100 Halls Around Manchester Part 84: Hoghton Tower, Hoghton

Hoghton Tower stands by the small village of Hoghton near Chorley between Preston and Blackburn, commanding a magnificent view over the Lancashire plains. The north side is on the edge of a steep precipice, to the east and south the ground breaks away quickly and though the west side has a more gradual approach, the buildings are defended by the gatehouse and two flanking towers.

Lancashire LXX, 1849 © Ordnance Survey

In the centre of the quadrangle there was once a second tower, but this was destroyed during the Civil War when Captain Starkey and his men came there to take it for Parliament, and were allowed in, with the understanding that it would be surrendered. However, upon entering the upper rooms, the building was destroyed by gunpowder, killing him and one hundred men.

The Hoghton family are descendants of Harvey De Walter, a companion of William the Conquerer and through the female line from Lady Godiva of Coventry, wife of Leofric, the King of Mercia. The Hoghton Baronetcy is the oldest surviving in England.

Some land around Hoghton was given to Hamon Le Boteler by Warine Bussel on his daughter’s marriage during the reign of William Rufus. Gradually the family amassed more property in the area, until 1431 when Richard De Hoghton is in possession of the manor of Haugton.

The edifice dates from around 1562 when Thomas Hoghton enterprysed to buylde and ffynysh it. Thomas became an ardent supporter of the Catholic cause and became a fervent anti Protestant. This caused problems and during Elizabeth’s reign he was forced to flee to the Continent, and had his estates seized. He died in Liege in 1580. He was succeeded by his brother Alexander, and then by Thomas, his half brother.

From this arises the possibility that William Shakespeare spent his lost years in Hoghton. In 1751 a secret Catholic manuscript was found in the rafters of his house in Stratford. It was the English translation of the Catholic Testament compiled by St Carlo Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan (d 1584 canonised 1610). The first item of the document acknowledges the prospect of being cut off in the blossom of my sins, echoing the Ghost of Hamlet’s father in Act I , Scene V Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin/ Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled.

In 1580 Cardinol Borromeo was visited by the English recusant, Father Edward Campion, who smuggled home copies of the Testament. Campion is known to have passed near to Stratford, on his way to Hoghton Tower, and was hosted there by Sir William Catesby, a kinsman of William, and friend of his father, also a recusant. One of Campion’s companions on that journey was the priest, Thomas Cottom, the younger brother of Shakespeare’s schoolmaster, John. Thomas Cottom lived at Tarnacre, near Hoghton, and both he and Campion were arrested in 1581, tortured on the rack and executed in 1582 for preaching Catholicism at Hoghton.

John Cottom fled Stratford for Tarnacre in 1581, at the time Shakespeare’s finances were poor, his sister Anne had died in infancy. Will, being a brilliant pupil, but an extra mouth to feed may have been an ideal companion for John, and potential teacher for the Hoghton children.

Alexander Hoghton died in 1591 and in his will asked his friend Thomas Hesketh to be friendly to Shakespeare, and households of the Hesketh family show that he was soon in service at the Hesketh seat, Rufford Old Hall.

Rufford Hall was a regular stopping off point for Lord Derby’s Men, players who acted as a recruitment ground for his eventual company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Hesketh himself was arrested and executed for papism in 1593 but by then William was an established actor.

Alexander’s son Thomas son conformed to the Church of England and as a reward was knighted in 1600 and became first Baronet in 1611. During this time he entertained King James who had followed Elizabeth’s tradition of unscrupulously quartering himself at Hoghton, saving the King money, and incurring him with the heavy costs of Royal Hospitality.

Another legend¹ surrounding the Tower is that James was given a substantial cut of a joint of beef during his stay, and drew his sword, saying to the meat, I knight thee Sir Loin. James is also said to have shot a stagge and missed during his stay.

Whatever the truth of the tales, he certainly did eat well during his sojourn. The bill of fare for August 17 1617 is as follows (omitting the beef, which he presumably knocked off as a mid morning snack):

First course – Pullets, boiled capon, mutton boiled, boiled chickens, shoulder of mutton, roast ducks boiled, loin of veal roast, haunch of venison roast, burred capon, pasty of venison, hot, roast turkey, veal burred, swan roast one, and one for tomorrow, chicken pye hot, goose roasted, , rabbits cold, jiggits of mutton boiled, snipe pye, breast of veal boiled, capons roast, pullets, beed roast, tongue pye cold, sprod boiled, herons roast, cold curlew pye cold, mince pye hot, pig roast.

… and that was just the first course. To prepare all this there were two chief cooks, for labourers for the pastries, four for the ranges, two for boiling and two for the pullets. Overseeing the meal as a pre dinner speaker of sorts, was the Bishop of Chester to say grace.

That same day the people of Lancashire presented a petition to the King complaining that they had been deprived of their lawful recreations on the Sabbath under the puritans – they were not allowed to go bear baiting, drink ales, have music or games on Sunday and holy days. James being in a good post prandial mood proclaimed that papists and puritans much infested Our county of Lancaster, but Our pleasure was that they should either conform or leave. That is James was defender of the faith, and those who went to His Church could do as they please afterwards. He issued a Book of Sports allowing maypole dancing and other honest sports by men and women, after attending divine service. This tome was burned by the common hangman in 1643 under command of parliament, but perhaps here starts the restrictive nature of Sunday in the UK.

The Tower remains in the family to this day.

Sir James De Hoghton (1851-1938) succeeded to the title in 1893 and devoted his time to the restoration of the Tower. He was succeeded by his son, Cuthbert (1880-1958) an officer in the Coldstream Guards who served during World War I with the Royal Naval Air Service at Dunkirk. He like his father took care of the Estate.

His son and heir was, Sir Henry Philip Anthony Mary De Hoghton (1919-1978) and the current Baronet is Sir Richard Bernard Cuthbert De Hoghton (b1945).

Let’s see some pictures:

¹ Other Sirloin origin stories are available along the same theme, King Henry VIII and the Abbot of Reading or Charles II for instance. Whatever the truth, Sir Anthony De Hoghton was prevented by Mr Justice Stamp in the High Court in 1950 from selling the table upon which James is said to have performed the Investiture.


Old Halls in Lancashire and Cheshire, Henry Taylor : J Cornish, 1884.

Pilgimages to Old Homes, Fletcher Moss: Published by the author, 1906.

British History Online – Hoghton.

© Allan Russell 2022.


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