Oliver Marton of Yorkshire (1668), whose ancestors are understood to have arrived in England with the Norman Conquest, bought the 13th-century Capernwray Old Hall and estate in the early 1700’s. He, and subsequent family members, held various local positions including representing the Crown in the Lancaster area, clergy at the priory, and members of parliament.
It was George Richard Marton who, around the beginning of the nineteenth century, made moves to obtain ground on the banks of the River Keer where the present Hall stands. An Act of Parliament in 1805 gave him the right to enclose some of the common ground and so commenced the first construction of Capernwray Hall. His son, another George, took over tenancy of the estate in 1843. He made plans for an extension to the Hall and some of the present buildings were erected during the early years of his tenure.
As well as representing Lancaster in Parliament for ten years, George Marton was High Sheriff of the county in 1858. He added to the estate with the purchase of Borwick Hall and also built the family Chapel in the park.
Following his death, his son, a third George Marton enjoyed a time of prosperity at the Hall and again added to the building. He also arranged for the building of Borwick Railway Station to facilitate the freighting of farm produce as well as racehorses taken regularly to Epsom.
Edward Sharpe was the architect, and in about 1820, Capernwray Hall became the stately home of the Marton family, built at that time for a family of 5 with 30 servants. The whole estate was much larger than just Capernwray Hall, comprising some 27 or so farms in the area, plus Borwick Hall just down the road.
A fourth George witnessed the decline of the family’s prosperity, and no Martons lived at the Hall after 1939. During the Second World War, children from the Ripley Hospital Trust in Lancaster occupied the premises.
A new purpose
Around the same time Major Ian Thomas, who was at that time serving with the British Army in Germany, was longing for a place where young people could come for not only a good holiday, but somewhere they could hear clearly the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives, he sent a telegram to his wife, asking her to go and bid for Capernwray Hall at the auction.
Into the Town Hall at Lancaster on the day of the auction came a reluctant Mrs Joan Thomas, little knowing or realising the full significance that day was going to have for her, her family, and for thousands of people from every corner of the world.
The successful purchase of Capernwray Hall meant that Major and Mrs. Thomas could begin to see fulfilled what they believed was God’s new purpose for the property: to make it a place where young people could come and stay and be introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reaching the world
The first ten guests from Britain arrived in May 1947 and since then many thousands have passed through our doors. After the end of the War, a link was forged with Germany, and the British Foreign Office assisted in paying for German young people to visit Capernwray as part of a re-education programme. Through these visits many came to discover that it is possible to know God through Jesus Christ; and as a result of these initial overseas contacts the Capernwray Missionary Fellowship of Torchbearers was established.
Starting in the winter of 1949, the early years of Capernwray Bible School were intended to meet the need for further teaching of young Christians from the Continent, many of whom had taken their first steps in the Christian faith while on holiday at the Hall.
The story goes on…
Now each year about 250 students from 30 countries come through the Winter and Spring courses to study the Bible. Similar centres, also seeking to serve Christ and His Church, have opened in more than 25 other locations around the world.
Capernwray continues to offer holidays throughout the year, catering for a mixed age range of young people, families and a cross-section of adults. Guests come from around the United Kingdom and from overseas, including many from Germany, still maintaining a link that goes back now for more than 60 years.
The ongoing aim of Capernwray, and the staff involved in the variety of programmes here, is to give people from all walks of life the opportunity to hear the life transforming message of Jesus, to deepen their relationship with him, to grow in their understanding of the Bible and be equipped for the Christian life.