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The Landscape about the Church


Castle Hill

 North of St. Mary’s Church stands Castle Hill. It consists of a small mound A fifteen feet high standing at  the south end of a larger oval mound.

To the northwest of this larger mound, and twenty-five feet below it, lies a gently sloping promontory  which used to b known as Hangman’s Hillock, but was given as a graveyard to mark the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.
West of Hangman’s Hillock runs a narrow gulley down which a road used to run to Marsh Farm and, very early on to a ford across the Ribble. East of Castle Hill  and at the bottom of a steep eroded bank is the course of Narrow Water which used to e a side stream of the Ribble. To the south of  Castle Hill is a fosse, a ditch about fifteen feet deep.

Some have said that Castle Hill was used by the Romans as a look-out in conjunction with others at Tulketh and Walton; there is no direct evidence to support this. Others, seeing that the Domesday Book (1086)  mentions a castle  but no church have thought that Castle Hill was an outwork of a larger citadel centred on the site of the church. Certainly, the earliest known shape of the graveyard (circular) supports this, but there is no trace of the large fosse that would be needed to defend that site from the south and west.
Excavation of a trench and shaft in the smaller mound A revealed a stone pavement lying on a thin layer of soil only a few feet higher than the level of the  larger mound. On this pavement was a mass of debris - mainly the detritus of meals - up to two feet thick. Among this debris was found a  finely worked Norman prick spur, and part  of what could have been  a paddle or a wooden spade of the sport used by the Normans to raise the earthworks. Protruding from the debris were the remains of a thatched timber building.

The thickness of the debris indicates a long period of use, but it would seem that subsequently the level was raised another five feet by the addition of two layers of and, and again to the present height by piling on sand, clay and humus.
According to Taylor (1818), Castle Hill was in his time completely surround by a fosse.

Castle Hill is most likely a Norman Motte  and Bailey  which has undergone some enlargement, and it may have been built on a site used by the Saxons and Romans. In the course of time, its shape has been rounded off, so that the fosse on the north and west side has been filled in. Also part of the east side of the earthwork has fallen away after being undermined by the side-stream of the river. The now overgrown spiral path may have been added in the 19th century to enhance the value of the hill as a viewpoint, as was suggested by those who excavated the hill in 1967.

Possibly used in connection with the Courts Leet and Baron known to have been  held on the site, the sloping plateau of Hangman's Hillock may have formed a second, outer Bailey.

Some of the items discovered during the 1856 excavation are listed below. Most are Norman or later, except that there is a slight chance that the barrel padlock key is Roman.  But the fact that no Roman pottery fragments were found militates against the idea that the site is Roman.


The Churchyard

He vast churchyard may b seen by some as the unearned legacy of a rich monastic past. In fact, Penwortham churchyard was very small until the middle of the 19th century. Land was then obtained, by purchase and gift, from inheritors of the estates of which Henry VIII had despoiled the Priory.

Until 1853 the churchyard was an oval patch of ground, extending from just north of the fork in the main path to a little south of the present bank on the north side of the church.

In 1853-4 a small amount of land was bought from the trustees of Lawrence Rawstorne.

The churchyard wall was almost completely rebuilt, the boundaries extended a further ten yards north and south; and the shape of the yard became more nearly a rectangle. Ground on the north side of the church was levelled, extending the plateau and moving the bank further north.  The cost of this was about £190, the grater part of which was spent on levelling the ground and in building a new boundary wall.  The cost of this was absorbed by the Church Rates in a few years. (In 1604, the wall was  staked out in various sections and different parts of the Parish took responsibility for one section, but by the 19th century works and repairs were simply paid for from the common rate).

A second extension, southwards to the present boundary, was given by Lawrence Rawstorne and consecrated by the Bishop of Manchester in 1870. And according to the eulogising account in the Parish Magazine (the account runs to over 2,000 words), the event was attended by 1,000 people.

The next extension, brought the northern boundary of the Churchyard to its present position.  It included Castle Hill and was conditionally (see the section dealing with the Vicarage) presented by Lawrence Rawstorne to mark the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.

Purchases of land in 1921 and 1927 secured the new Graveyard to the west of the Church, together with part of Crow Wood beyond. This was consecrated on Michaelmas Day 1932 by the Bishop of Whalley (in the presence of 70 people; the enthusiasm for new graveyards had declined a little since 1887).  The large Yorkshire sandstone cross, given anonymously and designed by Mr. G.H. Broadbent, was dedicated in 1935.

Volunteers, led by the wardens, worked to make the Garden of Remembrance in the Summer and Autumn of 1964, and it was first used for the interment of ashes on Whit Sunday of the following year.

A faculty for the removal of all but a few of the kerbstones around individual grave plots in the north and south yards was obtained in 1970, as a a first step in making manageable what was known as a sexton’s nightmare. A sundial pedestal stands beneath the tower (its gnomon has been removed to the safety of the Vestry). It was dated 1845.


The Landslips

In the 17th century it was the time-honoured practice( a practice born of superstition) to bury the dead to the south and east of the Church, and particularly to avoid the north.  Thus the area between the Chancel and the steep bank, towards Narrow Water, became riddled with burials. Inherently unstable ground (sand and clay) and underscoured by the river, it became waterlogged and fell away.  By 1607 the bank’s edge had advanced to within eight yards of the chancel, and a little later to within five yards.

From 1606 five orders were made by two successive bishops of Chester, endorsed by the Archbishop of York, and several prominent local people.  They described the damage and told parishioners to lay aside superstition and use the less popular north churchyard for burials.

Burials were prohibited between the Chancel and the bank; the prohibition also extended to an area bounded by ‘the cross and towe great thorne trees upon one root in the churchyard walle southward from that cross’.

There was a small landslip early in 1891, and in the Spring of 1932 and the bank began to move again.  Work was immediately started on dry rubble drains and buttresses.  These lines of rubble may be seen running from top to bottom of the bank. In order to reach as firm foundations, the rubble had at some points to be as deep as twenty feet below the surface.  The task was completed by the Autumn, and the money - about £2,000, raised by the following February.



A long slab now in Church  wall was originally laid in the ground. Incised and faintly visible, are the floreated cross within a circle, and on the dexter side, a sword.  Although the slab dates from the 12th -13th centuries and most certainly marked the grave of a soldier, it is not necessarily that of a crusader.

The initials ‘R (?) H’ which are more heavily incised were added in the 16th century or later, perhaps the stone was later used to mark another grave.


The Lych Gate

November 1896 saw the beiginning of the construction of a Lych Gate, given in memory of Mr. & Mrs W.A. Hulton, of Hurst Grange.  The gate was dedicate in March of 1897 by the bishop of Manchester; a commemorative plaque fixed to it is dated 1896.
Carve over the north portal is the inscription “ DOMINUS CUSTODIAT EXITUM TUUM” and over the south portal “DOMINUS CUSTODIAT INTROITUM TUUM”

The tow inscriptions mean “The Lord preserve thy going out” and “The Lord preserve  they going in” -0 they are probably based on Psalm 121.8.


Church Avenue

At the south end of Church Avenue, where it joins Kingsway and Penwortham Brow, there was until the turn of the century a Lodge.  This Lodge, which presided over the main entrance to the rebuilt Priory and bore the Achievement of the Rawstorne  family, was removed and rebuilt at Hutton, where it now stands at the corner of Moor lane and Tolsey Drive.


The older line of lime trees, to the west of the Avenue, was planted to mark the majority of the Squire, Lawrence Rawstorne, in 1864.  The line extends to what was then the south boundary of the Churchyard. More tree were planted to mark the Coronation of George VI in 1937; an avenue of 42 Cornish elms, and behind tem on the east side, a crescent of four service trees(Sorbus domestica).

The whole of Church Avenue, from the Lych Gate to War Memorial, and including the hillside below, was presented to St. Mary’s Church in 1920 by Lawrence Rawstorne and Arthur Fish. The small stone cross was then placed on an ancient pedestal, which was removed a few yards northwards from its original position to mark the junction of the two gifts of land.


Saint Mary’s and Saint Anne’s Wells   

The symbolism of the cleansing and rejuvenative properties of water has always attracted the religious mind, and it is not unnatural that two springs near Saint Mary’s Church should have saints’ names attached to them

Better known is Saint Mary’s Well, now covered by the dual carriageway that climbs Penwortham brow. Called a well, but more accurately a spring, it was believed to be able to assist with miracles.  Water poured into an oblong stone trough just below the road, a little to the west of the zig-zag footpath that still leads down the steep bank and across the fields to Lower Hall Farm.

Little is known about Saint Anne’s Well; Hewitson, writing in the 19th century, says it was a spring on the west side of church.


The Tunnel

The Rev’d W. Thornber, writing in 1857 refers to the ‘tale....most stoutly persisted in.... That from the vicinity of Castle Hill or from the Priory there existed a subterranean passage, which communicated  with the hospital on the opposite bank of the Ribble’. (From 1123 this site was used by by the monks of the Order of Savigny, but four years later they left for Furness.)

Obviously, it is difficult to tunnel below a river at sea level without the sort of pumping engines that only began to appear in the late 18th Century, so the story - in the form retold by Mr Thornber, or in any variation that would involve passage beneath the river - is unlikely.

Several explanations have been put forward to explain how the story came to be told:

• Seemingly magical communication between (Roman?) lookouts on the hill at Penwortham and Tulketh may have induced the “Tunnel” myth.

•A mediaeval sewer from the Priory to the river would necessarily have been big enough for a man to crawl through in order to clean and maintain it. No trace of it exists, and such sophistication is unlikely for an establishment as small as Penwortham’s Priory.

•It is reported that there was in the Priory garden in the 19th century and early 20th century a tool shed (or perhaps an ice store) built into a rockery; this may have given the appearance of a tunnel closed by a door.


The Old Vicarage

When the Squire, Lawrence Rawstorne, gave the land around Castle Hill to the Parish, he did so on condition that the parishioners raised a sum of money equivalent to the value of the land (see section on Churchyard).  This money, when raised, was to be given to build a Vicarage, and to augment the Vicar’s stipend.  Before this, the Vicar lived in his own house and used his stipend to pay the Curate.


Penwortham Bridges

Old Penwortham Bridge, at Middleforth, was until the 20th century the lowest bridge across the Ribble. Of yellow and red stone, it was built ca. 1760.
New Penwortham Bridge, built 1912, shortened the distance between Preston and Penwortham considerably, and consequently speeded up the development of what was until the opening of the new bridge a village.


The Old Water Tower

At the junction of Cop Lane with Liverpool Road, it was built by Lawrence Rawstorne in 1890, at about the time the Vicarage was being built. It was rendered obsolete when the water mains were laid in 1895.






Church Avenue


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