Our History

Our History

St. James’ Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Chester on 19th August 1851. It was the first and is still the only church in Westhead and Lathom. Originally known as St James Lathom the parish is now called St James Westhead to avoid confusion with Lathom Park Chapel, which was connected to Lathom House.

Prior to the building of the church, Westhead and the surrounding area was part of the extensive parish of Ormskirk. To attend church was often difficult, inconvenient and for the elderly, infirm and sick, it was an impossible journey.

The efforts of the Rev. E. J. Hornby, vicar of Ormskirk, the support of Lord Derby, the social conditions of the time, the growth of nonconformism and the building of Roman Catholic Churches finally enabled the building of a new and much needed Anglican church here in Lathom.

The land for the church was given by Lord Skelmersdale (Edward Bootle-Wilbraham, 1st Baron Skelmersdale), the occupant of Lathom House. The sandstone for the building was given by Edward Stanley of Cross Hall who owned the quarry in Ruff Wood whilst the entire cost for the building of the church, estimated at £3000, was defrayed by the Earl of Derby. He also gave £1000 for an endowment fund.

Only the best would do for the Earl of Derby so the famous and well respected architect Sydney Smirke was chosen to design the church. He was instructed that the church was to have a steeple and a side aisle and the windows were to be in the early 14th century style.

A visitors’ guide to St James’ Church can be viewed and downloaded here.

Incumbents of St James' Church

The history of the incumbents of St. James’ Church begins in 1851 when Rev. Blenkinsop was made Curate in Charge after St. James’ Church had been consecrated by the Bishop of Chester on 19th August.

The complete list of incumbents is as follows:

1851 – 1856Rev. E.C.L. BlenkinsopCurate in Charge


1856 -1860Rev. J.A. KershawCurate in ChargeView Image
1860 – 1891Rev. J.A. Kershaw  VicarView Image
1892 – 1902Rev. E.E. WoodVicarView Image
1902 – 1906Rev. A.H.HigsonVicarView Image
1906 – 1936 Rev. E.D. JordanVicarView Image
1936 – 1953Rev. J.C.G. MercerVicarView Image
1953 – 1958Rev. D.B. GriffithsVicarView Image
1958 – 1964 Rev. J. BackhouseVicarView Image
1964 – 1968Rev. G.R. AllenVicarView Image
1968 – 1974Rev. D.C.W. PostVicarView Image
1975 – 1982Rev. S.R. SmithVicarView Image
1983 – 1990Rev. J.C. RimmerVicarView Image
1990 – 1997Rev. N.T.B. DeaneVicarView Image
1998 – 2007Rev. D.G.T. TowlerVicarView Image
2007 – 2016Rev. G.A. MilfordVicarView Image

Village History

Westhead is incorporated within the parish of neighbouring Lathom, which has a long and illustrious history.

The following is taken from the website “Lancashire On Line Parish Clerks” with acknowledgement and gratitude:

“A township, two chapelries, and a sub-district, in Ormskirk district, Lancashire. The township is in Ormskirk parish, lies on the river Douglas, the Leeds and Liverpool canal and the Southport and Manchester railway. It is located some 4 miles ENE of Ormskirk, contains a considerable village of its own name, which was once a market-town and encompasses the hamlets of Westhead and Newburgh, the latter of which has a station on the railway.

Post-town, Ormskirk. Acres, 8,651. Real property, £20,545; of which, £274 are in mines, and £20 in quarries. Pop., 3,385. Houses, 631.

The chief landowners are the Earl of Derby and Lord Skelmersdale. The manor belonged formerly to the Lathoms and the Stanleys, ancestors of the Earl of Derby; passed in 1714, by marriage, to the third Earl of Ashburnham; went afterwards, by sale, to Sir Thomas Bootle; and passed again, by marriage, to Richard Wilbraham, Esq., ancestor of Lord Skelmersdale.

Lathom Castle, the ancient baronial mansion, had eighteen towers, and was surrounded by a fosse 24 feet wide; gave entertainment to Henry VIII.; was defended for three months, in 1644, by Charlotte, Countess of Derby, with 300 men, against Sir Thomas Fairfax, with 3,000 parliamentary troops; was besieged again, next year, by General Egerton, with 4,000 troops; made such resistance as to destroy about one-half of the besiegers; surrendered finally from failure of ammunition; and was dismantled by order of parliament.

Lathom House, the seat of Lord Skelmersdale, was built on the site of the castle, in the middle of last century, after designs by Leoni; is a stately edifice in the Grecian style, 156 feet by 75; was recently improved; and stands in an extensive park.

Blythe Hall is the residence of the Hon. Mrs. Wilbraham. There is a mineral spring.
The chapelries are Lathom St. John and Lathom St. James; they and the chapelry of Newburgh are aggregately onterminate with the township.

Lathom St. James was constituted in 1860. Population 914. Houses, 162.The living of L-St. John is a donative, and that of L-St James is a vicarage, in the diocese of Chester. Value of the former, £150, of the latter, £90. Patron of the former, Lord Skelmersdale; of the latter, the Rev. J.A. Kershaw.
The church of L-St. John and ten alms-houses stand in Lathom Park, and were founded in 1500.
The church of L-St. James is a handsome edifice, in the early English style, with tower and spire. There are a mixed school supported by Lord Skelmersdale, and two endowed national schools with £50 and £40 a year.”

The Village and World War I

To mark the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1, St. James held a commemorative remembrance service and held an exhibition of memorabilia of that date.
Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium on 3 August 1914 and when the country ignored Britain’s ultimatum to withdraw by the end of the following day, the British Government declared war.

The end of this war is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. While this official date to mark the end of the war reflects the ceasefire on the Western Front, hostilities continued in other areas..
At the start of the war Westhead was a small rural village with outlying farms and cottages.

But, despite this, when Lord Kitchener called, more than 100 young men served in the armed forces.
Of the 100, 16 never returned, whilst many others returned injured and unable to continue with normal life.

The First World War hit all levels of society – high and low – sometimes with catastrophic effect. For example:

  • The Alty family of Wigan Road lost three brothers.
  • Lord Lathom of Lathom Park was involved (see his letter front page and back page) and Lathom Park itself was taken over as a remount depot for horses.
  • Those, like John Dutton, that worked at Lathom Park found themselves militarised overnight.
  • Some, such as Joseph Rimmer, found themselves in another theatre of war in the middle east. He, fortunately, came back safely from the war. While in Egypt, at one point, Joseph Rimmer and his colleagues were entertained by a concert party. To begin with these concert parties were not supported by the government, but some went ahead anyway.

At the end of the war, the government supported grieving families in visiting the battlefields and military cemeteries to see the grave of the loved one. World War 1 had a significant impact on society in all sorts of ways and, not least, in poetry that was birthed by the horrors of the battlefield, such as “In Flanders Fields”.