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A Parish History

Did the Romans Come to Thornton? A road came from Ribchester through Preston, via Kirkham into the Fylde. There is some evidence for a possible route towards Poulton and on to Skippool or further along the west bank of the river.A possible road surface was uncovered in the Orchard of Burn Hall farm in the 1930's and there was a recorded find of 400 Roman coins found during the construction of the promenade at Fleetwood during the late 19th century. The Wyre estuary has always been a favoured site for the harbour Portus Setantiorum mentioned by the geographer Ptolomy of Alexandria in the 2nd century AD.

Thornton is mentioned in the Doomsday book as Torentun

Recovered Roman Coin Hoard - (Hoxne)
Roman Coin Hoard (hoxne hoard)
Burn Hall and the Reformation

Leaving Thornton for Fleetwood, on the crest of the hill, to the right of the road are crumbling remnants of what was once the principle dwelling, Burn Hall. It is known there has been a house on the hill for 800 years or more and the building which, sadly, was demolished c. 1980, had been erected by the Westby's of Mowbreck Hall, Wesham in the 16th century. There was a beautiful Chapel in the house, the walls of which were lined with oaken wainscot, carved with shields, small statues and foliage, the ceiling being ornamented with vine-leaves and clusters of grapes, while over the portal on an oaken slab, was the legend.

" Elegi abjectus esse in domo Dei mei magis quam habitari in tabernaculis peccatorum." ( I would rather live as an outlaw in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of sinners). That quotation is intelligible in the circumstances of the Reformation when faithful Catholics became recusant - incurred a penalty of £20 per month for their refusing to attend worship in the parish church.

Previously those who were living in Thornton would have assisted at Mass in St. Chads, Poulton. Local landed families remained staunchly Catholic. The district H.Q., was Rossall Grange, the home of the Allen family. William Allen, who went abroad to found Douai College, became the leader of Catholic resistance. Priests, ordained at Douai, came secretly into England from 1574. There is a letter dated March 14th, 1583, which mentions that three or four Masses were often said on the same day at Rossall - but in the same year Elizabeth, widow of George Allen, William's brother, was outlawed and her estate forfeited. Burn Hall continued as a Mass centre until the death of John Westby in 1722 when the estate passed to John Bennison - a parson.

Burn Hall (c.1900) - Thornton
Burn Hall c1900 - Thornton
Portrait of Cardinal William Allen

Darkness before Dawn

Mass continued to be offered in private houses. Catholic families were close knit. Thomas Tyldesley of Foxhall ( Blackpool ) kept a diary, 1712 - 14. One entry records:" Went to Mains to prayers ( Mass ), thence with Jack Westby to Burn for dinner; stayed till 4; thence to Whinneyheys, stayed till 9, soe home."

It was still unlawful, during the 18th century, for a priest to perform his office, though the death penalty had been commuted to life - imprisonment. It was only the Second Relief Act in 1791 which permitted Catholic chapels - still with certain restrictions which were only lifted in 1829. It is expressive of the strength of the Catholic community that a chapel was built at Mains Hall in 1686. The building is still to be seen on the right when facing the house. It followed the usual disguise which caused the term Up - steps to refer to discreet Catholic chapels of this period. The ground floor was stables and the upper floor, the chapel, was presumed to be a hay - loft. We know that in 1701 a Fr. John Berrington was chaplain there. He was convicted at Lancaster sessions, 1716 - 17, as a Popish Priest.

The village of Singleton was a hot spot of Catholicism. The old pre - Reformation chapel of St Mary's was leased in 1650 by Ralph Eccleston, a recusant, to be secretly used for Mass. It became a Priest's residence and it was there that Rev. James Swarbrick was apprehended after the 1715 rising. He died in Lancaster Castle. The chapel was taken over for Anglican worship. A new Catholic chapel was built at the western end of the village and when the lease on the land ran out a church dedicated to St. John was opened on The Breck in Little Poulton, 1813.

Cardinal William Allen
Mains Hall (Front) - Thornton
Mains Hall - Singleton
Mains Hall (side) - Thornton
Mains Hall - Singleton

From 1841, Catholics in Thornton had the choice of attending at John's in Poulton or St. Mary's , Fleetwood.

Meanwhile Thornton prospered. Drilling in Pressall, across the river, discovered unlimited amounts of rock salt. To exploit the deposits the United Alkali Co came to Thornton, drawing workers to the area.

A deputation to Canon Taylor, Dean of the Fylde coast, obtained the opening of Sacred Heart Church in 1898.

United Alkali Works -Later ICI
A Parish

Little Thornton was part of the parish of Sacred Heart when Fr. Peter Eccles, curate was told to groom the area for independence. In the Autumn of 1966 Fr. Bernard Roney was appointed Priest - in - charge. He bought 17 School Road as a presbytery and said Mass there during the week whilst on Sundays, by kind permission of the vicar of St. John's, Mass was celebrated in the parish hall as well as in the garage of Brookfield in Hillylaid Road.

Land was acquired at the corner of Stanah Road and Raikes Road where building of a church hall began on August 15th, 1973. The first Mass was offered here on May 31st, 1974 and the building was officially opened by Bishop Foley on July 2nd, 1974. It was designed by James Rawlinson and Ian Clayton of Fleetwood and built by Messrs Roger Eaves & son Ltd.

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United Alkali Works ( later I.C.I.)
Inside View of Church (Altar )
St Nicholas Owen Church - Altar