The main house and gate house
Martholme is the oldest house in Great Harwood but the present building is not the first to occupy the site there was one there in 1177 when the Manor was bequeathed to Richard de Fitton.
The house is built within a loop of the River Calder the neck of land being protected by a moat or ditch traces of which can still be seen.
An expert on place names, E. Elkwall, has suggested the name is of Danish origin, "Mart" meaning market and "holme" meaning a piece of dry land in a fen or a piece of land partly surrounded by a stream. If this suggestion is correct and the site was named by Danish invaders then the history of Martholme goes back well over 1000 years.
After the conquest of 1066 the lands between the River Ribble and River Mersey were given to Roger of Poitou who distributed land to the Barons under his command. One such was Ilbert de Lacy who was given land "amongst those hills at Clidero (Clitheroe), near the adjacent passage into Yorkshire" and part of this land was the Manor of Martholme and Great Harwood. In 1177 Henry de Lacy, Ilbert's grandson, was killed on Crusade in the Holy Land and in his will left Martholme and Great Harwood to Richard de Fitton. The description of the manor lands in the will is almost the same as today's boundaries. For the next hundred years land was reclaimed and cultivated and the holding generally improved until the last male of the de Fitton line, William, died in 1289 and in his will divided the Manor between his three daughters and their husbands: To Matilda and William Hesketh, the Manor house and demesne land and land at Rufford. To Elizabeth and Roger Nowell, Netherton (lower town) and the park. To Annabel and Edmund de Legh, Overton (upper town) and land at Rufford. They soon sold their share of Great Harwood to the Heskeths and passed out of the town's history. The Heskeths now owned two thirds of Great Harwood but the family's main home was at Rufford and Martholme was often used as a Dower House or was let as a farm the earliest record of this happening comes from 1518.
Sir Thomas Hesketh (1539 - 1588) had been a supporter of the Catholic Queen Mary and was living at Martholme after her death (perhaps keeping a low profile) in 1558. In 1561 he rebuilt the Gatehouse, the Hesketh arms, T H and date are still above the archway.
In 1577 Sir Thomas then rebuilt the Manor house itself with a central hall and two wings again having the family arms incorporated into the building.
Thomas' eldest son, Robert, added a second, arched, outer gateway and over the keystone are three wheatsheaves and the initials R H 1607.
The inventory taken of Robert's goods and chattels on his death in 1620 shows Martholme to be a substantial building having twenty four rooms in the house, three more in the gatehouse and another six in the farm buildings. The furnishings were sparse however showing that the family was rarely in residence.
The house was left to Jane, Robert's third wife, but if she ever lived there it was not for long.
After the civil war the Act of Compounding was passed in 1644 whereby Royalists, which the Hekeths were, had to pay fines based on the value of their estates. Lady Jane Hoghton, as she now was, was also a Roman Catholic and her fine was to have two thirds of Great Harwood confiscated for life by the Commissioners and as a result, it is said, Martholme became neglected. However in 1647 Robert Hesketh, who was to inherit Great Harwood on Lady Jane's death, applied to farm at Martholme and asked for money for repairs out of the yearly rent stating that "the Manor House has fallen into very great decay, part having fallen down for want of repair during the sequestration". His request was granted, although he did not live long enough to take advantage of it, but this would appear to be a very rapid decline of a house which was being improved only forty years earlier. Maybe the neglect began back in 1620.
On Lady Jane's death Robert's son Thomas Hesketh came into his inheritance but Heskeths never lived at Martholme again the house being leased to tenant farmers and stewards running the estate.
Martholme is now a private residence and much of the house has gone but what remains is the building of Sir Thomas Hesketh in 1561 and 1577.
House and gatehouse
1 Great Harwood Gleanings, Louie Pollard, 1978, Lancs County Council. Page 11
Old Harwood, Louie Pollard and Harry E. Eaton, Great Harwood Civic Society, 1973. Page 2.
© Great Harwood History Society 2002 - 2015
Great Harwood Appreciation Society