The earliest known church in the area is that at St Michael’s which was one of the oldest Christian settlements in the Fylde. It is mentioned in the Doomsday Survey of 1066 as being established some time between AD 627 and AD 640. We know, too, that St Helen’s at Churchtown was well established in the early part of the 12th century and attracted devout Christians from a wide area.
In Garstang the first church of which there is any record was the chapel of the Trinity. This is thought to have been situated behind what is now known as Carrick House in the High Street on the right hand side of the passage next to Carr’s sweet shop. It is referred to in one of the deeds of the Dalton family at Thurnham, which concerns a dispute between the Priors of Lancaster and Staining in Cheshire regarding the tithes of Staining. The resulting agreement, dated 1326-7, was issued at “A Chapter celebrated at the Chapel in Gayrstang”. Just a hundred years later the Archdeacon of Richmond issued a licence to the inhabitants of Garstang to hold Divine Service each week for a period of one year in the Chapel of Trinity.
After this time records are more scarce. We know that the area was served by priests and monks from Cockersand and Whalley but we can only conjecture at the opportunities provided for maintaining and developing the faith. But in due course even the influence of Cockersand and Whalley came to an end. Whalley Abbey was dissolved in 1537 and Cockersand in 1540 and their priests and monks dispersed elsewhere. Few records of the faith were now kept and fewer still remain. But there is no doubt that the Catholic tradition in Lancashire was kept alive by the heroic perseverance and conduct of the gentry.
The Daltons of Thurnham, the Brockholes of Claughton, the Plessingtons of Dimples, the Rigmadens of Woodacre, the Greens of Bowers House, the Travers and Laybournes of Nateby Hall and the Tyldesleys of Myerscough Lodge all fit, with many others, into the picture of Catholic Lancashire and had their influence on the neighbourhood of Garstang. Under the Penal Laws it was high treason, punishable by death, for a priest to teach the Catechism or to say Mass; those educated abroad could neither purchase land nor succeed to property; Catholics were excluded from the legal profession and could not even appoint Catholic guardians for their children.
Despite all this the sons of many local Catholic families were sent abroad to St Omer, Douai and Rheims to be educated in the old faith. Some were ordained priests and returned to serve in Lancashire, either as “Riding Priests” or sometimes even in their parents’ homes, so enabling local people who had the courage to keep their conscience and to face the severe penalties of the Penal Laws to gather surreptitiously for Mass and the Sacraments.
According to the Privy Council in 1574 Lancashire was “the sink of Popery, where more unlawful acts have been committed and more unlawful persons holden secretly than in any other part of the realm”. There are references in the reports of Government officials and spies to priests serving in the locality. Pursuivants searched Nateby Hall in 1584 and the Squire, William Travers, was seized and gaoled for a time in Lancaster Castle. Alban Butler, the younger son of the Kirkland Hall family, was declared by informers to have harboured priests of the names of Middleton and Worthington and an old priest called “Mr Richard” or “Little Richard”, usually resided, declared the Vicar of Garstang, with John Rigmaden, Esq. at Woodacre Hall.