Bryn Hall and the Holy Hand

Bryn Hall Ashton-in-Makerfield

Bryn Hall, in Ashton-in-Makerfield, is well-known for the legend of the Holy Hand which was kept here for decades, reverently wrapped in a white silk bag. This hand was a relic of martyred priest Father Arrowsmith, who was killed in 1628 because he was of the Catholic faith.

Edmund Arrowsmith,whose given name was Bryan, was born in Haydock in 1585. He assumed his new name when he was confirmed; Edmund was the name of a favourite uncle. He trained as a Catholic priest on the continent before returning to England to fulfil his mission, settling in Brindle. The Blue Anchor pub in Brindle was the centre of his network for the landlord was a sympathiser and those requiring Father Arrowsmith’s services could call for him there.

All was well until Father Arrowsmith discovered that the landlord’s son had married a first cousin and, compounding the heresy, the marriage had been performed by a Protestant. Incensed, Father Arrowsmith told the boy that the marriage must not be consummated until Rome had pronounced the union valid in the eyes of God. This was enough for the boy to betray Father Arrowsmith‘s Roman Catholic faith to the authorities, who sent soldiers to arrest him. Warned of his impending capture, Father Arrowsmith rode quickly through Brindle but was captured when his horse refused to jump a ditch on Brindle Moss.

Father Arrowsmith was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle and condemned to death. He was executed in August, 1628. In time, he would be beatified and after his death, many relics of the Saint made their way to churches for preservation. It is said that just before his death he begged the attending clergy to preserve his right hand, promising that it would have the power to effect miraculous cures.

The ‘Holy Hand’ was first preserved by Father Arrowsmith’s family, who cared for it for many years at Bryn Hall and later at Garswood. Pilgrims who came secretly to touch the hand claimed it had miraculous powers of healing and as this legend spread, the fame of the Holy Hand grew. People claimed relief from all kinds of maladies and even impending death and it was one of these cases which, in 1736, became the Holy Hand’s first accepted miracle. Young Thomas Hawarden had a persistent fever and had gradually lost the use of his limbs, being unable to walk or even stand. His mother drew the Holy Hand up and down Thomas’ back, reciting a prayer all the time, until at last Thomas declared that he thought he could stand up – and he promptly did so.

Another miracle cure is in the records; that of Mary Fletcher, who was cured of convulsions in 1768. She had suffered dreadfully and was confined to bed, her Doctor saying there was nothing more to be done for her. The Holy Hand was brought to her bedside by her brother and Mary prayed to it sincerely whilst it was applied to her body. The very next day, Mary was up and about again, helping her siblings with the housework and the baking.

These cures were formally witnessed by gentry and by priests. One priest, who had witnessed Mary Fletcher’s cure, had need of the Holy Hand himself when he had a life-threatening disease of his throat. He was cured with a single touch of the miraculous relic. As late as 1872, miraculous cures were still being reported. A destitute woman from Wigan called Catherine Collins, who had been forced to enter the workhouse because she was too sick to make her own way in the world, was cured of paralysis by the Holy Hand. This cure was reported in the Daily News.

However, there are also stories which illustrate how irritated the servants at Bryn Hall must have been by the constant stream of hopeful sickly pilgrims, because they fashioned a large wooden hand, with which to beat those they judged unworthy of the real thing!

The miracles attributed to the Holy Hand led to Father Arrowsmith being ratified as a saint in 1929. His Holy Hand is still renowned for its powers of healing.

It is also said of Father Arrowsmith that he cursed one of the sheriffs who attended his execution, a member of the Kenyon family, because he would not grant a small favour before he was killed. Father Arrowsmith promised that although the Kenyon family would have heirs, they would all be crippled and infirm. According to the story, this was indeed the fate of the Kenyons…

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Bowdon Church and the Mummy’s Hand


There’s a Victorian tale about a Bowdon lady who visited Egypt and brought home a gruesome souvenir; a mummy’s hand. She displayed it proudly in her drawing-room under a glass dome and it was, no doubt, an intriguing conversation piece.

Unfortunately, the real owner of the hand clearly disapproved of its new resting-place and the Victorian lady suffered bad dreams, night after night, until she was quite ill through lack of sleep. Finally, she decided she must be rid of the ghastly object and so, one night, when the rest of Bowdon was in bed, she carried the mummified hand through the town to the old churchyard and reverently dug a small grave for it, with a spoon.

The hand’s original owner must have been satisfied with this attempt at a decent burial, for the Victorian lady rested well after that. And as far as anyone knows, the mummy’s hand rests in Bowdon churchyard still.

Image Copyright David Long and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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The Tale of Fox Robin


St Peter’s Church, Westleigh

In Westleigh, Greater Manchester, Fox Robin is a well-known name. Fox Robin was a farmer and Fox Robin Fold was his farm; the land was bought in recent years by Westleigh High School and is now the site of art rooms, language rooms and a humanities department. The old farmhouse which once stood here is all but forgotten, but the name is remembered in the name of one of the new buildings; Fox Robin Building.

Fox Robin himself was a crotchety old farmer; he was bad-tempered, selfish and not without his violent side, if the stories are to be believed. For there are plenty of stories.

The only visitors Fox Robin allowed to visit him were Widow Peggy Farrington and her son Roger and that was only because Peggy was his housekeeper and Roger his farm servant. Fox Robin had never married and his only relations were cousins and half-cousins whom he never saw, having long ago upset them all one way or another. He knew, though, that they would soon rally round if they heard he was dead, for he was sure they were waiting impatiently to inherit his house and whatever riches he had managed to tuck away.

One day, Fox Robin brought home a coffin and laid himself out in it, on his bed. Finding him thus, Peggy sent young Roger running to call for his cousins. A funeral was quickly arranged and the burial carried out and back to Fox Robin’s house came all the cousins, intent on searching the place for hidden treasure. They were no sooner inside the house, however, than they all ran away again – for there was old Fox Robin himself, sitting by the fire smoking his pipe. The coffin they had buried had been full of nothing but stones.

Within a year Fox Robin did actually, really, die and young Roger called the cousins together again. This time the cousins made sure Fox Robin was really dead, nailed his coffin shut themselves and kept watch over it until it was safely buried in the churchyard. Back they went to the house, sure that this time the place and all its contents were theirs for the taking. Not so! A lawyer met them at the door and informed them that Fox Robin had left all his land and possessions to young Roger and his mother – unless any of the cousins could raise enough money to pay off the mortgage. The mortgage was three hundred pounds, which was far beyond their reach. And so the cousins inherited nothing.

However, the fact remained that the hefty mortgage must still be settled. How could young Roger and his mother be expected to manage it? Manage it they did, with the help of Fox Robin’s ghost, who appeared to Roger several times before he realised that maybe he should not simply run away, but watch the ghost carefully. The ghostly Fox Robin led young Roger to a particular old oak tree and pointed to it meaningfully. Roger dug down to the roots and there he found a great box, which he carried home. When Roger and his mother Peggy opened the box, they found it was full of gold pieces. It was Fox Robin’s treasure, which he had so carefully hidden from his grasping cousins. Roger and his mother were easily able to settle the mortgage and they lived in the farmhouse for the rest of their lives.

A slightly different version of the story of Fox Robin and his treasure tells how he dug his own grave, intending to bury his treasure there, thus keeping it away from his relatives. He worked for so long that he fell asleep in the deep hole and was discovered by the innkeeper, who immediately ran to tell everyone he knew that Fox Robin was dead. Then he ran swiftly back to the open grave, where Fox Robin strangled him and buried him, along with the treasure, in the grave. The villagers who came to the churchyard saw nothing but a filled-in grave, but they believed Fox Robin was there under the mound of earth. When Fox Robin walked into the Inn, therefore, everyone ran away, sure they were seeing his ghost!

After his death, Fox Robin’s ghost continued to be seen, sometimes, walking the paths from the Inn to his farmhouse. It was said that he was also to blame for the state of some of the villagers, who, after spending all evening in the Inn, arrived home rolling drunk and covered in grass stains and scratches. It was all the fault of Fox Robin’s ghost, they said, who had dragged them through a hedge, backwards.

Whilst researching this story, another Fox Robin Fold came to light – in Pontefract in Yorkshire. This is quite a coincidence as Fox Robin is hardly a common name – I wonder if similar stories are attached to that place?

This article was first published on 2017.
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The Park Mistress of Hornby Park

Hornby Park © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This little ghost story has some folk elements which are hard to ignore. A woman named Meg Brackin was out in Hornby Park one evening, looking for kindling for her fire. She came across another woman and wondered what she was doing there, as the day was ending and it would soon be dark. She spoke to the woman, who then came close to her and took hold of her hand – and that was the beginning of a dreadful experience for poor Meg.

An old poem, in local dialect, describes how the strange woman in a white dress (who was in fact a ghost) gripped Meg’s hand tightly and led her on a break-neck journey through the Park, ignoring pathways and plunging through brush and brambles without stopping even to drink at the stream. Indeed, Meg grew so thirsty that as the night wore on she was obliged to drag the hem of her dress through the dew-soaked grass and suck the moisture from it. The ghost would not let Meg rest until daylight came again – at which point she vanished. It is said that Meg had always been a well-covered lady, but after the awful experience of running about the country all night, she was thin.

The white lady, known locally as the Park Mistress, is believed to be the ghost of Lady Harrington, who was, allegedly, a murderess. We are not told who was the victim of her murderous tendencies; perhaps she was in league with Lord Monteagle, who allegedly murdered her brother?

However, Meg Brackin certainly lived; the records show that she was born in 1745, and died in 1795.

Image © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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Fairies in Sacks – Poachers Beware!


In his book Welsh Folklore, published in 1887, Elias Owen mentions the following story from Llandrillo in Denbighshire:

Nearby was a little valley called Cwm Pennant, after the river which ran through it, and the valley was believed to be the home of fairies. One day, two men were otter-hunting in this valley when they saw a little red creature run across a field and hide in some tree roots on the riverbank. They were doubtful that this was an otter, as to their knowledge otters were never red, so they decided to catch the animal alive, so they could examine it. One of them covered one hole under the tree roots with a sack, whilst the other poked a stick down another hole, until at last something rushed out of the first hole and was caught in the sack.

The men began to carry the sack home but were very surprised when they heard a little voice saying “My mother is calling for me; oh, my mother is calling for me!” In their surprise they dropped the sack and out of it came a little man, dressed in red – obviously a fairy – and he ran away.

I was thrilled to read this tale, because a very similar story can be found in Lancashire – in two different places. The first story is set in Hoghton, in an area where the old and well-used rabbit warrens were once home to many fairies. Once there were two poachers who knew this area well, but they had been caught poaching once too often and their dogs and their nets had been taken from them. Undeterred, they went rabbit-hunting again, with only a ferret and a couple of sacks in which to store their booty. They knew the best place to hunt and so it wasn’t long before their ferret had rooted out the inhabitants of a warren and with their sacks over the entrance holes, it was a simple job to catch their quarry. However, they could not see exactly what they had caught.

They were walking home, with the sacks slung over their shoulders, when one of them heard a voice from his sack calling out, ‘Dick, wheer artta?’ At once another voice called out from the other sack; ‘In a sack, on a back, riding up Hoghton Brow!’  Shocked, the poachers dropped their sacks and ran away.

Next day, they retraced their steps and found their abandoned sacks, neatly folded by the side of the road. And that was the end of their poaching days; the sacks were used for potatoes and the men went back to earning an honest living with their weaving looms.

And here’s the same story, set in Barley. A pair of poachers once caught a couple of fairies. One night, they had crept to a rabbit warren, put their sacks over the rabbit holes and left them there until they could tell by the feel that they had caught something. They tied the necks of their sacks, slung them over their backs and set off for home. Walking back up the steep hill to Barley, they remarked to each other on the noise their catches were making and then were even more astonished when the squeaking noises coming from their sacks turned into little voices! One voice called out, ‘Where arta? Where arta?’ And the other answered, ‘Here I am, in a sack, going over Barley Brow!’ The poachers dropped their sacks and ran.

Isn’t that marvellous? I am quite used to finding the same story told in towns which are just a few miles apart, but to find this one in Lancashire and then hundreds of miles away in Wales, brings me great delight. I can only hope you find it just as interesting!

Image Melanie Warren all rights reserved.
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Weir… and perhaps a witch…

Weir, Bacup

In Weir, an area of Bacup, there was once a young woman who was married to an old man and dissatisfied with her lot. When night came she would steal away from her husband’s bed and go wandering, but where she went was a mystery.

A neighbouring farmer was suffering nightly visitations from someone – or something – that would overturn milk cans and steal the cream. One night he stayed awake with his son, determined to catch the thief. In the early hours of the morning, a black cat crept in through a window and the farmer and his son attacked it energetically with pots and pans. At last the cat, battered and bruised, managed to escape.

Next morning, the old man made no comment as he watched his young wife bathing her cuts and bruises. He had a feeling she would never be wandering abroad at night again.

© Copyright robert wade and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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A Boggart Did It – Proved In Court!


In 1869, a court in Blackburn pronounced, amazingly, that a boggart had been responsible for breaking numerous windows in the Union Buildings. A respectable-looking man called George Hindle had been accused and taken to court. The court heard how windows had been broken by stones every night for several weeks, to the great expense of the residents. The disturbance had been so bad that a reward was offered to anyone who could reveal the assailant, who had always vanished before he could be spotted.

Finally, George Hindle was arrested by PC Livesey, who had been instructed to keep the buildings under constant watch. His evidence was that he had seen Hindle go into his brother-in-law’s house, from where he sent a stone flying at the opposite house. A moment later, Hindle came out of the house and picked up the stone again. However, that was the only point at which the Constable could say he had actually seen Hindle with a stone in his hand – not actually in the act of throwing it, but with it in his hand.

Hindle vehemently protested his innocence. He said that the stone had been in his hand because the Constable had asked people to collect the offending stones and give them to him as evidence. He said that, despite his innocence, he would rather pay the costs of the broken windows than be standing where he was that day; in court. In his defence, it was pointed out that the reward money had been doubled by the prisoner himself and, moreover, windows in his own house had been broken by the mysterious stone-thrower. Also, since Hindle had been in custody, more windows had been broken. Witnesses were also brought forward who said that they had been standing with Hindle when stones had come through their own windows – it could not have been he; it must have been a boggart.

Incredibly, the end result of this court case – which caused much laughter in the court-room – was that the magistrate had no recourse but to pronounce that a boggart had indeed been responsible for breaking the dozens of windows! George Hindle was released without charge.

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