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The Parish of Leigh
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

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Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin (C of E)

(Diocese of Manchester, Archdeaconry of Bolton, Deanery of Leigh)

Old St Mary's Church (pre 1870)
Old St Mary's church, based on a photograph taken in July 1870 just before it was taken down
From "Lancashire & Cheshire Genealogical and Historical Notes", Vol 1, 1878-1879
Digital image © Archive CD Books, used with permission


National Grid 365600,400300 (SD 656003) (click for modern map)

Contact details

Vicar: not known
Address: St Mary the Virgin church, St Mary's Way, Leigh, Lancs, WN7 1YD
Tel contact: Neil Holland: +44 (0)1942 602889 (Mon, Tue, Thu, 0900-1200 only)
No email or website, but details of services are on the Diocese of Manchester website here

Note that St Mary's Way was previously called Vicarage Square
Please advise me if you find any of the above details have changed

Click here if you want to jump straight to the register details


The following notes are based mostly on: "History of Lancashire", Baines 1835, revised Harland 1868-70 and "Lancashire and Cheshire Historical and Genealogical Notes", ed. Rose 1878-1883 and originally published as a weekly column in the "Leigh Chronicle". These works are both available in facsimile on CD from Archive CD Books. The introduction to Canon Stanning's transcript of the registers published 1882 (described in the register section below) was largely drawn from the above sources but had some additional or corrected information, and I have also used Stanning and other sources in the compilation of these notes.

Notes on dates:
1. In early documents dates are sometimes given in Roman form e.g 10 Kal. Junii. As these are confusing to the modern reader (the Romans counted dates backwards), they are here translated into modern form (in this example, 23 May).
2. Before 1752 the new year did not start until 25th March. All dates in January, February and most of March before 1752 are referred to as, e.g., 1648(9) meaning that they were at the end of 1648 according to the usage of the time, but we should now regard them as at the beginning of 1649.

From the beginning to 1450

In early days Leigh was in the Diocese of Lichfield & Coventry, Archdeaconry of Chester, Deanery of Warrington. The earliest known reference to a church at Leigh is in 1264, when the Bishop of Lichfield & Coventry asked for the King's aid against people who had seized the churches at Leigh and Winwick (and also at Bury), but the parish was probably in existence well before that.

The church itself stood across the borders of Westleigh and Pennington, the west end being in Westleigh and the east end in Pennington. The parish was in early days known interchangeably as "Westleigh" or "Leigh" and the original dedication may have been to Saint Peter - certainly in a document of the early 14th century it is referred to as the Church of St Peter at Westleigh.

Nothing is known of the earliest buildings. The oldest parts (nave, chancel and north side including the Tyldesley chapel) of the church that most of our our ancestors knew were probably not built until near the end of this period in the mid 15th century.

The advowson (the right to appoint a clergyman to serve as rector) appears to have usually been held in conjunction with the Lordship of the Manor of Westleigh. This right was a valuable source of patronage - once appointed, the rector enjoyed the income from the tithes, out of which he could usually live a fairly comfortable life, although as well as seeing to the provision of church services and the spiritual care of the congregation he did have to maintain the chancel of the church (but not the nave or tower - those were the responsibility of the parishioners). In the return made to Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 the value of the benefice at Leithe (sic) was returned as £8 p.a. (hardly a fortune, but for comparison well over twice what a skilled craftsman could expect to earn in those days). As most people who became clergymen were the younger sons of landed families, who could not expect too much of an inheritance, their families would often do favours for the holder of the advowson to secure their offspring a reasonable living.

The Lordship of the Manor of Westleigh, and the advowson, were notoriously in dispute many times over the years. These disputes will be discussed more thoroughly on the "History of Leigh" page, but it is worth mentioning here that the Urmston family was often involved in the litigation.

The rectors before 1318 are not known. The following table gives the known rectors and the advowson holders who presented them:

Date of institution Rector By whom presented
8 Jul 1318 Joh'es de Urmyston Rob. Holand
20 Sep 1326 Henry de Rixton William de Urmyston
5 Jan 1327 John de Blebury The King
? Petrus de Wygan ?
23 May 1366 Ws. de Chusulden Robert de Holand
? John ? ?
9 Nov 1382 Ws. de Osgodby Sir John Lovel
5 Oct 1383 Thomas de Dalby Sir John Lovel
? Ws. de Cheseden (return of an earlier rector ?)
16 Sep 1395 Thomas Hyne Sir John Lovel
20 Mar 1440 James Hall William Bothe

1450 to the accession of Elizabeth I in 1588

In 1444 or 1445 the advowson was sold to the Augustinian Canons of Erdbury, Warwickshire, and in 1450 the Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield authorized the annexation of the tithes. Annexation at that time usually only took place when the advowson holder was a religious institution (as in this case) rather than a layman, and meant that the advowson holder kept at least the great tithes and took on the responsibility of chancel maintenance, effectively becoming an absentee rector, but appointed a vicar to serve the religious needs of the parish. The Vicar either received the small tithes or a fixed stipend - in the case of Leigh this was set at 16 marks (a little under £11) and a house, so the revenues had obviously increased over the last century and a half. .

In 1474 there was an interesting event, a rare case of the rite of "cursing by bell, book and candle". It is descibed in full in "Lancashire and Cheshire Historical and Genealogical Notes".

The priory let the tithes (but not the advowson) out on lease to the Urmston family in 1489 - this was a common practice at the time.

The tower and south side of the old church (including the Atherton chapel) were probably built early in the 16th century. The Athertons had previously had a chantry chapel at Atherton from an early date.

In 1535 a riot took place in the churchyard. The under-sheriff when looking for some people whom he had been instructed to arrest found three of them in St Mary's church. Although they agreed to come with him, as soon as they left the church they were met by a mob of about 200 people who assaulted the law officers and rescued one of the prisoners. Tantalizingly, there is no record of how the matter ended.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s all the property of the priory was sequestered by the state. The rectory and advowson of Leigh were granted to the Duke of Suffolk in 1538 (since, with a vicar in place, the rectory no longer involved any religious duties there was no reason that it could not be held by a layman). The rights changed hands a number of times.

In 1541 a new Diocese of Chester was created out of parts of the dioceses of York and of Lichfield & Coventry. The whole of the Archdeaconry of Chester, including the Deanery of Warrington and hence the parish of Leigh, was transferred to this new diocese.

These were the vicars before and during the reformation:

Date of institution Vicar By whom presented
by 1474 Thurstan Percyvall ?
2 Aug 1483 W's. Urmeston ?
22 Jul 1504 Gilbert Hetton Prior and Convent of Erdbury or Master Randolph Amptwell ?
1533-4 Richard Clerk ?
30 Aug 1557 Roger Felden Thomas Leyland and John Urmeston

1558 to the end of the 19th century

With the accession of Elizabeth I on 17 November 1558 and the Act of Parliament of April 1559, the establishment of the Church of England was completed.

Less than three months after the accession, the entries in St Mary's register start on 8 Feb 1558(9) (although Thomas Cromwell had ordered registers to be kept from 1538, many were first kept on loose sheets and few registers survive from that early date - many registers, like Leigh's, start with Elizabeth I)

In 1574 the then vicar Roger Felden was convicted of simony (the buying or selling of ecclesiastical office) and was replaced by Robert Eatoun on the Bishop's presentation.

In 1575 there was trouble at the church just after Christmas, which dragged on to Whisuntide of 1576 at least. Because the Athertons had a chantry chapel in the church, Mr Atherton claimed the right to appoint his chantry priest as curate without the consent of the vicar, Robert Eaton, who had appointed his own curate. Atherton's steward publicly argued with the vicar during the sermon on December 26th, and then on the 27th he with others intimidated and assaulted the vicar during a service. Over the following months there were repeated incidents incliding efforts to physically eject the vicar's curate in favour of Atherton's, according to the vicar's report to the bishop. Eventually the vicar seems to have prevailed.

The patronage continued to change hands, and more litigation was involved, but by the early years of the 17th century the rights seem to be back in the possession of the Urmstons.

In 1616, the nave of the Church was apparently rebuilt - or maybe underwent heavy repairs - that date was found inscribed on one of the main beams of the roof when the church was being taken down in 1870.

In 1636 the vivar, James Gatley, sent a petition to the king (Charles I) complaining about the low income of the living. The matter was referred to the Bishop of Chester to confirm the value. The bishop's findings on the facts, after summoning Richard Urmston, James Gatley and other witnesses were that the total value of the rectory was £632 per annum, of which the vicar received only £28.1s.4d. out of which he had to pay expenses of £5.10s.0d. for running the church.

The tithes were sequestered by 1645 for the delinquency of Richard Urmston (who was a recusant - see History of Bedford RC Chapel). In 1646, Bradley Hayhurst was instituted as vicar by order of Parliament (this was during the civil war). Hayhurst appears to have vacated the vicarage by 1657 and the office remained vacant until after the restoration.

Richard Urmston died in 1659, leaving three married daughters, Mary Heaton, Frances Bradshaw and Anna Mossock, and from the restoration of Charles II in 1660, when the sequestration was lifted, the patronage was in their hands and then their descendants. It was sold to James Scholes in the mid-18th century.

In 1777 an organ was built, and a gallery put up above the north aisle, which involved cutting away all the arches separating the nave and north aisle.

Later (about 1785) the patronage was sold by Scholes to the Athertons. Finally, in 1797 it was acquired (by his marriage to an Atherton heiress) by the Hon. Thomas Powys, later the second Lord Lilford.

In 1847 another new diocese, that of Manchester, was created out of part of the Archdeaconry of Chester. This diocese is geographically very small but in population terms large, and Leigh remains under its jurisdiction today.

In the 19th century the condition of the building was deteriorating rapidly (Baines, writing in 1835, describes the church as "in fair condition in front, but poor and decayed on the north side"). The work needed was more than plain repair, and so the church was largely taken down and rebuilt between 1870 and 1873, although parts of the earlier building remain in the present structure.

I conclude by giving the list of vicars from 1558 to the end of the 19th century:

Date of institution Vicar By whom presented
16 Oct 1574 Robert Eatoun William Downham, Bishop of Chester
by 1597 Gervase Lowe ?
1616 James Gregson Richard Urmistone
2 May 1620 James Gattlyffe Richard Urmistone
1646 Bradley Hayhurst By order of Parliament
31 Jul 1662 Jonathan Gillibrand Robert and Mary Heaton and Frances Bradshaw
13 Aug 1685 William Barrett Anna Mossocke, Frances Bradshaw, and others
21 Aug 1691 John Harrison Anna Mossocke, Frances Bradshaw, and others
15 Apr 1696 George Ward Richard Shuttleworth, Anna Mossocke, and others
14 Jan 1733(4) William Farrington W. Rawstone, G. Farrington, and Thomas Hesketh
25 Dec 1767 John Barlow James Scholes
25 Oct 1784 James Hartley James Scholes
26 Apr 1798 Henry Wm. Champneys Hon. Thomas Powys
11 Jan 1800 Daniel Birkett Hon. Thomas Powys
24 Nov 1821 Joseph Hodgkinson Lord Lilford
30 Oct 1826 Jonathan Topping Lord Lilford
29 Dec 1839 James Irvine Lord Lilford
24 Nov 1874 Joseph Heaton Stanning Lord Lilford

Additional note: St Mary's had chapelries from 1724-1842 at Astley (St Stephen), from 1724-1855 at Atherton (St John the Baptist), and from 1825-1828 at Tyldesley (St George). All these became independent churches at the second dates given and their history is outside the scope of these notes.

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Abbreviations: Bp - baptism (christening), M - marriage, Bu - burial. Others are defined where they first occur.

Note that the St Mary's registers covering the appropriate years include the chapelries Astley St Stephen BpBu 1724-1842 M 1728-1753, Atherton St John the Baptist BpBu 1738-1855 M 1728-1753, Tyldesley St George Bp 1825-1828 Bu 1826-1828

Original Registers

The original registers start in February 1558(9) (see note at start of History section) and have been deposited at Manchester Archives and Local Studies (at Manchester Central Library - MCL) [ref L211]. The following have not yet been filmed by them and may be consulted by appointment only at MCL:
BpMBu 1560-1701, Bp 1839-1913, M 1837-1901 and Bu 1843-1855 (burials after that date were in the municipal cemetery and are not included in the register).
I do not know the current whereabouts of later registers, but they may be still at the church.

The registers from 1701 to 1837/42 were microfilmed by MCL in 1958. These may be consulted at MCL or copies of the films can be hired from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Family History Library (FHL) for consultation at any of their Family History Centres (FHC). The list below gives two references for each film: the MCL reference [MFPR..] and the FHL British film number.
Bp 1701-1825 [MFPR 1027, FHL 559186] 1825-1839 [MFPR 1028, FHL 559187]
M 1701-1837 [MFPR 1029, FHL 559188]
Bu 1701-1837 [MFPR 1030, FHL 559189] 1837-1842 [MFPR 1032, not at FHL]

Later films were made by Wigan Archives in 1993 and can be consulted at Wigan History Shop (WHS) [ref not known], at Leigh Public Library (LPL) [ref not known] or at the Society of Genealogists in London (SoG) [films 1108-1118], and also may be hired from the FHL [British films 1885645-1885656]. There is some confusion about the date ranges for these films which I still have to resolve. The ranges I have from the respective catalogues are as follows:
WHS & LPL: Bp 1559-1954 M 1560-1970 Bu 1560-1855
SoG: Bp 1560-1954 M 1560-1845 1945-1970 Bu 1560-1856
FHL: Bp 1560-1900 M 1560-1900 Bu 1560-1856
Of course it is possible that WHS, LPL and SoG have later copies of the films than FHL, but there are still some major inconsistencies.

Bishop's Transcripts

The Bishop's Transcripts are at the Lancashire Record Office (LRO) at Preston. The LDS has filmed the transcripts. They may be consulted on microfilm at LRO or they may be hired from the FHL. FHL British film numbers are given below, LRO ones are in the range [MF 5/61-5/67] but I do not know the split - probably they correspond on a one-to-one basis with the LDS films.
BpMBu 1606-1796 [FHL 1545556] The LRO has a gap between 1641 and 1660 so probably the FHL has too)
BpMBu 1712-1790 [FHL 1545557]
BpMBu 1791-1816 [FHL 1545558]
BpMBu 1817-1823 [FHL 1545559]
BpMBu 1824-1830 [FHL 1545560]
BpMBu 1831-1837 [FHL 1545561]
BpBu 1839-1846 [FHL 1545573]

Other Transcripts and Indexes

A printed transcript of the registers from 1558(9) to 1625 was published by Canon J H Stanning (then vicar of St Mary's) in 1882. This is long out of print but has been re-issued on microfiche by the Lancashire Parish Record Society (LPRS) as M21. The LPRS themselves published printed transcripts of the registers (collated with the BTs) from 1625 to 1700 (by A Sparke) as volume 87 (1948) and from 1701-1753 (by K Taylor) as volume 155 (2003), the latter including Atherton and Tyldesley from 1724. Both of these are now out of print (the latter sold out soon after publication), but volume 87 has been re-issued by the LPRS on microfiche as MR87 and volume 155 as MR155. These printed transcripts may also be consulted at LRO, MCL, WHS, SoG and many other libraries, and the Stanning and Sparke ones are available for hire on film or fiche from the FHL as British film 924149 / fiche 6342703 and film 844819 / fiche 6142678 respectively.

The LDS have also extracted the baptism and marriage records onto the IGI. The dates covered and batch numbers are as follows:
Bp 1558-1700 [P005391]
M 1560-1700 [E005391, M005391]
The above batches were taken from the Stanning and Sparke transcripts, and are thus "transcripts of transcripts" with the additional scope for human error that involves. E005391 is a correction or addition to M005391 and appears to contain only one entry.
Bp 1701-1781 [C005392], 1782-1812 [C005393], 1813-1825 [C005394] 1825-1839 [C005395]
M 1701-1741 [M005392] 1742-1837 [M005393]
These later batches were taken from the MCL filming.

Marriages from 1560-1624 were indexed by Boyd; the index is held by the SoG but is in a fragile state and may only be consulted on the British Origins website (chargeable except for members in certain circumstances). It may also be consulted at WHS (I am not aware in what form). Another marriage index from 1754-1799 is available for consultation at MCL.

Memorial Inscription Transcripts

The SoG holds some memorial inscription transcripts [ref M2 and M4]

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