We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can
see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any
sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are
carried high and raised up by their giant size.
Bernard of Chartres
Go, look at St Michael’s Cross in the heart of Crosby. It tells us that the earliest Christians set up a cross to preach the gospel here and, when the Norse and Scandinavian invaders arrived, they called it Crosby, ‘The village with the cross’. The cross was the focus of attention on special occasions. It is said that in the time of Henry VIII proclamations of the manorial court were made at the base of the cross and Nicholas Blundell writes in his diary for 24 June 1708: ‘My wife & I were at the Flowering of Great Crosby Cross’. There was also a custom on St Michael’s Day (29 September) of decorating the cross with flowers while games were played on the village green.
The memorial cross (which still stands today) to St Michael’s Well which stood on the village green. Nearby was Crosby Chapel, also dedicated to St Michael.
Look at the inscription on the stone base of the cross, which used to stand on the edge of the village green, stretching to the right and, later, cobbled. The old name of Cooks Road – Pinfold Lane – reminds us that the village pound was there, in which any cattle or horses that strayed out of their fields were confined until their owners came to reclaim them and pay for their release. The stocks would be there too. Right next to the cross was a well whose waters in medieval times were thought to have healing properties. This was later dedicated to St Michael, and pilgrims came to be cured there, so a chapel of ease where they could worship and refresh themselves was built at least by 1564. As you look at the inscription, the chapel was at the opposite end of the car park on the north side of Church Road. We can imagine that it will have been rebuilt several times and the last St Michael’s, built there about 1774, was the immediate predecessor of St Luke’s.
From time immemorial Great Crosby was in the ancient parish of Sephton. The Harleian Manuscripts in the British Library refer to a chapel or church in Crosby as early as the 13th century, and in 1340 Great Crosby paid £5 6s 8d in tithes when the cost to get married was 4d and a christening cost 1/2d. In 1532 the King’s Tenants complained that one Nicholas Johnson with eight others had gone into the chapel and kept the door shut so that neither ‘Strange Pilgrims’ nor the townspeople could enter or make their offerings. This occurred on the eve of St Michael in Monte Tumba, whose day was 16 October, at which time the goose feast was held. Later, the dedication was changed to St Luke as being the saint whose day, 18 October, falls nearest to the old feast day, and it was described as such in 1836 (in Baines’ ‘History of Lancashire’). Church ales were held annually on the village green on the Festival of St Michael, when merrymaking on the green was followed by a large brew of ale. The villagers drank their heartiest for the benefit of the church – the equivalent of the later church bazaars. Even in the 16th century the church was only valued at 30 shillings, and the villagers could not afford to keep a parson as a reader. The ‘parsonage’ which was a wattle and daub hut was later converted into a village barn to store hay.
The original boys’ school building of Merchant Taylors’ School built in 1620, and now part of the girls’ school. Most of the headmasters were also curates of Crosby (ie St Michael’s) Chapel.
The church was in the gift of the rector of Sefton and many of the appointments were linked with the headmastership of Merchant Taylors’ School which was founded in 1620. Thus the first headmaster, the Revd John Kidde, became ‘minister of the Crosby’ in 1643 and he gives us a vivid account of conditions in Crosby at that time. Writing to the Merchant Taylors’ Company, asking for special consideration, he says, with the interesting spelling of the time, ‘The scituation of the Schoole in the most desolate and obscure Angle of the Country…, 500 recusants [ie those who refused to attend Church of England services] in the parrish. Besides Popery, the extreme poverty, I will not say beggary, of the Country is no small rubb. The rude behavior of the people their almost incorrigible and incurable condicons so that men of quality will not send their children hither [ie to the school], neither is there any fitt to give entertainmt to such, and for myselfe have tabled some and could never gett paymt. The ordinary absence of scholars many of them kept away 2 or 3 days in a weeke especially in plow time butt most of all in hay time and harvest, when they are absent a whole quarter of a yeare together, and yet tis expected they should profitt.’ In addition to his work in the school and the parish, John Kidde had to farm three acres to support his family of eight children. He was torn between his commitments, but it seems that he gave church work priority. As the ‘Chapel of Much Crosby’ was three miles from any other church or chapel, there was talk of making it a separate parish, which would have boosted his income. In fact in 1650 the Parliamentary Commissioners considered it fit to be an independent parish church, but nothing came of it. In 1651 he was sacked from his post as headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School on the grounds of mismanagement. In fact, he was forced out by a group of Royalist/Roman Catholic sympathisers who objected to his Puritan/Presbyterian ways. However, he was able to stay on as curate of the chapel until his death at the age of sixty in 1654.
His place was taken by the Revd John Heywood, who stayed until 1660 and then went on to be Rector of Walton. He was succeeded by the Revd John Ashworth, ordained deacon and priest in October 1661. However, following the restoration of the monarchy in 1661, puritan ministers were ejected from their livings and there was a shortage of clergy. So John Heywood had the opportunity of acting as vicar of Ormskirk as well. He would leave his growing family of six children in the school house on Saturday, take the services in Ormskirk on Sunday and return to Crosby on Monday. The services in Crosby would be taken by a succession of curates. He also gained the position of King’s Preacher, a post which was worth more than his headmaster’s salary but involved travelling about the county where there was a shortage of preachers. In 1676/7 he resigned his post as headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ (which he had held since 1661) to be headmaster of a grammar school in Macclesfield. One of the curates was the Revd John Ward, appointed in 1661 who left for a living in Hargreave, Cheshire in 1665.
The next curate of Crosby was the Revd John Waring. Ordained deacon in 1674, he was ordained priest, and appointed curate and headmaster, on 6 June 1680. Any puritan influence in Crosby had by now disappeared and he had an extremely cordial relationship with the Roman Catholic squire, Nicholas Blundell. Although the curate had religious arguments with the squire and his relations, he had a friendly relationship with the chaplains. In a letter he describes arrangements for the celebration of the coronation of Queen Anne: the special form of service was not printed in time and his sons Richard and Gerard (who was to succeed him) were asked to copy it out. He died in 1711 and is buried with his wife in the chancel of Sefton church where he had often preached.
His position as headmaster, curate and smallholder was taken over by his son, the Revd Gerard Waring, a tradition going back to John Kidde. He also continued his father’s intimate friendship with Nicholas Blundell. As with his father there was a busy social life to be pursued, and on 14 August 1722 he played a game of bowls with Nicholas ‘by Moone Light & one candle’. A record of a general visitation made on 3 May 1723 states that the church was in good condition, but, not uncommonly at that time, there was only one of each of the following items: surplice, Great Bible (not very well bound), Book of Common Prayer, Book of Homilies and bell.
The Revd Robert Bellis took over the curacy in 1729, presumably because Gerard was ailing, for he died in the following year aged forty-three. When Robert left Crosby, he was succeeded by the new headmaster of Merchant Taylors’, a Manxman, the Revd Anthony Halsall. He had been born about 1693 at Castletown in the Isle of Man. In 1717 he was ordained and, becoming a trusted friend and negotiator of the bishop there, was sent by him to petition the Earl of Derby in Knowsley. Anthony had substantial private means, and connections that he made during this period resulted in his appointment as headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School in 1730. His sister Catherine (whose legacy later endowed the Halsall School) came to live with him and they built up a circle of many friends in the area, being frequently visited by bishops.
Anthony died in December 1755 and was succeeded by the Revd Edward Owen, who, appointed to the ushership but disappointed in his hopes for the headmastership of Merchant Taylors’, left for that of Warrington Grammar School. The successful applicant, both as curate and headmaster, in 1758, was the Revd Wilfred Troutbeck from Cumberland. His greatest achievement was the rebuilding of the chapel. As recently as 1723 this had been in good repair but was now described by Wilfred as ‘ruinous and decayed in every part thereof’. It had also become too small for the growing population, in spite of enlargements. The minister, chapel-wardens and inhabitants could not raise the money required, being mainly tenants and having to support a number of poor people. They petitioned that alms contributions should be collected throughout the county, and house to house in chambers of Lancashire, Chester and York, to enable them to take down the chapel and build a new one. Their wish was granted; the cost was £1056 17s and all the rest was collected in this way, apart from £40 from the sale of old materials, the church being completed in 1770. Wilfred resigned the curacy in 1783.
Born in 1747, the Revd Nicholas Rigbye Baldwin was appointed to the ‘curacy of the chapel of Crosby’ in 1783. Two years before that he had married a widow in Sefton church and this may explain the reason for his move. He is a good example of the practice of pluralism (ie holding more than one office at a time), then prevalent in the church. Nicholas was already vicar of Harston in Cambridgeshire, rector of Chayleigh in Sussex and incumbent of Haslingden Chapel near Blackburn. When he took on Crosby, he gave up Harston and handed over Haslingden to Wilfred Troutbeck who stayed in Crosby and rarely attended there. At the same time Nicholas himself was made King’s Preacher for Lancashire, and was subsequently appointed to be rector of Llangattock, Breconshire, a prebendary of St Paul’s, vicar (and patron) of Leyland (where his father had been vicar) and perpetual curate of Newchurch in Rossendale, thus holding seven posts concurrently. No wonder he had to appoint assistants (stipendiary curates) to carry out his work and, for a while, one of them was the Revd John Rawes, who combined this position with that of usher at Merchant Taylors’ School. Meanwhile in 1787 Wilfred Troutbeck had died at Melling and was buried there, not at Sefton as might have been expected. He paid more land tax on his property in Melling than that in Crosby, but there is much in this tangled network that we do not know.
Nicholas died in 1817. Soon after, the Revd Jacob Hodgson became curate of Crosby, running a private school as well for some years. In 1825 he offered the position of assistant curate to the Revd Joseph Clark. There seem to have been tensions between them which were resolved in 1829 when Joseph was appointed headmaster of Merchant Taylors’ School, resigned as curate of Crosby and took up the post of curate at Sefton, later becoming the second vicar of St Luke’s. Jacob was succeeded by the Revd Edmund Boteler Chalmer in 1840. In the next year the Revd Richard Walker was appointed, destined to be the last curate of St Michael’s and the first vicar of the new church and parish of St Luke. To him we owe the building which we love so much and which has survived through fire to this day.
Plans of St Michael’s Chapel before (above) and after (below) it was extended in 1840. The shaded pews in the lower plan are the ones that were added along with an extra pair of windows.