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The Story of Thurnham Church


by Father Bernard Shuttleworth, former Parish Priest at Thurnham.



The Parish was founded in 1785 with Fr James Foster as Parish Priest. Previously the district was served by travelling priests who usually stayed with the Dalton Family at Thurnham Hall. The first named of these priests was a Rev. North who lived at the end of the sixteenth century. However, the most famous was a Rev. James Swarbrick who was well known as "The Riding Priest". He was arrested in 1715 and taken to Lancaster Castle where he was condemned as a priest. A few days before he was due to be executed the old man died in prison in 1716, possibly as the result of torture. We still have the little chalice he carried on his travels.

The Dalton Family lived mostly away from Thurnham. In their absences the district was visited occasionally by priests from various places. While the threat to the lives of priests was still real, their comings and goings were in some secrecy. Meanwhile the Hall was rented to a Valentine Family who used the place as a farm, and the Daltons lived in the south.

In 1780 a Miss Jane Daniel of Euxton died. She had become interested in Thurnham through her cousin, Fr James Foster who served this area for some time. Miss Daniel left a bequest for 1,000 to maintain a priest in the Thurnham district. She requested that Mr. Dalton make an annual payment for the priest or "grant a house and a bit of land". So, it was in 1785 that Mr Dalton granted the customary seven acres (the "glebe") for the priest's maintenance, and a plot of land for a house. Later Mr Dalton often joked with Fr Foster that the land "was not enough to feed a cow, but enough to starve one". It had been Miss Daniel's wish that Fr Foster be appointed as the first Parish Priest, and this was done, (see the commemorative plaque in the church).He was born in 1747 at Ashton Hall, which his father farmed. For the first three years he resided in Lancaster while the Hall was still used as a farmhouse. Mass was still offered in a front room at the Hall. Then one Sunday just as the congregation was leaving, the ceiling in the room fell down. In consequence the whole place was examined and found to be in poor condition. Mr Dalton, now living in Bath, wrote to Fr Foster and requested that he have the whole place demolished, but Fr Foster refused to do this. It seems that Mr Dalton then reluctantly renovated the Hall. It is not clear, but it may have been the intention of Mr Dalton to rebuild after the old Hall had been pulled down.

Fr Foster had opened a Building Fund with the intention of building a house and a chapel. Even after adding money of his own he had only 797-4s-0d (797.20), but he began the work and managed to build the house, which meant he, or his successors, could live within the parish. However, only the shell of the chapel was completed before the money ran out and there was a debt of some 555-10s-3d (555.51). The building of the chapel was halted temporarily to prevent further debt. The house was opened in 1802, with a Ball as a house-warming, to which the local gentry were invited.

For the next sixteen years Fr Foster worked to gather the money to finish his chapel. Mr John Dalton now resided at the renovated Hall. He, together with Mr Robert Gillow (who had recently built the house, Clifton Hill, at Forton) and Mr Richard Worswick, of Ellel Grange, agreed to pay 50 each towards the new chapel, on condition they were excused rents for their family pews! This 150 was soon spent and Fr Foster appealed again to the three men. Mr Dalton refused a further contribution, but the other two defrayed the remaining costs. Then in 1818 the little chapel was finally blessed and opened. Fr Foster acquired vestments costing 4-9s-4d (4.47), and a chalice for 5.00. The total cost of the chapel and furnishings was around 1,600.

The Duke of Hamilton resided at Ashton Hall and Fr Foster was often a guest there, using the same room where he had been born. He was Parish Priest at Thurnham for 38 years and died on 17th. February 1824 aged 77. He was buried outside his little chapel, but his grave is now beneath the present church, somewhere under the pillar opposite the plaque. His funeral was attended by Rev. George Brown (later the first Bishop of Liverpool) and Rev. Doctor Lingard, the historian and Parish Priest at Hornby. [ Lingard's History of England was the first substantial history written in a critical manner with reference to original documents.lt is still considered an important work. He wrote other acclaimed books which are consulted. Perhaps the composition best known to us is the hymn, "Hail, Queen of Heaven", but our version is inaccurate in so far as where we have, in the last line, "Wanderer", he wrote, "Pilgrim" which has much greater meaning. He took a very active part in the establishment of Ushaw, -although it seems he could be a 'thorn' in the side of authorities!- with an obstinacy for what he thought to be right. He died in 1851 and is buried at Ushaw].

Fr Foster's successor was Fr Thomas Crowe, who was born near Liverpool but brought up in Preston and educated at Ushaw. He was appointed to Croston but had sometimes assisted Fr Foster. In 1824 he was appointed to Thurnham. At this time the drive past the Church was altered giving a small addition to the parish land.

In 1837 Mr Dalton died at the age of 90. He and Fr Crowe were good friends. In his will Mr Dalton bequeathed 200 towards the building- of a new church, which Fr Crowe planned. There was also 200 to the priest's maintenance and 200 for the partial endowment of a school.

Miss Elizabeth Dalton succeeded to the Hall and Estate. In 1840 the Building Fund totalled a mere 700. Fr Crowe borrowed money and invested 1,000 in Railway Stock which, by 1847 made a profit of 274 when sold. Then Miss Dalton offered to defray the cost of building, and the offer was accepted gladly, and the Fund's 989 handed over to her. On March 1st. 1847 Mass was said for the last time in Fr Foster's chapel which was demolished. At this time Fr Crowe left Thurnham and was succeeded by a Fr Shepherd who organised the consecration and opening of the new church. When the foundation-stone was laid on 18th. March the church was named St Thomas the Apostle, - it seems that a disagreement over the name caused the defection of Fr Crowe! The new church was consecrated on 29th. August 1848 and opened the following day.

The Tablet printed a full report of the consecration and the opening. On the day of consecration only one person was allowed inside the building. Bishop Browne (Vicar Apostolic of the Lancashire District) went round the outside of the building to bless the walls. He then knocked once, twice and three times before he was admitted, as was the custom of the ritual. Then the bells were rung and Mass was said for the first time in the new church. The opening took place the following day when the congregation gathered at the Hall. The procession came along the drive and included, a cross bearer flanked by two acolytes, banner of our Lady carried by a girl in white accompanied by two other girls and 20 girls dressed in white. Then came female singers, banner of the Cross carried by a boy with two attendants, more boys in capes, men singers, altar boys then the clergy. There were three Bishops, Browne, Briggs and Sharpies. In the morning Mass was said and in the evening there was Benediction. Among the laity were Miss Dalton, Lady Fitzgerald, the Gillows, Brockholes and others of the local gentry. After Mass they all retired to the Hall to "enjoy the hospitality of Miss Dalton ".

Apparently the money was beginning to run out before the building was finished, which meant the latter parts were not a carefully done as the beginnings. The spire was pulled down at least once because it was twisted, and rebuilt. The stone for the building came from Dalton's quarry near Lancaster.

The architect was Charles Hanson who had designed many churches in the north of England (including St Walburga's in Preston), The builder was George Taylor of Coventry.One wonders why a local builder was not employed, and why does the builder deserve a mention on the brass plate in the church when benefactors such as Gillows and Worswicks are not mentioned!
Although she did not ask for the privilege, Miss Dalton was given the little door in the west wall (near the statue of St Therese of Lisieux) as her private entrance.

The completed church cost, with furnishings, 5,000. Miss Dalton gave a large ciborium, which Cardinal Wisemn acquired for her in London (cost 50). Miss Gillow gave a monstrance (designed by A.W.Pugin, an cost 70). Mr T.F.Brockholes gave a richly enamelled chalice. The statues of St Thomas and St Elizabeth at the sides of the High Altar commemorate Fr Crowe and Miss Dalton. Miss Dalton appears again in the Lady Chapel window as does Mr John Dalton who was the great benefactor of the parish. (It is interesting that in the Lady Chapel window, Miss Dalton is holding a church in her hands, but it is not this church. There is a family resemblance between Miss Elizabeth Dalton and Mis Alzeira Dalton who died 30th. May 1983) Relatives and friends of the Dalton Family appear in all the stained glass windows. But there is never any mention of Miss Jane Daniel or Fr James Foster, to both of whom we owe the idea of founding the parish in the first place!

The BELLS. These were founded by John Taylor of Loughborough. I'm told they were the first set he founded after setting up business on his own, and he was quite proud of them!
There are five bells each with n inscription in Latin.
i)O Pure, Holy Virgin Mary, protect those whom I call,
ii)Hail Mary, full of grace.
iii)May this sound be pleasing to thee O Christ, King of the Heavens,
iv)St Elizabeth, pray for us.
v) St Thomas, pray for us.

The "Angelus" was rung automatically three times each day. The mechanism is by Meeyer of Bristol (this mechanism is still in the belfry but rusted and with parts missing!).The bells are now discontinued because of a serious fault. Part of the main supporting beam has rotted (it rests on a stone ledge), and the whole structure has, in consequence, shifted.
The PAINTING above the arch over the Rood-screen is by H. Doyle of London. It is of the Last Judgement, and is the first of it kind in a Catholic Church since the Reformation!
The ROODSCREEN. Perhaps people don't realise that we are fortunate to have a real Roodscreen. A true Roodscreen is one with a representation of the Crucifixion surmounting it. To be absolutely accurate, the word "Rood" means 'Cross'- (e.g. Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh means Holy Cross Palace). In some churches there is a screen without the Cross, and such is not strictly a Roodscreen. The screen (or Roodscreen) divides the altar area from the main body of the church. Think of the Temple in Jerusalem, remember the inner place was called the Holy of Holies because it was there that the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was God's special place. A curtain separated this from the public area. The screen serves the same purpose.
The STAINED GLASS was by Walles of Newcastle-on-Tyne, from designs by the architect.
The ALTAR and CARVINGS are by Myers of London. BRASS and GOLDSMITH WORK by Hardman of Birmingham.
The plaque commemorating Fr Foster reads in Latin : "The remains of James Foster, Priest, who after 40 years as Pastor here, piously died in the year of Christ 1824 on 17th. February."
The Egyptian style building outside the main door is a Mausoleum for the GILLOW Family, it was built in the 1830s while the family were in residence at Forton. When they moved to Leighton Hall, Warton, near Carnforth, they built another crypt at Yealand Church.
The YEW TREE in the grounds has an inscription, "This tree was planted in celebration of Peace after the Great War, July 19th, 1919."
The STONE CROSS outside the church came from Cockersands Abbey which was founded in the reign of Richard 1st (1157-1199, King from 1189, The Lion Heart). The Abbey was Premonstratensian, a strict order of Augustinian monks. Only the Chapter House of the Abbey survives.
Miss ALZEIRA ELOISE DALTON sold the Hall in the late '60s and went to live in the two cottages just inside the gates, which she made into one for herself. The Crabtree Family bought the Hall and did a wonderful job in renovating it. It was opened to the public as a Historic House till the lat 80s when it was sold again and became a Time-Share establishment. Miss ALZEIRA was proud of the fact that the Dalton family were related by marriage to St Thomas More's Family. She and other Daltons were at the Canonisation in 1936, although they were not Catholic.
After Elizabeth died in 1861 (aged 81), the estate (but not the Hall) went to the Fitzgerald family, who called themselves Dalton-Fitzgerald. That family died out by the end of the Century, then the Elizabeth's nephew, who should have inherited after her, returned from South America with his family and claimed the estate.The Hall had not been occupied since Elizabeth died.
When Fr Crowe was encouraged to leave Thurnham it was because of a disagreement between himself, Elizabeth Dalton and her chaplain, Fr Shepherd, a Benedictine. He gives the impression of being a 'know-all'! Even before ordination he seems to have been something of a rebel. He was involved with the founding of Prior Park, but then had to leave that college after ordination, and went into retirement. He emerged to become Miss Dalton's chaplain, and after the row with Fr Crowe he became Parish Priest in 1848, but only till 1852 when he returned to Ampleforth. Again in 1855 he came out of 'retirement' and once again was chaplain to Miss Dalton. After her death he was bequeathed a rather large sum of money, a fact which did not go down well with the local folks! He left Thurnham and flitted from place to place before his death in 1896 aged 83.

The Consecration and Opening of St Thomas & St. Elizabeth, was reported in 'The Tablet' (9th. September. 1848). The report opens with a detailed description of the building inside and outside. The description of the windows mentions some of the saints illustrated, in particular the patron saints of Miss Dalton's parents, St. John and St. Etheldreda, with the parents' arms beneath. The report claims that in the centre window is a portrait of Elizabeth holding 'this church' as an offering to our Lady, but a quick glance nullifies this statement as the church depicted is not this one! The panels over the chancel (altar area) have the arms of the then Pope and his predecessor as well as those of Miss Dalton, and various Bishops of the time.
Of the churchyard the report states, "is laid out with much picturesque beauty and effect, being covered with soft grassy turf, and planted with poplars, box and yew trees, those venerable appurtenances of "the field of the dead," shady lanes and serpentine walks lead from the sacred edifice to the Hall. The situation, from its silence and retirement amidst the deep woods which surround Thurnham Hall, is admirably adapted for contemplation and prayer." The consecration was on the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by the Rt Rev. Vicar-Apostolic of the Lancashire District. According to the rite the Deacon was alone in the church while the procession blessed the outside walls. When the Bishop knocked to gain entrance he was refused several times before the Deacon opened the doors. Each part of the inside was anointed. It was, seemingly, a fine day and the sunshine streamed through the windows. Holy Mass was then offered. Meanwhile the bells were rung for the first time. In addition to the Angelus, the automated chimes rang the -tune of a hymn, "Hark the Vesper Hymn is stealing".
The solemn opening of the church was the following day, Wednesday 30th. August. The day was pleasant as the procession left from Thurnham Hall and along the drive with the new church bells already ringing. Bishops, priests and laity joined in the hymns. The procession was led by the Thurifer then Cross-bearer; banner of the Blessed Virgin with twenty young girls in caps and white veils; female singers; banner of the Cross, boys in cloaks and guild-crosses; Tenor and Bass singers; boys in surplices; Clergy in cap and surplice; Clergy in copes; Bishop Sharples and Chaplain; Bishop Briggs and Chaplain; Subdeacon of the Mass; Deacon; Assistant Priest, Dreacons at the throne (for Bishop Brown, the celebrant who followed last); then came the clergy (including two priests named Gillow), twenty in all; finally came the laity with Miss Dalton heading their procession which included Gillows, Brockholes and Fitzgeralds. Bishop Brown celebrated the Mass and the Sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. English who took as his text, "Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy Priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2/5). The music was mostly from Mozart and Haydn with "O Salutaris" and "O Jesu" at the Offertory and Elevation.
Later in the day Benediction was celebrated, at which Rev. George Gillow preached on the Real Presence using a text 1 Paralipomenon 15/28.

A Brief Survey of the Dalton Family.
The Dalton Family were lords of the manor of Thurnham for many centuries. They acquired Cockersands Abbey in 1556 partly by purchase and partly by the marriage of Robert Dalton, Lord of Dalton and Bispham, to Anne, eldest daughter of John Kytchen of Pilling Hall, to whom the Abbey was granted after the dissolution of the monasteries.
1572 Robert having no children, the estate was settled on his younger brother Thomas. From the onwards the family remained prominent among the hierarchy of the gentry by marriages with well-to-do families. Several sons were educated at Douai (or Douay) College in France. This was the college where many Catholic sons were educated during Penal Times. Some became priests and returned to this country where they suffered martyrdom.

The Dalton Family also became involved with political issues.
1643 A Thomas died of wounds he received at the Second Battle of Newbury, after raising a regiment of horse for the King, at his own expense. Robert, son of this Thomas, was the last of the male heirs of the original Dalton Family.
1704 Robert died leaving two daughters Elizabeth and Dorothy, a son having died previously
1715 A son of Dorothy, named Thomas Riddell, -was accused of high treason for his support of Chevalier de St. George (Bonny Prince Charlie). Elizabeth married William Hoghton and had four sons.
1710 The eldest of Elizabeth's sons, John, adopted the family name of Dalton He and his youngest brother, Robert, were both with Bonny Prince Charlie in 1715. John's estate was forfeited, but was restored before his death in 1736. He had married Frances Mostyn, daughter of Sir Piers Mostyn. They had five children, - John, William, Francis, Robert, and Elizabeth. It was through Robert that the estate descended. He was married three times. Cecilia Butler; Elizabeth Dempsey; and Bridget More ( a descendant of Sir Thomas More). There were children from each marriage. His eldest son, John, by Cecilia, inherited the estate. A daughter by Bridget married Sir James Fitzgerald.
1774 John married Mary Gage They had five children,- John; Mary; Lucy; Elizabeth; Bridget. Elizabeth, in time, inherited Thurnham Hall. It was she who built the present church
1861. Elizabeth died unmarried.
She disinherited her nephew, William Hoghton-Dalton (son of Robert by his third wife) who was next in line, probably because of an inferior marriage. The estate went to the descendants of her half-aunt, Lady Fitzgerald. Gradually this branch of the family ended with the death of Sir Gerald Fitzgerald in 1894.
William Hoghton-Dalton had two sons, William Henry Dalton and Charles John Dalton. and three daughters, Elizabeth, Margaret and Bridget.
William Henry, who had lived abroad, returned when the estate became vacant at the demise of the Fitzgerald Family. He regained the estate.
The last of his children, Alzeira Eioise, died in 1982. She had sold the Hall to the Crabtree Family, who later sold it. So it became as it is today.

Additional material on the family link between St Thomas More and the Dalton Family
supplied by Martin Wood, author of The Family and Descendants of St. Thomas More, Gracewing, April 2008

  1. Sir/Saint Thomas More (1478-1535) m Jane Colt (1478-1511).
  2. John More (1509-1547) m Anne Cresacre (1511/12-1577).
  3. Thomas More II (1531-1606) m Mary Scrope (1534-1607).
  4. Cresacre More (1572-1649) m Elizabeth Gage (1585-1610).
  5. Thomas More (1607-1660) m Mary Brooke (1608-1683).
  6. Basil More (1639/40) m Anne Humble (1641-1694).
  7. Christopher Cresacre More (1666-1729) m Katherine Wharton (d.1744)
  8. Thomas More (1691-1739) m Catherine Giffard (1694-1767).
  9. Bridget More (b. betw 1720 & 1728; d.1797)
    1. m (1) Peter Metcalfe (d.1757). Had three children
    2. m (2) Robert Dalton of Thurnham (d.1785). They married in 1759
    Bridget and Robert had three children:
    1. William Dalton Houghton (b.1763) m Louisa Smith
    2. Bridget Ann m Sir James Trant Fitzgerald
    3. Constantia (died unmarried)