The Dumbills of Cosby
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Local History 2005-2017

THE HARKIRK


The name "Harkirk" is a Norse word meaning "hoary or grey church", thereby suggesting that when the Norsemen came to this area a church, possibly an old church, was already standing on this site.

The Blundells have always been Roman Catholics and Loyalists, and have suffered much for their devotion to these causes. Two ancestors of the family died in prison while another was acually born in prison!

During the time of the Catholic persecution, following the reformation, Catholics were forbidden burial in the parish church at Sefton. In 1610 William Blundell, lord of the manor, enclosed a piece of land at this place called the Harkirk"...for the burial of such Catholic recusants deceasing either in the said village or in the neighbourhood...". For this act William Blundell was brought before the court of the Star Chamber and ordered to pay a fine of 2,000.

Many of the burials took place secretly at night and the reason for the choice of this piece of ground was that it was already consecrated. When the first burial took place on 7th April 1611 a hoard of Anglo Saxon coins and silver, and some other coins from the Mediterranean area, was unearthed. Altogether 300 coins were brought to light. In 1642, when Civil War broke out, Roundhead soldiers were billeted in the village and at the Hall, where frequent searches were made. Cosequently William Blundell fled to North Wales, taking the coins with him for better security - but they were lost or stolen there!

Not all the hoard was gone, however, as part of it still remains, though in a very different form - as a silver pyx. This small circular box was made from silver found at the Harkirk by a "W.B.", whose initials appear on the pyx. (Whether this was the William Blundell who was lord of the manor at the time the hoard was found, or his grandson the Cavalier, is not certain. The latter is favoured.) The pyx is still used by the priest for holding the communion wafers which he takes to those who are sick. Some of the coins, too, were melted down and incorporated into a small chalice - which was stolen!

It is believed that the hoard was buried by a Viking during the Hiberno-Norse confrontation with the Danes c.915 A.D.

About 1630, after some 80 burials had taken place at the Harkirk, this "illegal" burial ground was again brought to the attention of the Court of Star Chamber. It was ordered that "... wall and mounds of the Churchyard be pulled down by the Sheriff and the ground laid to waste..."! It is recorded that the burial ground had a stone wall about two yards high on two sides, and a ditch and hedge on the other two sides. There were 84 graves plainly visible - of men, women and children; the graves being laid east to west.

The Sheriff of Lancaster obliged. He came to the Harkirk with thirty men, pulled down the walls, knocked the stones and graves to pieces and dug up some part of the graves "...with much derision". All this was done to the sound of trumpets, and the Sheriff's men came and went with great pomp. The old Village Cross would, no doubt, have been seen by these seventeenth century iconoclasts, and may well have suffered damage at their hands - damage that is still visible today.

Despite the onslaught at the Harkirk, burial continued for over a hundred years, until 1753. In the summer of 1889 Nicholas Blundell, lord of the manor, collected together the old stones that were laying about the place and built a tiny Memorial Chaple to commemorate the site of the burying ground. When the land was being prepared, human bones were found; they were interred beneath the chapel. Parts of three of the old gravestones were incorporated in one of the walls. One is that of Mr Robert Aldred, a clandestine priest; the other two men are of John Layton (a peripatetic priest who came to this area in the late 16th century) and of Jane Formby, a servant girl.

On one of the interior walls of the chapel is a board containing the names of the 131 priests and laymen who were buried here between 1611 and 1753. Outside the chapel stands a cross. It is modern and was erected by Colonel Nicholas Blundell; but it is set in an old pedestal.

Until recent years an annual service was held in the Memorial Chapek on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Excavations have taken place on this site twice since 1950.

Acknowledgements: J. Allen Miller

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