Greater Manchester UK




Early Lancashire History

A Victorian Definition

In 1842, ‘Barclay’s Complete &
Universal Dictionary’ described Lancashire as

“…a county of
England, lying on the Irish Sea, and bounded by Cumberland, Westmoreland,
Yorkshire, and Cheshire. It is 75 miles in length, and 30 in breadth.
It is divided into 6 hundreds, which contain 27 market towns, 62 parishes,
and 894 villages.
This county comprises a variety of soil and face of country; there
being mountains of more than 2000 feet high, in the north and eastern
parts, with wide moorlands or heaths amongst them; extensive bogs
or mosses, which yield only turf for fuel, and are very dangerous;
and some most fertile land for agricultural purposes. it yields iron,
coal, slate, and other building-stones; salt, etc. Grazing is more
attended to than agriculture.
The fisheries, both in the rivers and the sea, are valuable. As a
commercial and manufacturing county, Lancashire is distinguished beyond
most others in the kingdom. Its principal manufactures are linen,
silk, and cotton goods; fustians, counterpanes, shalloons, baize,
serges, tapes, small wares, hats, sail-cloth, sacking, pins, iron
goods, cast plate-glass, etc.
Of the commerce of this county, it may suffice to observe, that Liverpool
is now the second port in the United Kingdom. The principal rivers
are the Mersey, Irwell, Ribble, Lune, Leven, Wyre, Hodder, Roche,
Duddon, Winster, Kent, and Calder, and it has two considerable lakes,
Windermere and Coniston Water. Lancaster is the county town. Population, 1,667,054. It returns 26 members to parliament.

Ancient Lancashire

During the Iron Age the lands now
known as Lancashire were part of the territory of a loose confederation
of ancient Celtic tribes known as the Brigantes , including
the Setantii, who lived along the Fylde Coast of Lancashire, and the
Carvetii who occupied lands around Carlisle. Several Brigantian hill
forts are known to exist in the county, including those at Warton
Crag, Skelmore Heads in Cumbria and Ingleborough and Stanwick in Yorkshire.

Tribal sociology tended to revolve around a predominantly agricultural
lifestyle in small settlements, surrounded by small fields and pastures.
excavations at Lathom have revealed at least two houses dating from
around 2000 BC. Roadways, such as existed at all, would have been
little more than footpaths and animal droving routes which linked
farmsteads and settlements. Apparently Brigantian tribes operated
more-or-less autonomously and independently, only coming together
for ceremonial purposes, or in the event of war, when they combined
to form powerful guerrilla armies.


The conquest of Britain and
its incorporation into the Roman Empire began in AD 43 when the Emperor
Claudius landed on the south coast and fought a campaign northwards
to overcome native opposition. Certain native tribes aided the gradual
invasion and an eventual treaty was made with Cartimandua, Queen of
the Brigantes. Under subsequent generals the Roman army penetrated
north across Brigantia and established a permanent presence with the
construction of the first forts in the northwest, at Ribchester and
Carlisle around AD 72. Under the Governorship of Julius Agricola the
forts at Kirkham and Lancaster, and along the Lune Valley were established.
Agricola also constructed the fort at Mamucium (sometimes Mamuciam
– modern day Castlefield) in the City of Manchester. Other camps later
appeared at Warrington, Wigan and Walton-le-Dale. Roman roads were
soon constructed to connect these forts, and these still underlie
the major road networks that criss-cross the County of Lancashire

Map of Lancashire in Roman times
Lancashire in Roman times, showing forts,
other settlements and major roadways. © 2003 John Moss

Celtic & Saxon Lancashire

After Roman withdrawal from Britain in the fourth century
AD, the lands of Lancashire returned to what they had been before, populated
by a now Romanised British people of the tribe known as the ‘Cumbri’
(from which Cumbria is derived). They spoke a Celtic dialect, similar
to Welsh, and this is reflected in many Lancashire place names. For
example, places ending in the suffixes “-keth”, “-cheth” or “-teth”,
(as in Penketh, Toxteth, Culcheth, Tulketh), reflect the old Welsh “coed”,
indicating a large wood or forest. The Celtic word “penno”,
meaning a hill, is reflected in places like Pendle.
The vacuum created by Roman withdrawal was filled in the late fifth
century by King Rheged, whose kingdom stretched from Scotland through
present day Cumbria to the River Ribble. Within a century these lands
had been absorbed into the Kingdom of Northumbria. Lands to the south
were held by the Kingdom of Mercia, which included all of present day
By the seventh century immigrant Scandinavian peoples, many ejected
from Ireland, gradually settled in Lancashire and
, and a mixed Anglo-Saxon culture had already begun to emerge. Southwards,
in Cheshire, Scandinavians had been granted a settlement on the Wirral
by peace treaty with the Mercians.
By the middle of the 7th century Anglo-Saxons had already begun to convert
to Christianity. It is known that sometime around 680 AD, St Cuthbert
had begun a ministry in Cartmel
in the southern Lake
, which at that time was still included in the lands that
would eventually become known as Lancashire. From around this time,
Saxon place names occur. Old Saxon spellings like “-ecles” or
“-eccles” indicated a church, as in the township of Eccles (now
in Salford), Eccleshill, Eccleriggs and Eccleston (meaning a “church

The Danes in Lancashire

Repeated frequent raids over two centuries by Scandinavians
(Danes, Norsemen or sometimes called Vikings) had a depressive effect
on the maintenance, administration and security of the region, so that
by the 9th century they were in a very vulnerable condition and ripe
for invasion and plunder. The Book of Common Prayer for several centuries
following contained the prayer that God would “…deliver us from the
North Man (Norseman)”. By 874 AD, Mercia to the south had fallen
to the Danes and it was not until the end of the century that the lands
would be reclaimed by King Alfred of Wessex (Alfred the Great). Irish
Norse settlers were later granted lands on the Fylde Coast and south
of the Ribble by King Eathelred, (who had married Alfred’s daughter,
Aethelflaed) in an attempt to halt Danish raids and to reach a peaceful
accommodation with them.
Over time, Danish settlements were to contribute greatly to the wealth
and prosperity of the region. As accomplished sailing peoples, they
traded with Ireland and Europe and amassed considerable wealth in the
region, becoming an important economic ingredient in an otherwise rural
farming culture. Their wealth was evidenced when, in 1840, the largest
collection of Scandinavian jewellery, coins and silver ever unearthed
was excavated from the banks of the River Ribble near Preston.
Thus Scandinavians were gradually absorbed into the racial mix that
would eventually become so distinctively Lancastrian. Norse influence
is also, unsurprisingly, reflected in place names. Places ending in
“-by” (such as Formby, Crosby, etc) and “-dale” (as in
Ainsdale and Birkdale) are decidedly Scandinavian in origin. Norse immigrants
were also converted to Christianity as evidenced in many Scandinavian
religious place names. Names like Kirkham, Ormskirk and Kirkby demonstrate
the prevalence of religious institutions – “kirk” being old Norse
word for church. There is actually evidence for many Christian churches
existing well before the Norman Conquest of 1066, including Bolton,
Burnley, Hornby, Poulton-le-Fylde, Prescott, Gressingham and Heysham,
to name but a few.
A well established parochial system seems to have been in place by 850
AD – the Parish of Whalley in Lancashire being the second largest in
England, encompassing 45 townships under its authority, including Whalley
itself, as well as Accrington, Haslingden, Colne and Clitheroe. Evidently,
Scandinavians also eventually took to agriculture and farming and many
place name endings reveal their association with the land. Endings like
“-scale” (as in Windscale), or “-side” (as in Woodside,
Ambleside and Affetside), all come from the Norse meaning ‘grazing land’.
In north Lancashire the Norse ending “-thwaite” (as in Rosthwaite
and Seathwaite) indicates a clearing in a wood.
By 900 AD the Northumbrian Kingdom had collapsed and the lands were
reclaimed by the Mercians, who set about defending them against potential
threats from the Viking Kingdom based at York (Jorvik) in the east,
by building fortified settlements throughout Lancashire and along the
River Mersey border with Cheshire, or by reinforcing existing or dilapidated
city fortifications and strongholds.
These ” burhs”, “burghs” or “burys” (from which
we get the modern word “borough”), are also evidenced in place names
– for example, Bury, Disdsbury, Esddisbury, Pendlebury (the latter indicating
a stronghold on a hill). The map of Mercian Cheshire Forts clearly shows
their determination to protect their reclaimed lands. Even, the fort
in Manchester (Castlefield) was strengthened after almost five centuries
of dereliction, and at least one new fort was created at Penwortham
in the Ribble Valley. When, in 919 AD, the Mercian Kingdom was annexed
by the Kingdom of Wessex, all but one remaining ingredient had been
added to a people who were to become Lancastrians, and recognisable
in every sense as English – it’s people a mixture of Celtic Britons,
Romans, Saxons, Irish, Scandinavians and, finally, by the addition of
the Norman French into the melting pot

.Map of Norman Lancashire
Lancashire after the Norman Conquest ©
John Moss 2003.

Norman Conquest of Lancashire

At the time of the 1066 Norman Conquest of Britain
Lancashire did not yet exist as a recognisable entity. Soon after the
conquest, however, William the Conqueror doled out parcels of land as
he had promised to those Norman barons who had supported him in the
invasion. The lands between the River Ribble and the River Mersey, (which
would eventually become the Salford Hundred), were granted to Roger
de Poitou. Sometime around 1090, his son, William Rufus, added Lonsdale,
Cartmel and Furness (now in
Cumbria in the southern Lake District)
to these estates, and the boundaries of what came to be known as the
County of Lancashire were set down. Lancaster was chosen as the headquarters
of the region and a castle built there from which to administer the
lands that Poitou now oversaw.
For his part in an unfortunate and abortive rebellion In 1102 against
King Henry I saw all of his estates confiscated by the crown and given
to Stephen de Blois.

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© John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom – all rights reserved.
This page last updated 6 Feb 12.