Penwortham – a Fairy Funeral

Penwortham St Marys Churchyard MotteNear St Mary’s Church, be wary of laying eyes on the Fairy Funeral, for such a sighting foretells your death!

It is said that two men were walking this way late one night, at the dangerous hour of midnight. One of them was old and one was young, but neither was happy to hear the church clock chime twelve times. They curbed their fear and carried on walking – and then they heard another bell tolling, a bell which they quickly recognised as the passing-bell. Neither man had ever heard the passing-bell at that time of night before, but out of habit they stopped and listened and counted the number of times the bell rang out, for they know it would toll once for each year of the life of the poor departed. The poor departed, it turned out, was exactly the same age as the younger man and this saddened them, for the younger man was no great age at all. But as there was nothing to be done at that hour, they set off again on their journey home.

They had not walked far before they saw, coming towards them, a tiny man dressed in blue, chanting as he walked. The older man immediately recognised that this was a fairy, and from the chanting he guessed he must be leading a fairy funeral. He told the younger man to hide against the hedge with him, for if they were not seen, no harm would come to them. And so they stood quietly, watching a whole procession of tiny fairies pass by them, bearing with them a coffin which was open. They managed to catch a glimpse of the contents of the coffin as it passed and, to their horror, they saw that the face on the corpse was none other than the younger man!

The younger man ran forward, calling to the fairies to tell him how long he had left to live, but he received no answer, for as soon as they heard his voice, they vanished away.

Every day after that the younger man grew more and more morose, expecting that any day now his life would end, as indeed it did, about a month later when he fell hard from a haystack. His funeral passed along the same route where the two men had seen the fairy funeral that night, and the older man was one of his pall-bearers…

Visitors to this place should also visit the nearby mound which bears the name of Castle Hill. The mound did hold a castle in Saxon and Norman times, but nothing of that now remains. The castle was built soon after the Norman invasion of 1066, by Roger of Poitou, to whom this land and much more was given by William the Conqueror. The castle’s purpose was to guard the ford crossing the river, close by. It became less important after Lancaster Castle was built and was left to decay. There is a possibility that the mound was also a prehistoric tumulus.

A little distance from the church, there was once a well dedicated to St Mary, which according to local people had miraculous healing properties. It was paved over in the middle of the 19th century, however, as too many travellers were polluting it by using it to bathe themselves. The stone trough in which the water gathered was removed and access to the water was reduced to an unremarkable pipe. It was situated on Penwortham Brow, by the side of the road, and its position can possibly still be seen today as there is a depression in the ground which is almost always full of water.

Finally, it has been reported that in the area of the well, Roman Soldiers have sometimes been seen.

Image © Copyright Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

About LancashireFolk

Lancashire folklore, legends, ghosts, local history - author of 'Lancashire Folk' published by Schiffer Publishing 2016 - 9780764349836 £19.50. Please visit to see upcoming books. The Enchanted Valley and Manchester Folk will be published in 2020. Cumbria Folk almost ready!
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