Historical description of Lancashire, England

Map of North Lancashire
Map of South Lancashire

Lancashire, a maritime and northern county, bounded on the N by Cumberland and Westmorland, on the E by Yorkshire, on the S by Cheshire, and on the W by the Irish Sea. A portion of it in the NW, forming Furness, is detached from the main body by Morecambe Bay and a tongue of Westmorland. The Duddon estuary for 8 miles forms the boundary with Cumberland; the watershed of the backbone of England, throughout a large aggregate, forms the boundary with Yorkshire; and the river Mersey, throughout its whole extent, forms the boundary with Cheshire. The shape of the county is exceedingly irregular. The S part is not far from being a four-sided figure of about 44 miles by 40; but the-N part consists chiefly of two irregular oblongs—the one contiguous with the S part, over a connecting distance of 10 miles, and measuring about 20 miles by 12—the other the detached section of Furness, measuring, with islands belonging to it, about 28 miles by 13 1/2. The total greatest length, from NW by N to SE by S, is about 87 miles; the greatest breadth is about 43 miles; the circuit, not including minor sinuosities, is about 295 miles; and the area is 1,207,605 acres. About 100 miles of the circuit line are low coast, marshy or sandy, and, 119,438 acres of the area are foreshore. The only islands are those at the SW of Furness, the largest of which is Walney. The surface of Furness is partly low seaboard, partly a series of fertile vales, but for the most part rises into the bold hills, the rugged mountains, and the romantic breaks and upland gorges of the Lake country, and culminates in the Old Man of Coniston, 2577 feet high. The surface of the other N oblong also rises from low seaboard to high interior, but has heights much less lofty and much less rugged, and is crossed, nearly through the centre, by the valley of the Lune, one of the most charmingly beautiful valleys in England. The W part, or nearly one-half of the rest of the county, is low and flat, chiefly fertile plain, showing indications of comparatively recent submersion by the sea, and interspersed with marsh land and mosses. The E part exhibits diversity of contour, includes much undulated landscape, rises into moor and mountain toward the boundary with Yorkshire, and contains, at or near that boundary, a number of summits ranging from 1545 to 1803 feet in altitude. All the E border is more or less upland, and it rises to greater heights about the middle than in the N and in the S.

The chief rivers are the Mersey, the Irwell, the Ribble, the Lune, the Douglas, the Wyre, the Leven, the Crake, the Duddon, and the Alt. The chief sea-indentation is Morecambe Bay, which occupies a very large area, and consists very greatly of foreshore. The chief estuaries are those of the Ribble and the Mersey, both very considerable, and the latter of vast value to navigation. The Lune is navigable to Lancaster, the Ribble to Preston, the Douglas to Wigan, and the Wyre for small vessels to Poulton. Much of the foreshore in the Ribble estuary has been reclaimed, and a plan was formed for reclaiming most of that in Morecambe Bay, but resulted in the reclaiming of only a small portion. All the long and beautiful lake of Windermere lies on the E boundary of the Furness section, and the lakes of Coniston and Esthwaite, together with some tarns, are in the interior of that section. Rocks of the upper Silurian formation constitute most of the Furness section. Rocks of the lower carboniferous formation, limestone and shale, constitute portions of that section toward the S, and a considerable portion of the tract between Morecambe Bay and the Lune. Rocks of the upper carboniferous formation, Yordale or upper limestone shale, constitute part of the country along the Lune, and a broad tract of country on both sides of the Ribble from the E boundary to within a few miles of Preston. Rocks of the same formation, chiefly millstone grit, constitute a great tract from Morecambe Bay around Morecambe, to the E boundary, intermediate between the two tracts of Yordale rocks, and constitute also a considerable tract on the E border, SE of Accrington and E of Shuttleworth. Rocks of the coal measures constitute a very large tract beneath and around the chief seats of manufacture, E of Ormskirk, north-eastward thence to the boundary around Burnley, eastward from Ormskirk to the boundary E of Rochdale, southward thence along the border, and past Manchester to the boundary with Cheshire, and southward on the W to the neighbourhood of Childwell. Rocks of the Trias formation, chiefly new red or Bunter sandstone, constitute the S extremity of the Furness section; constitute also a considerable tract southward from the neighbourhood of Garstang, past Preston and Ormskirk to the Mersey around Liverpool; and constitute further a broad tract, continuous with that, eastward along all the S border to the neighbourhood of Manchester. Alluvial formations constitute all the country between the new red sandstone formation and the sea, southward from the neighbourhood of Cockerham to the mouth of the Mersey. The coalfield may be divided into three portions, lower, middle, and higher. The lower portion contains three seams of coal, averaging about 4 feet in thickness; the middle portion contains two seams, averaging 3 feet in thickness; the higher portion contains about seventy seams, aggregately upwards of 100 feet in thickness. The county ranks next to Durham as regards the output of coal, and fourth in the production of iron ore. Hematite iron ore, lead, silver, copper, and slate are produced in Furness; lead and barytes, at Anglezarke and elsewhere; limestone at Silverdale, Clitheroe, Halewood, Leigh, and other places; whetstones at Rainford, and good building stone throughout great part of the county.

The soil of the low parts of the Furness section is various and generally good, but that of the high parts is chiefly peaty or moorish, and unfit for cultivation. The soil of the section E of Morecambe Bay, from the N boundary southward to the Ribble, includes clays, marls, and peat earth, but is chiefly a strong loam, and the low-lying portions of it form the richest corn lands in the county, while nearly two-thirds are disposed in dairy pasture. The soil of most of the large section from the Ribble to the Mersey is prevailingly a sandy loam, of considerable fertility, but only a small proportion of it is in tillage, and the greater part is laid out in grass. A limestone soil exists in scattered portions over much of the county, especially in the N, and possesses the properties usually found in limestone land. The climate is wet, having a rain-fall of from 30 to 40 inches, and drainage has not been practised to as great an extent as might have been expected. Peat mosses form a considerable aggregate in the SW and the S, the chief of them being those of Chat, Risley, Kirby, Halsall, and Pilling, and they are found, when drained, to rest on beds of rich marl. Agricultural practice, in general, is not in an advanced state. Oats, barley, carrots, hemp, and other crops receive attention. Cheese, similar to that of Cheshire, is made in some parts, principally around Leigh.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 53,276 males and 32,798 females; domestic, 11,219 males and 168,820 females; commercial, 219,326 males and 4766 females; agricultural, 55,103 males and 3340 females; fishing, 1263 males and 43 females; industrial, 899,007 males and 465,584 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 195,252 males and 898,653 females; or a total in the county of 1,434,446 males and 1,574,004 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:—Cotton and flax, 203,844; as general labourers, 84,690; miners, 81,480; iron and steel workers, 58,803; engineers, 44,002; and carpenters, 26,778. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 129,421; millinery and dressmaking, 49,451. There were also in the county 2819 blind persons, 1106 deaf, 1830 deaf and dumb, and 11,822 mentally deranged.

The commerce of Lancashire is necessarily very great, in connection with its numerous manufactures, and it possesses additional magnitude in connection with the imports and exports of a very large circle of the NW of England, particularly much of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Westmorland, and Yorkshire, and most of Staffordshire and Warwickshire. It is the chief seat of the cotton manufacture, and has nearly 400 coal mines under inspection, besides many important chemical works. St Helens is the seat of a crown, sheet, and plate, glass manufacture. Warrington is the centre of a very large tanning trade. Liverpool is the grand emporium, but Manchester, Preston, Barrow-in-Furness, Fleetwood, Lancaster, and other ports bear a share. Both canals and railways afford immense aid to traffic, and both have been developed here on a scale of great magnitude. The canal from St Helens to Liverpool, formed under an act of 1755, has usually, but erroneously, been regarded as the first canal with locks ever
constructed in Great Britain. The Sankey Canal, from St Helens to Warrington and Runcorn Gap, begun about the year 1750, really had precedence, though it began merely by the deepening of the Sankey Brook, and was afterwards, and very soon, changed into a proper canal. Yet, long previous to the making of this, the rivers Irwell, Mersey, Douglas, and others had been made artificially navigable, and the Irwell in particular, under an act of 1720, had been improved by means of cuts, locks, and weirs, as far as Manchester. The Bridgwater Canal, from Manchester to Runcorn Gap, with a branch to Leigh, was formed in 1758-65; and other canals, of such large aggregate as to traverse most parts of the county and-to form a great system of inland navigation between the Irish Sea and the German Ocean, were soon afterwards formed. The chief of these were the Ashton Canal, 11 miles long, joining one to Stockport and to Peak Forest; the Bury Canal, 10 miles long, with a branch to Bolton; the Manchester and Leeds Canal, 18 miles long, with connections; the Liverpool and Leeds Canal, 70 miles long, with branches to the river Douglas, to Preston, and to other places; and the Preston and Lancaster Canal, 26 miles long, with continuation toward Kendal. The Manchester Ship Canal, an undertaking of enormous magnitude, opened in 1894, connects Manchester with the sea, and it is expected to largely develop the trade of Manchester. (See MANCHESTER SHIP CANAL.) The Liverpool and Manchester railway, opened in 1830, was the first locomotive one of any note in the world. It was preceded, indeed, by experimental short lines elsewhere; it was preceded also by several of the old kinds of railroads within Lancashire itself; but it formed the first grand successful instance of railway with locomotives; it was both the type and the stimulus of all the other locomotive railways which have so marvellously changed the communications of the civilized world; and it has been followed, within Lancashire, by such a vast network of these railways as cannot be adequately understood without the aid of a map.

The administrative county of Lancaster contains 380 and the fourteen county boroughs thirty-four entire civil parishes. There are, besides thirty-five parishes situated partly in the county and partly in the boroughs, seven which are partly in other administrative counties. The ancient county includes 730 entire ecclesiastical parishes and parts of ten others. It is situated partly in the diocese of Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool,. Manchester, Ripon, and Wakefield. There are eighteen municipal boroughs. Four divisions of the ancient county—viz., N Lancashire, NE Lancashire, SE Lancashire, and SW Lancashire, are divided into twenty-three parliamentary divisions,. each of which returns one member to Parliament. The borough representation is as follows—Liverpool, 9 members ; Manchester, 6; Salford, 3; Blackburn, Oldham, Bolton, and Preston, 2 each; Ashton-under-Lyne, Barrow-in-Furness, Burnley, Bury, Rochdale, St Helens, Warrington, and Wigan, 1 member each. The total population of the administrative county and fourteen county boroughs is 3,906,721. The county has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into thirty-four petty sessional divisions. Twenty-five of the municipal and county boroughs have separate commissions. of the peace, and the boroughs of Blackburn, Bolton, Liverpool (City), Manchester (City), Oldham, Salford, and Wigan have also separate courts of quarter sessions.

Lancashire is governed by a lord lieutenant, a high sheriff,. and a county council, consisting of 105 councillors and 35 aldermen. It is in the N judiciary circuit and in the N military district. The assizes for the N section are held at Lancaster, those for the S section are held at Liverpool and Manchester; quarter sessions are held at Lancaster, Preston, Kirkdale (for Liverpool), and Salford (for Manchester); courts of bankruptcy are held at Liverpool and Manchester, and county courts are held in all the large towns.

The chief seats in the county are—Knowsley Park, Heaton Park, Holker Hall, Croxteth Park, Worsley Hall, Latham. House, Haigh Hall, Atherton, Kenyon Peel Hall, Knowle, Ashton Hall, Middleton, New Hall, Old Hall, Bold, Rossall Hall, Trafford Hall, Gawthorpe Hall, Garswood Hall, Feniscowles Hall, Hazles, Aldcliffe Hall, Alkincoates, Alkrington, Allerton Tower, Alston, Apsley House, Arden House, Ashworth Hall, Astley Hall, Bank Hall, Bardsea Hall, Bigland, Birch House, Bispham Hall, Bleasdale Tower, Braythay Hall, Bradshaw, Brandlesome, Broad Clough, Broughton Tower, Burrow Hall, Capernwray Hall, Carr Hall, Castleton Hall, Chaddock Hall, Childwall Hall, Claughton Hall, Clayton Hall, Clifton Hall, Conishead Priory, Crosby Hall, Croston Hall, Cuerden Hall, Darcy Lever Hall, Downham Hall, Dunkenhaigh Park, Duxbury Hall, Ellel Hall, Euxton Hall, Formby Hall, Foxholes, Golborne Park, Hacking Hall, Hale Hall, Hamer Hall, Harrock Hall, Healey Hall, Halsnead, Hopwood Hall, Hornby Castle, Hulton Park, Huntroyde Hall, Hurst Grange, Ince Blundel Hall, Leighton Hall, Lytham Hall, Mitton Hall, Moreton Hall, Morleys Hall, Myerscough Hall, New Hall, Oakewood Hall, Ormerod House, Peel Hall, Pleasington Hall, Read Hall, Red Scar, Rufford Hall, Richmond Hill, Scarisbrick Hall, Shawe Hall, Sparth House, Speke Hall, Standish Hall, Stansfield Hall, Swaith Moor Hall, Symondstone Hall, Smithills Hall, Thurland Castle, Todmorden Hall, Towneley Hall, Turton Tower, Wardley Hall, and Widness Hall.

The territory now forming Lancashire was inhabited by the Brigantes and the Volantii; was included by the Romans in their province of Maxima Cæsariensis, and in the 6th century was the scene of various conflicts between the Britons and the Saxons. The northern part of it long lay included in the kingdom of Cumbria, the southern part became included in the kingdom of Northumbria, and the whole was not regularly occupied by the English till about 921, in the time of Edward the Elder. It was made an honour of the superior class of seigniories, and as such was given at the Conquest to Roger de Poictou. It soon passed by forfeiture into the hands of Stephen, afterwards king of England, was given by him to his son William; passed till the time of Henry III. through several eminent hands, was given with the title of Earl by Henry III. to his second son, Edmund Crouchback; passed to a descendant of Crouchback with the title of Duke, went with the title, by marriage with the first Duke's heiress, to John of Gaunt; was raised to a palatinate in favour of that possessor, passed through Henry of Bolingbroke to the Crown, was held by him as Henry IV., by Henry V., and by Henry VI., went into abeyance in connection with the last of these kings, and, by Act of Parliament in the time of Edward IV., was annexed permanently to the Crown. The Duchy of Lancashire was enriched at the Reformation with many estates of dissolved monasteries, and, besides much property in connection with the county palatine, has property also in twenty-one other counties, but the revenue is curtailed by leases granted by successive monarchs.

Some local names in Lancashire, though not nearly so many proportionally as in the southern counties, indicate the fact of occupation by the Romans. Ancient British names also occur, yet with comparative scarceness, as memorials of the ancient British people both before and after the Roman occupation. Saxon names likewise occur, but they too are comparatively scarce. Scandinavian names occur in only a very few instances. The local names in the aggregate afford much less distinctness of historical indication than in most other parts of England. The races of the present natives are evidently very mixed. A proportion is Celtic, but exists nearly apart or intermarries very little with the other inhabitants, and a proportion is Irish, by modern immigration, which went on rapidly increasing for some years, but received a check after 1861.

In 1323 the Scots under Robert Bruce ravaged Lancashire from the North as far as to Preston, and burnt that town. In the time of Henry VIII. Lancashire was in some measure agitated by the insurrection known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. In the civil wars of Charles I. many of the inhabitants took part with the king; many military operations and some conflicts took place within the county; Manchester was repeatedly contested by the belligerents, and eventually became the headquarters of Sir Thomas Fairfax; and Lancaster was alternately in the hands of the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. On 17 July, 1648, the Scots, under the Duke of Hamilton, and the Parliamentarians, under Cromwell, fought a sanguinary battle at Preston, when the former were routed with great slaughter; and three days afterwards the same armies met again at Winwick, with the same result. In 1651 the forces of the Earl of Derby were routed at Wigan by Colonel Lilburne, and soon afterwards the Earl himself was taken prisoner and beheaded at Bolton. In 1715 the troops of the Pretender took up their quarters at Preston, but being too few to stand their ground they soon laid down their arms. In 1745 the army of the young Pretender traversed the county both on their advance to Derby and on their retreat.

Roman stations were at Mancunium or Manchester, Coccium or Ribchester, Ad Alaunum or Lancaster, Bremetonacæ or Burrow, and Ad Alpes Peninos or Broughton. Roman camps occur at Westwick, Worston, and Twist. A Roman road went from Manchester to Ribchester, with a branch to Broughton, and to Lancaster and Barrow, and other Roman roads went toward Ilkley, Slack, Little Chester, and Chester. Roman coins and other Roman relics have been found at the Roman stations, at Burnley, and at other places. Old castles are at Lancaster, Dalton, Gleaston, Fouldry, Thurland, Hornby, Greenhaugh, Hoghton, Turton, and Belfield. Old abbeys are at Furness, Cockersand, and Whalley; old priories, at Burscough and Up Holland; and old churches, at Manchester, Winwick, Cartmel, Middleton, and Whalley.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5