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Christmas at Morley’s 1636
Morley’s will be for ever associated with the glorious martyrdom of Ambrose Barlow. He used many local halls for his meetings and by keeping to the loneliness of Chatmoss he was able to lose himself in it when times were dangerous. From Morleys he could in comparative safety reach his own home of Barlow Hall by using little known bridle ways across the soft bog. In 1633 there was a report sent to York that he caused many people on Sundays and holidays to come to Bedford Hall and in Leigh he was as well known as the vicar of the parish. After Barlow’s death one of his followers set down in a letter to his elder brother some of the highlights and characteristics of the martyr's life. From this comes a vivid and tense description of a Christmas at Morley’s about this period:
"At Christmasse will be five six or seven years 1 cannot tell which, I being then at Morley’s with him, there came upon the eve (as usually there did at that good time) very many Catholics far and near to watch and pray. Among the rest there came a young man from behind Manchester where in his passage as he understood that there was a servant who had commission to have taken Mr. Barlow and for that purpose intended to have been here upon Christmasse day in the morning as he had told some in the town; but he hath (quoth he) fallen down the stairs at Holiwells the innkeeper but yesterday and broken his neck. And so our Martyr's day being not yet come, we had the happiness to hear his three Masses and his sermon; and the poor folks having every one of them received the feast of feasts at our Martyr's hands, had his feast at last and did praise our Lord."
Moat, drawbridge, solitude of bog and moss, danger of death and prison, wild rumour never varied mystic feast days, these were the exhilarations that charged the atmosphere of Christmas at Morley’s in Astley.
A Mort fortune 1638
Thomas Mort, when he died was under 50: he outlived his aged father by only seven years. Yet his personal fortune at £3,094 was almost double. It was a magnificent sum and reflects the general prosperity of the country before the tragedies of the civil war. The inventory of his goods was made on July 24th 1638, and shows that his principal home was Peel in Little Hulton; there was only a short list of items at Damhouse, Wharton, and Smithfold, which were set down for taxation. Like old Adam he held bills and bonds of a value of £ 1,250, book debts, £761 and £ 1.18. Rents for lands not yet paid came to £238 and in ready money there was £108. It has been thought that Mort was a lawyer, from the amount of May 20, 1641, in the journals of the House of Commons:
"Whereas this House was informed that a Romish priest was apprehended on Easter-day last at the Hall of Morley’s in the County of Lancaster called by the name of Edward Barlow, who upon his examination confessed himself a Romish priest and had received orders from Arras, he now being committed to the Common Gaol at Lancaster, it is ordered that the said Edward Barlow shall be proceeded against at the next Assizes for the said County."
One of the pastures lying between Morley’s and Sales Farm situate to the north of the latter and traversed by a footpath from Morley Lane has carried for centuries its name of Priest Field. The tenants of the farm in the 17 century were the Bradshaw’s, who were catholic and recusant. This established fact opens up all kinds of probabilities. Barlow must have counted these Bradshaw’s among his most faithful neighbours. They were near neighbours of Morley’s and must often have used that pathway to be able to have afforded shelter to Barlow and facility for many celebrations of Mass. But the great mystery of the name remains embedded in the landscape. Was Barlow captured there trying to escape? Were the profits of the meadow ever made over in secret trust to support a priest? The long-since dead, who knew the answer, have taken the secret with them. And there is no way of wresting it from them.
Lancaster Castle, September 10th 1641
On this day Ambrose Barlow suffered and was put to death at Lancaster. News of this extreme act must have heightened the intensity of devotion in many of his followers in Astley, Bedford, and Westleigh. He must have been held long in prayer and meditative remembrance by his isolated and scattered flocks, chastened in reflection that he should have been made to pay so high a price for so holy a practice of life. After the hanging, lets body was dismembered and quartered. The skull was carefully preserved and is kept today in veneration at Wardley Hall in Worsley.
Thomas Gillibrand of the Peel, 1648
Peel Hall prosperity reached high levels under this Thomas, born in 1577 and died in 1648. His second wife was Alice Damport and his children named from the will, Geoffrey, Ralph, Henry, Ellin, Ellinor and the youngest son Thomas. Two daughters were named Alice was the wife of James Parcevall and Jane had married Richard Whitehead. He gave £40 each to sons Henry and Thomas and the rest was for his three youngest children. A son Geoffrey had died before his father and Ralph the heir was left the best bay gelding. The two married daughters received pieces of gold. Gillibrand was very rich: it took four men three days to list and price his possessions and agree their total at £595. Even his suits were costly at £10. He had been wont to shoot with a long carbine and two pistols. He owned a pair of bandoliers. There was £44 10s. in gold in the Hall when he died and nearly £20 in other money. The silver plate weighed 30oz. and he bred hawks in a mew at Peel. His list of effects is given elsewhere.
Peel Hall in 1648
Peel was a great house in these carolan times and comfort, measured in that age by feather beds, ample and sufficient. In the spacious hall joining the two wings was a screen. The farm economy demanded facilities for repairs and in the workhouse and the under workhouse implements, wheels and carts could be made to serve their purpose. The water corn mill was near the Ellenbrook; in it meal and money for meal, with picks, tools and arks. The tithe barn was of great size, well able to keep storage of oats and barley of the value of £20. In the mews were kept the hawks and in 1648 a weight of feathers. Gillibrand as did Leyland loved to hunt along the lanes in Astley. Like most famous houses at this time the Peel rooms were furnished in a colour scheme and there was a White Chamber. In the Great Chamber were three feather beds and all things belonging to them. Far away in the Gate House was a chaff bed for the servant, who lived there to guard the approach from the village green. The brass pans were of enormous weight and size, capable of meals on a great menial scale. Illumination was by candle; the windows were curtained and carpets adorned the floor. One bed was a canopy bed, heated in the harsh cold of winter by warming pans. All the evidence shows the 'abilities of high scale living at Peel in the year that Thomas died'.
Damhouse is rebuilt, 1650
Adam Mort, grandson of the great Adam, rebuilt Damhouse in 1650: the old lintel stone over the principal doorway (lately renewed) records the fact to this very day and generation. In bold incised lettering "Adam and Margaret Mort 1650" Before March 6th of that year, Margaret had died leaving four very young sons, Thomas, Robert, Alexander and Adam. The eldest was only four. Margaret was one of the daughters of Robert Mawdesley and her untimely death was the cause of the settlement of 1650. The old manor house had sheltered the family of Mort for nearly half a century; this new one, much added to by later builders saw their sad and final departure on a far-off day in the late 19 century.