Lancashire Local History Federation



A grotesque crime was committed on 2 January 1863 at a Wigan mine. It was so abhorrent and unusual that newspapers far and wide – including New South Wales! -carried accounts of it, and the government offered a reward for the capture of the murderers.

A happily married man, James Barton, the 55-year-old father of 12 children, worked as an engine tenter at a small mine, known as the Bawk House, or Button Pit, as did two of his sons. The pit was owned by the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, whose seat was the nearby Haigh Hall (the hall and its grounds were given to the people of Wigan by a later earl and are the site of a country park).
The mine was in the very small community of Red Rock, four miles from the centre of Wigan. The area was subject to flooding from underground soughs, and it is likely that Button Pit was used more for pumping water from surrounding underground workings than for mining coal. It was therefore important that the furnaces powering the mine should be working steadily.

James worked the night shift looking after the furnaces on his own. The last people to see him alive were two friends who arrived at about 7pm to warm themselves and to chat to James.

More people started to arrive at 3 in the morning, but James was not to be found. As the day shift arrived, they found the furnaces cold, and their puzzlement increased. Believing he may have gone down to the coal face, James’s son Thomas fired up a furnace to work the winding gear – but still no sign of James.
As light dawned, so did a terrible realisation – there were trails of blood leading to the furnace. When the door was opened it was clear that James had been murdered and his body burnt there. The horror of James’s family was shared far and wide – between them the earl and the government offered an enormous reward of £300.

Newspapers carried reports of the crime and the investigation, including a description of James’s missing watch which he was known to have been wearing.
Very strangely, several people came forward to claim responsibility for the crime, but one by one were discounted because they were drunk when confessing or because there was no substantive evidence against them.

The trail went cold but more than three years later, on the word of one man, the Leeds-Liverpool canal was dredged between two nearby bridges to search for the watch. The task involved 150 navvies and 35 boatmen, with police representatives and a huge crowd of onlookers. 760,00 cubic feet of water was drawn off, and a vast quantity of mud was dredged. Nothing was found.
In that same year, 1866, a man from Chorley read a fresh description of James’s watch – and his blood ran cold. He had seen that watch in the hands of his brother Thomas Grimes, who was at that time in prison in Dartmoor for stealing a horse blanket. The watch had been pawned; when the police were alerted the watch was redeemed and Thomas arrested.

After his trial, when Thomas realised that he was to be hanged (by the infamous William Calcraft) he made a statement exonerating any accomplices:
‘I wish it to be know publeckly that wat I said different times about William Tompson and Josephe Seden and Walton being present at murder of barton mester is not true they were not present and they had nothin to do with it’.
In fact, Seddon (who had since died) and Thompson (who had earlier been acquitted) had shared the pawn money with Grime, so they were certainly accomplices in some part of the crime, and the judge said at the trial that the murder could not have been carried out by one person acting alone.
The author has been filmed for an episode of ‘Murder, mystery and my family’, based on this crime, for future broadcast in the morning schedules on BBC 1. The programme shows two eminent barristers re-examining a cold case, and laying the fresh evidence before a judge for him to give his view – to accept or overturn the original verdict.

The watch was given to James’s widow Mary, and passed through several generations of the family, and is now owned by a collector. It is without any doubt the watch belonging to James, as the description from more than 150 years ago gave its unique number engraved inside.

In a pleasing recent development, the present earl, whose ancestors benefitted greatly from the labour of miners on their land, made a donation towards the Wigan mining monument, now standing proudly in the town centre.

Marianne Howell

The illustration shows the mine with three squat chimneys. It is said that, although the mine belonged to the earl, it was built this way rather than with one tall chimney so as not to spoil his view from Haigh Hall.
It was demolished in 1919.

BFI - Britain on Film Crowdsourcing Map

The BFI is launching its new Britain on Film crowdsourcing platform, and we are keen to spread the word among Britain's grass roots history-lovers and film-enthusiasts. This being so, we are hoping to enlist the help of museums and heritage organisations to get the message out there. As part of the legacy for the BFI’s Britain on Film project we have created a bespoke crowdsourcing platform based on films within the Britain on Film map on BFI Player.

Linking directly from the BFI Player or via,

The crowdsourcing platform will encourage people to share their unique knowledge by 'pinning' locations to the online map. In doing so, they will improve the accuracy and depth of the geo-tagging of films within the Britain on Film national collection, and will enhance our understanding of the films themselves, as well as charting the evolution of our towns and cities. At this stage, we are focusing on engaging with grass roots groups such as local history societies, local museums and local archives. The platform will be populated and moderated by its users, so we are also hoping to create an online community of people who care about archive films and their local history. I was therefore wondering if you might be willing to share some information about the platform with your members, and encourage them to use to the site. We should have a 'how to' guide ready for circulation in the next few days. I do hope we might be able to work together in spreading the word about this incredible resource.

With best wishes, Alex Bingham. 

The Buck Brothers ‘Prospect of Preston’ shows the town in 1728. The windmill stands at the top of Friargate, where the University now is. The isolated building numbered 4 is the House of Correction (the former friary).

The building numbered 2 is Tulketh Hall, the site of the Savignac monastery. The houses on the ridge between them stand roughly where the leper hospital was located. (Author’s collection)

​There has been a church at Preston since Anglo-Saxon times: but the parish church was not the only religious establishment there prior to the Reformation. First, there had been a monastic site in Tulketh, given in 1124 by Stephen, Count of Mortain, to the monks of Savigny: but it was too near the distractions of Preston, so after only three years the monks moved to Furness [Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol 2, (1908) p.114].

A little later in the 12th century, a hospital was established roughly mid-way between the monastic site and the town [VCH vol 2, p. 163-4]. Clues as to its location can be seen in Lang’s map of Preston of 1774, where we can see a field called Spittle Brow – while nearby a number of fields with Maudland in their names recall the dedication of the hospital to St Mary Magdalene. Towards the end of the 12th century, Henry II declared that the hospital church was a Free Chapel (the only one in Lancashire). His Letter of Protection spells it out in no uncertain terms:

Know ye that the hospital of St Mary Magdalene of Preston … [is] in my hand and custody and protection… [The National Archives DL 42/1 fol. 80].
From around 1200, people from the local area began making small gifts of land, which would then be leased out to provide income to support the hospital. About 30 such grants are known, including for example one from one John of Ingol, who states he is making the grant to the hospital …et leprosis ibidem deo servientes (and to the lepers serving God in that place) – from which we know what sort of a hospital it was [TNA DL 42/1 fol. 81]. Leprosy seems to have become endemic in England – and the rest of Europe – from the 12th century, possibly with a crusader connection. In this region, we had three leper hospitals – Conished, Lancaster and Preston.

There was no treatment as such, so in essence they were hospices: but they were also isolation hospitals; in the case of Preston, set high on a ridge above the town, providing a safe place - safe both for the lepers and the community at large.
At St Mary’s the lepers seem to have been regarded as members of a religious community, being referred to fratribus leprosis (brother lepers) in one document: while another suggests that it was a mixed house with both male and female inmates, who were apparently members of some sort of religious confraternity:
…fratres et sorores hospitalis beatae mariae Magdalene (the brothers and sisters of the hospital of the Blessed Mary Magdalene) [TNA DL 42/1 fol. 81].
Then in 1349 the Black Death struck and everything changed. We do not know how many inmates died, but it was reported that the hospital closed for eight weeks, and perhaps all, or nearly all, the residents died. Nationally, the Black Death seems to have resulted in the ending of leprosy in this country, as disproportionately more lepers died of the Plague: but the Free Chapel on the hill continued to attract pilgrims, and in 1355 Henry Duke of Lancaster applied to the Pope for a grant of one year and 40 days relaxation of penance for all those who made a pilgrimage there on St Mary Magdalene’s day (22 July) [VCH vol. 2, p. 163].

Gradually, though, the Chapel seems to have fallen into disrepair, and although incumbents continued to be appointed by the Crown, it is doubtful that any sort of religious life continued at the site. When the Dissolution came, it was not treated as a monastery or friary, but was dissolved a few years later as if it had been a Chantry. The priest, Thomas Barlow, was given a pension and the land was sold off for £300. The hospital had long gone, and now the chapel disappeared too, although in the 19th century some traces were found during various building works. The area is still called Maudlands today, and the iconic church of St Walburge stands on the site.

While the leper hospital was deliberately placed out of the way of the town, the next religious establishment was located just off one of the three main streets, now called Friargate. It must have been founded a little before 1260, as in that year five oaks from Fulwood Forest were granted to the Franciscans for their building [VCH vol. 2, p. 162]. It was probably founded by the Prestons of Preston, who lived nearby, but later it came under the patronage of the Earl of Lancaster. As with other friaries, benefactors were buried in the Friary chapel, which also seems to have acted as a chantry chapel, saying masses for the dead. Then in 1539 the friary was dissolved as part of the second wave of dissolutions. There were at that date ten friars, and we know some of their names, including the Warden, Thomas Tadgyll, who had been about 18 when he became a friar, and was only 28 when he became Warden [TNA DL 3/34/H5, 1540].

The site became the town prison, and was used as such until the new one was built in 1789. Thereafter it began to deteriorate, but during the 19th century some remains were unearthed, and some traces of the buildings were found, although later the site was trashed by the building of railway sidings. Then in 1991 work commenced on building the A59 Ringway extension, and the first archaeological excavation was carried out, followed by further excavation in 2007 in advance of building of the Legacy Preston International Hotel [Jeremy Bradley & Stephen Rowland. Brothers Minor: Lancashire’s Lost Franciscans: Investigations at Preston Friary 1991 and 2007, Lancaster (2020)].

This excavation found traces of a rectangular masonry building within a ditch, and both within the building, and outside, some 25 graves, oriented east-west, which mainly seem to have been those of members of the families of the benefactors, men, women and children, with radio-carbon dates stretching between c1200-1315, and c1440-1495.

Bill Shannon Dr William D Shannon is an independent researcher and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

My Local Lock-Up project

Alongside the 19th Century Prisons database (, which provides a searchable list of 847 prisons and their archives, Rosalind Crone has developed Your Local Lock-Up; a public engagement project which aims to locate any structures used for temporary imprisonment or restraint. These lock-ups might have confined the accused until they appeared before a local magistrate, when being moved between penal institutions, or when undergoing trial. Some lock-ups, like stocks, could also have been used to punish those ‘behaving badly’ in the local community.

Your Local Lock-Up at is a national database of surviving or demolished places of local confinement that will allow us to explore various aspects of lock-ups’ use, character and design. To do this, we now need the help of local historians! There are many Lancashire lock-ups in the database but we suspect there are countless others we do not yet know about. We are therefore asking members of the public to help us find more lock-ups, and would be very grateful if your members could tell us about any in your area.

The project needs data on any structure used for temporary confinement for the 16th-20th centuries; including purpose built lock-ups, police stations, cells in town halls, courthouses, workhouses, stocks and even pubs used to detain prisoners. Your members can easily contribute new lock-up information through an online form at Or perhaps they have more details and photographs of somewhere already listed in the database.

If so, we would be very grateful for any extra information via the ‘Anything to Add’ button. Anyone interested in lock-ups and penal history is also invited to join the team to develop the database at Your Local Lock-Up is collecting many different types of evidence, especially descriptions of structures or their uses, and pictures. It need not be written evidence, either.

We are equally keen on anecdotes lock-ups, prisoners held there and the location of any that are now lost. We are also collecting ‘stories’ of lock-ups for our features page, some of which can already be seen at

Could any of your members perhaps please contribute a story on a lock-up; its restoration or conversion; local events held there; or accounts of how the project data is being used? To increase Your Local Lock-Up’s usefulness to local history societies, every database entry has a ‘print’ button, which generates a ready-made pamphlet containing information and an image that can be displayed or distributed.

Please let us know if you would find more features valuable. Finally, please ask members to connect with Prison History UK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or subscribe to mailing lists on the website. Any queries can be emailed to or to We very much look forward to your members' comments and contributions to this exciting new project.

Kind regards and many thanks, Dr Elaine Saunders

Recording the many workforces of the town.

The Leyland Historical is presently in its 50th Season, the society having been formed on 1st July 1968. To commemorate this event the Society are organising a series of events and projects.

            Whilst researching the first edition of the book on “The Industrial Heritage of Leyland and Farington” it was surprising the number of factories and businesses that have been conducted within the area in the last hundred and fifty years.

            All types of business could be found in Leyland and at one time there were over 18,000 people working within Leyland itself with up to 30,000 if you include Farington.

            The second edition of the book, updated and expanded is now available from the Society at our meetings or from Great Grandfathers for £9.95. It  includes all the research undertaken in the last ten years.


Following the success of the first book and the reminisces of the 12,000 people who are on the Leyland Memories site on Facebook, the Historical Society’s committee realised that we were in danger of missing out recording the oral history of the factory workers who helped to run the industries of Leyland and Farington in the last century. The old factory buildings have disappeared, however, their story can still be told.

Following our assistance in previous projects with the University of Central Lancashire and the Commercial Vehicles Museum on Leyland Paints in a small way, the next project in 2016 on the Leyland & Birmingham Rubber Company demonstrated the wealth of knowledge that could be obtained if you ask the retired employees.

The Society then last year contacted the Heritage Lottery Fund who agreed that this was a worthwhile project and will fund the production of the new book together with the costs of a full oral history project.

So the Society is appealing to the people of Leyland and their families and friends to help us establish a database of Leyland and Farington workers, be it Leyland Motors, Leyland & Birmingham Rubber Works, BTR, Baxters, Leyland Paints, the four cotton mills, gold thread works, bleach works, or any other factories, workshops or other manufacturing premises in Leyland and Farington.

Anyone interviewed for the Oral History project will receive a FREE copy of the new edition of the Industrial Heritage of Leyland & Farington book.  

We will then record their memories for future generations making them available to the local museums, libraries, colleges and schools in the form of CD, video and publications.