2016 Events

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July 2016: Field Trip – Wennington Hall

A rare foray for Tatham History Society, taking over 30 members outside the parish boundary by a third of a mile! We were welcomed to Wennington Hall School by Headteacher Joe Prendergast and members of his staff, then Mike H – a governor of the school as well as a THS committee member – talked us briefly through the history and architecture of the building. Mike W took us on a gallop through centuries of owners and occupiers, and summarised the infamous legal case concerning the will of John Marsden – a case fully detailed in Emmeline Garnett’s very readable book “John Marsden’s Will: the Hornby Castle dispute, 1780-1840“.

We then toured the outside of the buildings, with frequent historical and architectural pauses, before going into the entrance hall, now adapted as the school assembly hall, to learn from the Headteacher about Wennington Hall’s life since its conversion for use as a school after World War 2. We were then treated to tea in the school canteen until the school bell brought to a close a very enjoyable visit.

THS is very grateful to Headteacher Mr. P, to his staff, and to the school governors, for giving us an opportunity to learn about the past and present of this remarkable building.

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July 2016: Field Trip – Robert Hall

Robert Hall is one of only two Grade 2* listed buildings in Tatham parish, and its long and interesting history is reflected in its multi-layered architecture. John, Mike and Mike had spent many hours preparing themselves for a joint attempt to unravel both for the benefit of the 40+ members who attended.

John led the way with a summary of the history, starting in the 15th century with the Cantsfield family. They remained a Catholic family after the reformation, and Robert Hall became the Catholic center for the parish, with a chapel and (reputedly) priest-hole. The Cantsfields, and their successors the Gerards, had links with other important Lancashire Catholic families.

Mike W took us through the later ownership and occupancy details, and what is known about the way the house and land were used over the centuries. We then inspected the exterior, and parts of the interior, whilst Mike H had the unenviable (impossible?) job of trying to explain some of the intriguing artchitectural features. Sadly the chapel, and much besides, were lost in the late 19th century, when the east end of the house was converted into a huge barn.

Robert Hall stands on the reputed route of a Roman road, and we finished our visit by following that line (marked now by a later track) down to the River Wenning. Records describe a corn mill, but nothing was found suggesting exactly where it might have been, nor how the river water might have been used to drive its wheel. We did, however, find an earthwork – probably a coal pit, in view of its closeness to Clintsfield colliery.

THS is very grateful to Guy and Judith Hope for allowing us to enjoy discovering so much about their fascinating home.

Click here for more about Robert Hall, and here for a gallery photo.

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May 2016: “What was that for?”

Ram castrators, butter pats, rag rug frames, drainage clogs, hand made nails, the original needle for a haystack, not to mention a number of unidentified objects were among the fascinating domestic utensils brought along to our ‘old implements day’ held in the old school, Lowgill. After poring over them and drinking tea, everyone who had brought something along gave a brief explanation of what they were – or in a few cases, what they thought they might be! Many thanks to everyone involved for such an interesting afternoon. We are sure there are other gems hiding in houses, tool sheds and barns around the parish.

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February 2016: 2015 AGM and winter talk 3

“Fake or Fortune?” and Tunstall church: some further research

This well-attended THS gathering at Tatham Fells Old School, postponed from December at the insistence of Desmond (the storm), consisted of a brief but comprehensive Annual General Meeting, followed by a fascinating talk.

The talk subject was a change from what had originally been planned for the final event of the autumn 2015 series, and was prompted by the broadcast in July 2015 of a BBC Fake or Fortune? programme, sub-titled “A Mystery Old Master”, centred on a large, framed oil painting of unknown origin, hanging in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Tunstall.

Sara Mason started the talk by describing what had previously been known or suspected about the painting; how the BBC had been invited to consider investigating it for the fourth series of Fake or Fortune?; and what had happened once the production team and experts had landed in Tunstall. The headline conclusion of the programme was that the painting was no Fake – and in fact the work of an Italian old master. So the Beeb very kindly paid to have it professionally restored – a costly process with strikingly worthwhile results. They also went to great lengths to obtain expert opinion as to the painter’s identity, a Venetian artist by the name of Montemezzano. The church has every reason to be grateful to them for this. However, the programme’s conclusion on how the painting had come to be in Tunstall church seemed to the society’s resident detective, Mike Winstanley, to have been reached on flimsy historical evidence, prompting him to investigate further.

Initially, the Prime Suspect as donor of the painting to the church was Richard Toulmin North (1782-1865) of nearby Thurland Castle; this had been the name Sara had suggested to the BBC. However, their researchers decided that the painting had been given to the church by a past incumbent, Frederick Needham – who was also Toulmin North’s half-brother – rejecting North on the grounds that posterity had labelled him a “playboy” (not the sort of man likely to donate anything to a church), and choosing Needham on evidence from a Dublin art-sale catalogue of another religious painting in 1812.

Mike’s research made it clear that North had in fact been conspicuously religious in his earlier life, and there is good evidence linking him to other benefactions to Tunstall church including some early 19th century English painted glass. (In passing, we learned that most saints had feet too large to be accommodated in shoes.) Clues had also been found as to how the painting may have been displayed when first installed.

The first Moral of this story is: don’t believe everything you see on TV; it may be Fake.

The painting, now that it is known to be worth a Fortune, is no longer in Tunstall Church, but (expensively) in storage pending decisions about insurance. Moral 2: be careful what you wish for.