A History of Warton Parish

 

Written between 1710 and 1744 by schoolmaster John Lucas, this book offers vivid insights into life in  a remote north country  parish in the early part of the eighteenth century.

Lucas was the son of a farmer from Carnforth and went to the grammar school in neighbouring Warton. His book’s modern title describes it as a history book.  But Lucas originally chose a more comprehensive title: “A Topographical Description of the Parish of Warton…Interspersed with great variety of Observations from History, Ecclesiastical, Civil and Natural.”

Some passages list the family trees of the posher families in the area, like the Midletons of Leighton Hall and the Bindlosses at Borwick. But the best bits are about the way local people lived,  worked, played and died.

He tells us about the behaviour of local boys at weddings:

“The School Boys make fast the Church Doors and demand a Piece of Money of the Bridegroom and if he refuses they presently seize one of the Bride’s shoes, which I have seen done.”

And he conjures images of harvest time which anticipate Thomas Hardy’s Wessex tales:

“In this Part of the Country each Village commonly hires a Fiddler which…goes from one Field to another, and plays to the Reapers,” he records. “I have seen the young People whose Backs have been bowed down with hard Labour, in the hot Sun for several Hours, dance as briskly in the Stubble as if they had been on a Theatre…and their spirits revived…fall to their Labour again with redoubled Vigour and Activity.”

There’s a lively description of the annual football match at Warton school:

“The Parties engage each other…with their utmost Strength and Courage and the Parents of the Boys and chief Inhabitants come together to see the Diversion.”

And he tells us a lot about St Oswald’s church, including a picture of what happened at funerals in the Parish:

“Afterwards there is distributed to everyone a Penny Wheaten Loaf and a large Shive of Cheese and also a drink of Ale…of late years, some have omitted the Cheese.”

He describes people’s working lives: digging peat on the mosses, fishing in the Bay, making salt on the sands and charcoal in the woods. His account of iron making at the Leighton Beck works is especially detailed:

“Behind the Furnace are placed two huge Pair of Bellows, each seven and a half Yards long, and one and a half broad,” he tells us. The iron works made everything from chimney backs and garden rollers to pots and pans for the kitchen. “

Lucas’s book portrays a world poised between the medieval and the modern. New industries like shipbuilding and iron founding are developing but teams of oxen still plough Carnforth’s open fields and young men still practise archery at the butts on Warton Crag.

Today the bittern and snipe are not as common as they were when Lucas wrote and we can no longer say that salmon are ‘moderately plentifull in the River Kere.’

But more than 300 years after Lucas began his book those of us who live in or visit his home patch can enjoy scanning its pages for familiar place names and we can try to locate the more obscure wells and woods he lists. Most of us will agree with his conclusion:

“This Parish is a land of Hills and Dales, both pleasant and fruitfull.”

 

Andy Denwood has re-edited the book, removing information likely to be less interesting to most modern readers and reinstating some details left out by the editors of the 1931 edition. He has also written a new introduction about John Lucas and divided the book up into chapters. The new edition also contains drawings by local artist Daphne Lester.

 

REVIEWS

“A glimpse of Warton Parish in the first half of the C18th. Fascinating detail of lost customs, agricultural and industrial activities and how locals ‘let their hair down’ all enrich our understanding of how people lived and what mattered to them. The occasional reference to trade and church appointments remind us that whilst Warton Parish was remote, it was to some degree connected. As a teacher in a local school, this is a real gift and offers all sorts of plunder!” Hugh Castle, Head of History, Lancaster Royal Grammar School

 

 

 

“John Lucas is back in print — after a gap of more than 80 years! Other local history societies would turn green with envy: Warton has its very own eighteenth century historian who took the trouble to record the everyday lives and customs of his neighbours in fascinating detail.” Simon Williams, Chair of the Mourholme History Society

 

 

 

“A most valuable account of a remote north of England parish in the early eighteenth century.” The late Prof WG Hoskins (author of ”The Making of the English landscape’), on the previous edition of ‘A History of Warton Parish’.

 

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