Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Being An Shorte History of Ye Olde Village of Layton

Nowadays Layton has become embroiled in the sprawling blot that constitutes Blackpool, but originally it was a village in its own right, long before the latter town was even a twinkle in the tourist department’s eye. In fact, Layton was first recorded in the Domesday Book (William the Bastard’s great personal accounts ledger of 1085) as Laton, a Saxon name (of course), the ‘ton’ being a ‘village’ or ‘enclosure’ and the ‘La’…ah, well, now, therein lies the problem, because, as always, such matters are open to interpretation. Unfortunately, however, according to our own Saxon dictionary, the only source for this prefix appears to stem from the word ‘Laeth’, meaning ‘hostile, loathsome and/or evil.’
That’s not a pleasant way to describe Layton -- accurate, perhaps, but not very pleasant. Alan Stott, the late respected local historian, records in his ‘Layton Village: A brief history of the manor’ that the name translates as the ‘enclosure by the water’. We’re not entirely sure how he reached that conclusion, so we’ll stick with our version for now, and even use William Thornber’s description of the place back in Victorian times in a feeble attempt to justify our cause: “The village of Layton, with the exception of Layton Hall and a lodge, the residence of Mr Thomas Fisher, is composed of very mean houses.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Layton might be a Saxon name, but there are older tales to be had here. Such as this one, where, according to Reverend Bulpit’s ‘Notes on the Fylde’: “Mr. Wray, at (Hoo Hill) Cemetery, has a remarkable stone hammer which formed part of a path below the surface level.”

We’ve mentioned this ‘stone hammer’ (and the prehistoric track on which it was found) before, but because it’s a good one we’re going to mention it again. Nowadays the hammer, illustrated below, is kept in a storeroom at the Grundy Art Gallery. At least, it was a year or so ago. It might have been moved by now.

Recognise it? Probably not, but let’s return to Bulpit for a more detailed description: “A hole has been worked through the stone for the insertion of a handle. The drilling of this hole would be a work of much labour. It could be accomplished by the use of flints, and I have some ancient tools (known as such by their gloss) such as would accomplish the works. They were found at a brickfield near the sports ground, worked by Councillor Fenton.”

There’s another ancient find connected with Layton, which we’ve probably also mentioned before…although I can’t be certain, so just bear with us.

The quern, illustrated below (don’t worry…we’ll be getting onto some proper photographs shortly…it’s just that my camera is a bit rubbish when it comes to taking images of anything smaller than an elephant) is currently on display at the Grundy Art Gallery (unlike the stone hammer above, which you can only gain access to if you have the right connections).Or then again, it might not be on display. It was about a year and a half back, which was the last time we saw it.

Actually, that’s just the top half. Nobody knows where the bottom half is…and just in case you’re wondering, a quern was a device used to grind grain. A wooden handle, fitted into the hole at the side, would have acted as a lever. The grain was poured in through the hole in the top, making the rotary quern the blender of its day. (See…it’s all educational stuff, is this.)

This particular quern was discovered during the construction of some annex or other at Victoria hospital, which, of course, is just on the outskirts of Layton village.

Enough of the prehistoric stuff though. Let’s get back to Layton’s Saxon roots.

Unlike Marton (which we’ve also written about in the past, so if you’re really that interested you can go and look it up) there are no ‘strip’ or ‘tenement’ fields on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps to help us pin down the village’s location. That’s because, during the mediaeval period, many Saxon strip field boundaries were removed to make way for larger mediaeval fields.

The layout of the buildings around Layton Road, however, and the fact that the road itself is lower than the houses surrounding it (Saxon road systems, like those of the Celts, typically being sunken) suggest that the area in the photograph below was once the centre of the village

No…look closely. The garden’s about three feet higher than the pavement. That’s because the road is sunken. See…we’re not just making this up to sound impressive.

That’s a cobble built cottage. (It’s a bit hard to tell what with the resolution being so low, but it’s actually constructed from pebbles off the seashore) and it’s end on to the road. That’s typical of Saxon longhouses, that is. We’re not saying that it is a Saxon longhouse. But it’s probably rebuilt on the same plot using reclaimed materials.

Somewhat uniquely for Fylde and Wyre villages, we can even tell you (in a roundabout manner) who the original Saxon chieftain was. We’ve mentioned this before somewhere, but to save you the trouble of having to go back and dig it out, here it is again (we’re too considerate for you lot, we really are):

“In 1292 Sir William Botiler laid claim to Layton rabbit warren, and during the court case successfully proved that ‘fairs, assizes, markets and salvage’ around the village had been: “…the hereditary rights of his ancestors from the accession of William the Conqueror.” Botiler, however, wasn’t Sir William’s ancestral name. Over a century earlier, the family surname had been changed from the somewhat more Saxon sounding Walter, because Theobald Walter at the time was the personal butler (or ‘botlier’) to Prince John. The name Walter means the ‘ruler of an army’ as derived from the Germanic elements for ‘rule’ (being ‘wald’) and ‘army’ (being ‘heri’). All of which suggests that, at the time of the Norman invasion, Sir William Botiler’s ancestor was the Saxon chieftain at Layton.”

Anyhow, the reason behind William Botiller wanting to prove his right to assizes and stuff in the first place was because in 1257 Henry III granted him an annual fair (from the 29th of November to the 1st of December) and a weekly market (held on Wednesdays) in Layton.

The fair, no doubt, was held on the village green in the shadow of the village cross, both of which nowadays, true to form, are long since gone.

Nil desperandum ancient market spotters; we’ve got a good idea where they originally were.

As far as we can work out, that building in the photograph above is Cross House, and it’s called Cross House because that’s where the village cross used to stand. And we know from our researches that the village green stood across the road from Cross House and, therefore, the village cross. So, if you happen to live in the house directly opposite the one in the photograph, it might be a good idea to take a mattock and a metal detector to your lawn, because who knows what those mediaeval peasants might have dropped on market day?

Layton market, as far as we can tell, was the earliest one granted (at least officially) in the Fylde.

Now then, according to the title of this article, this is meant to be a short history of Layton village. Unfortunately we’ve barely scratched the surface here, so ‘short’ is an inadequate description really. However, I’ve no doubt that, natural disasters and other distractions permitting, at some point in the future we’ll come back to the subject for another, possibly deeper, delve around


John said...

First to comment! Woohoo!

John said...

Okay, now the comment. First off, nice history, but too shorte. Second, don't rush that prehistorical stuff! I like that bit, especially since prehistorical stuff doesn't grow on trees, you know.

Third, why sunken roads? Wouldn't they tend to collect water, and hence collect mud? There must have been a reasonfor it, but i don't recall you mentioning it.

Second, could the cross have been built into the foundation of Cross House? Perhaps a knock on the door is in order?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


"...prehistorical stuff doesn't grow on trees..."

It might do, if it's a prehistoric leaf.

"...why sunken roads?"

I honestly don't know. (Michelle probably would, but she's busy doing something else at the moment.) I suspect it's because they were originally dug as boundary ditches between different estates, as a way of preventing raids, and then later adopted as roads being them the only bits that weren't actually on other people's land.

"...could the cross have been built into the foundation of Cross House?"

Could be...but I don't think the householder would allow us to pull down his home to find out. I reckon it's more likely to have been broken up and used as gateposts somewhere close by. A further snoop around Layton with closer scrutiny towards such matters might be in order at some point.

JahTeh said...

The purty pics are a nice antidote to last night's TimeTeam when Phil removed his shirt and you thought his wee shorts were bad.

Any chance the roads would naturally sink more with age?

A bit like my double chin.

I hope I haven't offended the 'Double Chin Society'.

Anonymous said...

The will of John Bailey (1760), who lived at Cross House, calls his house "the new house at the cross." Therefore Layton's Market cross still existed when Cross House was built. In fact Thornber writing in 1836/7 says that older inhabitants still remembered the cross.

Also bear in mind that Great Layton Village is on a hillside, so the land on the east side of the village street, Layton Road, is higher for that reason alone.

History Hunter said...

I must remember not to watch last nights Time Team .. Oh my Eyes !

Jayne said...

I missed the bit where Phil stripped thank the good Lord for counting knitting stitches!

The sunken road would be lower as it would have taken the waste water from the houses - including storm water and the sewerage - I imagine.
Would get a tad messy otherwise ;)

The Double Chin Society second your comments, J, and move to have them enshrined in the minutes!

Brian Hughes said...


That's an old episode that one. I remember seeing it. Apparently it put so many people off their teas that it's now in Phil's contract never to take his shirt off again.


Cheers for the information about the cross. It backs the article up nicely. With regards to the road, you're quite right, Layton is on a hillside and the gardens on the other side of the road are level with the road itself. This tends to confirm the idea that the road was dug deliberately as the main passage through the village, when the rest of the village layout, position of the cross etc. is taken into consideration. My hypothesis that prehistoric hollow ways (and even sunken Saxon tracks) were originally dug as boundaries and then later used as road systems doesn't particularly apply to Layton, I must admit, the old village centre standing some distance from any known prehistoric discoveries. (I was only using the theory to answer John's question about sunken tracks in general.) Layton's central road itself is more than likely Saxon, cut into the hillside to keep it level. However, the boundary stuff does still work in general, as Underbank Road at Stanah and a few others I could mention demonstrate.


You don't need to panic. Witchy and Jayne are watching repeats. I saw Time Team last week and there wasn't a single ounce of pale, freckled flesh on display...with the exception of a few low-cut blouses...none of which Phil was wearing.


As a founder member of the double-chin society I will be seeking legal advice, just as soon as I've finished this chocolate eclair.

Reuben said...

They're nice-looking cottages.

And yes, the double-chin society is a fine institution...devoted to the promotion of belly girth and its associated apendages.

Brian Hughes said...

Oddly enough I don't think an increase in belly girth is reflected in any manner by an increase in associated appendages.