Towneley Hall-Part 10-The Chapel

Take the steps downstairs, half way down the stairs to the Chapel on the first floor. The chapel was built by Sir John Towneley in the first quarter of the 16th century on a different site by the corner of the South wing. At the beginning of the 18th century Towneley Hall formed a complete quadrangel but according to family tradition around 1711 the chapel was moved and “placed with a religious reverence in their present situation, the stonework wainscot and everything to which the effects of consecration could be supposed to extend having been preserved entire”. As recusants the Towneleys had suffered heavy fines and imprisonment for their catholic faith and this reverence for ancient woodwork is seen in other Lancashire Catholic families. The ancient chapel with its everlasting light which remained until the time of Lady O’Hagen in the late 19th century must have meant a lot to them. From the time of Elizabeth I until 1819 there was no other Catholic place of worship of many miles and the chapel was open to all local Catholics, despite legal restrictions. Behind the font is a small cupboard in the panelling. Until 1901 this held the head of Colonel Francis Towneley the rebel Jacobite leader, who was hung drawn and quartered in London and whose head was displayed on Temple Bar in 1746. According to tradition the altar-piece was installed by Charles Towneley the collector, presumably during the Napoleonic wars. It was made in Antwerp between 1520 and 1525. It was removed by the family shortly after 1896 and was eventually installed in the convent of Notre Dame, Ashdown Park. The altarpiece returned to Towneley in 1968 and since 1969 the Towneley family have held a private mass on All Hallows Eve each year. The original altar-rail is now in Towneley Chapel in St. Peter’s Church, Burnley. The oak door, with its carved panels of strapwork, fruit and foliage, bears the initials of John Towneley and his wife and cousin, Mary, who were married in 1556. The chancel has blind Gothic tracery with a running vine border; the panelled ceiling bears the initials of members of Sir John’s family. Above the sacristy door are the arms and initials of Richard Towneley and his wife, Jane Assheton of Lever and the date 1601. They were married in 1594 and the date on the panel may commemorate a deed of entail (that is a special family will) his father made in that year, a year and a day after the birth of their second son Charles. The Gothic font cover dates from the fifteenth century and came from Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire. The fifteenth-century oak chest is said to have come from Manchester Cathedral. These and other items of furniture were introduced to furnish the chapel in the 20th century. We will visit, The Family Dining-Room and Exhibition Room next…

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