Denton Local History Society

The Dentonian Issue 60

Cockersand Abbey

Thomas Middleton, in The History of Denton and Naughton, tells us of the early connection between Denton and Cockersand Abbey, and the article following takes up the story..........

Cockersand Abbey THE earliest reliable records of Denton and Haughton belong to the thirteenth century. They are few in . number and refer chiefly to legal matters and disputes. From them it is evident that at an early period after the Norman Conquest the Church' became possessed of certain rights over the lands in Denton. In 1273 (2nd of Edward I.) the Abbot - of Cockersand was summoned to appear and state before the King by what authority he claimed certain privileges and immunities in Denton and Haughton. He -pleaded that he and his monks were absolved from the payments of fines, taxes, etc., by a charter granted by King John about the year 1215. He also quoted in support of his claims a charter of Henry III., dated 1255. As far as Den­ton and Haughton were concerned, how­ever, the Abbot's petition was unsticessful.

It is evident from the records that so e of the landowners in Denton had made over certain rights in the townships to\ the abbots of Cockersand, to be used for religious purposes. Cockersand Abbey was one of the great religious houses of Lancashire, and stood on a bleak wind­swept neck of land which projects into the sea "on the sands of Cocker," on the Lancashire coast to the south of More­cambe Bay. The first notice of this im­portant house is a grant by William de Lancaster to Hugh, a hermit of certain places and a fishery on the Layne (Lune) "to make a hospital." Other and later grants enriched the hospital, and finally Theobaid Walter granted to the hospital the moss of Pilling to found the abbey. In the year 1190 a confirmation was given to the Prior of the hospital of Cockersand that that. house should be called the Monastery of St Mary of the Praemonstracensian Order of Cocker-sand. So numerous were the subsequent grants it received from generous bene­factors, and so extensive were its pos­sessions, that in the reign of Edward I. the Crown lawyers reported that there were "no fewer than 91 places or more" where the Abbey of Cockersand claimed feudal privileges. No wonder the King should summon the Lord Abbot to show good proof of his rights hi Denton. Origin­ally the buildings of the Monastery of Cockersand covered nearly an acre of ground, and Lancashire history provides Many other evidences of the grandeur and power of the Abbey. But it fell, with so many of the other religious houses, at the dissolution, and afterwards became a picturesque ruin.

Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, was more fortunate than the Abbot of Cocker- sand, for when, in the same reign and before the same commissioners, he ex­hibited a grant made by King John to his ancestor, Roger de Lacy, in 1202, allowing him Free Warren in Denton and also a similar grant from Henry III., in 1240, to Edmund de Lacy, the claim of the Earl of Lincoln to Free Warren in Denton was admitted..

Cockersand Abbey

Of the twenty monasteries which existed in Lancashire at the time of the despoliation of the religious establishments by Henry VIII., Cockersand was the third in point of size and wealth, the abbey and monastic buildings covering an acre of ground. At first it was a hermitage, then in the time of Henry II. it became a hospital for aged monks under the rule of the abbey of Leicester. The gifts of land from William de Lancaster, Baron of Kendal, and from the Fleming family, led to the hospital being made into an abbey—one of the gifts was Pilling Moss—Pope Clement in 1190, ordaining that the house should be called the Monastery of St. Mary of the Praemonstretensian Order of Cockersand.


As in the case of its wealthy neighbour, Furness Abbey, grants of land were being continually made to Cockersand by pious benefactors, with the result that a hundred years after its foundation, it owned property in ninety-one different places. It was the custom for each succeeding monarch to confirm the charters given to religious houses by his predecessors—the monks paying a " fine." In applying to Richard II. for this confirmation the monks of Cockersand, notwithstanding their great wealth, described themselves as the King's poor chaplains, and prayed for a consider-ation of their poverty, as they were daily exposed to the perils of drowning and destruction by the sea. Leland, the Tudor chronicler, described Cockersand as " standing veri blekely an object to al AVynddes." Standing on the peninsula formed by the mouths of the Lune and the Cocker, "Where Cocker, a shy nymph that clearly seems to shun All popular applause, who from her chrystall head In Wyresdale hear where Wyre is by her fountain fed," the site of the Abbey was subject to the destroying action of the tides, and the encroachment of the sea. That this danger existed in the fourteenth century is shown by the statements of the monks in their petition to the second Richard The sea has now washed the bones of the monks out of their cemetery.

Cockersand was dissolved with the other monastic houses in Lancashire in 1537, but was granted the rare privilege of a re-foundation; the same privilege was granted to Cartmel Priory. But the restoration only lasted two years, then the Royal Commissioners broke the Abbey seal. The plate and jewels belonging to the monks were taken for the King, the furniture and the goods were sold. The abbot's lodging and the offices were left standing, but the church, the cloisters and the dwellings of the monks, were stripped of the lead that covered them, and of every other sale¬able object, and left to fall into ruins. The site was leased by the Crown to John and Robert Gardner of Pilling, and five years after¬wards was granted to John Kitchen of Pilling Hall. Only the chapter house remains, this having been preserved as it was used as a burial- place by the Dalton fancily.

Queen Mary An amusing story is told of Cockersand Church in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. In the previous the roods had been removed from all the churches by order of Parliament. With the acces¬sion of Mary, and the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic religion, orders were given for the restoration of the roods. Now the rood at Cockersand had been carefully hidden after its removal, and when the parishioners came to restore it to its old place they found it sadly decayed. They therefore bargained with the village carpenter to make them a new figure of Our Lord. When it was finished the parishioners, however, refused to pay for it because it was not like the old one, which 44 was a well-favoured man," whilst the new one " was the worst-favoured man they had ever set eyes on, gaping and grinning in such sort that their children were afraid to look him in the face or go near him." The carpenter promptly summoned the churchwardens before the Mayor of Lancaster, who decided that he was entitled to payment as having done the best he could. He likewise said, that if the parishion¬ers "did not like their god, they could put a pair of horns upon him and be would make a capital devil." The Mayor of Lancaster was evi¬dently a staunch Protestant.

Near Cockersand is Ashton Hall, which was the castle in the thirteenth century of the De Coneys, who were great lords in that region. From them it passed by the marriage of an heiress to the Lawrence family in the reign of Henry VI. There is a tradition that Sir John Lawrence, who held Ashton in the reign of Henry VII., was obliged to Hee to France because he had killed one of that monarch's gentlemen of the bedchamber. A deed in the Duchy Office, and bearing the seal of the County Palatine, bears out this tradition. It is an " express pardon granted in the first year of the reign of Henry VIII., to John Lawrence of A ssheton Lancashire, formerly master-forester of Wyresdale and Quermnore, and a justice of the peace for the county of Lancashire," and covers a multitude of offences, such as "all treasons, murders, burglaries, abjurations, and all forfeitures, outlawries and other offences, whether committed in England or in foreign parts." This Sir John died leaving an only daughter, by whose marriage Ashton went to the Butlers of Radcliffe. A Butler heiress took it to the Radcliffes of Wim¬merleigh ; a Radcliffe heiress took it to the Gerards of Bromler, and a Gerard heiress—the daughter of Digby, Lord Gerard, who played so prominent a part in the Great Rebellion—took it to the fourth Duke of Hamilton, whom she married in 1698. The Duke, whose sympathies were with the house of Stuart, was killed in a duel with Lord Mohun in 1712.

The cause of this duel has been given as a political difference, but it rose entirely from a family matter. The Duchess of Hamilton and Lady Mohun were both nieces of the Earl of Macclesfield, who was a Gerard. On his death the Earl left Lord Mohun his sole heir. The Duke instituted proceedings to upset the will, and the case dragged on in Chancery for eleven years. At a hearing before a Master in Chancery, on November 13, 1712, a man called Whitworth, who had been steward to Lady Gerard (the Duchess's mother) and also to the Macclesfield family, gave evidence. When he finished the Duke said, He has neither truth nor justice in him." To which Lord Mohun retorted, He has as much truth as his Grace." The Duke made no reply, but the next day he received a challenge from Lord Mohun, brought by General Macartney, and a duel was fought in Hyde Park. Both combatants were wounded, Lord Mohun mortally, when General Macartney, who acted as Lord Mohun's second, stabbed the Duke. Evidence of this rested upon Colonel Hamilton's (the Duke's second) deposition. Macartney fled to the Conti¬nent, and large rewards were offered for his capture. Four years later he sur¬rendered and was tried for murder. He was, however, only found guilty of man-slaughter, Colonel Hamilton's evidence differing materially from his deposition at the time of the duel. Then, he swore he saw Macartnev stab the Duke; at the trial he could only swear that he saw Macartnev's sword raised above the Duke's shoulder.

The political complexion to the duel was given after its fatal result, the Tories, who were Jacobite in sympathy, declaring that it was a plot of the Whigs, to remove one of their leaders. The Duchess of Hamilton survived her husband thirty-two years. She was a great friend of Dean Swift, who has left an unpleasing description of her character. When her husband was killed she never " grieved," he wrote, but raged and stormed and railed." On their first acquaintance he said, " she talked too much and was a plaguey detractor ; later on he found she had a " diabolical temper." Nevertheless, he said, " she has abundance of wit and spirit . . . . hand-some and airy, and seldom spared anybody that gave her the least provocation, by which she had many enemies and few friends." This lady had seven children, one of her sons being called Lord Anne Douglas in honour of his godmother, Queen Anne. Ashton remained the property of the Dukes of Hamilton until 1853, when it was sold, and bought by Mr. Nicholas Starkie of Huntroyd. After it came into the possession of the Starkie family the house was rebuilt.

Queen Mary illustration From a minature by Louis de Vargas 1555


Victor Ludorum

(thanks to Jill Cronin for the latin!) My first encounter with the Cockerel (who I have now christened Victor Ludorum), was via a conversation with two blokes who were doing the refurbishment job on the Bandstand in Victoria Park. They work for Dorothea Resoration at Whalley Bridge, their names are Jason (foreman) and Mark ( the one who does the work!) It was early January when I spoke to them and the conversation went something like as follows; ME - What's happening to the weathervane cockerel on top? JASON - We'll probably scrap it or replace it. ME – Why? MARK - Well, it's bloody awful, it looks like a child has drawn it. ME - Well, if you're going to scrap it, do you think we could have the original for the Local History Society - because I'm thinking of joining the society and I'm sure they would give him a good home. JASON - Well you would have to talk to the client about that but the society can have it as far as I'm concerned. ME - Who is the client? JASON - The Council. ME - Okay then. At the end of the day whilst partaking in a medicinal whisky and dry ginger in front of the fire at home, it occurred to me that poor old Victor must have spent years on top of the bandstand advising the good citizens of Denton which way the wind was blowing. Year after year in rain or snow, he's done his duty without complaint or need of food and water let alone the fact that he had no roof over his head to protect him from the elements - surely he deserves a better retirement than to be recycled into something entirely useless? By now I had a crusade simmering below the surface of my otherwise calm exterior and at that point I decided that I would join the Denton Local History Society. I discussed the matter with Jill Cronin, who just happens to be a neighbor of mine. Several 'phone calls by Jill and one rather poor poem from me to the men from Dorothea Restorations and I was told that we could have Victor as a donation to the society, because he was about to be replaced by something that didn't look like a child had drawn it'. At the date of writing this article, March 19th, Victor is nowhere to be seen. All that remains is the spike sticking up skywards, so at present, unless you know your compass points you will be absolutely clueless as to which way the wind is blowing - a tragedy if ever I saw one. The end of my article however should prove that we will see him again, thanks to my interference. When we do it is my hope to be able to make a copy of him in brass and copper - because I've got a building in my garden which is crying out for an adornment of some sort. When I hopefully remake Victor I shall bring him in to show you all - and maybe we can make some money for the society by selling copies of my copy! So there, hopefully, is a happy ending. Don't watch this space, watch the spike on top of Victoria Park bandstand, and thank you for reading my little epistle. Regards, Walt. hexacktrui P.S. I christened him Victor because he's obviously a boy whose home was in Victoria Park! Thanks Walt for your article - perhaps you should have begun by saying "My first encounter" However, it is interesting that on this photograph taken in 1992, Victor is again nowhere to be seen! Could he have been put back on his perch, or even replaced, during the partial restoration of a few years ago? ED.