Kirkham: Town, Borough, Parish & Manor
Kirkham and its immediate surroundings have a long and fascinating history. Long before the name of Kirkham was coined Romans had settled in the area from the first century AD. Amateur archaeologists made significant finds in Dowbridge south east of Kirkham in the nineteenth century and in 1994 excavations by Lancaster University confirmed the suspected presence of a Roman Fort. Two centuries earlier in 1792 a Mr Willacy, an assistant master at the Free Grammar School, had found the umbo or boss of a roman shield close to Carr Hill. At one point this was sold for 30 shillings and in 1814 it was bought by the British Museum from a Peregrine Edward Towneley, presumably the original purchaser. It remains in the British Museum to this day. These Roman settlements here were linked by road and river to a site at Walton-le-Dale immediately south of Preston and the roman fort at Ribchester by the River Ribble, about 10 miles to the north-east of Preston.
The name Kirkham dates back at least to the Domesday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror at Christmas 1085 and published in 1086, twenty years after the Norman conquest. Here the name appears as ‘Chicheham’ with the more familiar spelling of ‘Kirkham’ gradually emerging over the subsequent centuries. There are various speculations as to the language origins of the word roots that make up the name of the town but it is generally accepted that it describes a place or village (Ham) with a church (Kirk). Over time the name of Kirkham has related to various areas and jurisdictions – it is, or has been, a manor, parish, township, local authority area, as well as the town that most would associate with the name today.
At the time of Domesday, the Manor of Kirkham was part of the district of Amounderness, assigned to Roger de Poitou when William I carved up the country following the Norman Conquest. Amounderness covered all of the Fylde along with most of what is now Wyre and Preston and Kirkham was one of its major settlements and parishes. Roger de Poitou passed on the church and tithes of the manor to St Mary’s Priory in Lancaster and was later granted to the Convent of Shrewsbury. In 1260 Edward I conveyed the manor and church to the Abbot and Convent of Vale Royal, Cheshire. Following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century the manor was assigned to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church in Oxford who subsequently leased it to the Cliftons, a very influential family who had also acquired the nearby Manor of Lytham in 1606. In the early 1870s sections of the Manor of Kirkham and the rectory were sold to various people and Thomas Langton Birley, a member of one of the most influential families in the area, acquired some of this land and all the rights of the manor. There is still a title of Lord of the Manor of Kirkham to this day.
By the thirteenth century Kirkham was established as a trading centre and in 1269 it became a borough. This status was confirmed by Edward I in 1286-87. As a borough it was independent of the control of the manor and its governance was overseen by twelve of the local burgesses, or freemen of the borough. In 1852 a local board was appointed to run the affairs of the town and in 1894,
Kirkham Urban District Council was created. Following local government reorganisation Kirkham merged with the Borough of Lytham St Annes and Fylde Rural District when Fylde Borough was formed in 1974. Kirkham currently also has a town council which has some responsibilities for local affairs including the management of local parks, gardens and car parks. It is also consulted on planning applications.
Baines’s 1825 History, Directory and Gazetteer of Lancashire notes that Kirkham was ‘a small but handsome and well-built town’ and emphasized its local importance, referring to it as ‘the metropolis of the Fylde country’. The population of Kirkham had been recorded in 1821 as 2735 whereas Lytham was only 1292 and Blackpool, a paltry 750. The developing industrial centre of nearby Preston, by contrast, was 24,575.