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Hesketh with Becconsall
Old Church

A Brief History

By Stephen Trippier, 1999

Reproduced for reference only. All Rights Reserved
Web transcript © 2002 Hubmaker

Early Origins

It is thought that the chantry (a place for the singing or chanting of services or masses) or chapel has existed on the site since the early 16th Century. The original structure which was probably made of wood, is thought to have been erected by the de Becconsall family, squires of Becconsall Hall.

Hesketh-with-Becconsall at this time lay within the parish of Croston, who's 12th Century parish church lay some 5 miles away as the crow flies. The Becconsalls being isolated geographically from Croston by the river Douglas or Astland, would, in periods of adverse weather or flooding, have to make a 5 mile journey to Rufford (the first bridge crossing of the river) and then a further 3 miles to Croston over treacherous and boggy terrain in order to attend church on a Sunday. There was, therefore, a need to have a place of worship on the western side of the river Douglas. Records show that the parish of Croston had 3 "Chantry Chapels" endowed in the 16th Century at Hoole, Tarleton and Becconsall.

The present building was erected in 1765 and was paid for by £60 raised and subscribed by local farmers and £30 raised by levy on the parish. Bricks (hand made locally) were supplied by Sir Thomas Hesketh, Lord of the Manor.

In 1821, an Act of Parliament was passed severing Hesketh with Becconsall chapel from Croston parish and elevating Hesketh to the rank of independent parish church where the right of marriage could be celebrated.

Maritime Connections

The name "Becconsall" it self is thought to be derived from "Beacons Hill". In ancient times a beacon was kept on high ground adjacent to the confluence of the rivers Ribble and Douglas to guide shipping to Hesketh Bank.

An annual payment of £2.16s.5d has been paid by the Duchy of Lancaster since 1535 for prayers to be said in Hesketh-with-Becconsall chapel for mariners on the river Ribble. This payment is still made to the church today.

A ship's charter dated 1563 shows that a Nicholas Bonnde chartered the ship "Bartholomew" of Liverpoole and discharged a cargo of 3 tons of ferri (iron) at Hesket Bancke. Later, Bonnde bought the "Bartholomew" and a later charter shows that in 1565 it discharged at Hesket Bancke 3 tons of ferri, 1 ton of sal (salt), 25 windles of avenax (oats), 2 sacks of pissax (peas) and 6 windles of fri (wheat).

Shipping through Hesketh-with-Becconsall increased still further with the opening of the Douglas Navigation in 1742. The river Douglas was made navigable for small vessels to Wigan. The civil engineering work was carried out by William Squire and Thomas Steeres. The Douglas Navigation was subsequently canalised and absorbed by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company.

Shipping flourished to such an extent that a customs officer was stationed in Hesketh Bank in the early 1800's, the old Customs House is now known as Douglas Bank Farm. The customs' returns from 1847 to 1851 show that as many as 300 vessels a year were sailing from the river Douglas.

Shipping declined in 1855 after dues were imposed upon traffic using the river and the Customs House was closed down.

Ferrying and Guiding

Hesketh-with Becconsall, was a very isolated place. Situated on a clay ridge, with rivers to the north and east and to the west a moss which, in ancient times was a treacherous and impassable morass of wasteland and marsh. It is understandable, therefore, that the ferrying over the rivers and guiding over the marshes became an important occupation.

One such guide was James Blundell who died in 1844. His grave stone epitaph in Becconsall church yard reads:

Often times I have crossed the sands
And through the Ribble deep
But I was found in Astland drown'd
Which caused me here to sleep
It was Gods will it should be so
Some way or other all must go

The crossing from Hesketh to Freckleton Naze was quite dangerous as the Ribble was 3 miles wide at this point at high water, but fordable at low water.

In 1655 William Tomlinson of Warton, who had been a guide for 40 years, petitioned for a horse stating that in his years of service he had "lost above the number of ten to his great impoverishment"

Despite the dangers, the route was well used as a journey between Lancaster and Chester could be shortened by 28 miles by crossing from Freckleton to Hesketh instead of at Preston.

Some people found that the crossing not only saved time but also saved their lives. In 1643, during the civil war, the Royalists were in retreat and escaping northwards hotly pursued by the Parliamentarians. "By the time that the Colonel was to come to Ormskirk, he had knowledge that the Lord Molinex and Tidsley with their forces were marched over the Ribble watters at Hesketh Bankes into Fyld, and were quartered in Kirkham parish." By the time the parliamentarians reached Hesketh from Ormskirk it would have been impossible to cross until the next low water.

Two ferries operated from Becconsall, one to Longton and one to Hoole.

On the occasion Hewitson visited Hesketh-with-Becconsall Church, he crossed the Douglas by ferry from the Hoole side, at a point near the church by a sharp bend in the river. The short cut saved him four miles and it must have been busy because five ferrymen were on duty. At the time Hewitson arrived they were "taking matters very pleasantly, lying full length on the ground, getting as much sunshine on their backs as they possibly could, with two of them playing leap frog".

The house opposite the church is known as Ferry House. The present owner's great-grandfather was the last ferryman, a Mr Wareing.

More Recent History

On completion of the new All Saints Church in 1926 the old church fell into disuse, to be used only for funerals and on "Old Church Sunday" when the prayers for mariners on the Ribble were said.

Two bombs dropped by the Germans during World War II did considerable damage to the grave yard breaking several stones and pock marking the front of the church with shrapnel. The bombs were said to have landed in the field and on the occupation road opposite the front of the church, one piece of shrapnel passed through the door of Ferry House and embedded itself in the mantle piece.

By 1985 the Church had fallen into such a bad state of repair that it was no longer safe for public use and was closed. The 'Old Church' Sunday service was still held, but in the field to the west of the Church.

In the 1990's the building was taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust who restored it and in May 1999 it was reopened and the annual 'Old Church' Sunday Service could again be held inside.

Bibliography

A History of The County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, Baines, 1836
A History of Tarleton & Hesketh Bank, J.A. Perkins
North Meols to South Ribble, John Cotteral
More About Hesketh and Becconsall, T.E. Whittingham

The Friends of Becconsall Old Church are a group of people who have got together to look after the Church and to promote its use on behalf of the Churches Conservation Trust. If you would like to join them, please complete one of the forms in the Church.

Web Links
Friends of Becconsall Old Church
Hesketh-With-Becconsall Church & Chapel - 1872
Churches Conservation Trust