Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Legend of Singleton Thorpe

I was over at Joolz’s (Wyre Archaeology Committee Member for Press Releases, Promotions and…something else…) always intriguing Blackpool Ghosts’ forum some time ago (several months now, in fact, which just goes to show how busy I’ve been) when I happened across a question concerning a certain missing village, believed to be situated about one mile west of Cleveleys beach…or, to put it another way, under the ocean. (Actually it’s probably more like a quarter of a mile…you can’t help thinking with Victorian antiquarians exaggerating measurements the way they did, that there were a lot of disappointed wives when it came to their honeymoons back in those days.)
Anyhow, I was doubly surprised, having checked back through our articles here, to discover that we hadn’t actually covered the subject. So now, perhaps, it’s time to make amends. To be honest, this article has been copied almost verbatim from the stuff I wrote at Blackpool Ghosts…but I’m a great believer in recycling material, so here goes…
The village in question was undoubtedly Singleton Thorpe, which legend has it was destroyed in a flood but originally stood, as already suggested, just off the present shoreline at Cleveleys, opposite the entrance to Jubilee Gardens, more or less.
Hold on, here's a quote from William Thornber (the Victorian Antiquarian): “In the reign of Mary, 1554…‘a sudden irruption of the sea…took place at Rossall grange; a whole village, called Singleton Thorpe, was swept away by its fury – the inhabitants were obliged to flee from the ancient spot, and erected their tents at a place called Singleton to this day.’”
Let’s just get a few bits and pieces straight. ‘Thorpe’ generally indicates a ‘sister village’ or ‘hamlet’ belonging or related to the owners of the larger estate, in this instance Singleton, which presumably predated Singleton Thorpe and first appears in the Domesday Book.

The photograph above shows an enthusiastic group of Edwardian school children attempting to hunt down the ruined village. (All right…it doesn’t…but it might have done. It’s roughly in the right location whatever the case.)
Right…moving on, in 1877 C. E. de Rance went looking for the remains of Singleton Thorpe and recorded finding horse troughs and shippons full of sea water in the sand and in 1893 Alfred Halstead published a booklet entitled ‘Singleton Thorpe: Discovery of Remains’ which followed his own expedition in search of the ruins.
Here's another quote (see...we go to massive lengths for you lot, we really do...): “We began operations at a point nearly opposite the hulking which slopes to the sea about half a mile from Rossall and about four miles north of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Cleveleys seafront didn't, as such, exist back then. In fact Cleveleys, strictly speaking, didn't exist back then. Ritherham did, but that was near St. Andrew's church, so Alfred Halstead didn't have anything on the seashore to mark the spot...but if you work all that stuff above out for yourselves, you'll see that it leads you to the beach off Jubilee Gardens as mentioned earlier.
And the Evening Gazette dated 17th July 1974 relates how Mr. Jowett discovered a metallic pot embedded in the roots of a tree recently uncovered by the ‘scouring action of the tides’ opposite Carr Gate. The pot was probably connected to the missing village.
Back to Halstead again: “Our explorations revealed more than the mere forest and field remains. Evidences of the foundations of houses were not wanting. Our attention was first directed to what looked like a log tree. Closer notice revealed that it was quite different in shape from the other trees half buried in the sand. Digging and shovelling the sand laid it all bare, and we found it to be a straight and square piece of timber, about 17 feet long and 13 inches in a square breadth. There were the marks of other pieces of timber being fastened to it.”
From Halstead’s description it seems likely that the timber was some sort of roofing joist, a suspicion
confirmed in the minds of the excavators when they shortly: “…traced the foundations of what was evidently the wall of a house.” The wall, true to the construction of mediaeval random-build houses, consisted of: “…rough lime mixed with large cobblestones…the stones getting smaller towards the top…It measured about 22 feet in length, though we could not find a clear and unmistakable finish to it at one end.”
This wasn’t the only building, however: “We found in another place, about 150 yards from the fallen rafter, the same evidence of some sort of building. The rubble foundation, and the coarse lime and pebble mixture upon it was plainly visible; but it was too near the waves to follow it to the end.”
Unsatisfied with the excavation, several years later Halstead returned to the scene, this time accompanied by Mr Pearson, Ben Bowman, J. Whiteside, several carts, excavation equipment and a number of labourers. On this occasion more trees were uncovered, parts of which were taken home for souvenirs along with doorposts and what appeared to be a lintel.
All of which brings me, in a circuitous fashion, to the fact that, recently, ‘improvement’ (and I use the term loosely) to Cleveleys’ promenade have resulted in a shifting of the sands and the uncovering of new sections of the ancient sunken forests. Which means there’s a good chance that a few previously undisturbed bits of Singleton Thorpe might have been uncovered along with them.
Let’s conclude then with an aerial photograph courtesy of Frank Smith (Wyre Archaeology Committee Member in charge of Aerial Reconnaissance) showing the remains of the tree stumps nowadays (I think):

Time for an expedition, I reckon. We’ll keep you posted on the results.


John said...

First off, a little warning, eh, before showing so many bare knees... honestly! Dost thou not have the decency and common sense that the Good Lord has placed upon you?

Secondly, how come everybody but me has a title? I may not live there, but I've wasted as much bandwith as anybody else here with my comments, and I try to sound real smart, too.

Thirdly, I'm sure you've mentioned Singleton Thorpe here afore, or was that just in your great book? I know I've read about it before, unless you sent me your thoughts in a private email?

Fourthly, shouldn't some of the Thorpe be preserved, instead of being "taken home as souvenirs"? Maybe you can have a hologrammatic recreation on the spot, or a little museum nearby the edge of the surf boasting ancient lintels to be seen for a pence.

Fifthly, can you give us some indication as to when such a structure as described was in use? I'm talking about the 17 foot piece of roofing timber, and asking if you can give us an estimated date for the settlement of Singleton Thorpe based solelt on the type of construction that would involve such a timber roofing thingy(to be technical).

Cheers, Title-less JOHN :0), apparently not associated in any way with Wyre Archeology like everybody else here, including your cat who is probably The Official Mascot of Wyre Archeology, or Treasurer, or some such. Hmph.

Brian Hughes said...


Firstly: I'm afraid Cleveleys beach has always been a hot spot for nudity. Knees are nothing. Sometimes you even get to see the odd bit of elbow.

Secondly: In order to warrent a title you first have to be elected onto the committee. I currently hold the position of Society Idiot, for example. (It's similar to the mediaeval title of Village Idiot but with a sprinkling of genes added.)

Thirdly: Yes, Singleton Thorpe did appear in our Magnum Opus. (Cheers for pointing that out...I thought we were getting away with recycling all this.)

Fourthly: Back in the nineteenth century archaeological souvenirs were very popular. The controls weren't quite as rigid as they are nowadays. As for a hologramatic recreation...might be slightly more than the Cleveleys budget would allow. Possibly a paper cut out pinned to stick?

Fifthly: A 17ft timber roofing joist is typical of 'A' framed long houses which were built almost continuously from the Saxon period (about 500 AD) until relatively modern times (18th century or so). That should narrow the construction date down a bit for you.


Lord Hughes of Fleetwood (Wyre Archaeology Site Manager and Sex Symbol.)

John said...

Have to be elected, eh? You @#$%! You know darned well that I can't make it to any meetings.

And thanks for narrowing down the date to the last few millenia... couldn't you adjust the date of teh construction a bit based on the description of the walls being of "rough lime mixed with large cobblestones…the stones getting smaller towards the top?"?

Cheers, still no title, JOHN :0p

Brian Hughes said...


Don't get me started on democratic elections. Democracy, in my opinion, is the biggest swiss since William Tell overdosed on steroids.

Lime mortar and cobblestones...peasant construction widely used in these parts between the fifth and the eighteenth centuries. Hope that helps.


Viscount Hughes of the Fylde & Wyre (Lowly Wyre Archaeology Committee Member but Secretly Back Seat Chairman.)

Jayne said...

Something similar was found on Time Team in a (recently shown here but several years old) episode.
A massive storm had wiped out a medieval port, leaving the ship slip way timbers and gravelled walkway in a large-ish tidal pond near the coast. Can't recall the name of the village they decided it had been but could several villages and/or ports have been wiped out in this same huge storm and why aren't there more documentations of them in history?
You may call me Queen Cow of The Universe or anything except late for tea (boom boom) :P

Brian Hughes said...

"...why aren't there more documentations of them in history?"

Jayne, there probably are. If you ever visit one of the record offices in Britain though you'll understand why nobdoy's ever found 'em. Wall to wall scrolls and document piles as thick and illegible as an American sit-com script, dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. It's enough to crinkle the paper fingers on those horrible little gloves they make you wear.

JahTeh said...

Couldn't it be something more interesting like a SeaHenge? Villages are SO yesterday.

You may call me anything as long as you're on your knees with your eyes lowered and your hand offering me gold.

JahTeh said...

In memory of another John, we could call him LackTitle.

Juliette said...

Steal all you want know me don't know what I have online and hiding in the house...

Brian Hughes said...


I probably ought to have added that there was some bronze age pottery found in the same area, but I didn't want to draw the attention of treasure hunters to the scene. Not until I've have a good delve around first, at any rate.

Hughes (Supreme Ruler of All That is Aware and the True Centre of the Universe.)

Brian Hughes said...


You snook in there whilst I wasn't looking.

Incidentally, I hope you're going to be at the Meet this Wednesday and not stuck in front of the football like quite a few of our members I could mention. We've got to organise the first dig of the season (May 31st) and, with a bit of luck, there'll be a press photographer there. (If you've got yourself an archaeology hat, by the way, please bring it with you. All will be revealed in due course.)