Mytton church

“The parish of Mitton covered a large area with nine vills well populated, and in extent ten miles by six, so that it could not be properly governed by one priest”The Early History of Mitton; by Rev. Joseph McNulty, B.B., F.R. Hist.S.

The church is near the confluence of the Ribble and Hodder rivers in Great Mitton. The “y” in the spelling of “Mytton” is interchangeable with the “i”. The church has spelled it with the “y”.  However, it has always been referred to as “Mitton Church” because the Mittons built it. The stone Church was built in the 1270s but there was an earlier church here when Ralph the Red became rector in 1103. He is attributed as being the founder of the church and succeeded by his direct descendants until circa 1241 when a non de Mitton family member became the rector.The church is on the location of the original manor site identified in the Doomsday book as “Mitune” and from which Ralph the Reds descendant family derived their surname from this magna manor and church site.

It is possible the stone on the earliest part of the structure may have been interior walls with a whitewash exterior common at the time. This church is now a Grade I listed building which means it cannot altered.DSCN1122

The Normans used the church to impose their rule by making themselves the rectors of manor parish churches and holding the advowson or the right to collect the tithes. Ralph the Red was the first identified rector from 1103 of All Hallows or now “Mytton Church”. His direct descendants continued that tradition for generations until 1215 when the Lateran council forbade the rectors to be married in and effort to break up the close relation of the church and the manor lords of the time. The Normans had adopted this church and state alliance from Christian kingdoms centuries before as a powerful way to rule. They exploited it to the utmost by making themselves Kings sanctioned by the church. The initial Lords of their manors carried this concept through to the local manor who was also head of the local parish.

“…in the early Middle Ages, when the hierarchy was largely a branch of the secular nobility, many bishops lived openly with wives and families. Ordinary priests often did likewise and passed along their positions and property to their sons. Reforming popes of the 11th. and 12th centuries reinforces the traditional insistence of abstinence, in effect making celibacy the norm- Frances X. Rocca; WSJ June 29,2019

The Shireburne chapel is to the left behind the screen. It was originally called St. Nicholas chapel.

DSC_1056The Shireburne chapel is to the left of the wood screen.  It was originally called St. Nickolas chapel.

The first-born son would be the lord of the manor by primogenitor. Then a younger son became the rector under the de Mitton family. The first four incumbents were all named Ralph after Ralph the Red who is the founder of the church. It also suggests why his descendants took that location as their surname rather than one of the other manors that they owned. It was a “magna” manor and that may be because of the location of the church as well.

The “Mytton” parish church stands adjacent to the site of the original 12th century manor house site and present Great Mitton Hall. The existing stone church was built around 1270 and the existing partial structure of Great Mitton Hall about 1330. Manor houses were often built next to the parish church to which the local manor lord was the head of and this was no exception. Great Mitton Hall was of “wattle and daub” when built in the 14th century. This has been confirmed by a recent interior restoration. That part was probably built as an add-on to the first rather primitive manor house that occupied the center part of the later wattle and daub structure.

The manor house before that in the early Norman period after the conquest was probably some type of wood structure. The church may have been as well early on. Both the hall and the church were probably first “thatched” roofs and quite primitive. The church stonework in the older part indicates an early Norman type of workmanship.        “Norman Architecture” by Edith Brown-1907.

Please see below for Rev. Joseph McNulty, B.A.- The Early History of the Parish of Mitton extract.

Parish and manor “In the early days a parish church was often built by the manorial lord, generally close to his house. (This could happen from c. 900, though there is unlikely to be anything surviving from the earliest church, which would probably be timber). In that case he and his successors were the patrons of the church, the possessors of the advowson, that is the right to present (i.e. nominate) the rector. An advowson could be bought and sold like any other property and thus appears in deeds, charters or legal wrangles over its ownership, which may be the first record of the church. The manorial lord might subsequently rebuild, enlarge or embellish the church”. 

DSC_1053Making Money the old fashion way:

Lesser local nobles such as Ralph the Red gained elevated status as well as income from being the rector of the parish. The rector was the legal owner of all of the property rights and income associated with a parish church. The Normans built such churches next to their manor houses from the time of the Conquest and the payment of tithes to the church supported the lord of the manor until the late 12th century. Parish lands were thus instrumental to the manor’s wealth. Indeed the parish of Mitton was a far more prodigious land holding than just the manors land themselves.

As time went on the Papal Church encouraged the rectors of parishes to appoint priests and not to collect revenue for themselves. The Lateran Council of 1215 forbade the clergy to marry. It served as a further motivation to separate the church from the manor lords. This edict from the council coincided with marriages which then became a “sacrament” of the church. Prior to that marriage was secular and not generally a religious ceremony except for the upper classes or nobility and not part of a church ritual.


“The stocky, plain tower with its distinctive round-arch bell opening is the only part in this picture which is instantly recognizable as Norman” – English Churches Explained. Trever Yorke 2010.

Thomas Sotheron v Cockersand Abbey: The Chetham Society 1939.

In the early 13th century (1206-35) Sir Robert de Mitton, the son of Hugh de Mitton, granted the “advowson” (i.e. the right to appoint the rector) of Mitton Church to Cockersand Abbey. Sir Roberts granted: “right of patronage of the church of Mitton with all the appurtenances for the health and souls of Roger de Lacy, John de Lacy and the souls of his (Robert’s) father and mother”. This is another indication of the close relationship between the de Mittons and the de Lacy`s.

This “advowson” grant later became a source  of legal contention when the manor successors to the de Mittons, the Sotherons (Thomas le Surreys) attempted to covet the “advowson*” for himself. He lost the court case and the grant of advowson by Sir Robert de Mitton to Cockersand Abbey was upheld sometime after 1315.

The Early History of the Parish of Mitton                                              by Rev. Joseph McNulty, B.A., F.R, Hist. S.

“The parish of Mitton consisted of nine vills-Great and Little Mitton, Crook or Withgrill, Aighton, Bailey, Chaigley, Bashall, Waddington, West Bradford, Grindleton.

In the autumn of 1102 Henry l granted Bolland and adjacent estates to Rober de Lacy, and on Nov. 23, 1102 Robert de Lacy madeover to Ralph le Rus (the Red), Mitton, Aighton, Mearley, Twiston and land in Clitheroe. Ralph le Rus thus became Ralph of Mitton and in 1135 Ilbert de Lacy confirmed his fathers gifts to Ralph, whom he styled his brother.

The forth Lateran Council of 1215

Whether the foundation of a church at Mitton due to this Ralph is uncertain, for it is probable that the parish of Mitton was in existence before 1100; but at any rate Ralph took up his residence at Mitton and was parson of the church of Mitton. His son Jordan and his grandson Ralph were also styled parsons of Mitton, the advowson remaining in the family up to the year 1215, when the fourth the Lateran Council made it unlawful to hold a benefice by hereditary right or to accept a benefice from a layman’s hands. Accordingly about 1220, Robert, son of Hugh of Mitton, granted the advowson of the church to the abbey of Cockersand, a house of Premonstratensian canons situated on the shore between the estuaries of the Lune and the Cocker. After some litigation this gift was confirmed by Ralph, son of Robert”.