1185 - The de Samlesbury family

1185 - The de Samlesbury family

The first recorded lord of Samlesbury manor was Cospatric de Samlesbury.  He is believed to have lived in the Lower Hall area, on the Ribble’s flood plain, where there is evidence of early settlements.

Christian names in his family indicate a mixed ancestry:  Cospatric’s father was called Swein – which is Danish – his paternal grandfather was Leofwin, (Saxon), whilst Cospatric itself is Irish-Norse and translates as ‘servant of Patrick’. 

Cospatric held his Samlesbury estate from Norman over-lord, Ilbert de Lacy, (who in turn held it from the King), and Cospatric would have had to swear allegiance.

After the chaotic upheaval of the Norman Conquest, life was settling down under Henry II, (1154-1189), and a new community was beginning to emerge.  


1256 - The Manor Divided

In time, the absence of a male heir caused the manor to pass to Cospatric’s great-granddaughters – Margaret, Cecily and Elizabeth de Samlesbury. 

Samlesbury must have been quite a significant place, because two years later, the annual payment to the Crown was twelve shillings – a considerable sum, when compared to Oswaldtwistle, which paid ten shillings, and Ribchester, that paid two shillings, (plus a pair of gloves, or fourpence).  Neither Preston nor Blackburn is mentioned.

Margaret died childless c1267 and her second husband died in 1277. 

The manor was then divided into two moieties, (c1296).  Elizabeth, who had married Robert de Holand, received the Lower Hall division, whilst Cecily married John d’Ewyas, (c1259), and inherited the other half.  Sensibly, they established the second manor house at the opposite, (eastern), end of the parish, close to the Mellor estate, which John had acquired c1282.  A property on the Higher Hall site would probably already be in existence. 


1322 - Robert the Bruce

When the Holands’ overlord, the Earl of Lancaster, incited rebellion against Edward II, he ordered Elizabeth’s son, (a second Robert), to raise an army of five hundred Lancashire levies, to support him.  When the Earl was defeated, Robert[2] immediately surrendered to the King, but the Crown still re-possessed his vast estates, (including his Lower Hall moiety).  Cecily’s eldest son, Nicholas d’Ewyas, promptly leased his cousin’s share of Samlesbury in his stead.

In the aftermath of the rebellion, much of Lancashire descended into near anarchy.  The Banasters and their associates, (who had supported the King), united to harass the Holands, and the Holands reciprocated in no uncertain terms.  They attacked each other whenever they met, stole one another’s livestock, besieged one another’s properties and generally disrupted civil proceedings.  Under pretence of a Royal Warrant, the Holland’s Lower Hall was raided and goods/arms valued at £9 – 6s – 0d., were stolen. 

A few months later, Robert the Bruce took advantage of the civil unrest and conducted a further foray into England.  Killing the keeper of the Lower Hall manor, the Scots stole property, arms, implements and also raided Samlesbury Chapel.  The total value of stolen goods amounted to £30 11s 10d. and the two events must have devastated everyone in Samlesbury.


1325 - Great Hall Built

Although Cecily and John had had four sons, it was Alicia, the daughter of their eldest son, Nicholas, who inherited the estate.  Maybe Alicia’s uncles/brothers had predeceased John, or had been killed in the Earl’s rebellion.  Whatever the cause, when Alicia married Gilbert de Southworth, their respective fathers each transferred land to the couple, (which suggests a plan to consolidate the young couple’s ownership).

Alicia and Gilbert resided at the Higher Hall and it is Gilbert who is credited with building the great hall – (perhaps an extension to Alicia’s family home).  Alicia did not inherit fully until 1336.

It was their descendant, the third Thomas Southworth, who built/restored the ornate south-west wing, lined the Long Gallery with elaborately carved wall panelling and illustrated the ceiling.  The dining room fireplace is dated 1545.



Thomas died in 1546 and the Higher Hall moiety of Samlesbury passed into the care of his son, the third John Southworth.  A year later, Henry VIII died. 

Henry, (who had removed the English Church from the control of the Pope), was followed in short succession by his Anglican son Edward, his Roman Catholic daughter Mary, and his second daughter, Elizabeth – who was also an Anglican. 

When Mary acceded to the throne, (1553), she married the Roman Catholic Phillip of Spain, who styled himself ‘King of England’, but on her death, (1558), Elizabeth acceded and Phillip lost his title.

Sir John, (who was religiously conservative), initially took a leading role in treasonous plots to replace Elizabeth with the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.  If successful, the country’s return to Roman Catholicism would have been ensured, but it brought John nothing big trouble from the authorities.

Sometime between 1582 and 1584 his heir Thomas, (and family), conformed to the Church of England and then, early in 1588, Sir John, whose loyalty to England was paramount, agreed to attend his Parish Church.  In the event, no Roman Catholics in England mustered to aid the Pope-supported invasion, which was attempted by the Spanish Armada – and they celebrated its defeat as much as everyone else.  


The White Lady

Some believe that it was one of Sir John’s daughters who, according to legend, started keeping company with a boy from an Anglican aristocratic family.  Her father forbid their betrothal and they planned to elope, but unfortunately for them, her brothers discovered their secret and killed the young man and his two friends.  ‘Dorothy’ was sent away in disgrace and died of a broken heart in a foreign convent.

Centuries later, three skeletons were discovered outside the moat.  It is not known if they have any connection with this story, but ‘Dorothy’ continues to haunt the Hall and its vicinity. 

Sir John died in 1595.


1612 - 'The Famous Witches of Samlesbury'

Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley and her daughter-in-law, Ellen Bierley, were accused of witchcraft by Grace Sowerbutts, the teenage granddaughter of Jennet.  They were incarcerated at Lancaster Castle and tried at the Summer Assizes.

Jane’s husband, John[4], was a grandson of Sir John[3] and heir to the estate, but he had recently died.  His Uncle Christopher, (a priest in the Church of Rome), appears to have strongly objected to Jane, because ‘…she would not be dissuaded from the Church.’  When Grace was sent to him ‘to learn her prayers’, he must have seen an opportunity and coached her to accuse Jane and the others, of witchcraft. 

According to Grace’s convoluted stories, the women had abused her and killed a twelve-month-old baby.  They then exhumed the body from Samlesbury churchyard, cooked and ate it, but saved the fat to anoint their bodies, so that they could change their appearance. 

At the trial, the other witnesses also committed perjury, stating that Sir John[3] had thought Jane was a witch and been so scared of her, that he would avoid his granddaughter-in-law if he possibly could, and would also avoid passing her home.  (This, despite the fact that Sir John had died seventeen years earlier, whilst Jane was still a young girl, growing up at Stonyhurst).

When Jennet was questioned, she said that the priest must have taught Grace the accusation, to punish her, ‘…for that she went to the [Parish] Church.’  As Ellen gave similar evidence, Christopher’s other witnesses began to quarrel and accuse each other, ‘but in the end,’ continues the court clerk, ‘some that were present told his Lordship, [the Judge], the truth [and] all things were laid open at large.’

The jury were then able to acquit the ‘famous Samlesbury witches.’

('The Famous Witches of Samlesbury’, is available from the Samlesbury Hall shop).


1654 - Execution of John Southworth, priest.

The parentage of this particular John Southworth is unknown, but he is traditionally believed to have been another grandson of Sir John[3].

After training for the English Mission at the English Seminary in Douai, Flanders, young John was sent back to England to help persuade the ‘heretics’ back into the Roman Catholic fold. 

He appears to have spent most of his working life in London and Westminster and was imprisoned on several occasions, before being finally apprehended after Cromwell issued two ordinances for the arrest of all known priests, Jesuits and nuns. 

John admitted that he was a priest of the ‘Roman Church’, but denied that he was a traitor.  He accepted, however, that by training abroad under the aegis of the Pope – a hostile authority – and then working in England, he was breaking the law.  John was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, on 28th June 1654. 

His remains were stitched back together, embalmed and taken to Douay.  He was kept in the chapel until the French Revolution, when the casket was hidden.  It was re-discovered in 1927 and John now rests in Westminster R.C. Cathedral.  He was canonized in 1970 and is co-patron of Samlesbury R.C. Chapel.  


1678 - The Southworths lose Samlesbury

Stand-offs with Civil War sequestrators, plus a 26-year legal battle with his two nieces, (regarding ownership of the Mellor estate), brought the 6th John Southworth to the edge of bankruptcy.

When his son Edward, inherited, he could see no hope of recovery and sold out to Thomas Braddyll, who already held the mortgage, (1678/9).  In 1710 the house took a social nosedive.  It was set up as a fustian factory, before being let to six or seven handloom weavers and their families, later in the century.

In 1834 Col. T.R.G. Braddyll converted Samlesbury Hall into The Braddyll Arms.  Thomas Southworth’s Long Gallery was stripped of its elaborate, carved wall panelling and, together with the chapel screen, it was taken to enhance Col. Braddyll’s rebuilt house at Conishead Priory.  The massive, moveable screen in the Great Hall was left at Samlesbury, but cut up to build a minstrel’s gallery. 

Mrs Blundell was their first landlady and, as the Hall is mid-way between Preston and Blackburn, most conveyances travelling between the two towns, stopped to change their horses at the inn.  Mrs. Blundell farmed 130 acres of the manor and won the Preston Agricultural Society’s Prize, (six guineas), for the best cultivated farm, (1838).  Sometimes the Woodfold Foxhounds would meet at the inn and that same year, the Preston Steeplechase ran on adjacent land.

When Col. Braddyll bankrupted himself with his ostentatious new house, unsuccessful mining ventures and enthusiastic entertaining, his Samlesbury estate was one which was forfeited and placed in Chancery.



It was then purchased by Thomas Cooper, who ran two cotton spinning factories in Samlesbury Bottoms.  He let the Old Hall to Mrs. Harrison and she opened a school for young ladies and small boys in 1852.  In time, it was developed as a Pestalozzian Institution.  



The manor changed hands once more.  This time it was bought by a leading Blackburn philanthropist and entrepreneur, Joseph Harrison, an iron founder and mill owner who had an admirable ‘can-do’ approach to life.  He exhibited one of his power looms at the Great Exhibition of the Industries of all Nations, in Crystal Palace (1851), and it can still be seen in the Science Museum, London.  Their success at the Great Exhibition brought a rapid expansion in business, both at home and abroad and they were appointed machinists to Prince Albert. 

Joseph addressed his employees’ lack of technical knowledge, by opening the Bank Foundry and Highfield Mill Atheaneum, providing a reading room, night classes, and a brass band. 

On several occasions, Joseph declined invitations to become Mayor of Blackburn, but he presented the town with a valuable new mayoral chain and was an active member of numerous committees, a J.P. and Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. 

The Hall appears to have been a project on which to focus, after the death of his wife in 1862.  Both he and his eldest son William, (FSA., JP., DL.), lavished vast amounts of money and time on general restoration, and the sensitive extension of the south-west wing. 

Until his death in 1879, William made the Hall his home and was later joined by his sister, Agnes, after she was widowed. 


Rioters at Samlesbury

Unfortunately, William was away from home on the day that thirty to forty cotton operative rioters entered the house, but Agnes greeted them calmly, offered refreshments to all and later related, that they partook of bread, beef and ale, ‘in the most orderly manner [and then] went away perfectly quietly, doing no damage to anything, inside or out.’


1879 - Disaster

In January, William had a bad accident – he fell heavily on the ice, sustained a serious head injury and fractured his knee cap.  He developed pains in his head and his knee, too, gave him a lot of trouble.

In May, another misfortune fell – a rabid dog bit a dog of William’s, and that also, started displaying hydrophobic symptoms.  William knew that it would have to be shot, but it was a good dog and his gamekeeper strongly objected.  When William was found to have shot himself, Agnes said that she was certain he had been loading his revolver to shoot the dog.  When giving evidence, their brother Henry said that William was the last person he would have thought would ‘do such an act’ and that he was ‘an altered man since his accident; he looked strange and complained of his inability to sleep and read and said he had a pain in his head.’  He had also become ‘incapable of giving instructions with that clearness and decision which had formerly characterised him and letter-writing was a task….’ 

William’s ‘very important’ collection of books and other effects were auctioned, but the manor failed to sell. 

Joseph died the following year and his eldest daughter Mary, (who had nursed him), moved to Samlesbury.  Agnes re-married soon afterwards and the sisters relocated. 

Henry bought his siblings’ share of the estate and entailed the whole to Agnes’ eldest son, Montague Charles Somerset Johnstone.  In the meantime, the Hall was leased to Frederick Baynes, JP, a Mayor of Blackburn in 1896/7, and a High Sheriff of Lancashire and Deputy Lieutenant in 1900. 

After Henry’s death, Montague declined to live at Samlesbury, but it was agreed that his brother, FitzRoy Lewis Montague Johnstone, would reside there instead.  Unfortunately, FitzRoy was killed at the Battle of the Marne (September 1914) and the gardener assumed the role of caretaker.  


1924 - 1925

By the mid 1920s, the Hall had become unkempt and was bought by a building firm, who intended to pull it down and erect a housing estate.   Fortunately, local meetings were called and money was raised to buy the property for the benefit of the public.  It has been managed by the Samlesbury Hall Trust ever since.  

1924 - 1925


After World War II, the sheds of Burnley Aircraft Products, (where radar had been developed), were taken over by Samlesbury Engineering Ltd..  The site was adjacent to the Hall grounds and the new owners specialised in building coaches and trucks.  They are, however, best remembered for the construction (1954) of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird K7, which was a hydroplane fitted with a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl turbo-jet engine.  Campbell had already broken the world land speed record and went on to set seven world water speed records in Bluebird.

A new engine was fitted for Donald’s attempt to break the 300 mph barrier on Coniston Water in January 1967, but having touched 328 mph, Bluebird flipped into the air and broke up, killing Donald. 

In time, Samlesbury Hall Trust purchased the adjacent site and it is now a Golf Centre.

Sixty years later, Donald’s daughter, (who once held three speed records in her own right), planted an oak tree to mark the anniversary.


Present Day

This account is only a small part of our history.  Please come and visit Samlesbury Hall and see for yourself, all that it has to offer.