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The Southworths in Croft
Southworth Hall

With kind permission of Rosemary Keery
From her book Historic Culcheth - The Story of a Village.

Southworth Hall
Southworth Hall

The earliest person from the Croft area of whom there is a record was Ulf de Southworth, who appeared in the Baron’s Court in Warrington because of an undisclosed misdemeanour:-

In 1187 Ulf de Southworth was fined half a mark.

Roger de Croft, who was born between 1189 and 1194, appears to have been related to Ulf, because land was later bequeathed from the Crofts to the Southworths. There is now no trace of the de Croft Manor, but there is a record that Croft had two sons, Gilbert and Hugh, and Hugh had a son called Gilbert who in due course received Southworth Manor from an uncle. What happened in the next half century is unclear. The de Crofts and the de Southworths may have intermarried or the de Crofts may have been deposed.

Gilbert de Croft’s son, another Gilbert, was knighted and took the name of de Southworth. His service as a Knight was carried out, unusually, by his management of the sport falconry, a favourite pastime of kings. The service to be performed was changed to a gift of a pound of pepper annually, perhaps because a succeeding knight was inexpert with hawk, horse and spear, and later still it was commuted to a fee of fifteen pence.

There was an unusual payment for a transfer of land to the de Southworths in Myddleton – between Houghton and Winwick – in 1212, even at a time when payments in kind rather than coinage were common:-

The manor of Middleton was included in the fee of Makerfield and was held in theynage by a total rent of 20 shillings. In 1212 Maud de Middleton gave to Gilbert de Southworth an oxgang of land in the vill of Middleton; rents of a barbed arrow to the grantor and 20 pence to the lord of Makerfield were paid.

As arrows were sometimes given in exchange for land as a token rent, we will view Maud’s motive favourably and dismiss the suspicion that she might have meant to aim the weapon at any of the gudemen of Makerfield.

Another oxgang of land – the variable area which an ox could ploughing a season – in Croft was granted by Agnes, the daughter of Randle de Croft to Gilbert de Southworth, with two oxgangs for Sir Gilbert his son and from that time the Southworth and Croft manors merged. Records show that Croft was added, Southworth was an estate of about 3,500 acres.

Gilbert de Southworth was one of the witnesses to the legal document which granted Hugh de Hindley the right to arrange the marriages of the four Culcheth daughters, after which each couple was given a quarter of the original manor.

In 1289 the lords of Kenyon and Croft manors came to a formal agreement in respect of the boundary between their estates, a sensible decision in an age when there were many disputes over land ownership.

The de Southworth family were eminent members and benefactors of St. Oswald’s Church in Winwick in the fourteenth century and their coat of arms, which is sited under the battlements of St. Oswald’s tower, confirms the importance of the family in church life.

Sir Gilbert had a son called William, but by 1330, in the reign of Edward III, the name of the lord of the manor was again Gilbert. He held one and a half carucates of land and paid a feudal rent of 20 shillings a year. His eldest son yet another sir Gilbert inherited Southworth Hall and his marriage to Alicia de Ewyas of Samlesbury Hall, near Preston, brought him that estate also.

Samlesbury and its parish church St. Leonard’s, both of which still stand were founded by Gospatric around 1175. The original hall was said to have been burned by the Scots and remains substantially as it was after it was restored in 1588.

This Sir Gilbert also had a secondary interest in the manors of Myddleton, Houghton and Arbury. These were granted to junior members of the family by the Baron of Newton in 1332 and were retained by the Southworths for over two centuries. Soon after their marriage Sir Gilbert and Alicia made Samlesbury their main residence, but their son Thomas and his wife Joan, the daughter of John Booth of Barton, lived mostly at Southworth Hall in Croft, then a spacious building of brick, wood and plaster with two projecting gables.

One of the de Southworths appears to have fought at the Battle of Agincourt, the celebrated English victory on 25 October 1415. It is not known whether he survived that conflict, where the English Militia were inspired by the rhetoric of Henry V and there were barely a 100 casualties.

Gilbert Sotheworthe (whom Mr. Beaumont conjectures to be the same person who was in the retinue of Mr. William Botelar in the expedition to France before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415) appears in the muster-roll under the disguised name of Gybon de Southworke.

A document listing fees for military service in the year of Agincourt was fought reveals that the Lords of Warrington, Astley and Bedford, each recruited fifty archers, but did not specify the number of mounted knights who took part in the expedition.

Richard, the son of Sir Thomas and Joan Southworth, was born in 1420 and married Elizabeth Molyneux, whose Norman ancestors came to England with the entourage of William the Conqueror.

When Isobel Dutton married Christopher, son of Richard and Elizabeth Southworth, her family let it be known that they were descended from no less than eight baron signatories to the Magna Carta, i.e. William d’ Albini, Hugh Bigod, Gilbert Bigod, Gilbert de Clare, Richard de Clare, John de Lacis, Saher de Quincy and Robert de Ros.

Perhaps Christopher felt it necessary to increase his property to impress his illustrious in-laws, because he made an unsuccessful attempt to secure some of the Culcheth estate, although he had already acquired several manors in the vicinity of Croft and Winwick, and one at Samlesbury.

In 1483 a dispute about lands in Culcheth between Sir Christopher Southworth and John, son and heir of James Radcliffe, was decided in the latter’s favour by John Hawarden of Chester.

Sir Christopher’s descendant, Sir John Southworth, was lord of the manor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and was imprisoned for refusing to conform to reformed church practice. During that time one of the gable rooms at Southworth Hall served as a Catholic chapel, as St. Oswald’s church in Winwick which the Southworths had previously attended had become the Established Church. Sir John as a recusant was obliged to let his Croft estate a few years later. It is thought the tenant was Captain Brillock, a Member of Parliament. In 1621 the property in Croft was sold to Sir Thomas Ireland of Bewsey, Baron of Warrington and by the reign of Charles I Samlesbury was the only property belonging to the Southworths.

There was intermarriage between the Southworths and other landed families in the district. Sir Thomas Southworth married Margaret daughter of Sir Thomas Boteler (or Butler) of Bewsey. The Botelers had been early Barons of Warrington, to one of whom in 1212 Gilbert de Culcheth had given service a knight, also John the son of Gilbert Culcheth and Margaret (nee Holcroft), married Thomas Southworths daughter Cecily in 1593.

The name of Sir Thomas Southworth is inscribed on the lintel of a 1545 fireplace at Samlesbury, more ornate but less magnificent than the wide stone arch of the thirteenth century fireplace at Southworth, mentioned below. The Samlesbury surround is decorated with shields representing affiliated families, and containing the arms of the Hoghtons, Assehetons and Langtons.

One of the English martyrs, John Southworth, was born in 1592 and was probably the son of the Sir John who had refused to accept the newly established religion. John, a Catholic priest, was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for three years from 1627 for promoting his proscribed faith. On his release he resumed his activities and a Privy Council warrant in 1632 committed him to the London Clink – a private prison run by a bishop – though he was given freedom ‘to walk abroad at his pleasure.’ Some intolerant people considered that these conditions were too lenient and John Grey objected that he had apprehended thirty two Catholic priests who should have been in prison, one of whom was John Southworth:-

But now so it may please your good lordships that they are all abroad out of prison …and do lie lurking in diverse places within the cities of London and Westminster, perverting His Majesties subjects, not hundreds, but thousands.

While the plague was decimating the London poor in 1636, John Southworth tended four hundred Catholic sufferers, although the disease was highly contagious and was fatal in half of all cases. In 1654 he was hauled from his bed by Colonel Worsley, confessed that he had been converting people to Catholicism and was summarily dragged on a sledge to Tyburn. The judges tried to secure a denial of priesthood from him to avoid the death penalty, but he refused and endured the merciless fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered. Before his execution he professed his faith, accepted his sentence and pleaded for tolerance of all religions. He was buried at the English College in Douai in France where he had studied and in 1930 his body was transferred to the Cathedral Hall of Westminster in recognition of his ministry among the diseased poor of London.

Charles Culcheth a relative of the Southworths also attended victims of the plague and died in Ghent at the age of thirty four after contracting the malady himself. Both families adhered to the old religion after the Reformation and were committed Royalists after the Civil War.

Edward Southworth may have been John’s elder brother. According to a descendant who researched the lineage in 1926, Edward was born in 1590, married Alice Carpenter and had two sons, Constant and Thomas, but died at the age of thirty one. However, the name of Southworth was carried to the New World, because a couple of years after the voyage of the Mayflower, the widowed Alice brought her two young sons to America. After the sons had married they started an American line of Southworths and the descendant said with regard to Croft that ‘it was from this region that many of the early ancestors of the present American Southworths had come.’

In 1621 the property of Southworth-with-Croft was acquired by Sir Thomas Ireland of Bewsey whose family had been Barons of Warrington, like the Botelers. Sir Thomas sold it later in the seventeenth century to the Gerards of Bryn, who conveyed it in the eighteenth century to Stoneyhurst College. The Jesuits took over the demesne and about twenty acres of land. The new church of St. Lewis’ was completed in 1827, with Abbé de Richebec becoming its first priest and Southworth Hall was vacated.

The 1861 Croft census reveals that George Hatton lived at Southworth Hall and farmed the lands, with assistance from his wife, son, daughter, twelve farm-hands and three servants. Ten years later Margaret, the daughter, had either married and moved away or had died because her name was no longer on the returns. George, the father, had retired and James, the son, by this time aged thirty two, ran the farm. There were at that time six servants, but no mention of any farm-hands. The family of Joshua Ball and in turn the Wilcox family acquired Southworth, which had been earlier largely rebuilt and was then a three- storey residence with projecting gabled sides and a two storey annexe.

The present owner of Southworth Hall, Mr Mark Fairclough, has related how the ancient fireplace was hidden by a wall which had later been built in front and was discovered by accident while restoration work was in progress.

Mr. Harry Fairclough purchased the Hall in 1931 and decided to have it restored, retaining the external proportions, but with two storeys instead of three. Mr. Geoffrey Owen of Myddleton Hall planned the new building and pinned the drawing of a suitable fireplace to the wall as a guide. While they considered the effect of the proposed fireplace, they noticed curved lines showing through the old plaster wall, which soon revealed a splendid medieval arched stone chimney-piece.

There was only one sensible course of action when this ancient feature was revealed, and it was taken – the design of the house was planned around the chimney-piece. And today sturdy logs burn in its grate much as they would have done around seven hundred years ago in the great hall of the de Southworth’s manor.

Southworth Hall has been necessarily rebuilt because of its change of function from manor to religious establishment to a family residence. However, Samlesbury was acquired by a heritage trust at the end of the First World War and has retained much of its original appearance. As the original Southworth and Samlesbury Halls were contemporary manors belonging to the same family from the fourteenth century, a visit to Samlesbury regularly open to visitors, gives a fair idea of the design and interior of Southworth Hall many centuries ago.

Both manors had chapels within the buildings. An architectural plan of Samlesbury shows that the chapel there was built before 1330 and records of 1292 mention the chapel at Southworth in Croft. Sir Thomas and Joan Southworth were granted permission to hold services in their manors and there is still a shallow stone basin at Samlesbury which was used to rinse the chalice after communion:-

…in 1400 a licence was granted by the Bishop of Lichfield to Thomas Southworth and Joan his wife to have services celebrated in their mansions at Southworth and Samlesbury.

Thomas and Joan chose to live in Croft for most of the year. However, they spent some time at Samlesbury and directed restoration work there. The historian James Croston describes the minstrels’ gallery restored by the later Thomas Southworth in 1532, approached by a narrow staircase from a vestibule, about ten feet from the ground, with ‘ANN.DOM.MCCCCCXXXII Thomas Southworth, Knight’ carved on the front panels:-

This gallery…is most elaborately carved and the posts that connect it with the roof are adorned with a variety of grotesque figures, twisted cornucopias and other devices…The Hall was originally the principal room in the house and the walls were often stacked with suits of armour, shields, spears and arrows. In it the lord of the soil held his court by day and the mass of his followers slept how they would upon the settles and rush bottomed floor by night. Round the ‘hieboard’ on the dais assembled daily his family and guests, whilst his retainers occupied the benches extending banquet-wise along each side. No sooner was the business of feasting over than the fool in his motley was introduced who practised his rude drolleries and cracked his still ruder jokes, and the minstrels strummed their merriest airs and related their long romances of ancient chivalry.

Merrymaking to the music of the minstrels and the communal mealtimes in the great hall, though sometimes accompanied by gross behaviour, was more egalitarian than the more isolated and costly entertainments of the Tudors, where the nobility dined apart from the underlings and held lavish masques.

We are fortunate to have archaeological information on the area. Two Bronze Axes were found in 1881 and a fine flint knife came to light in 1961, both near Southworth Hall. But the most rewarding discoveries were made in 1980 when Liverpool University Archaeology Unit, who were excavating a Bronze Age barrow at Southworth Hall which yielded two collapsed urns and three accessory vessels, unexpectedly found evidence of a large burial ground over and around the earlier mound. Mr. Colin Taylor, Conservation Officer of Warrington Museum where the Southworth finds are displayed, was a member of the University Unit who excavated at Southworth in 1980.

The archaeologists knew Bronze Age people had been active in the area, because in the nineteenth century an urn containing a bronze spearhead had been unearthed and axes and flint knives were found in the early twentieth century. By the technique of carbon-dating a Bronze Age bi-conical urn found at Southworth was estimated to date from around 2,100 BC. However, they did not expect to find an ancient burial ground, which they considered was probably early Christian, a conclusion which corresponds neatly with local historical evidence.

The probability that St. Oswald’s Church was founded in the seventh century and served an extensive community including the township of Culcheth is endorsed by archaeologists’ discovery of the cemetery, which was made in three phases. They identified 809 grave slots, including 175 which measured less that 1.2 metres and probably belonged to children. The archaeologists considered that many more were likely to be outside their excavated area and some within it had been destroyed by ploughing, so they were of the view that there would have been as many as 1,200 graves.

The archaeologists’ report continued:-

Unlike most Iron Age cemeteries, which tend to be small and unmanaged, Winwick is large and shows clear signs of being to some degree planned. That factor, more than any other, links it with late Roman and post-Roman times. As there is no hint of Roman activity in the immediate area it is reasonable to assume that it was in use from the fifth century at the earliest. It is also highly probable that it was Christian.

It was their opinion that the Southworth cemetery was in use during the middle and late Saxon period and could well have taken burials for much or all of the period from the fifth to the eleventh century. They stated that such sites often had small chapels and mention the existence of a chapel in the township of Southworth in 1292, giving acknowledgements for this information to Farrer & Brownbill, 1911, but adding that it was not included in the list of churches assessed for papal taxation in the previous year. They may not have been aware that the chapel mentioned in the 1292 document was private, connected as it was to Southworth Hall and could have been exempt from taxes.

The archaeologists’ conclusions about St. Oswald’s Church, just over a mile from Southworth, also corresponded with historical records:-

That it was a significant place of burial in Saxon times is clear from the large and crowded curvilinear churchyard and the remarkably large Viking-age sculptured cross which once presumably stood within it.

However the archaeologists warn against a too-tidy view that Southworth cemetery was only in use until St. Oswald’s Church was founded and was then abandoned. The transition from middle-Saxon cemetery to late-Saxon minster graveyard may have been a prolonged affair with a considerable period of overlap. They consider it likely that Anglo-Saxon control was achieved comparatively late in South Lancashire, ‘especially in the hundred of Newton, the region anciently known as Makerfield’. They mention some of the ancient British and Celtic names which have survived – Makerfield itself, Culcheth, Haydock and Kenyon.

This corroborates the conclusions of past historians who held that the North-West of England was influenced strongly by Celtic traditions and that many Northumbrian customs persisted at St. Oswald’s Church.

In the light of their excavations the University of Liverpool archaeologists conclude that, though the parochial importance of Southworth and Winwick probably dates only from the late-Saxon era, the cemetery could well have spanned the whole Dark Age period, and viewed in that way it provides crucial evidence of pre-Conquest activity in the area.

It is clear, with everyone of the prehistory, as well as the Dark Age and post-Conquest history of Southworth and Croft, that the area has been inhabited continuously for well over three thousand years.

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