A question for English/UK members

. . . . .More specifically, for any members who are of English, Welsh, Scottish ancestry (ethnicity) and currently living in the UK:

I know that there has been a large number of Irish immigrants in England for decades now, who probably consider themselves to be both English and Catholic, due to their nationality. But I was wondering if there are any non-Irish/non-other immigrant English/Welsh/Scottish people on here who are Catholic and have always been Catholic (ie: not converts)?

If so, I would like to hear a bit about your family backgrounds.

How did your families manage to maintain their Catholic faith uninterrupted throughout the centuries?

Are there any Catholic enclaves in England, where a sizeable portion of the population has held the faith as a minority amidst a Protestant majority? And if so, was there ever any persecution against them, or have they just quietly observed their faith over the generations?

If they were always practicing Catholics, did they tend to keep it to themselves?

I thought I remembered hearing once that Wales had a larger number of Catholics - is that correct? And if so, is that in any way tied to the stories I’ve heard about shipwrecked survivors of the Spanish Armada (if there is indeed validity to those stories)?

No offense to any Brits of Irish descent - you’re welcome to reply as well! - I was just curious about getting the perspective on the history of non-convert ethnic English/Welsh/Scottish Catholics.


(Mods, please remove my post if I put this in the wrong forum :))

Many of the more ancient noble families remained Catholic as did many peasant farmers in the north of England. They had to pay fines & keep a low profile.

Check out ‘Recusancy’ in Wikipedia for a detailed map of the densities % of RCs during those harsh Penal Times. Most people now admit that Shakespeare was a closet catholic.

This is a good question I’d like to hear especially from Irish members.
When I dug into my ancestry I rarely came across any of my Irish ancestors who were NOT Catholic. I did encounter a few who were Anglican (which to the Irish was tatamount to betraying your ethnicity, no insult to Anglicans). I also found one ancestor with my last name who was a Quaker. Digging into history I discovered that during the Great Hunger the Quakers assisted many of the victims. Many showed thier gratitude by becoming Quaker.
Fascinating stuff.

Thank you for bringing this up, as I am of Irish/English/Scottish/Spanish descent, and my family is Catholic and Quaker. Great subject.

I’ve never heard of the term “Recusancy”, and I’ll certainly look into it.


Yes, I imagine the Irish in America felt comfortable enough to retain their religion because of constitutional protection.

BTW, I welcome replies from Protestant Brits as well, who may have knowledge on the subject matter.:slight_smile:

When the First Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549 it was not well received in Devon and Cornwall which were areas of Catholic loyalty. As a result, The Prayer Book Rebellion/Prayer Book Rising ensued. Cornwall was also a Celtic land, many people still speaking the Cornish language. Another possible cause for the uprising was the desire of the Cornish to have independence from England. The Cornish were concerned by the introduction of English for church services in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. This was another threat to the Cornish identity. Glasney College (suppressed under Henry VIII) had been an important cultural centre which had produced a important cycle of Mystery Plays in the Cornish language. Fortunately these survive but we can only guess at what might have been lost as a result of the suppression. The Catholic Church had been sympathetic to Cornish culture and language - the new English regime was not.

Two staunch Catholic landowners were amongst the leaders of the Cornish uprising, these were Sir Humphrey Arundell and John Winslade. The uprising was brutally suppressed by the English who also brought in German and Italian mercenaries to deal with the situation. Well over 5000 ‘rebels’ lost their lives. It is believed that of the Cornish contingent, this represented about 10% of the male population of Cornwall.

There were pockets of recussants in Cornwall. In the early days amongst the best known were the Tregians of Golden Manor who sheltered the Catholic Priest Cuthbert Mayne. (now St Cuthbert Mayne). Mayne was at first a Priest in the Church of England but was later ordained as a Catholic at Douai and was one of the first Seminary Priests. He was martyred for the faith (hung, drawn and quartered) at Launceston in Cornwall. As was the custom at that time, his head and quarters were exhibited at various places associated with his “crime”. One of Cuthbert Mayne’s quarters was hung on a bridge at Tregony close to Golden Manor as an example and warning to others.

Failure to conform to the Church of England and to attend its services resulted in heavy fines. Often it was the case that only the wealthy land owners were in the position to afford being recussants.

The Arundell family of Lanherne in Cornwall were also a well known, wealthy recussant family. In the 18th century, Lord Arundell gave Lanherne to some Carmelite nuns who fled from Belgium during the Revolution in France. The Carmelite Sisters are still there but I gather their future is uncertain.

My dad’s mother’s family were always Catholic. They had escaped to Wales and lived in Anglesey.

Both my grandfathers were English Protestants, and one great grandfather was the grand master of an Orange Lodge in Liverpool.

My mum’s mother’s family were from Ireland and so Catholic.

My protestant grandfathers both became Catholic before they married may grandmothers, and both were subsequently shunned by their families.

Good thread Triumph guy.

I’m sure we’ve discussed recusancy together before.

I intend to focus more on the Recusants during my Master’s degree.
I believe Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire and Scotland (and, as has already been mentioned, to a certain extent the West Country) were bastions of Recusancy.

You will notice that these places are far away from London and that Recusancy tends to increase the further from London you get. This proves that the Anglican story of the population joyfully throwing off Catholicism is a complete lie.

Never heard of any Catholic areas of Wales. North Wales now has a strong presence but I think that dates from the 1800s.

My parents are Irish. I, like yourself, am fascinated by English Catholics who are not of immigrant descent. It must have been a difficult thing to keep the religion in the family over so many generations.

Lancashire and Cheshire were Catholic centres. Look up some of the English Martyrs and it will give good info on where the Catholics were. Many were hanged drawn and quartered in Lancaster Castle.

Eg., St. Ambrose Barlow from Barlow Moor in Cheshire (now inside Greater Manchester). I went to St. Ambrose School and Church when I was a kid.

Lancashire might have been where my ancestors lived after they fled Ireland. Haven’t nailed it down though. So that makes a lot sense.
I’m curious as to whether Irish Catholics, who were refugees, were treated differently from English Catholics. I wonder if there was a class distinction?
I believe my ancestors were VERY poor and the branch I am looking at worked in a cotton mill, including the children.

They probably would have landed in Liverpool and there was lots of work in Lancashire in the mills, with the biggest cities being Manchester and Liverpool and lots of mill towns all around.

Until the late 18th century English Catholics weren’t allowed to own land so they would have been poor too.

My Irish ancestors worked in an aristocratic house when they came to England and even though husband and wife were not allowed to live together or to see each other except once a week and then only with a grate between them.

We felt comfortable enough (those Irish who are Catholic, Irish does not of course automatically mean Catholic although it is sometimes assumed it does) to retain our religion in Ireland at high risk to ourselves. We never abandoned our faith and even when priests were forbidden from preaching or we were not allowed Churches we found ways around that via such things as the ‘Mass rock’ where boulders and similar objects were used as altars. Nor were all non-Catholics oppossed to turning a blind eye at times as the penal laws that caused such problems for Catholics also had clauses in them concerning Presybterians and other dissenters for many years until the British used divide and conquer to alienate the two sides as much as possible. There had always been some opposition between them but events such as 1798 and the ensuing legal ramifications owing to British changes to the law and the act of Union in 1801 drove that wedge in very deeply. We are still feeling the effects of that int today’s Ireland in fact.

More on topic though there were indeed a number of English Catholics who never gave up on the faith and this is why you have such historical oddities as the ‘priest hole’


During An Gorta Mor (I wil not use the term you used to refer to this period in Irish history on principle although I accept others use it innocently when doing so) the Quakers earned a great deal of respect by putting their own lives at considerable risk treating those dying and suffering from contagious diseases. A quite large number of Quakers died doing so and unlike some of the other denominations since they did not try and prosleytise whilst aiding people they suffered none of the ill will that was directed towards those groups that did. There are a number of well known Irish Quakers, Richard Allen who was a notable campaigner against slavery is one of the key figures amongst the Quakers who organised relief during An Gorta Mor.

As a piece of pure trivia the Irish Volunteers who later became the original IRA was actually founded by a Quaker.

Catholic schools I’ve worked in around here include St Margaret Ward, St Richard Gwynn and St John Plessington. All English and Welsh martyrs.

Oddly, the two closest Catholic highs to where I live, Chester and Ellesmere Port, have not taken saints’ names and are simply called Chester Catholic High and Ellesmere Port Catholic High.

St. John Plessington on Sharston Mount?

Edited: No, sorry, that school was in Wythensahwe.

No. St John Plessington in Bebbington on the Wirral.

A rare example of a Catholic school that is actually Catholic. A very good place that is giving me hope for the future of Catholic education.

Thanks for the info Jharek.
When I was ancestor digging I did find one fellow who shared my last name who was a member of the Molly Maguires in 1870s Pennsylvania.

My great grandfather must have learned the blacksmithing trade at some point, because that is what he did when he arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1880s. It must have been quite a change too as the south side of Pittsburgh, in those days called Birmingham, was crowded with Catholic immigrants from all over the world. They had opportunities undreamed of in Europe at that time.

Thank you all for the replies, so far. I look forward to researching some of this information more deeply during Christmas break!

Good point.:slight_smile: This also brings up a related question regarding North Ireland. Will have to start another thread on that!

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