The First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston – Chapter 9


As we have seen, the Company of Catholick Bretheren had practically ceased to exist owing to the troublous times, which came after the coming of Prince Charles Edward’s forces in 1745, and the part which Catholics were alleged to have taken in his cause.

In 1753, the Society was revived, and has never since done anything but, at worst, hold its own. At the beginning the list of members was sadly reduced. In 1754, there were only sixteen instead of the original forty. In the following year there were only five more. At this strength it remained for the next four or five years. In 1759, the numbers went up to 29, only to fall again to twenty-four or twenty-five for some years to come. In 1762 the Secretary evidently expected an increase. He began by writing from 1 to 33 in the margin of his book. But only twenty-five names were filled in. However, there were 34 in 1769 and 39 in the following year.

And so things went on. Numbers were now up and now down. Things had really not yet quite settled down. Members joined and left. In 1781, we find the name Richard Edmundson. He paid his entrance fee and three monthly subscriptions. After his name then appears the entry: “Paid up and relinquished 26 Dec. 1781.”

Things ought to have been considerably better now. In 1780, it will be remembered, Sir George Saville introduced into Parliament a Bill to relieve English Catholics of some of the severe enactments against them. Ultimately it was passed. But the Gordon riots were at this time too. Their echo sounded in Preston also very loudly.

When the ‘nineties were reached, however, the Society seems to have been really prosperous again. And at this period, too, the old rule, which limited numbers to forty, seems to have been rescinded, though we find no mention anywhere of its repeal. Indeed for many years it seems to have been impossible to bring the Society up to full strength. But in 1794 the roll reached forty-two, and it increased steadily. In 1798, it amounted to fifty for the first time. In 1800, it stood at fifty-two.

About this time the subscription appears to have changed. In the early years the account book shows that members paid 6d. each month, the “peney ½ ” a week, as laid down in the original articles. Now they begin—in 1796 to be exact—to pay only four times a year, their subscription being 2s. 6d. each time, our present system.

In 1806, the dates of the meetings were changed to those already mentioned viz., the Feast of St. Stephen and the Sundays closest to the Feasts of the Annunciation, Sts. Peter and Paul, and St. Michael.

Another interesting item appears in the 1813 accounts. At the bottom of the page we find this entry: “Lady Gerard 10s. for the ensuing year July 4 1813.” And then appear the following names: Mrs. Chadwick, Mrs. Blanchard, Mrs. Shepherd, Miss Talbot, Mrs. Yates, Miss Agnes Yates, and Mrs. Arrowsmith. This is the first time that we find the names of women on the roll of members. Nothing in the rules of the founders explicitly excludes ladies . (Fr. Splaine pretends to see a prohibition in those words of the Articles: ” No one shall be admitted but such as will keep the secrets of the Brethren.”) But ladies are here admitted as members. Our present rules admit wives of members who survive their husbands and who continue to pay subscription. But it seems quite plain from these names that at least for a period ladies could enter and did enter on their own account. Mrs. Shepherd was probably the wife of Richard Shepherd, whose name appears on the same page. So, too, Mrs. Arrowsmith was probably the good lady of Richard Arrowsmith. But Lady Gerard (wife of John Gerard, Esq., of Haighton), Mrs. Chadwick, and Mrs. Blanchard do not seem to have followed their spouses. And Mrs. Yates and her daughter, Agnes, and Miss Talbot seem to be quite without male escort and to have joined the Society entirely on their own account. Some years later indeed we find Fr. Dunn in 1825 announcing, during a determined recruiting rally, that he would pay the fee for the admission of the next twenty members, “especially if they were ladies.”

In our days, ladies are by custom, if not by the wording of the rules, not admitted to membership. Indeed members have been so ungallant as to decide, after lengthy debate, that ladies should not be admitted as guests on the occasion of the annual dinner.

When ladies ceased to be admitted is not quite clear. But for several years one finds names of women on the ordinary rolls, paying their half-crowns like the men. To mention only a few others, there are Nancy Anderson, May Bot, Mary Dalton, Miss Lucy Dalton, Mary Nixon, Miss B. Dalton, Miss Elizabeth Dalton, Mrs. Singleton, Miss Tootel, Mrs. Gillebrand, and others.

In 1816, for the first time the Society numbered one hundred.

A useful suggestion was made at the annual meeting in January, 1836. We may give it in the words of the minute book: “On motion of W. Alexander, M.D., it was resolved (nem. con.) That it is desirable that a sermon should be preached and a collection made in the Chapel annually in aid of the objects of this Society, provided that such a sermon being preached and collection made meet the views of the clergy: and the Rev. W. Lomax (the only one of the clergy present at the meeting) was requested to mention this resolution to his coadjutors and to ascertain their sentiments thereupon.”

Whether it was thought that this casual message might fail to have the desired effect or not, the Society seemed anxious to press the matter. We find another entry immediately after the last, to the effect that a motion was carried unanimously, “that a request be made to the clergy of Preston (signed by the members of this Society or on their behalf by the Secretary) that they would be pleased to give a Sermon on Charity and have a collection in the Chapel to increase the Funds of the Society.”

What the reply was to this double message we do not know from the old diaries. We can hardly think that the clergy refused a request so sincerely and so deferentially made. But the custom, if there ever was one, has long since been forgotten.

At the March meeting of that year (1836) “it was resolved that whenever the usual night for holding a quarterly meeting of this Society shall occur during the time of the Easter, or of any other Indulgence, such meeting be postponed till the first Sunday night after the expiration of such Indulgence.”

In 1843 a serious question occupied the attention of the Society. It was found that by some oversight a large number of Masses of obligation had been omitted for several years.

Father H. Segrave opened up the question on the 2nd October, 1842. The words of the minute are obscure, but we give them as they stand “Mr. Segrave wished to know what the duty of the officiating minister was with respect to the Masses of the anniversary of the deceased and living members were—if agreeable to printed rules.” This led to the appointment at the following annual meeting, 11th January, 1843, of a Committee, at the head of which appears the name of the Rev. H. Segrave, to report on the advisability of revising the rules. This Committee, on 31st March, 1843, reported:—

1.—That the provisions of the Article headed Spiritual Benefits seem to have been lost sight of, and that there are arrears which it is incumbent on this Society to discharge, as they affect the compacts and agreements into which the Society has entered with its members, viz., the arrears of Masses for its living members is from the year 1825, and those for the dead from 1827, and that it is incumbent on this meeting to order that those arrears be made good in the manner that seems to them desirable.

2.—That provision be made for the future discharge of this duty.

3.—For the alteration in the latter wording of the Article headed Spiritual Benefits.

Two days later, April 2nd, it was

resolved that 66 Masses of the 96 in arrear, pursuant to the foregoing Report, be taken by the clergy of Sts. Wilfrid’s, Mary’s, and Ignatius’, leaving the Society to provide for the residue. The Rev. Mr. Cookson, of St. Augustine’s Chapel, proposed to take three Masses, being, as he considered, a fair proportion for the two years St. Augustine’s had been opened.

It was moved and seconded that the remaining 7 Masses should be paid for out of the funds of the Society, upon which an amendment was made and carried, and resolved that a subscription be entered into to raise the £3 7s. 6d. for payment for the remaining 7 Masses to make good the arrears of 96 Masses.

Also resolved that in future the obligation of saying three Masses for the deceased members and three for the living members annually be paid for out of the funds of the Society.

Fr. Splaine misread this last passage, and so his query at the bottom of page 31 of his History is out of place. But several interesting questions do arise here: Father Segrave, in his first enquiry, mentions the Officiating Minister. Who was he? What were his duties with regard to these Masses? How did he come to neglect or overlook them? Had he any allowance by way of stipend? If he had, was it stopped when the Society took back upon itself the responsibility?

It is evident that there was some laxity in the observance of rules, or some ignorance of what those rules were. It is also evident that at this time—possibly owing to the discovery that so important a matter as the saying of obligatory Masses had been overlooked— there was a desire to get things well in order once more. For that same meeting, before it broke up, “resolved that the revision of the rules be further considered at the next quarterly meeting.” This revision was completed some time before July, 1844, for at the meeting in that month it was “resolved that the Rev. Mr. Norris be requested to read the rules, with an appropriate address. Resolved that the revised rules, as agreed upon this evening, be printed along with the address and a list of the deceased and living members and circulated among its members.” No one for the future may be able to say that he is ignorant of the rules.

Several interesting items of less importance than others occur at various places in our old books. It is, for example, worth noting that on December 7th, 1825, on the motion of Fr. Dunn, it was “carried unanimously by acclamation that the thanks of this Society be given to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Penswick for the honour he has conferred to the Society by becoming a member.”

This other item awakens speculation. “July 4th, 1831. Proposed by Rev. R. Lythgoe, and seconded by W. H. Margeson, that the members of this Society meet on Tuesday, 18th day of October, to celebrate and commemorate the hundredth anniversary of this Society, being on the 6th of June, 1831.” Our imagination tells us that this great centenary was worthily celebrated by the good men of 1831. Our hope is that there will be as fervent and as grand a celebration of the bicentenary in 1931. It is close at hand.

We meet each year for an annual dinner. When this custom began we are not quite sure. In 1841, it was “resolved that the Supper at the next Annual Meeting be suspended, but the usual annual meeting be held.” It was suspended, and so was already a custom. But it was only a supper.

The first mention we find of a dinner is in 1848, when we read that it was moved, seconded, and carried unanimously “that at the next annual meeting a Dinner be provided by the Hostess for the members of the Society.” The hostess, of course, was the Keeper of the Inn, where, according to custom, the meetings were held. And in that year it was probably the hostess of “The Spread Eagle.”

It would be interesting, indeed, to have a record of the various meeting places of the Society. Such a list it would be impossible to compile. In the very early days, when meetings were of necessity kept so secret, it would have been unwise, for obvious reasons, to put the name of the house on record. “The White Bull Inn,” that famous hostelry that was used as a hospital by the troops in 1715, where Prince Charles, the Young Pretender, in his day held a Council of War, this “White Bull Inn” housed the Society for many a day. The “Red Lion Inn” is another name that we find mentioned. Usually, however, only the name of the owner is just casually mentioned in the accounts. Fr. Splaine made a collection, as far as he was able, of the places of meeting in early days. They are:—

1732 Robert Ingham’s. [A Robert Ingham, innkeeper, is listed in 1732 Preston Poor Tax Book. Neither name nor location is given. PS]
1733 Widow Keighley’s.
1734 At Walton.
1735 W. Thorp’s, Ribbleton.
1736 At Spittle Moss. 1
1742 At the White Bull.
1743 George Green’s.
1743 Sirsacar’s (Stirzacar’s?).
1760 At the Red Lion, Church Street.
1761 Samuel Herp’s (Earpe’s?).
1762 George Slater’s.
1763 Widow Harp’s (Earpe’s?).
1764 Nancy Worthington’s.
1764 T. Harris’s.
1771 Thomas Burkett’s.
1775 William Salisbury’s.
1776 Evan Werden’s.
From the year 1776 to October, 1817, the name and place of meeting are omitted.
1817 Shepherd’s.
1818 Bell’s.
1819 Ainsworth’s.
1820 At the White Hart. Peter Whittle writes: The Catholic Charities Society “continue to dispense their bounty to the poor and necessitous quarterly, at the house of Mr. Richard Shepherd, the White Hart, Gin-bow Entry.”
1821 At the Spread Eagle, Lune Street.
1822 At the White Horse, ’53.
And with this we bring to a close our story of the Old Society, as gathered from the two old account books.

1.—The “Spittle Moss,” mentioned above, was the name of a locally in the Maudlands district. The name is a corruption of the Moss (or Marshland) of the Hospital. The hospital in question was the leper hospital, on the site of which St. Walburge’s Church now stands. Spittle Moss was between what now is Fylde Road and the Canal and Maudland Street. Indeed St. Peter’s Church is known to old inhabitants as the “Moss Church “, and it is not so many years since there was a land slide into the Canal in the neighbourhood of St. Peter’s Schools. “Spittle Moss ” was probably that locality now occupied by Cold Bath Street, Radnor Street and the rest.

2.—It may be well to mention here the few other meeting places of the Society before the opening of the Catholic Club, where sessions now take place. For several years, after 1853 meetings were held at the White Horse. The Castle Hotel was used for many years. From that the meetings were moved to the Legs of Man, and then, because a larger room was required, the Bull Hotel was chosen.


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