Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Mains Course

(Anybody who objects to the dreadful puns used in the titles of these Mains articles please let us know in writing and we’ll put a stop to them immediately. Here at the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian we’re nothing if not amenable.)
It’s time to catch up with our ongoing investigations at Mains Hall, Little Singleton…or at least to attempt to catch up with them. Following our last visit to this stately old pile we realised just how complicated the history of the building actually was. So, cockleshell middens aside, we thought it might be best before writing an article about where we’re going to stick our trenches and why, to fill in the known history for those not as familiar with the place as we’re becoming.
Batten down the mental hatches, it’s long, it’s complicated and it involves the sort of genealogical list that we usually try to avoid like the plague. However, needs must and all that, so here goes (as borrowed from our preliminary report for the County Archaeologist):

The site consists of three main buildings; the ‘Great Hall’ to the west built in 2004 (designed as a wedding venue) which is believed to stand on the site of an earlier ‘banqueting hall’, the ‘Great Barn’ to the east reconstructed by the Hesketh family in the 17th century, a
gain standing apparently on the site of an earlier building, and the main hall itself, the majority of which dates from the sixteenth century (although some of the rooms, constructed from timber framing with wattle-and-daub laths, might well be older).
The Victoria County History has this to say about the ‘Great Barn’: “…facing the garden are the initials, roughly worked in the brickwork, of Thomas and Margaret Hesketh and the date 1686. The building on which the initials occur is now a stable, but the upper part is usually known as the 'chapel', though no signs of its having been used as such are now visible. It is described as being 'desolate' in 1845, when 'the picture of the Virgin and Child had fallen from the altar and the altar rails were in decay.' The outside stai
rcase which formerly led to the 'chapel,' which is now a hayloft, has long been removed.”
With regards to the main hall, the Victoria County History also notes that, over the generations it: “…has been altered and re-altered, modernised and re-modernised, alterations carried out in 1846 having almost gutted the interior.”
Around this period the west wing was completely demolished, John Porter, author of ‘The History of the Fylde’, having this to say about it: “(It) was roofed with tiles, about six inches square, piled thickly upon one another, and contained several secret recesses or hiding places, one of which was situated near the mantelpiece, and another, entered from the floor above by means of a ladder, showed manifest evidences of having been occupied.”
The evidences, to which Porter referred, were pieces of straw discovered in the priest hole during the kitchen’s demolition. These might well have been the remains of Cardinal Allen’s ‘bed’ during the Catholic Persecution. Kathleen Eyre’s ‘Lancashire Landmarks’ recalls that: “Mains Hall (was) the ancient seat of the Heskeths who were Jacobites and Papists.” As Cardinal Allen was also related
by marriage to William Hesketh he would, no doubt, have sheltered at Mains Hall whenever the necessity arose.
In 1853 William Thornber wrote about the priest hole, describing it as a: “…most uncomfortable cell, both dark and confined, where the wretched inmate Dr. Allen, Father Campion, and the persecuted priest of Titus Oates, in succession, stretched his limbs on the straw that was found still littering the floor.”
Titus Oates was an Anglican minister, defrocked for drunken blasphemy and then dismissed from his job as ship’s chaplain for indulging in ‘a homosexual act’. In 1678 he claimed to have discovered a Catholic plot to kill Charles the II, accusing James, Duke of York, of being a traitor. Numerous Catholics were duly arrested and executed before it was discovered that Oates had been lying. In 1685 he was found guilty of perjury, pilloried, fined £100,000, whipped and imprisoned for the rest of his life. Presumably Thornber wasn’t intimating that Oates himself had taken refuge at the hall, but that one of the priests being persecuted by Oates had sought sanctuary there.
Thornber also spoke of the Tudor banqueting hal
l: “On the west, the wing now destroyed, (was) a very antique building, within which was a hall-part, having a huge open chimney and wainscoted with fluted oak of the reign of Henry the Eighth, now rotting unheeded in the garrets of the hall.”

To the rear of the main hall, as can be seen in the photograph above, stands a Tudor dovecote, reckoned by some to be the largest such building in Britain. It’s currently in a state of some neglect, lying outside the grounds now owned by the Yeomans family.
To the south of the hall (nowadays the front drive although, at one time, the hall apparently faced the river) stands what is generally regarded as the remains of the original moat (shown below). Again, this might just be speculation, the ‘moat’ being little more than two separate ponds that could easily have been mediaeval fisheries.
And so onto the geneological history…
Singleton itself, until the time of the Norman Conquest (1066), was held by Earl Tostig, although later Little Singleton (consisting of just half a ploughland) was granted in serjeanty to Banastre family and, by marriage, the Singleton family (William son of Alan de Singleton owning a mill and a fishery near by in 1245). The manor then descended into the hands of the Balderstons.
In 1565 it was assigned to the Earl of Derby and in 1602 was sold by Alice, Countess of Derby, to William Hesketh. From here on ownership of the hall descended through the Hesketh line, first with George Hesketh, who died in 1571, then with William who died in 1622.
The Heskeths, as already mentioned, were staunch Roman Catholics. During the ‘Civil War’ they fought on the side of the royalists, one of the sons being killed in a skirmish at Brindle in 1651. Because of this the family estates were sequestered by parliament in 1643 and two thirds of the land removed from their possession.
In 1717 William Hesketh registered his estate as 'Papist’. Mains Hall is included on Bowen’s map of 1752 where it’s recorded as Monks Hall, although whether this is just a typographical error or not it’s difficult to say. William Hesketh’s son Thomas inherited the manor of Claughton in Garstang and along with it the name of Brockholes. Through marriage Mains Hall now descended to the Fitzherbert-Brockholes family.
Maria Fitzherbert was famously, if not briefly, married to George IV whilst he was still the Prince of Wales. Obviously, as the heir to the throne is forbidden by the constitution to marry a catholic, the marriage was soon dissolved.
During the 1920s and again in the late 1940s Mains Hall became derelict. More recently it has acted as a farm, a private residence and a ‘B. & B.’ The hall is currently owned by Adele Yeomans whose fascination for the site’s great history led her to renovate much of the interior, preserving as much of its integrity as possible. It also led her to contact the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian with a view to us helping investigate the hall’s history.
And that just about wraps it up for now. We’ll discuss the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of our test pits and trenches in another article. The sounds of snoring from our reader are a good indication that such matters can wait for another time.


John said...

First of all, I like the titles, so don't apologize for them.

Second, I anxiously checked for the update several times last night, in anticipation of the Mains tale, but it didn't show up until this morning.

Third, Mains has such a fascinating, but confusing, history. Well, not confusing, but overlapping, and complex. Maybe you can do one of those 3-d time lapse reconstructions like they do on the telly? That would be nice.

Fourth, great stuff, but definitely still just a taste.

Fifth, I've suggested this before, and wish you would consider, having a detailed glossary of terms. For instance, Priest hole, medieval fishery, anchorite, etc, are all infered, but being able to reference these terms quickly and in detail would be helpful in understanding these histories.

Sixth, some of this material was in your book already! Didn't you think we'd notice? :0)

Seventh, Cheers for a great site, and for making history interesting! JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


First: They get me on this.

Second: That's because I forgot, went to bed, suddenly realised that it was Friday when I woke up and posted it with a slice of toast and peanut butter still hanging from my mouth.

Third: If Time Team lend me their computer program, I'll give it a go.

Fourth: There's more to come...with even more excrutiating titles.

Fifth: I'll see what I can do...just as soon as I get the time.

Sixth: Actually I was hoping you'd notice that some of the stuff was in the book...especially the explanations behind the terms 'priest hole', 'mediaeval fishery' and 'anchorite.' The truth is, whether it's in the book or not, I can't actually alter the history...although perhaps I should have tried to alter the way we'd phrased it a bit more so that nobody'd notice.

Seventh: History already is's just that some historians aren't. (I'm not going to mention names...but the words Sharkey and David spring to mind.)


John said...

Hey Brian,

Here's an idea for a return to Greyminster! Wouldn't it be cool (for us readers) if you wrote a new story, say... about an Historian. This Historian writes the definitive History of Greyminster, only to see that new things are uncovered so that he has to rewrite his History of Greyminster over and over.

Finally, the guy decides he's had enough, and wants his book to be truly definitive, so he tries to find a solution!

First, he considers trapping Greyminster in time, kind of like Brigadoon. That doesn't work, so he considers destroying the entire area so that the history will not only stop but no new evidence will surface.

Finally, he joins the council in an effort to completely pave over or otherwise keep new history from being discovered!

See? History, Sci-fi, and scary as anything!

Hmmm... maybe a bit too scary.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Looking forward to more Mains!

Brian Hughes said...


(Shh...we don't mention Greyminster on this board. I'm trying to be taken seriously by our reader/s here.)

Greyminster? What's that? Onviously nothing important...move along folks, there's nothing to see here...

John said...

Why can't I talk about ----------here? It's a fantastic ---------- of ----- and you should be proud!

Besides, it's not like you can censor me. :0)

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


(Different worlds, one of chalkboards, the other just cheesy. 'Being proud' is not a phrase I'd associate alter-ego. There are enough feotid backwaters on the Internet that deal with 'G--' without it skulking about in the dark corners of my academic aspirations.)

Sill nothing to see here folks...don't forget the forum and the new meeting of the Fylde & Wyre Antiquarian Discussion Group, Saturday 7.00 p.m. GMT. Everyone's invited. Be there or doing something else.

JahTeh said...


Well I can't help it, coming late to the Fylde and Wyre which I never knew about because TimeTeam ignore you and I'm usually down an impact crater or up Lord S's nose.

Brian Hughes said...


You've missed nothing. Trust me on this one. Now go back to your chocolate mousse and your photos of Silbury Hill and stop panicking.