Did you know that Preston once had a royal castle? That the same site was also the original location of that great medieval house of God – Furness Abbey? That located here for over 800 years was an ancient hall? And it is rumoured Romans used this now unassuming part of Ashton, as a Specula (lookout post) and Horreum (granary)Advertisement
There probably isn’t another site in Preston and its surrounding area that has such a long and interesting history as that of the land which contained Tulketh Hall, which was recklessly demolished in 1959. Now the site is mostly forgotten, and few know of its fascinating past.
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The site is currently the location of the recently closed Star Youth Club and the surrounding park, plus the car park of James Mercer. It’s hard to imagine now, but this was once a prime defensive and docking point on The River Ribble, its hillside location providing a glorious vantage point looking towards Preston eastwards and ships coming in from the Irish Sea in the West. Indeed the name Tulketh means “good landing” in Danish and old English, suggesting the site was active in Saxon times. The Ribble was re-routed with the building of the Docks in the 1880s, but prior to this flowed past the bottom of the hill on which the Hall was built – down the current Watery Lane. In medieval times, river landing points were very prestigious, hence all the great medieval houses with landing points on The Thames in London.
The first verifiable documented evidence of occupation of the Tulketh Hall site is from 1124. This is the date that the future King Stephen gave his royal lands at Tulketh to Ewan d’Avranches and his followers to establish an Abbey here. Eventually the Benedictine Monks of Savigny gave up the site and moved on to Furness and built their great Abbey there, making Tulketh Hall the original location of Furness Abbey.
It is highly likely there was a building here prior to the Monks moving in. That building may have been the royal castle that existed there in the 12th Century. This Motte and Bailey castle sat opposite to the one in Penwortham, both on high points guarding the way inland along the Ribble. We don’t know if King Stephen built the castle. However, during “the Anarchy” and civil war in England, King David of Scotland expanded his lands to the bank of The Ribble between the 1130s and 1149. He was stationed for a time at Tulketh Castle, his most southerly defensive point on the west coast and it was from here that he issued a charter to the Abbots of Shrewsbury regarding the lands of Amounderness between 1140 and 1142. We do not know if this was a timber castle or stone built. However, readings would suggest that this was a major defensive point for King David’s expanded lands,so logic would suggest the use of robust materials such as stone, rather than combustible and vulnerable timber.
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After this time Count John of Mortain, Normandy was the feudal Lord of Ashton and Tulketh till the end of the 1100s, before it being taken over by Arthur de Ashton. By the start of the 1300’s the Travers family took over the estate and they became synonymous with the estate for the next three hundred years. After the reformation, the Travers Family remained Catholic and persecuted by the Protestant authorities gradually lost their lands due to fines, imprisonment and other indignities. They finally bowed out of Tulketh Hall and its estate in 1625. However, the old religion was strong in this part of Lancashire, with many prominent Catholic families such as the Wordens, the Walmesleys and the ones who became custodians of the Hall for the next 200 years, The Heskeths.
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It is thought that perhaps the Heskeths built a new hall adjacent to the old one in the 17th Century and this was the one that was demolished in 1959. The ruins of the old Hall/Monastery and a moat were still visible in the mid 19th Century and appear on Ordinance Survey maps from this period. Throughout the 1600’s the site contained a chapel at which Catholics worshiped in secret and where many Catholics were baptised. The fact that Furness Abbey was initially based here is unlikely to be a coincidence in choosing this as a location for a secret place of worship.
The Hall was remodelled again in 1759 in the style of the times and continued to be a base for various members of the Hesketh Family. The estate eventually passed to Sir Peter Hesketh who built the then new town of Fleetwood. Tulketh Hall was on what became known as Cannon Hill. This was named after the nine cannons sited along the side of the Hill. Lord Hesketh moved these to the front at Fleetwood and one remains there to this day. The building of Fleetwood began the decline of the Hall. It proved to be ruinous financially to Lord Hesketh. The Hall’s substantial estate was sold for housing in order to pay debts in the 1840s. The Hall itself became a school at which the pupils produced the Tulketh Hall Mercury newspaper up to 1847. The Hall was again remodelled by Joseph Hansom, inventor of the Hansom Cab and architect of St Walburges Church in 1860 – a modernisation he bitterly regretted, saying he had “thoroughly succeeded in defacing its ancient characteristics”. Around this time the Hall lost the woodland that surrounded it and an ancient tree lined avenue approaching it.
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By the end of the 19th Century Tulketh Hall became St Thomas Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys. It opened in 1900 and the buildings that currently house James Mercers were added at this time including dormitories, workshops, staff quarters and a chapel. The school accommodated 150 attendees, some sent by magistrates. A further 30 could be accommodated in the old Hall itself which continued as The Home for Working Boys. St Thomas’s closed in 1926 and became St Cuthberts, preparing children for admission to the Brotherhood of Charity. This itself closed in the 1930’s and was sold to the Catholic Diocese of Lancaster who planned to open a school there. The war intervened and the army moved in, the Hall becoming barracks. After the war the Hall continued as the Army Infantry Records Office. The site was damaged by fire in 1952 and became empty by the late 1950s. Having sat derelict for a couple of years. It was decided to demolish the hall, with part of the site sold to James Mercers and the remainder taken over by the County Council for use as a youth centre and recreational ground.
Thus, such a fascinating historical site saw an ignominious end. To this date no archaeological investigation has taken place for the potential treasure trove that lies just below the surface. The site has remained relatively open since the demolition with both the Hall and Castle/Monastery sites lying in open ground.
The site is currently up for auction and so potentially Preston is about to lose the opportunity to learn about this important part of its past. We believe that The Star still has a future as a community hub, with enhanced facilities and its development into a part time arts centre. The grounds desperately need an archaeological dig and evaluation with the footprints of the old hall and abbey/castle exposed and preserved for generations to come so we connect again with this fascinating link to Preston’s past.
We have a fully funded bid to start this process and just need cooperation from Lancashire County Council. The site will be run as a Charity. We cannot compete financially with a housing developer though and it would be a desperately sad end for a community resource and such a fascinating site became a housing development.
If you wish to help please get in touch with the group via our Facebook Page Friends of Tulketh Hall or email firstname.lastname@example.org and help us fight this sale and more importantly help us reimagine the site and develop Tulketh Hall into something Preston can be proud of.
This is a guest post for Blog Preston from local historian Kim who has pieced together the history of Tulketh Hall along with the Friends of Tulketh Hall group.
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