The Davenport Arms, Woodford

Davenport Arms

This charming 18th century red-brick pub on Chester Road is more commonly referred to as ‘The Thief’s Neck’. This nickname refers to the insignia on the coat of arms of the Davenport family, which include a representation of a man with a rope around his neck. The Davenports were foresters to the King, that is, game-wardens for the forests of Leek and Macclesfield. As such, they had the power to punish poachers by hanging them.

Some say that a regular ‘court’ was held in the pub and offending poachers were hung from a tree close by. One tale associated with the pub and this awful practice tells of a young boy who was sentenced to hanging for unlawfully killing a deer. He was duly prepared with a hood over his head whilst the hangman was called to do his duty. Only when the boy was dead, taken down from the tree and his hood removed did the hangman realise that the poor boy was his own son.

A ghost story is also associated with one bedroom in the pub, whose atmosphere has caused distress to more than one resident. One man who stayed there explained how he had undressed ready for bed and hung his suit in the cupboard but once in bed he felt very uneasy. He could not explain why, except that he knew the cupboard itself had something to do with his discomfort. He even got out of bed and checked inside the cupboard but found nothing there apart from his suit.

The following morning, the landlord enquired if he had enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep and did not seem at all surprised when the answer was in the negative. The man then listened in shock to the landlord’s story about a maid who has worked here in the last century and who, it was believed, had been murdered. Her body had been hidden in that cupboard, where it had remained for some time.

Image cc-by-sa/2.0 – © David
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A Series of Terrible Events at Winstanley Hall


Winstanley Hall, in Wigan, was built by the Winstanley family who had owned the land here since at least the 13th century. The oldest part of the present hall was built in the middle of the 15th century. Other wings were added in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1855, Winstanley Hall was the scene of a series of terrible events involving the estate manager, Thomas Shortrede and his wife. Mrs Shortrede was found dead, apparently drowned, in a well on the estate. When it came to light that her husband had been unfaithful, it became obvious that Mrs Shortrede had taken her own life when she discovered the affair.

Thomas Shortrede’s lover was Mrs Atherton, wife of the mason who also lived on the Winstanley Estate. As the story of the death and her own infidelity spread, Mrs Atherton could not bear the scandal and her partial responsibility for Mrs Shortrede’s death, so she then took her own life by hanging herself.

Finally, Thomas Shortrede was publicly shamed in church the following Sunday by Canon Howard St. George and he found this so unbearable that he also lost interest in living and shot himself. The court investigating his death recorded an ‘open verdict’.

Naturally, Winstanley Hall is haunted and the string of deaths in 1855 are said to be responsible – although, as none of those involved actually lived in the hall, it is unclear how they could cause the shadowy figures seen at the deserted windows of the building.

There is also one ghost which is unconnected to the scandalous murders; the ghost of a white pony called Dick. The pony belonged to Squire Banks and died in 1841. He was clearly a favourite as he was buried close to the hall and his grave can still be seen. A ghostly coach drawn by a white pony has sometimes been reported in the grounds of Winstanley Hall.

cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Andy
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Strange and Haunted Trees


Folklore Thursday’s theme for today is ‘Trees’ – I had no problem finding several remarkable trees in Lancashire and it was delightful to have a reason to gather them all together. Enjoy!

There are several hills around Carnforth; indeed the main street of the village is very steep. One hill on the north side of the canal was once known as Moothaw, a derivation of Moot Hall, for it is said that in ancient times it was a meeting-place for the local Saxon law court. On this hill there was also a magic tree. It was known as the ‘Shrew Tree’, because shrews and field-mice were habitually incarcerated within it as offerings to the spirit of the tree. This sacrificial act imbued the tree with magical properties so that a small twig could bring about healing in diseased cattle. It is recorded that the tree was ‘fed’ at regular intervals.

At Caton, standing next to the ancient Fish Stones, on which medieval monks from Cockersand Abbey would sell their catch, is a tree which is, unusually, a protected monument. Its age is all too readily obvious from its battered state and shrunken size, but that is forgivable as that plaque on it says it dates from ‘the time of the Druids’. The place where the Oak stands is the original settlement of Caton, a Norse name from Kati Ton. Modern Caton is on the other side of the Artle Beck.

A white lady has sometimes been seen on the road approaching this ancient place. Some drivers have been known to believe they have hit the woman, only to jump from their cars to investigate and find no trace of her at all.

In Chipping, Wolf House was so plagued by numerous boggarts that the local priest was called to turn them all out. The last boggart was laid under a yew tree by the gate of the farm with strict instructions that he should remain there until Chipping Brook ran dry. So seriously did local farmers take these instructions that they redirected field drains into the brook so that it would never run dry, even in the driest seasons. And when the yew tree was felled by a storm, it was replaced by a new yew sapling within hours.

Many years ago, the verger of Grindleton Church told how two boys had reported hearing fairy music in West Clough Woods, near Cat Steps, and had then seen little people dancing amongst the trees. The verger believed them because he had seen the fairies himself. Their coats had been green, their caps red.

Hurstwood’s boggart was either a black dog or a piece of white linen, depending on which version of the story is believed. It may have been this same boggart who is reported to have pulled the bedclothes off one family and which was often seen in an old yew tree, dressed in white. Hoggarth’s Cross is close to where the boggart was eventually ‘laid’, after it had promised never to cause trouble again as long as the stream through Holden Clough kept flowing.

In Melling, many, many years ago, throngs of people flocked to inspect a certain sycamore tree, as it had been reported far and wide that the sap exuding from the bark had fashioned itself into the form of a man’s face. What’s more, the face was recognised as a man by the name of Palmer, who had been buried without a coffin and was using this method to make his anger known. The contemporary report ends by noting that ‘inns in the area reaped a rich harvest…’

In Staining, the story of Staining Hall’s boggart seems to stem from the time of the Jacobite Rebellions, when many hundreds of brave men lost their lives fighting for their beliefs. The story says that a Scotsman was cruelly killed near Staining Hall and buried near a tree, in the vicinity of the old moat.

The ghost of the old Scotsman was seen many times over several centuries, a sad and forlorn figure wandering around the area, but as time passed his shade grew less distinct and appeared less often until finally it disappeared entirely. However, his memory was kept alive by the tree which marked the site of his burial, which perfumed the soil around it with the unmistakable smell of thyme. In those days, thyme was also believed to ease the passing of the dying and so was used to fragrance coffins. It was also carried by warriors as it was believed to magically impart courage – but the legend gives another reason for the scent at the Scotsman’s grave. It is said that his wife was travelling from Scotland to be by his side and he desperately tried to stay alive until she arrived. With his dying breath, he called out, ‘Time! Give me time!’

Image: Melanie Warren 2015
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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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