Ormskirk is a market town in West Lancashire, England. It is situated 13 miles (21 km) north of Liverpool city centre, 11 miles (18 km) northwest of St Helens, 9 miles (14 km) southeast of Southport and 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Preston. It has been the seat of the local district municipality, or borough, of West Lancashire since the adaptation of district government in 1974. The population of Ormskirk was just over 24,000 in the census of 2011. (Source:City Population website)
Ormskirk is famous for its gingerbread.
Prior to the nationwide municipal reorganization that took place in 1974 Ormskirk was an urban district and absorbed the neighbouring urban district of Lathom and Burscough in 1931. In the 19th century it was a Poor Law Union [see History section below] and the location of the Union Workhouse from 1853.
The name ‘Ormskirk’ is Old Norse in origin and is derived from Ormres kirkja, from a personal name, Ormr (which means "serpent" or dragon), and the Old Norse word for church. Ormr may have been a Viking who settled here, became a Christian and founded the church but there are no other records or archeological evidence to support this and Ormr's identity is unknown.
There is no reference to Ormskirk in the Domesday Book of 1086 but it has been suggested that it may have been part of Lathom at that time. In about 1189, the lord of Lathom granted the church of Ormskirk to Burscough Priory, which does suggest that Ormskirk had been subordinate to Lathom before that date.
An open market is held twice-weekly, on Thursdays and Saturdays, in the pedestrianised centre of Ormskirk. The location was originally the junction of the main roads to Preston, Liverpool and Wigan, and was marked by a market cross until it was replaced by the current clock tower in the nineteenth century. The market was established by a Royal Charter that was granted by Edward I of England in 1286 to the monks of Burscough Priory. Thursday has been market day in Ormskirk since at least 1292. The King also granted a borough charter to Ormskirk at about the same time, but this seems to have become extinct by the end of the fifteenth century.
The Ormskirk Poor Law Union was established in 1837, covering 21 parishes and townships from Tarleton to Simonswood, and from Birkdale to Skelmersdale. Ormskirk Union Workhouse was built in 1853 on Wigan Road and later became Ormskirk District General Hospital.
With its weekly markets, the town became a focal point for local farmers and their agricultural workers, cottagers, cow-keepers etc. to trade their goods and obtain necessities from the markets and from the retail establishments which were established along with public houses and inns. An engineering industry, based on making and mending agricultural machinery also developed.
Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul
The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is believed to be on the site of the original kirk, on a sandstone outcrop, and is the oldest building in the town. Its exact age is unknown; the building does contain some fragments of Norman architecture.
The parish church has many connections with the Earls of Derby and the Stanley family. Many family members are buried in the church's Derby Chapel, including Thomas Stanley, the first Earl, who caused Richard III to lose his crown by changing sides at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and the Royalist James Stanley, the seventh Earl, who was beheaded at Bolton in 1651 after the Civil War. His body is buried in one coffin and his head in a separate casket.
This is one of only three parish churches in England to have a tower and a spire, and is unique in that it has both at the same end of the building. (The other two are St Mary's Church, Purton and St Andrew's Church, Wanborough, both near Swindon, in Wiltshire). Legend has it that Orme had two sisters, one who wanted a tower and one who wanted a spire, and Orme built both to please both. Regrettably, the truth is not so romantic. The 'steeple' dates from the early fifteenth century, but the original blew down in 1731 and was rebuilt between 1790 and 1832. The large west tower was added to the church around 1548 to house the bells of nearby Burscough Priory following the dissolution of the monasteries. One of these bells can still be seen in the church.