The History of Thornton
Following the passing of the Local Government Act, 1894, Thornton Parish Council was formed in 1895. Initially the Parish Council had 5 Councillors but today it has 7. It meets the first Monday of each month at Holy Family High School in Virgins Lane, Thornton at 7:00 pm.
The township of Thornton however has existed since at least the time when William the Conqueror invaded England. It was mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086 as ‘Torentun’, which is old English for ‘town of the thorn trees. Further mention was made of Thornton in 1337 when it was recorded as being in the forest of King Edward III together with other local towns.
Thornton is situated approximately eight miles north of Liverpool on the outer edge of Great Crosby and is one of a series of small towns and villages on the route to Southport. Thornton, which includes the village of Homer Green, is mainly rural and therefore most of its boundaries consist of ditches, watercourses and minor footpaths. Historically ‘old’ Thornton was situated in the same locality as it is today i.e. in the vicinity of Water Street, Green Lane and Rothwells Lane. The village green lay roughly between the sites occupied by the Nag’s Head and the Grapes Hotel. Its boundaries have hardly changed throughout its long history.
Prior to 1930 Thornton was entirely rural but in the ensuing years its population started to grow and now stands at about 2000. Similarly its road system remained unchanged for many years until the mid-1930’s when new roads were built to accommodate the increasing population. There are a number of important roads in the history of Thornton the significance of which will become apparent later. Moor Lane connects Thornton to Crosby via its modern extensions Quarry Road and Park View whilst three roads connect the township to Sefton Village i.e. Edge Lane, Lydiate Lane and Lunt Road which makes the connection via Homer Green. Ince Lane connected Thornton to Ince Blundell. Long Lane is also significant because it too connected Little Crosby to Thornton.
Despite its long history, Thornton is not famous as the scene of an important battle, a castle or historic event but it is significant for the number ancient monuments in the form of ‘Crosses’ which exist either within its boundaries or in the surrounding towns and villages. These ‘crosses’ form part of a very important part of local heritage.
Historically the focal point of the area was not in fact in Thornton but the neighbouring village of Sefton as both Thornton and Homer Green are in the ecclesiastical parish bearing that name. The Church of St. Helen is the parish church and has been so for many centuries. Besides it being the main place of worship in the area it was also of course the place where most local people buried their dead. Going back in time when the means of transport was either on foot or by horse and cart over very poor roads, local stopping places were established and many of these took the form of ‘wayside crosses’. There are two of these in Thornton, Brooms Cross which is situated on Back Lane and ‘The Stocks and Sundial’ which is situated at the top of Water Street opposite to the Nags Head Public House. There are many other similar crosses in the area and throughout South West Lancashire.
Both before and after the Reformation, the church of St. Helen at Sefton has been the official Parish Church for Thornton together with the townships of Sefton, Netherton, Lunt, Aintree, Litherland, Ince Blundell, Great Crosby and Little Crosby. There is evidence that a church existed on the current site of the Church of St. Helen in or about 1204 and, it is believed, earlier. Thus the church was the only one which provided for the spiritual needs of the residents of those townships and it is clear that the residents of the northern townships i.e. Ince Blundell, Great Crosby and Little Crosby passed through Thornton on their way to church. There is ample evidence to suggest that two of those routes are what we now know to be Edge Lane and Lydiate Lane whilst the third was the forerunner of what we now know as Long Lane, the latter being used by the residents of Ince Blundell and Little Crosby.
As mentioned earlier despite its long history there are no historic ruins in Thornton but there are two significant links with the past i.e. Brooms Cross and the Stocks and Sundial. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that in earlier times many of the churches in South West Lancashire were surrounded by wayside crosses which were erected along the routes leading to the parish church. These crosses were placed at convenient intervals and it was the practice for funeral processions to halt whilst prayers were recited for the deceased and the bearers rested for a while before proceeding on their journey. Opportunities for rest were a necessity given the distances to be travelled and the state of the ‘roads’ over which such processions passed.
Brooms Cross is situated on Back Lane a short distance from Holgate and is believed to date back to 1300. All that remains of the original Cross is the pedestal which consists of a solid piece of stone. In 1977, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee, the Parish Council had a cross installed in the socket of the original base. The base is listed as an ancient monument but little more is known about its origins. Brooms Cross is to give its name to the new highway to be constructed between the M57 at Switch Island and the A565 at Thornton.
At the top of Water Street opposite to the ‘Nags Head’ pub one will find the ‘Stocks and Sundial’. In effect this is believed to be the location of the other ‘wayside’ cross which was erected in Thornton but no information is available as to when the cross was erected, removed or demolished. However early ordnance survey maps indicate that the cross was situate at the same location as that occupied today by the sundial. The base was significant in dating crosses and there were essentially 2 types, the oldest ones had a single solid base whilst the later ones had a solid base with three steps. Brooms Cross falls into the former category whilst the sundial at Thornton falls into the latter.
The passing of legislation in 1643, requiring all ‘popish’ symbols i.e. crosses, angels etc. both inside and outside churches to be destroyed and disposed of, may be significant as some crosses were converted into sundials as a consequence of this legislation.
As well as the site of a number of wayside crosses, South West Lancashire is also the site of a number of sundials and it is clear where dates are known that the all originate from the eighteenth century. The sundial in Thornton is said to be of Jacobean origin, is believed to be the oldest and erected before 1720, the date attributed to the one in Sefton. Once again it has not been possible to confirm this as a definite fact. We do know however that the sundial had fallen into disrepair in 1891 and repairs were carried out by, and at the expense of, the Earl of Sefton.
It was the custom in earlier times to punish persons for petty offences by confining them to the stocks for a period and Thornton seems to have provided this facility for the parish of Sefton generally and the Thornton Stocks are believed to be the ones referred to in the Sefton Parish accounts for 1725. The stocks subsequently became unusable and were replaced in 1791 on the current site which, if not on the Village Green, was very close to it. They are made of cast iron with a wooden seat supported on stone blocks. Unlike Brooms Cross and the sun dial there are a number of entries in local records referring to the stocks and it is believed they were last used in 1863.
Sadly the Stocks and the Ancient Cross/Sundial have been neglected over time but The Parish Council had recently submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding to refurbish both monuments and remains optimistic that the application will be viewed favourably.
It is known that in 1629 there were two ‘alehouses’ in Thornton. They were situated on either side of the village green which was a focal point of rural life in those days. Both were close to the intersecting point of the routes from the north of Thornton to Sefton and they were recorded in the names of their ‘tenants’ rather than the names we know today. Indeed by 1635 business must have been good for there were four alehouses in the township until 1647 when the number went back to two. The location of the other two was unknown. By 1753, it was quite clear from the records that the sites occupied by the original two alehouses were those occupied by ‘The Nags Head’ and the ‘Grapes’ today. In 1822 both public houses were officially scheduled under those names.
There have been some notable changes in the Parish during the past 50 years, perhaps the most notable being the closure of the local landmark previously known as ‘Tom Englands’ and its replacement by the well established Aldi Store. Equally the church of St. Fridewydes and its church hall in which the Parish Council met for many years has closed, has been demolished and replaced by the housing development known as Thornton Cross. The Church of St. Fridewydes has merged with All Saints in Forefield Lane but still serves the people of Thornton. Thornton Garage which was managed by the Moore family for very many years also closed recently and is now a Tesco store.
For those of you who wish to find out more about the history of Thornton, there are many books in local libraries or in the Central Library in Liverpool, which will satisfy your needs. A good starting place is a booklet published in 1947 by Thomas Williams entitled, ’Thornton in Sefton Parish’ a short history of an Ancient Township. This book contains a mine of detailed information about Thornton through the centuries from the Doomsday Book until 1947.
Another good reference book is ‘Betwixt Ribbel and Moerse’ by Walter Jesson which is now out of print but copies can be found in the reference section of the Central Library in Liverpool and no doubt other local libraries. It contains a lot of detail about the location of many of the Ancient Crosses which were widespread throughout Lancashire.
Wikipedia about Thornton
Thornton is a village in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, in Merseyside, England. Situated to the north east of Crosby, it is a residential area of semi-detached and detached housing which dates mainly from the 1930s. Many of the houses, particularly those around Edge Lane and Water Street, feature notably long gardens. The A565 Liverpool–Southport road serves the area. At the 2001 Census the population of the village and civil parish was recorded as 2,262, falling to 2,139 at the Census 2011.
Historically part of Lancashire. During the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086, the settlement of Torentún is recorded, along with the settlement of Homer Green, which far outdates any claim that Ince Blundell is the oldest village in Sefton. Thornton was combined with Crosby Village and Blundellsands to form the Great Crosby urban district. The district subsequently became part themunicipal borough of Crosby in 1937. Thornton was still served by West Lancashire Council until the formation of the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton on 1 April 1974. Thornton still however retains Parish Council status and therefore has a historical boundary.
From 1950 until 2010 Thornton was within the boundaries of the Crosby constituency, whose MP from 1997 till 2010 was Claire Curtis-Thomas, a member of the Labour Party, prior to her election the Crosby seat was generally considered to be a safe Conservative Party stronghold with Tory MP’s elected at every election barring the Crosby by-election, 1981 where Shirley Williams of the Social Democratic Party was elected to represent the constituency. As a result of boundary revisions for the 2010 general election the Crosby constituency was abolished with its northern parts, including Thornton, being merged with the Eastern parts of Sefton that were formerly part of the Knowsley North and Sefton East constituency, to form the new constituency of Sefton Central, which is currently represented by the Labour Party MP Bill Esterson.
For elections to Sefton Council Thornton is within the Manor electoral ward and is represented by three councillors. The councillors of Manor ward are Clare Carragher of the Labour Party, John Joseph Kelly of the Labour Party, and Steve McGinnity of the Labour Party.
The Parish Council consists of seven councillors, who are all local residents. They meet on the first Monday of each month at Holy Family High School at 7:00 pm. Notice of these meetings are displayed on the Parish website at thorntonpc.org.uk and on the village notice board on The Crescent.
There are three schools in Thornton: Thornton County Primary (Which is now closed), St William Of York RC primary and Holy Family Catholic High School. In 2003, Cherie Blair QC, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, officially came to Thornton to open Holy Family’s new Sixth Form building. There is one church in Thornton, St William Of York RC Church, St William Road. St Frideswydes C of E Church on Water Street was demolished in 2012 to make way for a housing development. Thornton also has two historical public houses dating back to the early 19th century called the Nags Head, which is situated opposite Water Street, and the Grapes Hotel.
Thornton has a set of stocks located at the junction of Green Lane and Water Street. These, along with the local sundial, can be dated back to the late 18th century and are Grade II listed monuments. There is another Grade II listed monument located in Back Lane called Brooms Cross. This is a wayside cross which lies on what was the old bridleway that ran from Hightown / Ince Blundell to Sefton Parish Church, St. Helens. It was here that funeral processions would come to rest and have refreshments before continuing to the church. Unfortunately this monument, which was restored to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year of 1977, has become the target of vandals.
The Thornton By-Pass, Brooms Cross Road was opened in 2016. This links traffic from the Formby By-Pass with Switch Island.