Colonel Francis Towneley

Colonel Francis Towneley:
where’s your head at?

by Simon Entwistle

Colonel Francis Towneley
“Squire Ketch in Horrors”, a pro-Jacobite satirical print of 1750. Executioner John Thrift is confronted by his Jacobite victims, including Lovat (front), Kilmarnock and Balmerino (immediately behind Lovat) and Towneley and Fletcher, their heads on spikes at the rear.

We always associate the Jacobite rebellion with the Scottish Highlanders, but there was an English regiment of foot soldiers who fought with the ‘Young Pretender’s army in 1745. An exceptionally brave officer, Colonel Francis Towneley of Towneley Hall, Burnley led them.

Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. He was on a mission to put a Stuart, namely himself, on the throne of England and restore the Catholic faith across the land.

The Highlanders gathered and invaded England overwhelming any opposition. This invading army marched down Shap Fell and into the town of Kendal. Waiting for them was the Mayor of Kendal, Mr. John Firth. He was an excellent negotiator. “Take all our food, all our alcohol, but please leave our women alone,” he pleaded.

The Prince and the clansmen respected this and advanced through Kendal without causing the residents any harm. It was in Kendal that the Prince proclaimed himself King of England.

The invasion crept south and into the city of Lancaster. Colonel Towneley and his Manchester regiment, who were all Englishmen, joined the clansmen. Colonel Towneley could speak fluent French and had no difficulty in conversing with the Young Pretender.

He felt very proud to serve under him. They advanced to the city of Derby for a conference. Meanwhile, in the city of London there was total panic, persons horrified about losing their savings to the Scottish hordes were besieging the banks.

On the other side of the channel the French army were just waiting to invade. All they wanted was the signal to set off across the channel.

In Derby there was a heated exchange of words amongst the Highlander officers, and a huge decision was made to retreat to Scotland. No one really knows why this decision was made. It could have been overstretched supply lines or perhaps a fear of what lay ahead of them. Certainly, the Duke of Cumberland and General Wade had organised their battalions to put up resistance or to push them back north.


The Prince sadly said, “Gentleman, we shall regroup in the Highlands and attack the English in areas not known to them.” The huge army set off home, by the same route that they had made their invasion a short time ago. The Scots on reaching Kendal this time were cold, hungry and in no mood to negotiate with the town’s Mayor.

The main route to Scotland was through the town centre and an area known as Finkle Street. The Kendal residents were very aware that this time the Scots would be extremely aggressive – in a rape, and pillage mood. The Mayor Mr Firth gave orders that all females must leave the town and shelter on the local fells. A barricade was quickly assembled at the top of Finkle Street, local men took up firing positions. Standing behind the barricade were three local lads whose bravery would go down in the town’s history, in a similar fashion to the famous Alamo story on the Mexican border.

Local men Summerville, Hayton and Storey took stock of their situation, as the first Highlanders made their way into the top of Finkle Street. Hayton shouted, “Fire!” The Kendal defenders’ fired, killing some 24 highlanders instantly.

They watched in horror as many more advanced to their positions. Hayton managed to re-load just in time to kill at point blank another Scot. The flood of Highlanders entering the street was too strong for these brave Kendal boys to hold. The Scots showed no mercy, but not before Hayton and his men had fixed bayonets. All three died in the defence of the ‘Auld Grey Town’, but in the town centre a legend was being formed.

Towneley Hall, Burnley
Towneley Hall, Burnley

The Carradus family consisted of Michael, his wife Edith and their three daughters. Michael insisted that his wife and daughters take shelter on the fells with the other women. His youngest daughter Catherine was five- years old and had almost knee length pure gold hair. Somehow in the panic to leave the town, she had become confused and had been left alone in the house. Outside, hordes of hungry dishevelled and foot sore highlanders made their way through the town, with the Duke of Cumberland’s Redcoats hot on their tail.

Five-year-old Catherine went downstairs to the front door, and as she opened it and looked outside, her appearance had an immediate effect on the highlanders. Various groups of them gave her a wide berth; some were incredibly scared of her. She stood there in her long white night gown, and as the wind caught her hair, she gave an angelic impression. Some of the Scots knelt in prayer, “Oh, Lord God has sent us an angel!” some cried out. Catherine’s presence had a huge effect on the town’s safety, and apart from the Finkle Street actions at the barricades the town was left relatively unscathed by this huge retreating army.

To this day the legend of the ‘Angel of Kendal’ is well known, and for many years the town had a public house called the ‘Angel’ on the very site of the old Carradus home.

As the last Highlander left the town, elements of the Duke of Cumberland’s Redcoats entered it, the Duke taking refreshment in the same building that the Young Pretender had also done so only a matter of hours before. He visited the barricades on Finkle Street and praised Hayton and his men who had given their lives to defend the town.

The Young Pretender and his bedraggled army reached the city of Carlisle and its historic castle.

Colonel Towneley and his Manchester regiment were ordered by the Prince to hold Carlisle and in effect act as rearguard for him and the highlanders to escape back to safety and in his case, to France.

The Colonel addressed his men, “Gentlemen we have been ordered to hold Carlisle at all costs.” His men took to the ramparts and their defensive positions. The same day they were attacked by the Dukes’ Redcoats, who outnumbered them some five to one, but the Manchesters put up stiff resistance, even though the journey from Derby had exhausted them. They held for three days, giving Bonnie Prince Charlie time to escape English justice.

Colonel Francis Towneley totally outnumbered, surrendered at Carlisle. They had no ammunition left, little food and had exhausted themselves. On being captured the Colonel demanded to be treated as a prisoner of war, informing his captors that he had served in the past as an officer with the French army. Although this was indeed true, he was informed that if anything, this statement would go against him. The Duke and General Wade told him that he was no prisoner of war but a common traitor.

The Colonel and what was left of his command were taken down to the city of London and thrown into Newgate Prison to await trial. He was paraded in front of a court held in the city in 1746, and along with his fellow officers, ordered to be executed by hanging, drawing and quartering, a particularly painful death.

Colonel Francis Towneley

The Colonel watched the execution of his fellow officers and bravely climbed up onto the execution rostrum. Watched by a huge crowd, he turned for a short while almost looking in the direction of Burnley and his beloved Towneley Hall. In seconds he was subjected to the sort of pain we can only imagine. His head was placed on a pike and put on display at Temple Bar in London for all to gloat over. His beloved wife Mary made the long journey from Burnley to remove her husband’s head and bring it back to the ancestral home.

There, the Colonel’s head was placed in a wicker basket with a napkin over it and on rare occasions inspected by family members. Years later the Colonel’s head was placed inside the chapel at the hall behind one of the many oak panels. And there it remained until the 1940s when an inquisitive person had mistakenly opened the oak panel. This person recorded that the skull had some matted hair still on it, and a large hole where the pike had gone through it in 1746.

It was then decided that the head be interned at St. Peters Church, Burnley, and to this day the head remains here. Towneley Hall is a truly excellent building and every room does indeed have a story to tell.

Colonel Francis Towneley was an excellent musician and could play the organ and spinet beautifully. It is said that during the retreat from Derby he stopped at Lancaster’s Priory Church and played the organ there. Years later the same organ found its way to Whalley Parish Church.

Towneley Hall is owned and run by Burnley Council and is also an art gallery. The building is closed every night, burglar alarms turned on and doors locked for the evening.

This is when Towneley comes alive with things from the other side. In 1984 there was a spate of alarms going off at the hall in the middle of the night. The police arrived with a member of staff to turn the alarm off. All the rooms were checked, and one officer ran up the twisting staircase to the long gallery. Just as he entered, he heard a spinet playing, from one of the many rooms on the gallery. Suddenly the music stopped. He instantly turned, and as he glanced to his right, he saw two persons in period dress. His first reaction was, ‘What’s going on? The building is locked.’ One of these characters, a male giving the appearance of Lord Percy from Blackadder bowed and grabbing the hand of his female partner simply vanished into thin air. Of course, no one believed the constable, but as he was given a cup of sweet tea to calm him down in the hall’s kitchen, he noticed a set of paperback books about the history of the Hall. He skipped through the pages. His jaw dropped as he looked at the portrait of Colonel Francis Towneley. He knew what he had seen that night, even if his colleagues did not believe him.