A week into our DNA journey across England, I awoke for the last time in the Ribble Valley. This photo is an extremely misty sunrise in the Ribble Valley, through our window in the Stirk House Lodge. Pendle Hill is out there, always out there, but you can’t see it. Just like it’s still in my mind and heart everyday.
This morning, we prepare to leave the Ribble Valley which we have come to love and to view in an odd sort of way as “home.” It only took a very few days for us to adopt this homeland in our hearts as “ours.” We own it in our soul now. It is interwoven into part of who we are, and who we were. We know we are related to many of these families in this valley, centuries back…those whose names and surnames we will never know. Our families were here before surnames were needed. This ancient land holds our history and our family. This is from whence we sprung in the times and days before records. Social history of the region is all that we have now of our early families. The history of the Ribble Valley is the history of our ancestors – the invasions, the wars, the victories – all theirs and all ours as well.
I look at Pendle Hill and I know that before the Quakers received their divine message there, before Catholics and Protestants, before Christianity, before the Romans invaded in the first generation after Christ lived, that Pendle Hill was used for worship. Around the world, the highest sites in the landscape were used for temples to worship deities, and some deities were female, Goddeses. Pendle Hill had to have been one of these places. Our ancestors were surely among these people.
It was hard to say goodbye to Pendle Hill, the Ribble Valley and the Stirk House, because we know it’s forever.
Today, we switch sides of the family. Thomas Speak born about 1634 married Elizabeth Bowling, presumably shortly after immigrating to Maryland before November 1663 when she was subpoenaed to court to testify. The Bowling family was also Catholic, and from an area about 30 miles distant from the Ribble Valley, named Charnock Richard, near Chorley and Standish.
We boarded the bus for Chorley and the St. Laurence Church, where many of the early Bowling burials were recorded. This is our family’s church, as well as St. Wilfred’s at Standish. As it turns out, Charnock Richard lies not terribly far down the main road and is between Chorley and Standish – and of course the ever-present traffic circle, known as a round-about, welcomed us.
Our Bowling family was from Charnock Richard, which tells us they were probably vassals of the Charnock family, one of the landed families who owned a manor and was one of the families with a crest who is remembered in both churches. Unfortunately, the Charnock Manor Hall no longer exists.
The church, St. Laurence, in Chorley is a small church created for a small congregation. Chorley was a market town, and this church was not the main church of the region, but a chapel church for outliers. The photo below is of the original church before the additions. This is the church our ancestors knew and attended as Catholics, then as Anglicans when forced to.
Today’s church is the third church on this location, built the third time in the 1500s, but an earlier church was almost certainly present on the site in the Anglo-Saxon era as the daughter church of Croston. The first documentary record is dated 1362 and refers to a priest for the church. A letter dated 1442 refers to a reliquary owned by the church which is said to contain bones of Saint Laurence for which the church was named.
The stained glass windows in this church are stunning. Of course, each window has its story.
And like all of the other churches in this timeframe, many “floor burials.”
I can’t help but wonder about this ancient secreted passageway.
The gargoyle, the silent sentry, always standing guard. He would have been here when our ancestors laid eyes on him too. Maybe one of our ancestors carved him, or set him where he has been for hundreds of years. How many generations has he seen come and go?
The photo below is the original baptistery. It was relegated to the back corner where I discovered it with a bunch of stuff stacked against it. I asked about it, and the guide told me that the current rector is modernizing and replaced it and it has been retired. I think this is sacrilege after how many centuries. I dug it out and photographed it. And I didn’t put the stuff back up against it either. This is the ancient font from which our Bowling ancestors would have been baptized.
Look at these ancient carvings on this baptistery.
This was also the church of the Standish family, as in Myles Standish, the pilgrim on the Mayflower. Are we related? Not that we know of, but who knows back before records are available. The families certainly lived in the same area and knew each other well, at least through the church, if not socially. The Standish family was “well off” and had their own box seat in the church, shown below.
St. Laurence was originally a Catholic church, of course, but became Anglican along with the rest of England following King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church in 1534. From St. Laurence, we visited St. Mary’s Catholic church, maybe a quarter or half a mile away.
We walked through the old market town area.
St. Mary’s is a Catholic church and includes the martyr’s windows, specifically one for our John Finch, brutally killed in 1584.
Elizabeth Bowling is believed to be the daughter of Hugh Bowling (born 1591) and Ellen Finch (born 1598). Ellen Finch is the daughter of Roger Finch (born 1573) who was the son of John Finch (born 1548) who we believe is the John Finch who was martyred.
The history of St. Mary’s church tells us that Catholicism had been the faith of most of the English from the time of St. Augustine in 597AD until the 16th century. Despite this, from 1535 until about 1789, those who remained faithful to this “old religion” suffered fines, arrests, confiscation of property or mob violence, and some 500 were executed. No less than 10 Catholic martyrs either originated from or served in the current Chorley Borough area.
The Mass and Sacraments were celebrated secretly and illegally through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the various halls and farmhouses around Chorley still in Catholic hands. Lancashire had a higher proportion of Catholic recusants than any other English county, estimated at over 20% even in the 1700s. Catholic worship remained illegal until 1791. The Catholic church here was founded in 1847, but this building was built in 1927.
St. Mary’s includes 5 stained glass windows commemorating five local martyrs.
- Venerable Roger Ashton from Crostin, executed at Tyburn in 1592.
- Bd Roger Wrenno, weaver, from Alfred’s Court off Anderton St. Chorley. Executed for shelttering Father John Thules and hanged with him on March 18, 1616 at Lancaster. The rope broke at the first attempt. behind him is a weaving frame.
- Bd Lawrence Richardson, a priest who served at Park Hall, shown behind him, home of the Catholic Charnock family. Executed in 1582 at Tyburn.
- Venerable John Finch, a yeoman farmer of Eccleston, executed at Lancaster in 1584.
- Saint John Rigby from Harrock Hall by Mawdesley, executed at Southwar in 1598.
One end of the church commemorates the martyrs in a beautiful enclave.
Here is John Finch’s window.
I must say, I am not Catholic, but when I approached those windows, every single hair on my body stood up. I had a very physical reaction, something I haven’t had in any other location on this trip and was very unexpected.
The church provided this information about John Finch.
Me with the windows and the baptistery and John’s window.
We learned a lot about the Catholic’s in this region. Charnock Richard was called a “nursery of recussants” meaning they had more “refusers” of the Catholic faith than anyplace else.
Just the other side of Charnock Richard, actually, across from it, is the Bowling Green Inn, land where the Bowlings used to live. This inn has been here for hundreds of years in one form or another.
In the painting and photograph below, purchased from the Lancashire County Council, we can see the Bowling Green Inn in historic times. You can still see this older building in the current complex, if you look closely.
This quaint road sign, directly across the street from the Bowling Green Inn today, points the way from Charnock Richard to Wigan, 7 miles, and Preston, 10 miles.
On the map above, the Bowling Green Inn is the red balloon. The green balloon is where Google misplaced the inn. The red arrow points the location, in the photo below, of the other end of Delph Lane, which begins directly across from the Bowling Green Inn. The road is not contiguous today, but it was originally. The areas between Delph Lane and The Bowling Green Inn is the area believed to be where the Bowling family lived, or the area of Bowling Green. It’s amazing that we can find this location today.
Delph Lane directly across from the Bowling Green Inn is shown below.
Unfortunately, we can’t take a virtual street view drive down Delph Lane on Google, but on Church Road, where, ironically, another church was later built, we can see some of the fields.
The road leading to the Bowling land at Charnock Richard turns to the left here at the bridge on Delph Lane. It’s a dead end today and we didn’t try it in the bus. It’s just fields, sheep and English countryside, much like it was then. Our ancestors lived here, probably for many generations. They worked and walked these lands.
Our next destination was Standish, and we drove through quaint villages with wonderful pubs, reaching back centuries in time. The pub and the church are the two establishments in every village that was timeless and survived through the centuries.
When we arrived at Standish, at St. Wilfred’s Church, they had been waiting for us at the Peace Gate…perhaps for centuries.
This church was named for St. Wilfrid (634-709) who was the son of a Northumbrian Thane, educated at the Lindisfarne Monastery, studied in Rome and Lyon, and became a monk of the Benedictine order. He returned from Europe to Ripon as Abbot in 657 and introduced Benedictine rule to an area under the Celtic form of Christianity.
The earliest reference to this church is in the year 1205 when it is recorded that a dispute arose between the Standish and Langtree families regarding the advowson or right to appoint a Rector. No doubt the church had been in existence before that date. The first recorded Rector was Alexander de Standish in 1206.
In 1543 it was confirmed by the Bishop of Chester that the church was in great ruin and that the whole parish should decide on its repair and rebuilding. That apparently didn’t happen, because Record Moody’s tomb refers to this “twice-ruinated temple.” In 1582, the church was rebuild with Robert Charnock as their representative and a go-between with the master mason Lawrence Shipway. Work was completed in 1589. If the Charnock family was involved, you can rest assured that the Speak family, who probably worked for them, was involved too.
Standish Parish was quite large and served 11 townships until in the 1900s. Charnock Richard was among those. The Bowling family obviously attended two churches, perhaps different branches of the family, or at different times – both at Chorley and at Standish.
Here’s an early photo of St. Wilfrid church, which was obviously taken after the Peace Gate was built in 1926.
The porch entryway to the church, below, is from the 1500s. Inside the inner church door is found an Acanthus flower and it’s leaves. This is a Mediterranean plant used in classical design, probably brought back to England returning from the Crusades.
St. Wilfrid’s Church in Standish records many Bowling burials, although no stones remain intact today. Like many other churches, they have rearranged some of the remaining stones to make maintenance easier.
The churchyard walls incorporate earlier remnant carvings, probably Anglo-Saxon in origin.
In many of these churches, expansions were built right over graves and in that time, place and culture, that was no problem. In fact, it might have just made you holier. This church is particularly interesting because it has a secret staircase hidden in one of the pillars – actually carved in. It led to a chantery where people who died paid for priests or monks to chant for them to get them into Heaven. Of course, when it became Anglican, the chantery was no longer needed – as the concept of Purgatory is a Catholic concept – as is praying your soul out of Purgatory in return for money.
I thought this recess was the font for holy water, just inside the entrance so that the early Catholics could cross themselves upon entering.
However, the church history says that it might have been for a pen and ink or an old lamp or statue. This is in the porch, and the church porch was utilized for a significant number of things, aside from sheltering the door. The first part of the baptismal and wedding services took place here and in the days when women were denied admission to the church after childbirth, the “churching ceremony” was held in the porch.
The churching ceremony was where women were blessed after childbirth and thanks was given for their survival, even if the child had died or was stillborn, and even if the child died unbaptised. It symbolized ritual purification of the Virgin Mary as discussed in the New Testament. The churching ceremony generally took place about 40 days after the woman’s “confinement,” or when the birth took place. In some places it was regarded as unwise for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement until she went to be churched. In the UK and Ireland, new mothers who had yet to be churched were regarded as attractive to the fairies, and so in danger of being kidnapped by them. Customs varied by church and region, although this version seems typical.
On the fortieth day after childbirth, the mother is brought to the temple to be churched; that is to say, to receive a blessing as she begins attending church and receiving the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) once again. The child (if it has survived) is brought by the mother, who has already been cleansed and washed, accompanied by the intended sponsors (Godparents) who will stand at the child’s Baptism. They all stand together in the narthex (the entranceway) before the doors of the nave of the temple, facing east. The priest blesses them and says prayers for the woman and the child, giving thanks for their wellbeing and asking God’s grace and blessings upon them.
Augustine Schulte in the Catholic Encyclopidia described the churching ceremony:
The mother, kneels in the vestibule, or within the church, carrying a lighted candle. The priest, vested in surplice and white stole, sprinkles her with holy water in the form of a cross. Having recited Psalm 23, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, he offers her the left extremity of the stole and leads her into the church, saying: “Enter thou into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary who has given thee fruitfulness of offspring.” She advances to one of the altars and kneels before it, whilst the priest, turned towards her, recites the appropriate blessing, and then, having sprinkled her again with holy water in the form of the cross, dismisses her, saying: “The peace and blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, descend upon thee, and remain forever. Amen.”
The Parish Clerk undertook much of his business on the church porch too. Contracts were signed, debts paid and executors of wills distributed legacies to beneficiaries on the church porch.
This baptistery (below) has a very old Anglo-Saxon base, pre-dating the current church significantly, and the current church is hundreds of years old. The baptismal font represents three dates. The stem is the oldest and dates from the earlier church. The bowl is 16th century and probably dates from the rebuilding and the base is an 18th century replacement.
This church is stunningly beautiful. I can feel the presence of so many ancestors and I look around, drinking in my surroundings, absorbing as fast as possible, to see what they saw. This is their life I’m visiting in a place most sacred to them.
The armorial shields were gifted to the church in 1917 and represent the chief families in the 11 townships of the ancient parish. Charnock Richard’s is shown below.
This beautifully carved oak pulpit was donated by Ralph Standish in 1616, so it would have been here, and relatively new, when our Bowling ancestors stood to hear the sermon, or perhaps sat in the pews.
Aside from the typical floor burials, the oldest of which is from the 14th century, there are two actual tombs in the church. One, that of Richard Moody, from about the same time, bears the cheerful message of, “As you are I was and as I am you shall be.”
This is an ancient church and a sarcophagus was found under the church suggesting this was a very early religious site as well – probably back to pagan days. It’s now a flower holder outside of the church, along with what they consider to be “a huge boulder” also found on the grounds.
I love the sundial, and the gargoyles in various places positioned on the roof or eaves.
The inscription below the sundial reads, “Let no passing cloud of bitterness thine accustomed serenity o’ershadow.”
The grounds are ancient and hallowed. The graves may not be marked, but we know the bodies of all of the families that lived in this area are interred here, probably stacked and intermingled after generations of reburial, much as the DNA of their descendants is today.
The oldest marked grave here dates from 1621. Stones surround the church.
The church graciously arranged for the group to have lunch in an old restored building, I believe the old restored rectory which is now a Parish Hall. Group meals, while organizationally challenging were also some of the most rewarding times, as we visited with each other. Notice the old wooden beams. Everything in England is either very old or very new.
After leaving Standish, we stopped outside Liverpool and visited Speke Hall which, ironically, has nothing to do with our family. Speke Hall obtained its name from Speke Township which was first found in the Doomsday survey of 1086 where Spec (Speke) appears as one of several local properties held by the Saxon Thane Uctred, and is described as comprising “two carucates of land worth sixty-four pence”. A carucate was a measure of land that could support a family and measured between 60 and 120 acres according to the fertility of the soil. However, the similarity between Speke and Speak served to confuse and tantalize genealogists for years.
Despite the fact that it’s not from our family, Speke Hall did have a “priest hole,” shown below, designed to hide and protect Catholic priests who were, of course, persecuted on pain of death after the reformation. Priest holes were often found in Manor homes where clandestine services were held. It is very difficult to see, but here is the well-disguised entrance. The exit is to the Mersey River where the priests could easily exit to the coast and quickly escape back to Ireland.
After walking back to the visitor center in the drenching cold rain, Jim and I had our own version of “high tea” with creamed tea, scones with locally made jam and “fresh cream” which is not whipped cream. The perfect end to the perfect day!
While the Bowling family may seem like any other Catholic Lancashire family, they weren’t. In fact, their DNA is quite rare, something that by the time our ancestors were getting ready to leave for America was probably long forgotten in their family.
In fact, by the time that the Doomsday book was written in 1086, the Bowling family origins in the UK were already roughly 43 generations in the past, and had probably been forgotten for about 40 of those generations.
How do we know this? It’s written in the Bowling Y DNA, and when combined with the historical knowledge of what was happening in the world during that time, it’s relatively easy to construct a “most likely” scenario.
In fact, this part of the story is so interesting, it’s deserving of its own telling, so please join me for the future article, “Bowling DNA, Rare as Hen’s Teeth.”
What, you want a hint?
Ok, but just one….