W R Mitchell
14 July 1999
Thirty members began with the humbling experience of standing beside a 1,000- year-old Celtic-Scandinavian stone cross, one of three in the churchyard at Whalley, by the River Calder, a major tributary of the Ribble. Whalley’s easygoing present has the assurance that comes from a millennium of rich and varied history.
In an outing of eight hours, during which we did not travel more than thirty miles from Settle, we had a succession of stimulating sights and experiences. At Whalley parish church, our eyes ranged over the armorial bearings of notable local families. Their coats of arms and names were set in stained glass on the huge east window.
We came under the unblinking stare of Thomas Dunham Whitaker, late Vicar of Whalley and author of The History of Craven, the first edition of which appeared in 1805. Whitaker, set in stone, was reclining, with one elbow resting on a pile of thick tomes. We scanned the misericords for amusing medieval carvings, finding one of a farrier attempting to shoe a goose and another of a wife belabouring her husband with what appears to be a frying pan.
Round the corner from the parish church were the not inconsiderable remains of Whalley Abbey, founded in the 14th century. A shower of light rain (one of two that day) drove us into a café and from here into a room with a splendid exhibition of models and artefacts concerning the Abbey. A model of the Abbey was so devised we could look through the windows and see representations of the monks as they would have been when at prayer. Someone switched on a recording of plainsong. A row of umbrellas standing near the door were for the free use of visitors.
Thence to Great Mitton, on what used to be the Yorkshire bank of the Ribble. Mitton comes from the Saxon mythe, meaning a farmstead at the junction of two rivers. As the second shower of the day arrived, some of us had our snack meals at the lee side of the old church while others were ‘called to the bar’ of the local hostelry.
We were now in Shireburn Country, the old family holding sway in the area between Kemple End and the confluence of Hodder and Ribble. The nave of Mitton church has a sloping floor. The chancel screen, of wood and cast iron, is said to have been moved here from Sawley Abbey at the Dissolution.
In a chapel built by Sir Richard, who died in 1594, we saw the alabaster tombs of four generations of the Shireburn family. Sir Richard was known as old Fiddle of God, from his usual oath, Fidele de Dieu (Friend of God). Life-sized sculptures were the work of William Stanton of Holborn. The symbolic figure of a weeping boy was seen to be shedding alabaster tears. An early piece of carving showed two children tucked up in bed.
So to Stonyhurst, in its grand setting of 200 acres of parkland and playing fields. The college is one of the best-known Catholic public schools, with 400 students. In its days as a private house, when it was only partly completed, Oliver Cromwell lodged here just before the Battle of Preston and described Stonyhurst as ‘the finest half-house I have ever seen’.
We had special permission to enter the courtyard, where a lady guide practised her new season’s commentary on us. She also fortuitously bobbed up when we were in the huge church, which has affinities in its external features with King's College, Cambridge. The grandeur of the main range of buildings, with its jaunty cupolas, was appreciated as we strode in the gardens.
So to Ribchester and the parklike valley to Old Man Pendle. The hill, with its distinctive outline, has been compared to 'an upturned boat'. We toured the Roman Museum, which included models and pictures representing the fort which had the unwieldy title of Bremetennacum veteranorum. We drove home in bright, sunny conditions.