Tootell, Christopher – priest

Christopher Tootell was a Catholic priest who had charge of the Fernyhalgh mission at Preston from 1699 until his death in 1727. He is generally styled Tootell, although in contemporary records, including his own correspondence, the surname is spelled Tuttell. He was a member of the ancient Catholic family of Tootells who lived at Lower Healey Hall, Chorley, and were connected by marriage with many gentry families in the neighbourhood, including, in Preston, the Walls of Moor Hall. He is probably the Christopher Tootell, son of Hugh Tootell, of Healey, who was baptised at St Laurence, Chorley on 31 October 1662. Several members of the family are recorded as priests in the 17th and 18th centuries. [1]

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Christopher Tootell is recorded (as Tuttell) in the records of Lisbon College in 1682. [2] He was ordained priest there in 1686 and served briefly in London before moving to Lancashire to take up a post as chaplain at Wrightington Hall. [3] He seems to have been arrested in Preston in 1689 when troops were searching the homes of local Catholics, for Lawrence Rawstorne, in his diary entry for 28 May, records that he ‘comitted a Priest one Tuttell to Lanc. [Lancaster]’. What happened to Tuttell at Lancaster is not recorded.

Joseph Gillow published two short lives of Christopher TootelI: one, with references, in volume 5 of his Catholic biographies [4] and a longer version, without references, in a history of Lisbon College. [5]

According to the Lisbon College account, in 1699 Fr Tootell took charge of the mission at Ladywell, Fernyhalgh, at the same time being appointed rural dean of Amounderness and later, grand-vicar for Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumberland and Westmorland. He served at Fernyhalgh until his death in 1727. The account provides details of his persecution under penal laws, which led to his going into hiding on two occasions to escape arrest.

A Fernyhalgh website gives more information about Fr Tootell, but without supplying references, recording that he had to go into hiding on at least three occasions while he was at Fernyhalgh. [6] Lancashire Archives has quite a lot of Fr Tootell’s correspondence, in which he signs himself Tuttell, as in the Rawstorne reference. [7] Extracts from some of these letters can be found in the second volume of Brian Foley’s biographies of prominent Catholics, Some Other People of the Penal Times, which devotes a chapter to Fr Tootell. [8]

One of the letters which Foley considers, or rather the draft of a letter which forms part of a lengthy correspondence concerning eating flesh in Lent, casts light on the early origins of a Catholic chapel in Preston. The draft, dated 20 February 1727, records that Fr Tootell had addressed a large congregation in Preston on the issue. This perhaps suggests there was a Catholic chapel in Preston at this time. [9]

Colin Haydon makes use of Fr Tootell’s correspondence in his account of anti-Catholicism in 18th-century England. Fr 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 Preston’s Whig vicar, Samuel 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 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’. [10]

There was an inn known as Tootell’s in Preston in the 1680’s kept by a Hugh Tootell, whose connection with Christopher, if any, is unknown.

[1] Catholic Record Society. (Great Britain) and Ann Neville, Miscellanea V (London : Privately printed for the Society by W.H. Smith, 1909), 95n, 236n,; ‘Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk Project’, accessed 17 August 2017,
[2] ‘Catalogue of Lisbon College Oaths’, accessed 22 March 2018,
[3] William Croft, Joseph Gillow, and John Kirk, Historical Account of Lisbon College (Barnet, St. Andrew’s press, 1902), 259,
[4] Joseph Gillow, A Literary and Biographical History,or Bibliographical Dictionary, of the English Catholics, from the Breach with Rome, in 1534, to the Present Time., vol. 5 (New York, 1963), 547–48,
[5] Croft, Gillow, and Kirk, Historical Account of Lisbon College, 259–60.
[6] ‘Fernyhalgh’, accessed 22 March 2018,
[7] ‘RCFE – St Mary’s RC Church, Fernyhalgh’, Lancashire Archives Catalogue, accessed 22 March 2018,
[8] B. C. Foley, Some Other People of the Penal Times (Preston: Snape (Printer), 1992), 93–104.
[9] Foley, 98–99.
[10] Colin Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England, C. 1714-80: A Political and Social Study (Manchester University Press, 1993), 66–67.