The building known as Astley Hospital, on Ley Road in Astley, is in fact an ancient manor house; the inscription on the lintel informs us that it was erected in 1650, by the Mort family. It was built on the site of an earlier hall and was originally called Dam House, after the nearby dam which powered a corn mill. In 1893 the building became a hospital and when the hospital closed in 1994, a Heritage Trust was formed to preserve the building for use as a community centre.
The gardens surrounding the community centre are open to the public. They are also haunted by a Grey Lady; Anne Mort, of Dam House. Anne’s family was rich, influential and Catholic, so her father was outraged when he discovered that Anne had become romantically involved with James Speakman, a young labourer who lived with his family in an untidy cottage nearby. James was clearly not a suitable match for Anne and her father forbade the pair to meet, but nothing he said could turn the young lovers away from each other. They continued to meet in secret, walking the paths that crossed the moss around Dam House, until Anne’s father decided he must take more drastic action. He went to James’ father and arranged to move the whole family to another of his estates, in Lymm, well away from Dam House. James was not informed until the last minute and when Anne went to find out why she had not heard from him, she found the cottage empty.
Anne never forgave her father and never forgot her love for James; she walked to his old home every day and wandered the paths they had walked together, gradually losing her mind. She died of her grief when she was only eighteen.
Now, Anne Mort is more commonly known as the Grey Lady, who walks in the grounds of Astley Hospital and the many paths and lanes nearby. She has been seen near the canal, around the old Leigh Grammar School and crossing Marsland Green. Those who have seen her – including a selection of burly workmen – say that she glides along, casting her eyes from side to side as if searching for someone. We know, of course, that the one she seeks is James Speakman, her true love.