Kilgrimol – The truth behind Blackpool’s drowned village

The tale of the village of Kilgrimol, lost Atlantis-like to the waves off Blackpool, seems as outlandish as any. However, on digging deeper, there seems to be some truth to the story. Commonly remembered in Blackpool and Lytham St Annes, the legend goes that the village of Kilgrimol stood amongst the sand dunes between St Annes and Squires Gate, close to the modern site of Blackpool Airport. While the original legend states that the village was swallowed by an earthquake, which seems unlikely, other tellings suggest it was claimed by the sea during a violent storm. Since then, the bell of the former Kilgrimol Chapel is said to peel from beneath the waves during moonless nights. Less common is the claim that ghostly sea shanties can be heard, carried in by the sea winds.

Kilgrimol seems to be tied to the norse history of the area. Translating the name, which is recorded in monastic charters as Kilgrimhow, sheds some light on its origin. ‘Kil’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘keeil’, referring to Celtic or Norse chapels roofed with the keel of a longboat. ‘grim’ is likely a personal name, while ‘how’, or ‘hough’, refers to a burial mound. Hence, we have a chapel, built by a norseman called Grim on the site of a burial mound. This character is referenced in old legends surrounding the Fylde Coast, as written by Reverend Bulpit in his work ‘notes on the Fylde’ in 1879. In it, he speaks of Grim, the priest of Kilgrimol, driving evil spirits that plagued the native britons into the marsh waters of Marton Mere, which in modern times is a bird reserve. 

In the same tale, ‘Grim’s oratory’, likely referring to Kilgrimol, is said to have stood at ‘Cross Slack’. During the 14th century Edward II awarded the estate of Lytham to monks from Durham, establishing Lytham Priory. In records of that transaction, the northern border of Lytham is recorded as running from ‘Kilgrimol cemetery’. It is likely that the chapel itself had already been destroyed by the 14th century, but the cemetery remained. This coincides with Ordnance Survey maps from the 1840s, which record ‘Cross Slack’ as the name of an area between Blackpool and St Annes . This places Kilgrimol at the northern end of modern St Annes, where appropriately, one of the residential streets is named Kilgrimol Gardens. 

So, there appears to be reasonably strong evidence for the village of Kilgrimol having existed, or at least a chapel of sorts under that name. However, its eventual fate, and whether it truly was consumed by the sea, seems to remain a mystery. The steady rise of the sand dunes in the area also raise the possibility that it was simply buried. However, the name continues to live on in Lytham St Annes, including the aforementioned Kilgrimol Gardens, Kilgrimol Masonic Lodge and Kilgrimol Girl Guides.

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