History of the Parish:


A list of the priests who have served the parish can be seen here

A catalogue of historical artifacts and documents at Hill Chapel  is available as a Word document here

A history of parishioner war involvement and the memorial can be accessed here

Brief overview of the parish
  • 11c First Church built in Goosnargh
  • 16c Reformation - Mass celebrated secretly in people's homes
  • 1562 George Beesley born in present presbytery
  • 1591 George Beesley executed at Fleet Street,London
  • 1687 Church built at White Hill. Parish served by Franciscans
  • 1715 Chapel destroyed, second Chapel built
  • 1755 Hill Chapel built
  • 1802 New Chapel built
  • 1834 Parish served by Benedictines
  • 1835 Hill Chapel extended
  • 1880 School opened
  • 1983 Parish served by Lancaster Secular Priests
  • 1987 Tercentenary Celebrations - with visits from Bishop Brewer and Cardinal Hume. George Beesley beatified by Pope John Paul II
  • 1991 Fourth Centenary of martyrdom of George Beesley
More Detailed history  with thanks to Fr Pat McMahon who collated much of the information
The first Christian church in Goosnargh was attached to the Parish of Kirkham and was dedicated to St. Mary, the Virgin. The
earliest records are dated 1333, but the church may have existed earlier.  Hardwicke, the historian, wrote that the Chapel of Goosnargh was restored at the time of Thomas a Becket's murder in 1170. The church has been altered greatly and only the Chancel exists from those early days.

When the Reformation Laws suppressed the practice of the Catholic Faith in 1547-8, the people of the area thought little of the new established Church and refused to attend the new services. For example, in 1622, the curate at St Mary's Church had not preached. He arranged for two sermons a year to be delivered and lived on the proceeds of selling ale.

The incumbent in 1802 was indignant that a Romish Priest should bury his flock at Newhouse and wrote, 'You have no right to bury bodies there, under a heavy penalty. I am cheated of the fees paid here. All I want is the fees here and then it is nothing to me how much you get afterwards.'

The Mass and the Catholic congregation, now banished from the ancient altar, took refuge in the houses of the faithful for three centuries.  These homes of the people housed the Mass and an invincible loyalty to the faith. Nearly all the families were fined for not attending the new services in the church which their fathers had built. Many heroic sacrifices were made by generation after generation.

A few of the outstanding Catholic families.

The Keighleys of White Lee (near Brock Mill) suffered greatly in their support for the Catholic cause. The last of this family had to
flee the country after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. An old gatepost at the present residence bears the inscription:- 'I-M.K. [Hugh & Mary Keighley?] 1694'. An early 18th-century chapel adjoined the south end of the house until the 1830's, when the chapel was knocked down.

The Threlfells of the Ashes (near Whitechapel) were continually paying fines. This house also had a chapel, and was surrounded by a moat. The four-foot thick house walls concealed several hiding places. Although the house has been modernised, the stone-carved Angel of the Lord, with outstretched wings, is still retained above the front door.

The Beesleys of The Hill were also continually fined. Oone of their sons, George Beesley, was martyred in 1591 for being a priest. He was beatified in 1987.  Another son, Richard, who was eight years younger than George, was also ordained a priest. Despite the dire sufferings endured by his elder brother, Richard was known to be actively practising his priesthood at the age of 60.

The Beesleys lived in the house which is now the Hill Chapel Presbytery, and the meeting place for Mass on winter weekdays. Next to their home stands our beautiful church. We can see with our own eyes how the years have brought an astonishing transformation since those days when the Beesleys risked and gave so much.

The Heskeths of White Hill were particularly heroic and endured heavy financial losses. In those difficult days of the seventeenth century, five of the Hesketh family became Benedictine priests. With the accession of James II and the optimism which followed, Cuthbert Hesketh, in 1687, gave a plot of land at White Hill to the English College of the Franciscans.  The Franciscans established the 'Residence of Holy Cross' which was described as 'a chapel and a little dwelling at one end.'

In those difficult penal days, and even until the beginning of the Twentieth Century, parishes and parish priests were technically called 'missions' and 'missioners' by the Church in Rome. Cuthbert Hesketh gave £200 (yielding £10 a year) for the missioner who was bound 'to say two Masses a week for the said Mr. Cuthbert and his wife and the poor Catholics of the parishes of Goosnargh and Chipping and if so permitted, to live permanently at the chapel of White Hill.'

We have little record of the labours of the missionaries during the difficult days of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but we do know that the faith endured. In Goosnargh in 1767, there were 316 Papists over sixteen years of age and two resident priests. In Whitechapel, there were 200 Papists.

In 1715, during a period of unrest, a mob tore the roof off the building and levelled the walls to the ground. The Heskeths, who had helped establish the Church at Fernyhalgh, supported the Catholic cause in the Jacobite Rising and forfeited their estate. Shortly
afterwards, another chapel was opened in a building near the Old Hall at White Hill. Despite extreme difficulties, families still allowed their sons to go forward for the priesthood. Fr. Germanus Helmes, a Goosnargh man, ministered from this church until there was a revival of persecution during the Stuart rebellion in 1745. Fr. Germanus was seized and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where he died, a Confessor to the Faith, in 1746. He was the last priest to die for the Catholic Faith in England. His reported 'appearances' at Hill Chapel are part of the parish legend!
For a while, the Franciscans of Lee House Chapel, near Chipping, served the people of the district. The course of events during the
following years had a profound influence on the practice of the Catholic Faith from then until the present day. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the present site of Hill Chapel was chosen.

The Blackburne Family owned 'The Hill', a dwelling just over a mile down the road from White Hill. This was already a Mass centre; there are indications in the structure of the present Presbytery that there was an upstairs chapel. The family line came to an end with the death of the Rev. James Blackburn at the English College, Lisbon, in 1754. Shortly afterwards, the family gave their house to the Franciscans.

A small discreet chapel was built at the South of the house.  Thus, in an unexpected, extraordinary way, the celebration of Mass
moved closer to the village and a new religious era began.

The priests continued to live at White Hill, as that was still the public chapel. Eventually, Fr. Charles Willcock took up residence at The Hill in 1770. After that, White Hill became a private chapel.  Nevertheless, fourteen more Franciscan priests were appointed, until Fr. Anselm Millward became the last priest to minister from White Hill in 1809.

The Catholic Relief Act of 1791 had made it possible for Catholics to build and open public chapels, without incurring legal penalties. Fr. Willcock undertook the building of another new church at The Hill, which was completed in 1802 - the year of his death. His place was taken by Father Bonaventure Martin of Lee House whose account books give details of the building.

The public celebration of Mass was now an acceptable part of local life. Generally there had been great tolerance between neighbouring people of different religions, which meant that Catholic families had been able to practise their old Faith, quietly and unobtrusively.

When Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829, this was merely a formal declaration of what was already taking place. Shortly afterwards, Father Martin died in 1834 bringing to an end 148 years of faithful and heroic Franciscan ministry.

The care of the parish passed to the priests of the Benedictine Order with the arrival of Fr. Edward Vincent Dinmore. Making the most of the new spirit of Religious Freedom, Father Dinmore opened the cemetery and enlarged the church by adding the present frontage and balcony in 1835.

The priests also undertook chaplaincy work in Whittingham Hospital which opened in 1873. The number of patients grew to 3,500 and when St. Luke's Church was opened in the Hospital buildings, Mass was once again publicly celebrated in a Catholic church in the village.

The Parish Hall was built in 1932 and was used as a church in 1934 when Hill Chapel was restored to mark the Centenary of Benedictine Ministry. The Chapel was wired for electricity and renovated with a new stone and mosaic altar, marble altar-rails, and oak benches, floor and door and statues of St. Francis and St. Benedict. In 1936, the first Bishop of Lancaster, Bishop Wulstan Pearson, O.S.B. consecrated the church. The Bicentenary was celebrated in 1950, recalling the approximate date of the building of the church and the memory of those who had made many sacrifices to care for it and support it.

The school and an adjoining cottage for teachers were built in 1880. There were 26 scholars and one teacher. The children paid the equivalent of 2p a week and the Government grant was £30 a year.

In 1983, after 149 years of dedicated service, the Benedictines passed the care of the parish to the ministry of the secular priests of the Lancaster Diocese. Another chapter in the history of the parish began.

The illustrious history of the parish is not forgotten. Recent celebrations commemorated the Tercentenary of the Founding of the parish in 1987 and the Fourth Centenary of the Death of Blessed George Beesley in 1991.

Two special Feastdays are celebrated - on the Sunday nearest 1 July, in honour of Blessed George Beesley, and on the Sunday nearest 4 October, in honour of St Francis.

In the first half of the 1990's, the parish population was approximately 650, with an average Mass attendance of 400+.

Now, we look forward to the future. May the footsteps of the faithful lead to further blessings of faith. May we always proclaim the
Good News in peace and harmony.

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