Recently, whilst researching for Manchester Folk, I came across an intriguing mention of a ghost known as Red Clogs. No detail was given but with a little research, I discovered that he wasn’t called that because he wore red clogs – although his clogs were indeed red. Red with blood.
The story, brief though it is, says that a poor collier lost his life when working with a mechanical coal-washing hopper, which would wash soil and rock away from the coal and then crush it into chunks using rotating blades at the bottom of the machine. The collier leaned in to clear away an obstruction and fell. His feet were badly mutilated and so, naturally enough, his ghost was always said to be wearing blood-soaked clogs.
Most versions of this tale say that it occurred at Alexandra Pit at Whelley, near Wigan. Miners soon learned to blame any strange occurrence below ground on Red Clogs, and above ground his ghost is said to haunt the area known as Whelley Plantations.
However, Red Clogs is also claimed by Pidgeon Pit, close to Alexandra, Blundell’s pit at Pemberton, Bryn Pit, a pit at New Springs and by Taylor Pit in Wigan where it was said he was hit by a landslide. His ghost has also been reported in Foundry Lane, Pemberton, where the remains of several mine-workings still lie.
Further afield, in Merseyside, Red Clogs is said to haunt an old pit in Haydock, at Sutton Manor colliery and also Garswood colliery, where the collier is said to have either been ‘chopped up’ by machinery or simply fallen down a lift shaft.
As I continued to dig for information, I found that the ghost of Red Clogs is also said to haunt the brickworks on Walthew House Lane near Kitt Green, where the red clogs are explained as being stained with brick dust. At Marsh Green, children were discouraged from playing in the old clay pits at the redundant brickworks by stories of Red Clogs. At yet another brickworks (unnamed), the story says that the man died in an accident involving a conveyor belt and night-workers reported seeing his red clogs walking along the belt.
And in Lancashire, Victory Park football ground in Chorley is said to be haunted by the ghost of a workman who died whilst erecting the floodlights. His injuries caused blood-loss – and some of the blood stained his clogs. His name was Johnny, so of course he became known as Johnny Red Clogs. I think it’s likely that he was so named after the more well-known pit ghost.
Another, less gory story explains the Red Clogs in this manner… a young Pemberton boy was given some new clogs by his mother but was unwilling to wear them because they were not the usual black leather but red. His fears were realised when his school-friends taunted him about his pretty red shoes but when he complained to his mother she gave him no sympathy. Clogs were the chosen footwear of the poor because their wooden soles did not wear out; the iron patches on the bottom of the shoes could easily be replaced when they became too thin. And as the boy’s mother was indeed poor, she simply could not afford to buy more clogs for her son; he would simply have to wear them. The boy suffered constant bullying until at last he could bear no more and took his own life in Porter’s Wood. He was found by other children, coming home through the wood at the end of the school day.
I can imagine that children were undoubtedly entranced by this story, with which they could identify, especially if they were playing in Porter’s Wood. As time went on and the tale was retold by these children, it once again changed detail and location – Red Clogs was said to haunt a certain bridge in Aspull and children warned each other never to go under the bridge after dark… and more than one grown-up in Wigan remembers believing that Red Cloggs was a ghost who haunted the cellar of Dolly Gray’s sweet shop on Platt Lane!
This is a fascinating example of how a story, which may really be based on a horrible fact (the nasty death of a coal-miner) can morph into a ghost story and, as time passes, turn into an urban legend to rival any I have come across. It has travelled from the Greater Manchester area north to Lancashire and west to Merseyside. Where else does Red Clogs haunt? Let me know!