The History of Lancashire after 1066
Although Lancashire did not yet exist as a separate entity, the northwest played some part in the changes which overtook the English state in the second half of the eleventh century. North of the Ribble formed part of the huge earldom of Northumbria, which, in 1055, was given to Tostig, third son of the powerful Earl Godwin. Tostig had many enemies and twice had to escape abroad. During his second exile his half-brother, Harold, was chosen king by the Witan, or royal council, on Edward the Confessor’s death, and Tostig made an alliance against his brother with King Harald Hardrada of Norway. They landed in Yorkshire, but their combined force of Northumbrians and Norwegians was defeated by Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Tostig himself was killed. Immediately after the battle Harold’s army had to rush south to cope with an invading force led by Duke William of Normandy. The two armies met at Hastings; this time it was Harold who was defeated and killed.
The Norman Conquest of England was accomplished swiftly and with a minimum of bloodshed. One area where resistance lasted longer than in most of the country was Northumbria. The Northern Revolt of 1069 was ruthlessly crushed, and Amounderness seems to have suffered along with the vale of York. Later, William gave the lands previously held by Earl Tostig to one of his followers, Roger of Poitou. As well as Amounderness, Roger was given the lands ‘inter Ripam et Mersham’ (between Ribble and Mersey), and Roger chose Penwortham on the Ribble estuary, as the site for his castle. After the Conqueror’s death in 1087, Roger helped the new king, William Rufus, against his brother Duke Robert, and, in 1092, against Dolfin, a rebel border-lord in the neighbourhood of Carlisle.
After a successful campaign against Dolfin and the Scots, Rufus gave Roger extensive territories in the borderlands between Northumbria and Strathclyde. Thus for the first time since the Romans, the lands on both banks of the Ribble were to be administered as one unit. Even so the Ribble remained an ecclesiastical boundary until 1541, and was a border for probate purposes until 1858.
Roger took the title of ‘count’ in 1091, when he succeeded to large estates in Poitou. Although he built a castle at Lancaster, inside the remains of the Roman fort, and made this the chief place in his honour, he never bore the title of ‘Count of Lancaster’. Count Roger had been loyal to William Rufus, but rebelled against Henry I in 1102 and consequently lost his English estates. Such was the importance of this large frontier fief that Norman kings never allowed it out of their hands for long. In 1117 Henry I granted Lancaster to his nephew, Stephen, whom he made Count of Mortain. Stephen held onto the honour when he became king in 1135, but in the wars which followed, Lancashire came under the control of King David of Scotland.
With the deaths of David and Stephen in 1153 and 1154, the new kings of England and Scotland came to a deal whereby Henry II ruled south of the Ribble and Malcolm the Maiden north of it. By 1157, however, Henry II had gained all that Stephen had lost, and for most of his reign kept Lancaster as part of the royal demesne or estates. His successor, Richard the Lionheart, entrusted the northwest to his brother, John. John rebuilt the castle and granted a charter to the- borough of Lancaster, but forfeited the honour for treason in 1194, and it remained with the crown until 1267. As king, John did much for the honour of Lancaster, and although there are mentions of the ‘county’ of Lancaster as early as the Pipe Rolls of 1168-99 it was not until his reign (1199-1216) that the organization of its fiscal and judicial administration may be regarded as complete.
What was Lancashire like at this time? Our knowledge – albeit sketchy – stems from William the Conqueror’s desire to discover details of his new kingdom and the Domesday Survey of 1086, which he initiated. The chronicler at Peterborough described what happened:
He (William) sent his men all over England into every shire to ascertain how many hundreds of hides of land there were in each shire, and how much land and livestock the king owned in the country, and what annual dues were lawfully his from each shire. He also had it recorded how much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan bishops, his abbots and his earls, and how much each man who was a land-holder here in England had in land or in livestock, and how much money it was worth.
The Peterborough Chronicle
The survey was made by special commissioners who derived their information from local juries made up of a cross-section of the rural population, often including the sheriff, lord of the manor, parish priest, local reeve or steward, and villeins.
In Great Domesday (the first volume of the Domesday Book), Lancashire south of the Ribble is to be found with the Cheshire folios, while north Lancashire and adjacent parts of Cumberland and Westmorland were regarded as simply a north-western appendage of Eurvicscire or Yorkshire.
The commissioners found six hundreds or wapentakes south of the Ribble: West Derby, Newton, Warrington, Salford, Blackburn and Leyland. Most of this land had belonged to King Edward the Confessor in 1066, and five of the six hundredal divisions coincided with royal manors. Each hundred was named after the administrative centre of the manor – perhaps no more than a hail where the king’s reeve held the manor court, but which all the king’s tenants had to attend from time to time.
Detailed accounts of landholdings in Lancashire in 1086 are only available for the hundred of West Derby and for some vils or townships north of the Ribble, such as Preston and Halton. A typical entry is that for Lydiate in West Derby: ‘Uctred held Lydiate. There, six bovates of land. A wood, one league long and two furlongs broad. It was worth 64d.’ Elsewhere the surveyors lumped all the vills together and gave a total for the manor. The manor of Leyland is an example: ‘King Edward held Lailand. There are one hide and two carucates of land . . . . To this manor belonged twelve carucates of land which twelve freemen held for as many manors. In these are six hides and eight carucates of land’. Areas of woodland were separately mentioned. Unfortunately it is impossible to convert these measurements accurately into acres or hectares. All we know is that a bovate, or oxgang, was originally the area which could be ploughed by a single ox, while the carucate was supposed to be the area ploughable by eight oxen in a morning.
The Domesday Book and later sources give some picture of the Lancashire countryside in the second half of the eleventh century. A great deal of it was still composed of peatmoss and woodland. Dr J.J. Bagley has computed that even in West Derby, the most cultivated of all the hundreds, there was as much woodland as arable land and the peatmosses accounted for five times the area covered by arable and wooded land together. While the mosses were to be found largely on the western side towards the sea and in the valley of the Mersey, the woodlands formed parallel belts from Liverpool to Lathom, along the Billinge-Upholland ridge, and from Bolton north-westwards as far as Walton-le-Dale. North of the Ribble the fells were covered with woodland, and most of the settlement was in the upper reaches of the rivers Lune, Kent and Leven.
The frequent reference to plough-teams in the Domesday Survey confirms that much of the cleared land was arable. The clerks felt that one plough-team should be expected for every plough-land, but in Lancashire there were rarely so many. The fringes of the woodlands provided acorns and beechmast for pigs. In the depths of the forest there were valuable ‘eyries’ or hawks’ nests for rearing young birds of prey, and ‘hays’ or enclosures for trapping deer. The rivers provided fish, although only the fishery at Penwortham is mentioned. The mosses provided peat for fuel and osiers for basket work. Dr I.B. Terrett in The Domesday Geography of Northern England (1962) has concluded that although ‘clearly a poor area’, the north-west had a surprising number of settlements. Altogether the value of the six hundreds south of the Ribble in 1066 was given as £145 2s 2d. Twenty years after, the values had changed little.
North of the Ribble had not fared so well, for only 16 of its 62 vills were inhabited by 1086, no doubt as a result of the devastations of 1069-70.
Domesday Book suggests that many of the Anglo-Saxon forms of land tenure survived the Conquest. The main division was between the free and unfree. The freemen (including thegns, drengs and radmen) had all held their land directly from King Edward, and were differentiated by virtue of special military services peculiar to the frontier regions of England. The unfree (including villeins, bordars, oxmen and slaves) were bound to their masters and to the soil.
In King Edward’s time, the highest-ranking freeman had been the thegn. A thegn had important legal privileges and wide judicial powers. Drengs were very similar – landowners and taxpayers with certain duties to perform on the king’s land. Radmen (or riding men) ran special errands and performed escort duties for the king. The two largest classes in eleventh-century south Lancashire were the villeins and the bordars. The villein was the common villager who owed his services, not to the king but to the lord of the manor. Although the Domesday Survey does not make clear what these services were, they probably included such duties as castle-guard, carting, cutting timber, tending cattle, shearing sheep and above all, helping with ploughing, mowing and threshing. Villeins had land of their own to cultivate too, perhaps as much as a virgate (about 30 acres (12 ha)), and often they owned plough-oxen. The bordars were cottagers and probably lower on the social scale than the villeins. They may have been freed slaves. In other counties their normal holding was about five acres (2 ha). Oxmen (bovarzO were another unfree group who seem, by their name, to have been connected with ploughing.
At the bottom of the social scale came the slaves. Like the oxmen, the slave was principally involved in ploughing and working the lord’s land. Some slaves were swineherds or shepherds. In spite of their low status, they seem to have had some rights and even a little property of their own. In their free time they could work for pay and so save up to buy their freedom.
For all these villagers living standards were very primitive. They lived in self-made mud hovels, constructed from pairs of timbers lashed together at the top, anchored in the ground by low, wood-framed walls and roofed with turf or thatch. Inside such a dwelling it was difficult to stand upright, and often the ground was hollowed out to allow extra height. The earthen floor was covered with rushes, straw or furze, cleaned out occasionally when fresh material was available. Animals such as dogs, hens, pigs and cattle – not to mention rats – shared the shelter with members of the family, helping to keep them warm in winter, as did the smoky fire in the middle of the floor. Over this fire the food, mainly porridge and vegetable soups, was cooked. Most households had no facilities for making oatmeal bread or brewing ale, and these were got in from outside. Ewes and cows were both milked, and cheese was an important variant in the diet. Fresh meat was an autumnal treat for some families, when most of the cattle were slaughtered. If salt, brought from Cheshire or Furness, could be afforded, some of the meat was preserved in tubs of brine for consumption through winter. Most households relied on bacon for a little extra flavour. The carcase was hung from a peg in the roof and smoked over the fire. Wool was used for clothes, and hempen cloth was a popular substitute for linen. Life can hardly be considered comfortable when one remembers not only the vulnerability of the coastal plain to flooding and of north Lancashire to Scottish raids, but also the impact on the whole region of cattle sickness, harvest failures and visitations of plague, especially in the Black Death of 1348-9. The only reference to town life in the Lancashire sections of Domesday Book concerns Penwortham:
King Edward held PENEVERDANT (Penwortham). There are two carucates of land and they used to render 10d. Now there is a castle there, and there are two ploughs in the demesne and six burgesses and three radmen and eight villeins and four oxmen. Between them all they have four ploughs. There is a half fishery, woodland, and eyries of hawks, as in the time of King Edward. It is worth 31.
But six burgesses hardly made a town. They were probably traders who were given special privileges in return for supplying Roger of Poitou’s castle. The survey’s statistics are not always very reliable, especially for Lancashire, but, to judge by the Penwortham figures, the effect of the Conquest on this one place had been dramatic. The building of the castle had obviously greatly increased the value of the land. Soon, however, Penwortham was to slip back into obscurity when the castle was superseded by Roger’s new capital at Lancaster. The monastery which took its place was small and insignificant, and in the twelfth century it was Preston and not Penwortham which received a borough charter.
The Normans built their castles to secure themselves from attack by the native population. The typical early design was the motte and bailey. It simply involved the building of a great mound to support a wooden keep, with an adjacent enclosure or court for keeping animals and for additional out-buildings. The whole was surrounded by a system of ramparts and ditches. The dimensions of the motte varied. At Penwortham the motte was about 30 feet (9 m) high and only 25 feet (7.6 m) in diameter. At Clitheroe, like Penwortham a site which had good natural defences, the motte was 22 feet (6.6 m) above the bailey.
The wooden keeps were one or two-storeyed buildings, occupied by the castle guard, but also intended for the lord’s use. Both Penwortham and Warrington began with packed-earth floors covered with rushes and brushwood for warmth and comfort. Later on, when the mounds had settled, the floors and sometimes the keep walls were rebuilt in stone. These replacement stone buildings may still be seen at Lancaster and Clitheroe ; in many places only mounds and earthworks remain.
The castles were built for the new upper class which the Norman Conquest imposed on the existing social structure. The new rulers of Lancashire were the followers of Duke William. Count Roger was at their head, but they included other important families like the Lacys of Clitheroe, the Montbegons of Hornby, the de Grelleys of Manchester and the Botelers of Warrington. Such families had far-flung estates and were expected to attend the king. They were therefore rarely in residence. Lancaster Castle, for example, was seldom visited by its owners after being confiscated from Roger of Poitou. King John personally supervised its reconstruction, but this was exceptional. Even the great John of Gaunt, so closely associated with Lancaster by local tradition, is known to have visited the castle which gave him his title only twice in his lifetime, and then just for a few days. Most of his life was spent fighting in France and Spain.
Lancashire’s proximity to Wales and Scotland made it an ideal recruiting ground for the campaigns of Edward I. In 1 282 William le Boteler, lord of the manor of Warrington, joined the king at Worcester with 200 archers. The archers were well paid – 2d (1p) per day for the ranks and 3d (l1/2p) for their captains – and William received valuable charters for his growing township near the lowest fording-point of the Mersey (see below). Boteler also joined Edward I on his Scottish campaigns against William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Periodically tiroughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries help was needed against the Scots and French. When John of Gaunt was Duke of Lancaster military service had to be rendered as far afield as Spain, in pursuit of his claim to the throne of Castile. By then, however, archers were in such demand that they were only being attracted by promises of 6d (2½p) per day.
Post-Conquest society in Lancashire, as elsewhere, was bound together by a hierarchy of social obligations between man and man, from the king at the top to the villein and slave at the bottom, described by historians as feudalism. The king provided protection and justice, land and franchises; in return, the tenants-in-chief (in Lancashire’s case, Count Roger) promised their allegiance, which included service at the king’s court and military service as required. In war-time they were to provide a certain number of knights. These knights promised. loyalty to their lord, as he had done to the king, and in return received maintenance and, later, land. At the bottom of the hierarchy, the villeins and other serfs or bondsmen provided service in the lord’s fields and other services in return for land which they could cultivate for their own benefit.
At each level the feudal contract was embodied by the act of homage. A document in mediaeval French in the Lancashire Record Office describes just such an act. It was performed by John Nowell to Thomas of Hesketh at a wapentake court held on Billinge Hill in May 1429 . Both parties faced each other bareheaded. Thomas of Hesketh was seated on a great stone, and John Nowell knelt down in front of him, ‘face to face’ as the clerk recorded. Taking his lord’s hands in his own, Nowell said: ‘Sir, I will be your man from this day forward, and faith will I bear to you for the lands which I hold of you in Harwood, saving the faith which I owe our lord the king’ (Oath of Nowell to Hesketh: Lancashire Record Office). Then Thomas of Hesketh kissed him and held out a holy book, and Nowell put his right hand on it and swore loyalty to him for his freeholding in Harwood, promising to loyally ‘perform all the customs and services at the times assigned, so help me God and all the Saints’. Such a scene was commonplace in the Middle Ages.
In the twelfth century knights were granted land for services, or serjeanties, performed at the castle. Land was given for minor tasks as well. Roger de Hesam held two carucates, worth £4 a year, at Heysham for sounding his horn every time the king entered or left the county. William de Parles and William le Gardiner were supposed to supply the castle kitchens in return for land. Ralph de Boirun took charge of rough masonry work for one carucate worth 20s (£1.00). Ralph de Kellet had to find a carpenter for two oxgangs at Slyne. By the mid-thirteenth century the land was being held by hereditary right, and the service which had formerly justified its possession was frequently commuted to rent. Hence wage labour had to be used to maintain Lancaster Castle.
The barons held their own manor courts and sometimes also acted as the king’s justices. Their estates had to be looked after and agents were of limited value. There was a constant stream of petitions for favours from tenants, traders demanded markets, and monasteries and churches sought endowment. Possibilities of good hunting also drew the barons to their Lancashire fiefs, especially in winter when they were less likely to be on campaign.
Mediaeval Lancashire was covered by large areas of ‘forest’ or land set aside for hunting. Much of this land – uncultivated and often, but not always thickly, wooded – had probably been hunted in Anglo-Saxon times. The Norman forest laws were applied, in Count Roger’s time, to a large area including Fuiwood and Myerscough in Amounderness and Bleasdale, Over Wyresdale, Roeburndale and Quernmore in Lonsdale. In addition, William Rufus gave the de Lacy family, holders of the honour of Clitheroe, rights of free chase and warren over Bowland, Chippingdale, Accrington, Rossendale, Trawden and Pendle and they later added Tottington to these hunting-grounds. All of this Lacy property passed to the honour of Lancaster in 1311 and thus to the crown in 1399. There were other smaller private chases in the county and a coveted gift from the king was such as the 5 bucks and 15 does which Henry II sent from the royal forest of Macclesfield to the Grelley park at Manchester in 1255. In those areas under forest law poachers of deer and wild boars were severely punished by the forest courts, although in 1199 King John had ordered that assarts or clearings made by tenants in the forest should not be interfered with by the royal bailiffs. Such tenants were valuable to the lord in the rents they paid for their vaccaries or dairy farms, where hardy long-haired cattle were bred.
The proportion of land farmed directly by the barons in Lancashire was small. Much of the land was unsuitable and the population too small for the intensive cultivation by serf labour characteristic of the Midlands. The royal estates of Edward the Confessor seem to have been loosely administered and the change of overlordship to Roger of Poitou, on both sides of the Ribble, probably did not bring about major changes in land cultivation. The clearance of woodland, at least in the uplands, was largely carried out by free tenants. Nevertheless, each Lancashire barony had some demesne or home farmland. The manor of Manchester, for example, contained about 1,200 acres of demesne land in 1322, but the ten vileins at Ardwick, Gorton and Crumpsall were paying money rents varying from 4s 5d (22p) to 13s 4d (67p) and were not performing weekly labour services for their lord. Their boon services had not yet been commuted to money payments and still amounted to four days a year, one each for ploughing, harrowing, reaping and carrying corn. Like the free tenants they also had to grind their corn in the lord’s mills at Manchester and Gorton, and, unlike the free tenants, were subject to fines at various important moments in his and their lives, such as weddings and funerals.
Monasticism played an important part in the life of mediaeval Lancashire as elsewhere. The first monastery in the region was founded at Lancaster in 1094. Eleven had been founded by 1200, and two more followed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Only three were ever of any size. These were the house of Augustinian or Austin Canons at Cockerand and the Cistercian abbeys of Furness and Whalley.
The largest Cistercian abbey, Furness, was typical of many Cistercian houses, in that it was established far from the main centres of population in a remote and peaceful country area. Furness, or Bekanesgill as it was originally called, could be approached only from the sea or across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, and so was as suitable as any Cistercian site in Europe. Yet the abbey did not start its life at Furness nor as a Cistercian house. In 1123 Stephen, Count of Mortain, nephew of King Henry I, granted to the monks of Savigny a site for a monastery at Tulketh near Preston. The site was not considered suitable for monks of a reformed order akin to CIteaux, and four years later they were given a new site in the wilds of Furness. In 1147 Savigny surrendered its independence to Clteaux, but Furness was the last of its English daughter-houses to submit to this change of allegiance. In spite of a papal bull, Abbot Peter had great difficulty in persuading his monks and he was soon replaced. Nevertheless Furness Abbey remained in practice very independent. It was also a great success. By 1200 the abbey had ‘mothered’ six daughter houses: one each in Cumberland, Lincolnshire and the Isle of Man and three in Ireland. In terms of land it had acquired about two thousand acres, scattered through North Lonsdale from Walney Island to Ulverston, and beyond into Borrow-dale, along the Lune valley, and up to the slopes of Whernside and Ingleborough.
‘As the Furness estates increased, so did the numbers of monks and lay brothers. There are no figures before 1381, but the buildings suggest perhaps a hundred of each at the peak in the mid-thirteenth century. In the second half of the twelfth century an extensive range of buildings running south from the western end of the abbey nave was provided for the lay brothers, and the church itself was rebuilt. By the mid-thirteenth century a new chapterhouse had been erected, the monks’ refectory had been enlarged, and a new dorter, or dormitory, and a warming-house had been put up. The monks’ reredorter, or latrine, was extended, and a special infirmary with its own kitchen built. Such was the increase in the abbey’s activities that this infirmary was replaced in the early years of the fourteenth century by a huge complex of buildings including an infirmary hail, buttery and chapel. By this time the number of lay brothers as in other Cistercian houses had probably dwindled,-and servants with no particular religious calling were taking their place.
We know more about the lives of monks than of many mediaeval people, but little about their home backgrounds. The first monks at Furness were probably French, but later on the richer families of north Lancashire seem to have provided most of the recruits. Most of the abbots had local names, like Waiter of Millom (abbot C. 1175), William of Cockerham (abbot in the 1290s) and William of Dalton (abbot c. 1410). While the monks came from the families of the local rich, the lay brothers were probably recruited from the mass of illiterate labourers, and have been aptly described as second-class monks. They swore life-long service to the abbot and were vowed to celibacy. They had the same food as the monks, although they ate and slept separately. They kept silence like the monks and followed a similar, although much shorter, version of the opus Del, or divine worship, from the abbey nave. They could not read or write, but they were taught the Creed, the Lord’s prayer and other simple prayers by heart. Their primary function was to provide unpaid craft labour. With some help from the monks they wove cloth and made habits; they tanned leather and fashioned shoes; they ran the monastery’s smithy and carpentry shop; they helped staff the infirmary and took messages; they staffed the granges or outlying farms at places like Beaumont near Lancaster and Winter-burn in Yorkshire, and it was they who were the masons who kept the abbey in repair and built the extensions of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.
What kind of day did the monks spend at Furness in the early thirteenth century? Rising about 2.30 am the monks spent the first six hours of their day singing the opus Del in the choir of the abbey church or praying and reading (by candlelight in winter) huddled up in the cloister. Some orders allowed intervals for the monks to go back to bed, but the Cistercians did not. Mass was celebrated at about 6 am and, after Terce, at about 8.45 am the monks all met together in the chapterhouse. After prayers for the saints of the house, a chapter of St Benedict’s Rule was read, and sometimes the abbot preached a sermon. He then issued the orders of the day, and monks who had disobeyed the Rule the previous day confessed and were punished. Punishments varied from bread and water to a whipping, solitary confinement or exile.
After chapter the monks went about their day’s work. Some helped the lay brothers. Some copied books in the scriptorium above the chapterhouse, although only one monk, Jocelyn of Furness of the late twelfth century became a writer of any importance. The senior monks helped the abbot to run the monastery and its business. This had become very extensive, in view of the large estates mentioned above. Furness Abbey had 11 granges, none of which by Cistercian rules was more than a day’s journey from the house. At the granges such as Beaumont and Winterbum, sheep were reared under the supervision of the lay brothers. How much wool the abbey lands produced is not known, but the abbot’s agents probably sold it at the markets of the East Riding and Lincolnshire. Iron was mined and smelted with charcoal on the abbey estates. It became customary for each tenant to receive annually a ‘certain clott iron . . . for maintenance of their ploughs and husbandry’. A number of watermills and smithies in the Furness region date from this period. In 1535 the abbey owned five watermills in High Furness alone. Salt was produced at the granges of Saithouse in Furness and Salthus in Copeland. Grain was imported from Ireland. Fish, so important in the monks’ diet, reached the abbey from Duddon and the Lune, from Coniston and Windermere. Cattle, reared in the Furness fells, were brought to the fair that the monks licensed six times a year at Dalton, and no doubt the abbot’s agents negotiated sales at other fairs too.
Not only was the abbey an important centre of spiritual and economic life; the king looked to the abbot to preserve order and justice on the fringe of the honour of Lancaster. Although a tenant of the king, the abbot of Fumess was answerable to no-one else. The orders of the general chapter at Citeaux and the bulls of the Pope himself had little effect, if opposed by the abbot. Exempt from feudal dues, he had extensive judicial powers, including those of life and death, of which the gibbets at Dalton, Ulverston and Hawks-head acted as grim reminders. After 1344, the abbot of Furness enjoyed the status equivalent to that of sheriff, the king’s chief officer in a county.
Although the abbot enjoyed wide powers, his situation presented considerable difficulties. Furness was vulnerable to attack from the sea by pirates such as the bandit-bishop and renegade monk of the abbey, Wimund, who led his Manxmen in raids on abbey property in the 1130s. Wimund was eventually betrayed by some of his own men, and, blinded and mutilated, was sent to end his life, still muttering threats, at Byland Abbey in Yorkshire. The Scots were dealt with less easily. They devastated the abbey estates many times, and, in 1322, King Robert the Bruce added insult to injury by billeting his army in the abbey and its environs. Guests were an important feature in every monastery. At first regarded as a means of spreading the Gospel, they all too easily became a source of income and an excuse for evading the Rule. In remote areas like Furness, travellers were especially dependent on the hospitality of the monks. Even the poorest might expect some charity at the monastery gate and, if sick, a bed in the infirmary. Furness in its later days had a strong tradition of hospitality. The neighbouring houses of Austin Canons at Conishead and Cartmel, apart from the usual charity and hospitality, provided an invaluable additional aid to travellers. Before the turnpike road of 1820 (now the A590) and the Ulverston and Lancaster railway (opened in 1857), the oversands route across Morecambe Bay was the most usual for travellers coming from the south. In the Middle Ages, Cartmel Priory provided a guide for travellers across the Leven, by way of Chapel Island. It is possible, too, that lights were maintained by the monks of Furness at Walney and by those of Cockersand at the mouth of the Lune.
Various social provisions were made by the abbey of Furness for its tenants. The infirmary has already been mentioned, although whether there were any monks at Furness with the medical expertise of Warin of St Albans, trained at Salerno, it is impossible to say. The aim of the infirmary was to obey Christ’s words: ‘I was sick and you visited me’. Caring for the sick meant adequate food and washing. On medical matters even the independent monks of Furness may have looked to St Bernard, one of the pioneers of the Cistercian Order. He was highly suspicious of doctors and special medicines and for monks in the unhealthy district of the Campagna, near Rome, advised herbal remedies if absolutely necessary: ‘. . . but to buy special kinds of medicines, seek out doctors and swallow their nostrums, this does not become the religious (monks). . . the proper medicine is humility . . . ‘ (from E. Scott-James, The Letters of St Bernard, 1953).
Cases of leprosy, which were not uncommon in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, would have needed special – provision. Leper hospitals existed at Lancaster and Preston, and, by the fourteenth century, at Burscough as well. They seem to have enjoyed a certain amount of royal interest and protection. In 1355 the Duke of Lancaster’s foreign doctor was made master of the lepers of Preston.
Another service provided by the monks was education. Schools are mentioned at Furness and Upholland in 1535. How early such monastic schools began is hard to say. Although records are patchy it would seem that Lancashire was rather short of secular schools in the Middle Ages, with reference to schoolmasters at only Lancaster and Clitheroe in the late thirteenth century, and Preston in the late fourteenth. In a region where there was a shortage of secular priests, the role of the monks must have been especially important. For the same reason the provision of priests in remote chapels was another important aspect of monastic work. Not counting the benefices in the gift of monasteries, Penwortham, Lytham, Hawkshead, and Ormskirk were all places on or near monastic estates which were supplied with a parish priest by a monastery.
All over Europe in the twelfth century towns were growing and becoming more important. It was one sign of increased population and greater economic activity. Lancashire, although thinly populated, was no exception. Domesday Book mentions six burgesses at Pen wortham; in the next century there were numerous charters for markets throughout Lancashire. Life was stirring at Colne in 1124 and at Ashton-under-Lyne by 1160. Not all such market towns became boroughs, but many did, and by 1509, there were 20 Lancashire towns with borough charters. The first royal charter to a borough in the county was from Henry II to Preston in 1179. King John chartered Lancaster and Liverpool, and Henry III Wigan. Three boroughs owed their independence to monasteries. Dalton’s charter came from Furness, Ormskirk’s from Burscough Priory and Kirkham’s from the abbot of Vale Royal in Cheshire. Over half of Lancashire’s mediaeval boroughs were baronial foundations. Local lords stood to gain as much as anyone from encouraging traders and merchants to settle on their land. Salford’s charter was granted by Ranulf, Earl of Chester, Manchester’s by Thomas Grelley.
The progress of Warrington is not untypical. The traffic across the Warrington ford was on the increase and so too was the township round the Saxon church and the Norman castle. About 1264 William le Boteler moved out of the castle to a manor house nearby at Bewsey. By 1285 he had got permission from Edward I to hold two weekly markets and two annual fairs. In 1292 he gave his free tenants their first borough charter. They were exempted from payment of tolls at these markets and fairs, given control of the weights and measures used there, and allowed to set up a court independent of the lord of the manor. An additional perquisite was that burgesses were to be allowed free ‘pannage’ or pasture for their pigs in the lord’s woods.
Warrington prospered, like Preston and Lancaster, because it was situated at the lowest fording-point of a major river. In mediaeval times these fords were gradually replaced by bridges. The first mention of a bridge at Warrington was in 1305, sited not far from where the Romans had forded the river. The construction of a bridge did not, however, ensure its continuous upkeep or guarantee it against Mersey floods. Warrington’s bridge had to be rebuilt in 1364 and was down again by 1453, when an appeal was made by the bishop for help with its reconstruction. Another bridge was built in 1495 – this time of stone.
A list of tolls in 1310 gives a good idea of the varied nature of Warrington’s trade. Local traffic consisted of livestock and such goods as wool, cheese, barley, hides, salt, and fish. Other products came from much further afield, such as cloth from Norfolk, canvas from Galway in Ireland, leather from Spain (as well as Cheshire), and silks, perhaps from France or Italy. Local industry developed on the foundations of this trade. Tanning and brewing became major industries in Warrington in the nineteenth century, but they probably had mediaeval origins. The town grew in the early fourteenth century in the direction of the new bridge. The Austin Friars established a house near the bridge in 1292. The Botelers encouraged the growth by giving their servants burgages or house plots. In 1313 one such grant was to Geoffrey, the lord’s cook. Marketgate (now Horsemarket Street) and Newgate (now Bridge Street) began to develop, and the parish church of St Elphin was rebuilt.
The fact that the streets of many mediaeval towns had the suffix ‘-gate’ does not necessarily mean that all towns were protected with high walls and great gatehouses, like mediaeval Chester or York. Warrington and Liverpool had a Marketgate, Manchester .a Deansgate, Preston a Friargate and Fishergate, but there is no evidence to suggest that any of these were ever walled towns. Probably there was some kind of ditch to mark the point where borough jurisdiction ended and that of the lord of the manor began. The gates into the town were more like modern customs barriers, with a building where tolls were paid by all strangers bringing in goods to sell in the town. Although the physical extent of Lancashire’s mediaeval towns was small, they were not as densely packed with buildings as a modern town centre. The streets might be narrow and the houses overhanging in places, but behind were gardens belonging to the townspeople and to the monasteries within the town’s precincts. In Warrington the friars had their cemetery as well as their garden in the town. The burial-place for the townsfolk was the churchyard round the parish church. Barns and cowhouses were all found where we might expect only houses. Moreover the town straggled, in Warrington’s case from the parish church, down modem Church Street, Buttermarket Street and Bridge Street all the way to the bridge. The use of the term ‘suburb’ in the Legh rental of 1465 indicates the spread of the community by that date.
Many of the houses were single storeyed. Some were semi-detached, described as ‘under one roof’. Only the bigger houses had more than one room. In 1465 Lawrence Baifrunte’s wife rented from Sir Peter Legh a ‘small and fair hail with a high chamber and two shops’ in Marketgate, Warrington. Roger Clerk the younger rented a messuage or dwelling in Newgate, ‘lately erected with a chamber and solars’ (main room and sitting rooms). The description of the house suggests that, like many mediaeval town houses, it had a narrow front and stretched back a good way at right angles to the street. Most houses were of timber construction with walls filled in with wattle and daub. Few survive, although late nineteenth-century rebuilding still gives parts of the town something of the black and white timbered look of the fifteenth century. By 1465 many of the larger houses probably had an aisled hail with a solar or retiring room at one end. Robert Arosmythe rented one such ‘principal messuage’ with ‘solars, kitchen, barn, oven, garden, and appleyard’. The special mention of an oven-house here and there suggests that the less wealthy had to get their bread from a common bakehouse. Although the main fuel was still peat in fifteenth-century Warrington wood and coal were also used. Some houses had a turf or clod house at the back. Tolls levied on coal were first mentioned in the Warrington charter of 1339: a halfpenny a week on every cartload. For water, some houses had private wells, but most relied on communal supplies.
The disposal of rubbish and sewage was a serious problem for mediaeval towns. In the Warrington charter of 1305, William de Hereford was strictly prohibited from placing any dung or filth on the highway or anywhere but on his own land or outside the town. Such conditions were probably disobeyed. Mediaeval towns were notoriously dirty. Attempts were made to pave them from time to time as at Warrington in 1321 and 1338, but with little long-term success. These spasmodic efforts, though ineffectual, show there was some public concern.
Many burgesses held land in the townfields outside the town boundaries. These holdings took the form of strips (lands) or double strips (bilands), By the fifteenth century these were often enclosed by hedges and ditches, replacing the older system of boundary stakes and stones. Developments at Warrington reflect the general tendency towards enclosure in the Lancashire townfields (as the common fields were usually called) from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries onward. By the fifteenth century a mixture of rents and services were owed by farmers and townspeople alike, although the services in the Legh rental of 1465 rarely amounted to more than a couple of days in the autumn, and, as elsewhere, were generally commuted to cash. The busy burgesses would no doubt have been as keen as the local farmer to pay the 4d (2p) value of two days’ service at harvest-time, rather than provide the labour themselves. They still had to grind their corn at the lord’s mill, but, at Warrington, there was a choice of three.