Colonel Lawrence Rawstorne, a close friend of the other Preston 17th-century diarist Thomas Bellingham, and a senior member of the Lancashire landowning gentry, whose estate included the whole of Hutton, wrote the following in his diary: ‘i7 at Preston & ‘ith’ Court o’ Sess tooke the Oathes of Obedience & Supremacie and the Test …’
The ‘Court o’ Sess’, was the quarter sessions, the 17th-century equivalent of today’s county council but with more responsibilities. It was a very powerful body, consisting of the county’s magistrates, such as Rawstorne.
The oaths and the test were designed to block non-Anglicans, particularly Catholics, from public office. The control had been relaxed during the reigns of Charles II and his brother, James II. Indeed, Catholics took over most of the key positions in Lancashire ‘during the short sunshine of the reign of James II’.
This period of Catholic ascendancy ended very quickly after the Glorious Revolution. Catholics were ousted from all the posts they had occupied under James II and the oaths were now more strictly enforced. This ushered in the unhappy 18th-century for Preston’s Catholics, who faced persecution from the likes of Preston’s vicar Samuel Peploe, when the Whigs, of which he was a supporter, took control of the county.
The priest at Fernyhalgh, Christopher Tootell, describes a period of relative peace shortly before 1715 when Tories, who he describes as ‘truly Civil Magistrates’, controlled the quarter sessions. The Tories resisted an attempt by Peploe to indict several local Catholics, including Tootell, who wrote that the Tory magistrates ‘were so favorable as to discharge the Persons indicted, upon their appearing by an Attorney, and paying off the costs and charges of the Suite’.
When the Whigs gained control of Lancashire at the end of 1715, after the first Jacobite rebellion, the change was swift, as Tootell writes, and in place of ‘the Quiet we had enjoy’d under the late Magistracie’ the succeeding Whigs were ‘active and severe in their Office’.