Padley Martyrs


When Mother told me that you would like to hear a talk on the Padley Martyrs I was interested because I knew nothing about them but I had heard that the Sheffield and Hallamshire Catenians attend an Annual Mass at the Padley Chapel and I need to know more.


It is interesting that in the talk I gave on Walsingham I mentioned that the eleven men who objected to the closure of the priory were put to death by Cromwell. I recall that at that point in the talk I said “there must have been throughout the kingdom, many other martyrs like the eleven at Walsingham who gave their lives for their faith. One would have to carefully research every small district in the country to ascertain the full extent of that martyrdom”. I didn’t realise how soon I would be doing exactly that.


The story of the Padley Martyrs contains great faith, betrayal, greed, the destroying of a will, the imprisonment of several who died without being freed, and the death of three Priests known as ‘The Padley Martyrs’.


The story starts in the 14th century where at the side of the river Derwent the Padley family built a house known as Padley Manor. It was built somewhere between

1350 and 1400. In 1499 it is recorded; ‘There were six acres of manorial grounds with terraced gardens, fishponds and a reservoir’. All that remains of that original property is the chapel.


Through marriage the manor house was passed from the Padleys to the Eyres and then to the Fitzherberts.. Eventually the manor house came to Sir Thomas Fitzherbert. In those days few men of his class attained the position of honour which he held. In 1546 and again in 1554 he had been the Sheriff of Staffordshire. He was a man of some local importance and a loyal supporter of the Holy Father; an exemplary Catholic. Sir Thomas had houses at Norbury and Hampsall Ridware but with the coming of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I he chose to live at Padley where he and his family could use the old chapel in the service of the old religion and no-one was the wiser.


Prior to 1582, although there had undoubtedly been sever penalties imposed upon Catholics in some parts of England, there had been no notable degree of persecution in the North, remote as it was from the affairs of London and the influence of the small minority of Calvinistic protestants who were calling for the total elimination of Catholicism in England. In fact, England had been fairly tranquil in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who often spoke against any blood-lust, promising Catholics their freedom as long as they behaved as good citizens. So life in Derbyshire continued more or less as normal under the assurances of the Queen and the natural tendency to regard anything from the South as ‘foreign’ and having little to do with it. Few attended the Anglican services and even fewer were penalized for it.


When persecution did reach Derbyshire it met with little or no local sympathy. It was imported trouble and harassment by, to use a modern expression: ‘the rent-a-mob’ from the south. The people in the High Peak behaved, during this period, as if the Government in London was ‘light years away’, and not worth bothering about. It is significant to know that, for the first twenty years of Elizabeth’s reign, the Hundreds of High Peak was a residence of the retired Catholic Suffragan Bishop Pursglove and it had Catholic clergy equal in numbers and certainly superior in quality to their hastily-recruited Anglican counterparts. Tideswell had a Catholic school where students kept up an almost complete boycott of the Sunday Services or the Book of Common Prayer. The first Penal Laws of 1559 left High Peak almost unscathed except for Sir Thomas Fitzherbert who in that same year, 1559, was imprisoned for not attending Anglican Services.


May I digress for a moment to compare things as they were in those days to how they are today. As we have heard the people in Derbyshire regarded the Government in London as being ‘light years away’ and took no notice of the laws which they enacted. The immediacy of news today is so different. When I heard that the two towers had been attacked in New York I immediately phoned my friend in Springfield Illinois USA.. We both had the scene on our televisions and were able to share the horror of what was happening. Such immediacy risks counter attacks and that is what happened when Holy Father Benedict XVI, during a lecture in Germany, quoted a statement made many years earlier in respect of Islam. That quotation was a tiny part of his lecture but the press, always looking for some way of igniting controversy, printed his words as if they were the main theme of his lecture. The results were appalling counter attacks by militant Muslims who demanded the death of the Holy Father who had not intended any insult to Islam and was deeply upset by the problems he had inadvertently caused. Today’s immediacy of news, fired by an irresponsive press, is dangerous.


Returning to the purpose of this talk: Things came to a head when Pius V wrote a ‘Bull’ purporting to release the Queen’s subjects from their allegiance to her. In reply Parliament passed an Act making it high treason to import Papal Bulls. The storm clouds really began to gather after penal legislation in 1581 when, unfortunately, papal policy in Rome gave the English Government sufficient grounds for considering all priests to be potential traitors. Pope Gregory XIII had appointed Cardinal William Allen to be Prefect of the English Mission. Cardinal Allen was a well-known supporter of Philip II of Spain’s claim to the English throne. Hence a further English Government act of 1581 made it high treason for anyone to reconcile an Englishman to the Catholic faith – a duty no priest could evade.


The first executions in York in 1582 showed that those living north of the Thames Valley could no longer consider themselves safe. A statute of 1585 made it high treason for a Jesuit or a seminary-trained priest to remain in or enter the Realm. This statute was enacted amid hysterical fears that Elizabeth would be assassinated by a Catholic conspiracy and Mary, the Queen of Scots placed on the throne. Mary had been enjoying relative freedom in the High Peak area in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury, riding the moors, moving between the castles at Sheffield, Chatsworth and South Wingfield, and going down to Buxton take the waters. But with the possible problem of insurrection she was removed to Fotheringay Castle where she could be kept under stricter confinement. Fifteen priests and laymen were put to death in 1586 and, before the end of the year Mary herself had been condemned to death her execution taking place on the 8th February 1587. On hearing the news of her death Philip II of Spain set in motion a train of events which twelve months later, were to bring active persecution upon the Catholics of Derbyshire. Early in June 1588 news was received that the Spanish Armada had set off from Lisbon. This brought about arrests of Catholic leaders on suspicion of promoting Spanish claims to the English throne. So it was that the drama began to move into Derbyshire.


This led to the Earl of Shrewsbury deciding that it was about time that he became involved in carrying out the Privy Council’s instructions. He made up his mind to do so when he heard gossip that his ‘laxity in these matters’ was being discussed.



You may recall that I have mentioned that in 1559 Sir Thomas Fitzherbert had been imprisoned for not attending Anglican Services. Now comes the greed and betrayal which I mentioned at the start of this talk. It gets a bit complicated and it took me some time to unravel it so I hope I can make it easy to understand.


Sir Thomas had married Anne, daughter of Sir Arthur Eyre and Padley Manor was his by right but, before his imprisonment, he had preferred to live at Norbury and, having no children of his own, had passed the tenancy of Padley to his younger brother John. But there was someone else who had their eye on Padley Manor and that was John’s traitorous son Thomas who, while his uncle languished in the Tower of London, had no problems of conscience in order to try and obtain Padley Manor from his father. He must have lost his faith and was easily persuaded by the Privy Council arch villain and priest catcher spy Richard Topcliffe to let the Earl of Shrewsbury know when his uncle John was in residence at Padley Manor. In fact ‘he had entered into a bond to give £3,000 to Topcliffe if he would persecute his father and uncle unto death’. Sir Thomas must have been aware of the treachery because whilst in the Tower of London he made a will disinheriting his nephew but Richard Topcilffe managed to get hold of the will and destroy it. On the 12th July 1588, working on information given by Thomas, the Earl of Shrewsbury led a raiding party to apprehend John but they also discovered two priests hiding in a chimney. They were Nicholas Garlic and Robert Ludlam two of the Padley Martyrs. It served Thomas right that he didn’t get his wish to live at Padley Manor. Richard Topcliffe took that for himself and Thomas went to live at the family home at Norbury.


John was taken to Derby prison and from there he was eventually taken to Fleet prison in London where two years later he died. Sir Thomas, with only three brief intervals of freedom, eventually died in the Tower of London in 1591, more than thirty years after his original arrest. A wonderful sacrifice for his faith.


The two priests were taken to Derby prison which was descried by Richard Topcliffe as ‘that foul hole Derby Gaol that always stank and bred corruption in the prisoners’, where they met up with a third priest, Richard Simpson. From there to their execution the three remained together and although there is no record of Richard Simpson having been at Padley Hall he is nevertheless counted as one of the Padley Martyrs otherwise his sacrifice would probably be lost. Also he had been born in Sheffield so he was very much local to Padley and the Peak District.


Richard Simpson had been in Derby gaol for about six months when Nicholas Garlic and Robert Ludlam arrived. He had been raised as an Anglican but converted to Catholicism for which it is said he suffered a long term of imprisonment in York. In 1577 he travelled to France where he studied at the English College at Douai and after his ordination the same year, (we notice how quickly ordinations took place) he returned to England and was next heard of in Lancashire in 1581. Four years later, he is known to have been in Derbyshire. It seems that he was travelling in the Peak District when he met up with someone who managed to convince him that he was a Catholic and to whom Richard revealed himself as a priest. At the next town the informer turned him in – probably in January 1588. He was condemned to death but weakened whilst in prison and agreed to discussions with his religious opponents and as a result was reprieved but not set free. At the arrival of Nicholas and Robert his determination returned and the three of them were united in their faith and in their martyrdom.


Nicholas Garlick was born near Glossop. He studied at Oxford for a short time, but left the University to take over the Free School at Tideswell to which he had been appointed. We have already heard that that school took no part in the mandatory Church Services or the Book of Common Prayer. Nicholas stayed there for seven years and it was reported ‘with great love, credit and no small profit to his scholars’. He left there in 1581 and crossed to Rheims to study for the priesthood. At least three of his pupils followed his example, one of them, Christopher Buxton, ultimately gaining the martyr’s crown. Nicholas was ordained priest in 1582 and returned to England early the following year. In 1584 he was captured but instead of the death penalty was shipped to France along with several others. Two days later he returned to England in the knowledge that he was coming to almost certain death. Thus was his great Faith. For a while he laboured in Hampshire and Dorset before returning to his native Derbyshire and to capture at Padley Manor.


Little is known of Robert Ludlam who is known as ‘the quiet one’ he was born around 1551. Even his place of birth is unknown. Some say it was at Radbourne near Derby others at Whirlow near Sheffield. He enrolled in St John’s College Oxford in 1575 and remained there for three years without obtaining degree, probably because, as with other Catholics, he didn’t want to have to take the Oath of Supremacy which accompanied the receipt of a degree. In November 1580 he entered the College at Rheims and was ordained the following year.. Then in 1582 he made his way back to England where his activities are unknown until his arrest at Padley Manor.


At their trial on the 23rd July 1588 Nicholas Garlic did most of the talking. He objected strongly to the accusation that he had entered the Realm to ‘seduce her majesty’s people’ and insisted that he had returned to England ‘not to seduce but to induce’ people to return to the Catholic faith. He continued that this was the sole reason for his priesthood and that he would continue to do so as long as he lived. Richard Simpson was asked whether he had anything to say but before he could reply, the judge ordered him to be taken away. Then Richard said ‘in that case in you, O Lord, have I put my trust. I shall never be put to shame’. Nicholas had the last word, however, he said on his way out from the court ‘Cain would never be satisfied until he had the blood of Abel’.


There is an anomaly which has taken me some time to understand. Let me explain. At the time of the Martyrs the judges who had the job of sentencing them could not understand that men could be good Catholic priests whilst denying the political activities of their superior in Rome. This was the dilemma of the martyrs of Queen Elizabeth’s time. They had to make this denial if they were to die as martyrs and not as traitors.


Rome had been issuing papal edicts and, as stated earlier, papal policy including the appointment of Cardinal Allen had given the English Government sufficient grounds for considering all priests to be potential traitors. That was the problem. If when questioned the priests accepted Rome’s political policies then English Law at that time meant that they were traitors – but if they denied papal policies then they would be put to death as Martyrs to their faith which is what they wanted. That may make it seem that the priests lied. I’m sure that is not the case. Papal policy in Rome hadn’t thought through the affect of its actions. If they had played a more softly, softly roll then the priests in England could have continued with their good work without enraging the English government into taking action. The authorities in Rome were far removed from the dangers of the priests working in England. So the priests, whilst not being disloyal to the Holy Father, would genuinely have thought that Rome had got it wrong and by a more thoughtful approach could have given them more time to carry out their spiritual clandestine activities.


The sentences of death by ‘hanging drawing and quartering’ were carried out the day after the trial. The place of the executions was St Mary’s Bridge, Derby. For a narrative of the executions we have the eye witness account of Robert Bagshaw, later to become the Benedictine President. Nicholas Garlick once again showed his readiness to talk, even in the face of death. While being dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution, a passer-by reminded him that they had often gone shooting together. The answer came immediately: “True but now I am to shoot such a shot as I never shot in all my life”.


Nicholas was the first to suffer. He unfortunately was hanged in his doublet, that is a short close fitting jacket and, after being cut down, it needed to be removed to make ready for the quartering. While this was happening he came to his senses before being disembowelled and was heard to speak to the executioners and those around him. We don’t really want to know that do we? But we ought to know how much he suffered in defending our faith. Richard Simpson went next dying with constancy and, some reports said, with cheerfulness. Robert Ludlam, the quiet one, who had witnessed the cruel butchery of his fellow priests, stepped forward and with a clear voice broke his silence. After praying he exhorted his hearers to repent and humbly seek God’s grace. Then he prayed for England, for the bystander, for his enemies and lastly, having commended his soul into the hands of his Creator and Saviour, he delivered himself to the executioner. With the face of a man who sees a vision of angels, and with the words “Venite benedicti Dei” (Come ye blessed of God) on his lips he passed to his reward.


The heads and quarters of the three Martyrs were set upon poles in various places around Derby, but were secretly removed by Catholics and reverently interred. The wonderful faithfulness shown by these priests made a great impression upon the people and it was said that many conversions resulted.


Father Henry Garnet, the superior of the Jesuits in England, adds an interesting detail about the three priests (and I have come across this in more than one report on the Martyrs.), for their last night upon earth, the priests were lodged in Derby Gaol in the same cell as a condemned murderess. In the course of the night they were able to reconcile her to God and on the scaffold the next day she openly confessed her faith.


In1888 the three Padley Martyrs were declared Venerable and were later Beatified by Pope John Paul II. So they are now known as the Blessed Padley Martyrs.


The story of Padley Manor from then until it came into Catholic hands is one of impoverishment . We have already heard that Thomas the betrayer did not get his hands on the Manor but instead the priest-catcher and spy Richard Topcliffe kept it for himself. Young Thomas died without issue. With the death of Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Shrewsbury a more tolerant order reigned which had little or no sympathy with villains like Topcliffe who, despite sending ‘sickly-humble-servile pleading’ letters to the new Earl of Shrewsbury was eventually ousted in favour of Anthony Fitzherbert the brother and heir of the younger Thomas, so he went  into peaceful possession. But as it passed through to other Catholic family members of the Fizherberts the fines for not attending Church of England services meant that the estate became impoverished and eventually had to be sold out of Catholic hands. By then the damage had been done and the only thing left was the Padley Chapel and some barns. It is coincidental that Slipper Chapel at Walsingham finally came to be used as cow shed and exactly the same happened to the Padley Chapel. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that Jesus was born in a stable. So he would have found himself at home in either the Slipper Chapel or Padley Chapel.


Prior to the Chapel coming back into Catholic hands many groups large and small, paid regular visits. The first organised pilgrimage took place in 1898 and from then on there were annual pilgrimages to honour the martyrs. How did Padley Chapel come into Catholic hands? Let us listen to the story of the Right Reverend Charles Payne, Vicar-General of St Mary’s Derby. “During the 1929 Pilgrimage as I stood by the chapel listening to the sermon and joining in the prayers, I resolved to try and restore the place to Catholic usage”. Eventually he was given permission to buy the whole estate but then he had to find a purchaser for the farmland. It took time but in 1933 the deal was completed.


On July 13th 1933 Holy Mass was offered for the first time since the reformation. The last time Mass would have been offered there was three hundred and forty five years earlier on 12th July 1588 when the raid on Padley Manor took place.

Missing from the chapel was the altar stone and during excavations it was discovered in a small open courtyard of the manor house by a distinguished specialist in the history and restoration of mediaeval buildings. When it was lifted and turned over there were the five crosses which indicated a consecrated altar. It must have been removed and buried there when the Manor was still in Catholic hands otherwise it would have been desecrated and broken up by Topcliffe and Shrewsbury’s men.


Visiting the Chapel today one sees memorials to Blessed Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam and there is a stained glass window depicting the Blessed Richard Simpson. The chapel is also the final resting place of Mgr. Payne through whose noble efforts the Chapel was restored into Catholic ownership. He had been buried elsewhere and in 1946 his remains were re-interred in the Chapel after the Bishop of Nottingham had obtained permission from Rome. The dispensation from Rome is in the Archives of the Diocese of Nottingham.


Finally, before giving this talk I was hoping to visit the Chapel. I managed to make contact with a key-holder only to be told that the Chapel had suffered a fire, thankfully not too disastrous, and the Chapel was closed for repairs. So my visit will have to wait for some time in the future.


Thank you Mother and Sisters for giving me such a fascinating subject to research.