Vavasour, Sir Walter – priest

Sir Walter Vavasour, 4th baronet, was a Jesuit priest, a member of a prominent Catholic gentry family in Yorkshire, who served the mission in Preston from before 1715 and died there on 10 April, 1740. His family had a long connection with Stonyhurst and its precursor, the English College at St Omer, stretching over five centuries, and he was probably the Walter Vavasour, a pupil at St Omer until 1681.

He was active as a priest in Lancashire from the beginning of the eighteenth century:

A list of places served by Jesuit priests in Lancashire, 1701, shows that at that time Father Walter Vavasour was missioner at Bailey Hall and in receipt of a salary of £20. … Father Vavasour himself seems to have served the missions of Alston and Ribchester from about 1703. He was a convicted recusant and “reputed priest” at Alston in 1715, and registered his estate as Sir W. V. of Alston in 1717. An informer in 1718 says he has been living there at “one of the four houses called the Bough ” for about fifteen years. He (presumably) was the ” Romish priest” who officiated at several baptisms and marriages recorded in the Ribchester parish registers between 1705 and 1710. Those same registers record his burial at the Stidd chapel as a “reputed Romish priest,” 12th April I740. [1]

Sir Walter Vavasour memorial slab at Stydd Church Ribchester
The memorial slab just to the right of the altar at St Saviour’s Church, Stydd, Ribchester, reputed to mark the grave of Walter Vavasour. Photo: Fiona Mair

He had followed Fr Gilbert Grey, the first Jesuit priest in Preston, who had arrived in 1701. Fr Grey succeeded his cousin as the thirteenth Earl of Shrewsbury in 1718. Having taken the Jesuit vow of poverty, he relinquished the vast estates in Shropshire and elsewhere that came with the title in favour of his younger brother. [2]

Sir Walter’s presence in the parish provoked the ire of the vicar of Preston, the Rev Samuel Peploe, who on 29 January 1713-4 wrote to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge which monitored Catholic activity in the provinces:

In the Country part of this parish, which is made up of 12. large Townships, there are several Preists who live among them: Their Names as far as I can discover are Tootel, Melling, Kendal, Richardson, Smyth, Vavasor, who is now Sr. Walter, as some say.

Sir Walter was living in Preston for a number of years, and ‘could be seen openly in Church-gate and entering the White Bull near the church. For years his address was “to be called for at Mr Jackson’s, the White Bull”.’ The landlord at the White Bull (now the Bull and Royal) at that period was Richard Jackson, a prominent Catholic in the town whose inn was headquarters for the Jacobites in 1715.

[1] C. A. Newdigate, ‘The Chantry of St John Baptist at Bailey’, Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 68 (1916): 152–53.
[2] ‘Gilbert Talbot, 13th Earl of Shrewsbury’, in Wikipedia,,,_13th_Earl_of_Shrewsbury&oldid=1144447241.
For other sources see Preston’s Friargate Chapels