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St William Roman Catholic, Thornley cum Wheatley

St William,
Longridge Rd,
Thornley cum Wheatley


The church has/had a graveyard.

Church History

It was founded in 1738. Interdicted 1841-1859. Closed as a parish in 1991.

Mass was celebrated in the attic of a farmhouse from 1738. A chapel was eventually built onto the side of the farmhouse in the 1820's. The mission was interdicted in 1841-1859, then reopened and run by the Benedictines between 1859 and 1936, when it was then taken over by the Diocese. The Parish was closed in 1991 but the buildings are still used for pastoral purposes.


This very ancient mission was founded in 1738, although there is every likelihood that Mass was said here in the old farmhouse at an earlier periods. There are still parts left of the old sixteenth-century farmhouse, very low built, and an attic which is supposed to have been a hiding place. A tiny cupboard, in the sacristy looks like a rough tabernacle.

The parish was founded by a yeoman farmer, Thomas Eccles of Lee House, who left land and farms in trust for the use of "a Friar or Friar Minor of the order of St. Francis of the English province to live and officiate at the Lee House and to have a chapel there, and that all the church stuff for the priest and altar, and my book of Religion may be preserved at the Lee House, and that the priest be not absent more than one week in the month."

The curious reference to "'my book of Religion" is hard to explain. There is preserved at Lee House a portrait in oils of the Founder, but the "book of Religion" has disappeared.

The first priest known to have served here was Father Germain (Germanus) Helme, O.S.F. This Confessor of the Faith came of an old Goosnargh family, residing chiefly at Church House, Goosnargh, and another branch of the family was at Blackmoss in Chipping, not far from the place where the revered Confessor lived for many years as a priest. Father Helme, a member of the Franciscan order, served the Catholic mission of Goosnagh and of Lee House, founded in 1738 by a Catholic Non-Juror, Thomas Eccles. After the 1745 rebellion there was a renewed attack against Lancashire Catholics, who were accused of supporting the Stuart rebels. A mob came out and arrested the priest of Lee House. He was taken to Lancaster castle. There after four months he died. Anyone who has visited the dungeons at Lancaster, deprived of air, light, and sanitation, need not feel surprise that a prisoner should perish under such appalling conditions. Yet one chronicle suggests that Fr. Helme may have been poisoned by a malevolent woman. He is probably the last Catholic of the diocese to suffer grievously under the penal laws.

The Franciscans served here until 1826.

From 1745 to 1750, Fr. Joseph Francis Clarke, O.S.F.; 1751-1784 Fr. Thomas Leo Francis, Fr. Pacificus Price; 1784-1800 Fr. John Henry Wareing. When Bishop Matthew Gibson visited Lee House in 1784 there were 33 persons to be confirmed and there were 120 communicants. From 1800 to 1815 Fr. Joseph Tate; 1815-1816 Fr. John Bernardine Davison; 1818-1820 Fr. Thomas Pacificus Kingston; 1820-1826 Fr. John Bernardine Davison; 1826-1827 Fr. Philip Orrell, a priest from Ushaw; 1827-1840 Fr. Francis Trappes. This priest built the present chapel and house. Unfortunately, owing to a dispute with authority, the chapel was now closed for nineteen years, until it was reopened by the Benedictines.

A pupil of Fr. Trappes, William Riddell of the old Border family of Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland died here in 1830 and lies buried near the gospel side of the altar.

This isolated little parish has managed to struggle along in spite of the small number of Catholics living inside its boundaries since the establishment of the parish at Longridge. Its tiny graveyard probably houses more Catholic dead than any similar place in the land.

An old tradition, which no doubt goes right back to the days of persecution, states that when Mass was to be said at Lee House the washing was hung out in a certain field. This signal could be observed from farms on the hillside around, often several miles away, and then word would be passed from neighbour to neighbour that the priest was in the district.

Benedictines at Lee House: 1859-1868 Dom Alban Caldwell; 1868-1870 Dom Benedict Murphy; 1870-1871 Dom Cyprian Tyrer, buried here; 1871-1874 Dom Benedict Murphy; 1874-1876 Dom Austin Atkinson, buried here; 1876-1882 Dom Jerome Watmough; 1882-1884 Dom Cuthbert Proctor; 1884-1886 Dom Ignatius Dewhurst; buried here; 1886-1891 Dom Edmund Roche; 1891-1894 Dom Maurus Carew; 1894-1904 Dom Romuald Morgan, buried at Brownedge; 1904-1919 Dom Cuthbert Pippet; 1919-1936 Dom Hildebrand Dawes. Until recently the parish was administered by two of the diocesan clergy, for a short time by the late Fr. Walter McGahy and from 1936 by Fr. Denis Goolden.

Taken from "Salford Diocese and its Catholic past", a survey by Charles A. Bolton, a Priest of the above Diocese. Published 1950 on the First Centenary for the Diocese of Salford.

Church Records

Whilst every effort has been made to record exact details of record office and library holdings you are recommended to check with them before visiting to ensure that they do hold the records and years you wish to examine. Similarly check with transcript publishers to ensure they cover the records and years you require before making a purchase.

Later registers are held at St Wilfrid's, Longridge. The IGI contains:

  • Baptisms - 1800-1841

This site provides historical information about churches, other places of worship and cemeteries. It has no connection with the churches etc. themselves.


The church is located at OS grid reference SD6155240171 (Lat/Lon 53.856333,-2.586023). You can see this on maps provided by: