On this day … 1 April 1685

The town’s bailiffs were facing a fine of half a mark by the court leet if they had neglected to ‘repaire ye Butts on Spittle Mosse’. The butts were designed for archery, but it is unlikely that the men of Preston were still taking their longbows along there to practise the ancient skill.

They had been required since medieval times to maintain that skill with the weapon that gave the English success in battle, as at Agincourt in 1415. To enforce the training, games of all sorts, including football and tennis were prohibited by the authorities, because, as one writer wittily put it:

The point was not so much to condemn games as to make sure they did not get in the way of longbow training. In other words, they saw nothing morally wrong with tennis, it’s just that it is hard to kill a French knight with a tennis ball, no matter how good your serve is.

By the time the Preston bailiffs were facing a penalty for neglecting the care of the town’s butts, the use of the longbow as a weapon had long been superseded by the gun. But because the legislation had not been repealed, towns and villages were still required to maintain the butts, and, in theory, all men aged under sixty were required to practice there regularly.

It clearly proved a pain for the bailiffs who were constantly being chided by the court for allowing the butts to fall into disrepair. In fact, the very first presentment before the first court leet for which records survive in 1655 deals with this very subject:

1. Wee find and p’sent the Exercise of Artillerie is not used within this Towne, accordinge to the forme of the Statute in such cases made and provided, And wee p’sent the now Bailiffs of this Towne shall repaire the Butts before the first day of May next in paine of vjs viijd, And sett Rayles about them that the beasts doe not throw them down.

David Berry, who transcribed and edited the court leet records, an immense undertaking of enormous benefit to Preston historians, commented, ‘Artillerie in this case referred to bows and arrows. The repair of the shooting butts will be a common presentment over the next 100 years. The last reference being 1757.’

According to Hewitson in his published extracts from the court leet records, ‘At the close of the 18th century there were butts near the south end of Deepdale-road. in a croft between the present County Arms hotel and the site of the old Preston and Longridge railway station.’

These later butts may have been for the leisure pursuit of amateur archers. A bowmaker was living and working in Walton-le-Dale in the nineteenth century, according to a book published in 1831, ‘It may here be remarked, that Mr. Ainsworth, a Bowyer, living at Walton le Dale near Preston very lately sold two Self Bows made by himself, of Spanish Yew, one for £8—the other for £10.’

Spittle or Spittal Moss was a triangular piece of land covering about six acres of what is now the UCLan campus. It is named Spittle Brow on the section of Lang’s map of Preston in 1774 (pictured) and is shown as a green-shaded overlay on the modern map (pictured)

This is Hewitson’s description in his Court Leet extracts:

Spitle is an old contracted form of hospital, and in this case the hospital was that of St. Mary Magdalen, situated on Maudlands, which was founded before 1187 … Spitle Moss was a short distance west of the present St. Peter’s-square, and belonged to the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen. The second cotton mill which Mr. John Horrocks built in Preston stood on a portion of the Moss; it was erected in 1796, and was called Moss Factory. Moss-street is in the same region. St. Peter’s Church, which stands on the eastern side of the old Moss, was often, in bygone years, called Moss Church, and occasionally this name is now applied to it.

As to the springs on the Moss, they were, probably, pretty numerous. The water in “ Atherton’s well ”—a well formerly adjoining the Moss, on the north side—most likely came from one of them. At one time there was, no doubt, a water trough on the north side of Spitle Moss, its inflow coming from one of the Moss springs; and the name of a public- house in the neighbourhood—the Watering Trough Inn, Fylde-road—was evidently derived therefrom. Such a name indicates that there was a watering trough not far off.’

Spittal Moss on Lang map of Preston 1774
Spittal Moss is shown as Spittle Brow on this extract from Lang’s 1774 map of Preston
Spittal Moss area on Preston map
The area of Spital Moss shaded green on the modern Open Street map: https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=11/53.8221/-2.8307

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