Radcliffe Tower and the sad tale of Fair Ellen


Radcliffe Tower stands on Church Street in Radcliffe, Manchester. This manor house was built in 1403 and it once had two towers and a moat but most of it was demolished in the 19th century. The remaining tower is now, fortunately, a protected site.

An old ballad tells the story of Fair Ellen who lived here and who was killed on the orders of her stepmother, who was racked with jealousy because her new husband loved his daughter so much. She then had some of Ellen cooked in a pie and served it to her father, claiming the meat was venison. A simple scullery boy had witnessed all this; indeed, he had been so distressed that he had begged to be killed in Ellen’s place, but the jealous stepmother would not change her mind.

When Ellen’s father was served with the grisly pie, he said he would not eat until his beautiful daughter Ellen had joined them at the table. The jealous stepmother had guessed that this might happen and explained Ellen’s absence by saying she had gone to live in a nunnery. Ellen’s father believed this tale, unlikely though it was, and was grief-stricken at the loss of his beloved daughter. He swore that he would not eat again until she was restored to him.

Ellen’s father kept to his word and refused to eat, for days and weeks. At last, the simple scullery boy confessed everything to Ellen’s father, including the fact that he had offered his own life in exchange for Fair Ellen’s. Ellen’s father was so incensed that he caused his wicked wife to be burned at the stake for her evil deed, and took the scullery boy as his legal son and heir.

Whilst this legend is almost certainly fictitious, it was memorialised in a popular ballad and so became believed as fact. A family tombstone, made of purest white alabaster and showing a medieval knight and his lady, in the church at Radcliffe, was said to show Ellen’s father and his unfortunate daughter, the whiteness of the stone representing the pure innocence of the pair. The memorial became badly chipped because of the many superstitious people who came to break off a small piece, in the belief that it would bring luck or perhaps effect miraculous cures. The damage was so great that the stone eventually had to be removed and placed beneath the floor of the church, to prevent it being destroyed entirely. When enough time had passed for the superstition to have waned, it was retrieved and rehomed in the chancel.

Today, Radcliffe Tower is said to be haunted by a black dog which, for some reason, is said to be connected to Fair Ellen. If it exists at all, it probably has a story all its own…

© Copyright David Dixon 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 www.foliatehead.com to see upcoming books. The Enchanted Valley and Manchester Folk will be published in 2020. Cumbria Folk almost ready!
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2 Responses to Radcliffe Tower and the sad tale of Fair Ellen

  1. Deanna L Roesler says:

    Yikes that’s quite a grisly tale for this morning but wow!


  2. Pingback: Guardian of Midnight Manor by Maeve Grayson – Upon a Midnight Deary highlight – 99 cents preorder – Aubrey Wynne: Timeless Romance…

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