th May 1601. Gabrielle married Ursula, daughter of Thomas Fox of Sutton who died and was buried 3rd November 1593. Their son and heir, Thomas was underage and, therefore, a ward of the king. Numerous family members including grandchildren and others benefited from Thomas’ Will and the ‘poorest sort of people dwelling in Raynhill, Prescott, and Whiston, were not forgotten as they were granted ten pounds yearly before Lent’. What is most interesting about the Will in 1606, is that Thomas Lancaster refers to his ‘chappell’ in the parish church of Prescot. History tells us that the earlier church on the site had three chapels which existed during the time of Henry VIII, one of which was a Bold of Bold foundation of 1410 that remains to this day. In the Prescot Court Leet Rolls of 25th June 1546, reference is made to 3 chantry stocks “Our Ladye, Sancte Katryn and Rode (Rood) Stoke. The chapel stocks were converted to the use of the grammar school – chantry priests combined their duties by teaching in the grammar school. Some parish churches had small chapels with a part closed screen of tracery, dividing the chapel from the nave, the inside decorated with arms of the ancestrial families interred there. Maybe it was in one of these chapels where Thomas Lancaster wished his Armes be set in a particular window. Was his request ever carried out as the church was rebuilt in 1610? It would be interesting to know! References are made at various times in the Church Wardens Accounts 1523-1607, of funds being dedicated to the chapels and on the ‘Feaste day of St. Cateryn 1578’, a sum was received from Mr. Lancaster to be distributed to the poor. Thomas Lancaster played an important part in the administration of the church at Prescot and over a period of years, he was an annual signatory for the acceptance of the Church Wardens’ Accounts. For example, in 1597-9, signatories were Thomas Meade (Vicar), Thomas Lancaster, John Ogle, James Pemberton, Francis Watmough and Robert Coney. There were other landed gentry families who, over the centuries, held lands in Rainhill, but the Lancasters, like many families in Lancashire, were fined for recusancy and the churchwarden’s accounts of 1597-8 refer to the Justice coming to Prescot to meet Mr. Lancaster about recusancy fines. Succeeding generations continued to pay fines and during the Commonwealth (1649-59) John Lancaster, a royalist, was convicted of treason and delinquency and all his estates were confiscated in 1653. They were sold off but bought by back by Henry Lawton and others of Rainhill in 1661 for £450 and settled in trust for the Lancasters. Further fines for non-attendance at church were levied on the family and they became impoverished as a result. They became tradesmen as a means of livelihood - grocers, physicians, watchmakers and some became priests. The death of James Lancaster in 1805 resulted in the male line of the Lancasters dying out. The estate was eventually bought by Mary Stapleton Bretherton in 1881, the purchase of which united the Lancaster’s part of Rainhill with the other ‘moiety’(part) bought by her father Bartholomew Bretherton in 1824. This family also had no heirs and their estates were sold by auction in the early 20th century.
Ref. Lancasters of Rainhill- Internet; The
Story of Rainhill;
RSLC Vol.89, 104,137; LPRS Vol.137,VCH Vol.3
The name ‘Pemberton’
suggests that the family first originated in the place of that name in the
vicinity of Wigan. In Prescot church, two 17th century references to the Pemberton
family of Halsnead are in the chancel. One of the oak stalls (misericords)
installed in 1636, on the north side of the choir, beneath the organ pipes,
has carved in the seat back “J.Pemberton M.P.”. The M.P. probably
stands for “Moerens posuit” = “Sorrowly placed” and
may have been a memorial to Jacobus (James) Pemberton, senior, gentleman,
who died in 1626. The seat would have been used by his son James (1571-1655)
and other members of the Pemberton family.
The second reference is in the form of a wooden memorial panel measuring approx. 15” x 22” on the north wall of the chancel, to the right of the steps going into the North Vestry. It has a gilded frame, although now darkened with age. The painted inscription is in Latin - quite a conversation piece with visitors when they notice the skull and crossbones at the top! It reads:
Jacobi filij Jacobi Pemberton de Halsonad quod claudi potuit hic jacet obiit 22 Feb A.Dmi 1655 Aetatis suae 84
Et Georgij filij Jacobi Pemberton obiit 18 July A.Dni 1688 Aetatis suae 80 Nec non
Anne filiae Georgii Pemberton Obiit 24 Junij A.Dni.1690 Aetatis suae 18
Translated: “James son of James Pemberton of Halsnead lies near this place, died 22 February A.D. 1655 in the year of his age 84.
And George son of James Pemberton died 18 July A.D.1688 in the year of his age 80 and
Anne daughter of George Pemberton died 24 June A.D.1690 in the year of her age 18”.
They were all buried in the church.
Over the passage of time, the earliest uses of skull and crossbones indicated that churchyards and cemeteries were places of rest for the deceased and the image became associated with death. The primary reason they appeared on memorial and gravestones was as a “memento mori” a reminder of our own mortality, an aide-memoire, should it be needed, that you too will die one day – death is inexorable! During the middle ages, the Knights Templar adopted this image for use on their tunics during the Crusades, on the assumption of scaring off opponents! The Certificate of Burial in Woollen in the 17th century featured a border of skull, crossbones and skeletal figures.
James Pemberton senior, who died in 1626, was a ‘freeholder of Whiston” in 1600 – i.e., a person who owns a building and the ground on which it is situated. Upon James Pemberton senior’s death, his son James (1571-1655) inherited the Halsnead and Whiston estates but, because of recusancy, lost some of them. Prescot churchwardens’ accounts record suits against James Pemberton in 1635-6, an example of gentry being humiliated in the church courts for recusancy because of non payment of leyes. James, cited as a recusant in 1633, was made to pay his leyes arrears in full in August 1638 and, as a result, he suffered sequestration (the act of taking legal possession of assets until a debt or claims are paid). Some of his estates were sold in 1653. He died, as shown on the memorial plaque aged 84 in 1655 and his eldest son George inherited land in Whiston and Halsnead Hall. Four generations later Robert, the last Pemberton, conveyed Halsnead Hall to Daniel Willis in 1736.
The first Pemberton to be mentioned in connection with the area was Hugh who married Margaret, daughter of Thomas le Norreys of Burtonhead, by whom he received Burtonhead, and part of that family’s land in Halsnead. They had two sons, William and Richard. After the appropriation of Prescot to King’s College in 1448 by Henry VI, an interesting account in Vol.89 p,280 of Prescot Records 1447-1600 R.S. of Lancs & Ches., gives details of an Indenture (Agreement) made on 17 July 1458 between King’s College and the Vicar of Prescot, concerning the building of a Vicarage house, beyond the west side of the church together with “a howse, gardeynes and crofte, that summe tyme William of Pemberton helde within the town of Prestecote in parcel of wichye croft the said vicryage is beldyd, and with a wey of reasonable brede for carte and caryage”. This is the same site on which the vicarage stands today, albeit it is the third one. Ralph Duckworth D.D. was Vicar of Prescot from 1448 to 1471 and resided at Prescot (Hall) Rectory. It was 20 years after a Vicarage was endowed in 1448, before final agreements for completion of a house had been made.
(Ref: A History of Whiston, Bill Blinkhorn;
Warden’s A/c’s 1635-63 Rev.T.M.Steel)
Some form of sundial has been
used, associated with the church and primarily to indicate the times for its
services, from the days when the Anglo-Saxons incised scratch or mass dials
on stone slabs attached to the south facing exteriors of their churches. Prescot,
from historical notes, seems to have had a standing dial in the churchyard
at various times during the centuries. The present sundial at our church replaced
earlier ones and dates from around 1730 and many will remember when this sundial
was sited opposite the west door of the church; it was then removed about
1980 to give easier access from the church to the newly built meeting room.
It now stands in the Garden of Remembrance at the side of the meeting room.
A picture of the sundial is on the left, but the gnomon which casts the shadow
to record the time has been missing for many years. (The Sun Dial was stolen
The concept of the sundial originated in the ancient world. The principle of it was easily understood. The sun daily traversed the sky and although people did not know how, or why, they accepted it to be a regular daily happening (that is if the weather was good!). The shadow cast by a fixed object on a flat surface moved around at the same speed each day depending upon the relative position of the sun. Hence, the shadow from a stationary metal pin or rod called a gnomon fixed either on a flat surface or on the south wall of a building or church, would fall along the same plane each day at the same time. The particular interest was in noon and the times of the important church services, mass and vespers (evensong). These were sometimes indicated by the incised lines which radiated from the central pin, that of mass at nine o’clock in the morning being more strongly cut than others. Old dials can be found almost anywhere on the south facing walls of churches. A favourite position was above the doorway of the south porch, or on the south side of a church tower, the position of which reflected the sun for most of the day. Some grave memorials are in the form of a sun dial and there is one in the old graveyard at Prescot.
During the Civil Wars (1642-1651), the decorative and ornamental sundial did cause offence to some puritans; maybe this was because, since time immemorial, the ancients had worshipped the sun. Most parish churches had clocks by this time, often installed without dials in a special “Clockhouse”. A new clockhouse was provided at Prescot after the 1633 visitations, and regular clock repairs and maintenance were carried out. Clocks, unlike sundials, caused no offence to puritans and usually survived undamaged throughout the troubles of the 1640’s. Prescot Churchwardens’ Accounts 1637-64 include a couple of items: “Paid for six ashlers towards the making of a dyall in the churchyoard - £0.1s.0d.” and “Paid for removing the church dyall and making new stone stepps - £0.2s.0d.”
The diaries of Adam Martindale (1623-1686) a Puritan minister, born near Mossbank in the Parish of Prescot, record life and events describing the chapelry and family happenings. He was a Presbyterian, son of Henry Martindale, yeoman and builder, and educated at the grammar schools in St. Helens, and Rainford. Adam Martindale mentions that his mother Julia of Windle had been buried on 4th April 1632, near to a sun dial which had been erected in 1603. This particular sun dial, a few years later, had been removed because of puritan aversion. However, another was eventually provided for Adam Martindale’s brother Thomas was buried ‘neare the dyall in the churchyard” in July 1663. Ordinary people would not have owned a clock in those far off days, and locals came into the churchyard to check the sundial to see whether it was morning or afternoon. The one great problem with sundials was that they could only be relied upon during daylight hours when it was sunny, and they were no use for indicating when the church bells should be rung for mass and vespers in the winter. Mechanical clocks and watches were more reliable and the sundial became more of an ornamental feature in the churchyard rather than a necessity. Today, the ornamental sundial is a popular item for sale in any garden centre and it is hard to imagine why they caused so much offence to the puritanical element in the first half of the 17th century.
(Ref. Prescot Churchwarden’s A/c’s.1635-63 Rev. T.M. Steel & Discovering Churchyards by Mark Child)
The Revd Samuel Sewell certainly
left his mark after his demise in 1815 at Prescot. He was instituted Vicar
on the 11th July 1776 and, during his incumbency for nearly 40 years, resided
in the Vicarage and worked tirelessly bringing much benefit to the town of
Prescot, and beyond. Samuel Sewell was born at New Windsor, and baptised there
on the 15th November 1737. His father was also named Samuel. Samuel the younger
attended Eton College from 1747 to 1754 and became a King’s Scholar
in 1751. He was admitted as a scholar at King’s College, Cambridge University
2nd July 1755 and awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1759, followed by
a Master of Arts in 1762. He was a senior fellow. During his time at Prescot,
Samuel was chaplain to Edward the 12th Earl of Derby.
The Revd Sewell founded one of the earliest Sunday Schools in the country which he opened in 1784. The school was for the instruction of poor children in reading, English, and the church catechism. It was established four years after Robert Raikes of Gloucester opened his Sunday school for poor children. For a few generations the Sunday school was held in church, then in the town hall Market Place, the number of pupils increased greatly to about 300. At the request of many of his former scholars he consented to sit for his portrait, the expense of which, together with an elegant frame of Windsor pear tree, was paid for by a subscription raised among them. The portrait was to be put in the Sunday school as a token of their esteem and gratitude - it would be interesting to learn if this portrait still survived in some unknown place?
Samuel Sewell has been described as “an old fashioned high and dry sort of person”, but his dedication to those in need was in the right place as we can see from a constant reminder of his generosity in the form of his Will which is displayed on a large white marble memorial tablet at the eastern end of the north wall in church. It details his benefactions to Prescot, Liverpool and Windsor, as follows:
“Near this spot
lies interred the remains of the Revd Samuel Sewell, M.A., for 39 years Vicar
of this Parish who departed this life on the 9th day of February 1815 aged
77 years. Having left by Will the following legacies, duty free, VIZ;
Towards clothing one hundred poor families of Prescot £100
To each child or scholar attending the Protestant Sunday School at Prescot; one shilling - £14.14.0d.
Towards establishing a fever ward in Prescot £400
To the Trustees of the Protestant Sunday School in Prescot; the interest whereof to be applied in small rewards for the encouragement of learning, and in placing scholars apprentices £800
To the Trustees of the Infirmary at Liverpool £600
To the Trustees of the Blind Asylum at Liverpool £400
To the Provost and Scholars of Kings College, Cambridge, to increase the fund for purchasing clergy livings for that Society £1,000
To the Clergy Meeting at Warrington £200
Also, Three cottages at the bottom of Prescott Street, Windsor, to be constructed into alms houses for the poor persons of Windsor and Clewer; Also £600 the interest whereof to be applied weekly towards their support. Also £300 towards the erection or purchase of 4 alms houses in Prescot township for poor persons belonging thereto. Also £400 the interest whereof to be applied weekly towards their support. Also, to the York Emanuel at York £600
The above four legacies having become void by the statue of Mortmain, Sir John Sewell, L.L.D., of Cumberland Street, Portman Square, London. The residuary legatee, in furtherance of the Testators wishes, caused the same to be carried into full effect and at his death in 1833, bequeathed £100 to the alms houses at Prescot and £100 to those at Windsor.
This tablet was erected by desire of the aforesaid Sir John Sewell as a tribute of respect to his Relative’s great worth and as a memorial to after generations of his humane and very liberal disposition towards the poor and of his great desire for promoting the Holy Protestant Religion.”
In addition to his many attributes,
the Revd Samuel Sewell acted as a ‘Surrogate’ for the issuing
of marriage Licences on behalf of the Bishop of the Diocese (Prescot was then
in Chester Diocese) when couples, for various reasons, were unable to wait
for the publication of banns and needed to marry quickly. His signature is
to be seen on Bonds and Allegations relative to the issue of such Licences.
The Revd Sewell’s time at Prescot was during the reign of George III
when many famous historical happenings took place; to name a few - on 4th
July just one week prior to his induction as Vicar on 11th July 1776, the
American Declaration of Independence was declared; 1789-99 the French Revolution
took place; 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s great victory and death
31st October; 1807 Slave Trade abolished in the British Empire; Revd Sewell
died 9th February 1815, and 4 months later on 18th June 1815, the country
celebrated Wellington’s Victory at the Battle of Waterloo. The Revd
Charles George Thomas Driffield was instituted Vicar just after on 11th July.
On the 21st February 1871, Prescot Local Board renamed many of the streets in Prescot, and Snig Lane, starting at the bottom of Market Place, down the hill to Prescot Hall, was renamed Sewell Street in memory of the Revd Samuel Sewell.
(Refs: ‘The Sole Society” internet; Prescot Registers 1776-95, Revd T.M.Steel
This wonderful window is not
as tall vertically as the other windows in church because it is situated above
the south door, and the top of the wooden inner porch sadly hides the inscription
along the base of it. It is in memory of the Rev. Lewis William Sampson M.A.,
who was Vicar of Prescot from July 1849 until his death in 1882. The Rev.
Sampson in 1849 filled the position as Vicar of Prescot, following a previously
appointed candidate in 1848, the Rev. Charles Chapman M.A., committed suicide
immediately after presentation was made and he never came into residence at
Prescot. The Rev. Lewis William Sampson was born in 1808 in Petersham, Surrey.
He married Hannah Beaumont on the 1st July 1850 at Alnwick, Northumberland,
just a year after becoming Vicar of Prescot. He died and was buried on 11th
August 1882 at Prescot aged 74 after being 33 years as Vicar. Hannah, his
wife, was buried on the 18th June 1885 aged 77. She was born in Epping, Essex.
The couple do not appear to have had any children.
The memorial window features The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, commonly called ‘The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin’. Mary, wearing a blue cloak lined in pink is standing on the left holding a basket containing two doves, and Simeon, the central figure, in a rich red and gold cloak holds baby Jesus in his left arm, his right hand raised in blessing. Anna the prophetess in a green cloak with hands clasped together in reverence is to the right of them. According to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph observed their Hebrew Religious customs, one of which was, the firstborn male be taken to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, to be dedicated to God. It was also the time for the purification of the child’s mother, symbolizing that time following childbirth when she was blessed and “purified” after being rendered unclean after childbirth. On this day a gift was given to the temple by parents. Rich Hebrew families brought a year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove, but because Mary and Joseph were poor, Mary was allowed to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering for being blessed with a safe delivery and the other for a sin offering.
Simeon was a righteous and devout, old holy man. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon had been waiting for this day, and took Jesus in his arms and praised God saying “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Simeon’s prophetic hymn is called the “Nunc Dimittis.” Mary and Joseph marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. Then Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary his mother, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon recognises Jesus as the Messiah but so does Anna the temple prophetess. She was an old woman aged 84, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only 7 years when her husband died. She more or less lived in the temple and worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.
The first line of Simeon’s hymn is shown beneath the three figures. At the top of the window is a gold crown, indicating kingship, and below it are two winged cherubs. They are mentioned in the Torah which contains the Law of Moses, which can be seen in the window on the tiled temple floor by Simeon’s feet. After the temple visit, Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus returned to their own town of Nazareth. (St.Luke 2. 22-40).
February 2nd is the day for celebrating the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin and together with Candlemas - representing Jesus the Light of the World it is celebrated in our morning service. The choir and clergy process around the church with lighted candles then stop in front of this special window. The congregation turn to face it when readings are said to mark the occasion. The colours and figures are superb on this charming window, so do take note of it when the above celebration takes place.
(Ref: C. of E. Website; ‘Jesus
Walk’ Bible Study Series;
IGI; Prescot Burials)
On the wall of the South aisle
is a small tablet headed with the words ‘BYRON DOLE’. Although
a small plaque it is always of great interest to church visitors who inevitably
pause to read what it says:
“£100 BEQUEATHED BY ELLEN BYRON, DAUGHTER OF JAMES BYRON OF MARKET PLACE, PRESCOT. THE INTEREST TO BE LAID OUT IN CLOTHING AND DISTRIBUTED YEARLY ON THE 9TH OCTOBER AMONGST SUCH FIVE OLD SINGLE WOMEN, NATIVES OF PRESCOT, AS THE VICAR, FOR THE TIME BEING SHOULD CONSIDER MOST DESERVING”.
The death year of Ellen Byron is not given on the tablet, but details from the Prescot burial records confirm she was buried on the 9th October 1872 aged 66. The baptismal register surprisingly, gives Ellen’s birth date and month as being the same – the 9th October 1805. It goes without saying that Ellen‘s request certainly put the Vicar, the Rev. L.W. Sampson at that time, on the spot in making a fair decision as to which five single old women, in his opinion, deserved a gift of clothing! No doubt the recipients of Ellen Byron’s bequest must have been grateful for being given extra garments before the onset of winter. The Vicar would have been aware of which elderly single ladies needed warm clothing most and would have been obliged to give consideration to those in the worst circumstances.
Families mentioned in the “Endowed Charities of Prescot” were more or less local gentry, successful business people, or tradesmen, hence their means to be benevolent to those who needed help. Ellen was the daughter of James and Ellen Byron of Prescot, he was a joiner, but the family was also involved in a grocery business in Market Place. She was one of five known children born to James and Ellen Byron, the first child being Mary born 1801, who married Thomas Traverse of Prescot, he was an Auctioneer, as well being a printer and stationer, in Market Place. The second child was Robert born 1803, he was married to Ann, and went to live in Bradford, Yorkshire, where he was a Veterinary Surgeon and they had five children. The benevolent Ellen was born 1805, followed by Ann in 1808, then Eliza in 1816 who married Robert Barrow, a Watchmaker of Farnworth, Widnes.
Ellen remained single all her life, and lived in Market place at the family home until her later years when she moved house to live at number 42, Fall Lane, now Derby Street. She was living there in 1871 and classed as an ‘Annuitant’ which indicates she was not dependent upon anyone and was able to live by her own means. She died in 1872, so we can assume that the ‘Byron Dole’ probably became operational in say 1873 after a yearly interest on the £100 invested for the purpose. Ellen’s father James Byron was one of thirty-five traders, not to mention at least five pubs in Market Place during the early part of the 19th century.
The Chorley family of Prescot
must not be confused with the Chorley family of Rainhill. The Chorley families
of Prescot were minor gentry and great benefactors to those who needed help
and support in the 18th and 19th centuries within the Parish of Prescot. Four
memorial plaques are set into the north wall of the church, two either side
of the wooden porch near the North door. Three of the plaques each refer to
a different ‘John Chorley’. The earliest dated one reads: “Near
this place lie the remains of JOHN CHORLEY who departed hence on 11th January
1774 in the 69th year of a life spent in Private Beneficience, General Benevolancy
and Benevolent Publick utility – In each relation, every step he trod,
the honest man, the noblest work of God”. This John Chorley, Gent.,
was born and baptised at Prescot on the 29th April 1705, son of Thomas and
Susannah Chorley of Prescot. The baptism of John is one of the earliest Chorley
baptisms recorded in the Prescot Registers. His father Thomas, a Surgeon,
was buried on 21st May 1722, and mother Susannah was buried on 30th March
The second memorial plaque reads:“Sacred to the memory of **JOHN CHORLEY who died 21st April 1807 age 66 and of Jane his wife who died 21st June 1798 age 59 years. In whose death the poor, lament the loss of kind benefactors, and their children, that of the most affectionate parents.” It is not particularly clear if there was any family connection with the first John Chorley but this John, a Merchant of Prescot, and his wife Jane, had five children. Their eldest child, another John was born 12th March, baptised 11th April 1766; followed by four daughters – Jane born 13th April, baptised 13th May1768; Mary born 21st August, baptised 21st September 1770; Francis born 20th July, baptised 24th August 1774; and Elizabeth born 7th October, baptised 5th November 1776.
The third plaque reads: “In sacred memory of JOHN CHORLEY who in every department of life conscientiously endeavoured to do his duty. He died 2nd October 1823, in the 58th year of his age. In affectionate respect to his memory this tablet is erected by his widow.” John, born in 1766, was the son of John and Jane Chorley on the second plaque. There is no mention of who his ‘widow’ was, but his four sisters are mentioned on the 4th plaque which reads: “Sacred to the memory of JANE CHORLEY who died on 12th March 1825 in the 57th year of her age. Also of MARY CHORLEY who died 15th July 1837 age 66, and of ELIZABETH CHORLEY who died on 12th February 1822 in her 46th year. This tablet is erected in affectionate remembrance of them by their surviving sister FRANCES CHORLEY who died 30th June 1847 age 74.”
In the year 1766, **John Chorley (1741-1807), bought a 16 acre estate ‘near the Scotch Barn’ for the sum of £1,200 from John Plumbe of Wavertree Hall, (whose family from the 1640’s owned large parts of land in Whiston). John Chorley’s purchase was the block of land situated in Boggart Lane, now known as Vining Road. John built a new house, and Chorley Hall is clearly shown on old maps. Originally called Scotch Lane, now Scotchbarn Lane, it continued over Holt Lane (Portico Lane) into Two Butt Lane, and was anciently known as the Prescot to Sutton Road. ‘Boggart’ Lane means ‘ghost’ lane – it seems that all ancient roads had a ‘ghost’ gliding around! Although a rough track, Boggart Lane was once a road from Scotchbarn Lane through to Back Lane (Old Lane) being the road leading to Eccleston; St. James’ Road didn’t exist then. John Chorley, a successful business man and sailcloth manufacturer of Prescot bought more land, plus 283 acres, including a farm, formerly part of Plumbes farm. This was Chorley Farm house and cottages which still in exist in St. James’ Road. (Plumb Tree Farm lands had been owned by numerous landowners and tenants over the years). In 1807, John Chorley died and some of the lands were sold. Elizabeth, his daughter, died in 1822, and after his son John died in 1823, management of the lands went to Jane, Mary and Frances. All the girls remained single. The Chorley Hall estate was sold off to John Leigh, who rented it out to various tenants over the years. It stayed with that family until 1878 when part was sold to the London & North Western Railway and the Huyton to St. Helens railway line was laid which changed the layout of Boggart Lane and Back Lane. The remaining land was sold in 1884 and Chorley Hall was demolished in 1913. Having no direct relatives Frances Chorley, the last surviving daughter, died in 1847 and the Chorley lands passed to her solicitor William Pemberton who inherited. They then passed to his niece Mary Majendie whose son William Francis Henry inherited them in 1863. Thomas Ward, a farmer of Whiston, purchased Chorley farm in 1893 and although he rented it out, it continued to be a dairy farm. In 1928, Wards still owned the farm but sold off a lot of farm lands for housing and named the Avenues after Ward daughters, i.e., Evelyn Avenue and Maryville Road. The farm house and few remaining fields were then rented by the Metcalfe family who later bought them. Old Mr. Metcalfe died in 1966 and his son Ray continued for a couple of years. The last fields were sold off and Evelyn Avenue School was built. Ray specialised in wrought iron work and on the death of his mother made a wrought iron flower display stand which is placed to the right of the altar in church: “In Memory of Connie Metcalfe 1889-1989 made by her son”. Ray Metcalfe died in 1997 and the farm house was sold.
The Chorley sisters worked unceasingly for charitable purposes and Elizabeth, by her will of 1820, left money to various charities, including £200 to the poor in Prescot alms houses. Jane by her will of 1824 left £4,000 for charitable purposes, included a school for poor girls – which enabled the trustees to purchase a vacated Methodist church in Houghton Street for a School in 1851. It also housed the Sunday School. To this sum was added £1,400 under the will of Elizabeth. Frances Chorley in 1849 bequeathed £200 for coals and clothing for the poor. Part of these bequests was £554 for the Clothing Charity; £1,216 for the Ladies’ Charity, including many additional gifts, and £4,660 for the school. Money was left for widows of clergy, and the blind. The Chorley family contributed great wealth to the “Endowed Charities of the Parish of Prescot” in the 19th century.
Refs: History Plumb Tree Farm & of Part of Whiston & Eccleston Park, by G. Watkinson B.A; VCH Vol.3. Prescot Charities.
Around the walls of our church
are many memorial plaques dedicated to people who at one time lived in, or
had connections with, the Parish of Prescot. One particular plaque is on the
west wall, next to the ‘Parable of the Sower’ window. The memorial
reads: “In respectful and affectionate remembrance of the many virtues
and excellent qualities of Mary Hughes wife of Michael Hughes Esq., of Sutton
Lodge, and daughter of the late Revd William Johnson of this town. This stone
is placed, an emblem of the simplicity of her manners and the purity of her
mind. She died May 10th 1798 aged 46 years.” A wonderful and loving
tribute to someone who lived over 200 years ago! It is dedicated to Mary,
wife of Michael Hughes, an industrialist, who came to the township of Sutton
in 1779. Her father, the Revd William Johnson is also mentioned, but who were
Mary was born on the 2nd and baptised on 26th February 1750 at Prescot, daughter of the Revd William Johnson and Elizabeth of Prescot. Revd William Johnson (1710-1788) married Elizabeth Tatlock, the heiress of Cunscough, at Prescot on 15th December 1743. Born in Wakefield, he was Vicar of Whalley from 1738-1776. A man of strong understanding and caustic wit, William was engaged in many disputes with his parishioners, and also with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but succeeded in all! He and Elizabeth had six children baptised at Prescot, namely: Amelia 1744, Elizabeth 1746-66, Alexander 1747, Bellingham 1748, MARY 1750-98, and Susannah 1751. Mrs Elizabeth Johnson died in 1752 and William eventually retired to Prescot where he died and was buried 4th August 1788. Revd Johnson lived largely at Prescot, and his daughter Mary, to whom the memorial plaque is dedicated; she married Michael Hughes (1752-1825) a prominent Welsh industrialist best known for his role in the copper mining industry.
There were three Michael Hughes of Sutton, the first being Michael Hughes born 13th May 1752, the youngest of 3 sons born to Hugh Hughes and his wife Mary, of Lleiniog, near Beaumaris, Anglesey. In September 1779, at the age of 27, Michael came to the township of Sutton, and lived in a house called “The Tickles” on the Burtonhead Estate, but soon after he renamed it “Sutton Lodge.” Along with other businessmen, he contributed greatly to the development and industrialisation of St. Helens. He married Mary Johnson on 3rd November 1788 at Prescot - they had only been married for just over ten years when Mary died in 1798. Michael came to Lancashire as Controller of a new Smelting Division at Ravenhead, owned by the Parys Mountain Copper Mine Company, Anglesey. His brother the Revd Edward Hughes was a partner of Parys Mine Company, and later, Michael became a partner. Ravenhead was close to a plentiful supply of good quality coal needed in the smelting operation. Hughes was also manager of Stanley Smelting Company at Blackbrook, Parr, and he brought a large number of Welsh people to the area. Apart from many interests in various mining areas, the newly constructed Sankey canal at Ravenhead caused him to expand with other investments in the way of barges, or flats, to carry coal and ore to and from Almwch in North Wales to the smelting works, via Liverpool Bay and the Mersey. Hughes prospered and from about 1795 began to acquire land, resulting in him possessing all of the property within and around Sherdley Park. Some, he demolished, but retained Sherdley Old Hall built about 1671. He became a magistrate in October 1799 and was known as being sympathetic in his handling of difficult cases. A generous man, he often helped the destitute out of his own pocket and during the grain shortage of 1800 gave contributions from himself, and on behalf of the Parys Co., for the relief of Sutton’s poor and under-privileged. His estates provided much employment for the local community and in 1806 he served as deputy-lieutenant of Lancashire. Between 1805-6 Michael Hughes built a new house in Sherdley Park called Sherdley House. Mary had died in 1798 and he married for a second time to Ellen, daughter of John Pemberton, a neighbouring Sutton landowner, on the 21st January 1808 at Prescot. The couple had six children, their eldest son and heir Michael Hughes (1810-1886) was baptised at Prescot on 7th November 1810. He was only 15 years old when his father died age 73, in May 1825, whilst on a visit to London. Hughes was buried at Prescot on 11th May, and his wife Ellen managed the family estates - she died in 1860.
Michael Jnr., (2nd) was educated at Eton and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Unlike his industrialist father, he followed a military career and married Ellinor Mary Campbell in 1859. They spent most of their time in London and had a son and heir Michael (3rd) James Hughes (1861-1938) who also developed a military career. A man of old fashioned virtue, he didn’t like electricity or the telephone but was a great sportsman, supporting Sutton Cricket Club, breeding race horses and mixed with royalty in his younger days. Michael married Edith Mary Brewster Macpherson in 1896 in Paris, settling first at Sherdley, improving the house and estate. Edith, a keen social worker died in 1924 and a memorial to her is in the graveyard of St. Nicholas, Sutton, given by the old folk. After Michael James Hughes died in 1938 much of the estates were sold off and what remained was inherited by Hughes’ nephew Lt. Col. Michael Hughes-Young, another military member of the family who sold Sherdley Park to St. Helens Corporation in 1949 and Sherdley House was demolished. Sherdley Park, the home of the Hughes for 150 years, was used during WWI by the St. Helens Pals 11th Battalion of the S. Lancs Reg., for drill and exercises.
(Ref.Nat.Library of Wales; LPRS Vol.156 Rev.T.M.Steel; Our Heritage in Sutton & Bold, F.W.Free
THE HUGHES FAMILY NOTE:
Last month’s article about the Hughes family of Sutton resulted in a number of people informing me of further information. Unfortunately I cannot include everything but here are a couple of interesting notes. The estate was known locally as “Hughes Score”. From around 1800 the main track through Sherdley Hall Estate and Park was referred to as the “Score,” or “Hughes Score”. This description is from the old Norse word ‘skor’ meaning a ditch. Another note is that Captain Michael Hughes (1861-1938) was President of the Sutton Harriers and in January 1907 they beat the French teams in Paris after which Captain Hughes hired a wagon and treated the party to a sightseeing tour of the French capital. He was also President of St. Helens Rugby Football Club and Sutton Cricket Club.
As we enter into the church,
we take it for granted, or perhaps do not even appreciate, that the porch
entrance through which we pass is an important part of the architecture. The
porches on the north and south sides of our church are now merely wooden structures
inside the building, but up until a couple of hundred years ago, there would
have been stone porches on the outside. The main entrance, now used by way
of the west door, has a double porch entrance, and is underneath the tower
structure. Apart from providing shelter from the rain, it is a place of meeting
and greeting and where the display of various amounts of information and notices
can be seen. Although we may not even consider the importance of the area,
centuries ago, the porch was a popular place for certain ceremonies –
i.e., marriages, storage place for weapons, and business transactions! Below
is a sketch of the church as it was when re-built in 1610, showing the nave,
chancel and south side aisle.
Then, the aisles were much narrower than the present ones which were rebuilt and widened in 1818/9. (The tower and spire of 1729 replaced an old structure of 1392). This sketch shows the south side of the church and aisle, which had an outside porch as shown at the bottom left side of the picture. The porch door can be seen and the artist has drawn a railed table tomb in front of it. Flying buttresses support the aisle wall between the windows. A choir vestry was built in1900 on the south side of the chancel where the wooden door is, to the right of the sketch.
In ancient Saxon times the church door was very important because marriages took place by the door. The marriage rite was known as “facie ecclesiae” which means “in the presence of the congregation at the church door.” In Norman times, and later, when porches were added to church buildings the ceremonies then took place in the porch. The purpose of this was for the marriage to be seen by the whole community – the spouses’ consent being expressed publicly before the parish. The priest married the couple in front of everybody then brought them inside church up to the altar to bless the marriage, followed by nuptial mass. The idea of a marriage being conducted in public was to forestall any future questioning as to its validity. By the 16th century marriages took place inside church.
Ancient porches were furnished with a bench on either side and served the purpose for the storing of visitors’ weapons before entering church. It was forbidden to carry weapons into the sanctuary, or into houses in general. In some churches a special room was built above the porch to store the weapons and the room was also used by the Priest. In the sketch a small double window on the south wall can be seen where the apex of the porch roof joins the wall and this is possibly such a room.
The porch at Prescot was a popular place for business transactions - such as the payment of fines as imposed during the court leet sessions, payment of rents and purchase of property. Below are two examples of what took place in the church porch:
Prescot Court Leet, 27th May 1597: “Margaret Tildesley surrendered for £10 a messuage or tenement in the occupation of Mary Parker widow, or her assigns to the use of Anne Hollande of Prescot her heirs and asigns for ever, for warranty of £10 payable on St. John the Baptist’s day (24th June) 1600 in the church porch between 1 and 3 pm.”
Prescot Court Leet, 16 June 1598: “A surrender by John Worsley, yeoman, of the three closes in his own occupation called Crosse Croft, Midles Croft and Brounes Croft, of estimated area five acres, to the use of Thomas his brother, for a term of 21 years for warranty of £25.3s.8d. payable by John Worsley to Thomas Potter of Prescot, mercer, on St. James’ Day, (25th July) in Prescot church porch between 1 and 4 pm.”
In 1663, after the Civil Wars in England, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed were re-painted in the church porch, having been removed in 1641 prior to the outbreak of the Wars. It is fascinating to think that in addition to all the foregoing happenings, the porch was where people met, women were ‘churched’, children played and beggars took refuge from the elements, these are to name but a few!
(Ref: Directory of Liturgy & Worship; Ch.Wardens’ A/c’s 1635-63 Rev.T.Steel;
Prescot Records RSLC Vol.89)
The feast of Corpus Christi,
which is Latin for ‘The Body of Christ’, goes back more than 700
years celebrating the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus
Christ. It is a moveable feast celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
In England, from at least the fourteenth century, the Feast of Corpus Christi
was held on the appropriate date when processions would go through the streets
headed by the Blessed Sacrament. The C. of E., after the reformation in the
middle of the16th century, gradually paid less attention to the occasion,
but not so in the Church of Rome, and particularly for those in Europe, it
is still an annual celebration when processions take place. There is no sign
of the feast in The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, but the C. of E. has revived
the feast by including it in the Christian Calendar in Common Worship 2000.
Indeed, at Prescot, on Thursday evening 7th June 2012, the Eucharist was celebrated
for the feast of Corpus Christi.
There are a number of unique customs associated with Corpus Christi originating from the Middle Ages. Apart from processions, there were fairs where food and miscellaneous goods could be purchased, as well as entertainment in the form of colourful characters acting out themes from legend and the Bible, including St. George and the dragon and David and Goliath etc. However, by the 18th century, many of these displays were no longer popular with the church. As early as 1333, during the reign of Edward III, a three day Corpus Christi Fair was established at Prescot by a Charter which also granted a Monday Market. This was obtained by the Rector and Lord of the Manor William de Dacre. The fair took place on the eve, the day and the morrow of Corpus Christi, i.e., Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after Trinity Sunday, so one can well imagine how busy the town would be. No doubt the churchyard was used for the entertainment because Market Place would have been thronged with local and visiting people!
Also, another important event took place - the Prescot Court - which met annually on the Friday after Corpus Christi. In the Court Rolls, only on one occasion in 1510, was it referred to as “Court of the Fair” held before *John Ogle, Deputy Steward for Thomas, 2nd Earl of Derby, on Friday following Corpus Christi (31 May) in the 2nd year of Henry VIII’s reign. (This *John Ogle was the great grandfather of John Ogle whose effigy stands in the chancel). Before 1591, the term court leet was not in common use and the court, although it had leet powers, was called “Court with View of Frankpledge”. When Henry VI in 1445/6 founded King’s College, Cambridge, he granted to the Provost and Scholars, the Manor of Prescot, with certain privileges, including leet jurisdiction, which had exceptional powers. This meant that Prescot manor court became a court leet, no longer subject to the Sheriff’s court in the Hundred of West Derby and the profits of the court went to the college instead of to the King. (Court Leet=A court of record held in a manor before the Lord or his Steward, the officials being a group of selected men of a township).
Apart from dealing with petty crimes, and giving out fines and punishments, the court dealt with lands owned by the College. At the court, a list of tenants and under tenants was presented. The tenants were those who held their copyhold lands direct from the college. Many were local gentry who sublet their properties to under tenants. Both tenants and under tenants were expected to attend the court. Non-attendance at court was frowned upon as, six to fifteen days’ beforehand, notice was given by public proclamation in church or in the market place. The main task for the jury which consisted of over tenants, along with the Steward, was the transfer of the copyhold land belonging to the college from one tenant to another. When a tenant wished to sell his land to another, the procedure was to surrender the land to the college and the college, through the court to grant it to the buyer. It was recorded in the court roll and a copy of that entry given to the new tenant, hence the title copyhold land. The court officers consisted of Four Men, plus two Constables, two Aletasters, two Burleymen, two Streetlookers and two Sealers of Leather and after 1577, a Coroner. (This position continued until 1955 when Mr. W.A. Cross gave up the office and Prescot came under the Coroner for S.W. Lancashire). The court was held again in October, after the feast of Michaelmas on 15th September. During the time of the Commonwealth (1649-1659) many courts were suspended and no rolls for that period have survived. The court leet resumed during the time of Charles II in 1660, but by early 18th century it was nothing like it had been. In 1755 a new town hall was built in Market Place and the court flourished again. By the 19th century, activities of the court were curtailed through sweeping changes in local government and the establishment of county courts. It managed to survive until 1926 when all copyhold tenure was converted to freehold. After that, although its functions had ceased, the court continued on the Friday after Corpus Christi, merely as a matter of tradition, electing officers who had no duties, before proceeding to the Deane’s House Hotel to partake of the leet dinner provided by the Deputy Steward Mr. W.A. Cross. The court leet was postponed in 1936, owing to the illness and death of Mr. Cross’s only son, and it never again resumed. The tradition of an annual dinner at the Deanes House after a procession of the ‘court officials’ from Cross’s office, passing the church and into Market Place, was re-enacted in 1993 by the Rev. Tom Steel during the time he was Vicar of Prescot.
(Ref: Prescot Court Leet, Dora Bailey B.A; Prescot Records Vol.89,
Record Soc. of Lancs & Ches.; Prayer Book Soc; & Christian Feast Days internet)
This beautiful window is on the
west wall in the baptistery. It depicts the ‘Parable of the Sower’
and was designed by Edward Woore of London (1880-1960) – a stained glass
artist. He was part of a group of artists trained by Christopher Whall, a
leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement and had his own studio in Hammersmith
and then Putney. He also designed the Leyland window in the baptistery as
well as the St. George window in the south aisle. Initially, the ‘Parable
of the Sower’ window was installed in 1938, at the east end of the north
aisle but during renovations in the 1950’s it was removed and reinstalled
to its present position. The inscription at the foot of the window says “To
the Glory of God and sacred to the memory of Charles George Townsend Driffield.
This window is erected by his widow Anne Driffield. Also in memory of their
parents Walter Wren and Mary Driffield and William and Eliza Skairsim”.
Charles George Townsend Driffield (born 1860) was buried on 20th March 1919
at Prescot aged 58; he was the grandson of Charles George Thomas Driffield,
Vicar of Prescot 1815-1848, and his wife Letitia.
The top part of the window shows a wonderful figure of Jesus standing in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. He is surrounded by people crowding round the boat, many men and women, one holding a child, all listening to Jesus telling them various Parables. A Parable is a story with a meaning, and in this case Jesus was telling them about ‘the Sower’ (Matthew 13: v.1-9).
The bottom section of the window shows a delightful scene with a team of white oxen pulling a plough, guided by a ploughman. The sun is shining in the background. In the foreground is the ‘Sower’ sowing his seed. Birds, stones, weeds, thistles and even a snake can clearly be seen on the window. Jesus told a story about what happened to the seeds when they were sown. Whilst some seed fell on rocky ground, with little soil, it sprouted quickly then died in the heat of the sun. Some seeds fell on weeds and thistles which choked the corn, but those which fell on good soil were well nurtured and produced an excellent crop. In this Parable, the story means that the seeds which fell on to good soil represent those people who hear the word, understand it, and accordingly bear fruit, whilst the other seeds depict people who are choked with greed, ambition and worldly cares, resulting in worthless lives.
At the very top of the window tracery is a small window which interestingly shows a scallop shell; such a shell is the emblem of St. James. He was the son of Zebedee a Galilean fisherman who, with his brother John, was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. Tradition has it that James visited Spain before being beheaded by Herod Agrippa in Palestine 41-44 AD. His body was later taken to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, now a shrine and pilgrimage site. In the centre, below the field scene, at the base of the window there is a huge sheaf of ripe golden corn which has grown well and has been successfully harvested – signifying a good and wholesome crop.
Let us hope that all who enter into our church and gaze on this superb window will be fortunate enough to reap seeds which have fallen on good and rich soil. Amen.
After the Norman Conquest in
1066, some Saxon lords retained their manors - the Eccleston family being
able to hold the manors of Eccleston and Rainhill. Their pedigree, equalled
only by the Bold family, starts with Hugh Eccleston, Lord of Eccleston, about
1100 and is one of the longest in Lancashire. The Eccleston coat of arms at
the east end of the nave wall, over the pulpit, is attributed to Edward Eccleston
Esq. (1563-1624) and Mary of Eccleston. Edward was the son of Henry Eccleston
and Margery, a daughter of Ralf Brykenhead of Crowton, Nr. Northwich, Cheshire.
Henry, in 1590, was described as ‘of fair living’ and in ‘some
degree of conformity’ to the queen’s (Eliz. I) ecclesiastical
laws, though ‘in general a note of evil affection in religion’,
being so described because of the family’s continued commitment to the
old faith. Henry’s wife Margery was a known recusant and so was Mary,
his daughter-in-law, the wife of his son and heir Edward. From 1581 it was
treason for a priest to say mass and recusants could be fined £20 per
month, poor people 1/-d. (10p) for non-attendance at church. Eccleston Hall,
the main place for masses, had been rebuilt in 1567 with a ‘priest’s
hole’ (hiding place) and it is fascinating to imagine the priests flitting
about at night in the moonlight from one manor house to another to say mass.
(Masses were held at the hall until late 1700’s and the silver chalice
used ‘was to be kept there until that happy time that the catholic religion
is restored and mass said in Prescot church, when it was to be given to that
church!’ as recorded by Mrs Eleora Eccleston 1725). Henry died in 1598
holding the manor of Eccleston with 100 messuages (a dwelling house with outbuildings
etc) four windmills, two watermills, 1,000 acres of lands in Eccleston, Rainford,
Sutton, Rainhill, Ditton, Skelmersdale, Lathom, Childwall and Liverpool. His
son and heir, Edward, in that year because of repeated recusancy fines had
to sell his manor and lordship of Rainhill. He had already been sent to prison
in the Gatehouse at Westminster for 16 weeks in 1593, having spent time in
the Lancaster gaol before being bailed out.
The coat of arms for Edward Eccleston show his initials E E at the top and Mary, his wife’s, M E at the bottom with a date of 1610. The Shield is impaled = divided. Left side: a Cross = Representative of the Christian Faith with a Fleurs-de-lis = Faith, Wisdom and Valour. The Crest above the helmet is a Magpie = Good Omen. The vine-like mantle around the shield with leaves and tassels = Bountiful. Right side: the arms of Mary.
The Eccleston family ‘rocked the boat’ insofar as Prescot school was concerned - in 1557 Henry Eccleston’s father Thomas, had withheld from the church-wardens the Gilbert Lathum bequest for a free Grammar School. This was because an Executor of the Will had entrusted Thomas with the monies. Lathum, in his Will of 1544, had left ‘three skore poundes’ (£60), in part payment of the £140 needed to provide the school-master’s stipend of £7 per year. Latham died in 1552 and Henry, like his father Thomas who died in 1558, wanted to establish a school within their own township of Eccleston resulting in many years of delay before the money was released. In 1592, a stormy Court Leet session was presided over by the Provost of King’s College, when it was agreed that the school should be settled at Prescot (Church St.). Two weeks later, at Knowsley Hall, Lord Derby, the Provost, Vicar Thomas Meade, many gentry and others, including Mr. Eccleston, finally decided that a school in Eccleston would have to be a new school with a new endowment. The idea of a school in Eccleston was revived 10 years later when James Kenwrick of Rainhill, a retired ecclesiastical judge, gave a sum of £300 owed to him, as an endowment. Edward Eccleston promised a further £100 plus an acre of land on Eccleston Hill for a school and chapel. Edward, a recusant, decided to conform to the established church and although Kenwrick had died in 1603, the project still remained in abeyance. Edward died in 1624, the new heir being his son Henry. The project of a school in Eccleston was revived in 1660 at the Restoration after Commonwealth Rule, when the Eccleston family reverted to the old faith. Again, court cases took place concerning the monies. It was not until 1684 when the old school building known as ‘Seddon’s Cottage’, was erected on Eccleston Hill. It is the birth place of Richard Seddon 1845-1906 a long serving Premier of N.Z. A burial ground and chapel were also associated with this site. Burials are recorded in Prescot Register for Eccleston Hill mid to late 17th century and, during road widening in 1922, a sandstone cross was dug up on Eccleston Hill, which now stands at the entrance of Portico Chapel. The last of the Eccleston line was Captain Thomas Eccleston (b.1659) who fought at the Battle of the Boyne, Ireland in 1690 in support of Catholic King James II against King William III (of Orange). He fought a dual, killing his opponent which affected him greatly so he forsook army life and became a Jesuit priest, dying in 1743. The estates passed to a cousin John Gorsuch, who took the name and arms of Eccleston. Having no issue, they passed to Basil Thomas Scarisbrick who also assumed the name of Eccleston. A Protestant, Basil gave land in Hackley Moss (Moss Street) for a new Prescot Grammar School in 1759. His generosity atoned in some degree for the misdeeds of his predecessors. His grandson, Thomas Eccleston Scarisbrick, dropped the name Eccleston and returned to Scarisbrick, selling the Eccleston estates in 1812 to Samuel Taylor of Moston, whose grandson Samuel rebuilt Eccleston Hall in 1836. He changed the name of the Inn from the Magpie, the Eccleston’s emblem to the Griffin and built Christ Church in 1838. His son, another Samuel, in 1892 sold the manor and estate to Sir Gilbert Greenall of Warrington and later St. Helens Corporation bought the hall and grounds and became Lords of the Manor of Eccleston.
The Tyldesley family was a large
and important one with many branches and, throughout history, had close links
with the Earls of Derby. The family originated in Tyldesley, (now in the Metropolitan
Borough of Wigan) where they can be traced back to the 13th century. They
also held lands at Astley, Shakerley, Myerscough and Wardley Hall, Nr. Worseley.
Advantageous marriages over the years resulted in many estates and manors
being added to their land wealth. After the Reformation in 1534 the entire
family remained recusants. One branch of the family has a coat of arms in
Prescot church, which is on the south aisle wall, being the second from the
east end. It is that of Sir Thomas Tyldesley, 1557-1635, a son of Thurstan
Tyldesley and Margaret, daughter of Sir William Norris of Speke, Kt. The Tyldesley
family produced a number of lawyers over several generations and Thomas was
a man of many achievements, particularly in the world of Law. He was a member
of Staple Inn and trained as a lawyer. In 1577, he became a member of Gray’s
Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in Chancery Lane, London, where he was
admitted as a barrister in 1584. He was also a Member of Parliament representing
Launceston, North Cornwall, from 1586 to 1589. Other important positions Thomas
held was Treasurer of Gray’s Inn in 1588, and double reader and sergeant
in 1594. In 1595, he was Justice of the Peace for the West Derby Hundred.
(Initially introduced by the Saxons, a Hundred was the division of a shire
for military, administrative, and judicial purposes under the common law.
Lancashire was divided into 6 ‘hundreds’, the largest was West
Derby in the south west of the county, which covered the ancient ecclesiastical
parishes of: Walton, Sefton, Childwall, Huyton, Halsall, Altcar, N. Meols,
Ormskirk, Aughton, Warrington, Prescot, Leigh, Liverpool, Wigan and Winwick.
It is supposed to imply territory occupied by 100 families, or the space of
100 hides of land (12,000 acres) but variable, or the capacity of providing
100 soldiers. Each hundred had its own court similar to a manor court but
this was abolished in 1867 by the County Court Act).
Thomas Tyldesley married Ann, daughter and heiress of Thomas Norreys of Orford, Nr. Warrington. The marriage brought to the Tyldesley’s the Orford estates, plus lands and rights in the manors of Ashton, Parr and Windle, the last two being in the Parish of Prescot. In 1610, the manor of Great Sankey was granted to Thomas Tyldesley by Sir Thomas Bold. Thomas and Ann had 5 children: Thomas, Richard, Edward, Elizabeth and Anne. In 1603 Thomas was made King’s Sergeant & Attorney at Lancaster, and 3 years later, he was Vice Chancellor & Sergeant of the Duchy of Lancaster. His eldest son followed in his footsteps and was admitted to Gray’s Inn, in 1605, and his second son Richard followed suit in 1613. A royal appointment to serve King James I was granted to Thomas Tyldesley as Yeoman Pricker, an officer or attendant for the stag hounds in the Royal Hunt in November 1613.
In acknowledgement for all his achievements Thomas was knighted in 1616 and the coat of arms shows his initials T.T.Ar = Thomas Tyldesley Attorney. The quartered shield is certainly a busy one: right side: 2nd and 4th quarters being the Norris family with three stars/mullets = Divine Quality and frets = Honour & Achievement. A crest above the helmet is a dog = Vigilance & Loyalty.
left side: Tyldesley arms on the 1st and 3rd quarters - 3 mole hills (or rush hills) and sheaves of corn = Harvest of hopes secured. A small crescent in 1st quarter indicates one who has been honoured by the sovereign.
Above the helmet is the crest, a pelican in her nest feeding young ones = Piety. The mantle falls around the shield with fastening tassels. Where two families of importance marry it is necessary to retain the maternal arms because of conditions of inheritance.
A most courageous member of the Tyldesley family was the son of Thomas’ second cousin Edward Tyldesley of Morley’s Hall, Astley in the parish of Leigh. He was Sir Thomas Tyldesley (1612-1651) who entered Gray’s Inn with the intention of following a career in Law but later became a professional soldier. He faithfully served King Charles I as Lieutenant Colonel at the Battle of Edgehill, Warwickshire, in 1642, after raising Regiments of Horse, Foot and Dragoons, fighting alongside Henry Byrom and Captain Henry Ogle. Sadly, Byrom was killed. Thomas was knighted in 1643 for his notable exploit at Burton-on-Trent and was made a Brigadier General. He served in all three of the Civil Wars and never surrendered to the Parliamentarians. Irrepressible Sir Thomas Tyldesley was killed in action on 25th August 1651 commanding as Major General under James, 7th Earl of Derby, during the Battle of Wigan Lane, and is buried in his family chapel at Leigh. Lord Derby, on his way to execution on 15th October 1651 at Bolton, made a request to visit the tomb of his close friend and allay Sir Thomas Tyldesley, before he himself was beheaded, but was refused.
Their original family seat was
the manor of Byrom in the northern part of Lowton, within the Barony of Makerfield.
In 1559, Thomas Parr of Parr died and his widow Margaret Parr married John
Byrom of Byrom. William Parr, son and heir of the deceased Thomas married
Katherine, daughter of Thomas Eccleston of Eccleston, and in 1565 she cited
him for divorce, the settlement of which resulted in William Parr having to
sell his estates in Parr, along with other lands, to John Byrom. It all remained
with the Byrom family for about 150 years. The Byrom’s had made Parr
Hall their principle residence by 1570. By so doing, this family now lived
in the ancient Parish of Prescot - Parr being a township within the Parish
- hence the coat of arms of the Byrom family being displayed in Prescot Church.
They are on the south aisle wall, being the third one from the east end.
As was the usual pattern for local “recusant” gentry - in 1590, John Byrom was “among the usual commers to church but not a communicant”. John Byrom died in 1592. His daughter-in-law, Mary, wife of his son and heir Henry, is listed in the “Lancashire Recusant Roles of 1592/3” under the township of Parr - “Maria Byrom wife of Henry Byrom”. It is this Henry and Mary Byrom whose initials appear on the Byrom coat of arms. Mary was of the Gerard family of Ince, Nr. Wigan. Henry, born in 1562, was heir to his father’s estates in Byrom and Parr when he was 30 years of age, but died in 1613. His son John had died in 1611, so his grandson, another Henry b. 1608, and eldest son of John inherited the estates.
The coat of arms is interesting: The shield is impaled (divided). Left is the Byrom chevron = Protection & Faithful Service + 3 hedgehogs = Povident Provider; on the right, the arms of Mary his wife being the Gerard lion rampant, ermined and ducally crowned = Strength, Courage and Generosity. The crest above the helm is a black hedgehog on a wreath of twisted black and white silk. The mantle, or gold scroll work, emanates from the helmet and falls about the shield in decorative swirls and twists in a vine like effect ending with tassels. The initials H B at the top and M B at the bottom with a date of 1610 complete the Henry and Mary Byrom armorial display.
In October 1642, the Civil Wars in England commenced (1642-51). Henry and Mary’s grandson Henry Byrom b.1608, was a staunch supporter of King Charles I, and was killed at the battle of Edgehill in 1642. The Royalist and Roundhead armies met at Edgehill, southwest of Stratford in Warwickshire, being the first battle of the Civil Wars. Foot officers present at the siege in Sir Richard Molyneux’s Regiment included Major Henry Byrom and Captain Henry Ogle (grandson of John Ogle whose effigy stands in the chancel). Henry Byrom met his death on 23rd October 1642, and Captain Henry Ogle was captured.
Three generations later, a terrible spendthrift and wasteful heir came into possession of the Byrom estates, being Samuel b.1685 known as “Beau”. By 1710 he was negotiating the sale of the manors of Byrom and Parr plus other lands. The purchaser of Byrom in Lowton, was Joseph Byrom, a wealthy Manchester Mercer whose daughter Elizabeth carried it by marriage to her cousin John Byrom (1692-1763) of Kersal. This John Byrom wrote the Christmas Carol “Christians Awake”. He was descended from Ralph Byrom a prosperous wool merchant who went to Manchester from Lowton in 1485. The manor of Parr was eventually bought by William Clayton of Fulwood, who divided it equally among his daughters. As for “Beau” Samuel Byrom, he ended up in the Fleet Prison, London and was still living in destitution in London in 1739. Ref: VCH Vol.3
There are seven armorial bearings
on the walls of Prescot church which are in direct relation to the pew allocations
for gentry families within the ancient parish. One in particular, is that
of the Watmough family of Micklehead in Sutton, which is displayed high on
the south side of the nave wall; the head of the Watmough family being styled
as ‘gent’. In the 16th and 17th centuries, local gentry or “peasant
gentry”, with little influence beyond their own holdings, are mentioned
in the church accounts and Prescot Court Records. Many of them had a limited
interest in parish affairs. In 1586, the Vicar, Thomas Mead known as ‘the
reforming vicar’, had complained that: “All our gentlemen are
either obstinate recusants or verie cold professors.” The heads of these
gentry families were almost all recusants, or ‘church papists’
but supported the king in the civil wars. The Parliamentary supporters being
the Bolds of Bold, Brooks of Sankey, Lathoms of Whiston and, after 1646, the
Ogles of Whiston and Roby.
Francis Watmough of Micklehead and his family were the freeholders at Micklehead Hall, Sutton, later known as St. Michael’s House. The site, where the house once stood in Micklehead, is near to the A570 St. Helens Linkway which cuts through it from the roundabout at Rainhill. The baptism of Francis has not been found but his burial in Prescot records, was on the 17th August 1614, just 4 years after the rebuilding of our church in 1610. He married Jane, daughter of John Barnes of Bold on the 21st February 1578 at Farnworth chapel. Jane was baptised there on the 3rd February 1548 and she died in 1625. Francis was the son of Richard Watmough (died 1578) and Constance Gerard of Ince (died 1586).
The Watmough coat of arms (see right) are unusual and interesting. The white shield shows three bunches of wheat. In heraldry the wheat, or garb, is derived from the French ‘garbe’, meaning a sheaf of grain, usually wheat and is a symbol of plenty and prosperity. Ancient cultures believed it contained the mystery of life and thus became a sacred emblem of Christianity; the heads of wheat symbolize the Eucharistic ‘Bread of Life’. The helmet, above the shield, is that of an esquire/gentleman, on top of which sits the crest - a leopards head, representing bravery for those who have performed some bold enterprise. Behind the head is a scimitar, a curved sword, used by the Turks or Persians - representing conquest of an enemy. Folds of red material around the shield represent a cape worn by crusaders to keep the hot sun off their metal armour and helmet, with gold tassels either side of the shield, being the ends of its fixing cords. Francis’ initials ‘F’ and ‘W’ are shown on the arms which were granted to him on 17th January 1602 during the reign of Elizabeth I. Perhaps the Watmough ancestors had fought in the crusades, hence the emblems shown on the arms.
Francis and Jane’s son and heir was Richard Watmough, baptised in 1580 at Farnworth. He was married to Mary, the daughter of John Hawarden of Widnes. Richard suffered for his faith and was a convicted recusant, paying double the subsidy on held land in 1628. He died in September 1652 at the height of the plague outbreak - Mary dying only a few weeks before him in August. Some of his estate was sold by the Parliamentary authorities in 1652. The couple had four children their second son, and heir being Lawrence (1621-82), who is mentioned in the Hearth Tax lists for Sutton. This tax (cottages excluded) was introduced in England and Wales by the Government of Charles II in 1662, due twice a year, at Michalemas 29th September, and Lady Day 25th March. Lawrence of St. Michael’s House, Micklehead, (see right) is recorded as having 5 hearths for which he had to pay 2/-d (10p), per year. Obviously, the house was still in possession of the family as Lawrence was living there at the time. After his death, no Watmoughs appear in local Parish Records, but branches still lived in parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Shropshire and Kent.
Refs. VCH Vol.3; Prescot Churchwardens A/c’s 1635-63 Rev. T.M. Steel;
Our Heritage in Sutton & Bold; F.W. Free.
The southern half of the extensive
parish of Prescot until the mid 19th century was served by the chapelry at
Farnworth. The chapel is of considerable antiquity and although now a parish
church it was originally a ‘chapel of ease’ to Prescot. The ancient
Parish of Prescot consisted of two parts – the Prescot Side and the
Farnworth Side. Both sides had 4 church wardens each. Four for the 8 townships
on the Prescot side being: Prescot, Whiston & Rainhill (1), Sutton (1),
Eccleston & Rainford (1), Windle & Parr (1). Four for the 7 townships
on the Farnworth side: Bold (1), Cronton & Cuerdley (1), Ditton, Sankey
& Penketh (1), Widnes (1), the latter, in which Farnworth itself, being
a hamlet, was centrally situated within that township.
The founding of the ancient chapel was about 1180, originally dedicated to the Anglo Saxon Saint Wilfred until 1859 when it was re-dedicated to Saint Luke, and a Parish was created. As early as 1291, the parishioners on the Farnworth side had repeatedly refused to pay church leyes for the upkeep of the Mother Church at Prescot, on the grounds that they had their own chapel at Farnworth to keep in repair. They also wanted to be granted parochial status. In essence, this side of the Prescot Parish always caused problems and in the mid 16th century some prosecutions, as well as an affray in the chapel itself, took place.
Built in red sandstone, the first chapel structure was a long rectangular shape of late Norman/early English, with no aisles. It was extended in about 1280 when the north aisle was built and in 1360-80 the south aisle and the Norman tower was added. In 1406, Sir John Bold built a chantry east of the north aisle, which stood on the site of the present Bold chapel which was re-built in the 19th century and has stone effigies of members of the Bold family. Sir John, who died in 1410, prior to his demise, also built a chantry chapel in Prescot Church, which now serves as the Vicar’s Vestry. By 1431, Farnworth chapel was in need of repair and Richard Bold was responsible for repairing the chancel roof. Evidence of this is in the centre bosses which depict a griffin, an emblem of the Bold family. A chancel arch was also built at this time. The Bold family, of Anglo Saxon origin, was the most affluent family in the Parish of Prescot, who did much to maintain the chapel.
In 1500, the Cuerdley chapel was built for the sole use and accommodation of the tenants of the township of Cuerdley. This was built by William Smyth, a ‘local lad’, born in 1460 in the moated mansion of Peel House, in the village of Farnworth. He attended the University of Oxford and his studies enabled him to enter into the church, where he made rapid progress. After holding a number of important positions within the church he was appointed Bishop of Litchfield & Coventry in 1496 when it was a twin diocese. In 1508, Brazenose College, Oxford, was founded by Sir Richard Sutton of Prestbury, Cheshire, and Bishop William Smyth. Anciently, a preference was given to candidates for its scholarships or fellowships for those who lived in Cheshire and Lancashire, in particular, from the Parish of Prescot, because William Smyth had been born in the parish. The Bishop, whose last appointment was Bishop of Lincoln in 1514, died in 1547 and is buried in Lincoln Cathedral, also gave an endowment of £350 to found a grammar school in Farnworth. This was originally housed in the Cuerdley chapel, but went on to use a variety of locations in later years. The grammar school continued for 400 years when it was closed in 1904. In 1931 Wade Deacon Grammar School was founded but in 1972 it was changed to the Comprehensive Education System.
In 1719, it fell to Francis Bere, Vicar of Prescot, to dispose of any attempt by Farnworth chapel to petition the House of Commons for parochial status. The age old struggle for independence by them continued, leading to a bitter dispute in 1719. Despite this, the chapel never left C. of E. control.
Full registers survive for the whole period from 1538 and Chapel Wardens’ Accounts from 1679. At a restoration in 1855, the north aisle and Bold chapel were rebuilt, also a new nave roof and galleries were erected in the five nave bays on the south side, and west end where the organ was re-sited. The last major restoration in 1894-5 saw the removal of the galleries and two new vestries added on the north side of the chancel, and a new organ was installed. A window was inserted on the west tower wall to let light into the nave and old box pews were removed. Many wall memorials and funeral hatchments of the Bold family, plus those of other families, adorn the walls of the church,
In 1859 after centuries of unrest and trouble, the ‘chapel of ease’ was created a separate parish from the mother church of Prescot. At the same time, it was re-dedicated from St. Wilfred to St. Luke. The title of ‘Minister-in-Charge’ changed to become Vicar. The Vicars were presented by the Vicar of Prescot, which remains the same today.
(Refs: History of Farnworth Church,
Alan Foster; VCH, Vol.3: LPRS Vol.149, Rev.T.M.Steel.)
The townships of Great Sankey
(Sanki, Sonkey), together with Penketh lie at the most easterly border of
the ancient Parish of Prescot, which at that time was in the Diocese of Chester,
and are situated on the main Liverpool (A57) to Warrington road, about 2½
miles from Warrington. From very early times, Sankey had a number of various
landowners, one of the earliest being the Boteler family, Lords of Warrington.
When their estates were sold in 1583 it became the property of the Bold of
Bold family – the new owner being Sir Thomas Bold whose name appears
on a pendant in the roof of the nave of Prescot church, which says: “Thomas
Bold, Knight, 1610”. On the reverse is: “Lady Bridget Bold His
Wyffe”. Sir Thomas Bold in 1610, granted the manor of Sankey to Thomas
Tyldesley and Thomas Orme, the latter resigned his interest in 1613. The coat
of arms of Thomas Tyldesley (1557-1635) is the second from the eastern end
of the south aisle - dating from about 1610. It shows letters at the foot:
‘T.T. At’ which reflect his position as Attorney General for the
County of Lancaster. He was Lord of the Manor of Gt. Sankey and Wardley.
Upon his death in 1635, Gt. Sankey passed to Sir Thomas Ireland of Bewsey, whose family gave the site for the building of a chapel and yard in about 1640. It was built by contributions from the inhabitants of Gt. Sankey and Penketh. Dedicated to St. Mary, the chapel was built during the reign of King Charles I, and the Vicar of Prescot appointed the curate. The chapel, which is 7½ miles from Prescot church, was first used for Presbyterian worship and in 1646 there was no mention of a minister, only two lay elders. In 1649 the Rev. Hugh Henshaw called himself the first minister of Sankey but was ejected under the Act of Uniformity 1662. This was an Act of Parliament in England, which presented the form of public prayers, administration of sacraments and other rites of the C. of E., following those in the Book of Common Prayer. A great many clergy were expelled because they would not comply, which created the concept of non-conformity. Puritans abolished many rites of the church during the civil war. They even abolished Christmas! The Commonwealth Commissioners of 1650 recommended that Sankey be made a parish but this didn’t happen until over 200 years later.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 under Charles II, the chapel was still confined to Presbyterian worship, but by 1720, had become in a bad state of repair when Bishop Gastrell of Chester visited. In 1723 the Atherton family had inherited the manor and Richard Atherton of Bewsey built a second chapel in 1728. Having conformed to the Established Church of England, he handed it over to the Bishop of Chester. The Rev. Thomas Hayward was appointed curate and he was also headmaster of Boteler Grammar School in Warrington. The early clergy lived in Warrington as they were masters of the Boteler Grammar School. The registers commence in 1728, although some earlier ones are water damaged.
The canal, which winds along beside Sankey Brook, has the credit of being the first work of its kind in modern England, the formation of the Sankey Navigation being in 1755. It was a form of transit for a variety of merchandise, the principal article being coal which was carried to Liverpool, Warrington and Northwich, from the mines in the parish of Prescot, in particular those of St. Helens. As the population increased the need for a larger church was necessary and in 1767/8 the chapel was rebuilt again. On 11th June 1769 it was consecrated and the patronage was invested in Rbt. Gwilym who had married Richard Atherton’s daughter Elizabeth. It has since descended to the Powys family - Lord Lilford, being the present patron. In 1867 the tower became unsafe and was rebuilt in its present form, see photo of St. Mary’s above.
Eventually, the link with Prescot Parish was severed in 1876 when Gt. Sankey became a separate parish. Many modifications to the chapel have taken place over the years. It was closed for 3 months during 2007 for a complete makeover and further work was done in 2010. A quote from “History of Gt. Sankey” by historian William Beamont (1889), tells us that many inhabitants went to Warrington Parish church, some having their children baptised there and even for burials and the minister from Warrington on occasions came to ‘Sonkey’ to visit the sick and to church their wives!
This daughter chapel to Prescot
was at the furthest point of the 58 sq. miles which made up the ancient Parish
of Prescot. It was a long way to Prescot from Rainford and the country roads
were little more than cart tracks. Although a chapel existed in the 1530’s
during the time of the Reformation (1534), there was no mention of it in the
Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, nor in the Inventory of Church Goods of 1552.
One of the first curates recorded was Laurence Roby in 1541. The chapel was
a very poor living and the inhabitants of Rainford had to pay leys to the
mother church of Prescot which left only a small amount of funds to support
a curate and maintain the chapel.
In the 16th century, the two main families in Rainford were the Lathoms of Mossborough Hall and the Parrs of Haysarm House, both were Catholic and the maintenance of the chapel fell to these families. As was the common problem of many Lancashire chapels, Rainford was a decaying building with a lack of clergy. The situation was not helped by the Vicar of Prescot, William Whitelock (1558-83), living in Lichfield. Services at Prescot failed to be reformed by 1573 and Holy Water was still being used at St. Helens chapel in 1578. Fines for absence (12d.) were not collected by the churchwardens and a Catholic schoolmaster was able to work freely as were recusant priests, so Rainford remained Catholic for many years after the Reformation. All this changed with the arrival of Thomas Mead a devout Puritan – Vicar of Prescot from 1583 until his death in 1616. (Thomas Mead was instrumental in the rebuilding of our present church at Prescot in 1610).
Mead began an active persecution of the Lathoms of Mossborough for recusancy. By 1590 the Lathom family lost control of the chapel, despite there being no seats in the chancel except those belonging to the ancestors of Henry Lathom, upon whose ground it is said the chapel was built. In March 1583, during the reign of Elizabeth I, Henry Lathom went into hiding in Cheshire and Mossborough Hall was ransacked by the Queen’s officers. They carried off everything of a sacred nature and Mrs. Lathom, who was in the house, was treated in a most barbaric manner. The ruffian officers tore open her dress even to her undergarments in the pretence of examining her person for sacred medals, rosaries or other pious objects. Mr. Lathom was eventually captured and imprisoned at Lancaster; in 1592 he was sent to London and put in the Fleet Prison. After being there for some years, he finally obtained his release and died at Mossborough on 11th April 1620. His son, Henry the younger, followed in his father’s footsteps as regards religion and suffered accordingly, losing two-thirds of his property sequestered for recusancy, by the time of his death in 1648. The Lathom’s after 1590 no longer used Rainford chapel but they kept seminary priests at Mossborough Hall, where they had a secret chapel.
From that time on, the curates were of Puritan leanings and, after the restoration in 1660, the chapel remained in the hands of the Nonconformists. In 1650, on the chapel yard was a small building where the minister lived in former times and which also had been used as a school room. A new minister, James Bradshaw, came to Rainford in 1672 and in October “a new built meeting house” was licensed. By 1677, baptisms by him were being recorded in the Prescot Registers. Bradshaw’s own house in Rainford was licensed as an additional meeting place for Protestant Dissenters. On his death in 1702, following a century and a half, first of Catholicism, then of Puritan and Nonconformity, the chapel fell into the hands of the established Church of England under the Vicar of Prescot. The Dissenters left the old chapel and opened their own in Higher Lane, in 1706. At the chapel, a body of trustees was appointed with the right of nominating a curate, the Vicar of Prescot approving. In 1704, Queen Anne’s Bounty of £200 was established to augment the income of poor benefices which made it possible in the following years to have repairs, alterations and necessary rebuilding to parts of the chapel when required. A further £200 was granted in 1768 and £145 in 1864. In the 18th century, the old chapel was a popular place for many Prescot couples to marry, despite the distance they would have had to travel to get there. They were eligible to ‘tie the knot’ at Rainford because it was in Prescot Parish.
Rainford became a district chapelry of Prescot in 1869, Samuel Cavan becoming the first Vicar. In 1872 the chapel roof fell in and in 1876, when the building was close on being 200 years old, it was decided that it could no longer be propped up, nor could it be rebuilt on the same site without removing graves. Lord Derby donated a site between the smithy and the Golden Lion Inn (at that time standing approximately where the present church is now). The foundation stone of “All Saints” Rainford was laid on 1/11/1877 by the Hon. Frederick Arthur Stanley, MP, and consecrated a year later on 1/11/1878. In 1903 the church was completed by a tower. The old chapel, pictured right, remained in use until the new church was built and dedicated. This ancient chapel, maintained originally by Mossborough and then by the people of Rainford, had witnessed the comings and goings of countless ministers of diverse shades of opinion throughout the generations. The new church was built by donations from the parishioners, the Earl of Derby and Mr. Joseph Williams, a non-conformist!
(Ref. VCH: ‘History of Rainford Church’, D.J. Browning B.A., & F.R. Pope).
A recent visit to Cambridge, and a tour
of the city, included a sail in a punt on the river Cam, taking views of some
of the colleges. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience, particularly
because our church and town has held links with King’s College, Cambridge,
since the reign of King Henry VI, in 1441. At that particular time in history,
Prescot was already under royal patronage of the House of Lancaster, which
had been passed to the Crown upon the death of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
in 1399, through his son, grandson, and great grandson, all kings of England,
namely: Kings Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. John of Gaunt had held the advowson
(ownership/right to select a cleric) for the church, and the Manorial Lordship
Henry VI ruled 1422-1461 and again 1470-1471. He married Margaret of Anjou at Titchfield Abbey in 1445. Henry VI was a good and gentle man whose interests were in education and religion rather than governing the country. He suffered from bouts of mental illness and was usurped and imprisoned by his cousin Edward of York on two occasions. He died in captivity in the Tower of London in 1471, where he had been murdered. Henry and Margaret had one son Edward Prince of Wales who was slain at the Battle of Tewksbury in 1471, 17 days after his father’s death.
In 1440, Henry VI founded Eton College for boys. The following year in 1441, he founded the King’s College of ‘St. Mary and St. Nicholas’ for them to continue their education. The foundation stone for the college chapel was laid by Henry himself when he was aged 19, on Passion Sunday 1441, and the chapel architect was Henry’s master mason Reginald Ely. It took 100 years for the building to be completed due to the unstable political climate in that era. The chapel was completed under the patronage of Richard III and Henry VII. Originally, Henry VI wanted the interior of the chapel to be decorated simply, but subsequent kings changed the original design. Built in the perpendicular style, it is the last and finest Gothic building to be erected in Europe, being 289 feet long, 40 feet wide and 80 feet high and the fan vaulted ceiling is the largest and finest to be found anywhere. Henry VIII paid for the stained glass windows (which were removed for safety during WWII) and the reredos behind the altar is Rubens’ painting The Adoration of the Magi (1634), which was given to the chapel in 1961.
In 1441, Henry VI needed funds to maintain his new college. Included in his inherited assets was the large and wealthy parish of Prescot in the N.W. of England, for which, Henry was Patron & Manorial Lord. The appointed Rector of Prescot in 1441 was William Booth and for his ‘living’ received tithes from the 15 townships which made up the large Parish of Prescot. (Tithe: the tenth of the produce of land and stock allotted for the maintenance of the clergy and other church purposes). Henry made some changes and appropriated (gave) to the Provost & Fellows of King’s College the patronage and lordship of Prescot, and appointed a Vicar for the spiritual service of the parish. The college then received the greater tithes and the Vicar the lesser tithes. A Vicarage was built in 1448, although not many Vicars resided there until many years later. The title of ‘Rector’ was no longer used. In 1445, the advowson was transferred to Kings’s College.
As shown on the south wall of our church, the Vicar of Prescot from 1492 until 1509 was Robert Hacomblen. He relinquished his role here to become Provost of King’s College from 1509 until his death in 1528. References are made to him in King’s College Chapel. In an ante chapel, there is an exhibit (which mentions his link with Prescot), and an illustration displays Robert as seen on a memorial brass on the south side of the chapel. He was Provost of the college at the time of the chapel’s part completion and is depicted dressed in typical academic garb of the middle ages wearing a surplice and a fur almuce, (a furred hood with long ends hanging down in front.)
A magnificent wooden rood screen donated by Henry VIII divides the chapel, and on the east side of it, in the choir, stands a huge bronze lectern dating back to the early 16th century. A gift of Robert Hacomblen – on one side it has the four evangelists and on the other, a circle, resembling a wheel, the centre of which displays the college coat of arms. The letters of Robert’s surname ‘Hacum – blen’ is divided and engraved as such, either side of the circle which is bordered with roses, and on top of the lectern is a small statue of Henry VI founder of the college (see right). The college coat of arms are shown everywhere around the chapel. Prescotians are very familiar with them as Prescot adopted the same coat of arms because of our links with King’s College. They can be seen on the top right hand side of our chancel arch at Prescot.
The chapel is home to the famous King’s College Choir whose Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast across the world every Christmas Eve.
Historically, Prescot had 5 chapels
of ease/daughter chapels to serve its large Parish area. One of them was the
chapel of St. Ellen, situated in the hamlet of Hardshaw-in-Windle, the original
seat of the town, which is now St. Helens - taking its name in the 19th century
from the ancient chapel. The Patent Rolls of 1334 refer to an exchange of
benefices between William the Clerk (minister) in Hardshaw and another person.
This indicates that an ancient chapel existed at Hardshaw, the site of which
is vague, but remnants of a graveyard were found in Bridge Street, St. Helens,
when building work was carried out there in 1940. The chapel was situated
at the junction of the boundaries of four ancient townships of Windle, Parr,
Sutton and Eccleston.
In the survey of 1548 it is returned as a Chantry Chapel. In 1552 the ancient ‘Seynt Elyn Chapell’ is included in the Inventories of Goods in the Churches and Chapels in Lancashire. The goods owned by chapels in the area around Prescot church, which then owned bells, chalices, silk vestments, crosses and candlesticks - St. Elyn’s chapel only had ‘one challis and a lyttle bell.’ It seems that St. Elyn’s chapel was in a very poor condition. The Vicar of Prescot originally appointed a curate in charge but the living was so poor and unimportant that the right of presentation was allowed to lapse and passed into the hands of a few landed proprietors in the district. From time to time, after the reformation in 1534, there was only a ‘reading minister’. In 1558 Thomas Parr of Parr, bequeathed 10 shillings “to a stock towards funding a priest at St. Elyns and to the maintenance of God’s divine service there forever…”
In 1592, a Visitation from the Deanery of Warrington (which Prescot Parish was in at that time) resulted in a very critical report for St. Ellen’s chapel. It was not known if the curate was licensed or not and John Rutter, the Reader, had married a couple without calling banns, resulting in him being excommunicated. Two women were tried at St. Ellen’s chapel in 1602 for witchcraft and sent to Lancaster for trial. On 12th July 1612, evidence was given against Isobel Roby of Windle in front of Sir Thomas Gerard. She was sent to Lancaster, and listed with the Pendle and Salmesbury witches who were all tried and hanged on the same day, 20th August 1612. Isobel was just a poor old woman but feared locally.
In 1613 the patronage was in the hands of Katherine Domville and her son James who improved conditions at the chapel in worship and maintenance. In the same year, Thomas Roughley, a relative of the Domville’s endowed £100 for a free school to be contained in the chapel. By 1618 the chapel, being old and decayed, was demolished and a new chapel with a school was built on the same site. Readers, or lecturers, were appointed under the Presbyterian system who conducted their type of services. However, the chapel was not consecrated according to an entry in the Cheshire Diocesan Registry in 1622. Non-conformist Adam Martindale, born 1623, of Moss Bank, kept a diary and says he “started the free school at St. Ellen’s in January 1630 - almost 2 miles from his father’s house, which was a great way for a little, fat, short legged lad.” He mentions the chapel where he attended regularly. He describes one of his teachers as being “an old humdrum curate… both a simpleton and a tippler.” Another lady teacher taught him Latin and he made good progress with the subject. From there he went to Rainford school which was not free.
During the time of Commonwealth Rule (1649-1660) the chapel was a Presbyterian place of worship. The Parliamentary Commissioners in 1650 recommended that the 4 townships of Hardshaw-within-Windle, Parr, Sutton and the nearest part of Eccleston, be made a parish but it was not until the mid 19th century that these towns were made parishes themselves and that of St. Helens didn’t take place until 1852. After the restoration (to monarchy) in 1660, Protestant non-conformist occupation of the chapel gained strength and presented a real challenge to the domination of the parish church which continued until 1710 when it was restored to the Church of England. The last minister to serve was Rev. James Naylor who was there for 22 years from 1688 to 1710 and it was at his funeral on 12th April 1710 that Henry Matthews preached the last non-conformist sermon at St. Ellen’s chapel. The dissenters decided to leave and they built their own churches in the town. St. Ellen’s was now officially a chapel of ease to the church at Prescot.
The first C. of E. minister was Rev. Theophilus Kelsall and the church registers for Baptisms began in 1713, Burials 1721 and Marriages 3 years later. In Prescot Parish Registers non-conformist entries for 1676 - 1687 and 1701 - 1726 include those at “St. Ellen’s Chappell.”
In 1755 the St. Helens canal was cut, the first canal cutting in the country, which transformed the village of Hardshaw into an industrial town, rapidly expanding it. Another church was built between 1750 and 1780 but by 1816 more room was needed and the south wall was taken down and the old burial ground closed and covered to become the new extension of the church which was re-dedicated to St. Mary. Just a century later in December 1916, the church was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, the registers were saved. A new church was built in 1926 and the original dedication to St. Helen was re-established. From 1916 to 1926 when the town was without a chapel, services were held in the town hall.
Today we are very familiar with
the use of bells and how they are, or were, used. To name but a few: many
of us can recall the ice-cream bell, school bell, shop door bell and the counter
bell which could be struck to alert the owner. There is the ship’s bell,
cow bell, worn by cows, in some countries, around their necks – not
forgetting the cat bell and Morris Dancers wear bells just below their knees.
Historically, there was the Town Crier ringing his bell – alerting all
to the latest news happenings and the clanging of Big Ben and Westminster
Chimes on radio and TV are familiar sounds. In the book of Exodus ch.28: v.33-34
a description of a Jewish High Priest’s vestments mention embroidered
“pomegranates and a gold bell” to be sewn between them, around
Bells have a long history although they are not as important in our lives as they used to be. In the past, almost every church had at least one bell and the use of them for religious purposes is of ancient origin. Early bells were of very crude form and imperfect sound, gradually developing into their present perfection. Not only did they call the faithful to prayer and worship, they helped mark out the time of day in towns and villages before clocks became available in the home. The bell used for funerals was known as the ‘death knell’, when the bell tolled solemnly after a death or at a funeral. On happier occasions the bells peal joyfully for weddings and other services. In old parish churches of England, bells ring in a harmonious peal, when all are rung at the same time to produce a beautiful volume of sound, and the effect is delightful, particularly at a distance.
In Christian churches, bells first came into use as early as the year 400 when Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, a place in Campania, in South Italy introduced them. Their use spread quickly and the church bell was not only used for calling people to prayer but was rung as a form of communication to alert the population when danger threatened. (During WW2 in Great Britain, all church bells were silenced, to ring only if enemy troops invaded). Celtic missionaries brought bells to Northern Europe and some of these monastic bells, as used in Celtic Abbeys, are preserved in museums in Scotland and Ireland. It was not until the 12th century that the use of larger bells became widespread and churches in the west built
belfries on their churches to house the bells while some churches in Europe, and the east, built separate towers to house them.
Church bells have the form of a cup-shaped cast metal resonator with a thick flared rim. Made in various sizes, they have a pivoted metal clapper or striker that hangs inside from the centre. The bell is suspended at its apex from a horizontal axle so it can swing from side to side. Tied to a pulley or lever on the axle is a rope which hangs down to a chamber below or, in some cases, down to ground level. The bells are rung by the bell ringer who pulls on the rope, swinging the bell. This causes the clapper to hit the inside rim of the bell as it swings, making the sound. A bell such as the ‘ting tang bell,’ may be suspended from a stationary support and rung by pulling a rope attached to the clapper to one side. This is used as the ‘five minute call’ bell before church services are due to start.
In 1291, Prescot had a church tower with bells, and in 1391 money was left to build a new bell tower. Church wardens’ accounts record in 1521 that 2d was spent on leather for the bell shackles, and in 1559 a broken bell was taken to Wigan on an ox-cart to be recast. There was an ale stop at Billinge, and the costs included bread and ale for the Bell Founder and his men and a new axle and wheels for the cart. What a ‘ring-a-ding-ding’ trip that was! In 1638 the bells were removed and recast at very considerable expense. Later in 1711, a new ring of six bells was cast, but by 1729 a new tower and spire had been built and the bells re-hung. In 1845 all were replaced with a new and heavier ring of 8 bells by C&G Mears of Whitechapel, London. The new tenor bell in Key F weighed 15 cwt, which caused the old timber 6 bell frame, after modifications, to weaken. In March 1934, the bells were retuned and re-hung and turned a quarter of a turn. Over the years, the tower and spire had become structurally unstable and the bell frame was considerably weakened, resulting in the bells staying silent from 1960 until 1994. In November 1992, the bells were removed and the tower and spire renovated. Work on the bells was done by Eyre & Smith Limited of Melbourne, Derbyshire. Whilst they were being retuned a new steel bell frame was installed and in August 1994 the bells were returned and re-hung. The old timber bell frame is preserved and still in situ. Voluntary assistance from the Merseyside Bell Restoration Group, local residents and parishioners helped with the work during this time. The tenor bell is now in the key of E and weighs 13½ cwt. The old ‘ting tang bell’ showing a date of 1684 is preserved in the ringing chamber and was replaced with a new one donated by Mr. & Mrs. Tom Wignall, in memory of her sister Renee Green. The bells were inaugurated by HRH the Duke of Gloucester at a special ceremony on 6th December 1994, and re-dedicated by the Archdeacon of Warrington. We are very fortunate to have a dedicated team of ringers at Prescot and long may the harmonious peals ring out over the town for many years to come.
This year we are celebrating 400 years of the re-building of the present church in 1610, but Christians have occupied the same site for many centuries before that time. The British Isles is especially rich in Christian history - that is where our roots lie and throughout the land, country lanes end in villages with a chapel and towns and cities have a church or a cathedral. So it was with Prescot – the early church ‘situated on high ground near a well' – and the town grew around it. A sixteenth century map of Prescot shows the church with a circular churchyard with a well nearby, which is an indication of Celtic origins.
Christianity came to Britain in the 2nd century AD by Roman soldiers, slaves and traders. In AD 209 the first Christian martyr, Alban, was put to death – from which the place of St. Albans takes its name. In the early 5th century, as Roman influence declined and the legions had been called home to Italy , Christianity gained ground. In the Celtic west, Wales , Cornwall and Ireland it was the Age of Saints, a time of growth for the church. Christianity was probably brought to Prescot by Celtic missionary monks from Ireland , brethren of St. Patrick, St. Colomba, St. Cuthbert and St. Aiden. The west coast of England , with its estuaries and river systems, enabled easy access for monks from Ireland to reach Celtic settlements and they would have sailed up the river Alt, from a place now known as Formby. The missionary monks, attracted to high ground, such as the hill on which our town is situated, was a natural spot for Celtic people to build their dwellings. The Celts on the hill were pagans who worshipped the elements - earth, fire, wind and water, but many soon became converted to Christianity, and their source of water became a holy well dedicated to ‘Our Lady'. The visiting missionaries would approach the local tribe chief for permission to build a small wooden church with an altar by their dwelling huts, and a cross would be erected nearby. Many of the Celts embraced Christianity and became priests which resulted in the hillside area being given the name of ‘Preoscote' by the Anglo Saxons when they arrived, which signifies a ‘Priest's Dwelling.'
At the close of the 6th century in 597, Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine from Rome to convert the English people. Augustine's mission proved successful in Kent at least, and King Ethelburt of Kent , was baptised into the Faith along with many of his people and he gave land for the Cathedral church - Augustine being the first Archbishop of Canterbury. To crown his limited achievement, Augustine worked towards having a good relationship with other established Christians in Britain – the Celtic Church – but the Celts were not prepared to submit to the Roman branch of the Faith. Augustine died in 604.
In York on Easter Day 627, the Saxon King Edwin was baptised by Paulinius who became the first Archbishop of York. Edwin was the son-in-law of King Ethelburt of who had been converted 30 years before by Augustine, on the same day, Princess Hilda, great niece of Edwin, was also baptised, after which she became a nun and head of the famous monastery at Whitby. It was here in 664 where the Great Synod of church leaders took place. Both Celtic and Southern Christians met to resolve differences in approach and tradition; one was that they each celebrated Easter at a different time. Wilfred, Abbot of Ripon, persuaded the assembly to accept the leadership of the Church of Rome. Whilst some members of the Celtic Church submitted very reluctantly to this idea, others refused and numerous pockets of the Celtic church stayed autonomous for many years after. At the end of the 7th century, to safeguard the Christian church in England, the 7th Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore, divided the country up into small areas known as parishes which, in turn, were grouped together to form dioceses. Each parish had a priest in charge and each diocese a Bishop. Prescot, because of its firmly established community for religious learning, was made a parish and absorbed in the Diocese of York, then Litchfield, then Chester and in 1880 – Liverpool, when that Diocese was founded.
From the early beginnings of the simple Celtic pattern of Jesus' teaching, to the format of the Church of Rome, continuing with the Reformation in 1534, when Henry 8th became Head of the Church of England, and throughout the Puritan area of the 17th century Commonwealth years, the church has continued to flourish in the town of Prescot . We remember all those Christians who have worshipped on this site for over 1,200 years, in the four churches built here since Saxon times; may many more Christian generations worship within the hallowed walls of the present building of 1610. We pray, with the help of God that this continues forever and ever, Amen.
This window is at the Eastern
end of the South aisle. For a stained glass window, it is very light because
of the small square glass panes that make up the bottom two thirds of the
window. Designed in 1878 by the artist and designer Sir Edward Burne-Jones
(1833-1898), there is no doubt it was made by William Morris & Company
in London. The small glass panes certainly have the William Morris (1834-96)
influence with dainty floral designs in a delicate greenish tinge. Morris
was a textile designer, artist and writer. The top part of the window depicts
Christ’s ‘Ascension’ into heaven. He is the central figure
with hands raised to heaven, and has a red halo. He is flanked on either side
by an angel in white, and they hold scrolls with Latin inscriptions on them.
The angels have deep pink wings and blue haloes, all characteristic of Sir
Edward Burne-Jones’s designs. Jones and Morris were associated with
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded in 1848 by a group of English painters
and poets, who favoured vibrant and abundant artistic detail, using intense
colours. The two artists had originally, gone to Oxford with the intention
of taking Holy Orders but decided to concentrate on their art work and social
reform. Written at the foot of the window is the inscription: “The Glory
of God In Memory of Elizabeth Lockwood of the Knoll died October 20th 1878
The account of Jesus ascending to heaven (to the right hand of God) was on the 40th day after his resurrection and is celebrated on the Thursday 10 days before Whit Sunday. Jesus, with his disciples, had gone to the Mount of Olives (Olivet,) across the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. Acts Ch.1 v.6-12. So when they had come together, they asked Him“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you can be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight. Whilst they were gazing into heaven as He went, two men (angels) stood by them in white robes, and said “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet…..
The window is a memorial to Mrs Elizabeth Lockwood (1800-1878). Her maiden name was Elizabeth Glaister, born in Kirkby Fleetham, Yorkshire, and baptised there on 30th March 1800, daughter of Rev. William Glaister. Elizabeth married William Lockwood (b.1785) on the 28th June 1831 at Kirkby Fleetham. By the mid 19th century, William Lockwood, born in Easingwold, Yorkshire, had become Vicar of Kirkby Fleetham, – he was also a Magistrate. They had six children: Jane 1834, Fanny 1836, Mortimer 1837, William 1840, Laura 1841 and Elizabeth Glaister Lockwood b. 1846 who married William Lees Evans a Colliery Proprietor, at Prescot on 12th September, 1867. Three windows on the South side of the church, which have already been written about, i.e., the ‘Nativity Window,’ ‘Parable of the Pounds Window’ and the ‘St. George Window’ were all donated by the Evans family. It is interesting to note that Mary Jane Evans, sister of William Lees Evans, married William b.1840 the brother of Elizabeth Glaister Lockwood in May 1867 at Prescot.
By 1861 Elizabeth Lockwood had been widowed and had moved from Yorkshire to Lancashire, and was living with four of her children at Belle View, Huyton. Ten years later, she had moved to the Knoll, Knowsley Park, Prescot. The window is a memorial dedicated to her by her family.
During 2010, major alterations took place
within our parish church building. One in particular has been the Children’s
Corner, which has been moved to a more convenient place to accommodate children
during services. It is still in the South aisle but more towards the West
end and is now in a central spot rather than at the East end of that particular
aisle. Over 50 or 60 years ago, when it was safe for churches to be left open
daily, the Corner was a favourite place for the town’s children to visit.
They would come into church, sit reverently, and look at the books for a while
before going on their way. The Children’s Corner was a gift in 1937
as a Thank Offering for the recovery of a little girl, Cora Haydon, from a
very grave illness. Cora was born in 1932, the daughter of Mr Arthur and Mrs
Rachel (nee Roby) Haydon. In 1936 Cora became seriously ill but she recovered
and the family donated funds for a special gift to Prescot Church to celebrate
their eternal thanks for her complete recovery.
The Rev. Canon J.P.W. Lovett was Vicar at the time and in September 1936, he wrote in the parish magazine about the gift. Some of the extracts are: … “I am exceedingly grateful for this generous gift, not only for its own sake but for the spirit which prompts it. I think a Children’s Corner should prove a great help towards getting our children to realise that the Church is their Church as well as the Church of the grown ups, and fostering in them a real love for the Church and its Lord. … The first one was in Hawarden Church, Flintshire, … I have often wished we could have one here… now the opportunity has come in a delightful way. … A church, especially one of the size of our own, is a large place for a small person and the average child needs help and encouragement to use it. A Children’s Corner gives just that help and encouragement. Moreover, a child likes to have some spot which he or she can call their own. Such a spot in their Parish Church is a ‘Children’s Corner’, and not a Children’s Chapel… the church is the Father’s House and, that being so, there ought to be in it a special spot for the children who are so dear to Him, a spot which they can use for prayer in joy and peacefulness, to think their own thoughts and read their own books. If they do not use it, it will be our fault not theirs. I am sure that in the years to come we shall grow more and more grateful for this thank offering for the life of a little child.” The ‘little child’ survived and grew up to become Mrs Cora Green, who is still alive, and many of our elderly parishioners remember her.
A Faculty for the Corner was granted on April 28th 1937, and an order was placed with Messrs. White of Bedford, to install it. It was designed so that it should be in keeping with the Pulpit and Screen, (the latter has since been painted black and gilt). The furniture in the Corner consists of a small round table and three chairs. The table was a gift from the Rev. Canon and Mrs Lovett in memory of their son Christopher Neville Lovett who died at the age of 10 months and was buried on the 8th June 1929. The three small chairs were in memory of a little girl by the name of Margaret Elsie (Peggy) Welsby, who died of diphtheria at the age of 11 (born 1.5.1924, died 20.4.1935).
When Jesus was in the region of Judea beyond the river Jordan, children were brought to him that he might lay His hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people for doing so, but Jesus in His wisdom blessed the little children and said “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.19:13-14). It is indeed a wonderful asset to our church to have a Children’s Corner. The new position of the Corner, close to the South Porch, has enabled it to cover a larger area, thus making more room for the children to move about. The carpeted floor area is a donation from Mrs Val and Mr Bryan Jones in memory of Val’s parents Ernest and Eileen Sugden.
(I have been contacted by the Revd. Kenneth Almond (brother of Canon Geoff Almond), who tells me that the house where the little girl Peggy Welsby died was number 9 Beaconsfield Street, Prescot. This was the home of Ken’s wife Hilary Gore and her sister Barbara. Ken and Hilary started their married life at this address. No doubt there will be many who remember Hilary and Barbara living in that house. The three small chairs in the corner are in memory of Peggy who died in 1935. )
(The article in our February
magazine about the Children’s Corner and, its furniture, sparked off
many memories from our parishioners.
Mrs Rene Pierce rang to say she had read the article with great interest. Rene is the aunt of the little girl Peggy (Margaret) Welsby who died in 1935 and in whose memory the three small chairs are dedicated. Peggy’s father Thomas Welsby was brother to Rene. He was a church warden and sides man as well as devoting many hours to all church activities. The Welsby family lived at the top of Beaconsfield Street, (Warrington Road end) on the odd numbers side, which had tiny front gardens with wooden fences. The Church School entrance was further down the street on the same side and this is the school where Peggy had been a pupil.
Lilly Edwards remembers the occasion of Peggy’s death when Mrs Welsby invited all the children who were her friends to come into the house and pay their last respects as she lay ‘asleep’ in her coffin, before burial. Many children came to visit the house in Beaconsfield Street, and it was with great awareness to them all that a little child had died after suffering from a long illness.
Enid Roberts recalls the headmistress of the Church School, Miss Hilda Mary Patterson, informing the children in morning assembly that Peggy had died after her illness. It was a sad occasion for all the school and something which they would never forget.
Peggy had twin sisters, Olive and Mavis. Mavis passed away last year, but Olive is still alive. Enid sent her a copy of the February magazine containing the article on the Children’s Corner and Olive replied with her appreciation and recollections of the many visits she made as a child to the Corner.
Many thanks to those who have contacted me with the much welcome ‘feedback’ on last month’s article.)
Blessings to you all.
I wonder how many of us realise
what an important piece of church architecture the chancel arch is? The chancel
arch is that which separates the chancel (choir and sanctuary) from the nave
of the church. The word “chancel” derives from the French usage
of chancel. This is from a Latin word cancelli meaning “lattice”,
which refers to the Rood Screen that stands immediately in front of the chancel
Over the centuries many architectural changes in church buildings have taken place. In very early English Christian churches, the single cell plan style of building was adopted but in the 7th century a chancel was added which opened from the nave by the chancel arch and housed the altar. A chancel is typically raised above the level of the nave where the congregation gathers, and the chancel at Prescot meets with this requirement, as we have two steps going up into it from the nave. Anciently, the altar had originally been at the western end of a church but by Saxon times the present arrangement had come into being and the altar was replaced at the eastern end of a church. The chancel was the responsibility of the priest and the nave was the responsibility of the people. In medieval times, the chancel was used only by the clergy and their assistants - the rood screen kept others out! The chancel arch was always elaborately decorated, but as rood screens (placed in front) became more beautiful in design, the arches became simpler.
Whilst the clean cut lines of our sandstone Gothic chancel arch is now adorned with only two decorative coats of arms, to the left: the Diocese of Liverpool and the right: King’s College Cambridge (also Prescot Town’s Coat of Arms), it has not always been so. Prior to the rebuilding of our present church in 1610, there is no doubt that the building it replaced had a chancel arch decorated to match the requirement of the time! Up until the Reformation in 1534, an architectural element located within the arch called a tympanum, displayed appropriate ‘Doom’ paintings. A popular tympanum decoration was the ‘Last Judgment’. A dominant figure of Christ appeared in the centre of the composition, on His left was the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, sometimes represented or accompanied by their animal symbols. To the sides were similar figures of angels and demons. Other paintings were: ‘Final Judgment’, ‘Day of Judgment’ or ‘Day of the Lord’. In Christian theology, these represented the final and eternal Judgment of God of all nations, which will take place after the resurrection of the dead and the second coming of Christ (Rev.20: 12-15). This belief certainly inspired numerous artistic depictions and many of them were
created in the 14th and 15th centuries. Another belief was, that a ‘Doom’ painting represented where Christ judges souls and sends them to either Heaven or Hell. They were there to remind Christians of the after-life and Judgment Day and to help keep them mindful of sinning, by the painting showing in graphic details the dramatic difference between Heaven and Hell. In some churches the ‘Doom’, painting was sited on the Western wall, but by being on the chancel arch itself, it would be constantly in view of worshipers as they looked towards the Priest during services. After the Reformation, most frescoes were painted over and replaced with suitable texts or Royal Arms. These would be the arms of the reigning monarch to remind churchgoers who the Head of the Church of England was!
Major structural alterations took place at Prescot in 1819, the side aisles were widened and the chancel arch rebuilt. In 1875, further extensive alterations took place and high up, above the arch, eleven new replacement stained glass windows were installed. The apex five being the four Evangelists with our Saviour as the central figure. The lower six are made up of little trefoil leaded lights, three to the left and three to the right. To the left: ‘I H S’ = the first 3 letters of the Greek word for ‘Jesus’; Figure of a Saint; Cup & Vine (symbolises Christ’s words “I am the true vine”, grapes and wheat represent the Eucharist). To the right: Lamb & Banner (symbolising ‘Lamb of God’ with a halo and cross to indicate the Lord, and carries a banner of Victory); Figure of a Saint; Dove Descending (symbolising the Holy Spirit).
The existing two coats of arms on the chancel arch were painted on in the 1960’s. They replaced two earlier decorations - symbols of the Monogram of the name of Jesus ‘I H S’. Before that, at the beginning of the 20th century and probably dating from the refurbishing in 1875, various church symbols and designs covered not only the chancel arch but also the nave walls between the five arches. The area between the lower six trefoil windows on the chancel arch was painted with a text. During this time, the chancel walls were decorated just below the ceiling level with these designs and round the East window and choir windows each had a border of painted text. The nave of 1610 has seen some changes to the chancel screen(s), but it is a lot better viewing for congregations now than it was for the parishioners in the 15th and 16th centuries in the earlier building, who probably had to face the “crack of doom and all that”!
Early in November, His Royal
Highness, The Duke of Kent, visited our church. During the short service he
read a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Ch.5 v.13-14. Two lines read:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”…They
were further quoted by the Revd David Rose in his sermon when he referred
to Prescot church built on a hill with its tower and spire being a significant
beacon of Christian presence which can be seen for miles away, from all directions.
Standing 250 ft. above sea level, the present tower and spire rising at 150
ft. is a landmark and was observed as such by ships in the Mersey estuary.
A church has been on the hill site for over 1,000 years but from earliest
records, it seems that renovation and rebuilding work on steeples has been
an ‘on-going’ thing!
The earliest known details of a tower and steeple at Prescot, was in the will of John Fairfax, Rector 1375-93 who left “10 pounds to build a tower of stone for my church at Prescot”. This tower replaced an earlier one which in 1291 held bells and was ‘old from antiquity”. The steeple was unsafe in 1665 and it was pointed and clasped with iron and repaired extensively again in 1670. It was taken down and completely rebuilt in 1686-7 at a cost of £330 and again in 1694-1696. By 1717 when the Registrar of the Diocese visited the “large and venerable pile of Prescot church, he observed ‘the towr or foundacion of the steeple, shaken into breaches to a dangerous degree’. Yet, little was done about it and the steeple was still ‘in danger of falling’ in 1719. In 1725, 119 ashlars were brought from Rainhill to make ‘two battereys at the west side of the steple,’ together with square stones for ‘arch pieces’. But it was still in a dangerous condition, and in March 1728 it was demolished with a complete rebuilding of the tower and spire in 1729. Built in the ‘Renaissance Style’ at a cost of £455, it was designed by Henry Sephton (1686-1756) a leading mason and architect in Liverpool.
The tower stands 75 ft. high and the steeple above it is 75 ft. high making an overall height of 150 ft. On the west side of the tower, beneath the cornice can be seen the inscription “CONDITUM ANO DOMINI 1729” – testifying to the rebuilding in that year. However, the spire proved to be too heavy which caused the tower walls to petal outwards and the spire was rebuilt in a slimmer style in 1797 after being destroyed by lightning. Again disaster struck, because in August 1797, another lightning strike brought the spire crashing down just as two-thirds of the rebuilding had been completed. Work was restarted and completed in 1798. The building work was carried out by a local man Richard Holme whose grave in the churchyard gives details.
The square tower stands 75 ft. high and on each side the round headed two-light belfry windows are enclosed by pilasters and entablature in the Doric style - a clock face is in each. Above this is a balustrade – a row of balusters joined by a rail forming an ornamental parapet to a balcony. At each corner is a group of 3 characteristic ‘Renaissance Vases’. Above this, the octagonal spire is divided into 4 sections by prominent mouldings. There are three tiers which have spire lights and the tip of the spire is topped by a weather vane in the form of a lion which is an emblem of King’s College, Cambridge. In 1901 the spire was re-pointed and a new lightning conductor fitted. The 12 ornamental ‘vases’ which had been resting on slender necks were found to be top heavy and unsafe. The necks were removed and the vases replaced on new firm bases 7 inches lower which made them safer.
At the base of the tower on the north wall, masons’ marks in the stone can be seen - put there by workmen at the building of the new tower in 1729 as proof of their work. Above the West door into the church is a window giving light into a storeroom. The room was once the access point to an organ loft and singers’ gallery at the west end of the nave before the choir and organ were removed to the chancel in 1875. Above this, is the bell ringing chamber and above that is the actual bell chamber with a peal of 8 bells.
In 1986 the top 12 ft. of the spire was removed when serious erosion and structural damage occurred. When work began in 1991 to build it up again, a further 13 ft. had to be removed because the original iron clamps became rusty causing the stone to split. These were replaced with stainless steel and a new gilded lion weather vane (symbol of KCC) was fitted to the tip of the spire. The work cost £250,000. His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester visited Prescot church in December 1994 to mark the completion and renovation work on the tower, spire, and clock and to inaugurate the re-tuned and re-hung bells on a new steel bellframe. Approaching Prescot from M57, A57 or A58 and seeing the spire of St. Mary’s gracing the skyline gives one a sense of pride – that’s my church, set on a hill, which cannot be hidden
At the beginning of October, we had a visit from representatives of the Monumental Brass Society to view and note the various brasses we have in our church and they took rubbings of those on the chancel walls. What interested them greatly was the large marble wall plaque with an inlaid brass design on the South West wall, above the area where part of the gallery has just been removed. The plaque nowadays, appears somewhat obscure and dark – this is because it is badly in need of renovation and cleaning. The plaque was designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) who was Great Britain’s foremost Victorian architect and designer of the 19th century. Pugin worked on much of the Victorian detail of the interior of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben and was an assistant to the architect of those buildings – Sir Charles Barry.
The upper portion of the brass inlay is in the form of a decorative outline border that resembles the shape of a cross with a robed figure standing in the centre, probably a saint. The stem of this design is rising from a stepped base (like that of the Calvary Cross) and has an inscription in Latin which gives the dates of death for George Case in 1836 and his wife Mary in 1835. Either side of the stem is a coat of arms – on the left, the Case family and on the right, the Deane family. George Case, a Merchant, was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1781 and Justice of the Peace for the County in 1782. George’s parents - Mr John Case, woollen dealer, and Alice Deane were married at Prescot, on the 31st July 1743. George was born on the 9th December 1747, and the original family home was the Mansion House in Prescot, where an imposing brick Georgian building, with later additions and alterations is now known as the Deanes House Hotel in Church Street.
George’s mother Alice Deane, came from a very old Rainhill family. They held land there in the early 17th century. In the mid 18th century an Edward Deane of Prescot, Attorney at Law, held land in Rainhill and Cronton. Born in 1715, son of George and Catherine Deane of Rainhill, Edward died unmarried and was buried on the 25th July 1754, so his estates passed to his sister Alice Deane born 1718, who married the aforementioned John Case of Prescot, woollen dealer, in 1743. John Case died in 1765 and the estates passed to his only son George who became a Liverpool merchant. George died in 1836, age 88, at Walton, and his wife Mary died in 1835 age 74 also at Walton. The Rainhill and Cronton estate was known as Deanes House farm or estate and in 1844 it was sold to the Willis Family of Halsnead, Whiston. There is a farm called Deanes Farm in Cronton Lane, off Blundell’s Lane in Rainhill.
By 1851, the house in Church Street, Prescot, had become the private residence of the Cross family. Mr. Henry Cross, Solicitor, was one of the sons of that family and the house continued to be the home of his sisters until their demise at the beginning of the 20th century. It is possible that the house, with additions and alterations, was also the 18th century residence of Edward Deane, Attorney at Law, hence the property being called ‘Deanes House’. By 1918 it had been converted into a public house.
George and Mary Case, for whom the wall plaque is a memorial, are also mentioned with other members of their family on an inscribed gravestone beneath the wooden floor of the choir on the south side of the chancel. The stone is badly rubbed in parts:
“John Case………Case father of
the children who lie hereunder died 20th October 1765
………….underneath interred……..George Gregson Case son of George Case died 7th
September 1832 aged 31 years and was interred at the Parish Church of Walton on the
Hill in the County of Lancaster. Mary Case wife of George Case died January 16th 1835
Age 74 years. Mary Case daughter of George Case died April 5th 1835 age 43 years.
George Case of Walton on the Hill in the County of Lancaster died November 2nd 1836
Aged 88 years.”
It is hoped that the marble and brass wall plaque can be renovated to its former glory, which would be another exciting achievement for our 400 years celebration in 2010.
The magnificent Flower Festival
displays in September celebrating the re-building 400 years ago revealed much
about the history of our church and town, and some of the church furnishings
are relative to that period. One in particular is the Armorial Arms at the
East end of the South Wall – those of the Steward of the Manor of Prescot,
- William Stanley the 6th Earl of Derby and his wife Elizabeth de Vere, daughter
of Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford. The escucheon is very impressive
and the largest of all the arms displayed in church. It bears an inscription
“Diev Et Ma Foy” in archaic French which translated = ‘God
and my Faith’. William b. 1561 was the son of Henry Stanley 4th Earl
of Derby and Lady Margaret Clifford who was the grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s
younger sister Mary. In 1594 he married Elizabeth de Vere (1575-1627) daughter
of Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford and Anne Cecil. Anne’s father
was William Cecil, Lord Burghley Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer to
Queen Elizabeth I.
During the lifetime of his father William, Henry the 4th Earl (1531-93), proved to be an amazing character and adventurer. He was a great traveller and went abroad for lengthy periods. For 3 years, he stayed in France then went to Spain where he defeated a Spanish nobleman in single combat which caused him to leave that country disguised as a friar. He then went on to Italy, then Egypt where he shot a fierce tiger on the banks of the Nile. He visited Palestine then Turkey where he was imprisoned for defending Christianity and the Bible. After his release he went to Russia and spent many months at the Court of Moscow. Whilst there, an English visitor and doctor told him that his father Henry the 4th Earl had died in 1593, and his brother Ferdinando the 5th Earl had died a year later in April 1594. William quickly returned to England to find all the estates of the earldom had been settled upon his brother’s daughters under the guardianship of four bishops and four temporal Lords, who possessed every branch of it to their ward’s uses and refused to admit his right to any share of it. In his absence, William had been passed over. A lawsuit followed in reference to all the late earl’s estates in England and the Isle of Man. This went on for about 6 years, but Queen Elizabeth I intervened and the ancient seats of Lathom, Knowsley and all lands and houses etc., in other counties were returned to the Earl. With regard to the Isle of Man, Ferdinando’s daughters claimed possession but Earl William agreed to purchase their shares and interests there.
Earl William had married Elizabeth de Vere in June 1594, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. The Countess died in 1627 and the following year William retired to a house on the banks of the River Dee near Chester where he spent his remaining years and wrote a number of ‘comic plays for common players’. He died on 29th September 1642 and is laid to rest at Ormskirk with his noble ancestors. Before retiring to Chester, William assigned and surrendered all his estates to James his eldest son who became 7th Earl of Derby.
Association with Shakespeare: It was during the time of William’s father, Henry the 4th Earl (1531-93), that William Shakespeare who was a member of The Queen’s Players reputedly performed in a play at Knowsley in 1589 and he is known to have visited frequently. Ferdinando Stanley the 5th Earl (1599-94) was a poet and patron of writers, including Shakespeare. The Prescot Playhouse was built in approximately 1593, one of the few freestanding theatres outside of London and probably served the gentry visiting the Earl of Derby in Knowsley. The building is known to have stood on the site of the present ‘flat iron building’ at the end of Eccleston Street. It has been argued that Shakespeare never travelled but based his writings on the experiences of those who had. An interesting claim associated with Earl William was that he either singly, or in conjunction with others, wrote the plays commonly ascribed to Shakespeare - one person in particular, being his father-in-law Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). Edward was an Elizabethan courtier, playwright, poet, sportsman and patron of numerous writers. He was well travelled and his education included foreign languages, background of law, and the military. William the 6th Earl of Derby was indeed a colourful character and it would be well to remember him and other members of the Stanley family for the strong support and assistance offered to Shakespeare, not only as a playwright but during his visits to Knowsley and Prescot. William Shakespeare was born and died in Stratford on Avon 1564-1616.
In September, as part of the 400 years celebrations for the re-building of our church in 1610, we are having a ‘Flower Festival'. A team of ladies will create designs using various flowers, mixing colours and varieties to form floral displays and representations of certain historical themes throughout the church's history in Prescot.
These days, apart from Lent, weekly flower displays are an accepted part of church decoration and great emphasis on selected colours and designs are used. Years before flowers were used to decorate the interior of the church for weddings – brides and brides-maids carried bouquets. Also, wreaths and sprays have been a symbol of respect and remembrance at funerals, the flowers being placed on the grave of the departed. After Lent, the church is always decorated for Easter – the favourite flower being the lily. Harvest time, Christmas, and other special occasions see the use of flowers to enhance the interior of the church, but the practice of a weekly flower change has not always been so. Very early photographs of the church at the beginning of the 20 th century do not show any floral arrangements until the 1930's when a row of vases on the altar can be seen displaying flowers. Wrought iron flower display stands in memory of past worshippers have only been dedicated in the latter half of the 20 th century and are now placed in certain areas within the church.
We think of cultivated flowers grown in gardens and a delightful poem by the Manx poet, scholar and theologian, Thomas Edward Brown (1830-1893) creates a peaceful picture:
A garden is a lovesome
thing, Got wot!
This poem, which not only reminds us of God's hand in the creation of flowers but of other gardens with trees, fruits, herbs and flowers, especially those mentioned in the Bible. The Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived - Eden belongs to the realm of ‘stories with a meaning' and the fertile paradise arose in Mesopotamia . (Genesis 2: v.8-14); The Plain of Sharon on the Mediterranean coast of Israel from Jaffa to Mount Carmel, famous for its fertility and its flowers. (Song of Solomon 2. v.1. “I am a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valleys”. ) A reference was made to King Solomon by Jesus in his ‘Sermon on the Mount to the Multitude' (Matthew 6: v.28/29 …”Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” ). Then there is the Garden of Gethsemane, with olive groves at the foot of the Mount of Olives - and Mount Carmel (Song of Solomon 7:v5), which is a coastal mountain range in Northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean sea towards the Southeast. The sloped side of the mountain is very fertile with trees, olive groves and flowers.
Very few species of flowers are mentioned in the Bible, although they abound in Israel . Many flowering shrubs are mentioned but there are only three flowers actually mentioned, all in Song of Solomon: the lily, the rose and camphire or henna plant. The latter is a shrub which bears small white or yellow powerfully fragrant flowers. Roses are mentioned many times in the Bible and botanists in Israel agree that a narcissus, crocus, rockrose and oleander were variously referred to as “roses.” Of all the plants in the Bible, the lily is the most famous. Modern scholars believe that at least 5 or 6 kinds of plants are referred to by that name. The iris is one of them and “lilies of the field” were actually the chamomile, a plant with white daisy like flowers. The lilies in the Song of Solomon are regarded now as being a hyacinth with deep blue, fragrant flowers. Also native and discovered growing wild in northern Israel is the white Madonna lily, our traditional symbol of Easter and strongly associated with the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel. The stamens in the Madonna Lily = the fleur de leis in Heraldry. So in September, when we enjoy the handiwork of the flower ladies let us not forget those gardens and places in the Holy Land where 2,000+ years ago, the climate there was different, when it was a land of palm trees where wildflowers were profuse in spring. There are so many varieties of flowers available now and some species used for our Flower Festival could easily have been be cultivated from flowers mentioned in the Bible.
Every parish church has a font– Prescot is fortunate enough to have two. The ancient sandstone Saxon font in the baptistery, and another one, the type of which is unusual for use in an English church - it is the Italian Marble Vase Font, donated by the Willis family of Halsnead Hall, Whiston, in the 18th century. The marble font is of tazza shape (a shallow vessel) with a fluted bowl on a slender stem. Under the rim of the bowl runs the inscription “The Gift of Daniel Willis of Halsnead Hall, Esqre 1755”, to read it, one has to bend down, and walk around the circular font. It originally stood by the chancel steps, but now stands at the east end of the north aisle. The Willis family gave many gifts to the church and they brought this back after travelling on a classical tour of Italy . Daniel Willis was born in 1689, the son of Martin Willis Esq., and Ellen nee Daniell. Daniel was married to Anne, and died age 74, he was buried in the Parish Church on 4 th November 1763 . Anne died and was buried 22 nd July 1766 age 76. (A marble memorial tablet is on the west wall of the nave). The Willis family came to live on the Halsnead Estate in 1684 when Daniel's grandfather, Thomas Willis, a Liverpool merchant, bought the estate from Edward Ogle, Lord of the Manor of Whiston. In later years, the Willis family came into possession of the Whiston estates also, and were owners until 1929, when they were both sold by auction. The historical building of Halsnead Hall, built in the 17th century stood in Halsnead Park until 1932, part of the park is now a static caravan park. In 1929 the Halsnead estate extended over 1,540 acres and covered parts of the parishes of Whiston, Cronton, Tarbock and Rainhill. The Whiston portion was bounded by Cumber Lane & Foxes Bank Lane in the east, the Tarbock to Cronton Road in the south, part of Windy Arbor Road , Logwood Mill brook, Cross Lane to the west and Shaw Lane to the north.
The marble vase font had only been in use for two years when, in 1757, a certain baby boy was baptised in it, and his sister Sarah, a toddler then, would have been at the christening. The baby, John Philip Kemble, was born on 1 st February 1757 into a family of travelling players, in a lodging house in Hillock Street , ( Kemble St ) the imposing double fronted house had 3 steps up to the door, but sadly, was demolished in the 1970's. (The house was almost opposite the old Library which once stood next to the Zion Church ). John was the second child of Roger and Sarah (‘Sally' Ward) Kemble – Roger was recorded in the Baptismal Register as a ‘comedian'. John was baptised on the 16 th February 1757 , when little Sarah was 18 months old, she was the eldest of 12 children born to Roger & Sarah Kemble. John was educated at Sedgeley Park Catholic Seminary, Nr. Wolverhampton, then at the English College at Douai , to train as a priest, but he left after 4 years to go into the theatre, where he became a talented actor, greatly admired for his Shakespearean roles. He made his debut in September 1783 as Hamlet at the Drury Lane Theatre , London , and was based there for 20 years, during which time he played more than 120 characters. He preferred playing tragedies more than comedies and managed Drury Lane from 1788-1792. He married Briscilla Brereton an actress in 1787 and they appeared on stage together many times. He retired because of an asthmatic condition, first to Toulouse and then in 1817 to Lausanne , Switzerland , where he died on 26 th February 1823 and is buried in the cemetery there. On 21 st February 1871 , many streets in Prescot were renamed and Hillock Street was renamed ‘ Kemble Street ' in memory of this great Shakespearean actor.
John Kemble's sister Sarah was born in Brecon, Wales , on 5 th July 1755 . She too, was an actress and became a most famous ‘tragedienne.' In 1773, aged 17, she married William Siddons an actor and they had 5 children. Sarah Siddons was renowned as being a ‘great beauty' and many famous artists painted her portrait. Sarah died 8 th June 1831 and is buried in Paddington Churchyard, London. There is a statue of her in Westminster Abbey in the chapel of St. Andrew.
The marble vase font is still used and you never know, there could be more famous people out there among the infants whose baptisms have taken place in it.
Questions are always being asked by visitors, and indeed many Prescotians, with regard to the town's historic links with King's College Cambridge. To give a ‘picture' of how this came about, we have to start with known historical facts that occurred after the Norman Conquest in 1066. A list of Rectors and Vicars can be seen on the South wall of the church, the earliest date being 1179. After the Norman Conquest, the lands between the rivers Mersey and Ribble were given to one of William the Conquerer's relatives, Roger of Poitou, who, in return for military support, gave out various manors to Norman overlords. (In some cases Saxon overlords retained their manors, i.e., the Bolds and Ecclestons). The Norman family of Gernet was given 9 manors, one of which was Whiston and with it went the Advowson (the right to select a Cleric) for the parish church of Prescot . The Advowson is first mentioned in 1212 as appurtenant to the Manor of Whiston held by Roger Gernet, the Master Forester of Simmonswood. The manorial rights of Prescot township became vested in the Rector, and at the most southerly side of Prescot, a piece of land was carved out of Whiston for a Prescot Manor house or Rectory to be built, where the appointed Cleric would live. (The remaining office block of what was BICC in Hall Lane , stands on the ancient manor house site.)
At the end of the 13th century, Joan, the daughter of Benedict Gernet married William Dacre of Cumberland and the Advowson came into his possession. In 1375 it passed from the Dacre family to John Neville of Raby, Co. Durham . It then passed to his son Ralph, who married Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In 1391 the Duke bought it, which in turn passed into Royal Patronage through his son, grandson and great grandson, namely kings: Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Many important people were appointed to be the Rectors of Prescot and the living was considered to be an excellent one because of the huge parish. It covered 58 sq. miles and 15 townships, therefore, the tithe system brought in a good yield from the townships. (Compulsory since the 10th century, the tithe was a tax of one tenth part of the annual produce of land or labour. It was to support the priest, maintain the church fabric and provide relief for the poor). The parish formed part of the Hundred of West Derby and covered: Prescot, Whiston, Eccleston, Parr, Sutton, Rainford, Rainhill, Windle with Hardshaw, Bold, Cronton, Cuerdley, Ditton, Penketh, Gt. Sankey and Widnes with Appleton . Local legend has it that the ‘Rector of Prescot's horse was shod with silver,' no doubt because of him raking in all the manorial tithes!
The Rectors held the manor of Prescot until 1444, when Henry VI transferred it to the Provost and Scholars of his new college of ‘Our Lady and St. Nicholas,' at Cambridge, commonly known as King's College. The Rectory was appropriated to the College and a permanent Vicarage was established in 1448. In this way the College became Lord of the Manor of Prescot, a title which they still hold to this day. A Vicar was appointed and ever since that time, because the college own the Advowson they appoint a new Vicar whenever the post is vacant. Henry VI also gave to his new college, other manors scattered mainly over eastern and southern England . Prescot Rectory in Lancashire , was the most valuable but most remote of them all. Although other places were graced with an annual visit by the Provost and Bursar, they rarely came to Prescot. The great tithes of the parish went to help maintain the college and the lesser tithes were given to the Vicar. This situation resulted in Prescotians having many grants of privileges, i.e., exemptions from : jury service outside the Manor; jurisdiction of the county coroner; tolls in the markets of Liverpool and elsewhere. Many ale houses appeared, the licences being granted by the town steward. Prescot had its own Court Leet. The town was of great importance to the surrounding countryside, being the ecclesiastical centre and a market town. It made the purchase of property in Prescot worthwhile, so all the local gentry – the Ogles, Bolds, Ecclestons and the like had a voice in local affairs. The day to day running of the town was left to Lord Derby who was appointed to act as Steward of the Manor by authority from King's College and he appointed these same gentlemen to act for him during his frequent absences from the town. Prescot town adopted King's College Coat of Arms which can be seen at the right hand side of the chancel arch. Topping the 150 ft. high tower and spire of the church is a gilded lion weathervane which gleams brightly in the sunlight. It can be seen for miles around and is a unique symbol, very special to Prescotians. This is an emblem of King's College, Cambridge , with which Prescot has had historic links since 1444.
This document was found at the
beginning of the 20th century among old papers in the church chest, and then
kept in the Vestry of Prescot Church . It is in the form of an affidavit,
certifying that the statutory requirement as to burial in woollen cloth had
been fulfilled and it reads as follows:
|(Dated 1682 original size
10” x 6½”) “Willm Lyon of the Parish of Prescott
county of Lancaster maketh Oath, that Richard Lyon
lately deceased, was not put in, wound or wrapt up, or
buried in a shirt, shift, sheet or shroud or anything whatsoever made
or mingled with Flax, Hemp, Silk, Hair, Gold or Silver, or other than
what is made of sheeps-wooll only, nor in any coffin lined or faced with
any cloth, stuff, or any other thing whatsoever made or mingled with Flax,
Hemp, Silk, Hair, Gold or Silver, or any other material but sheep-wooll
only, dated the 14th day of June in the 34th year
of the reign of our sovereign Lord Charles the second by the Grace of
God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith
etc., A.D.1682. Sealed and subscribed by us who were present and witnesses
to the swearing of the above said Affidavit – Adrian Tucker / Peter
“I Edwd. Goodall Vicar of Prescott do hereby Certify that the day and year above said, the said Willm Lion came before me and made such Affidavit as the above specified, according to a late Act of Parliament Instituted for burying in Woollen. Witness my hand the day and year first above written. (Signed Edwd. Goodall. )” Note added) “buried at St Ellens and Parish dues 10d to me”
The Certificate of Burial in
Woollen has an interesting border: Skull and crossbones, hour glasses and
sythes (shades of the ‘grim reaper' here), picks and shovels, a skeletal figure
with a spike, a coffin, two candlesticks with burning candles and a corpse
wrapped snugly in a woollen shroud. The Acts of 1678 & 1680 were repealed
in 1814, although they were increasingly ignored by 1770. (Note: In 1682 St.Ellen's
Chapel was nonconformist and there is no reference to the burial of Richard
Lyon, the subject of the certificate. Burials at St. Helens were not in every
case recorded in the Prescot Register). Richard Lyon must have been buried
somewhere, after all he was clad in the required ‘sheeps woollen' shroud!
Ref: LPRS Vol.149 1665-1726 Rev. T.M. Steel; HSL&C Vol.89 (1937) Extract by F.A. Bailey.
Prescot church occupies a very ancient site and, because of this fact, from time to time, visitors, local or otherwise, ask if there is a secret tunnel. The enquirer more often than not having heard a legendary ‘tunnel' story passed down over the years. A popular version is about one leading from the church to “Cromwell's Cottage” in Whiston. The ‘Old' Whiston Hall, demolished in 1936, once situated in Pottery Lane, the site of which was to the east of the M57 motorway, was known locally as “Cromwell‘s Cottage”. The building, which resembled a large farm house, and built of grey stone, had an oak door with iron studs. Inside, an oak staircase led up to the bedrooms. A date of 1648 was carved in stone above a fireplace in one of the rooms when, apparently, a renovation of the house took place. On the right of the staircase was a bricked up entrance to an underground passage, reputed to have been about a mile in length and used by Cromwell's solders to gain access to Prescot church during the Civil Wars (1642-51). This would have been most uncomfortable for Infantry carrying pikes and muskets when access could have been gained very quickly above ground by forceful Cavalry on horseback bearing swords and pistols!!
Occupancy of the ‘Old' Whiston Hall during that time was most likely to have been the Ogle family. John Ogle (1558-1612), whose effigy stands in the church chancel, bought the Whiston estates in 1608. John's son, Henry Ogle (1586-1648), took no part in the Civil Wars but his son Cuthbert (1614-70) in 1646, resigned his commission in the Royalist Army and took the National Covenant, thus becoming a parliamentary supporter. So maybe a story about the house and Cuthbert's support for parliament led to the place being remembered as “Cromwell's Cottage” as, no doubt, he would have entertained other Roundhead supporters there. It was during the civil wars that Prescot church, on about three occasions, was used as a billet for prisoners and soldiers, some even stabled their horses inside. As the crow flies, a mile long tunnel from Prescot church would have had to pass under the churchyard, ‘The Wood', and an area we know as the “Old Carrs” (in 18th century a colliery), to reach Whiston Hall in Pottery Lane. Henry Ogle, and his son Cuthbert, owned a number of coal mines in Whiston and it is doubtful whether a passage of that length could have been engineered without encountering mine workings - that is not to say, perhaps there was an underground passage from the house to another source – an escape route by the occupants from Royalist troops perhaps – a feasible explanation of why a passage from the house had existed?
There is also the story of a tunnel from the church into Knowsley Park . The supposed route of this tunnel, passed under Church Street and what is now the car park behind Waterfields, under the St. John's Ambulance building, then High Street, and in a north westerly direction, under Park Road , the Knoll arriving at Riding Hill in Knowsley Park . (The hill is to the left of the Aerial Extreme in the Safari Park). Anciently, a 12th century chapel of St. Leonard of Knowsley stood on the hill, still being in existence in 1398 when Thomas del Ryding became Vicar of Huyton having previously been chaplain of the chapel. Sometimes known as “Ridding Chapel”, remnants of masonry in a circular space was still to be seen on Riding Hill within living memory. From the 15th century, the Earls of Derby had close connections with Prescot and were once Stewards of the Manor for about 200 years! Imagination lends itself to think that during times of unrest perhaps there had been an escape tunnel from the church to the Derby estate! Another plausible story, in connection with the Knowsley tunnel, is that it was used by poachers to gain entrance into Knowsley Park . Hardly an honest use of a church passage, secret or otherwise!
Is there any evidence of tunnels existing in the foundations of the church then? In a corner of the boiler house on the Church Street side, beneath the chancel, in an easterly direction, there is part of a low stone archway, and what looks like a bricked up doorway, but there is no indication of anything leading to it from underground. Whilst the ancient church site lends itself to our imagination of “what might have been” there does not appear to be any mention of tunnels/passages in historical data or literature about the church. However, romantic stories about the legendary tunnels with fascinating, exciting and embroidered details, which are still going strong to this day will, no doubt, continue to be told for years to come! (Refs :‘ Prescot Church Wardens' A/c's., 1635-63, Rev. T.M. Steel; ‘A History of Whiston', W.K . Blinkhorn ; ‘History of Knowsley Church', Mark Carr).
This is the third memorial window dedicated to a member of the Evans family and is situated to the left of the list of Rectors/Vicars on the South wall. This colourful, and most interesting window, features a variety of figures. It is by Edward Woore of London and was installed in 1921 to the memory of Lt. Arthur Frederick Evans of the 100th Squadron of the RAF; he died in action, aged 32, on the 30 th October 1918 at Langres, Nr. Nancy, France. Born 1886, in civilian life he was an architect, the son of Arthur Frederick Evans, Colliery Proprietor of Prescot and Emily Mary Driffield, granddaughter of the Rev. Charles George Thomas Driffield, Vicar of Prescot 1815 - 1847.
The upper part consists of 3 panels:
Left: “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane ”. The garden is the traditional site set among olive groves at the foot of the Mount of Olives , just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem where Jesus went with his disciples to pray on the night of his betrayal and arrest. The window shows Jesus praying to his Father, when an Angel from Heaven appeared unto him and strengthened him. (Luke 22: 39-46).
Centre: “The Warrior, Faithful and True seated on a white horse - and in righteousness he judges and makes war”. The magnificent white horse is bearing in regal style the majestic figure of Christ the Conqueror. The horse is followed by the armies of Heaven on white horses ... and all His enemies will be destroyed. (Rev. 19: 11-14).
Right: “Christ bearing His cross”. After being tried by Pilate, Jesus is shown bearing his cross on the way to Golgotha , the Aramaic name for the place where Jesus was crucified. The word means ‘skull' and the Latin name Calvaria has the same meaning. (John 19: 13-17). The three figures in the upper panels represent Sacrifice and Victory .
The lower portion shows 3 figures, those of St. Martin , St. Michael and St. George.
To the left: Saint Martin of Tours born c. 316 to pagan parents in Hungary . His father was a Roman military officer and tribune. Martin was taken to, and raised in Pavia , Italy , where he became a Christian. He joined the Roman Imperial army at the age of 15 and was baptised into the Church at the age of 18. Living his faith he refused to have servants wait on him. Martin once encountered a half naked beggar, and with his sword cut his officer's cloak in two and gave half to the beggar - as shown on the window. After leaving military service he became a spiritual student of St. Hilary and in 371 became Bishop of Tours, France, although at times he lived as a hermit. Martin was a brave fighter, knew his obligation to the poor, shared his goods and became regarded as a Military Saint. He died in 397 at Candes, Tours . WWI Armistice fell on St. Martin 's day 11 th November 1918 .
Centre: St. Michael - an archangel - viewed as the field commander of the Army of God. Michael is considered to be the patron saint of police officers, soldiers, paratroopers and fighter pilots. The window shows winged Michael as an angelic warrior fully armed with helmet, lance and sword. He is standing over Satan - represented as a dragon which he pierces with the lance. He is mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude and, in particular, Revelation 12.7. “... And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon …”. In late medieval Christianity, Michael, together with St. George, became the patron saint of chivalry. A chivalric order was founded in 1818, also named for these two saints “The Order of St. Michael and St. George”.
Right: St. George b.c.280 in Cappadocia , Turkey , was a professional soldier and a tribune in the army of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian, a pagan, was a bitter enemy to the Christians but George fearlessly complained to him for being cruel. For this George was put into prison, tortured and finally beheaded at Nicomedia Nr. Lyddia, in Palestine on 23 rd April 303 AD . He is a Military Saint and often portrayed on horseback with a lance and a dragon beneath his feet symbolizing the devil, which he destroys. This is a representation of George's faith and Christian fortitude for which he was martyred. However, on the window he is standing to the right of St. Michael. St. George is shown holding a lance and a shield which has on it a red cross with a white background. His tabard is also emblazoned with what we know as the ‘Cross of St. George'. George is not only the patron saint of England but of many other countries - his feast day is April 23 rd .
At the foot of the window are 3 Regimental Badges:
Left is the badge of the 89th brigade, 17th Battalion of the Liverpool Pals. It is an ‘Eagle and Child' an emblem of Lord Derby‘s family with the motto ‘ Sans Changer' =‘Without Change'. It was worn by the Pals in recognition of Lord Derby's role in their formation, after approval by King George on 14 th October 1914 .
Centre: Royal Air Force. This dates back to 1912 and features an eagle with outspread wings and head lowered, superimposed on a circle with the motto “Per Ardua ad Astra”= “Through Adversity to the Stars”. It is surmounted with an Imperial Crown.
To the right: A badge of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers showing a Red Dragon within a laurel wreath surmounted with a Sphinx of Egypt.
The foot of the window: To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of Arthur Frederick Evans Lt. 100th Squadron RAF born 30.3.1886, killed at Langres Oct. 30 th 1918 and lies in Charmes Military Cemetery , Nr. Nancy.
The cost of the window was funded by his mother, brother and sisters.
This splendid stained glass window, in brilliant and vibrant colours, is the second from the East on the South wall. It is a memorial window dedicated in 1888 to William Lees Evans, a loyal parishioner and churchwarden for 20 years. He was the son of the Rev. Joseph Saville Roberts Evans and his wife Elizabeth Lees Evans, whose memorial window, “The Nativity Window”, is to the left of this one on the south wall. William was born in Saddleworth, Yorkshire in 1833, and died in Prescot on the 21 st October 1887 aged 54. A colliery proprietor, mining surveyor and J.P., he married Elizabeth Glaister Lockwood on the 12 th September 1867 at Prescot church, but they do not appear to have had any issue. They lived in Fazakerley House in High Street.
The window was made by Messrs. Heaton, Butler and Bayne, of London , and installed in May 1888. It depicts the “Parable of the Pounds”. The subject being chosen because, as Canon Mitchell quoted in the Parish magazine of June 1 st 1888 …. “Mr. Evans was always on the lookout for opportunities of doing good, and so able to use them….The most fitting subject to perpetuate the memory of such a busy, useful, unselfish life as that of Mr. Evans, was the ‘Parable of the Pounds'.” (Luke 19:11-28).
It is based on the story Jesus told about the noble man who went to a distant land to be crowned king. Before he left he gave ten servants a pound each and told them to multiply it while he was away. His subjects sent a delegation after him trying to stop him from being crowned king, but he did get crowned. Upon his return, each servant was called upon to show how he had used the king's money. The first said he had made ten pounds and the king rewarded him by giving him ten cities to rule over. The second servant said he had made five pounds and he too was rewarded with five cities to rule. Then a servant who was afraid of the king and felt that the king was a hard man who reaped harvests he had not sewn - produced his pound, but he had not invested it. He had wrapped it in a cloth and hidden it. The king was enraged and took the pound off him and gave it to the one who had earned ten pounds. The king then ordered all those that despised him becoming king and didn't share his intentions of ruling the kingdom, should be killed before him.
The window illustrates this story admirably. The bottom portion shows the nobleman dressed in very fine robes beneath a crimson and gold canopy giving out the pounds before the onset of his journey. A group of eight servants stand near to him and the tops of the heads of the other two can just be seen behind the two to the left of the group. The top portion shows the nobleman after his return - (now a king) again dressed in lustrous apparel and seated on an elaborate throne with all the resplendent trappings, surrounded by the servants to whom he gave the pounds. Of the three figures on the left – the first one kneeling, the second one standing behind, are the ‘good and faithful' servants who had made good returns on their pounds. One of the four figures on the right is a servant holding a cloth within which he had kept his pound (the ‘wicked and selfish' servant) who had not bothered to invest it. Behind him is a man with a spear, and a helmet on his head - perhaps a member of the king's guard who would deal with offenders in the king's domain.
Jesus told this parable to His followers as they were approaching Jerusalem as they believed the Messiah would be a ruling king and that the kingdom would come at once. Jesus wanted them to understand that the kingdom would not be immediate and the parable tells of what people should be doing from the time He leaves them until the time He returns by using their talents and abilities to build His kingdom. Those who do not share an interest in the kingdom and do not share God‘s intentions will not be rewarded. The window was bought by parishioners with voluntary contributions at a cost of £183 17s. 7d. William Lees Evans' wife, Elizabeth Glaister (Lockwood) Evans had the magnificent reredos, behind the altar dedicated in her husband's memory in 1891.
Of all the stained glass windows in our church, the one that appeals greatly to children is the most Easterly window on the South side of the nave; the upper portion being “The Infant Saviour in the Stable at Bethlehem”. It shows the Holy babe lying in a manger in the stable, gazed upon adoringly by Joseph who is holding a lamp, Jesus' mother Mary, and three shepherds with crooks, who have come to pay Him homage. In the scene is a girl carrying a tray of refreshment, probably from the inn. The stable is shown as a cave which, according to some historians, is where animals in the Holy Land would have been kept, in those far off days. The lower portion is “The Announcement by the Angel to the Shepherds”. On a fine day, the sun shining through the golden splash of light around the angel, standing on a cloud, makes the window a dazzling and beautiful sight. Three shepherds with their sheep gaze in amazement at the angel and in the background beyond, across the fields, can be seen the little town of Bethlehem, (which is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem). It was in that town where makeshift accommodation, in a stable, served as the birthplace of our Lord. In Luke 2 v. 1-18 the familiar and wonderful story tells us about the scenes which we can see and enjoy in this particular window.
The window is a memorial to the Rev. Joseph Saville Roberts Evans (1801-61), M.A., and Magistrate, and Elizabeth Lees Evans his wife (1806-97). The window dates from 1901 and was funded by their surviving children. This couple were married by Licence at Prescot on the 22 nd September 1830. The officiating minister was the Vicar of Prescot the Rev. Charles George Thomas Driffield, M.A. who served the parish from 1815 until his death in 1847.
At the time of the marriage, Elizabeth Lees had been residing in Whiston. The Lees family originally hailed from Stalybridge in the Parish of Ashton-under-Lyne, as did the Rev. Joseph Saville Roberts Evans. The couple had twelve children. First, they lived at Saddleworth where the two eldest children Ann and William Lees were born. The next two *Thomas and Frances were born at Stalybridge, then Joseph, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane, Edward and **Arthur Frederick were born at Ashton-under-Lyne. The last two, Sarah and Alfred were born at Prescot, where the family came to settle in about 1847.
A memorial wall plaque in the chancel on the South wall next to the rood screen gives details about Joseph and Elizabeth: “Rev. Joseph Saville Roberts Evans M.A., of Queen's College Oxford, formerly of Stalybridge in the Parish of Ashton-under-Lyne but long resident in this town for many years – an active Magistrate in this and the adjoining counties of York and Chester, died at Hastings 28 th October 1861 aged 60, buried at Hollington. Also Elizabeth Evans died in Dorking, Surrey, 23 rd April 1897 age 91, buried at Hollington,” (Nr. Hastings).
During the lifetime of this family very close links were made through marriage into the families of two Prescot Vicars. Joseph and Elizabeth's son **Arthur Frederick Evans b.1846 (colliery owner of Prescot) married Emily Mary Driffield, granddaughter of the Rev. Charles George Thomas Driffield in 1876. Later, Joseph and Elizabeth's grandson, the Rev. George William Evans b. 1868 (son of *Thomas Evans b.1835, a cotton broker of Prescot), married Frances Lucy Mitchell daughter of Rev. Harry Mitchell, on the 4 th January 1900, at Prescot. Two more windows on the South wall are in memory of other members of the Evans family. Prescot was noted for having had a number of merchants in the town during the 18th and 19th centuries and the Evans family were certainly no exception. Their main home was Fazakerley House, (now a Dental surgery), Fazakerley Street, now High Street. Details of other Evans family windows will follow in future magazines.
The oldest part of our church is the North or ‘Vicar's Vestry'. Four steps up from the chancel floor gives access into the vestry - originally a chantry chapel built in 1410 - wherein vestments are kept and, at one time, parochial meetings were held. From the mid 14th to early 15th centuries, these chapels were built by local lords/gentry. A chantry was a special chapel within a medieval parish church where prayers were said for the repose of the benefactor's soul - and his family - from purgatory. The chantry would have maintained a priest to say masses. The Chantry Commissioners Returns of 1546 and 1548, at Prescot numbered three, namely, two Bold foundations and a Gerard chantry, dedicated to Our Lady, St. Katherine and the Holy Rood (Cross). In 1546 the Court Roll mentions a cottage in Trap Lane (Garden Walk) yielding an annual rent of 4d to the ‘Rood Stock'. Cattle hired out to townsfolk for an annual charge of 12p per beast, was an income for the chantry ‘stock'. In 1548, Edward 6th's Reformers passed a Chantries Act resulting in the suppression of chantries - these being considered ‘heretical', and the funds of the 3 chantry ‘stocks' which maintained the priests were transferred to Prescot Grammar School, founded 1544. (It was usual for a chantry priest to also teach in the local grammar school, probably Latin). At the rebuilding in 1610 only one of the three chantries survived, which now serves as the North vestry and deemed as being built by the Bold of Bold family. They were the most eminent family in the Parish of Prescot itself with an impressive annual income of £1,750. As well as chapels at Farnworth, and in Bold Hall, they had a seat in Prescot church and are commemorated here still by a bench end in the chancel showing the Bold Griffin - a remnant of “Mr. Bold's” seat, once situated at the south of Sir John Bold's chapel.
Two hundred years later, the Bolds still displayed their allegiance to the mother church. On a roof pendant in the nave, in gold lettering is “Sir Thomas Bold – Knight 1610.” His wife Briget's name is on the reverse - daughter of Sir William Norries of Speke. The couple died without issue. Sir Thomas was the illegitimate son of Richard Bold Esq., deceased, who had no issue by his wife but he, being Richard's natural son, held the Manor of Bold by conveyance. Thomas died on 3 rd September 1612 and his possessions passed through to his late uncle William's son Richard Bold aged 23. The old Bold Hall and estate exceeded 31,000 acres, which Richard rebuilt in 1616, a lovely building complete with moat. A new hall built in 1730 was demolished in 1936. Richard's coat of arms are displayed at the eastern end of the north aisle, above the Aumbry and bears a date of 1610 on top with his initials ‘R B' at the base. He married Anna daughter of Peter Legh of Lyme on 3 rd January 1612 at Farnworth. He died 6 th February 1635 aged 47. The white shield shows a black Griffin. ( Griffin = a mythological animal with the body, hind legs & tail of a lion, & head, ears, wings & fore claws of an eagle). The helmet above the shield is that of an esquire/gentleman, above which sits the Bold crest – a Griffin head with 2 wings displayed in gold. Folds of red material around the shield represent a cape worn by crusaders to keep the hot sun off their metal armour and helmet. Gold tassels either side of the shield being the ends of its fixing cord.
Next year we celebrate the
400th anniversary of our present church,
but let us not forget the old Bold chantry/vestry,
which is even 200 years older!
The Leyland Window:-Quite recently, the Leyland window, facing North in the baptistery, has been the subject of interest to a number of people who have connections with the name ‘ Leyland '. It is indeed a beautiful window, designed by Edward A. Woore (known as ‘ Davie ') of London (1880-1960). The inscription at the bottom of the window reads:
“IN MEMORY OF JOHN & ELIZABETH
LEYLAND AND THEIR
SON JOHN, CHURCHWARDEN 1923-1934 AND SUPERINTENDENT
OF PRESCOT PARISH CHURCH SUNDAY SCHOOL 1918-1934.”
John Leyland, Churchwarden and Sunday School Superintendent of the Boys' Sunday School died in March 1936 aged 73. He left a bequest to the church “…the sum of £750 for a stained glass window in the Baptistery in memory of my parents…..” (John & Elizabeth Leyland). However, it seems that John's family decided to include his name also on the memorial window for his dedicated work to the Church and Sunday School. After John's death a Faculty for the window was granted on 28 th April 1937 . Almost 2 years after he had passed on, the window was dedicated on Sunday 27 th March 1938 .
The youngest of four children born to John and Elizabeth Leyland, John never married and lived with his sister Elizabeth, also unmarried, at 19 Atherton Street , Prescot. Until the age of 30 he was a watchmaker and by 1900 he became a bookkeeper at the Gas Works, Prescot. There were other families by the name of Leyland living in Prescot, but the Leyland window was donated entirely by John. He had two brothers: 1) Henry married to Martha Brownbill who, by 1901, had 6 children: Elizabeth, John, Thomas, Mary, Annie & Harry: and 2) Thomas William, but little is known about him. John's grandparents were Thomas and Elizabeth Leyland (master clockmaker) and his great grandparents were William & Alice Leyland (plumber and glazier).
Directly beneath this, the top 3 panels show Jesus in the temple with his disciples and young children with their mothers. They had brought their infants to him so he might touch them. The disciples rebuked the mothers for doing so, but Jesus was
much displeased and said to them “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of God ”. Mark 10 v.13-14.
The bottom left panel shows St. Andrew with a child who is carrying 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Jesus had gone over the sea of Galilee followed by a great multitude of people, about 5,000. He told his disciples to feed them but they said: “Two hundred penny worth of bread is not enough”. One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saw a lad carrying 5 loaves and 2 fishes and brought him to Jesus who blessed them and told his disciples to distribute the loaves and fishes to the crowd. This they did. After all had eaten Jesus told them to gather the leftover fragments and they filled 12 baskets. The crowd marvelled at the miracle they had seen. John 6: v. 1-14.
The bottom middle panel shows St. Christopher the one time Catholic patron saint of travellers. He is shown carrying the Christ child over a river. Legend says he was a Canaanite warrior called Reprobus who, in the 3rd century, became a Christian and was renamed Christopher which means “Christ Carrier”. He is depicted as a tall, strong, bearded man with a staff who wades across a river carrying a child on his shoulders. As he waded across, the child steadily increased in weight and was almost impossible to bear. When he asked the babe why he weighed so much, the child replied that he carried the world's sins upon his shoulders. The child was revealed as being Jesus Christ. On reaching the other side of the river, the staff used by the saint was miraculously transformed into a living tree, and Christopher became the patron saint of travellers. He was martyred for being a Christian. The Vatican de-canonized him in 1969 during a purge of certain ‘saints'.
The bottom right panel shows St. Elizabeth of Hungary , patron saint of Bakers, hence she carries loaves of bread in her folded gown as seen on the window, with a small child at her feet eating bread. Elizabeth was born in 1207 A.D., daughter of King Alexander II and Queen Gertrude of Hungary . She married Lewis son of Herman of Hesse, and devoted her time to prayer and works of charity, attending the poor and sick. In 1225 Germany was hit by famine and Elizabeth used treasury money to feed the poor. Her husband Lewis died young and his family turned her out of the castle leaving her destitute. Eventually, through help given to Elizabeth by the church, her dowry was returned to her and it was converted to the use of the poor, especially children. She died in 1231 at the age of 24.
When in church, do find time to observe the Leyland Window, which is a very pleasing one, and a fitting tribute to John Leyland who, for 11 years, served as a churchwarden and 16 years as Superintendent of the Boys' Sunday School.
Altar Rails:- The altar is the most sacred part of the church and it is here where we come during the Holy Communion Service. It stands behind the rails and that area is called the Sanctuary . With the destruction of rood screens during the Reformation it was necessary to find an alternative protection for the altar from irreverent treatment by people and marauding dogs. So, in early Elizabethan days, altar rails were introduced. In some churches a dog whip, or a pair of tongs, was used to remove dogs and it is almost certain that Prescot had a dog whip for this purpose – probably brandished by one of the churchwardens when necessary – on the dogs that is, not the communicants! In a lot of churches, the rails stretch right across the chancel but because of the large parish Prescot church once covered, and congregations, the rails are staggered to accommodate more people at a time when they kneel for communion. At Prescot, the rails are returned westward in the middle of their length, giving kneeling space for communicants on three sides. Rails are mainly made from wood, but in some churches, 18th century rails are made from wrought iron. Prior to the fitting of the altar rails, which we are familiar with now at Prescot, the church had had a new set of 17th century rails made in 1635/6 by John Rigby of Wigan . Rigby made the other chancel furniture in black oak consisting of the poor box and 13 stalls with tip up seats (misericords) of which 11 remain, and the choir benches that bear a date of 1636 on the bench ends. This was all part of an ambitious programme of repairs and improvements during the time of Charles I. Altar rails were not implemented by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1573-1645) as is sometimes thought, but he certainly encouraged their use to prevent the altar from being moved into the body of the church as demanded by the Puritans. Not long after Rigby's rails were installed, rumblings of unrest before the Commonwealth period of Oliver Cromwell, caused these new rails to be removed by a House of Commons order for their removal in September 1641 along with other church valuables. Prescot swiftly complied with this ruling in October 1641. By 1642 the Civil War was underway and Prescot was one of the 6 Royalist Garrisons. A regiment of 600 men was in the town and prisoners were kept inside the church 3 times. One can imagine what went on inside the church building during these troubled times and we can well appreciate the damage that must have inevitably been done to its interior. After Cromwell's death in 1658 and his son Richard's inability to keep law and order, negotiations went ahead for Charles II to be restored to the English throne. Amidst great rejoicing in the land, this resulted in the restoration of Anglicanism in 1660-62. Subsequent years saw the return of some of Prescot's church furnishings that had been removed in 1641. Whether or not the rails made by John of Rigby of Wigan had been lost, or more than likely destroyed, they were replaced by a new set of communion rails. These 17th century black oak, ring turned rails, were carved by Peter Marsh, a local joiner and positioned around the altar in 1664 where they have been in situ for well over 300 years. They match very well the earlier black oak chancel furniture made by John Rigby 30 years before. The rails are something that we at Prescot can enjoy and appreciate. More so when we think about how many hundreds of communicants have knelt to take communion at the rails not to mention all the clergy who have stood on the other side to administer the holy sacrament.
The Ancient Font at Prescot:- The Ancient Font in the Baptistery is the oldest item in the church though its base is modern. In 1850 it was given to St. Bartholomew's at Roby when that church was built and where it was used until 1874. It was then put out in the churchyard, later to be rescued and returned to its rightful home – St. Mary's at Prescot. The eventual return of the antiquity was for a very special reason. In 1891, Canon Harry Mitchell wrote in the Parish Notes for July ….. “The Ancient Font used in Prescot Church for a thousand years has been found. I have searched for it ever since I came to Prescot and have at last discovered it in the churchyard at Roby. The Vicar of Roby is good enough to renounce any claim he may have upon it in favour of its original owners, the parishioners of Prescot, and it will accordingly be restored to our Parish Church . It is by far the oldest relic now existing of the first church built on the Preste-cote hill, and I cannot understand how Prescot Church folk ever allowed it to be taken away. It is no work of art, being simply a block of sandstone roughly shaped and hollowed out, but the sacred use of which it has been put for so many hundred years ought surely to have made it a precious thing to those whose forefathers and upwards of thirty generations have been baptised in it. The Italian Vase Font, marble though it be, which at present blocks up the entrance to our Chancel, is not a Font according to the requirements of the Church of England.” (In 1891 the marble font was situated in front of the Chancel steps). Canon Harry Mitchell M.A., was Vicar of Prescot from 1886-1919. He died on 10 th November 1933 in Teignmouth, and Canon Mitchell's daughters, in his memory, restored the ancient font to Prescot in 1935. A new lid was carved for the re-dedication in 1935. The original lid had long been lost or broken but evidence of lid fitments can be clearly seen on the top rim where hinges and fastenings had once been. In 1236, a decree by Edmund Rich, the Archbishop of Canterbury, ordered that all fonts had to have lids on them to stop the pilfering of holy water which was used as a form of medication to treat boils, pimples and other minor skin infections. The Italian Vase Font was a gift given by Daniel Willis of Halsnead Hall, Whiston, in 1755. In 1757 a famous person was baptised in this particular font. He was John Philip Kemble born 1 st February and baptised on 16 th February 1757 , son of Sarah and Roger Kemble. The Kemble family at the time was with a troupe of travelling players and Roger is recorded as being a comedian. John Philip was born in a lodging house in Hillock Street , which was later re-named in 1871 as Kemble Street in his honour because he became a famous actor and playwright. Canon Harry Mitchell 1847-1933 and Mrs Frances Jane (Shipton) Mitchell 1851-1904 are both buried in Prescot Church yard. The gravestone is of pink smooth granite and situated on the right hand side opposite a path leading to the War Memorial.
Armorial Crests Above The Chancel Arch:- The two crests painted high up on the chancel arch are indeed interesting. From ancient times, warriors and rulers had adopted personal and tribal symbols. Jews, Greeks and Romans had definite and well established symbols. The main impetus of the Crusades which drew together knights from various countries to fight for the Holy Land needed identification for groups and individuals in battle and it was in the 12 th century that heraldry developed very quickly, By the 14 th century cities, towns, master craftsmen's guilds, colleges, countries, societies etc., etc., all had their own coat of arms. The shield on the left of the chancel arch is of the Diocese of Liverpool, founded in 1880. The first Bishop John Charles Ryle was appointed and installed in St. Peter's Church, the pro-cathedral in Church Street , Liverpool . Before that, Prescot had been in the Diocese of Litchfield, and from 1540 in the Diocese of Chester, the latter for some 340 years. The Diocese is the chief territorial unit of administration in the church, governed by a bishop and is sub-divided into parishes. In 1901, the second Bishop of Liverpool, Francis James Chavasse decided to build a Cathedral Church of Christ, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, which commenced in 1904, King Edward 7 th laying the foundation stone. It was completed in October 1978 and Queen Elizabeth II attended the service to mark the completion of the largest Cathedral in Britain . The Arms of the Diocese of Liverpool were granted in 1882. On it, at the top left on a blue back-ground is the open Bible to show that the basis of all Christian teaching in the Diocese was to be spiritual and was emblazoned with the superscription, “ Thy Word is Truth” albeit the letters are too small to be observed by the congregation at Prescot. The top right on a red background is a galleon which represents the maritime origins of the City of Liverpool . The lower part of the shield shows an eagle, the king of birds and part of the original seal of Liverpool going back to the time of King John in 1207 when he required a port for the conquest of Ireland . He granted letters patent to Liverpool , and the town adopted the corporate seal, the eagle of St. John , the patron saint of King John. During the Civil wars when Liverpool was under siege in 1644, the original seal was lost. In 1655 a second seal was made but due to the shortcomings of the design, the bird took on a cormorant appearance which later became the mythical ‘liver bird'. The Diocese eagle has a halo round its head depicting the Eagle of St. John. In the bird's right claw is an inkhorn (a tube for holding ink) which is a symbol of St. John's vision when he wrote the book of Revelation on the Island of Patmos . The shield on the right of the chancel arch is of the College of Our Lady & St. Nicholas, Cambridge , known as King's College, with which Prescot has connections. In 1140 the Lords of the Manor of Whiston, the Gernets, held the advowson of Prescot church (right to select a cleric) and profited from the rich tithes the large parish brought in. It passed by marriage to the Dacre family who sold it to the Neville family in Co. Durham, from whom it passed to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in 1391. It became a royal possession when it descended down to John's son, grandson and great grandson King Henry 6 th. who built King's College, Cambridge in 1444. To help fund the college (from the Parish tithes) he gave them the Manor and Rectory of Prescot and appointed a Vicar to run the Parish. Since that time, Prescot has been under the patronage of the College and the town adopted the College coat of arms. The town also had its own Court Leet. This was superseded by Prescot Local Government Board formed in 1867, which became the Prescot Urban District Council in 1895. The town continued to use the College Coat of Arms. The symbols on the shield are: Top left on a blue background, a gold fleur-de-lis = flower of the lily, a special emblem of the Virgin Mary. At the top right on a red background it a golden passant guardant lion, for strength and valour. This golden lion is also seen on the weather vane at the top of the steeple – visible for miles around especially on a sunny day! The lower part of the shield shows three silver roses which, according to some historians, have connections with King Edward I. King Henry 6 th builder of the College was of the House of Lancaster for which a red rose is the symbol. In Heraldry, roses symbolise England as well as: comfort, generosity and discretion. The Prescot coat of arms in the form of a badge set in a Rococo frame, and used to hang over the door of the old town hall in market place before it was demolished, can now be seen hanging over the door of No.8 Vicarage Place.
Many old churches would have had an Aumbry which is a cupboard about 1 ft. square and a place for storing sacred altar vessels, books, linen, holy oils used for sacramental rites and the Chrysmatory ( a small vessel) for containing holy oil. Some-times holy oil was used for anointing very sick people.
Most often built into the thickness of the walls, it is usually situated in the north wall of a church in the chancel or near to the altar in the sanctuary. In medieval times, relics were often housed in it. Relics being any personal part of a reputed saint, i.e., a souvenir held in reverence as an incentive to faith and piety. The Aumbry was also used with a locked door for the reservation of the blessed sacrament.
This method of keeping the consecrated elements of bread and wine has been revived in the C. of E.. during the last 100 years and the door and surround of the Aumbry sometimes can have elaborate decoration. There does not seem to have been one at Prescot, at least not in this present building.
The Aumbry at Prescot is quite ‘new' and can be seen set into the North wall at the Eastern end of the North aisle. Designed by a local Prescotian, Mr. Robin McGhie, it is in memory of Mrs Margaret Rowlands 1912-1999, who was a dedicated member of our congregation for many years. Most people will remember Mrs Rowlands, wife of the late Mr Arthur Rowlands. She is the mother of Margaret Rose wife of the Rev. David Rose, members of our church.
Our Aumbry has two doors, the inner door is a locked one. The outer door has a very pleasing design of an oval on a background of golden rays of light depicting the Trinity. Within the oval, a further representation is shown with the word ‘Alleluia' (Praise the Lord) appearing three times. They can be seen placed above and either side of a chalice - a communion cup which holds wine. Immediately above the chalice is a small circle representing the host (the consecrated bread of the Eucharist), which is a thin circular wafer of unleavened bread. Written on the wafer is the monogram IHS = the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus.
Only the reserved consecrated elements of bread and wine are now kept in the Aumbry. They are used by our clergy and lay assistants/visitors when visiting those in hospital, the housebound or people in homes for the elderly/nursing homes, who wish to take communion. Also if the clergy is requested during the night to take communion to someone who is very sick, the consecrated elements are readily available in the Aumbry.
Situated on the wall to the right of the Aumbry is a lamp with a white light. When lit and left burning it indicates that the reserved sacrament is present in the Aumbry. In C. of E. churches it is usually a white light, whilst in the RC churches the lamp could have a red light.
Those of us who partake of the elements – the bread and wine - every Sunday or on such other occasions, appreciate it being a representation of our Lord's Last Supper. It is good to know that our housebound friends and others too infirm or ill to attend, can also have the benefit of the sacrament which is now kept in an appropriate place within our church. Until the gift of the Aumbry was given, it had to be housed in other places. Having known Mrs Margaret Rowlands, she is most likely up there in the heavenly heights, smiling and nodding in approval that a memorial to her is regularly being used in a most reverent and useful way!
By the time this article has been printed, our choir will have visited King's College Chapel, Cambridge . We shall also be in the season of Lent and approaching Easter Sunday, which was a very special time for our church choir in the year 1900. The choir, ever since it had been located in the chancel after moving from the singers' gallery at the western end of the church in 1879, had no suitable place for hats, coats and umbrellas. Up until 1900, they had never worn any uniform or robes of any kind. (The singer's gallery, accessed from the church tower, was walled over in 1879 and covered in white stucco plaster work. It is now painted - the tracery silver and the roses red).
In January 1899, Canon Mitchell decided it was high time that a vestry be built to provide facilities for the choir. Plans were drawn up and the Authorities at King's College Cambridge, approved the plans which the Vicar and Churchwardens had submitted to them. An appeal for contributions for the building was launched and on Tuesday 14 th March 1899, the first step towards raising the money took place in the form of a classical concert in the Parish Room, which raised £5 2s 4d, enabling the opening of an account into which subscriptions could be paid, at Parr's Bank, Church Street. (The building is now Prescot Museum ). On 6 th April, at a Vestry Meeting, plans and estimates were submitted for approval. Two tenders were received for the proposed choir vestry and Messrs. S. & A. Taylor's bid was the lowest at £199 0s 0d. This didn't include the cost of a safe for the large number of ancient and modern Registers belonging to the church, covering 3 centuries. The new vestry was to serve two purposes, one for the choir use and the other for the safe keeping of Registers and Tithe Maps. (Prescot Parish Registers are now at Lancashire Record Office, Preston .)
On 26 th September 1899 , a Faculty for the erection of a choir vestry to be built on the south side of the chancel was submitted to the Chancellor of the Diocese, and a subscription list was opened. By this time, the funds had reached £80 3s 4d Canon Mitchell had hoped that the building would be completed for use at the Christmas services, but hard frosts in December put a stop to the building being finished. At this point, £150 0s 0d more was needed. Eventually the vestry was completed and Canon Mitchell wrote in the March 1900, Parish Magazine – “It has long been a source of regret to many of our congregation that no uniform should be worn by those who lead the voice of common praise in the ancient chancel of our House of God. Our Reformers ordered the surplice to be used, not only by the clergy but also by all the lads and young men at the services in the College Chapels at Cambridge and Oxford . They also ordered them for singers in the Cathedrals. Of late, Parish churches have been steadily following out this example, and we in Prescot are almost the last to adopt the change.” Archdeacon Madden dedicated the new Vestry on the 4 th April 1900 . The choir wore the cassock and surplice for the first time at the dedication, and again on Easter Sunday 15 th April 1900 , and thereafter. The first Vestry Meeting was held in the new choir vestry on Thursday 19 th April. By May 1900, donations amounted to £148 13s 3d, so to raise money to clear the deficit a bazaar was held in November, when the choir stall raised £50 0s 2d which more or less cleared the monies outstanding.
The choir vestments are kept in the Vestry, i.e., Cassocks = plain long sleeved ankle length robes; Surplices = white linen, wide sleeved blouse like shirts which are worn over the cassocks. Our choir mistress Edna's surplice has split sleeves, a necessity when conducting the choir. At Prescot the choir cassocks are maroon, a colour that was introduced in the early 1950's and the boys wore white neck ruffs. Before then, the cassocks were purple, and the boys had stiff white collars with purple bow ties. Choir ladies in those days wore motar-board hats - as in academic dress - a cap with a stiff square top, in purple to match their cassocks. Nowadays, it is accepted as the norm to have ladies and young girls in a church choir, but this has not always been so.
In the medieval era, boys' choirs were popular because many of the better class schools were associated with the church and boys were trained for this purpose. The chapels at Oxford and Cambridge had choirs, so had Cathedrals and eventually all major churches included choristers. By the end of the 19th century most parish churches had a choir. Today we are fortunate to have a dedicated band of choristers with Edna as their leader, accompanied of course by Tim our organist. They are a necessary part of our church services and delight us with their renditions of sacred hymns and songs
The Church Chest:- Many churches today possess an old chest. In years gone by all churches were compelled by law to have one and in 1188, Henry II ordered all churches to use a chest in order to collect funds for the Crusades. In 1287 the Synod of Exeter commanded each church to have a chest for books, vestments, and to hold alms for the poor and the Crusades. ‘Saladin Tithe' was a land tax to help the cause for the Third Crusade in the Holy Land . It was collected in the churches in the presence of the parish priest until it was amassed in Salisbury all £6,000 of it. During the Reformation (1534) when parish registers were instigated in 1538, chests were once again required. Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials were first produced under the provisions of Henry VIII's Vicar General - Thomas Cromwell's mandate of 1538. The parish clerk entered details from notes, or memory, quite regularly. Early records, usually on paper and unbound, have not always survived and it was not until 1597 that the church injunction forced incumbents to use parchments bound in book form and to send a fair copy of entries annually to the Diocesan Registry. From 1754 marriage entries are in a separate book on printed forms. Baptisms and burials appear on standard forms after 1813. Hence the church was to acquire a chest with locks and keys where a register book could be stored safely. In addition to parish registers, chests were used to store money, accounts, wills, relics, vestments, or documents, plate and other valuables. The use of the right timber was important and, in the main, it was oak that was very strong. Some chests have interesting iron locks and bindings. More than one lock was used, each having a separate key kept by a different person, therefore each person had to be present before the chest could be opened. Church chests took on various forms and some very ancient dug-out chests still survive. They are squared up tree trunks, hollowed out by hand with an adze. The thick lids have clever iron locks. By contrast, some chests are covered with geometric carvings. The solid and heavy chest at Prescot is probably 16 th century. It is a boarded chest, made of large planks with the back and front nailed on to two ends with large iron nails. The two ends are extended below the bottom to form legs. These were necessary to keep it off the damp church floor. Iron straps strengthen the sides, back, front and lid and there are five strong iron locks. One for the Vicar and four for the churchwardens. The chest stands against the east wall of the south aisle. There is evidence that the chest has been repaired at some time. In the churchwardens' accounts *(1637-64) for c.1644 there is an entry which says, “paid for mynding the chest in the vestry – ls. 8d.” When the use of a wall safe came into being, the registers were no longer kept in the ancient chest. It is quite an inconspicuous piece of furniture and therefore, something that many people do not even notice! The chest is part of our church's heritage and at Prescot we must value it as there are certainly not many churches (except very old parish churches), for quite a few miles around, which possess one! The church chest is not to be confused with the Prescot Town Chest of 1597 – a fine looking chest with iron straps – which was taken to King's College, Cambridge in 1912 and returned in 1992 where it is housed in Prescot Museum . Ref: Prescot Church wardens' Accounts 1637-1664: Rev. T.M.Steel (RSLC)
The office of a churchwarden is a temporal office and he/she is fundamentally an officer of the parish. The churchwarden is the Bishop's representative and is appointed by the Bishop in response to the vote of the Annual Church Meeting. Those elected are part time volunteers, generally responsible for the day to day functioning of the church and are first and foremost parish officers and as such, are guardians of the Parish Church , its properties and funds.
The position of churchwarden is one of the oldest in the country. The ancient office goes back to the 12 th century, long before the reformation, to exercise certain informal secular functions in addition to their ecclesiastical responsibilities. By the 17 th century these duties had increased and they were responsible for the proper administration of civil affairs, care of the sick, relief of poverty together with the keeping of law and order which fell largely on church authorities.
The wardens were, and still are, the chief liaison persons between the parish and the incumbent and the chief administrative assistants of the parish. They work together with the incumbent and PCC and are responsible for all aspects of parish life. Not only must they work with and support the incumbent but at the same time, they must be available for any moans, groans, complaints, suggestions and comments from the congregation!
Prescot is somewhat unusual in having four wardens. By a curious survival, four churchwardens are still appointed at Prescot. Originally,within the ancient parish, they represented the fifteen different townships of the “Prescot side,” and the “Farnworth side” an arrangement which lasted up until the break up of the old parish which began in the mid 19 th century.
Because the office of Churchwarden held a respected position, a tradition dating from early times entitled them to carry a stave or wand. Used on special church occasions, such as processions etc., this gave recognition to their importance within the parish.
There may have been such staves in existence at Prescot in years gone by but in 1925 Prescot Church was presented with 4 Churchwardens' Staves by Mr. Richard H. Whitaker. Richard was a member of a well known local family who were Nurserymen and Market Gardeners at the Nursery in Knowsley Park Lane . He lived in a large house known as “Wollaton” in the Knoll.
The 4 staves (or wands) are clipped to the backs of the pews at the west end of the central aisle in the nave and the backs of the pews on the north and south aisles. They give dignity to the ancient and highly responsible office, only used on special occasions, such as processions, important church services and sometimes the funeral of a warden. They are made of light polished oak surmounted by a brass Maltese Cross, engraved on one side with a Madonna Lily and the name of the church. The Arms of the Manor of Prescot is on the reverse.
Wardens' staves were originally sharp pointed sticks which were used to prod people and/or dogs and were known as ‘prodders' in the 1600's. Insofar as the wardens were concerned, they were a ‘very handy thing to have' when dealing with rough churchgoers or maybe drunks who came into church or churchyard with the intent of causing disruption during services! As recently as a few years ago, one of the existing staves was used to deter an intruder in church. In the skirmish, the stave was damaged and has since been repaired.
At Prescot, as in past years, we are indeed fortunate to have four efficient churchwardens who work tirelessly carrying out numerous tasks to help and assist our Vicar and Clergy in the smooth running of the parish church. Should any members of the congregation misbehave however, it is possible that a warden – who is there to exercise law and order - may arm themselves with one of the available staves and give the offender a sharp ‘prod'! (The Vicar and Clergy had better watch out too!)
Most of us accept the fact that the churchyard is something that has always been there from time immemorial, but its origins and history is most interesting. A churchyard is the burial ground round a church maintained by the incumbent and churchwardens. The cemetery (consecrated 1935) is a burying ground owned and maintained by the local Council (now Borough of Knowsley). The original churchyard at Prescot was circular which indicates Celtic origins. The north side has long gone. In 1898, Church Street was widened and a memorial stone shows that 42 bodies were removed and re-interred at the Manchester Road end. The gates and churchyard wall, together with gravestones either side of the north door in Church Street , were removed by 1970. The memorials now form paving stones around the open aspect of the church. The remaining south side has a long pathway lined either side by lime trees which, from spring until autumn, provide a wonderful and delightful green canopy over the sloping path.
Historically, Prescot is known as “the church on the hill” - the first highest point from Liverpool in an easterly direction and, like all pre-conquest churches, “situated on high ground near a well,” the source of which has long since disappeared. The church spire dominates the skyline and no matter from which direction Prescot is approached, it can be seen rising majestically as a backdrop. Churches and churchyards in this geographical position are more than probably on land originally used for some kind of pagan ceremony. Eventual acceptance of Christianity saw such sites purified, the ground area being used as a place for building a church with a burial area.
In AD752 churchyards were established around churches. A bishop consecrated the ground, its four cardinal points being marked by wooden crosses, he would make a rough circular tour of consecration. A stone cross would have been erected known as a preaching or teaching cross and for most of the middle ages this cross would be the only monument to all buried in the area. Churches were built to the north of any central churchyard cross, the largest area, being to the south, where the sun shone for most of the day. The sun rises in the east, deemed to be the place of God's throne, and in this direction the head of the deceased is placed when interred. Man was deemed to live in the west whilst the north is where the evil spirits lurk; strangers, criminals, suicides, stillborn and unbaptised babies were (until 18th century) buried on that side, where the sun's rays do not linger.
In the middle ages, apart from the church, the churchyard was the most important place in a village or town. Even before the Conquest, in times of trouble people fled to the churchyard with their animals and possessions. The consecrated area around the church was considered inviolate from early times. The Civil War in 1642 was to prove the exception. At Prescot the churchyard cross was broken and soldiers were billeted in the church, at least three times, and horses exercised in the churchyard.
The churchyard was busy at most times. Strolling players enacted their miracle plays and musicians performed. On market days vendors and pedlars would spread their wares on the tops of the hollow table tombs. In 1927 it was observed that a grey ghostly figure drifted around the churchyard. A brave volunteer kept watch one night and did see the ‘apparition', which turned out to be a tramp who had been sleeping in a broken hollow table tomb every night! There were a number of these tombs to the south of the church where the war memorial now stands. The tops of them, since 1970, act as paving stones around the south side of the church together with other interesting flat stones which tell something of the deceased. Business was transacted in church porches, and so it was at Prescot in the south porch before 1818, in that year the north and south aisles were demolished and widened.
Lych gates were also a feature of the churchyard. ‘Lych' is a Saxon word meaning “corpse”. The Lych gate was a simple open structure with a roof, where the coffin would be rested and met by the incumbent before burial. There were two at Prescot, one off Butcher's Nook in Market place (removed 1804) - the other, (on a painting in the north vestry) in Church Street opposite the road leading into the bus station.
In 1787 the Vicar, Samuel Sewell, ruled that ‘the corpse of every person to be interred …shall be brought thither…. from 25 Mar. to 29 Sept. before the hour of 6 in the afternoon or from 29 Sept. to 25 Mar. before the hour of 4 in the afternoon or the interment of the corpse would be deferred to the day after.' (If any funeral party arrived late, did they take the body back home or leave it in church?).
All churches had a sundial to tell the times for services. They would be mounted on the south side of the tower or standing in the churchyard. Our sundial c.1730, replaced an earlier one, and is now in the Garden of Remembrance - where ashes are buried after cremation. It once stood opposite the west door of the church before the meeting room was built. Near to the sundial is perhaps the oldest existing memorial stone - that of Thomas Hatton, mason, age 42, buried 1677, with family members.
Memorials come in all shapes and sizes, and in a variety of stone. Some flat 18th century stones show cherubs and doves, while vertical lancet top Victorian ones have leaves and flowers. In 19th century tea caddy tombstones were fashionable which had an urn or bowl ornament on the top. A couple of these still exist and an obelisk type surrounded by a 3' metal spiked fence dates to 1870. Coffin like styles with crosses on top were a typical 20th century choice and there is a sundial memorial for an Atherton family, but no date. Many 18th century inscriptions are eroded and worn, depending upon the sort of stone used. The hardest wearing is granite, which comes in all colours, sandstone, marble, limestone and slate. Scrolls and various other shapes can be picked out amongst the remaining graves, many under mounds of leaves - families to tend them long gone. All denominations are buried in the churchyard, the place where past generations sleep.
God Bless them all.
A Credence Table is a small side table made of wood or marble, which is used during the celebration of the Eucharist. It is situated in the sanctuary of a Christian church. The credence table at Prescot is quite small, and is mounted on the black oak Jacobean panelling on the East wall, at the left hand side of the altar. It has a border about 4” deep showing a pleasing carved design of a grapevine. This is very appropriate because the fruit of the vine is used for making wine, one of the elements used to celebrate Holy Communion. (This wooden carved vine border is made from what was part of an earlier reredos at Prescot, date unknown.) Because our credence table is very small, when in use at the communion service, a false top is laid across it. This is covered with a fine linen cloth.
The word ‘credence' means belief and trust. It comes from the Latin word credendum = a thing to be believed; an act of faith. This sums up exactly what a Christian does during the celebration of the Eucharist when he/she partakes of the bread and wine representing the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ – a firm faith in the belief that He lived, was crucified and died and that He rose again and ascended into heaven.
Before the Eucharist starts, implements to be used are placed on the credence table. These are: a Host box containing extra wafers, cruets - two small vessels to contain water and wine, 3 chalices, 2 for the wine, and 1 for reserve, a paten to hold the celebrant's wafer and a bowl.
Special linens, which pertain to the Eucharist, are also placed on the credence table: the lavabo towel, the purificator and the pall (a small stiffened square covered in white linen), which is used to place on the chalice to keep dust and insects from falling in. Other chalice cloths, made from finer fabric, in the liturgical colour of the day to match the pulpit drop, book marks, altar front and vestment of the celebrant are: the chalice veil - to cover the chalice; the burse - a stiff folder about 12” square which holds a folded square white linen cloth called the corporal. The burse is used to carry the corporal to and from the altar.
Once the table has been prepared by our Verger, Mrs Jessie Dissado, she pours wine into the flagon (a jug like vessel with a handle and a lid), and places the Host (wafers) in the ciborium – similar to a chalice but with a dome shaped cover. These are then taken to the back of the church and placed on a small table until the Offertory when two members of the congregation are invited to take them up to the altar for consecration.
After the Eucharist Prayers, when the celebrant and people receive communion, he uses a white linen cloth called a purificator to wipe the chalice after each communicant partakes. Any remaining elements left in the chalices and ciborium are totally consumed by the celebrant. During the final hymn, the purificator is used to wipe the chalices and ciborium after oblutions, which follow communion. The chalice is covered with the pall, over which goes the chalice veil, on top of which is placed the burse with the corporal cloth inside. The vessels and linen are then returned to the credence table. After the Eucharist, and the server removes the vessels, the small credence table displays a brass Latin or Passion Cross; it has a long upright that is mounted on a circular base. The cross is a memorial to the eldest son of Canon Henry Ellis who was Vicar at Prescot from 1957 to 1962. A sad tragedy happened when his son, who was in the Royal Navy, was killed in an accident in February 1958. An inscription around the rim of the cross base says “ To the Glory of God and in loving memory of Lieutenant Michael Lawrence Ellis R.N. 1935-1958.” Also on the credence table is a brass bookstand supporting a red leather backed Service Lectionary ‘The Book of Gospels'. The cover shows in gilt, emblems of the four apostles: Matthew - a winged man, Mark – a winged lion, Luke – a winged ox, John – a winged eagle. The book is in memory of Eileen Lillian Hewitt (nee Rose) and her husband Joseph Hewitt. It is fascinating to know that prior to us partaking Holy Communion, there has been a serious and ritualistic preparation of the Host and wine. Sitting in the nave of the church, we are quite a distance away from the sanctuary and perhaps some of us might never have even noticed the servers going about their duties before and after consecration of the elements. Although we value very much being able to share along with others the celebration of the Eucharist, I wonder how many of us observe what is on the credence table and the altar as we approach the sanctuary and kneel at the communion rail? Have a look next time you take Holy Communion. I am indebted to our Head Server, Alan Williams, for his kind help and advice in preparing this article. Thanks Alan.
John Ogle, Gent , 1555-1612:- Our most dedicated parishioner never misses a service at Prescot Parish Church – he is present at them all. His name is John Ogle, sometimes inadvertently referred to as “John Ogilvy”!! Church goers at Prescot have gazed upon the life size effigy of John Ogle, set into the North side of the chancel wall, for nearly 400 years. Attired in simple early 17th century dress, the plaster figure, believed to have been formerly recumbent in earlier years, is in an upright position, albeit with what looks like a replacement pair of feet! No doubt the original feet having been damaged at some time or other – maybe during the civil wars of 1640's when the church was occupied by members of the roundhead military forces who damaged much of church furnishings. Behind the figure is the Ogle family motto: Veritas Vincit = Truth Conquers. The distinguished Ogle family originated in Northumberland, where they are documented in the 13th century. A branch of this family settled in Whiston in the early 15th century. A wealthy family, the Ogles were hereditary stewards of the Manor of Prescot and were stewards to Lord Derby for over 200 years. John Ogle, born in 1555/58, bought Halsnead Estate in 1608 and Whiston Manor from Sir Thomas Bold in the same year, and was Lord of the Manor of Whiston. John was married to Elizabeth daughter of Thomas Standish of Duxbury, Lancashire . The 1590 Religious Returns stated that “he goes to church but is not a communicant.” This indicates that John was a recusant (refuser) and didn't take communion in the Anglican Church. He certainly was not on his own as a large number of other people in Prescot didn't either. After Henry 8th became Head of the Church of England, they didn't attend ‘mass' when it was changed over to ‘communion'. By 1602-04, many had been obliged to conform to the Anglican rites. Maybe John Ogle did, as at that time Prescot was fortunate enough to have a very forceful Vicar, Thomas Mead, and, as the church fell into a dreadful state of repair, this Vicar roped in all the ‘recusants' and under the leadership of John Ogle, had part of the church rebuilt in the form of a fine 96 foot long nave with it's magnificent black and white Jacobean roof both of which can be seen today. The cost was £300 with John Ogle being the main contributor. John's family arms are the second set on the South wall of the nave with the date of 1610. He produced the Ogle Rolls in 1602 - family genealogy and other documents relative to Prescot. He also gave the sanctuary chair to the church in 1610 at the rebuilding and to also to mark the occasion of his son Henry's marriage to Elizabeth Whitby at Chester on 17 th July 1609 . John's name is on the front of the chair and the Vicar's name, Thomas Mead, is on the back. In 1632 his son, Henry Ogle, had the lease for Prescot Hall estate with its coalmines and also had lands in Whiston, Huyton and Roby. Henry married twice and had 22 children. John's other son was Colonel John Ogle who distinguished himself at the battle of Nieuport in 1623, and whose portrait is owned by Prescot church. He died without issue in 1640. John Ogle senior died and was buried on the 12 th September 1612 . Some sources say he was buried outside the church whilst others say he was buried inside. He may have lived in Whiston Hall (now demolished) that was situated in the vicinity of Whiston Lane/Pottery Lane . Records for the occupants of Whiston Hall are scant but he probably did live there at some time. By the mid 18th century the Ogle's seemed to have moved away from Prescot, as the family name no longer appears in the Parish Church registers. John remains with us, although he still doesn't take communion!
The Lectern:-The lectern is a reading desk in churches from which Scripture lessons from the Bible are read in public worship. From the lectern hangs bookmarks for the Bible in specific liturgical colours, which are changed during various times and seasons of the church's calendar. There are two types of lectern, figure and desk. Figures are generally made of brass or wood but desks are made from wood and occasionally of stone. In the 15th century, lecterns were usually the desk type but by the 16th and 17th centuries brass lecterns were made. Nearly all were in the shape of an eagle or pelican with outstretched wings upon which the Bible rests. The bird often stands on a ball which represents the world, while the Bible on the bird's back symbolises the Gospel being carried on its' wings to the four corners of the earth. Many churches have a 19th century lectern, mostly Victorian, made and presented as a celebration piece or memorial to someone. The lectern, being a moveable piece of church furniture, needed a strong base to keep it balanced, especially whilst supporting a heavy Bible. In 1539 King Henry VIII ordered that a Bible be placed in every parish church and that it should be in English. Because English Bibles were so rare, they were in danger of being stolen and in the 16th century were either chained to the lectern or kept in a locked Bible box for safety. Prescot got its first English Bible in 1540, by which time most churches had one. It was a new and exciting thing for the people to hear stories read from the Bible, spoken in a language that they understood. Prior to the Reformation the priest read from the Bible in Latin, which of course was not understood by most of the congregation. Before the Reformation in 1534, lecterns were placed in the chancel but after the Reformation they were moved to the nave. The present lectern in Prescot church was dedicated in 1897 as a celebration piece, purchased to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee – her 60th year as our reigning monarch. It is a wooden lectern in the shape of an eagle and its bird form is beautifully carved and shaped. This lectern was first placed in front of the chancel steps in a central position. Before siting it there, it was necessary to remove the marble font that occupied this position and transfer it to the ancient and usual place for a font, by the North door. A photograph taken in 1909 shows the lectern still standing in front of the chancel steps but by 1921 it had been moved to its present position perhaps when the Rood Screen was dedicated in that year.
Mosaics either side of the East Window:- Looking at either side of the East window in our church we cannot fail to appreciate the two beautiful mosaics illustrating the delightful pictures made in that form, i.e., small pieces of glass, slate, metal or stone to form these panels. Although our present church building has been built for 400 years, the mosaics have only been hanging there for just over 80 years. In 1925, the church underwent a substantial redecorating programme, and a ‘modern' electric light system, plus other additions, one of which was: “Two panels to be placed, one at each side of the East window at a cost of £150 for the two.” These new panels replaced two old panels that had hung there probably since the re-building of the church in 1610. They were the “Lord's Prayer” and the “Ten Commandments”, being huge black panels with gilt lettering. These particular panels are still stored in the church tower where they have been since 1925. It is hoped, in the future, they can be restored and re-hung again in another part of the building as they are conducive to our church's historical heritage. It is not unusual today to see these same style text panels still hanging in chancels of rural churches throughout the country. It was more or less part of the ecclesiastical conditions after the Reformation in 1535 when ”images, shrines, and monuments of idolatry” were removed and wall paintings covered with whitewash. They were replaced with the Royal Coat of Arms and text panels such as those that once adorned either side of the East window at Prescot. The mosaic to the left of the window is “ The Good Shepherd” . There are many paintings with the same title but this particular image is a charming portrayal of Jesus in his role as our Good Shepherd gently holding a lamb. Jesus also has a shepherd's crook and is stood in a sheep fold. This indicates that we are all his lambs - he knows, loves and cares for each and every one of us. The crook is to bring us back if we stray and all strays are brought back safely into the fold. The scriptural basis for this idea is to be found in The Gospel According to St. John 10: v.11-16. To the right of the window is that of “ The Light of the World” . This is taken from an allegorical painting by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) painted c.1853-4, and represents the figure of Jesus knocking on a door. In front of the door there are overgrown plants as though the door has never been opened, symbolic of the human towards the end of his life that now hangs in St. Paul 's Cathedral, London . Hunt was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Movement c.1838, who protested against academic art of their time and advocated a return to the style of the Italian painters prior to Raphael (1483-1520), avoiding heavy shadows and painted on lighter backgrounds with brighter colours. We are indeed fortunate at Prescot to be in possession of these beautiful mosaics. Many churches have paintings hanging on the walls, but it is not very often that mosaics are part of the church furniture.
The Nave:- The spacious and lofty 96-foot long nave is a most striking feature of our church. It was built in the style of the Post Reformation with side aisles and singers' gallery at the west end. The magnificent black oak beamed roof is one of the best in the county of Lancashire . 11 roof trusses of alternatively hammer and tie beams support it. The brackets of the hammer beams, and the braces under the tie beams, are finely carved. On the first brackets either side of the roof (from the chancel arch) there are inscriptions; on the left, painted in gilt, is the name of “Thomas Bold, Knight” 1610, whilst on the reverse of this bracket is “LadiBrigit Bold, his Wyffe”. Sir Thomas Bold of Bold was a knight in 1610 when the church was rebuilt and he was married to Brigit Norris daughter of Sir William Norries of Speke Hall. The first bracket terminal on the right has an armorial carving depicting the arms of John Ogle Esq., it has to be pointed out to be seen because of the black oak wood. John Ogle, Lord of the Manor of Whiston, was one of the main contributors to the rebuilding of the church in 1610. Curved braces connecting it with the wall pieces and keeping the rafters fast support the tie beams. The bosses, in the centre of each plain tie beam, each have a different design. The centre of the roof is made up of a long run of plain black oak stretching the length of the Nave, and the roof rafters are of effective design, enhanced by the white plastering between, which forms the black and white ceiling. The design, like the fine carving on the brackets and braces, which rest on sandstone corbels, are in the Tudor style of decoration. In the middle strip of the ceiling are two large round holes, they were probably made when a huge 3-tier brass chandelier hung there in the 18th century. A sketch, in the vestry, shows a massive chandelier hanging from the ceiling which no doubt held a large number of candles to light the nave. Ox blood was used to obtain the rich blackness of the oak wood. When the church was rebuilt in 1610, James I was king and although from his time, (1603-25) fittings became known as ‘Jacobean', the roof in our church is in the Tudor style. The term ‘Jacobean' comes from the Latin origin of the name James meaning Jacobus. The sandstone octagonal pillars, supporting north and south arcades of five bays have plainly moulded capitals of one chamfered order. They represent perpendicular Gothic in its last phase. The five bays have broad, pointed arches, and the clerestory windows above them are in the Tudor-style of mullioned windows. [Clerestory means clear storey that gives light into the nave]. The present clerestory windows were re-glazed in 1871, as were the 11 small lancet windows over the chancel arch. Apparently, these were installed ‘back to front' by an apprentice but were later put right. The chancel arch was rebuilt in 1818 as was the fabric of the chancel and the chancel roof, which although not old, follows the Tudor work in its detail. The side aisles were widened at the same time and the present lancet windows replaced rectangular ones. The nave walls used to be painted with church symbols, the patterns for which, when looking at various photographs, changed over the years. During the mid 20th century the walls were painted over in plain colour wash and the two coats of arms, which we now see on the chancel arch, were painted on. All churches have seating but this was not always so. During early medieval services people either stood or knelt. It was only if you belonged to a ‘well heeled' family that you could have a seat! Prescot had pews installed in 1611 and pew allocation for gentry families had their armorial bearings on the walls above their pews. Some of these are shown on the nave walls whilst others are placed around aisle walls. In the 18th century people starting paying for seats and, after the church was re-pewed in 1879, a notice issued by churchwardens in 1889 stated that ‘Sittings unoccupied at the commencement of the 5 minutes bell shall be treated as free and unappropriated”! At the west end, the lovely plaster stucco work with silver tracery and red roses, a symbol of the Virgin Mary, cover what was once an organ loft and singers' gallery. Once a leading feature of church life, the fashion was to remove the whole lot and place it in the chancel. This took place in 1879 at Prescot. Every old church is unique with the atmosphere of devotion of people over many years. Although a great many changes have taken place since 1610, it is not just a showpiece but it is our privilege to use it and preserve it for posterity and also fulfil the true purpose of human life to love, serve and praise the Lord.
Prescot Parish Church WWI War Memorial:- Before and after Remembrance Sunday in November, there have been a number of enquiries about the names recorded on the Parish Church WWI War Memorial. The names are by no means obvious to those who are unaware of where they can be seen in church. It is amazing how many Prescotians, born in the 1920's onwards, who “have been told by family” about ancestors/relatives' names being “in church” but have never seen them. They know the names are on the Town War Memorial in the churchyard, but are not sure where to find them inside Church.
They are on the Rood Screen, a memorial to the fallen in WWI. The screen was dedicated by the Bishop of Liverpool, Francis James Chavasse on St. George's Day, Saturday 23 rd April 1921 . It was funded by voluntary subscriptions from the people of Prescot and friends at a cost of £942. 7s. 8d. Behind the screen the names are carved on eight small light oak panels, set into the back of the return stalls at the chancel steps. There are four panels on each side. The names on the panels are:
Byron H. (S.L.)
Byron H. (KORL)
The names, submitted by Canon Lovett, to be engraved on the oak panels behind the proposed Chancel Screen were printed in the Parish Church Monthly Magazine of August 1920 and I very much doubt if they have ever been included in any Monthly Magazine since. I hope this list will be helpful to those who may wish to come along to see the names of their loved ones. However, if the name of someone known to you is not on the panels, and who did sadly perish in the Great War, it must be remembered that the names were carved some eighty-seven years ago when the administration of this fine memorial was in the hands of past church officials. There is an excellent website for the Prescot Church War Memorial Page for WWI and WWII on the internet. It gives details of some of those brave men who gave their lives for their God, King and Country.
The Pulpit:- The Pulpit is a raised enclosed platform from which the preacher gives the sermon. Every church today has a pulpit but this was not so in the Middle Ages. Instead the altar steps were used and occasionally the rood loft. Sermons were preached outside of the church on some occasions. There is only one reference to pulpits in the Bible: “Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood.” (Nehemiah, ch. VIII, v.4). Wooden and stone pulpits began to be a feature of churches in the 15th century. They were carved with tracery and sometimes elaborately decorated with figures. A tester or sounding board, fitted with an hourglass and stands, so that sermons could be timed, would surmount the actual pulpit - sermons in those days could be very long! Even today some old pulpits still have canopies or sounding boards so that the preacher's voice is carried more easily to the far end of the church - a good idea, long before the advent of ear trumpets, deaf aides and later on microphones! It was usual for the pulpit to have several sides, i.e., hexagonal or octagonal. Some stood on wooden stems while others stood on stone platforms. Christian churches throughout the world have pulpits of various shapes and sizes, some of which are very simple and plain whilst others are richly adorned and embellished with many forms of elaborate decoration. A canon of 1603 ordered that all churches should possess a pulpit. Sometimes it would stand against the first pier west of the chancel screen, either on the north or south side, but restorers loved to move them back against the screen. In an area where the congregations were large, such as at Prescot, the size and style of pulpits could vary. (Prescot in the 16th and 17th centuries would have had a huge pulpit because by 1584 it had become a centre for preaching exercises. By the 1630's Puritan influence had long made preaching and lecturing an important issue and the pulpit had become the real focus of attention in most churches. Often the big pulpits impaired the view of the chancel and seating was arranged for this purpose. The churchwardens' accounts for 1643-4 show that a new cover was bought for the pulpit cushion, and the pulpit was lowered in the same year. In 1656-78 new hinges were fitted on to the pulpit door and the whole thing was re-varnished.) Ref.Prescot Church Wardens' A/c's. 1635-63, Rev. T.M.Steel.A curate from the Ancient chapel at Toxteth, by the name of Richard Mather who was born in 1596 in Lowton, preached a weekly lecture at Prescot. He was known to have preached the puritan ethic before being silenced in 1633 for non-conformity, by the Church of England. Reluctantly, Mather left England in 1635 for New England , Massachusetts , and became the leading scholar of American Puritanism. He died in Boston in 1669. No doubt the hallowed interior of Prescot church had heard ‘hell fire and brimstone' being preached by Mather from the pulpit of the day! (The famous Cotton Mather (1663-1728) a hot American puritan preacher was the grandson of Richard Mather. He lived and died in Boston , Massachusetts ). When galleries were erected in churches in the 18th and early 19th centuries to provide extra seating for large congregations, 3 decker pulpits were the fashion. In them, the preacher used the top part, the reader the next part while the clerk sat in the lowest part. It was necessary to have such a high piece of furniture so that people sitting in the galleries could hear the preacher's voice. Prescot had galleries erected in 1818 and, at the same time, the side aisles were widened. The galleries hung between the sandstone pillars, underneath the arches, and protruded over the side aisles. A pencil sketch in the vestry shows the galleries and a massive 2 or 3-tier pulpit standing in the nave. The date of the sketch is unknown but it was drawn between 1818 and 1879. By 1879 the galleries, which had been erected to accommodate large congregations, were no longer required. All the 15 towns and villages in the vast ancient parish of Prescot by then had their own parish churches. The parish church of St. Mary 's just served Prescot town so the galleries were removed in 1879. In this same year, the huge pulpit and old pews were replaced with the pews and pulpit, which are in use today. Made of oak, the pulpit is hexagonal and the sides are covered in delicate perpendicular tracery to match the lancet windows. It stands on a neat stone stem and has wooden steps leading to the enclosed platform. On the top rim of the pulpit is a stand from which sermon notes can be read, and from where the appropriate liturgical colours hang, called the “pulpit fall”. Just one thing is missing – the hourglass! No less than 10 Vicars have preached from this late 19th century pulpit, some imposing, some feared, and many loved, plus numerous curates, visiting clergy, chaplains from other churches including King's College, Cambridge, and also bishops who would have been present at confirmation services and other special services throughout the years. May the focal point of our church continue to be used for many, many years to come and may all those who climb the steps to the platform to preach, be blessed with words so to inspire our congregation towards a closer living with Christ.
The Reredos:- a wall or screen at the back of the altar or communion table, often of a highly decorative character and an architectural feature in many churches. The reredos is usually in the form of a screen detached from the wall below the East window or extreme end of the church, adorned with niches, statues, rich tapestries or religious paintings. Many cathedrals have extremely ornate reredoses in tabernacle work with figures of saints and angels in the niches. In the 11 th and 2 centuries, the reredos was usually a screen of gold, silver, wood, marble, stone or alabaster. Many stone reredoses were destroyed during the Reformation. They depicted such things as the Passion of Christ, the life of the Virgin Mary and figures of the Apostles, etc. At Prescot, the beautiful reredos designed by Mr. C.E.Kemp, and carved by Mr. Gilbert, R.A., was presented to the church in 1891 by Mrs Elizabeth Glaister Evans in memory of her husband William Lees Evans. Mr Evans was a colliery owner and both he and Mrs Evans came from Yorkshire . They lived in High Street, Prescot. The reredos is a very fine example of a black and gilt wooden screen. It blends well with its more ancient surroundings. The centre panel depicts the Crucifixion with Jesus on the cross, his mother Mary in blue on the left and St. John in red on the right. Four O.T. prophets, two either side of the centre panel complete the main effect of the reredos. The left panel shows Esias (Isiah) and Jeremiah whilst the right panel shows Zacharias and Michaeus. St. John the Divine, (6 A.D.-101 A.D.) Evangelist and Apostle of Charity was a Galilean fisherman, son of Zebedee, and brother of James. He was first, a disciple of John the Baptist, then later one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. John alone remained near Jesus at the foot of the cross at Calvary with Mary and other pious women. Jesus regarded him as “the beloved disciple” mentioned in the last supper and at the cross and to whom he entrusted his mother Mary's safe keeping after his death. (John 19: 25-27). John took Mary into his care and they moved to Ephesus in Asia Minor ( Turkey ) where they both eventually died. Esias – Greek form of Isiah. He was a prophet of the 8 th century B.C. and lived through the reigns of four kings of Judah . A supreme prophet who told of an ideal ruler who was to come, a son of David, a Prince of Peace. The book of Isiah is the longest among the prophet books of the O.T. and one of the greatest. Jeremiah was a great prophet of the 7 th century B.C. He lived in Anathoth, close to Jerusalem . He began to prophesy in the reign of King Josiah of Judah c. 626 B.C. His life was bound up in the fate of Jerusalem over which he wept and foretold about the defeat by the Babyloneans. This happened during the reign of the last Hebrew king Zedekiah in 586 B.C. when they surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, (Ref. Psalm 137): Jeremiah prophesied they would return to Judah , which they did when Babylon was defeated by Cyrus king of the Persians in c.525 B.C. Cyrus set the exiles free to return home, allowing the Jews to rebuild their temple. Zachariah was one of the twelve minor prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. He was concerned about the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and had vivid dreams of what the ideal city would be like,where God would dwell in its midst. Michaeus was a prophet of the second half of the 8 th century B.C. He came from the fertile lowland of Judah and spoke out against the oppression of the poor by the rich. He prophesied that Samaria and Jerusalem would be destroyed (which happened in 722 B.C.and 586 B.C. respectively). It is indeed a splendid reredos at Prescot with the well chosen prophetic figures whose writings tell us of the ancient and turbulent history of the Hebrews. Also the scene of Jesus' death on the cross with Mary and John present. In our church, the screen is not just a fancy item to look at when we take communion but a solemn reminder of why we are there, to share in a celebration of the sacrifice Jesus made to save us all.
The Rood Screen:-The Chancel Screen at St. Mary's was dedicated on St. George's Day 23 rd April 1921 . The Screen, made of oak is a memorial to those Prescotians who fell in the First World War. The panelling at the west ends of the choir stalls show the names of the men of the parish who had fallen in the Great War. In 1998 the screen was painted black to match the chancel furniture, with gilt edging and lettering. The lettering being: To the only wise God our Saviour be glory and majesty, dominion and power both now and ever . The cross or Holy Rood in the middle of the screen with crosslets on the 3 arms was attractively gilded and also the monogram i h s = the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus, which can clearly be seen in the centre of the cross arms. This was not the first screen to be erected at Prescot as various sources mention that others certainly existed, but for what purpose did a chancel screen have in church architecture? It seem that historically, the chancel was the responsibility of the priest and nave was the responsibility of the people, so to divide them both, a screen was placed across the chancel arch – the chancel screen. In medieval times a figure of Christ's cross and often of the crucifix would be placed on a beam above the screen across the chancel. The supporting beam being the Rood beam. Prior to the Reformation the Rood (a Saxon word for the Cross of Christ) was the focal point of the church. The Rood being the great crucifix that stood on the beam or hung in the chancel arch. However, the Rood needed cleaning and the light that hung before it also demanded attention, so a loft was built beneath it. This stretched across the nave and was known as the rood loft. This loft was sometimes also used as a music gallery with a small organ and musicians on it. The lofts were above the chancel screen, usually structurally connected with it, in which case the chancel screen was called a Rood Screen. The rood lofts were reached either by ladders or stairs. Many were destroyed during the time of the young King Edward 6 th , son of Henry 8 th , and also in Elizabethan times and after that, during the Civil Wars of the 1640's. At Prescot, reformers removed the Rood screen about 1563. A replacement structure in black oak was erected in 1636 to support a small organ. The Puritans destroyed the organ in the 1640's. It is not know how long the screen survived but some time afterwards there came a screen that is shown on a pencil drawing. This illustration, done sometime after 1818 when the side aisles were widened and wooden galleries were fitted between the nave arches, but before 1879 when the galleries were removed. The sketch is described by a curate at Prescot (1902-05), the Rev. F.G. Patterson, M.A., as having four massive black oak uprights rising 19 feet from the base. In the two end divisions were 6 circular pillars (3 either side) with beautifully moulded plinths and caps supporting a moulded lintel of black oak. There is no evidence of a cross being supported by the screen. A lot of refurbishment was carried out in 1879 and maybe this screen was removed then. Photographs of the church interior, taken at the turn of the 20 th century, show no evidence of any screen, except for a rod projecting from halfway up each of the two sandstone pillars supporting the chancel arch. The rods both had a finial at the ends that lined up with the choir stalls. They could hardly be called a ‘Rood Screen'. So in 1921, Prescot saw the return of the Rood Screen and a very attractive one it is, without being too obtrusive in design. It has no doors or gates to shut out the congregation from the priest's domain as those screens did in the 16 th century. Maybe that is why the reformers pulled the early screen down?
A Verger being caretaker, attendant, preparing for all services including communion, changing liturgical colours, keeping the parish registers updated etc., having a knowledge of the church history, to name but a few of the responsibilities. She was always delighted to explain what her job as Verger was and to tell a story about the special emblem of office which she would proudly carry on certain occasions. This was the Verger's Mace - a virge -the ceremonial rod which a Verger carries. It comes from the Latin word virga meaning a staff, rod or mace.
The Verger's Mace at Prescot has an important connection with the Consecration of Liverpool Cathedral which took place on 19 th July 1924 . Prescot Deanery (one of twelve which made up the Diocese of Liverpool) had been asked to supply a Verger for the Consecration Service. Mr William Ashcroft was, at that time, the Verger and he had to carry a ‘mace'. Whether or not Prescot possessed a Verger's mace up until then is anybody's guess, but it was decided to purchase one for the occasion, which could be used in future at special events. The new mace cost £3. 3s. 0d. A mace is the Verger's emblem of authority and a new one was specially made and suitably inscribed for the occasion for which it was bought. The mace is a black staff approximately 3 ft. long surmounted with a silver collar tipped with an oval, pointed at the top. One side is engraved in the centre with a single Madonna lily, with the words – either side of the flower – St Mary's on the left and Prescot on the right. On the reverse side it is engraved horizontally with the inscription Liverpool Cathedral Consecrated July 19 th 1924 .
The office of Verger has its roots in the early days of the Church of England's history. Historically, they were responsible for the order and upkeep of the house of worship, including the care of the church buildings, its furnishings and sacred relics, preparations for liturgy, conduct of the laity, and grave-digging responsibilities! In those early days when the Verger was escorting a personage, the virge/mace might have been needed to keep back animals or an over enthusiastic crowd. It is doubtful whether Jessie, during her 30 years as Verger, ever had to put the mace to such use!
We do hope in the future that Norine Jones enjoys being our Verger and we look forward to seeing her carrying the Prescot mace, and clad in the Verger's black gown which is usually worn on special occasions.
Centuries ago, Lancashire Parishes
were among the largest in the country and the parish of Prescot, covered 58
sq. miles with 15 townships/villages. In the whole county there were only
56 parish churches and weekly attendance at church was considered obligatory
but many people lived too far away from their ‘mother’ parish
church to attend for worship. To ease this situation, local gentry within
the county parishes built ‘chapels of ease’ or chantry chapels
which served the outlying districts. They were endowed with lands given by
donors, the income of which maintained the chantry priest. The parliamentary
survey of 1650 mentions five chapels besides the mother church in Prescot
Parish: St. Ellen‘s Chapel, Farnworth Chapel, Rainford Chapel and Sankey
Chapel and, also, an old ruinated building called “Windleshaw Chapel”.
Now a Grade II listed building, the Windleshaw Chantry (see right)) inaccurately referred to locally as ‘Windleshaw Abbey’, was founded by Sir Thomas Gerard of Bryn in 1435 with an endowment of £4 16s. out of his lands at Windle. The name Windle means “Windy Hill” and sometimes spelt as “Wyndell”. Not only did the chapel serve people in the immediate area, but masses would be said by a priest for the repose of Sir Thomas’ and his ancestors’ souls from purgatory – which was all about the safe passage of their souls from this world to the next. The chantry was not very big, originally measuring 50ft. x 14ft. and the 12ft. square tower being 36ft. high. It was built from yellow sandstone quarried locally and dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. The Reformation in 1534 was followed by the dissolution of the monasteries and chantries in 1548, and the building fell into disuse. The unused part of the building gradually decayed but the ground around the chapel continued to be used for burial. The catholic history of this S.W. corner of Lancashire caused Windle chapel to become a hallowed spot over the years because of its cemetery where many hundreds of people of the Catholic faith were buried, including a large number of priests, and it was not unusual for interments to take place secretly at night because of Catholic persecution. The non-conformist register in Prescot Parish register records two Catholic burials at Windleshaw chapel in 1701 and one in 1705. In 1835 the Gerard family added a plot to the burial ground and in 1861 St. Helens Burial Board acquired adjacent ground for a public cemetery. Many of the landed gentry in Lancashire remained Catholic recusants (refusers) to conform to the established Church of England, for many years.
During the civil wars, Cromwell’s men stripped lead from the roof to make balls for their muskets. There is a romantic story that Royalist Prince Rupert, nephew of King Charles I, hid in the tower of the ancient ‘abbey’ on his way to Knowsley after his defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor, Nr. York, in 1644. Whilst in hiding, he was befriended by a local beauty, Marion Sumner, daughter of a nearby inn-keeper, with whom he fell in love. He had intended to go to Ireland to seek further recruits but was closely pursued by the Roundheads, and so escaped to Oxford where he joined King Charles. Rupert lived to a ripe old age, and didn’t marry. It is said that he never really looked at another woman.
The Gerard family of Kingsley and Bryn was a large one with many branches. Sir Thomas Gerard, who founded Windleshaw Chantry in 1435, had fought at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and was an ancestor of the Sir Thomas Gerard Kt. (1560-1621) whose coat of arms is displayed in Prescot Church on the south side of the nave wall, nearest to the chancel arch. He was the 1st Baronet of Bryn, being conferred the day the order was instituted by King James I on the 22nd May 1611. This Sir Thomas was MP for Liverpool, Lancashire and Wigan and married 3 times, the first being Cecily Maney in 1580, by whom he had two children, namely: Thomas (2nd Baronet 1584-1630), who married Frances daughter of Richard Molyneux of Sefton: and Frances who married Ralph Standish of Standish.
The Gerard family ancestry is one of extreme interest. The father of Sir Thomas of the coat of arms (see right), also a Sir Thomas (1535-1601), married Elizabeth Port of Derbyshire and was knighted and appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire by the Catholic Queen Mary on her accession in 1553. She died in 1558 and in 1571 he was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I in the Tower of London for plotting to rescue Mary Queen of Scots and replace her on the throne. He was released in 1573 upon payment of heavy fines resulting in him having to sell lands in Rainhill which had been in the family for two and a half centuries, and also mortgage properties elsewhere. The coat of arms is an attractive one with a quartered shield - the 1st and 4th show a red cross on a silver background which originates from the cross of St. Andrew indicating suffering for a faith and perseverance in a true purpose. The 2nd and 3rd show a blue background with lion rampant ermine, ducally crowned indicating strength, courage and generosity. The helmet is topped by the crest, a lion rampant stood on a ‘wreath’ of twisted red and white silk from which the mantling is draped around the shield with fastening ‘tassels’ hanging either side. A date of 1610 (when Prescot church was rebuilt) is at the top and ‘Sr. T. G. Kt.’ at the foot = Sir Thomas Gerard Knight. The history of the families whose arms displayed around our church leaves one in complete admiration for the way they pursued their beliefs during the days of religious unrest 400 years ago.
Royal Arms in Churches:- The custom of putting royal arms in churches was introduced by Henry VIII after the Reformation in 1534, and are often found in older parish churches painted on walls, or panels as frescoes, or worked in stained glass or embroidery. Royal Coats of Arms of the Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian monarchs can be found in many churches from the reign of Henry VIII until the time of Queen Victoria and have been a common feature of church decoration. Before that, in mediaeval times, the west wall of a church was frequently adorned by a painting of the 'Last Judgement' or sometimes known as the "Doom Painting". Depending upon the artist and style of the painting, it depicted Christ the Judge in heaven, the good nearest to him surrounded by angels and beneath his feet those doomed to hell plagued by skeleton figures. This was to warn the departing congregation of the necessity of paying heed to what they had been taught and professed and prayed for in their worship! In cases where no such painting was available, a crucifix served to remind them of the tremendous sacrifice by which their salvation had been won and warned them in the words of the New Testament "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2, v3). During the Reformation period when the C. of E. broke away from the Church of Rome, and the superstitious misuse of images and pictures were discontinued or painted over, these were replaced with arms of the Tudor monarchs. The Royal Arms were used to mark the king's authority and after Henry VIII became supreme head of the C. of E. they began to appear in churches by 1544, representing the close connection between the monarch and the church. A Royal Order of 1561 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, instructed that all churches display a Royal Coat of Arms to symbolize the fact that the monarch was head of the C. of E. and to be placed over the chancel arch. Most commonly, surviving coats of arms date from after the Restoration in 1660 when Charles II came to the throne after 11 years of Commonwealth rule. At Charles' restoration an Act was passed by Parliament making Vicars and churchwardens liable to legal penalties if the arms were not shown and it became compulsory to display Royal Arms. At Prescot the first church furnishings to be renewed at Prescot were the king's arms and font stone. *In 1661 Churchwardens' Accounts: “Paid for hanginge upp the kinges armes and setting upp the font stone £0. 5. 0d.” Throughout the centuries, at Prescot, no doubt there would have been the reigning monarch's appropriate royal coats of arms displayed and we are fortunate to have one which has survived. It is that of George III and is now positioned on the South wall just left of the South porch door. Stored away for many years, this painting last year, was cleaned, restored and reframed, the cost being defrayed by the ladies 'Guided Tours' group. George III (1738-1820) came to the throne in 1760. He ruled for 60 years and died in 1820. A monarch, who quite unlike his Hanoverian forbears, loved England and was nicknamed 'Farmer George'. He had a strong religious faith and encouraged the starting up of Sunday Schools. His later years were badly troubled with ill health. In Great Britain, George III used the official style "George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Gt. Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith etc." This particular coat of arms of George III was painted between 1760 ARMS of George III (when he became monarch) and 1800. In simple terms - the arms being 1 st Quarter for England and Scotland, the 2nd Quarter for France, 3rd Quarter for Ireland and the 4 th Quarter reflected the monarch's domains in Hanover. Supporting the Arms on the church painting: On the left the English Lion and on the right the Scottish Unicorn topped by a crown. The Royal Garter encircles the Arms as from the time of Edward Ill. Also on the painting beneath the Arms is the motto: Dieu-et mon-droit = "God and my right." When the Act of Union in 1801 united the Kingdoms of Gt. Britain & Ireland, George III dropped the ancient claim to the French throne. This caused the Royal Arms to change, thus removing the French quartering which can be seen at the top right hand side of the Arms. The quartering is Azure (blue) with three fleurs-de-lys in Or (gold). (The Union with Ireland continued until 1921 when, after great unrest in Ireland, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed giving Southern Ireland home rule. The U.K. was renamed the United Kingdom of Gt. Britain & Northern Ireland). However, it seems that Prescot continued to use George III's original coat of arms and didn't obtain a replacement. As part of our church's rich heritage, we can now enjoy viewing the arms since it has been put on display. Royal Arms are not be confused with Funeral Hatchments as seen in some churches. They are lozenged-shaped frames with the coat of arms painted on canvas of a deceased person. The hatchment was usually hung on the front of the deceased's house after his funeral for twelve months and then moved to the inside of the church where he worshipped, where he was patron, or where he had his estates. There are no hatchments at Prescot . Prescot Churchwardens' Accounts 1635-63 Rev.T.M.Steel (RSLC)
Three Boards detailing Rectors then Vicars hang on the South Aisle Wall. Originally they hung in the chancel being the result of research carried out by the Rev. F.G. Paterson, Curate at Prescot 1902-5. Known Rectors date from the 12th century until the middle of the 15th century. The patronage of the Rectory having belonged to various Norman families was acquired in 1391 by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and passed, by inheritance, to Lancastrian kings - Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. In 1445 Henry VI appropriated the Rectory to his newly-founded College of Our Lady and St Nicholas (known as King’s College) at Cambridge. The large parish covering 15 townships resulted in big profits from township tithes. The larger tithes went to the new College. A Vicar was ordained and by endowment was discharged from all subsidies to the Pope, the king and bishop but had to provide for all chaplains in the Parish. Vicars date from 1448 – 2004:
Ralph Duckworth 1448-1471. A
Vicarage was endowed. The Vicar to have the lesser tithes of the parish. However,
the house took 20 years to build, on land west of the church with a suitable
croft, gardens and carriageway. The Vicar seems to have resided in the ‘parson’s
chamber’ at Prescot Hall (farmed by the Earls of Derby until 1649).
Ralph Duckworth was Vicar for nearly a quarter of a century.
Richard Lincolne 1471-1492 replaced Ralph Duckworth. He stayed for 21 years.
Robert Hacumblen 1492-1509. In 1509 he resigned the living at Prescot and became Provost of King’s College. He is buried in the chapel there and gave the Lectern now used in K.C. chapel.
Robert Noke 1509-1529. He is unlikely to have resided at Prescot because of many other appointments. Two resident chaplains at the Vicarage – Lawrence Lathom and Johannes Sherdley had the working of the Parish left to them. Collections were made for buying wax for candles, expenditure for altar furnishings, sacramental vessels, incense and images.
Simon Matthew 1529-1541. He experienced a great change and played an active part in the Anglican Reformation of Henry VIII’s time. This took place in 1534 and the Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell in 1538 instructed all births, deaths, and marriages to be recorded. Prescot had its first bible in 1540, written in English and chained to the lectern. For the first time people could hear bible readings in their own language not in Latin. Henry VIII died in 1547.
Robert Brassey 1541-1558. Drastic changes took place during this time. From 1539 until 1554 known as the Protestant Period, no collections were made and the churches revenue dropped to £3-£5 per annum. In 1542 it dropped to 4/5d. In 1543 – Nothing. (Taken from Churchwardens Accounts). Edward VI, the boy king, son of Henry VIII reigned 1547-1553. In 1550 Religious Reform, in England & Wales became very radical. By 1553 the C. of E. was Protestant. All stone altars had to be removed and replaced by communion tables. A new format for the ordination of clergy was introduced. In 1552 it was made an offence for any member of the clergy, or laity, not to attend a church service. Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer became the official basis for C. of E. services. All semblance of Catholicism was removed. In 1550 a Visitation to Prescot reduced the large number of staff – 10 clergy and 1 Vicar to just 3 - the Vicar and one curate, with another curate at Farnworth. Proceeds from the three chantry chapels which existed then, were transferred to the Grammar School, established in 1544. Chalices were turned into drinking cups. Mass was replaced with the Communion Service. Brassey adhered to all this and still managed to retain office even when Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553. She said things had to revert to pre-reformation arrangements, no bible was allowed. There were big improvements in collections. She died in 1558.
William Whitlock 1558-1583. Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 and there was a changeover again from Mass to Communion. A period of neglect followed. Despite the new rules, locals didn‘t want the new religion. Church funds suffered. Windows were boarded up. So great was the ruinous condition of the church building, it started to fall apart. It was in a terrible state of disrepair. In 1559 Queen Elizabeth I re-established the Church of England, retaining the clerical structure of the Catholic Church but with more emphasis on the preaching of God’s word. Many knights and gentry were recusants*, some attended but never took Communion. From 1581 it was treason for a priest to say Mass and recusants could be fined £20 a month for non-attendance at church.
Thomas Mead 1583-1616. Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and King James I came to the throne. It was during his time that the church was rebuilt in 1610. A reforming Vicar, Mead was considered to have been ‘A Queen’s Preacher’, who didn’t waste time on recusants. Instead he conferred with John Ogle of Whiston, and got him to ask all the Knights in the Parish to cough up enough money to have the church rebuilt. Being the main contributor, John raised £300 to rebuild the church resulting in the 96ft. long nave with its magnificent Jacobean roof. A chair in the Sanctuary bears the name of John Ogle and Vicar Thomas Mead 1610. During a visitation in 1592 it was alleged that the Vicar and Curate did not chastise the youth enough, i.e. (instruct and question in Christian values). Mead stated that every Sunday and Holy Day he did interpret upon some parcel of scripture both before and after noon. Also, they were told to enquire into the following: adultery, marriage without banns, playing cards on the Sabbath, absence from church, and having children baptised by some missionary priest. However, Meade was very lax in collecting tithes, some for 20, 10 and 5 years. He said that all who paid their arrears due for the last 2 years preceding his death within 6 months of his decease, should be discharged from all further liability. King James I died in 1625 and King Charles I came to the throne.
John Adlem 1616-1642. This Vicar saw a big improvement in the chancel furnishings. In 1636, they were - wall panelling, benches with ‘poppy headed’ ends, poor box, plus 14 misericords (tip up seats), now only 11 remain, and altar rails. All influenced by Archbishop Laud who encouraged these embellishments, resulting in the War of the Bishops, some of whom had Puritan leanings and didn’t agree with all this. Prior to the Civil Wars, an Act of Parliament on 1 September 1641 declared certain items had to be removed, i.e., altar rails, silver, surplices, and all items of idolatry. This included the ancient font and the chair – all to be kept in a safe place. Up to this time, most of Adlem‘s tenure had been comparatively quiet, but the Civil Wars (1642-1651) brought rapid changes to the Parish.
Richard Day 1642-1649. This was the period of the Cromwellian Wars. Day was absent for the first 2 years saying Prescot was not a safe place, because of the Royalists who were frequently around. Churchwardens’ Accounts record that Parliamentarians used the church as a billet and stabled their horses inside. Surplices were sold off as old linen, the organ broken up and the old churchyard cross destroyed. All Coats of Arms were whitewashed over, no music allowed in church and even Christmas was not upheld. Richard Day died in 1649. Charles I was beheaded on 30 January1649. The Nation, now a Commonwealth, was led by Oliver Cromwell.
Edward Larking 1650. Records state that Larking was very troublesome whilst at his college and the presentation to Prescot seems likely to have been a scheme to get rid of him. Fortunately he never came to Prescot and was replaced.
John Withens 1650-1667. A troublesome time for Withens. In 1653 Cromwell was made “Lord Protector” but died in 1658. His son Richard took the title but had little taste for power. In 1653 the custody of Parish Registers were removed from ministers of religion and given to a lay official known as ‘The Parish Register’ who recorded births, deaths and marriages, thus causing chaos in the administration of the C. of E. In 1659 Richard Cromwell stood down and Republican rule ended. In 1660 Leaders, led by General George Monck invited Charles II to return to England. This was the magnificent Restoration in 1660. Charles, amid great rejoicing, was brought out of exile and crowned. Much to Withens delight there was a great improvement. The surplice was re-introduced, new linen for the communion table and silver returned with the font. However, the altar rails and John Ogle chair didn’t come back and new rails had to be made in 1663. The chair appeared more than 200 years later!
Abraham Ball 1667-1677. Revd Ball resided at Prescot and put the church back in a proper state of repair. The steeple required pointing and clasping with iron in 1665 and was extensively repaired again in 1670. Revd. Ball died on the 15th February 1676 and was buried at Prescot. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the free grammar school at Prescot, with interest to be paid to the schoolmaster.
Edward Goodall 1677-1690. King James II came to the throne in 1685, he reigned for three years and was deposed in 1688. Goodall was received into Communion with the Roman church during the reign of James II, but quickly changed his mind in 1688 when James was driven from the throne, and he returned to the C. of E. He resigned because of complaints from parishioners who rang the church bells when they heard of his decision. The bell ringers were paid 2/6d. on this occasion. During his time at Prescot the steeple was re-built in 1686-7 at a cost of £330.
John Legg 1690-1691. He was here for a very brief tenure of 12 months and died in December 1691. Buried at Prescot on 14th November 1691.
Thomas Bryan 1691-1700. Although he held the post of Vicar, he was only resident in Prescot for two years. He was Headmaster of Harrow School for almost 40 years, including the nine years he was Vicar of Prescot. Christopher Marsden, a curate of Prescot in 1689, was left in charge after Thomas Bryan’s first year as Vicar in 1692, and lived in the Vicarage. Problems existed again with the steeple and it was completely rebuilt in 1694-1696.
Francis Bere 1700-1721. Bere was here for 22 years, and had a reputation of not being a good preacher “an insipid performer in the pulpit!” He complained to the provost of King’s College in 1709 about his financial circumstances. Bere had a dispute with the Farnworth side (a daughter chapel in the mother Parish of Prescot) who petitioned the House of Commons for parochial status. The Bishop of Chester, Bishop Gastrell, decided in favour of the Vicar in 1719. The Parish of Prescot was in the Diocese of Chester at that time. After centuries of unrest and trouble with the Farnworth side, it was created a separate parish from the mother church of Prescot in 1859. Francis Bere died and was buried at Prescot on 6th March 1721.
Benjamin Clarke 1722-1730. He lived at Prescot. Clarke was a ‘retired, reserved and cautious man, highly esteemed for the excellence of his character’. During his time the building of a new tower and steeple took place in 1729 at a cost of £455. Soon after his arrival he also began building a new Vicarage, completing it in 1728. It was a very commodious building and as the years went by had the reputation of being ‘haunted’. Apparently when apples were stored in the loft, they could be heard rolling about! Sadly, Clarke died of smallpox and was buried at Prescot on 13th May 1730.
Augustine Gwynn 1730-1776. Vicar for 45 years. A pastel portrait of Augustine Gwynn hangs in the Clergy Vestry. Many interesting events took place during his tenure at Prescot. The Julian Calendar (the year began on March 25th, Lady Day) was changed to the Gregorian Calendar (the year began on the 1st January). In 1755 the impressive Georgian town hall in Market Place was built replacing an old Court House. It housed the Court Leet, and balls and assemblies were held there. During his incumbency, horse racing was introduced to Prescot on a course to the west of the town, adjacent to the vicarage, where the cemetery and Wood estate is now. In April 1767 a mob, eager to see the races, pulled down the vicarage wall by climbing it to view the course. During the three days of the races, top quality people in the country attended, and balls were held in the town hall in the evenings. The vicarage croft would be full of visitors’ coaches and they took refreshment at the vicarage on food provided by the Rev. Gwynn. One Sunday in 1768 the Rev. John Wesley passed through Prescot on his way to Warrington. The Vicar refused Wesley’s request to preach in church, so Wesley heard Gwynn preach, and commented that “The Vicar of Prescot rendered a goodly sermon”. Wesley then preached in Market Place to a crowd of people, resulting in Methodism being born in Prescot. In 1759 Gwynne said he was growing old and infirm and was granted a Curate, by the name of Abraham Ashcroft to help, who was also master of Prescot School. Augustin Gwynn died and was buried at Prescot on 27th February 1776.
Samuel Sewell 1776-1815. Sewell was at Prescot for almost 40 years. A man of considerable means, he left numerous charitable bequests. His will on the North aisle wall gives details. He founded the second Sunday School in the country in March 1784, four years after Robert Raikes founded the first one in Gloucester. In 1789 Sewell stipulated the latest hour for funerals to take place was 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer. Late arrivals had to be taken back home and returned the next day. Prescot was a busy manufacturing town with the best watch movements in England and the best files in Europe. A cotton mill made sailcloth and potteries made course earthen mugs. Pits abounded, and colliery workings were dug directly under the town. He left money for alms houses in Sewell Street, built in 1825. Samuel Sewell died and was buried at Prescot on the 18th February 1815, age 77.
Charles George Thomas Driffield 1815-1848 Vicar for 33 years. After his arrival he made vigorous attempts to reorganise collection of the parish tithes which had been allowed to lapse. In 1818/19, the side aisles were widened to accommodate the large parish congregations and balconies were erected behind the five octagonal pillars in the nave. People paid to use their own particular pew at this time. Large increases in population during Victorian times, resulted in towns within Prescot parish being made parishes in their own right. Christ Church, Eccleston and St Thomas (Westfield St) Eccleston, were consecrated in 1838 and St Ann’s, Rainhill was consecrated in 1839
To be continued……………….…..
* Recusant - a person who refuses to submit to an authority
or to comply with a regulation.