The 17th and 18th centuries were bleak times for English Catholics. Brief spells of hope or optimism were lost in decades of harassment or insignificance. Throughout these years there was always a small Catholic presence in Parbold and Dalton, and quite a considerable one in the immediate neighbourhood. St. John Rigby, of Harrock Hall suffered martyrdom and of the Dicconsons of Wrightington, whose fidelity throughout penal days and whose charity in happier times we have ample evidence.
Blessed John Finch, a layman of Lane End House, Mawdesley, endured indescribable cruelty for his faith and was finally martyred at Lancaster, on April 20th, 1584. The Finches were related by marriage to the Venerable George Haydock, of Cottam, near Preston, a Douai priest, martyred at Tyburn on February 12th, 1584, and there were several Haydocks in Parbold.
The two most important sources for obtaining specific information about the state of Catholicism hereabouts are the account of the visitation and confirmations by the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Williams, O.P., in October, 1728 and the Return of Papists, 1767, Diocese of Chester, ordered by the House of Lords. The former deals with numbers, the latter actually gives names and occupations. We know that 172 persons were confirmed at Croston, some having traveled from Hindley and Ulnes Walton. At Scarisbrick 146 were confirmed including some from Burscough. 110 others from the vicinity of Ormskirk joined some from Warrington to be confirmed at Wolfall, Prescot, and there were 62 at Chamock Richard. The Wigan Catholics under the pastorate of Rev. Sir Piers Mostyn, SJ. presented 202 persons for confirmation.
From the 1767 Return we know that there were 34 Catholics in Parbold and 37 in Dalton. Wrightington contained 287. Their names in Parbold were Blackburn, Bullen (5), Cross, Comer (3), Dicconson (5), Goodham (4), Halton (6), Livesey (2), Pye, Rigby, Welch, Wilcock and several Wilsons. In Dalton were Bait, Bullen, Bullin, Green, Langton, Marrow (()), Mason, Rainford and ten Speakmans.
On the whole occupations were humble: blacksmiths, carpenters, cordwainers, gardeners, numerous servants and weavers. Neighbouring villages supplied a few gentlefolk and yeomen farmers, and Croston, Lathom and Scarisbrick actually boasted a priest.
The significance of these findings is that they show the strength of Catholicism locally, even though it might have been 150 years since a similar visitation and those named in the 1767 Report represent the very salt of the earth. After 200 years deprivation of all civil rights they were literally brave enough to stand and be counted. On a deeper level it is proved that the Catholic squirearchy was by no means the whole preservation of Catholicism. The poorest of the poor also played a creditable role while a good deal of tolerance by the Established Church might come as some surprise. But most impressive is the fact that even when times were at their worst local vocations never failed, and to that must be ascribed the chief reason of the survival.