PLACES IN THE IMMEDIATE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
The convenience which will be afforded by "the rail" for visiting the towns and villages within a few miles of Southport, renders it necessary to devote a few pages as a guide to such places as may or may not be considered interesting. The most distant of the places named will be within a short and cheap railway fare, and several are only an easy walk or donkey ride.
The nearest village of consequence is Churchtown, the "capital" of North Meols, in which place stands the parish church, distant about a mile-and-a-half from Manchester-road. Here it was that "the Duke" resided when there was no Southport; and it was here that he died, in indifferent circumstances, in the year 1841, when a beautiful town, of which he had been the pioneer, was occupying a site that had formerly been a waste of idle sands. Here it was that the Board of Highways professed to meet to plan and arrange improvements for the town of Southport before the passing of the Improvement Act. Here it was that "the Hesketh’s,” so long lords of the manor, occasionally resided. Here it was that the earlier visitors to this neighbourhood were domiciled when there was no "Folly."
The village consists principally of one long, irregular street. The houses are chiefly of an inferior description, and the places of business are more useful than ornamental there are, however, two tolerable houses of accommodation, called, respectively, the Bold Arms and the Hesketh Arms.
The population is principally composed of persona engaged in agricultural pursuits and weavers of silks and satins.
The church, which is dedicated to St. Cuthbert, was erected long anterior to the Reformation, and was subject to the Priory of Penwortham. At the dissolution of monasteries it was conveyed to the Fleetwoods (originally a Staffordshire family), and the patronage is still vested in Sir Hesketh Fleetwood, Bart., the representative of “The Hesketh’s” the living being held by his brother, the Rev. C. Hesketh, who has for some time been one of the lords of the manor by purchase. A very extensive prospect of the surrounding country is obtained from the tower part of the steeple. The bell was presented by John and Henry Hesketh, Esqs., in the year 1750; the fact being recorded by an inscription thereon. Within the church are several marble tablets and monuments to the memory of various members of the Hesketh and Fleetwood families; one of these latter was executed by the celebrated sculptor, Nollekens. What is called "the parish business" is transacted in the vestry of this church, or in the school-room connected with it.
The tombstones in the churchyard incontestably prove the alleged longevity of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.
The Rev. John Mawdesley, who was the curate of the parish between thirty five and forty years, during which period he walked a greater number of miles than are contained in the circumference of the globe in the discharge of his parochial duties, died on the 2nd of November, 1814, aged sixty years.
About the year 1684, a Grammar School was founded, from which time to that of 1800 near upon £300 was given for its support. A tablet in the church gives the names of the donors and the respective amounts contributed. The school has been converted into a National School between twenty and thirty years; and the master's salary is paid from the interest of the above and other benefactions, an annual subscription, and from a payment of sixpence per quarter for each child that attends the school. Mr. Edward Thornton is the present master.
Besides the church, there are places of worship for the Independents, and the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. The Rev. W. Alexander, the late Independent minister, has resided in the village about twenty-five years.
Meols Hall, the old family mansion of the Hesketh’s which was for many years inhabited by Mr. John Linaker, sen., and afterwards by his son Mr. William Linaker is now occupied by Mr. Thomas Baker.
On the, Monday and Tuesday nearest the 20th of August there is a fair held in the village.
The village of Halsall, distant about six-and-a-half miles from Southport, is well worth visiting on account of its ancient church, which is dedicated, like that at Churchtown, to St. Cuthbert. It is supposed to have been erected in the thirteenth century, although the oldest parish register is dated in 16G2. The interior of the church has been much admired for its architectural beauties, and there are numerous tablets and monuments to the memory of various individuals. On a monumental tomb are two recumbent marble figures, which are said to be the effigies of Sir Henry Halsall and his lady. The total height of the tower and spire is 135 feet. There is an excellent peal of six bells in the tower. The living is a rectory, and is of considerable value.
About four miles from Halsall, nearer Liverpool, is Lydiate Abbey, an exceedingly beautiful and interesting ruin in the Gothic style. It is supposed to have been commenced about the time of the Reformation, at which eventful period operations would be suspended, for competent judges declare that it never had a roof. The walls are covered with ivy, and are in excellent preservation. There are a many Catholic families in the neighbourhood: the Lady Anderton, a member of one of them, was buried within the walls of the abbey, and a marble slab covered her remains.
This town, to which, in many respects, Southport is unfortunately, or, to use a milder term, inconveniently subject, is situated about nine miles distant. Southport being in the Ormskirk union, its inhabitants are compelled in many public matters to visit the latter place, which is attended with considerable expense and loss of time. Appeals against imposition in taxes, and applications for licenses, must be made at Ormskirk; and it was presumptuously stated in evidence before a committee of the House of Commons, by witnesses from that town, that a branch line of railway to connect Southport with Ormskirk would be of the most decided advantage to the former town, indeed, was all that it required; when the fact was that most of the inhabitants of Southport were particularly anxious for a repeal of the union. Even the professed advantages of the New County Courts cannot be obtained by the inhabitants of Southport nearer than Ormskirk j so that creditors frequently risk the recovery of their long-standing accounts, rather than incur the certain loss of time, probable loss of claim, and uncertain expense: on the other hand, debtors unnecessarily suffer much from the law's distance and delay.
Four streets, crossing each other at right angles, with a large open space in the centre for a market, form the principal portion of the town. The living is a discharged vicarage, and is in the gift of the Earl of Derby, which noble family has possessed the patronage since the dissolution of monasteries in 1540, previous to which it belonged to the Priory at Burscough. The Rev. E. J. G. Hornby is the present vicar.
The market day is Thursday; and there are two annual fairs, which are held on Whit Monday and Tuesday, and the 8th of September.
The parish includes the townships of Ormskirk, Burscough, Lathom, Scarisbrick, Bickerstaffe, and Skelmersdale. The church, which is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, is very ancient, but the precise date cannot be correctly ascertained. A brass plate on the north wall, dated 1661, sets forth that the ancestors of one Henry Mosoke had at that time been interred there for 385 years. The church has a most singular appearance, from the fact of its having two steeples,—a spire and a tower,—which were erected, it is said, because the fair founders (two sisters of the name of Orm,—hence, it is supposed, Ormskirk or Ormschurch) could not agree whether it should have one or the other. Another and more plausible reason assigned for its nonde- script aspect is, that the tower was built, long after the completion of the church, for the reception of the eight bells from Burscough Priory. In a chapel within the church is the cemetery of the Derby family; and here the remains of that illustrious race have been deposited since the dissolation of Burscough Priory, at which period the bodies of the deceased Stanleys, not actually reduced to ashes, were brought to this place. The chapel and cemetery were erected under the will of Edward, the third Earl of Derby, dated in 1572, in which it was ordered that he should be interred in the church at Ormskirk, and a monument erected to his memory "in accordance with his honour and vocation." The Scarisbricks have also a chancel and burial place.
Within the walls of the church there are a considerable number of tablets and monuments to the memory of the distinguished families whose remains are there interred; and amongst others, a beautiful marble monument erected to commemorate the decease of the eminent physician. Dr. Brandreth, who first styled Southport "the Montpellier of England." He died in Liverpool, in April, 1815, where he was regarded with the greatest respect, having established the Dispensary, and for thirty years paid the most unremitting attention to the Infirmary in that town.
From the steeple of the church a fine view of the adjacent country, with the Irish sea and the towns of Liverpool and Preston, may be obtained. The Roman Catholics, who are a numerous body here, have a chapel at Aughton, in the immediate vicinity of the town. The Independents, Methodists, and other religious seels, have, respectively, their places of worship.
Schools are attached to the church and the various places of worship. Branches of the several religious societies exist in the town; there are also numerous local charities and institutions; and a savings’ bank has been established for many years.
In the parliamentary session of 1846 a line of railway from Liverpool, through Ormskirk to Preston received the royal assent, which will, it is apprehended, be of much service to the town. Within a few miles of the town there are numerous scats of the nobility and gentry.
Lathom House, the seat of Lord Skelmersdale, is distant about two miles. It is described by all who have seen it to be a most splendid edifice. The designs were furnished by Leoni, the celebrated architect, and the building was completed about the year 1734. The north front extends one hundred and fifty-six feet, and the south front is seventy-five feet in depth. There are a few valuable pictures within the house, principally portraits, The house stands almost in the centre of a park three or four miles round. In the park is a chapel, which, previous to the Reformation, was under the Priory of Benedictines at Upholland, but has since been used as a domestic chapel.
Burscough Priory, about two miles from Ormskirk, was founded in the reign of Richard I. by Robert Fitzhenry, Lord of Lathom, for the Black Canons, and was dedicated to St. Nicholas. After flourishing for 350 years it shared the fate of the other similar institutions. All that now remains of the pile is a portion of the centre arch of the church; and a number of modern gravestones are seen instead of the magnificent tombs of the Stanleys which formerly graced the place.
Knowsley, the magnificent seat of the Earl of Derby Blythe Hall; Rufford Hall, the seat of Sir Thomas G. Hesketh, Bart.; and Scarisbrick Hall, the seat of Charles Scarisbrick, Esq., Lord of the manors of Southport, Scarisbrick, Halsall, and Downholland, are all within a few miles of Ormskirk.
The village of Formby is about eight miles from Southport, and about the same distance from Ormskirk; and is in the route of the Liverpool, Crosby, and Southport railway. The township had anciently a chartered market, which has for many years fallen into disuse. There is an old Catholic burying ground in the sand-hills near the shore. The principal buildings are the church, the Catholic chapel, and the Hall, which is the residence of Miss Formby.
Ince Hall is about ten miles from Southport, and is the residence of Thomas Weld Blundell, Esq., who succeeded the late Charles Blundell, Esq. The hall is richly stored with works of art, and a collection of ancient statuary of great value. Attached to the house is a building called the Pantheon, exactly resembling the edifice of that name in Rome, but one third less in size. This building was erected during the life time of Henry Blundell, Esq., for the purpose of containing 100 statues, 150 busts, 110 basrelievos, 19 sarcophagi and cinerary urns, 40 ancient fragments, marble pillars, tables, and other antiquities, with about 200 pictures, which that gentleman had accumulated by Ills taste and liberality.
Beyond Ince Blundell, we have the watering places of Crosby (Great and Little), and Waterloo.