History of Holy Family

The Parish
The parish lies within a Catholic area of Lancashire and this parish was founded from two of the oldest parishes in the area. In 1901 the Liverpool Almanac records that ‘A school-chapel at Freckleton, a distance of 8 (sic) miles from Kirkham, was opened on Sunday September 23rd, 1900’. A school-chapel should not be surprising, because, from the restoration of the hierarchy, education had been a major focus for the bishops. In 17 July 1852, The Westminster Provincial Synod wrote “Wherever there may seem to be an opening for a new mission, we should prefer the erection of a school, so arranged as to serve temporarily for a chapel, to that of a church without one.”

The clergy at the Catholic missions in Kirkham and Lytham had been checking the numbers of Catholics to establish if a new parish was viable. Fr (later Monsignor) Gillow at Kirkham was from the old Catholic family at Leighton Hall and his family were generous in their support of the parish. He was supported by the V Rev James Taylor, parish priest at Lytham. He and his brother, Fr Roger, had been born at Lodge Hall, Warton, later called Warton Lodge.


It was in the Mission Report 1899 that Bishop Whiteside of Liverpool (pictured) reported that he had “opened a simple chapel at Freckleton, which, thanks to several benefactors, is free of debt. It will be a great boon to the Catholics of the locality, though it cannot for some time enjoy the benefit of a resident priest, but must be served from the neighbouring mission of Kirkham.” The Bishop had allocated £500 from mission funds for the establishment of the parish. “

Mass had been said in Freckleton occasionally from about 1893 in a property in Lower Lane belonging to the Battersbys. The first regular Mass took place in this “small cottage” on 27th November 1898 and 59 people attended. The current church dates from 1899. The first baptism is recorded on 9th January 1900: Francis Joseph Cartmell

This chapel was officially opened by Bishop Whiteside and Bishop Bilsborrow of Salford in September 1900.


The Church
The church was built over the boundary in Warton on land belonging to the Clifton family of Lytham. Initially, the cost for the land was £5 per annum, but Fr Gillow wrote to the Squire pointing out that this was a poor parish and this was reduced to 2’6 (12.5p). The parish still pays 13p per annum to the successors of the Clifton Estate.

Preston Guardian 7th October 1900: “A large assembly of the Roman Catholics of Preston, Kirkham, Lytham and other places in the Fylde gathered on Sunday, when the opening services in connection with the edifice at Freckleton, which is to act as a chapel of ease to Lytham and Kirkham, were held. The building is of Accrington brick, is situated some distance outside the village and will accommodate 150 worshippers. In the morning Bishop Whiteside of Liverpool preached an eloquent sermon, while in the afternoon a procession of teachers, scholars, and friends took place through the village, headed by the Freckleton Subscription Band. Hundreds were unable to gain admittance to the edifice, so in order that his remarks might be audible to all, the Bishop of Salford (Dr Bilsborrow) preached from the chapel door.” Dr Bilsborrow came from an old Catholic family from the Fylde, which is why he was invited.

The new church was dedicated to the Holy Family and is the oldest church dedicated to the Holy Family in the Diocese of Lancaster (Holy Family church at Ince Blundell in the Archdiocese of Liverpool is far older.) Devotion to the Holy Family was not a recent introduction – St Bernard of Clairvaux had written on the subject in the 12th century. The Feast day had been re-introduced by Leo XIII in 1893 to fall in the Octave of the Epiphany. Since 1969 it is celebrated on the Sunday within the octave of Christmas or on the 30th December, if there is not a Sunday.

Freckleton was served from Kirkham and Mass was each Sunday at 9.30 am.

In 1907 the presbytery was built entirely funded by Fr Gillow and furnished so that hardly a gimlet was missing. Father Roche was the first parish priest.

15/8/1908 the London Gazette records that the church is registered for weddings. “A separate building, duly certified for religious worship, named CATHOLIC CHURCH, situated at Lytham Road, Warton, in the civil parish of Warton, in the County of Lancaster, in Fylde registration district, was on the 19th August 1908, registered for solemnizing marriages therein, pursuant to 6th and 7th Wm IV c 85 – dated 20th August 1908, FRED H BROWN, Superintendent Registrar.”

In 1913 a screen was erected and the parish school was opened. This was always a private school and Fr Roche appealed to the Catholic Community to help.

Electricity arrived on Sept 17th 1928: “I beg to thank you for your enquiry re the Electrical Installation in the Church and House and have much pleasure in quoting for the whole installations complete to lampholders, the sum of £21.12.6 TWENTYONE POUNDS TWELVE SHILLINGS & SIX PENCE.” (£21.62)The work was guaranteed for five years and included 20 lights, 25 switches, 1 reading plug and 1 cooker plug.

Catholic Tradition has long held that May was devoted to Our Lady and in 1923 the priest records that it is the “Custom in some places to choose a May Queen whose silk train is given up to be made into a vestment. Very costly honour. By this means the mission gets a new vestment every year. The vestments here are none of them new in good condition. The ceremony of crowning will be a much longer affair than you have had. This year Miss Madge Dobson will crown.”

Even then financial matters were important and by 1925 the investments (all in India 5.5% stock) for Holy Family amounted to £2825. This was thanks to some very generous legacies.

Social events were important. In December 1923, the noticebook records a “Whist Drive and dance in aid of this parish in the C of E school on New Year’s Day. Some of us may not like to have to use the Protestant school, but it seems to be the only place available. Let us hope we shall soon have a place of such gatherings of our own.”

From the establishment of the hierarchy in 1850, the parish had been part of the Diocese of Liverpool. A Papal Bull (document) dated November 22nd 1924 entitled “Universalis Ecclesiae” established a new diocese with its See at Lancaster. It was formed from the part of Lancashire north of the Ribble, and the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland. Holy Family parish transfers from the Archdiocese of Liverpool to the new diocese.

The First School (1913 – 1953)
Although the church was opened as a school chapel, it was only in 1913 that the school was opened by Father Roche. Throughout its history it was privately funded. Weekly collections helped to pay the teacher’s salary and any equipment required by the children. Teachers’ salary 1950= £168, other expenses £2/4/1. Collection for school £27/8/1, so it must have been heavily subsidised from other sources.

The church was divided from the front of the church by a screen, the position of which can still be detected. The class consisted of anything up to about 40 children aged from 5 to 14.

The school was regularly inspected by ecclesiastical inspectors. The existing reports date from 1917 to the late 1930s.

The school continued on until the Education acts of 1944 and 1946. It became apparent that the school did not meet the minimum requirements. The diocese intended to include this school in the post war development plans. Whilst there were hopes that the school could be upgraded, by 1947 the Minister of Education had decided to postpone the application to modify the school because there was a shortage of labour and materials to bring the buildings up to standard.

For all its limitations the school provided a decent education and some children went on to grammar schools.

In 1948 there were 12 boys and 12 girls at the school, another 22 children were attending aided Catholic schools.

When the school closed a bus was provided to take the children to St Anne’s Westby, leaving the memorial in Freckleton at 8.45am and returning at 4pm. A school dinner was provided at the cost of 9d (4p).

The Catholic schools at Lytham and Kirkham were full, including other pupils from Freckleton and Warton.

We have identified three teachers so far:
M O’Connor from a reference written in 1920, Mrs Hurst from some advice given about a school inspection in 1932
Mrs Eccles who appears on the class photo of 1938 and retired when the school closed. On occasions she was helped by her son, the future Fr Peter Eccles.

Before OFSTED there were still school inspections: Fr GW Park’s report 1917: “It is quite evident she (the teacher)has a most difficult task before her owing to the un-Catholic atmosphere surrounding the little ones. God grant a blessing on her labour. If she succeeds her reward will be great indeed.”

Holy Family Nativity Play c 1925 Miriam Rigby middle

Holy Family Nativity Play


School Inspection 1932: “The seniors sang quite a lot of plain chant very well indeed – tunefully and with correct rhythm and interpretation. Only marred by the effect of dialect on some vowel sounds.” Fr Gore
The earliest class photo to date is from 1939:

Holy Family School 1939
The school was not involved in the worst of the Freckleton Air disaster which struck Holy Trinity school during 1944, but the children and their families would have known the children killed and the notice book of the church refers to Mass being said for the dead.

The children came into contact with RAF and USAF personnel stationed at the nearby airbases in World War II. The Americans must have been bemused by the arrangements of school and chapel in one building and having to deal with the benches and kneelers provided for the use of worshippers.

Description of school in final years (1953): “This is a private school. The teacher’s salary, heat and light, books, benches etc. are provided by the parish. The benches are in poor condition. The books, of which there are few, are dirty, old and ragged. There are at present twenty six pupils, seventeen boys, and nine girls. All the children except one, are between the ages of five and eleven. Other children of the parish attend school at St Peter’s Lytham, The Willows, Kirkham, St John Vianney’s, Blackpool. A greater number of children attend these schools than attend the parish school. The teacher is unqualified and wishes to retire. The cost to the parish is £4 a week. In the opinion of the parish priest the lack of suitable equipment, and suitable accommodation i.e no cloakroom, no wash basins, and only one W.C for both boys and girls, render it desirable that this condition of things should not be allowed drift on indefinitely. Finally the school is not a distinct building but the rear half of the church being divided from the front half by a movable screen.” Canon Brimley 1953

“The school was closed in July of this year. Out of the old school cupboard I made a hen house and fastened it to the wall of the garage. Out of the old school benches I made several kneelers for the church.” Fr FX Whiteside 1953

An anonymous author wrote in 1974 Diocesan Directory: “Through force of circumstances the famous old school at FRECKLETON was disbanded in 1954 (sic)….it was the end of a noble and glorious epoch carried out by a series of devoted parish priests and the loyal and dedicated service of the last teacher, Mrs Eccles” In 1972 permission was given for a new school and a site was purchased on Lytham Road, Warton. A start was made in 1973. Completion date was December 1973 and the first children admitted in January 1974. The school was officially opened July 4th 1974. Fr Tom Carey was Parish Priest and this was the first school he had in his priestly career. He died in November 1974.

The People
This parish was founded because people wanted to worship the Lord in the Catholic tradition. After many centuries of persecution and almost dying out, the Catholic community was growing. This sheet describes the generosity of the parishioners who gave of their time, skills and money. It’s a story similar to our own: of special collections, wars, appeals for help maintaining the property and organising social events.

Squire Clifton of Lytham Hall leased the land for the church at a very generous2/6 and, no doubt, Father Gillow persuaded his own family and friends to donate goods and money. Who were the people who are now remembered in the foundation Masses, still said to this day? Who donated the chalice in 1907 “Orate pro Jacobi Philippe et Noel Reynolds qui ecclesie apud Freckleton d.d. die xxxi Martii MCMVII”. “Pray for the James Philip and Noel Reynolds who gave this to the church at Freckleton 31st March 1907.” Is it a coincidence that there are Gillow and Reynolds – names associated with Leighton Hall, Fr Gillow’s home – among them?

In 1978, these Masses for our Foundation benefactors were rationalised to :
Mary Ann Gillow – five annual Masses in perpetuity
Agnes Smith- twelve annual Masses in perpetuity
Elizabeth Burrow – ten annual Masses in perpetuity
Alice Agnes Shannon also left a generous bequest to the Church and Ellen Gornall left her house in 1972, but by then Mass in perpetuity were no longer available.

When the parish was linked with Westby, the number of “Masses in perpetuity” was reduced again.

These are only a few examples of the many parishioners who left bequests and gave donations of money and gifts to give us the parish we have today.

Response to war
The parish was barely 15 years old when World War I began. The Mass book for this period reveals Mass being offered for those various friends and relatives dying and serving in the war.
The parish responded generously to the Basque Children’s Fund in 1937. This was in response to one of the biggest single arrivals of refugees Britain had ever seen and almost all children. They came from the Basque region fleeing the civil war in Spain. There were colonies in Preston, Lancaster, Carlisle, Brampton and Wigton. 15 priests and about 200 women teachers/ assistants accompanied the children.

World War II was to bring more challenges for the parish. The usual rules about fasting and abstinence were lifted for the duration of the war, but the Bishops reminded parishioners to observe the duty on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the same day this relaxation in the regulations, it was announced that there would be a raffle after Benediction for potatoes. A reminder that people did suffer deprivations?

Once again, parishioners rallied to the war effort. In October 1940, there was a collection for the men of the congregation who had joined the forces. They were also generous in their welcome to the visiting troops, as World War II brought people from across the UK and the world into the parish. The neighbouring military camps started a collection for the parish, contributing about 15/- a week.

In 1943, Father Rawlinson notes in his accounts: “increase in altar wine expenses owing to increase in price and to supplying American chaplain to whom I gave it as a little token of appreciation.”
In 1944 Mass was offered for the victims of the Freckleton Air Disaster.

The generosity of the American forces was such that Fr Rawlinson promised in 1944/45 “to erect some definite object e.g High Altar, chapel, side altar etc in new church to the memory of the Americans.” An American Memorial collection totalling £1044 was collected between May 6th 1944 and April 22nd 1945.” This was in addition to their normal offerings. The new church was never built and, hence, no memorial. As a comparison our normal annual collection for the same period was £231/17/-

In 1946 the parish was welcoming students from Freckleton/Warton Emergency Training College, where Fr Rawlinson was an RE Tutor. These colleges trained those leaving the forces to be teachers. At least one marriage is recorded.

Fr Rawlinson was also chaplain to the prisoners of war and his notice book states that he “will explain what the Germans are singing” and in November 1946 “Germans to say three Hail Marys at end of Mass”. On 22nd December 1946, the notices record “Montag abend um Acht Uhr Dreissig ist Bichtgelegenheit im Camp”. “Monday night at 8.30 is Confessions in Camp”.

The parish was well aware of the atrocities of the war. Whilst Mass and the “Te Deum” were said to mark the victories, prayers were offered throughout the war for those suffering. In May 1945 Mass was offered for those killed in concentration camps. This was barely two weeks after the British army liberated Bergen –Belsen, where the troops had by what they found.

Day to day life continued and parishioners were called on to help as a new boiler was installed, the floor mended and painters asked to volunteer before the school re-opened.

In 1952, Fr Whiteside records the death of Laurence Payne. “He was the sole church collector at the time, a hard worker for the church who had for several years previously decorated the altar for Quarant’Ore (Forty Hours). In this church this festival always fell at Easter. He had as usual made all ready for the feast that year. On Sunday evening he put on Cassock and cotta and entered the sanctuary to light extra candles. There he collapsed and died. A new large Marme Missal was bought in honour of him. For this his relatives gave the cost price. £14.”

On New Year’s Eve 1953 a fire destroyed the sacristy. Fr Whiteside and his housekeeper fought the fire as best they could, calling on Mr Cartmell, his nearest neighbour, to help them. A subscription list was opened to replace and repair the damage. Generous donations from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The people of Bush Lane gave £4, the KSC Lytham £5. A Preston widow gave 5/- (25p). Fr Whiteside donated the Purple Mass set at £25, His housekeeper, Grace O’Connor, donated the material for the black vestments. Mr J Hunter gave £30 for a new cope. Other parishioners contributed what they could. The youth of the parish collected £80 for the gold vestments – still in the parish today.

Mr McCrystal, another active parishioner and at this date the oldest parishioner, was invited to open the parish hall in 1974. The hall was a second hand wooden construction later replaced by the brick building in 2004.

Ernie Hunter’s family moved from Chorley in the 1920s. His father was a coal merchant. Ernie served in the army in World War II, driving tank transporters and was mentioned in despatches. After the war he returned to the parish and, on his retirement, started to attend daily Mass. Canon Boyle asked him to be sacristan – a job he did for many years – and made several artefacts for the church. He was awarded the Bene Merente in 2009 and died in 2012 at the age of 92.

The church décor may have changed significantly, but it is still the same building that welcomed people who came to pray for their family, friends, community and country during the wars of the twentieth century.

The century opened with the Boer War, but it is the First and Second World Wars that are remembered mostly. In previous centuries, it tended to be only the officers who were named on memorials. The ordinary soldiers were not always considered respectable. The First World War changed that. These soldiers were called from the factories, offices, shops, schools and fields. As the casualties mounted there was considerable debate about how their families could remember them, especially in those parts of the Christian tradition that did not believe in praying for the dead. Catholics, however, responded in the way they had always done. They had a Mass said. Throughout the First World War, at least one Mass a month, sometimes two, was offered for the soldiers and sailors. Mass was offered for the “Old Boys of the school”, those killed in action, wounded or missing and for the “safe return” of soldiers.

During the Second War the parish notices mention that the Te Deum Laudamus (You are God, We Praise You), a traditional hymn of thanksgiving, was said or chanted in thanksgiving for victories, for the liberation of Rome and the safety of the Pope. Mention is also made of the American GIs and German Prisoners of War.

As far as we can tell, one parishioner was killed serving in the First World War and one in the Second World War. Mass was offered for the victims of the Freckleton Air Disaster in 1944.

The parish Notice Book for the period of the First World War is missing, but in 1917, the Register of Deaths for Holy Family records the death of Ernest Cottam in Mesopotamia. His name is recorded on the Freckleton War memorial and was on the one at Basra, modern day Iraq.

From the Freckleton War Memorial webpage:

Ernest Cottam
Private 23038 6th Battalion
The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Ernest Cottam, the son of Richard Cottam, a carpenter, and Elizabeth (Eccles), was born in Fleetwood in 1892. He worked as a weaver and lived with his parents, his brothers William Cuthbert and Wilfred, and his sister Edith Eveline, at 48 Lytham Road, Freckleton.

He was killed in action on 9th March 1917 in Iraq, and though he has no known grave, his name is inscribed on Panel 27 of the Basra Memorial.

The Preston Guardian 5th May 1917 reports “ FRECKLETON SOLDIER KILLED.

Mr and Mrs Cottam, Miller’s Villas, Lytham Road, Freckleton, have received word that their son, Private Ernest Cottam, aged 24, L.N.L. Regt. was killed in action in Mesopotamia on March 9th. He was previously reported wounded on Jan. 13th this year.
Before joining up he was employed as a weaver at J. Bibby and Son’s Mill, Freckleton.

He was well known in football circles, having played regularly for Kirkham and Wesham, and Freckleton in the West Lancashire League, possessing several medals.

Deceased was a member of the Church of the Holy Family, Freckleton.”

In the Second World War the parish Notice Book for 24 September records “Dead: Dennis Gregson – killed in Italy.”

Dennis Gregson was 25 when he died on the 4th September 1944, some reports say he was shot on a motorbike. He was the son of William A and Agnes M Gregson of Freckleton, serving with the 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

He is buried at Gradara War Cemetery in Italy. His name is also on Freckleton War Memorial.

On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded Italy. After the fall of Rome in June 1944, the German retreat strengthened around defensive positions known as the Trasimeno, Arezzo, Arno and Gothic Lines. Gradara contains the graves of those who died during the advance from Ancona to Rimini through the Gothic Line, and in the heavy fighting around Rimini.

Dennis had been an altar boy at Holy Family and some of his family are still active parishioners.

Throughout the First World War Mass was requested by parishioners for their friends and relatives who lived outside the parish, many of them in the St Helens area. At present, we have no idea why there were so many from St Helens commemorated at Holy Family.The Parish Mass Book contains the following names: (+ indicates killed in action):

First World War:
Alphonsus Egan+, Ben Cain+, Capt Smith’s spec intention, Christopher McGowran+, Dan Sephton died of wounds, Edward Kehoe+, Edward Mercer+, Frank Tierney+, George Garner died in Germany, Gerald Baron+, Harold Mason+, Harry Ashall+, Henry Smith (sick shell shock), Herbert Marsh+, James Gilroy+, James Mclaughlan+, James Roscoe (presumed dead), Thomas Colgan (at front), John Arnold+, John Fenner+, John Francis Clare+, John O’Neill+, Joseph Greenall wounded, Joseph Webster+, Lieu Francis May+, Matthew Burrows+, Peter Kilgannon (wounded)+, Richard Healey+, Thomas Augustine Healey+, Thomas Flaherty (wounded), Thomas Hankinson+ ,Thomas Phelan (wounded), Thomas Whitelock, Thos Hankinson+, Thos Kearney+, Walter Joseph Tierney+, William John Sheffield+, William Sheffield+, Wm John Witherington+. Wm Martindale+

Second World War:
The Church records for the Second World War do not easily identify those killed in action, but Mass was offered for the war dead, a forlorn hope for victory in Singapore (1942), all sailors, deceased seafarers, a Polish pilot – killed, those killed in war, men and women in the forces, those killed in concentration camps.
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today
John Maxwell Edmunds 1916 on the Kohima (1944) memorial, India.

This was quoted by Fr Tom Carey, a veteran of the Burma campaign, in his homily on Remembrance Sunday.

Please remember in prayer all those who suffer as a result of war and pray that one day peace and justice will prevail.