POTT SHRIGLEY AND THE DOWNES FAMILY

Grid Ref: SJ 944 791
18 December 2002

 

St. Christopher's spacer Tower
St. Christopher's in winter sun   The Tower
Tower   Cross
Entance and Tower   Cross

 

St. Christopher's church at Pott Shrigley was formerly a chapel of ease for the parish of Prestbury. Pevsner descibes it as mainly of the Perpendicular style, used in England in the period from about 1335 to 1530. The south arcade is late Perpendicular and may be connected with the foundation of a chantry chapel in 1491. Raymond Richards believed that the church was founded in the late 14th century and completed in its present form by the construction of the Downes Chantry Chapel by Geoffrey Downes. Richards drew on information on the church from Geoffrey Downes' will dated 7 June 1492. The church was closed when I visited the site but Richards comments that there is evidence from a column that the church was about 100 years older than the Downes Chapel. The church has monuments to the Downes and Lowther families. The belfry has two bells from the fifteenth century and one recast in 1607. A list of ministers is known from 1502 and the baptism registers commence in 1629. In the churchyard is a preaching cross that probably predates the church. The clock has four faces and was made in 1809 by Thomas Schofield of Manchester.

The Downes Family of Pott Shrigley

The Downes family came originally from Taxal and are first recorded in the 13 th century when Robert de Dunes was a forester. They came from an area near the Goyt Valley, part of which is now under the reservoir at Errwood. The Forest of Macclesfield stretched from North Rode through Gawsworth towards Prestbury, with Pexhall Lane being the boundary on the the west of Macclesfield. From Broken Cross the boundary ran down towards Fallibroome, through Prestbury towards Poynton. The Forest was characterised by its governance under Forest Law which gave the farming of game priority.

In the Forest of Dean the administration was as described in this article from the Victoria County History:

Under the constable’s overall control, a tier of senior foresters administered ten divisions, called bailiwicks or baileys, in the demesne woodland; they were usually termed foresters-in-fee in the Middle Ages, but to avoid confusion with another group of foresters they are referred to here as woodwards, which was their usual style in the modern period. The woodwards held manors adjoining the demesne woodland by the serjeanty of keeping a bailiwick and paid a chief rent to St. Briavels castle.

And later in the article:

Another group of foresters were usually called serjeants-in-fee in the Middle Ages but later foresters-in-fee. Unlike the woodwards, they performed the duty of protecting the venison and vert and dealing with offenders throughout the Forest woodlands. They were headed by a chief serjeant, also called the chief forester, who held a small manor in St. Briavels by his service and enjoyed valuable privileges, including an allowance of venison. He performed his duties on horseback, whereas the other serjeants went on foot, and he appointed an under-forester, known as the bowbearer. There were as many as 11 other serjeants-in-fee during the 13 th century, and five or more of them held small estates in St. Briavels by the service.

William de Dunes, a younger son of the family bought land in Pott Shrigley. His son William had about 20 acres which may have been land assarted out of the forest for he was fined by the Forest Court for trespass. Robert Downes, who died in 1436 acquired the manor of Worth in Poynton through his marriage to an heiress, Agnes Hulme. He was also an hereditary forester and had additional land at Upton in Macclesfield. The family used the main church of the area, Prestbury, for burials even after they obtained permission for a chapel of ease at Pott Shrigley in 1492. It was built by Geoffrey de Doune, who left a will dated 7 Henry VII (1492).

In 1553, Robert Doune or Downs, then the heir of the estate, was disinherited for refusing to marry and the estate passed to his younger brother, Lawrence, who married Elizabeth Legh, sister of Sir Peter Legh of Lyme. Their son, Roger, married Anne Warren of Poynton.

During the Civil War, the family were royalists. William, who died in 1645 and Laurence, who died in 1661 fought and the family were fined during the Commonwealth period and their land sequestered as they could not pay. The family regained its lands at the Restoration and a younger brother, Edward succeeded Laurence in 1661. At this period of financial difficulties the family was unable to pay dowries for their daughters to marry into the gentry and they married men in the professions.

Edward Downes (1662-1747) brought land at Nether Padley in Derbyshire to the estate from his marriage. Peter Downes (1724-1791) had two sons and six daughters. His eldest son, Edward, died a bachelor in 1819 having sold Worth to Sir George Warren of Poynton. He sold Pott Shrigley to William Turner MP for Blackburn. Edward’s younger brother, Peter, had been a midshipman on the Leander and died of his wounds after the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. Edward and Peter have memorials at Pott Shrigley church.

The following family tree of the Downes of Shrigley is taken from Earwaker's East Cheshire, page 321.

 

 

Downes Monument spacer Inscription
Downes Monuments   Detail of Downes Monument

 

The Downes Monument at Prestbury appears at first glance to have an epitaph in mysterious hieroglyphics. However, the monument was not intended to be viewed against a wall but on the ground. As shown in the photograph at the lower left, when the inscription is seen upside down it can be read as "Hic iacent Robtus Dounes armigr et Matilda" or "Here lie Robertus Dounes, armiger and Matilda." Raymond Richard's book states that the inscription is to Robert Dounes and his son, who died in 1489 and 1495 and their respective wives. The wife of the younger Robert appears to be Emmota, daughter of Roger Bouthe.   These individuals are shown in the family tree in generations 6 and 7.

The Downes Family of Taxal

Below I show the family tree of the Downes of Taxal and Worth, simplified from the account given in Earwaker's East Cheshire.  It shows how the Downes of Pott Shrigley are connected.  The family estates were sold in 1691.

Sir Reginald Downes

Effigy of Sir Reginald Downes?

The effigy shown above is at the north side of the sanctuary in St. Michael's, Macclesfield.  It bears two cards, one stating that it is an unknown knight and one that it is Sir Reginald Downes but without any dates for him.

Sources:

The Buildings of England, Cheshire, by Nikolaus Pevsner and Edward Hubbard, Yale University Press, 2003, ISBN 0 300 09588 0
Old Cheshire Churches, with a supplementary survey of the lesser old chapels of Cheshire, completely revised and enlarged by Raymond Richards, first published in 1947 and reprinted by E. J. Morten, Didsbury, 1973.
East Cheshire Past and Present by J.P. Earwaker, London, 1877 (CRO, Knutsford). This is widely regarded as the best work on East Cheshire of the 19th century. It is useful for family trees of landed families. Now available from the Family History Society of Cheshire on CD ROM .
Notes from Cheshire Gentry by Clare Pye a series of lectures held underr the aegis of  Wilmslow Guild, at Poynton, Autumn 2005.

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