The Recusant Tickles & the Riot at Altcar

After the English Reformation in the 16th century, those who did not conform and acknowledge the new Church of England were known as ‘recusants‘. Recusants remained loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church and refused to attend Church of England services.

Catholicism was the majority religion in some parts of England, including Lancashire, where several Tickle families lived. Although the new religion gradually took over, a high percentage of Roman Catholics remained in the 17th century and various Tickles appear in records dealing with recusancy. On 6 September 1666, a list of over 500 names was presented at Lancaster Castle. It stated “that the following persons, though all of sixteen years of age and upwards on 1st December 1665, “did not repair” to their parish church or other place of Common Prayer, but had obstinately forborne to do so for three months or more.” Included in the list were Thomas Tickle of Alkar (Altcar), Robert Tickle, Yeoman, of Lawton & Kenyon, and Thomas Tickle of Little Crosby.

The recusants were prosecuted and, in the majority of cases, a conviction was recorded. The punishment handed out ranged from having to ‘confess’ in public in front of their local congregation, to fines and loss of goods or animals. Conviction could be serious for landowners, who faced the sequestration of up to two-thirds of their estate.

The suspicion of Catholics was due to propaganda stating that they owed more allegiance to Rome than to England. This was fired by the 17th century equivalent of ‘fake news‘. In 1679, it was alleged that there was a ‘Popish Plot‘, a Jesuit conspiracy to murder Charles II, restore the Roman Catholic faith in England, and establish James on the throne, backed by France. Although the allegations were eventually discredited, they led to an intensifying of anti-Catholic feeling. People burnt  effigies of the Pope on bonfires, various Catholics were convicted of involvement, and some were executed. Religious persecution increased during this period and led to at least one incidence of violence in which Tickles were involved.

The incident occurred in the parish of Altcar, Lancashire in February, 1681. At the time Altcar was a small, fairly isolated, settlement with less than 90 inhabitants. Eight officers of the law visited Altcar to seize the goods of John Sutton and Margery Tickle, Catholic yeomen of Altcar, who were recusants. The officers seized the cattle and waited, apparently anticipating that the cattle would be redeemed by payment of a fine. After many hours, they received word that a party of men and women were on their way to rescue the cattle. The sheriff’s men tried to get away with the animals but were opposed by over 20 people, armed with long staffs, pitchforks, and muskets. They easily overpowered the officers, beat them, and left them in the mire, driving the cattle away. Six officers were badly injured, two so severely that life was despaired of.

Their condition is described colourfully in this letter from William Hayhurst to Roger Kenyon in London.

12 February 1681

“ Uppon Friday last, I came from Preston to Ormeschureh, on purpose to see the poor wounded people whom we had employed in his Majestie’s service : two of them, George Flitcroft and James Nicholson, lye in a very miserable condition and. in all humane probability, cannot recover. Dr. Richmond and Dr. Aleock are very dilligent to use all meanes to help them.

Upon Wensday last they, searching to the bottom of George his wound in his head, which is a wide gash cutt three wayes, they found the skull crushed downe, just above the brainepan, so that pressing his finger upon it, the blood issued out of the braine pann ; whereupon they concluded there could bee noe way to doe him good but cutting away that part of the scull that did so much prejudice the braine, which Dr. lliclimond did by a round dented instrument, and took of the scull to the breddth of a threepence, which 1 have to show you when I come up to London. Upon Saturday last, Dr. Richmond dressed him againe, and raised up the scull in severall places, where it was cracked, and beaten downe ; since which time hee hath been something better, and the Doctors hope he may recover, but James Nicholson they dispaire cf ; lie lies a dreadfull spectacle, his right side is quite perished, hee has a great wound in his head, and nothing the Doctors can doe, works upon him. Hee is sensible of nothing, but allwaies lyes as if he were a dying.

The rest of them, being fower, are all cruelly bruised and wounded, and though not mortally, yett tis feared they can never have the right use of their limbs. The rioters are said to bee all papists and above eight and twenty in number. Mr. Justice Entwisle has been active to apprehend them, but the constable of the towne, one John Tyrer (?) (who denyed to goe with the officers to preserve the peace) made not that quick execution of his warrant against them hee ought to have done, so that they all fledd, and theres none to bee light on.

Afterwards, Mr. Entwisle sent hue and ery after two of them, Thomas Tickle and Edward Tickle, his brother, who were the authors of all the mischief ; but that waye proved ineffectuall, and now Mr. Entwisle and Mr. Mayor of Lerpoole, have appointed a Sessions to he held at Allcarr upon Monday sennitt, for inquiery. After yesterday, wee privately got a warrant directed to Mr. Giliibrand and severall other Militia officers, to make a privy search in every house in Alkarr, and about it, to apprehend the offenders, which I hope, if well managed, will bring some of them to light.’

Postscript . — “ We have but yett gott the names of twelve of the ryoters. 

There is no record of the final result, beyond a hint that the king was about to intervene to prevent further proceedings. Reputedly, the Tickles who were the ringleaders fled to Ireland shortly after the event. How long they stayed there is unknown but it is said that local officers did not dare to prosecute anybody else in the area for recusancy ‘for fear of the Tickles’.

There is still a Tickles Farm in Great Altcar, Lancashire. Whether it is connected with these violent Tickles I have still to establish.


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