Click on the image to see a map of Central Britain in the 1715 - 1745 period with an indication of the location of Kirkham


The aim of this study is to investigate the economic and social development of Kirkham from 1700 up to the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that three families - Langton, Hornby and Birley settled in Kirkham and an attempt has been made to establish just how much influence they had on the prosperity if the town, at the same time as taking into account other factors which have helped the growth and prosperity of all the aspects of life in Kirkham during these two centuries

Study by Ann Pilling c.l966



Originally the parish of Kirkham was one of the largest in the county of Lancashire and contained 17 townships. The town of Kirkham itself is believed to have been the main settlement of Setantu, and was later occupied by the Romans as an adopted station only, as not all conditions were favourable for a permanent site. A roman military road ran through the town on its way from Ribchester to the River Wyre. Practically the whole length of the main street lies on the roman road as it leads up to the windmill on the hill. Although very little is known of Kirkham during Saxon times it is obvious by village names that the Danes settled in this area. Kirkham means church village and comes from a combination of the Danish "kirk" and Saxon "ham". It was the centre of the hundred estate of Amounderness, which was regarded as a kingdom, until the early 10th century when in 930 it was given to the See of York and was under the rule of Tostig and Tosti of Northumbria. By the time of the Domesday survey Amounderness was held by Roger de Poictou. In the hundred there were 3 churches, at Kirkham, Preston and Poulton and it was round these that communities had grown up while the rest of the area was very sparsely inhabited. Kirkham was one of' the 1st towns in Lancashire which by Royal Charter, became entitled to hold a market and fair. The Charter was granted by Henry III in 1269-1270 and from then the town could hold a market and 5 day fair on 2 feast days. This privilege was confirmed by Henry IV in 1401 and markets were to be held every Thursday.

In 1280 the manor of Kirkham was granted to the Abbot and Convent of Vale Royal, but later in 1538 it became the possession of Christ Church, Oxford. In the 16th and 17th centuries the manor was held on lease by the Clifton Family who obtained certain tithes while Christ Church kept the tithes of the fairs, markets and vicarage. In 1296 Edward I had granted Kirkham the privilege of being a free borough and this meant that the burgesses and their heirs were to be free and have a free guild. In the town there was to be a prison, pillory and an assize of bread and ale and weights and measures. The Abbot and Convent granted the burgesses permission to elect their own bailiffs but in 1619 there were so many people coming to the markets that they felt inadequate to cope so that a petition was sent to the King for permission to elect men of higher standing from outside the town and this was granted.

By 1700 there had been elements of civic government in the town but because of the small size of the burgess class that had gradually combined. The manor and its Lord had controlled the parsonage, the merchants and the trading by fairs and markets. This was done by use of manor courts of the baron and the leet and market court of piepowder. The burgesses had chosen 12 men and 2 bailiffs to administer criminal matters, while the guilds had power to control those wishing to trade in the town or become members of the community. With the growth of the market great attention was paid to traders and those living outside the town had to pay trading money for the right to trade in the town, and freedom money for right had to be paid by those in the town already. By 1700 these 3 forms of government had combined to form 1. In the 14th century there had grown up a select committee of the parish known as Thirty Sworn Men to take charge of parish affairs, such as acting as guardians of church property and appointing church wardens. They took a civil oath and in other ways this institution differed from an ordinary vestry and was peculiar to this part of the country. The men remain in office until they died or left the town and had an extra large vestry for their meetings. The church was partially rebuilt in 1512. The low nave and side aisles were separated by pointed arches and the north wall was very low with large deep windows. From 1666-1720 the Vicar was Richard Clegg who was very much opposed to the Roman Catholics and the Quakers who began to hold meetings at the end of the 17th century. He was very interested in the needs of the poor and at a meeting of the Thirty Men in 1670 it was decided to raise 80 to be invested to provide 12 loaves for every Sunday, Christmas, Kings birthdays and other holidays, to be distributed to those coming to church who were not strangers or vagabonds. The poor were also cared for by Richard Brownes' charity and in 1639 New Moorhey had been conveyed to James Smith on condition that he gave il each year for distribution to the poor.

The poor of Kirkham were officially entitled to a free education in the free grammar school adjoining the parish church, bit in practice it demanded a certain standard of knowledge and social appearance for admittance and its emphasis was on the classical side of education. The earliest mention of this school is in the will of Thomas Clifton of Westby in 1551, but from the records of the Thirty Men we can gather that it originated in connection with a chantry and was maintained by chantry priests, legacies and gifts from the parents of the children. In 1585 the Thirty Men took over the management of the school land and in 1604 decided to raise money from the parish for an endowment. In Henry Colbornes' will of 1655 lands were ordered to be bought at Nether Methop in Westmorland for over 500 . The money yielded was to be used for paying extra to the schoolmaster, sending a poor schoolboy to university and for binding apprentices.

By the year 1694 the population of Kirkham was 405 and the majority of people were mainly concerned with agriculture and the market trade. The town had developed away from the system of communal farming because of the increase in population caused by the establishment of a weekly market. The developing trades caused a change in the town from a farming community on a simple subsistence basis to a community chiefly concerned with business, which would want ground merely for a few cattle, to some inhabitants who would want larger farms to develop their agricultural holdings. This had led to the break up of the old field system and primitive strips were combined to form enclosed holdings of 1 acres to 6 acres, where people kept cattle and grew corn - chiefly oats. Practically all Kirkham burgesses also grew flax and hemp to produce linen, rope and corse cloth. The very poor working conditions in the surrounding countryside during the 17th century had caused labourers to go to Kirkham to seek employment as craftsmen and assistants to various trades and businesses so creating a more numerous poor population.

From wills and inventories of the burgesses at the latter part of 17th century we can get an idea of the position of that class in Kirkham. In many cases a trade e.g. that of a blacksmith, was combined with small scale farming which consisted of possession of a few beasts, land for corn, hay and poultry, and sometimes land was held under lease in an adjoining township. The burgesses had a comfortable amount of wealth but were not outstandingly rich. In 1604 there had been 46 burgesses separated by yards or orchards on which buildings were later made, when subsistence farming was abandoned and continuous streets were so formed. The main burgage area stretched from the top of Carr Hill as far as the Town End, and along both sides of Church Street and Freckleton Street as far as Chapel Walks.




We have now got a picture of how the people of Kirkham were living at the end of the 17th century, but it is at the beginning of the next century that several changes begin to take place, most of them arising from the arrival of these three new families to the town, who added to its prosperity not merely by giving a great stimulus to economic progress but also by the part which they played in the social life of the town.

The first of these families to settle in Kirkham was the Langton family when in 1696 Cornelius Langton, a woollen draper from Preston, was admitted to the freedom of tile borough by paying 30 shillings to the corporation. Soon after his arrival here he married the daughter of Zachary Taylor, the headmaster of the grammar school. His son, John, married the daughter of Thomas Browne, a woollen draper whose family had been in Kirkham for 200 years and owned Ash Tree House which now passed into the possession of the Langtons. From a deed of 1753 we also find that John received from the Brownes the Smith's Carrs, Armistead's Carr meadow, Wilkins Carr and Bonney Moors hey. He also owned 2 crofts called Copper Long and tile Bottom as well as property in Preston inherited from his grandfather. In the middle of the 18th century his son Thomas rebuilt Ash Tree House in the present Georgian style with a beautiful mahogany staircase. At the back there was a brewhouse and a laundry with a large open chimney, the roof was a small lead lined porch and stables have been converted into a house.

In 1756 the 8 acres of Moor known as Moor Heys was leased to William Thomson and Thomas Langton for 60 by the dean and chapter of Christchurch, Oxford and this lease was renewed in 1769 and 1777 until when he died. The lease was renewed in 1798 to his son William for 21 years. By Thomas Browne's Will of 1728/9 his Kirkham property was conveyed to Thomas Langton, and in 1765 he also bought for 400 the 3 cottages on the north side of Preston street and next to Ash Tree House. At the end of the 18th century, his eldest son, John, built a plain 3 storey house half way on Church Street and it had a double flight of stairs leading to the front door.

About the year 1730 John Birley from Poulton came to live in Kirkham but his father originally had come from Ireland. During his early days in Kirkham he lived in a low white thatched cottage just below the old Bowling Green Inn on the north side of Poulton Street and in 1741 he married Elizabeth Shepherd. His eldest son Thomas was a woollen draper and lived at the corner house at the junction of Freckleton Street and Poulton Street.

Hugh Hornby of Newton settled in Kirkham at the beginning of the 18th century and soon became a member of the Thirty Men. His son Thomas lived in a house on the west side of the market square.

By 1753, Hugh with his father and brother, was in possession of the manor of Ribby adjoining Kirkham, and when Hugh died his eldest son, Joseph, received the land of Compton from his uncle so extending his possessions further. Towards the end of the century Joseph built Ribby Hall immediately next to the boundary with Kirkham manor.

The development of the manufacture of sail cloth in Kirkham is very closely associated with the Hornby family whose warehouse was on the north side of Poulton Street just a little way above their house in the Market Square. Their workshops were in Old Earth Lane opposite the tan yards and in Back Lane near Old Row. In 1793, William, brother of Joseph, bought a large building on the west side of Freckleton Street consisting of 10 houses a weaving shed and the 2 long sheds.

It was the Birley family who became the leading flax manufacturers in the town and on first settling here, John Birley traded with the West Indies, his firm being known as Birley and Alker, West Indian Merchants, and the goods were shipped from the small port of Wardleys on the right bank of the Wyre. However, after his marriage with Elizabeth Shepherd, the firm became known as Langton, Shepherd and Birley and it was John Langton in this partnership who helped to set up the flax mill at the west end of the Choice Meadow between 1730 and 1750, but after that in 1766 the young John Birley separated from this partnership and continued In business on his own making more extensions to the mill.


It was at this time towards the end of the 18th century that much Irish labour, especially young girls was imported being brought over by Birley's agent in Ireland. Cottages were specially built for these workers in Mill Street which became known as the Irish quarter of the town, and in both Preston and Poulton Street cottages were specially built for hand-loom weavers who sold their work to Messrs John Birley and Sons, The company produced sail cloth for the Royal Navy and traded in Russian merchandise as well as being dealers in produce of the Baltic Countries. As already mentioned flax and hemp were grown in small crops for the production of linen, rope and coarse cloth but as the industries developed raw materials needed to be brought from elsewhere such as Ireland.

By the end of the 18th century the hedges surrounding individual crofts or holdings were being removed to form larger fields for a few farms growing mainly corn and from a letter dated 1780 we learn that Preston Market for many years had been supplied in corn by the farmers of Kirkham parish, "that the chief market, Preston, for the produce of the Tithes is affected in a particular manner by a canal which brings down the produce of a considerable part of the Yorkshire into the country that has usually been supplied with corn by the farmers in the Kirkham parish". Fish was brought to the town from the river Wyre and sold on the fish-stones surrounding the market cross.

Butchers sold their meat in the old shambles under the Moot Hall which was frequently inspected by 2 men, appointed annually by the manor court, who took the following oath, "You shall swear, .............., to take care that no butcher, victualler, or other person, shall sell or offer to sell, any corrupt, unsound or unwholesome flesh, fish, or other victuals not wholesome or fit for man's body and you shall take care that all bread and beer sold be right weight and measure."

This Moot Hall stood in the Market Place and had been built by the Browne family in the middle of the 16th century. Its ground floor was occupied by shopkeepers while part of the upper storey was a flaw dressing room. The remainder of the upper storey was where the town's business was transacted and was approached from the outside by stone steps, but in 1794 the stewards courts were no longer held there but had been removed to the Black Bull Inn. The lower part of the Moot Hall belonged to different owners, and the butchers shops were also used as slaughter houses which created very filthy conditions, a fact which is evident from an order of the bailiffs and jurors in 1738,"that none of the butchers who occupy any shop under the Moot Hall shall throw or cast out any dung, or let out any blood, or other stuff that is by them deemed a nuisance".

By 1794 these foul conditions had still not improved and so the burgesses, led by the Hornbys, Langtons and Birleys, petitioned John Clifton, the Christ Church lessee, for the removal of the Moot Hall as "the building itself very much injures the appearance of the town, and we too truly experience that the comfort and health of the inhabitants are seriously affected and injured by the great nuisance which these slaughtering houses occasion". The college gave permission for the building to be destroyed and 370 was raised to compensate the owners of the shops.



By the end of the 18th century the development of these industries had caused a great increase in the population which had grown from 405 In 1694 to 1449 in 1790 who were living in 322 houses, 94 of which were in Preston Street. By 1801 the population had again increased to reach 1561.

During the 18th century there were in Kirkham, as elsewhere at that time, many poor people who had to be cared for by public charities and in 1768 Thomas Langton and several others became trustees of the pieces of land known as Moor Croft and Swarbrick Old Earth, the interests and rents from which, were to be the property of the poor. Earlier in the century in 1723 the erection of workhouses had been sanctioned and no poor relief was to be given to those refusing to enter. Consequently in 1726, when John Langton was one of the bailiffs at the Court Leet, house to house opinions were collected.

"Memorandum that the town on Kirkham was summoned from house to house, and the inhabitants unanimously agreed to the setting up of a workhouse."

This was built in Back Lane and had a housekeeper who also received small payments for attending the sick poor. The town also took measures to repair houses of several poor families. From the workhouse accounts book we find such statements as "1755, 22 June to the housekeeper at Poor House, for attending on Ellen Carter in her sickness 5/-, and

"Allanson's Cottage - 9 thraves for straw 4/6

Thatching 2/-

Daubing 6d"

Besides the work done for the poor by the Langton family, Mrs Clegg in 1734 and Elizabeth Brown in 1739, both bought land whose rents were to be for the benefit of the poor. In 1767 Mr Harrison left 140 and 2/3rds of its yearly interest was to provide prayer books and bibles for the poor. By 1823 these funds were in the hands of Messrs John Birley and Company, and the Drapers Company of London agreed to give 5.10s each year to the churchwardens for the benefit of the poor.

In 1702 the jury of the Court Leet had decided that, in the interests of the town and the poor, the children should be bound to trades in the town by the money left for that purposes and any deficiency should be met by the poor lay. By the end of the 18th century however some children were sent to be apprenticed in Manchester and Liverpool, but the usual batch of allocation to manufacturers was not applied in the town of Kirkham, although large groups of young people were brought from outside the town to work in Birley's Mills at the beginning of the 19th century. The charitable gifts for the binding apprentices came from the educational endowments of Colborne, Dr. Grimbaldestones and the Rev Barker. In Dr. Grimbaidestone's will of 1725, 300 was left to buy land or tenements to provide a yearly income of 5 towards binding apprentices.

Members of the Hornby, Birley and Langton families were trustees of Barker's Charity throughout the 18th century and so were responsible for binding many apprentices in the period 1728 -1826, not merely in the town of Kirkham but also a few in the surrounding townships of the parish. The usual sum paid for binding an apprentice was 3.6s8d by Barker's trustees and 4 to 6 by the churchwardens.


During the 18th century the following apprentices were bound out by Barker's trustees;-

31 shoemakers 1728-1800


2 joiners 1747-1825

19 tailors 1717-1825

44 weavers/spinners 1749-1814

2 servants

50 flaxdressers 1717-1825

2 butchers

2 saddlers

6 blacksmiths

2 woollen drapers

2 rope and hemp dressers

In 1766 there is an indenture apprenticing a sailor to the company of Shepherd Langton and Birley. Three tailors were apprenticed to the Hornby's between 1717 and 1825 and during the same period 5 flaxdressers were apprenticed to them and 11 to the Birley firm. From indentures we can find that there were 10 tailors establishments, 20 weaving and spinning establishments and 29 concerned with flax-dressing between 1717 and 1825. Two of the flaxdressers were to attend a writing school for 14 days in each year.

From these indentures we can clearly see which were the flourishing industries at this time and how the leading manufacturers were able to control the apprentices required for their business by the management of Barker's Charity.

However, Barker's charity had not only left money for binding apprentices but also for managing the free grammar school and some land bought at Nether Mythop in 1670 was sold in 1720 for 630 which was invested in lands at Kirkham. William Birley and Joseph Hornby were responsible throughout the 18th century for inspecting the property at Nether Mythop and there is an estate book giving very detailed reports of their visits. The following entry from the minute book of Barker's charity shows how very much involved were the Langton, Birley and Hornby families in the affairs of the grammar school,"July 11, 1797. At a meeting this day by appointment of the surviving trustees of Mr Barker's charity in the stead of H. Lawson, C. Bradkirk, W. Shepherd and T. Langton deceased, election is made of J. Langton, T. Hornby and W. Hornby, as trustees for the said charity for the town of Kirkham. Witness our hands; J. France, L. Rosthome, G. Hornby, I. Birley, J. Hornby, J. Birley."

During this century as their wealth was increasing considerably they began to try to obtain full control of the school and decrease the power of the Drapers company. This was made easier as the Draper's Company continued to pay the same sum to the school even though prices were rising and property values increasing.

The funds of the grammar school were also helped by the will of Grimbaldestone whereby he left 400 in lands or tenements, the yearly rents of which shall be paid to the uppermost master of the free school, in Kirkham aforesaid provided that he be a scholar bred at Westminster School, Winchester or Eton, and be Master of Arts of one of our universities of Oxford or Cambridge.....l give to said school 50 to be laid out in the purchase of classical author."

Among those people appointed as trustees of this charity in 1797 were Joseph Hugh and Thomas Hornby, John and William Birley, and Thomas Langton, so that again they were able to increase their influence over the governing of the school.

Besides giving considerable help to the running of the grammar school, John Langton, together with Ann Hankinson, bought in 1760 2 closes of land in Freckleton known as Bannister Flat and Freckleton Croft making up 1 acres . The interest from this land was to be used to build a school for the education of the young girls in Kirkham, Free of charge, they were to be taught how to read, knit and sew. There were usually about 40 girls at the school and they were supplied with free clothes. An agreement made in 1761 shows that the bailiffs and burgesses had granted a site for the school,"Whereas a charity school is proposed to be erected at the west end of Poulton Street in Kirkham, on a vacant front in a garden called Allenson's Garden, adjoining to the east end of Allenson's house, and on a part of waste land lying east thereof ...... we do hereby consent."

In 1772 more land was bought from Joseph Brockholes for 425. The trusteeship of the school descended in the Langton family, but in 1795 John Birley was also elected as a trustee for this Charity School, "....we do hereby elect and choose John Birley of Kirkham aforesaid merchant, being a substantial person to be a trustee of the said charity in the room and place and stead of the said William Shepherd lately deceased, during the life of the said John Birley, only to act on the said trust as by the said deed is decided."

Besides showing great interest in the education of the people of Kirkham, much help was also given to the upkeep of the parish church especially towards the end of 18th century. In the minutes of the Thirty Men there are several references to the Hornby family especially, and in 1776 Mr Richard Hornby was on a committee to inspect the repairs being done to the parish church when 385 was spent on the roof. In 1798 when a Mr Parkinson bought his church pews for 60, this money was invested with Hornby and Co. - Sail cloth manufacturers.

Without doubt it was the parish church which had the most influence in the town, but in 1710 the Quakers received a licence from Manchester Quarter Sessions so that they could hold meetings in the house of William Eccleston and in 1720 they obtained a burial ground between Kirkham and Freckleton. However this small group soon declined and nothing else was heard of them after about 1730. The rise of Methodism in Kirkham began about 1760.

By the end of the 18th century the Hornby, Langton and Birley families were deeply involved in all aspects of life in the town and were having considerable influence on its development and prosperity. By setting up their industries they had brought more trade, wealth and employment to the town so producing an increase in population. There was a necessary spurt in building activity which was sometimes directly connected with the industries, but buildings were also erected which helped to higher the general appearance of the town. Their interest in the welfare of Kirkham people is seen by their connections with the charities, education and parish church, as well as with the administration of the town.

All three families frequently held the office of bailiff and this was a very important position during the 18th and 19th centuries as the 2 elected bailiffs were very influential in deciding all important public matters and presided over all burgess meetings until 1870. In 1778 a list of freeholders qualified to serve at the assizes and sessions included John and Thomas Birley, Hugh and Joseph Hornby as well as several of the Langton family . In 1780 they were elected to the board of commissioners to recover small debts at the newly established Court of Requests meeting once a week. This court greatly helped to promote industry and encourage credit so giving the town more advantages in the sphere of trade.




Throughout the major part of the 19th century the three families extended their influence over the town of Kirkham and gradually gained more and more land. In 1800 when Shuttleworth was giving a report to Christ Church on the state of the vicarage and it's revenue he mentioned "Mr. Hornby, a rich Kirkham merchant, in the sailcloth manufactory, who inhabits a large new built country house."

His lands were being considerably extended and in 1801 the Moor Croft, part of the "poor" lands, was given by the bailiffs to Joseph Hornby of Ribby Hall in exchange for Bryning Fern Lane Croft and in 1805 Moor Heys was leased to him. By 1822, Ribby Manor was in possession of his son Hugh who asked the dean and chapter of Oxford to separate Clifton Moor Heys from the Clifton leases to be given to himself so that he might improve Ribby estate and make a cart road from Bryning Fern Lane to Ribby. He said that by 1829 he would build houses and farm buildings and improve fields so making it worth twice the present value. Both Clifton Moor Heys and Kirkham Moor were included in the transaction.

At the beginning of this century in 1808 another large house was built known as Millbank, along the Wrangway, by Thomas Birley (1782-1847) who had formerly lived in the large house on the north side of Church Street. He owned all the property in School Lane and at the east side of Church street, as well as several houses on the north side of Preston Street. His brother William built Hillside which was also in Preston Street.

His son Thomas Langton Birley became the owner of Carr Hill; buying it from Mrs King and in 1854 Hudson's Mill was leased to him for 17 years at a rent of 21 p.a.. In 1872 portions of Kirkham rectory and manor were sold to different people and this marked the end of the ancient rectory and manor of Kirkham. The lordship of Kirkham, part of the ancient demesne, the wind corn mill and royalties were all conveyed to Birley, as well as the site of the town Pinfold on the southern side of the High Road near the Union Workhouse, and he was also given possession of all manorial rights.

He gained Ash Tree House, the Carrs and cottages in Preston Street when these were mortgaged in 1822 by Captain Thomas Langton for 3000, and this marks the beginning of the gradual decline of the Langton family in Kirkham. In 1840 Jane and Cecilia, the only 2 members of the family living in Kirkham, went to London and in 1848 gave one third of their property to their nephews Thomas Langton Birley and Charles Birley. Then in 1869 all the Langton's Kirkham estate including Ash Tree House passed to Charles Birley of Bartle Hall.

The amount of land and property which the Birley family acquired in the period shows that their mills must have been developing very successfully and in fact the business was being extended. The flaw mill was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the century and in Barnfield houses were specially built for apprentices employed at the mill. By 1876 the flax mill of Messrs Birley and Sons was by far the largest in the area of Kirkham and Wesham and employed 1600 people. In the accounts book of the Birley family there are many references to the Liverpool, New York and Philadelphia Steam Ship Company showing that trade was carried on with Baltimore, New York and Washington. It is also clear from this book that Charles Addison Birley held shares in the Preston Banking Company Ltd.

At the beginning of the 19th century Thomas Hornby built a new residence on the north side of Poulton Street. At the back were warehouses with large storage cellars underneath but the whole of this was pulled down in 1860.

By 1811 there were 2214 people living in Kirkham in a total of 424 houses. Of these, 452 families, 32 were engaged in agriculture, 29 were professional while the other 391 were engaged in trade, manufacturing and craft work. This was no doubt due to the industrial development of the Hornbys and Birleys at this time, but by 1825 cotton manufacturing had also been introduced to add to the manufacture of sail cloth, cordage and fine and coarse linen. During the early decades of the century these new industries were also rapidly expanding and so provided employment for many people. By 1876 the following factories had been established in Kirkham besides the one belonging to Birley:-

a. Weaving shed of Walker and Barrett employing 400 workers

b. Weaving shed of Richards Brothers employing 84 workers.

c. Cotton mill belonging to Harrison and Company employing 150 workers.

d. Cotton mill belonging to Richards and Parker employing 180 workers.

e. The Fylde Manufacturing Company in Orders Lane had been recently established, the plans for this new weaving shed having been approved in the previous year.

One factor which certainly helped the development of all these industries was the coming of the railway to Kirkham in 1840. Its main purpose when constructed was to be to facilitate communications between the Lancashire manufacturers and Ireland by providing easy access to the river Wyre. The Preston and Wyre Railway and Harbour Company was set up to construct the railway between Preston and the Wyre and plans were passed for this line in 1835. 130,000 had to be raised to make and maintain the railway and harbour constructions and to buy the necessary land. Part of the line was to run through the lands belonging to Hugh Hornby and William Birley and there is no evidence to suggest that they objected to this in any way. Although there was no plan for a station on the original map of the intended route of the railway line, the Hornbys and Birleys probably realized that this could come later. The actual railway line was opened on July 16th, 1840 and by 1844 a station had been constructed. This provided many advantages to the industries in Kirkham as finished goods could quickly be transported to both Preston and Wyre docks, and raw materials could more easily be brought to the town as the rate of 4d per mile.




The rapid extension of industry in the town in the 19th century necessitated much building development and consequently much of the old oxgang land was used up so joining Kirkham to the neighbouring village of Wesham lying at the other side of the railway lines. By 1851 the number of inhabited houses had risen to 518 for a population of 2799 while there were 37 houses unoccupied. The most densely populated areas were Poulton Street, the Wrangway, Preston Street, Freckleton Street and Back Lane which was rapidly developed in the middle of the century. Throughout the next 30 years there was a great spurt of building development and by 1881 there were 730 houses for a population of 3840. The plans for these new buildings had to be approved by the Local Board of Health whose chairman was Thomas Langton Birley and it was the Birley family itself which was responsible for erecting 2 houses in Barnfield and 12 cottages in Poulton Street. Throughout the 18th century and first half of the 19th century town affairs had been in control of a joint committee of ratepayers and property owners who met together in the Black Horse Inn.

In 1852 the Local Board of Health was constituted with Thomas Langton Birley holding the chairmanship for 22 years until his death. He had also been chairman of the meetings of the ratepayers and landowners and was particularly concerned about the sanitation of the town which had become overcrowded and dirty because of the increasing number of poor labourers now living there.

At the meeting in 1846 he decided measures needed to be taken for more effective sewering but nothing was done until 1847 when 2 surveyors, Catterall and Harrison, were appointed. The drainage of the town's sewage into a dub in the Cloyce was very unhealthy for the inhabitants of Church Street as expressed in a letter to Clifton by Thomas Birley in 1846, "I take the liberty of writing to you with respect the Close dub and assure you it is the most abominable nuisance in the county .... As the property in School Lane and the whole of the East side of Church Street and several houses on the North side of Preston Street belong to me, it is incumbent on me to see that this nuisance is removed as it will be impossible to let or sell my house, which my son at present occupies."

The Nuisance Act compelled Clifton to make a main sewer from the north end of Church Street to Kirkham Carrs via the School Lane and the money for this task was lent by William Ascroft and the Rev Shepherd Birley, Langton Birley's scheme for sewerage was passed by 2 votes in 1849 and a committee including the Birleys was formed to carry out this scheme. In 1965 it was decided to adopt the method of deodorising sewage with carbolic acid and in 1869 another resolution was take by Birley and his committee to convey the sewage to an outfall on Pages field adjoining Spen Brook.

Langton Birley's cousin Edmund was on the health committee and in 1852 an inspector of lodging houses was appointed. By 1867 it was reported that there had been an overall great improvement in overcrowding and matters regarding cleanliness were more satisfactory. In 1872 there was an inspection on the slaughter houses at Eagle Court, the Black Horse, Marsden Street, Poulton Street, Station Road and Freckleton Street. The town's 1st medical officer, Dr Hinks Bird, was appointed in 1873 to be followed by Dr Walker in 1875 who insisted that all butchers must comply with the bye-laws concerning sanitation. During the following year he reported serious overcrowding in Mill Street, Poulton Street and Marsden Street. In the latter there was a case of smallpox and Chapel Lane was reported to be in a filthy condition. In 1844 a Workhouse of the Fylde Union had been erected at the south side of Back Lane costing 5400 and then in 1864 it was enlarged to accommodate 250 paupers. When this was opened it served 23 other townships in the Fylde, who now closed their small workhouses.

The Board also began to concern itself with the state of the streets and in 1853 it was decided to make a carriageway to the railway station and put a cinder pathway alongside it which was asphalted in 1863. It began to pave the streets and Langton Birley was on the committee for inspecting the rebuilding of Carr Lane bridge for which task 73 was needed. The Wrangway bridgewas widened and the and the road between Carr Hill and Dowbridge was said to be in a bad state. In 1861 the paving was completed opposite Carr Hill House the side stones being paid for by Thomas Langton Birley and in 1964 still more work was done on paving and flagging the streets. More flagging was done 12 years later in Moor Street, Freckleton Street and Preston Street so that by the time Birley died he had accomplished quite a lot in improving the general appearance of the town.

In 1853 a water supply committee had been set up led by Edmund Birley and Thomas Langton Birley, and they ordered 80,000 bricks from the brick kiln at nearby Treales for the culvert under the Townend. By 1863 the Fylde Water Company was ready to Jay water pipes in the streets and in 1864 all water mains had been laid in the town. The old pumps and wells maintained by the common council were all replaced by 1876 by the water supply of this newly formed Fylde Waterworks Company and a Waterworks office had been set up in the town.

In 1839 a private gas company directed by Charles and Thomas Langton Birley had been established to manufacture gas for lighting in the town. It was situated in Old Earth Lane on the site of the old tan yards and soon prospered alongside the developing flax and cotton trades. However up to 1853 the public lighting was still in the hands of an inspector of lighting and watching, but now the gas company was asked for terms on which it would light the town and it was agreed that it should cost 2 for the street lamps and 4 for the market place.

Later in the same year it was decided to provide both gas and sewerage to the new houses in Back Lane and then in 1860 street lamps were provided as far as the Willows at the west end of the town. In 1866 both the Field Waterworks Company and the Gas Company had to repair the streets which had sunk during their operations and at a meeting in 1876 plans were discussed for setting up a retort house and offices for the Gas Company.

It is clear how much the people of Kirkham owed to Thomas Langton Birley and his family for the work which they did while on the Board of Health. When the board was first set up Thomas Langton was on the committee to provide offices and books for the Local Board as was Charles Birley who kept the Board's accounts. Another member of the family, Edmund Birley was elected to go to Manchester to obtain the seal for the Board. Even when Thomas Langton died in 1874 his family still had influence over its affairs through his son Henry Langton Birley.

Throughout the 19th century the 3 families still played a great part in the education of the town's children. Between 1802 and 1806 the free grammar school was failing into disuse and so was now partly rebuilt and more regular headmasters were appointed several of whom were Vicars. In 1808 however Barkers trustees managed to obtain acre of land on which to build a new school and school house and in 1813 Broughton estate was bought to provide profits for the schools' use.

Ever since the beginning of the century there had been dissatisfaction with the way the school was being run and disputes had arisen between the Drapers' Company and Barkers trustees as to who should manage certain parts of the schools' business. The Rev John Shepherd Birley and Joseph and Hugh Hornby took a very active part in contesting the rights of the trustees against the Drapers' Company and consequently there was a chancery decree of 30 July 1840 by which it was established that the masters were to be appointed by the Drapers' Company and Barkers Trustees could remove masters when there was good reason. Regulations concerning the schools' management were to be made by both Barkers trustees and the Drapers' Co., "At a special meeting held at Parkers, the Blackhorse Inn, Kirkham, on the 19 Nov 1840, for the purpose of considering and settling a new scheme and new orders for the future regulation and management of the Free School, and the apportioning of the Charity funds . Present ;- Wm Birley, T Crossfield, W France, T L Birley, Rev J S Birley, . The decree of Lord Langdale, as Master of the Rolls, on the 30 July 1840, was produced and read, a copy of a new set of rules proposed by Mr Wilson France and the Rev J S Birley was also submitted for consideration..... After discussion of the several rules proposed at this meeting it was resolved that subject to such alterations as one now made, the final settling of the schemes and rules to be left to Mr Wilson France and the Rev Birley."

The result of this conflict meant that the people of Kirkham now had far more control in the school affairs, and the reforming of the curriculum meant that boys would be better fitted for the growing commercial spheres when they left school. In 1843 the consent of the dean and chapter was obtained so that the garden could be used as a playground and later in 1871 plans were approved for a new hall at the school.

The Girls Charity School continued to flourish and William Langton was made a trustee in 1806. When his nephew Capt Thomas Langton left for Russia in 1823 his mother and Miss Jane Langton were put in charge. The full property of the school now was a house, shop, 6 acres of land let for 35 per year, the Naze field let for 6 per year, cows to be sold for profits, the school, the school house, outbuildings and a small garden. After 1839 the school was managed by Mrs Ann Birley, a member of the Langton family who was now the wife of Thomas Birley, an in 1870 plans were passed for new school buildings to be erected in Poulton Street at the cost of their son Thomas Langton Birley. A year later plans were approved for a Catholic School at the Willows.

In 1815 another establishment known as the National School had been set up next to the grammar school by John and Thomas Birley, William Langton and Thomas and William Hornby to provide an education on Doctor Bell's principles.

In 1813 a petition was sent to Christ Church to obtain land for the school. "We, the undersigned, the inhabitants in the town of Kirkham, wishing to establish a school for the instruction of poor children on the plan of the National Society, but unable to meet with any building large enough to accommodate a number proportionate to the population of the place, are anxious to erect 2 rooms for that purpose . and therefore beg the permission of the dean and chapter of Christ Church, by and with the consent of Mr Clifton, to appropriate to that object a portion of land lying near the church, not exceeding of an acre in quantity." Signed - P G Slatter, curate, J Birley, W Langton, J Fox, T Birley, T Hornby, W Hornby, J Webber."

A National School was necessary because by the degree of chancery in 1673 the free grammar school had been bound to the classical tradition which was unsuitable for many children belonging to the increasing number of poorer people. Barkers' charity had been chiefly set up to provide education for the poor children but only a few of these had been taught by the 3rd master. Consequently when the great increase in population arrived in the 19th century the Birleys, Hornbys and Langtons decided to provide a suitable education for its children. The school became even more important in 1879 when the tuition fees of the grammar school became such that many people in the town could not afford to send their children there. In 1897 Edmund Birley paid 100 into the schools' accounts and he had formerly paid only 400 per year towards its upkeep. It is thought that he had been given the money by Thomas Birley. Thus we see how the 3 families were willing to give much of their time and money towards ensuring that the children of Kirkham had opportunities to be educated.

They also continued to give help to the parish church especially in its rebuilding activities. In 1802 the east end of the church was rebuilt and Mr Birley and Mr Hornby were both on the committee to see that this was carried out. In 1820 all 3 families were represented at the meetings and committees concerned with a complete rebuilding of the church during which time services were to be held in the National School. The foundation stone of the new tower was laid on 21st November 1843 and was reported in the "Preston Pilot": "It was quite a Gala Day in Kirkham, the various mills being stopped and which speaks volumes for the liberality of the Masters, all hands received their regular wages."

During 1850 Edmund Birley, as the representative of the churchwardens, wrote to Dr Bull at Christ Church asking permission to make improvements to the chancel so that it would be in line with the nave and tower: "The new church is separated from the chancel by a large arch at the end of the nave, and a smaller one at the end of the south aisle. As to the chancel only the south wall had been rebuilt. The east window is in the centre of the gable, consequently not opposite the long chancel arch, inasmuch as the roof trees of the church and chancel are not in line. This unsightly appearance has been rendered the more obvious since the formation of a west entrance to the church, through the new tower, and also since the removal of the pulpit and readings desk to the sides of the chancel arch. It is proposed to restore the chancel and to fix east windows, which has in it some fine tracery, directly opposite the chancel arch and west entrance of the church."

This was to cost 8l5 but the Birley family gave much encouragement by donating over 1/3rd of this amount. They again helped church funds when in 1872 a 5 light stained glass window for the chancel was given by Arthur Leyland Birley of Millbank. In 1856 Thomas Langton Birley had exchanged 3 plots of land for a portion of church lands from Christ Church and Clifton of Lytham.

The names of these families are not mentioned at all in connection with any other churches which were established in Kirkham during the century. The first attempt to establish Methodism here had been a failure but in 1844 a Wesleyan Methodist Church was built in Freckleton Street and later in 1896 a new Methodist Church was built on the north side of Poulton Street at a cost of 3500. The first Congregational Church to be built was in Back Lane in 1810 and the preacher in 1813, Mr Morrow, had this to say about it: "We have frequently on Sabbath mornings from 90 to 100 hearers, in the afternoon rather fewer, and in the evenings sometimes more."

In 1814 Mr Capper, a preacher, complained that: "The Chapel is very badly situated in a back lane with a bad road to it, and what is far worse, it is so very damp as to endanger any delicate persons' life to attend it. We have got a stove in last week, which we hope will be of some service."

The chapel was rebuilt in 1818 chiefly by the efforts of the Rev R N Griffiths, a very active minister from 1816-1948; as shown by his memorial tablet in the chapel, "In memory of the Rev R M Griffiths, who was the faithful, laborious and successful; pastor of this church from 1813-1848 ; and by whose zealous efforts this place of worship was erected. He died on August 2nd, 1859, age 80 years."

Before their church was erected the dissenters had met in a large barn in Slaters' Yard off Freckleton Street and at the house of John Willows, the National School headmaster, on the south side of Preston Street.


By the year 1901 the population had dropped from its 1881 figure of 3840 to 3693, and this is most likely connected with the disappearance of the Langton, Birley :and Hornby families from the centre of town life especially business affairs.

From a letter written by a member of the Birley family at the beginning of the 20th century at is clear that their industrial concerns were not nearly as successful as in earlier days. He expresses a desire to get out of his partnership in the Kirkham firm because of the disadvantages of a mill in a country town. The carriage of goods was more expensive and most of the buildings were very old and inconvenient, and too straggling and badly constructed for an extensive concern; this was because the mill had been added to an rebuilt at 13 different stages. This meant that 3 steam engines had to be used so increasing expenses and now much old machinery needed to be thrown out and replaced.

It had been necessary to change from coarse to fine spinning because of the wear and tear caused to timer floors especially by the steam used in flax spinning. Most of the warehouses and weaving shops were scattered on different parts of the town and so caused additional expense. Another disadvantage was that capital was invested in cottages and other property and this was not necessary in larger towns. The last 7 years profits had decreased and the future prospects of the flax trade were not encouraging. especially as their main buyers, the French, were imposing another duty.

As their industries began to die out towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries so the families gradually left the town, but during their 200 years in Kirkham they had certainly contributed to it's development by being involved in all aspects of town life. From the beginning of the 18th century they had helped to increase the prosperity of the traders especially those connected with the flax and sail-cloth industries and this had resulted in the character of the borough changing from that of a rural market town to that of a small manufacturing community attracting a large number of people to the town from surrounding districts and from Ireland. This increase in the population brought several problems to the town but many of these were fought against by all three families who completely dominated town affairs so bringing many advantages to the people of Kirkham.

Although the nonconformist churches developed independently of these families and the railway stimulated the development of cotton manufacturing by other businessmen, yet it is clear that these families started and encouraged industrial progress throughout the 2 centuries. Although other families took an interest in the social life of the town, there is no doubt that the leading influences were the Birleys, Hornbys and Lantgtons.

Thus the quotation of Shaw contains a great amount of truth and between 1700 and the latter part of the 19th century the prosperity of the town can certainly be said to be directly dependent upon these families.


A Social and Economic History of Britain 1760-1965 - Pauline Gregg

The Victoria County History.

History of the Fylde of Lancashire( published 1876) - Porter

History of the Parish of Kirkham - Fishwick

Kirkham in Amounderness - R Cunliffe Shaw

A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain - Vol III

Records of the Thirty Men - Shaw

Act of Parliament for Preston - Wyre Railway

Apprentices indentures

The Bailiff book

The Minute Book of Barkers' Trustees

The Minute Book of the Grammar School

The Minute Book of the Langton Charity School

Maps :- Route of the Preston-Wyre Railway 1835

Tithes Commutation Map 1837

Ordnance Survey Map 1846

Yates Map of Lancashire 1786

Letters, account books and other private papers belonging to the Birley family

Sketches of the period 1700-1900

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