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Extract from
Our Country

Churches and Chapels
A Hewitson

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


Tarleton is a rather peculiar part of the globe. It is a grey rough-and ready, primitive looking village, standing upon an eminence, with one, long, rambling, bewildering “street” in it; bordered with houses of all sizes, scattered up and down and in and out in every nook and corner, just as if they had got “mis-mixed" and required shaking up afresh and putting in order again. There are some of the hardest workers and best ale drinkers in England at Tarleton. The district is essentially agricultural, very productive, and in the main full of plain, homely, hospitable folk, who evince a greater curiosity in respect to strangers than any other class of country people we have yet encountered. The moment you enter the village nearly everybody walks to the door, or glides to the window, and begins to eye you all over; old women with their hands huddled up under check aprons, and young women nursing children, will drop their gossipping and turn out to inspect you; youngsters by the road side suspend their operations with dirt and stones, and look up wonderingly at you; brawny young fellows lean against wall sides, in half-dozen rows, and speculate upon your appearance; and folk you meet in the road will, on passing, turn round and examine you – then walk on a bit, then turn round again, then go a bit further, then make another turn, then stop with somebody and enter into a serious conversation as to who you are, and what you can really want in the village. Tarleton, which has an area of 5,405 acres, was in old times connected with the parish of Croston, and was only separated from it in 1821. It is, for parish purposes, divided into three sections - Tarleton, Sollom, and Holmes. Roger de Montebegon granted Tarleton, amongst other places, "with the men and all that pertained to them" to the Cluniac Priory of Thetford, in Norfolk; and about the same period his brother John Malherbe, gave "all the holms, or marsh lands, near the more of Tarleton" to Cockersand Abbey. In the reign of Richard II, Adam de Tarleton and Richard de Kandelau gave to two illegitimate children of the Banastre family, of Bank, a quantity of land, &c., in Tarleton, Bretherton, Croston, and Ulnes Walton; and in the deed regulating the transmission of this property there seems to be a curious predilection in favour of “bastards," for it says that if the two mentioned shall die, without issue, it shall pass in succession to five or six other illegitimate children - at least four being the sons of Thomas Banastre, of Bank. Eventually, through marriage, the line of succession was changed, and the "illegitimate" scheme has Iong been exploded. Some folks say that the district of Tarleton has still a weakness in this direction. For many generations the Heskeths have been joint lords of Tarleton. Lord Lilford, heir of G. A. Leigh Keck, of Bank Hall - a stately old building, shrouded in trees, near Tarleton - participates at present with the Heskeths in the lordship of the manor. The Douglas, a tidal and navigable river flows past the north-eastern side of Tarleton, and the traffic upon it adds materially to the welfare of the district. We visited Tarleton on a Sunday afternoon, “put up" at the classic hostelrie of the "Cock and Bottle,” and after a moment's conversation with the landlord - the gentlest and sweetest-tempered soul in Britain - we made our way to the church. The journey to it was interesting - very. Everybody, of course, had a long earnest look at us and we noticed that about 75 per cent of the young men had their necks shaven - had "bare poles" for about two and half inches above the coat collar, and for all the world looked as if they were wearing wigs. But, then, they are a privileged race, these Tarleton young fellows. We also observed that they had only two kinds of articles upon their heads - half of them wore little round felt hats, and the other dark rough beaver-skin caps; that when walking they went in rows of six or eight; and that if they stopped anywhere they began climbing walls and sitting upon them in long lines, swinging their legs and “running the rigs” upon people who were passing. The Church is situated some distance east of the village, and stands upon a hillside. It is a small, plain building, covered with rough coloured plaster, and look's more like a tiny country market-house than a church. We at first thought that a large building with a massive castellated tower, about 250 yards to the west, and surrounded by trees, was the church; it seemed considerably finer and much more capacious than the edifice referred to; but we learned afterwards that it was the rectory house. It is not often one sees a parson living in a larger building than his church, but at Tarleton this is the case. The house which Mr. Ball, postmaster, &c., of Tarleton resides in, was once the parsonage house. Upon a stone fixed in the front wall there is this inscription: “This house was built A. D. 1726, for the curate of Tarleton, with Mrs. Margaret Thompson's legacy.” In the time of Henry VIII there was a chantry in the chapel of Tarleton. It was founded in 1517 by a priest named George Dandye, was dedicated to St. Helen, and its baptistry was called St. Helen's Well. When the chantries were suppressed this one at Tarleton shared in the general fate; and the building went to comparative wreck. In Cromwell's time religious services were resumed in an unconsecrated building in Tarleton. They were continued for a period; but the place eventually fell into disrepute. A petition sent to Bishop Gastrell, in 1718, says that it was erected during the Commonwealth – “the late unhappy usurpation" as it is termed –by “the prevailing faction in Tarleton;” that it was used as a “pretended place of worship;” that services according to the Church of England were only occasionally held in it; that it had fallen into decay; and that a new chapel on the site of the old one was necessary. In 1719 the present church was erected, and on the 24th of July that year it was consecrated. Fleetwood Leigh, Esq., of Bank Hall, then one of the lords of the manor, built it; and it is supposed that the site, which is on the verge of the parish, and very remote from the centre of population, was chosen on account of its proximity to Bank Hall, and partly, perhaps, for the elevated position of the ground. The following three entries are the only ones of local note that appear in the parish registers:- "1726. September 18th. Anne Meriel, daughter of Fleetwood Legh, of Bank de Bretherton, Esquire, and Meriel his wife, baptiz'd Sept. 18th, 1726. "Weddings - January 16, 1728-9, Sir John Byrne, Baronet and Madam Legh de Bank, married by virtue of a license granted by the Rev. Mr. Robert Bolton, surrogate of Manchester at Tarleton Chapel, January 16 1728-9.” “Dorothea, daughter of Sir John Byrne, Bart., and Myrial, his Lady, baptized October 2nd, 1730.” The churchyard is a large one, having recently received the important addition of three-quarters of an acre, the gift of Lord Lilford, one of the lords of the manor, which was met by the equivalent in money (£70) from Sir T. G. Fermor-Hesketh, M.P., the other lord of the manor, towards its enclosure. At the entrance there are substantial gates which were presented by the rector. The remaining cost of the enclosure was defrayed by the parishioners. There is nothing very curious or interesting to strangers in the burial-ground, and the only points striking one on getting into it are these – the excellence of some of the stones, and the crooked, irregular position of the remainder. The interior of the church is very common, and most awkwardly arranged. The ceiling is whitewashed,and crossed by heavy, barn-like beams; the side walls are painted at the base; the chancel, within a plain arch, is devoid of everything appertaining to ornament and taste. It is small, and contains two Iong windows; one has attached to it an old cotton blind, which we should suppose has not been washed for about 40 years; the other is quite bare and plain. A black board, containing a large lion and unicorn representation, occupies the end of the chancel. The seats, with the exception of a few at the eastern end, belonging to Bank Hall, and, one or two at the opposite end, are plain, high-backed forms. A most unsightly gallery, which lumbers-up half of the church, and comes out, angularly, in the centre of the building, is fixed on the southern side. The pulpit, reading-desk, and clerk's stall are in three tiers, in the centre of the north wall, and are very clumsy-lookng. Surmounting them there is a wooden canopy attached to the wall, and looking as if it had half a mind to tumble down. If it should tumble, and if the parson is preaching under it at the time, it will send him into the earth, and he may, in time, land somewhere near the south pole. There will be no stopping him, for the article has a regular pile-driving look, and means mischief. Turning from figurative to literal language, the canopy named is the biggest, piece of wood we have yet seen put over a pulpit. The building will accommodate about 300 persons; the attendance varies considerably - on some winter mornings it is under 50; whilst, occasionally, on summer afternoons, the building is crowded. On the occasion of our visit there was a pretty good attendance. There was a considerable muster of young men; they came rolling into the church in twos and threes, with heavy plunging footsteps, and instantly after getting into the pews they banged their hats and caps on one side or flung them upon nails and hooks above. We sat in a pew at the rear, and had a good view of them - their necks all shaven and shorn behind, and strong as those of stallions or the bulls of Bashan, came beautifully in sight, and when some of them began to bend and roll about, one after another, in quick succession - the owners of them growing drowsy - we were inclined to think that they were having a race to see which could get asleep first, and felt sure that the contest would be a close one, all eyes getting gradually shut, and that the victor would only win by a neck at the most. In the body of the building, below the gallery, the males sit on one side, and the females on the other; and we did not observe the least tendency to mix matters up in this direction - to cross over from one side to the other during the whole of the afternoon. The service, which was commenced by an elderly man under the parson giving out a hymn, in the old-fashioned style, was pretty fairly gone through. The singers in the gallery end sang agreeably, and the organ playing - for there is a small organ in the church - was managed with pretty good taste. The rector is the Rev. Matthew Fletcher. He is an elderly gentleman; was educated at Trinity College, Dublin; is a B.A. of St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford; came to Tarleton 17 years ago, and was for 11 years curate of the church. Prior to his appointment here he held a Government chaplaincy in Western Australia; he had also been curate for some years at Eyam in Derbyshire, and elsewhere. Mr Fletcher is tall, strong looking, calmly-solemn in features, venerable and bishoply about the top of his head, and of a pacific disposition. He is a slow, easy reader; and in the pulpit he is peculiarly quiet in style - singularly comatose in general manner. He keeps his eyes shut during the whole of the time he preaches, and stands in one position – with his face towards the door. Many parties imitated him during the sermon - they closed their eyes, got asleep easily, and we were tempted more than once to join them in their slumbers, for the sermon didn't stir us a bit. The clerk at the church is a grey-haired man, with a very solemn face. He does his clerking fairly, but punishes his “amens” seriously - says them as if they were not worth even their salt, and, as a rule, makes something which sounds like the letter "m," sharply jerked out, serve for them. Owing to the defective character of' the building it is intended to retain it simply as a mortuary chapel for the new graveyard, and to build a church in some more central situation. The rector and his wife are willing to contribute liberally towards this object, but labour under the difficulty of not having resident landowners amongst the parishioners to co-operate in their endeavours, either by means or influence, the population consisting chiefly of small farmers and agricultural labourers, from whom it would not be reasonable to expect large contributions. There is a Sunday and day school in connection with the church, situated on the highroad between the villages of Tarleton and Sollom, at which the average daily attendance is 80, and another school at the village of Merebrow, on the Southport road, with an average daily attendance of 60. It may also be worth while stating that in Tarleton there are clothing clubs for the benefit of the cottage tenantry of both lords of the manor. These clubs annually produce £90 on the average, when the bonus is added, thus affording to the good housewives at the close of each year a welcome aid towards useful clothing of their own choice and purchase, for either themselves or their little ones.

In the “main street” of Tarleton, and close to a field which, when we saw it, contained 150 cocks and hens, there stands the chapel of the Wesleyan Methodists. It was originally built in 1851; and in 1857 it was rebuilt. The edifice, which will hold about 200 people, is plain, and built of brick. It has neither spire, cupola, nor turret; the only prominence above its roof being the end of a small stove pipe. Anxious to have a “private preliminary view” of the building before evening service, we asked a little girl in the road who kept the key of the place, and she replied “It's in a house at the back of the chapel." We went to the back of the chapel - a labrynthian spot, made up of narrow passages and small cottages, - and seeing a little woman near the house to which we had been directed, we said, “Is the master in?" "Ween got nooa maaster here," said she. "Is the chapel key here?" asked we. “Yeigh," said she, then she handed it over and then commenced stirring up pig stuff "like thunder," as if her redemption depended upon the evenness of its liquidity. The chapel we found to be well proportioned; but very dirty: its pews, windows, &c., were particularly murky. On the ground floor there were about 30 pews - narrow and closed, and above, in a gallery at the entrance end, 18 similarly fashioned sitting places. A clock was fixed in front of the gallery; and having heard something of the peculiarities of Tarleton time, we began to wonder if this horoloegue were an indicator thereof. It was five hours and forty-eight minutes too fast; or else six hours and two minutes too slow, and kept at that point during our stay. Four smartish lamps, looking (through the style of their suspension) like a couple of weigh scales, hang from the ceiling. The pulpit at the far end of the church is a plainly-formed article, and is fronted at the base by a railed enclosure, containing a little table, a small harmonium, and a side cupboard. There being nothing remarkable in either the architecture or fittings of the chapel, we left it, handing over the key in due form, and paying all deference to the little woman who, having fed the pigs, had by this time begun to feed herself. In the evening we attended the service. The chapel was moderately well filled, and we were somewhat surprised to see amongst the congregation several who were at the Church in th afternoon. But going to one service at the Church and to another at the Wesleyan Chapel seems to be a common thing with some parties at Tarleton, and nobody thinks anything about it. Amongst those whom we picked out at the Chapel were about half-a-dozen of our bucolic friends with shaven necks. The general congregation was made up of tidily dressed, well behaved workpeople. The service, conducted by a “supply” – there being no regular minister here – was quietly gone through, without either shouting or screaming; the singing and the harmonium playing were better than expected; and the sermon was an excellent one, well delivered, but far above the comprehension of half of those who heard it. There are 31 “members” of this Chapel, and the average attendance is quite equal to the capacity of the building. A Sunday school is associated with the place, and the average attendance at it, with teachers, is about 180. At the conclusion of the service we hastened to our “hotel” – the Cock and Bottle establishment – and after satisfying our requirements took a last fond look at the landlord – “the noblest Roman of them all” – and then made the best of our way homewards. Stolen from

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