Thought-wrapt, he wandered in the breezy
In which the summer, like a hermit, dwelt:
He laid him down by the old haunted springs,
Up-bubbling, mid a world of greenery,
Shut-eyed, and dreaming of the fairest shapes
That roam the woods.
Whiles glow'ring round wi' prudent cares,
Lest bogies catch him unawares.
WHEN one gets a
few miles off any of the populous towns in Lancashire, many an old
wood, many a lonesome clough, many a quiet stream and ancient
building, is the reputed haunt of some local sprite, or "boggart,"
or is enveloped in an atmosphere of dread by the superstitions of
the neighbourhood, as being the resort of fairies, or "feeorin." [p.1]
This is frequently the case in retired vales and nooks lying between
the towns. But it is particularly so in the hilly parts, where
the old manners of the people are little changed, and where many
homelets of past ages still stand in their old solitudes, and,—like
their sparse population,—retain many of their ancient
characteristics. In such places the legends and superstitions
of old Lancashire are cherished with a tenacity which would hardly
be creditable to the inhabitants of great cities in these days.
There still lingers the belief in witchcraft, and in the power of
certain persons to do ill, through peculiar connection with the evil
one; and the belief, also, that others,—known as
"witch-doctors,"—are able to "rule the spells," or counteract the
malign intents of necromancy, and possess secret charms which afford
protection against the foul fiend and all his brood of infernal
In the year 1842 I lived at an old farm called Peanock, up in
the hills towards Blackstone Edge. At that time a strong
little fellow, about twenty-three years of age, called Robin, was
employed as "keaw-lad" at the farm. Robin used to tell me
tales of the witches and boggarts of the neighbourhood. The
most notable one of them all was "Clegg-Ho' Boggart," which is
commemorated by the late Mr. John Roby in his "Traditions of
Lancashire." This local sprite is still the theme of many a
winter's tale among the people of the hills about Clegg Hall.
The proverb, "Aw'm here again,—like Clegg-Ho' Boggart," is common
there and in the surrounding towns and villages. I remember
Robin saying that when he had to go into the "shippon" early on a
winter morning, he used to advance his lantern and let it shine a
minute or two into the building before he durst enter himself, on
account of the feeorin which "swarm'n up an' deawn th' inside i'th
neet-time." But he said that "things o' that mak couldn't bide
leet," for as soon as his lantern glinted into the place he could
see "witches scutterin' through th' slifters o'th wole bi theawsans,
like bits o' leetnin'." He used to tell me, too, that a
dairy-lass at a neighbouring farm had to let go her "churn-pow,"
because "a rook o' little green divuls begun a-swarmin' up th'
hondle, as hoo wur churnin'." And then he would glance
fearfully towards a nook of the yard, where stood three old cottages
connected with the farm, in one of which there dwelt an agèd man, of
singular habits and appearance, of whose supposed supernatural
powers most of the people in that neighbourhood were in considerable
dread, and he would tell me in an undertone that the Irish cow "Red
Jenny," which used to be "as good a keaw as ever whisked a tail, had
never look't up sin' owd Bill glented at hur through a hole i'th
shippon wole, one mornin', as Betty wur milkin' hur."
Prejudices of this kind are still common in lonely nooks of the
Lancashire hills. "Boggarts" appear, however, to have been
more numerous than they are now, when working people wove what was
called "one lamb's wool" in a day but when it came to pass that they
had to weave "three lambs' wools" in a day, and the cotton trade
arose, boggarts, and fairies, and feeorin of all kinds began to flee
away from the clatter of shuttles, and the tired weaver was fain to
creep from his looms to bed, where he could rest his body, and weave
his fearful fancies into the freakish pattern of a dream. And
then, railway trains began to rumble through solitudes where "the
little folk" of past days had held undisturbed sway; and perhaps
these helped to dispel some of those dreams of glamour which had
been fostered by the ignorance of the past.
Far on in the afternoon of a summer day, I sat at tea with an
acquaintance who dwells in the fields outside the town of Heywood.
We had spent the forenoon in visiting Heywood Hall, and rambling
among its woods, and through a pleasant clough which winds along the
northern base of the eminence on which the old mansion stands.
We lingered over the afternoon meal, talking of the past and present
of the district around us; we speculated upon the ancient aspect of
the country, and the condition and characteristics of its early
inhabitants; we talked of the old local gentry, their influence,
their residences, and their fortunes; of remarkable local scenes and
men; and of the present features of life in these districts.
Part of our conversation related to the scenery of the tract of
hills and cloughs which comprises the country, rising northward up
to the lofty range of moorland which divides that part of Lancashire
from Rossendale Forest. Up in this romantic tract there is an
old hamlet called Grizlehurst. To a stranger's eye the two
quaint farmsteads which are now the sole relics of the hamlet would
be interesting, if only on account of the retired beauty, of their
situation and the romantic character of the scenery around.
Grizlehurst stands on an elevated platform of land called Birtle, or
Birkle, the place of birches. It is bounded on the north by
the ridge of Ashworth Moor and the lofty mass of Knowl Hill; and on
the east by Simpson Clough, a deep ravine, about two miles long,
running up into the hills. This glen of steep crags and
wood-shrouded waters is chiefly known to those who like rough and
lonesome country walks; and to anybody who loves to ramble among
such legend-haunted solitudes a moonlight walk through Simpson
Clough would be not easily forgotten. Grizlehurst stands about
a stone-throw from the western edge of the clough, and out of the
way of common travel. But it is not only the lone charm of its
situation which makes this hamlet interesting. Grizlehurst is
a settlement of the early inhabitants of the district, and was for
some centuries one of the seats of the Holt family, of Grizlehurst,
Stubley, and Castleton, in this parish,—a branch of the Holts of
Sale, Ashton, Cheshire. Some of this family fought in the
Scottish wars, and also in favour of the royal cause at Edgehill,
Newbury, Marston Moor, &c., and were named in King Charles's
projected Order of the Royal Oak. [p.5-1]
There was a judge Holt, of the Holts of Sale; and a James Holt,
whose mother was co-heiress to Sir James de Sutton. He was
killed at Flodden Field. Mary, the daughter of James Holt, the
last of the family who resided at Castleton Hall, in this parish,
married Samuel, brother of Humphrey Chetham. The manor of
Spotland was granted by Henry VIII. to Thomas Holt of Grizlehurst,
who was knighted in Scotland by Edward, Earl of Hertford, in the
thirty-sixth year of the reign of that monarch. The Holts were
the principal landowners in the parish of Rochdale at the close of
the sixteenth century. What remains of Grizlehurst is still
associated in the mind with the historic interest which attaches to
this once-powerful local family. The place is also closely
interwoven with some other ancient traditions of the locality, oral
and written. [p.5-2]
In earlier years I have often wandered about the woods, and waters,
and rocky recesses of this glen, thinking of the tale of the rebel
Earl [p.6] who is said to have
concealed himself, two centuries ago, in a neighbouring clough which
bears his name; and, wrapped in a dreamland of my own, sometimes a
little tinctured with the wizard lore which lingers among the
primitive folk of that quarter. But in all my walks
thereabouts, I had never visited Grizlehurst till this summer
afternoon, when, as we sat talking of the place, my curiosity
impelled me to propose an evening ramble to the spot from which we
could return, by another route, through Simpson Clough.
We were not quite half-an-hour's walk from Grizlehurst when
we started from Heywood, and the sun was still up in the heavens.
Half a mile brought us into Hooley Clough, where the road leads
through the village of Hooley Bridge. This village lines the
opposite banks of the Roch at that place. Its situation is
retired and picturesque. The vale in which it lies is
agreeably adorned with plantations and the remains of old woods, and
the whole scenery is green and pleasant. The village itself
has a more orderly and wholesome appearance than any other
manufacturing hamlet which I remember. The houses were clean
and comfortable-looking, and the roads in fair condition. I
noticed that nearly every cottage had its stock of coals piled up
under the front window, and open to the street; the "cobs" nearly
built up into a square wall, and the centre filled up with the "sleck
an' naplins." The whole population of the place was employed
in the cotton-mills which stand close to the margin of the river, in
the hollow of the clough.
We went up the steep road leading out of Hooley Clough
towards the north, emerging into the highway from Bury to Rochdale,
about a quarter of a mile from the lower end of Simpson Clough, and
nearly opposite the lodge of Bamford Hall. The country
thereabouts is broken into hills and glens, with patches of old
woods shading the sides of the cloughs. It is bleak and
sterile in some parts, and thinly populated over the whole tract up
to the wild moors. As we descended the highway into Simpson
Clough, through an opening in the trees, we caught a glimpse of
Makin Mill, low down in a green valley to the west. This old
mill was the first cotton factory erected in the township of Heap.
It was built about 1780, by the firm of Peel, Yates, and Co., and
now (1852) belongs to Edmund Peel, Esq., brother to the late Prime
Minister. Looking over the northern parapet of the bridge, the
deep gully of the clough is filled with a cluster of mills, and the
cottages attached to them. Woody heights rise abruptly around,
and craggy rocks overfrown this little nest of manufacture in the
bottom of the ravine. We climbed the steep road, in the
direction of Bury, and on reaching the summit at a place called "Th'
Top o'th Wood," we turned off at the end of a row of stone cottages,
and went to the right along a field-path which led to Grizlehurst.
Half a mile's walk brought us to two old farmhouses standing a
little apart. We were at a loss to know which of the two, or
whether either of them, belonged to Grizlehurst Hall. The
largest took our attention most, on account of some quaint
ornamental masonry built up in its walls, though evidently not
originally belonging to the building. We went round to look at
the other side, where similar pieces of ancient masonry were
incorporated. The building, though old, was too modern and had
too much barn-like plainness about it to be the hall of the Holts.
And then, the country around was all green meadow and pasture; and
if this building was not Grizlehurst Hall, there was none. I
began to think that the land was the most remarkable piece of
antiquity about the place. But one part of the west side of
this building formed a comfortable cottage residence, the windows of
which were full of plants, in pots. A hale old man,
bare-headed, and in his shirt-sleeves, leaned against the door
cheek, with his arms folded. He was short and broad-set, with
fresh complexion and bright eyes; and his firm full features and
stalwart figure bespoke a life of healthy habits. He wore new
fustian breeches, tied with black silk ribbon at the knees.
Leaning there, and looking calmly over the fields in the twilight,
he eyed us earnestly, as country-folk do when strangers wander into
their lonely corners. The soft summer evening was sinking
beautifully on the quiet landscape, which stretches along the base
of Ashworth Moor. The old man's countenance had more of
country simplicity than force of character in it; yet he was very
comely to look upon, and seemed a natural part of the landscape
around him; and the hour and the man together, somehow, brought to
my mind a graphic line in the Book of Genesis, about Isaac going out
"to meditate in the field at eventide." After we had sauntered
about the place a few minutes,—during which the old cottager watched
us with a calm but curious eye,—we went toward him with the usual
salutation about it being a "fine neet," and such like. He
melted at once from his statuesque curiosity, and, stepping slowly
from the threshold with his arms folded, replied, "Ay, it is, for
sure. . . . Wi'n had grand grooweather [p.9-1]
as week or two. But a sawp o' deawnfo' would do a seet o' good
just neaw; an' we'st ha' some afore lung, or aw'm chetted. Owd
Knowe [p.9-2] has been awsin
to put hur durty cap on a time or two to-day; an' as soon as hoo con
shap to tee it there'll be wayter among us, yo'n see." His
dame, hearing the conversation, came forth to see what was going on,
and wandered slowly after us down the lane. She was a
strong-built and portly old woman, taller than her husband; and her
light-complexioned face beamed with health and simplicity. The
evening was mild and still, and the old woman wore no bonnet, nor
even the usual kerchief on her head. Her cap and apron were
white as new snow, and all her attire looked sound and sweet, though
of homely cut and quality. I knew, somehow, that the clothes
she wore were scented with lavender or such-like herbs, which
country-folk lay at the bottom of the "kist," for the sake of the
aroma which they impart to their clothing. And no king's linen
could be more wholesomely perfumed. Give me a well-washed
shirt, bleached on a country hedge, and scented with country herbs!
The hues of sunset glowed above the lofty moors in front of us, and
the stir of day was declining into the rich hum of summer evening.
The atmosphere immediately around seemed clearer than when the sun
was up; but a shade of hazy grey was creeping over the far east.
We lounged along the lane, with the comely dame following us
silently, at a distance of three or four yards, wondering what we
could be, and why we had wandered into that nook at such a time.
After a little talk with the old man about the hay-crop, the news of
the town, and such like, we asked him whether the spot we were upon
was Grizlehurst; and he replied, "Yor upo' th' very clod."
We then inquired where Grizlehurst Hall stood; and whether
the building of which his cottage was a part had been any way
connected with it.
He brightened up at the mention of Grizlehurst Hall and,
turning sharply round, he said, with an air of surprise, "What dun
yo pretend to know aught abeawt Gerzlehus' Ho'? . . Not mich, aw
think, bi' th' look on yo."
I told him that all we knew of it was from reading, and from
what we had heard about it; and that, happening to be in the
neighbourhood, we had wandered up to see if there were any remains
of it in existence.
"Ay, well," said he,—and, as he said it, his tone and manner
assumed a touch of greater importance than before,—"if that's o' th'
arran' yo han, aw deawt yo'n made a lost gate. Noather yo nor
nobory else needs to look for Gerzlehus' Ho' no more. It's
gwon, lung sin'! . . . But yo'n let reet for yerrin a bit o' summat
abeawt it, if that'll do." He then turned slowly round, and,
pointing to a plot of meadow-land which abutted upon a dingle to the
south, he said, "Yo see'n that piece o' meadow-lond at th' edge o'th
green hollow theer?"
"Well, that's th' spot wheer Gerzlehus' Ho' stoode, when
aw're a lad. To look at't neaw, yo wouldn't think at oathur
heawse or hut had studd'n upo' that clod; for it's as good a bit o'
meadow-loud as ever scythe swept. . . . But that's th' very spot
wheer Gerzlehus' Ho' stoode. An' it're a fine place, too, mind
yo, once't of a day. There's nought like it upo' this
country-side neaw as heaw 'tis,—noather Baemforth Ho', nor noan on 'em.
But what, things are very much awturt sin' then. . . New-fangle't
folk, new-fangle't ways, new-fangle't everythin'. Th' owd ho's
gwon neaw, yo see'n; an' th' trees are gwon 'at stoode abeawt it.
The dule steawnd theem 'at cut 'em deawn, say I! [p.11]
An' then th' orchart's gwon; an' th' fruit-trees are gwon; nobbut a
twothre at's laft o'er-anent this biggin,—aw dar say yo seed 'em as
yo coom up,—they're morels. . . . An' then, they'n bigged yon new
barn upo' th' knowe; an' they'n cut, an' they'n carve't, an' they'n
potter't abeawt th' owd place, whol it doesn't look like th'
same,—it doesn't for sure,—not like th' same."
We now asked him again whether the large stone building in
part of which he lived had belonged to the old hall.
"Ay, well," said he, looking towards it, "that's noan sich a
feaw buildin', that isn't. That're part o'th eawt-heawsin to
Gerzlehus' Ho', yo may see. There's a window theer, an' a dur-hole,
an' some moor odd bits abeawt it, of an owdish mak. Yo con
happen tak summat fro thoose. But it's divided into different
livin's neaw, yo see'n. Ther's a new farmer lives i'th top end
theer. He's made greyt awterations. It's a gradely good
heawse i'th inside, if yo see'd through."
"Well," said I, "and what sort of a place was Grizlehurst
"What, Gerzlehus' Ho'?" replied he. "Well, aw should
know, as heaw 'tis, if onybody does. Aw've bin a good while
upo' th' clod for nought, if I dunnot. . . . Ay, thae may laugh; but
aw're weel acquainted with this greawn afore thae'rt born, my lad,—yers
to mo, neaw?" [p.12-1]
I made some excuse for having smiled, and he went on,—
"Gerzlehus' Ho' wur a very greyt place, yo mo depend.
It're mostly built o' heavy oak bauks. . . . There wur our Jammy
lad, [p.12-2] an' me, an'
some moor on us,—eh, we hap carted some of a lot o' loads o' fine
timber an' stuff off that spot, at time an' time! An' there's
bin a deeol o' good flags, an' sich like, ta'en eawt o'th lond wheer
th' heawse stoode; an' eawt o'th hollow below theer,—there has so."
"How long is that since?" said I.
The old woman, who had been listening behind us, with her
hands clasped under her apron, now stepped up, and said, "Heaw long
sin'! Why, it's aboon fifty year sin'. He should know
moor nor yo abeawt it, aw guess."
"Ay," said the old man, "aw've known this clod aboon fifty
year, for sure. An' see yo," continued he, "there wur a
shootin'-butts i' that hollow, sin' aw can tell on. An' upo'
yon green," said he, turning round towards the north, and pointing
off at the end of the building, "upo' yon green there stoode an owd
sun-dial, i'th middle of a piece o' lond at's bin a chapel yort,
aforetime. They say'n there's graves theer yet. An' upo'
that knowe, wheer th' new barn stons, there wur a place o'
worship,—so th' tale gwos."
It was clear that we had set him going on a favourite theme,
and we must, therefore, let him go on.
Turning his face to the west, he pointed towards a green
eminence at a short distance, and said, "To this day they co'n yon
hillock 'Th' Castle,' upo' keawnt on there once being a place theer
wheer prisoners were confin't. An' that hee greawnd gwos bi th'
name o'th 'Gallows Hill;' what for, I know not."
He then paused, and, pointing to a little hollow near the
place where we stood, he slightly lowered his voice as he continued,
"An' then, aw reckon yo seen yon bend i'th lone, wheer th' ash-tree
"Well," said he, "that's the very spot wheer Gerzlehus'
My thoughts had so drifted away in another direction that I
was not prepared for such an announcement as this. I was aware
that the inhabitants of that district clung to many of the
superstitions of their forefathers; but the thing came upon me so
unexpectedly, and when my mind was so quietly absorbed in dreams of
another sort, that if the old man had fired off a pistol close to my
ear I should not have been much more astonished, though I might have
been more startled. All that I had been thinking of vanished
at once; and my curiosity was centred in this new phase of the old
man's story. I looked into his face to see whether he really
meant what he had said; but there it was, sure enough. In
every outward feature he endorsed the sincerity of his inward
feeling. His countenance was as solemn as an unlettered gravestone.
"Grizlehurst Boggart!" said I, looking towards the place once
"Ay," replied he. "That's wheer it wur laid low; an'
some of a job it wur. Yo happen never yerd on't afore."
The old woman now took up the story, with more earnestness
even than her husband.
"It's a good while sin' it wur laid; an' there wur a cock
buried wi' it, with a stoop [p.14-1]
driven through it. It're noan sattle't wi' a little, aw'll
"And do you really think, then," said I, "that this place has
been haunted by a boggart?"
"Has bin,—be far! " replied she. "It is neaw!
Yodd'n soon find it eawt, too, iv yo live't upo' th' spot.
It's very mich if it wouldn't mak yor yure stop of an end, oather wi'
one marlock or another. [p.14-2]
There's noan so mony folk at likes to go deawn yon lone, at after
delit, [p.14-3] aw con tell
"But, if it's laid and buried," replied I, "it surely doesn't
trouble you now."
"Oh, well," said the old woman, "iv it doesn't, it doesn't;
so there needs no moor. Aw know some folk winnot believe sich
things. There is some it'll believe nought at o', iv it isn't
fair druvven into 'em, wilto, shalto; [p.15-1]
but this is a different case, mind yo. Eh, never name it;
thoose at has it to deeol wi' knows what it is; but thoose at knows
nought abeawt sich like,—whau, it's like summat an' nought talkin'
to 'em abeawt it; so we'n e'en lap it up where it is."
"Well, well, but stop," said the old man. "Yo say'n 'at
it doesn't trouble us neaw. Why, it isn't aboon a fortnit sin'
th' farmer's wife at th' end theer yerd summat i'th deeod time o'th
neet; an' hoo wur welly thrut eawt o' bed, too, beside,—so then."
"Ay," said the old woman, "sich wark as that's scarrin' [p.15-2]
i'th neet time. . . . An' they never could'n find it eawt. But
aw know'd what it wur in a minute. Th' farmer's wife an' me
wur talkin' it o'er again, yesterday; an' hoo says 'at ever sin' it
happen't hoo gets quite timmersome as soon as it draws toward th'
edge o' dark, iv there's nobory i'th heawse but hersel. . . . Well,
an' one wyndy neet,—as aw're sittin' bi th' fire,—aw yerd summit
Here the old man interrupted her: "It's no use folk tellin'
me at they dunnot believe sich like things," said he, seeming not to
notice his wife's story. "It's no use tellin' me they dunnot
believe it! Th' pranks 'at it's played abeawt this place, at
time an' time, would flay ony wick soul to yer tell on!"
"Never name it!" said she. "Aw know whether they
would'n or not! One neet, as aw're sittin' by mysel'—"
Her husband interposed again, with an abstracted air: "Un-yaukin'
th' horses, an' turnin' carts an' things o'er i'th deep neet-time,
an' shiftin' stuff up an' deawn when folk are i' bed,—it's rayther
flaysome, yo may depend. But then, aw know, there isn't a
smite o' sense i' wastin' breath wi' tellin' sich things to some
folk. . . . It's war (worse) nor muckin' wi' sond an' drainin' wi'
"And it's buried yonder," said I.
"Ay," replied he, "just i'th hollow where th' ash tree is.
That used to be th' owd road to Rachda', when aw're a lad."
"Do you never think of delving the ground up?" said I.
"Delve! nawe!" answered he. "Aw'st delve noan theer!"
The old woman broke in again: "Nawe, he'll delve noan theer,—not
iv aw know it! Nor no mon else dar lay a finger upo' that
clod. Joseph Fenton's [p.16]
a meeterly bowd chap; an' he's ruvven everything up abeawt this
countryside, welly; but he dar not touch Gerzlehus' Boggart, for his
skin! An' aw houd his wit good, too, mind yo!"
It was useless attempting to unsettle the superstitions of this
primitive pair. They were too far gone. And it was, perhaps, best to
let the old couple glide on quietly through the evening of their
life, untroubled by any ill-timed wrangling.
But the old dame suspected, by our looks, that we were on easy terms
with our opinion about the tale, and she said, "Aw dunnot think yo
believ'n a word abeawt it!"
This made us laugh in a way that left little doubt upon the
question; and she turned away from us, saying, "Well, yor weel off
iv yo'n nought o' that mak o' yor country-side."
We had now got into the fields, in the direction by which we
intended to make our way home, and the old people seemed inclined to
return to their cottage. We halted, and looked round a few minutes
"You've lived here a good while," said I to the old man, "and know
all the country round."
"Aw know every fuut o'th greawnd about this part,—hill an' hollow,
wood an' wayter-stid."
"You are getting to a good age, too," continued I.
"Well," said he, "aw'm gettin' bowdly on into th' fourth score. Our
breed are a lungish-wynded lot, yo se'en, tak 'em one wi' another."
"You appear to have good health for your age," said I.
"Well," replied he, "aw ail mich o' nought yet,—why, aw'm meyt-whol,
[p.17-1] an' sich like; an'
aw con do a day-wark wi' some o'th young uns yet,—thank God for't! .
. . But then aw'st come to't in a bit, yo known,—aw'st come to't in
a bit. Aw'm so like. [p.17-2] Folk connot expect to ha' youth at both ends o' life, aw guess; an'
we mun o' on us oather owd be or yung dee, as th' sayin' is."
"It's getting time to rest at your age, too."
"Why, wark's no trouble to me, as lung as aw con do't. Beside, yo
seen, folk at's a dur to keep oppen connot do't wi' th' wynt." [p.17-3]
"Isn't Grizlehurst cold and lonely in winter time?"
"Well, it is,—rayther," said he. "But we dunnot think as mich at it
as teawn-folk would do. . . . It'll be a greyt deeol warse at th'
top o' Knowe Hill yon, see yo. It's cowd enoof theer to starve an
otter to deeoth, i' winter time. But here we're reet enough, for th'
matter o' that. An' as for company, we gwon a-neighbourin' a bit,
neaw an' then, yo see'n. Beside, we getten to bed sooner ov a neet
nor they dun in a teawn."
"To my thinkin'," said the old woman, "aw wouldn't live in a teawn
iv I might wear red shoon!"
"But you have not many neighbours about here
"Oh, yigh," said he. "There's the farmer theer, an' one or two
moor. An' then there's th' Top o'th Wood ' folk. Then there's Hooley
Clough, an' th' War Office,' [p.18]—we
can soon get to oathur o' thoose, when we want'n a bit ov an extra
do. . . . Oh, ah! we'n plenty o' neighbours. But th' Birtle folk are
a deeol on um sib an' sib, rib an' rib,—o' ov a litter,—Fittons an'
Diggles, an' Fittons an' Diggles o'er again. . . . An' wheer dun yo
come fro, sen yo?"
We told him.
"Well," said he, "an' are yo i'th buildin' line—at aw mun be so bowd?"
We again explained the motive of our visit.
"Well," said he, "it's nought to me, at aw know on,— nobbut aw're
thinkin' like. . . . Did'n yo ever see Baemforth Ho', afore it're
"Eh, that're a nice owd buildin'! Th' new on hardly comes up to't, i'
my een,—as fine as it is. . . . An' are yo beawn back this gate,
"Ay; we want to go through the clough."
"Well, yo mun mind heaw yo gwon deawn th' wood-side, for it's a
rough gate. So good neet to yo!"
We bade them "Good night!" and were walking away, when he shouted
back, "Hey! aw say! Dun yo know Ned o' Andrews?"
"He's the very men for yo! Aw've just unbethought mo! He knows moor
cracks nor onybody o' this side,—an' he'll sit a fire eawt ony
time, tellin' his bits o' tales. Sper ov anybody at Hooley Bridge,
an' they'n tell yo wheer he lives. So, good neet to yo!"
Leaving the two old cottagers and their boggart-haunted hamlet, we
went over the fields towards Simpson Clough. The steep sides of this
romantic spot are mostly clothed with woods of oak and birch. For
nearly a mile's length the clough is divided into two ravines, deep,
narrow, and often craggy,—and shady with trees. Two streams flow
down from the moors above, each through one of those gloomy defiles,
till they unite at a place from whence the clough continues its way
southward, in one wider and less shrouded expanse, but still between
steep and rocky banks, partly wooded. When the rains are heavy upon
the moors, these streams rush furiously through their rock-bound
courses in the narrow ravines, incapable of mischief, till they meet
at the point where the clough becomes one, when they thence form a
strong and impetuous torrent, which has sometimes proved destructive
to property lower down the valley. Coming to the western brink of
this clough we skirted along in search of an opening by which we
could go down into it with the least difficulty. A little removed
from the eastern edge, and nearly opposite to us, stood Bamford new
hall, the residence of James Fenton, Esq., one of the wealthy
cotton-spinners in the neighbourhood. A few yards from that mansion,
and nearer to the edge of the clough, stood, a few years ago, the
venerable hall of the Bamfords of Bamford, one of the oldest
families belonging to the local gentry, and probably among the first
Saxon settlers there. Thomas de Bamford occurs about 1193. Adam de
Bamford granted land in Villa de Bury to William de Chadwick in
1413; and Sir John Bamford was a fellow of the Collegiate Church of
Manchester in 1506. [p.20-1] A William Bamford, Esq., of Bamford, served the office of High
Sheriff of the county in 1787. He married Ann, daughter of Thomas
Blackburne, Esq., of Orford and Hale, and was father of Ann, lady of
John Ireland Blackburne, Esq., M.P. He was succeeded by Robert
Bamford, Esq., who, from his connection with the Heskeths of
Cheshire, took the name of Robert Bamford Hesketh, Esq., and married
Miss Frances Lloyd, of Gwrych Castle. Lloyd Hesketh Bamford Hesketh,
Esq., of Gwrych Castle, Denbighshire, married Emily Esther Ann,
youngest daughter of Earl Beauchamp. [p.20-2] The old hall of the Bamfords was taken down a few years ago. I do
not remember ever seeing it myself, but the following particulars
respecting it have been kindly furnished to me by a native
gentleman, who knew it well:—
It was a fine old building of the Tudor style, with three gables in
front, which looked towards the high-road; it was of light-coloured
ashler stone such as is found in the neighbourhood; with mullions,
and quaint windows and doors to match; and was, I think, dated about
1521. Such another building you will certainly not find on this side
of the county. Castleton Hall comes, in my opinion, nearest to it in
venerable appearance; but Bamford Hall had a lighter and more
cheerful aspect; its situation, also, almost on the edge of the
rocky chasm of Simpson Clough, or, as it is often called, Guestless,
i.e. Grizlehurst Clough, gave an air of romance to the place, which
I do not remember to have noticed about any ancient residence with
which I am acquainted.
Stillness was sinking upon the scene, but the evening wind sung
vespers in Grizlehurst Wood, and now and then there rose from the
rustling green the silvery solo of some lingering singer in those
leafy choirs, as we worked our way through the shade of the wood,
until we came to the bed of Nadin Water, in the shrouded hollow of
the clough. The season had been dry, and the water lay in quiet
pools of the channel,—gleaming in the gloom where the light fell
through the trees. We made our way onward, sometimes leaping from
stone to stone in the bed of the stream, sometimes tearing over the
lower part of the bank, which was broken and irregular, and
scattered with moss-greened fragments of fallen rock, or slippery
and swampy with lodgments of damp, fed by rindles and driblets of
water, running more or less in all seasons, from springs in the
wood-shaded steep. In some parts the bank was overgrown with
scratchy thickets, composed of dog-berry stalks, wild rose-bushes,
prickly hollies and thorns, young hazels and ash-trees, broad-leaved
docks and tall drooping ferns, and over all hung the thick green of
the spreading wood. Pushing aside the branches, we laboured on till
we came into the opening where the streams combine. A stone bridge
crosses the water at this spot, leading up to the woody ridge which
separates the two ravines in the upper part of the clough. Here we
climbed from the bed of the stream, and got upon a track leading out
of the clough, and up to the Rochdale road, which crosses the lower
end of it, at a considerable elevation. The thin crescent of a new
moon's rim hung like a silver sickle in the sky; and the stars were
beginning to glow in "Jove's eternal house!" whilst the fading world
below seemed hushed with awe, to see that sprinkling of golden
lights coming out in silence once more from the over-spanning blue. We walked up the slope, from the silent hollow, between the woods,
and over the knoll, and down into Hooley Clough again, by the way we
came at first. Country people were sauntering about, upon the main
road, and in the by-lanes, thereabouts, in twos and threes. In the
village of Hooley Bridge the inhabitants were lounging at their
cottage doors, in neighbourly talk, enjoying the close of a summer
day; and probably "Ned o' Andrew's" was sitting in some quiet corner
there amusing a circle of eager amusing listeners with his quaint
A short walk brought us to the end of our ramble, and we sat down to
talk over what we had seen and heard. My visit to Grizlehurst had
been all the more interesting that I had no thought of meeting with
such a living evidence of the lingering superstitions of Lancashire
there. I used to like to sit with country folk, hearkening to their
old-world tales of boggarts, and goblins, and fairies,—
That plait the manes of horses in the
And cake the elf-lock in foul, sluttish airs,—
and I had thought myself well acquainted with the boggart-lore of my
native district, but the goblin of Grizlehurst was new to me. By
this time I knew that in remote country houses the song of the
cricket and the ticking of the clock were beginning to be distinctly
heard, and that in many a solitary cottage these were now almost the
only sounds astir, except the moody night wind sighing around, and
making every crevice into a voice of mystic import to superstitious
listeners, while perhaps the rustle of the trees blended with the
dreamy ripple of some neighbouring brooklet. The shades of night
would by this time have fallen upon the haunted homesteads of
Grizlehurst, and in the folds of that dusky robe would have brought
to the old cottagers their usual fears, filled with—
Shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends;
and I could imagine the good old pair creeping off to repose, and
covering up their eyes more carefully than usual from the
goblin-people gloom, after the talk we had with them about
Under the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me,
And tune his merry note
Unto the sweet bird's
Come hither, come hither, come hither;
Here we shall see
But winter and rough weather.
THERE is a quiet
little clough about three miles from Manchester, near the old
village of Blackley. The best entrance to it is by a gateway
leading from the southern edge of a shady steep called Entwisle
Brow, on the highway from Manchester to Middleton. Approaching
the spot in this direction, a winding road leads down between a low
bemossed wall on the right, and a thorn hedge, which screens the
green depth on the left. The trees which line the path overlap
the way with shade in summer-time, till it reaches the open hollow,
where stands a brick built farmhouse, with its outbuildings, and
gardens,—sheltered in the rear by the wooded bank of the clough.
Thence this pretty dell wanders on southward for a considerable
distance, in picturesque quietude. The township of Blackley,
in which it is situated, retains many traces of its former rural
beauty, and some remnants of the woods which once covered the
district. As a whole, Blackley is, even yet, so pleasantly
varied in natural feature as to rank among the prettiest scenery
around Manchester, although its valleys are now, almost all of them,
more or less surrendered to the conquering march of manufacture,—all
except this secluded glen, known by the name of "Boggart-Ho'
Clough." Here still, in this sylvan "deer-leap" of the Saxon
hunter, the lover of Nature and the jaded townsman have a tranquil
sanctuary, where they can wander, cloistered from the tumults of
life; and there is many a contemplative rambler who seeks the
retirement of this leafy dell, the whole aspect of which seems to
invite the mind to a "sessions of sweet silent thought." One
can imagine it such a place as a man of poetic temperament would
delight in; and the interest which has gathered around it is not
lessened by the fact that Samuel
Bamford, the poet, once dwelt in a pleasant cottage on the
summit of the upland, near the eastern edge of the clough; and here
he may have sometimes felt the significance of Burns's words,—
The muse, nae poet ever fand her,
Till by himsel' he learn'd to wander,
Down by some streamlet's sweet meander,
And no think lang.
The rural charms and retired peacefulness of the scene might well
account for part of its local celebrity, but not for the whole of
it. The superstitions of the locality and the shaping power of
imagination have clothed the place with an interest which does not
solely belong to the embowered shade of its green recesses, nor to
its picturesque steeps overgrown with fern and underwood, nor to its
swardy holm, spreading out a pleasant space in the vale, nor to the
wimpling rill which wanders through it from end to end,
Amongst the pumy stones, which seem to
With gentle murmurs, that his course they do restrains.
Man has clothed the scene in a drapery of wonder and fear, woven in
the creative loom of his own imagination. Any superstitious
stranger, wandering there alone, under the influence of a midnight
moon, would probably think this a likely place for the resort of
those spiritual beings who "fly by night." He might truly say, at
such an hour, that if ever "Mab" held court on the green earth,
"Boggart-Ho' Clough" is just such a nook, as one could imagine,
that her mystic choir would delight to dance in, and sing,—
Come follow, follow me,
Ye fairy elves that be,
Light tripping o'er the green,
Come follow Mab, your queen
Hand in hand we'll dance around,
For this place is fairy ground.
In Roby's "Traditions of Lancashire" there is a story called "The
Bargaist, or Boggart," which seems to have been dragged into
connection with this clough. From this story, which was contributed
to that work by Mr. Crofton Croker, author of "The Fairy Legends,"
I quote the following:—
Not far from the little snug, smoky village of
Blakeley, or Blackley, there lies one of the most romantic of dells,
rejoicing in a state of singular seclusion, and in the oddest of
Lancashire names, to wit, "Boggart-Hole." Rich in every requisite
for picturesque beauty and poetical association, it is impossible
for me (who am neither a painter nor a poet) to describe this dell
as it should be described; and I will therefore only beg of thee,
gentle reader, who, peradventure, mayst not have lingered in this
classical neighbourhood, to fancy a deep, deep dell, its steep sides
fringed down with hazel and beech, and fern and thick undergrowth,
and clothed at the bottom with the richest and greenest sward in the
world. You descend, clinging to the trees, and scrambling as best
you may,—and now you stand on haunted ground! Tread softly, for this
is the Boggart's Clough. And see in yonder dark corner, and beneath
the projecting mossy stone, where that dusky, sullen cave yawns
before us, like a bit of Salvator's best, there lurks that strange
elf, the sly and mischievous Boggart. Bounce! I see him coming! Oh
no, it was only a hare bounding from her form. There it goes,—there!
I will tell you of some of the pranks of this very Boggart, and how
he teased and tormented a good farmer's family in a house hard by;
and I assure you it was a very worthy old lady who told me the
story. But, first, suppose we leave the Boggart's demesne, and pay a
visit to the theatre of his strange doings.
You see that old farmhouse about two fields distant, shaded by the
sycamore tree; that was the spot which the Boggart, or Bargaist,
selected for his freaks; there he held his revels, perplexing honest
George Cheetham,—for that was the farmer's name,—scaring his maids,
worrying his men, and frightening the poor children out of their
seven senses; so that, at last, not even a mouse durst show himself
indoors at the farm, as he valued his whiskers, five minutes after
the clock had struck twelve.
The story goes on describing the startling pranks of this invisible
torment of honest George Cheetham's old haunted dwelling. It tells
how that the Boggart, which was a long time a terror to the
farmer's family, "scaring the maids, worrying the men, and
frightening the poor children," became at last a familiar mysterious
presence,—in a certain sense a recognised member of the household
troop,—often heard, but never seen,—and sometimes a sharer in the
household conversation. When merry tales were being told around the
fire, on winter nights, the Boggart's "small, shrill voice, heard
above the rest, like a baby's penny trumpet," joined the general
laughter, in a tone of supernatural congeniality; and the hearers
learned, at last, to hear without dismay, if not to love, the sounds
they had feared before. But boggarts, like men, are moody creatures;
and this unembodied troubler of the farmer's lonely house seems to
have been sometimes so forgetful of everything like spiritual
dignity, or even of the claims of old acquaintance, as to reply to
the familiar banter of his mortal co-tenants in a tone of petty
malignity. He even went so far, at last, as to revenge himself for
some fancied insult, by industriously pulling the children up and
down by the head and legs in the night-time, and by screeching and
laughing plaguily in the dark, to the unspeakable annoyance of the
inmates. In order to get rid of this nocturnal torment it appears
that the farmer removed his children into other sleeping apartments,
leaving the Boggart sole tenant of their old bedroom, which seems to
have been his favourite stage of action. The story concludes as
But his Boggartship, having now fairly become the
possessor of a room at the farm, it would appear, considered himself
in the light of a privileged inmate, and not, as hitherto, an
occasional visitor, who merely joined in the general expression of
merriment. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt; and now the
children's bread and butter would be snatched away; or their
porringers of bread and milk would be dashed to the ground by an
unseen hand; or, if the younger ones were left alone but for a few
minutes, they were sure to be found screaming with terror on the
return of their nurse. Sometimes, however, he would behave himself
kindly. The cream was then churned, and the pans and kettles scoured
without hands. There was one circumstance which was remarkable. The
stairs ascended from the kitchen; a partition of boards covered the
ends of the steps, and formed a closet beneath the staircase. From
one of the boards of this partition a large round knot was
accidentally displaced; and one day the youngest of the children,
while playing with the shoehorn, stuck it into this knot-hole. Whether or not the aperture had been formed by the Boggart as a
peep-hole to watch the motions of the family I cannot pretend to
say. Some thought it was, for it was called the Boggart's peep-hole;
but others said that they had remembered it long before the shrill
laugh of the Boggart was heard in the house. However this may have
been, it is certain that the horn was ejected with surprising
precision at the head of whoever put it there; and, either in mirth
or in anger, the horn was darted forth with great velocity, and
struck the poor child over the ear.
There are few matters upon which parents feel more acutely than that
of the maltreatment of their offspring; but time, that great
smoother of all things, at length familiarised this dangerous
occurrence to everyone at the farm, and that which at the first was
regarded with the utmost terror became a kind of amusement with the
more thoughtless and daring of the family. Often was the horn
slipped slyly into the hole, and in return it never failed to be
flung at the head of someone, but most commonly at the person who
placed it there. They were used to call this pastime, in the
provincial dialect, "lakin' wi't' Boggart,"—that is, playing with
the Boggart. An old tailor, whom I but faintly remember, used to say
that the horn was often "pitched" at his head, and at the head of
his apprentice, whilst seated here on the kitchen table, when they
went their rounds to work, as is customary with country tailors. At
length the goblin, not contented with flinging the horn, returned to
his night persecutions. Heavy steps, as of a person in wooden clogs,
were at first heard clattering downstairs in the dead hour of
darkness; then the pewter and earthen dishes appeared to be dashed
on the kitchen floor, though in the morning all remained uninjured
on their respective shelves. The children generally were marked out
as objects of dislike by their unearthly tormentor. The curtains of
their beds would be violently pulled to and fro; then a heavy
weight, as of a human being, would press them nigh to suffocation,
from which it was impossible to escape. The night, instead of being
the time for repose, was disturbed with screams and dreadful noises,
and thus was the whole house alarmed night after night. Things could
not continue in this fashion,—the farmer and his good dame resolved
to leave a place where they could no longer expect rest or
comfort,—and George Cheetham was actually following, with his wife
and family, the last load of furniture, when they were met by a
neighbouring farmer named John Marshall.
"Well, Georgy, an' so yor leavin' th' owd house at last?" said
"Heigh, Johnny, my lad, I'm in a manner forced to't, thou sees,"
replied the other; "for that weary Boggart torments us so, we can
neither rest neet nor day fort. It seems like to have a malice again't young uns, an' ommost kills my poor dame here at thoughts
on't, an' so thou sees we're forced to flit like."
He had got thus far in his complaint when, behold, a shrill voice,
from a deep upright churn, the topmost utensil on the cart, called
out, "Ay, ay, neighbour, we're flitting, yo see."
"Od rot thee!" exclaimed George. "If I'd known thou'd been flitting,
too, I wadn't ha' stirr'd a peg. Nay, nay, it's to no use, Mally!"
he continued, turning to his wife. "We may as well turn back again
to th' owd house as be tormented in another not so convenient."
Thus endeth Crofton Croker's tradition of the Boggart, or Bargaist,
which, according to the story, was long time a supernatural pest of
old Cheetham's farmhouse, but whose principal lurking-place was
supposed to be in a gloomy nook of Boggart-Ho' Clough, or Boggart
Hole Clough, for the name adopted by the writer of the tradition
appears to be derived from that superstitious belief. With respect
to the exact origin of the name, however, I must entirely defer to
those who know more about the matter than myself. [p.31] The
features of the story are generically the same as those of a
thousand such like superstitious stories still told and believed in
all the country parts of England,—though perhaps more in the
northern part of it than elsewhere. Almost every lad in Lancashire
has in his childhood heard, either from his "reverend grannie," or
from some less kin and less kind director of his young imagination,
similar tales connected with old houses and other haunts, in the
neighbourhood of his own birthplace. Amongst the "Papers of the
Manchester Literary Club," vol. vi., there is one by Mr. Charles
Hardwick upon the "Flitting Boggart," in which, after a critical
examination of the character and origin of Crofton Croker's story,
The Lancashire story, as related by Mr. Croker, is a
palpable plagiarism,—a mere reproduction of a tale told by a
Yorkshire correspondent in the Literary Gazette No. 430 (1825), with
some rather feeble attempts to translate the dialectal
peculiarities, and the addition of some matter generally attendant
on boggart stories of its class.
Among those who have noticed Boggart-Ho' Clough is Mr. Samuel
Bamford, well known as a poet, and a graphic prose writer upon the
stormy political events of his earlier life, and upon whatever
relates to the manners and customs of Lancashire. In describing
matters of the latter kind he had the advantage of being "native
and to the manner born;" and still more specially so in everything
connected with the social peculiarities of the locality of his
birth. He was born at Middleton, about two miles from Boggart-Ho'
Clough, and, as I said before, he resided for some years close to
the clough itself. In his "Passages in the Life of a Radical" (vol. i.,
p.130) there is one of the raciest descriptions of Lancashire
characteristics with which I am acquainted. The first part of this
passage contains a descriptive account of "Plant," a country
botanist; "Chirrup," a bird-catcher; and "Bangle," a youth "of an
ardent temperament, but bashful," who was deeply in love with "a
young beauty residing in the house of her father, who held a small
milk-farm on the hill-side, not far from Old Birkle." It describes
the meeting the three in the lone cottage of Bangle's mother, near
Grizlehurst Wood; the conversation that took place there; and the
superstitious adventure they agreed upon, in order to deliver young
Bangle from the hopelessness of his irresistible and unrequited
His modest approaches had not been noticed by the
adored one and, as she had danced with another youth at Bury fair,
he imagined she was irrecoverably lost to him, and the persuasion
had almost driven him melancholy. Doctors had been applied to, but
he was no better,—philters and charms had been tried to bring down
the cold-hearted maid,—but all in vain:—
He sought her at the dawn of day
He sought her at the noonin';
He sought her when the evening grey
Had brought the hollow moon in.
He call'd her on the darkest night,
With wizard spells to bind her;
And when the stars arose in light
He wandered forth to find her.
At length sorcerers and fortune-tellers were thought of, and
"Limping Billy," a noted seer, residing at Radcliffe Bridge, having
been consulted, said the lad had no power over the damsel unless he
could take St. John's fern-seed; and if he could but secure three
grains of that, he might bring to him whatever he wished, that
walked, flew, or swam.
Such being the conditions laid down, and believed in by the three,
they resolved to venture, together, on the taking of Saint John's
fern-seed, with strict observance of the time and the cabalistic
ceremonials enjoined by Limping Billy, the seer of Radcliffe Bridge. Plant, the botanist,
"knew where the finest clump of fern in the
country grew" and he undertook to accompany Chirrup and Bangle to
the spot, at the time appointed, on the eve of St. John the Baptist. The remainder of the passage describes Boggart-Ho' Clough, the spot
in which St. John's fern then grew in great abundance, and where the
botanists of the district still find the plant; it describes, also,
the fearful enterprise of the three, at the witching hour of
midnight, in search of the enchanted seed:—
On the left hand, reader, as thou goest towards
Manchester, ascending from Blackley, is a rather deep valley, green
swarded and embowered in plantations and older woods. A driving
path, which thou enterest by a white gate hung on whale-jaw posts,
[p.34] leads down to a grove of young trees, by a modern and
substantial farmhouse, with green shutters, sashed windows, and
flowers peeping from the sills. A mantle of ivy climbs the wall, a
garden is in front, and an orchard, redolent of bloom and fruit in
season, nods on the hilltop above. Here, at the time Plant was
speaking of, stood a very ancient house, built partly of
old-fashioned bricks and partly of a timber frame, filled with raddlings and daub (wicker-work plastered with clay). It was a lone
and desolate-looking house indeed,—misty and fearful even at
noonday. It was known as "Boggart-Ho'," or "Fyrin-Ho';" and the
gorge in which it is situated was, and is still, known as "Boggart"
or "Fyrin-Ho' Kloof" ("The Glen of the Hall of Spirits"). Such a
place, might we suppose, had Milton in contemplation when he wrote
the passage of his inimitable poem:—
Tells how the drudging goblin sweat
To earn his cream-bowl, duly set,
When in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail had thresh'd the corn
Which ten day-labourers could not end;
Then lies him down, the lubber fiend,
And, stretch'd out all the chimney's length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength;
And cropful, out of door he flings,
Ere the first cock his matin sings.
By the side of the house, and through the whole length of the
valley, wends a sickly, tan-coloured rindle, which, issuing from the
great White Moss, comes down tinged with the colour of its parent
swamp. Opposite the modern house a forbidden road cuts through the
plantation on the right towards Moston Lane; another path leads
behind the house, up precipitous banks, and through close bowers, to
Booth Hall; and a third, the main one, proceeds along the kloof, by
the side of the stream, and under sun-screening woods, until it
forks into the roads,—one a cattle-track, to the Bell, in Moston,
and the other a winding and precipitous footpath, to a farmhouse at
Wood End, where it gains the broad upland, and emerges into unshaded
About half way up this kloof is an open cleared space of green and
short sward,—it is probably two hundred yards in length, by sixty in
width,—and passing along it from Blackley a group of fine oaks
appear, on a slight eminence a little to the left. This part of the
grove was, at the time we are concerned with, much more crowded
with underwood than at present. [p.35] The bushes were then close
and strong; fine sprouts of "yerth-groon" hazel and ash were
common as nuts; whilst a thick bush of bramble, wild rose, and
holly, gave the spot the appearance of a place inclosed and set
apart for mysterious concealment. Intermingled with these almost
impervious barriers were tufts of tall green fern, curling and
bending gracefully; and a little separate from them and near the old
oaks might be observed a few tern clumps of a singular appearance,
of a paler green than the others,—with a flatter and a broader
leaf,—sticking up, rigid and expanded, like something stark with
mute terror. These were "St. John's Fern;" and the finest of them
was the one selected by Plant for the experiment now to be
A little before midnight, on the eve of St. John, Plant, Chirrup,
and Bangle were at the whale-jaw gate before-mentioned; and having
slightly scanned each other, they proceeded, without speaking, until
they had crossed the brook at a stepping-place opposite the old
Fyrin-Ho'. The first words spoken were,—"What hast thou?"
"Mine is breawn an' roof,"
said Plant, exhibiting a brown earthen dish. "What hast thou?" he
"Mine is breet enough,"
said Chirrup, showing a pewter platter, and continued, "What hast
"Teed wi' web an' woof,
Mine is deep enough,"
said Bangle, displaying a musty, dun skull, with the
cap sawn off above the eyes and left flapping like a lid by a piece
of tanned scalp, which still adhered. The interior cavities had also
been stuffed with moss and lined with clay, kneaded with blood from
human veins, and the youth had secured the skull to his shoulders by
a twine of three strands of unbleached flax, of undyed wool, and of
woman's hair, from which also depended a raven black tress, which a
wily crone had procured from the maid he sought to obtain.
"That will do,"
said a voice, in a half whisper, from one of the low bushes they
were passing. Plant and Chirrup paused; but Bangle, who had
evidently his heart on the accomplishment of the undertaking, said,
"Forward!—if we turn, now a spirit has spoken, we are lost. Come
on!" And they went forward.
A silence like that of death was around them as they entered on the
opening platting. Nothing moved either in tree or brake. Through a
space in the foliage the stars were seen pale in heaven, and a
crooked moon hung in a bit of blue amid motionless clouds. All was
still and breathless, as if earth, heaven, and the elements were
aghast. Anything would have been preferable to that unnatural
stillness and silence,—the hoot of the night-owl, the 'larum of the
pit-sparrow, the moan of the wind, the toll of a death-bell, or the
howl of a ban-dog, would, inasmuch as they are things of this world,
have been welcome sounds amid that horrid pause. But no sound came
and no object moved.
Gasping, and with cold sweat oozing on his brow, Plant recollected
that they were to shake the fern with a forked rod of witch-hazel,
and by no means must touch it with their hands, and he asked, in a
whisper, if the others had brought one. Both said they had
forgotten, and Chirrup said they had better never have come; but
Plant drew his knife, and stepping into a moonlighted bush, soon
returned with what was wanted, and they went forward.
The green knowe, the old oaks, the encircled space, and the fern,
were now approached,—the latter stiff and erect in a gleamy light.
"Is it deep neet?" said Bangle.
"It is," said Plant.
"The star that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of heaven doth hold."
And they drew near. All was still and motionless. Plant knelt on one knee, and held his dish under the
fern. Chirrup held his broad plate next below, and Bangle knelt, and rested the skull directly under
both on the green sod, the lid being up. Plant said,—
"Good St. John this seed we crave.
We have dared—shall we have?"
A voice responded:—
"Now the moon is downward starting,
Moon and stars are all departing;
Quick, quick; shake, shake;
He whose heart shall soonest break,
Let him take."
They looked, and perceived by a glance that a
venerable form, in a loose robe, was near them.
Darkness came down like a swoop. The fern was shaken,—the upper dish
flew into pieces,—the pewter one melted,—the skull emitted a cry,
and eyes glared in its sockets,—lights broke,—beautiful children
were seen walking in their holiday clothes, and graceful female
forms sung mournful and enchanting airs.
The men stood terrified and fascinated; and Bangle, gazing, bade,
"God bless 'em." A crash followed, as if the whole of the timber in
the kloof was being splintered and torn up,—strange and horrid forms
appeared from the thickets,—the men ran as if sped on the wind,—they
separated, and lost each other. Plant ran towards the old house, and
there, leaping the brook, he cast a glance behind him, and saw
terrific shapes,—some beastly, some part human, and some hellish,
gnashing their teeth, and howling, and uttering the most fearful and
mournful tones, as if wishful to follow him, but unable to do so.
In an agony of terror he arrived at home, not knowing how he got
there. He was, during several days, in a state bordering on
unconsciousness; and when he recovered, he learned that Chirrup was
found on the White Moss, raving mad, and chasing the wild birds. As
for poor Bangle, he found his way home over hedge and ditch, running
with supernatural and fearful speed,—the skull's eyes glaring at his
back, and the nether jaw grinning and jabbering frightful and
unintelligible sounds. He had preserved the seed, however, and,
having taken it from the skull, he buried the latter at the
cross-road from whence he had taken it. He then carried the spell
out, and his proud love stood one night by his bedside in tears. But
he had done too much for human nature,—in three months after she
followed his corpse, a real mourner, to the grave!
Such was the description my fellow-prisoner gave of what occurred in
the only trial he ever made with St. John's fern-seed. He was full
of old and quaint narratives, and of superstitious lore, and often
would beguile time by recounting them. Poor fellow! a mysterious
fate hung over him also!
This description of Boggart-Ho' Clough, with its dramatic embodiment
of one of our strong local superstitions, is all the more
interesting from the pen of one who knew the place and the people so
well. With respect to the name of the place, I must leave the reader
to settle the matter for himself between the advocates of a romantic
origin and the letter of Mr. John Bolton Rogerson upon the subject.
But the neighbourhood has other points of interest besides this
romantic nook. In it there is many a boggart story, brought down
from the past, many a spot of fearful repute among native people. Apart from these things, the chapelry of Blackley is enriched with
historic associations well worth remembering, and it contains some
interesting relics of the ancient manner of life there. In former
times the chapelry had in it several fine old halls: Booth Hall,
Nuthurst Hall, Lightbowne Hall, Hough Hall, Crumpsall Hall, and
Blackley Hall. Some of these still remain. Some of them have been
the homes or the birthplaces of men of eminence in their
day,—eminent for worth as well as station,—among whom there is more
than one who has left a long trail of honourable recollections
behind him. Such men were Humphrey Chetham, Bishop Oldham, and
others. Bradford the Martyr, also, is said to have resided in this
township. William Chadderton, D.D., Bishop of Chester, and
afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, was born at Nuthurst Hall about the
year 1540. George Clarke, the founder of the charity which bears his
name, and one of Fuller's "Worthies," resided in Crumpsall. The
following particulars respecting the district and its notabilities I
glean from the recently-published "History of the Ancient Chapel of
Blackley," by the Rev. John Booker, B.A., of Magdalene College,
Cambridge, curate of Prestwich. First, with respect to the ancient
state of Blackley, in the survey of Manchester, as taken in the 15th
Edward II. (1322), and preserved by Kuerden, [p.39]
the following official notice of the township occurs:—
The park of Blakeley is worth, in pannage, aery of
eagles, herons and hawks, honey-bees, mineral earths, ashes, and
other issues, fifty-three shillings and fourpence. The vesture of
oaks, with the whole coverture, is worth two hundred marks [£133 6s.
8d.] in the gross. It contains seven miles in circumference,
together with two deer-leaps of the king's grant.
This short but significant passage is sufficient to give the reader
a glimpse of the Blackley township five hundred years ago. From the
same authority we learn that Blackley Park (seven miles in
circumference) was at that time surrounded and fenced by a wooden
The two "deer-leaps" were probably sloughs or
ravines, of which the most remarkable is the Boggart-Hole Clough, a
long cleft or dell between two rocks, the sides of which rise
abruptly and leave a narrow pass, widening a little here and there,
through which flows a small brook. This is the last stronghold of
Blackley's ancient characteristic features, where rural tranquillity
still reigns, free from the bustle and turmoil of mercantile
industry around it.
The following particulars respecting the etymology of the name
"Blackley" will be acceptable to students of language:
Its etymology is yet a disputed point, owing to the
various significations of the Anglo-Saxon word blac, blæc,
bleac, which means not only black, dark,
opaque, and even gloomy, but also pale, faded,
pallid, from blæcan, to bleach or make white. And, as
if these opposite meanings were not sufficiently perplexing, two
other forms present themselves, one of which means bleak,
cold, bare, and the other yellow, the latter syllable in
the name, ley, legh, leag, or leak,
signifying a field or place of pasture.
On this point, Whitaker says, in his "History of Manchester,"—
The Saxon blac, black, or blake,
frequently imports the deep gloom of trees, hence we have so many
places distinguished by the epithet in England, where no
circumstances of soil and no peculiarities of water give occasion to
it, as the villages of Blackburn and Blackrode, in Lancashire;
Blakeleyhurst, near Wigan; and our own Blackley, near Manchester;
and the woods of the last were even seven miles in circuit as late
as the fourteenth century.
Leland, who wrote about the year 1538, bears testimony to the
unaltered aspect of Blackley, under the influence of cultivation,
and to the changes incident to the disafforesting of its ancient
woodlands. He says: "Wild bores, bulles, and falcons, bredde in
times past at Blakele, now for lack of woode the blow-shoppes decay
Blackley had its resident minister as early as the reign of Edward
VI., in the person of Father Travis, a name handed down to us in the
pages of Fox and Strype. Travis was the friend and correspondent of
Bradford the Martyr. In the succeeding reign he suffered banishment
for his Protestant principles, and his place was probably supplied
by a Papist.
The site upon which, in 1815, stood the old hall of Blackley, is now
occupied by a print-shop. Blackley Hall was
A spacious black-and-white half-timbered mansion, in
the post and petrel style, and was situated near to the junction of
the lane leading to the chapel and the Manchester and Rochdale
turnpike-road. It was a structure of considerable antiquity, and
consisted of a centre and two projecting wings,—an arrangement
frequently met with in the ancient manor-houses of this county,—and
it bore evidence of having been erected at two periods. Like most
other houses of similar pretensions and antiquity, it was not
without its traditionary legends, and the boggart of Blackley
Hall was as well known as Blackley Hall itself. In the stillness of
the night it would steal from room to room, and carry off the
bedclothes from the couches of the sleeping but now thoroughly
aroused and discomfited inmates. [p.41-2]
The township of Crumpsall bounds Blackley on the north side, and is
divided from it by the lively but now turbid little river Irk, or
Iwrke, or Irke, which means "roebuck." "From time immemorial, for
ecclesiastical purposes, Crumpsall has been associated with
Blackley." The present Crumpsall Hall stands on the north side of
the Irk, about a mile and a half from Boggart-Ho' Clough. The
earlier orthography of the name was Crumeshall, or Curmeshall. For
its derivation we are referred to the Anglo-Saxon, the final
syllable "sal" signifying in that language a hall or place of
entertainment, of which hospitable abode the Saxon chief whose name
the first syllable indicates was the early proprietor. Thus, too, Ordsall in the same parish.
Here, in later days, Humphrey Chetham was born, at Crumpsall Old
Hall. The author of the "History of the Ancient Chapel of Blackley,"
from whose book I gather all this information, also describes an old
farmhouse, situated in a picturesque spot, in the higher part of
Crumpsall, and pointed out as the dwelling in which Hugh Oldham,
Bishop of Exeter, who founded the Manchester Grammar School, was
born. About four years ago, when rambling about the green uplands of
Crumpsall, I called at this farm to see a friend of mine, who lived
in a cottage at the back of the house. While there I was shown
through this curious old dwelling, and I remember that the tenants
took especial pains to acquaint me with its local importance as the
place of Bishop Oldham's nativity. It was still known as "Oldham's
Tenement," and also as "Th' Bongs (Banks) Farm." The following is a
more detailed account of the place and the man:—
It is celebrated as the reputed birthplace of Hugh
Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, who, according to tradition current in the
neighbourhood, was born there about the middle of the fifteenth
century, and it is stated to have been the residence of the Oldhams
for the last four hundred years. The house itself,—a long narrow
thatched building,—bears evidence of considerable antiquity; the
walls appear to have been originally of lath and plaster, which
material has gradually, in many places, given place to brickwork;
and the whole exterior is now covered with whitewash. A room on the
ground-floor is still pointed out as the domestic chapel; but there
are no traces of it ever having been devoted to such use.
Hugh Oldham, LL.B., Bishop of Exeter, was descended from an ancient
family of that name. According to Dodsworth (MSS., folio 152), he
was born at Oldham, in a house in Goulbourne Street; but this
assertion is contradicted by the testimony of his other biographers:
Wood and Goodwin state that he was born in Manchester, by which they
mean not so much Manchester town as Manchester parish; and Dugdale,
in his "Lancashire Visitation," states more definitely in what part
of the parish, correcting at the same time the misstatement of the
others, "not at Oldham, but at Crumpsall, near Manchester." In 1503
he was created Archdeacon of Exeter, and in the following year was
raised, through the influence of the Countess of Richmond, to the
See of Exeter. In 1515, having founded the Grammar School of
Manchester, he endowed it with the corn-mills situated on the river
Irk, which he purchased from Lord de la Warre, as well as with other
messuages and lands in Manchester.
In relation to Bishop Oldham it may be worth notice that in the
Manchester Guardian of Wednesday, January 10th, 1855, I found
the following letter respecting a descendant of this prelate. This
brief notice of an agèd and poverty-stricken descendant of the
bishop,—a soldier's wife, who has followed the fortunes of her
husband as a prisoner of war, and through the disasters of battle,
shipwreck, and imprisonment in a foreign land,—is not
There is now living in this city a poor agèd woman
who, it appears, is a descendant of the founder of the Manchester
Grammar School, and who was also (in 1783) the first scholar in the
first Sunday School opened in Manchester. In subsequent years, as a
soldier's wife, she followed the fortunes of her husband in the
tented field, as a prisoner of war, and also in shipwreck. She is in
full possession of her mental powers; and, though, in a certain
sense, provided for, I am persuaded that many of those whose Alma
Mater was the Grammar School, and the Sunday school teachers and
scholars, would be delighted to honour her.
Crumpsall, in the chapelry of Blackley, was also the birthplace of
Humphrey Chetham, one of Fuller's "Worthies," and a man whom
Manchester has good reason to hold in remembrance. The following
matter relative to the man, and the place of his birth, is from the
He was born at his father's residence, Crumpsall
Hall, and was baptised at the Collegiate Church, Manchester, July
15th, 1580. He probably received his education at the Grammar School
of his native town. Associated with his brothers, George and Ralph,
he embarked in trade as a dealer in fustians, and so prospered in
his business that in 1620 he purchased Clayton Hall, near
Manchester, which he made his residence, and subsequently, in 1628, Turton Tower. "He signally improved himself," writes Fuller, "in
piety and outward prosperity, and was a diligent reader of the
Scriptures, and of the works of sound divines, and a respecter of
such ministers as he accounted truly godly, upright, sober,
discreet, and sincere. He was high sheriff of the county in 1635,
and again in 1648, discharging the place with great honour, insomuch
that very good gentlemen of birth and estate did wear his cloth at
the assize, to testify their unfeigned affection to him; and two of
them (John Hartley and Henry Wrigley, Esquires), of the same
profession with himself, have since been sheriffs of the county."
By his will, dated December 16th, 1651, he bequeathed £1,000 to buy
a fee-simple estate of £420 per annum, wherewith to provide for the
maintenance, education, and apprenticing of forty poor boys of
Manchester, between the ages of six and fourteen years,—children of
poor but honest parents,—no bastards, nor diseased at the time they
are chosen, nor lame, nor blind, "in regard the town of Manchester
hath ample means already (if so employed) for the maintenance of
such impotents." The hospital thus founded was incorporated by
Charles II. In 1700 the number of boys was increased to sixty, and
from 1779 to 1826 eighty boys were annually maintained, clothed, and
educated. In the year 1718 the income of the hospital amounted to
£517 8s. 4d., and in 1826 it had reached to £2,608 3s. 11d.
He bequeathed, moreover, the sum of £1,000 to be expended in books,
and £100 towards erecting a building for their safe deposit,
intending thus to lay the foundation of a public library; and the
residue of his estate (amounting to near £2,000) to be devoted to
the increase of the said library and the support of a librarian. In
1826 this fund was returned at £542 per annum. The number of volumes
is now about 20,000. Mr. Chetham died, unmarried, September, 20th,
1653, and was buried at the Collegiate Church, where a monument has
recently been erected to his memory, at the cost of a former
participator in his bounty.
Well may Fuller, writing of Humphrey Chetham, say, "God send us more
such men!" The "poor boys" of Manchester may well repeat the prayer,
and pray also that heaven may send after them men who will look to
the righteous administration of the bequests which such men leave
For the purpose of this sketch, I went down to the Chetham Library,
to copy, from Booker's "History of Blackley," the foregoing
particulars. The day was gloomy, and the great quadrangle of the
college was as still as a churchyard. Going up the old staircase,
and treading as lightly as I could with a heavy foot, as I went by
the principal librarian's room door, I entered the cloistral shades
of the old library. All was silent as I went through the dark array
of book-laden shelves. The sub-librarian was writing in some
official volume, upon the sill of a latticed window, in one of the
recesses. Hearing an approaching foot, he came out, and looked the
usual quiet inquiry. "'Booker's Blackley,'" said I. He went to one
of the recesses, unlocked the door, and brought out the book. "Will
you enter it, sir?" said he, pointing to the volume kept for that
purpose. I did so, and walked on into the reading-room of the
library; glancing, as I went in, at Oliver Cromwell's sword, which
hung above the doorway. There was a good fire, and I had that
antique apartment all to myself. The old room looked very clean and
comfortable, and the hard oaken floor resounded to the footstep. The
whole furniture was of the most quaint and substantial character. It
was panelled all round with bright old black oak. The windows were
latticed, and the window-sills broad. The heavy tables were of solid
oak, and the chairs of the same, with leather-covered and padded
seats and backs, studded with brass nails. A curiously-carved black
oak book-stand stood near the door, and several antique mirrors and
dusky portraits hung around upon the dark panelling. Among these is
the portrait of Bradford the Martyr, a native of Manchester. In the
library there is a small black-lettered volume, entitled,—
Letters of Maister John Bradford,
a faythful minister and a syngular pyllar of Christe's Church, by
whose great trauiles and diligence in preaching and planting the
syncerity of the Gospel, by whose most goodly and innocent lyfe, and
by whose long and payneful imprisonments for the maintenance of the
truth, the kingdom of God was not a little advanced: who also at
last most valiantly and cheerfully gave his blood for the same. The
4th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1555.
The portrait of Humphrey Chetham, the founder, hangs immediately
above the old-fashioned fireplace, under the emblazoned arms of his
family. Sitting by the fire, at a little oak table covered with
green baize, I copied the particulars here given relative to Chetham's bequest to the people of his native locality. I could not
but lift my eyes now and then towards that solemn face, inwardly
moved by a feeling which reverently said, "Will it do?" The
countenance of the fine old merchant seemed to wear an expression of
sorrow, not unmingled with quiet anger, at the spectacle of twenty
thousand books,—intended as a Free Library, though now, in
comparison with its possibilities, free chiefly in name,—twenty
thousand books, packed together in gloomy seclusion, yet surrounded
by a weltering crowd of five hundred thousand people, a great number
of whom really hunger for the knowledge here, in a great measure
consigned,—with excellent registrative care and bibliopolic
skill,—to dusty oblivion and the worm. [p.47] It is true that this cunningly-secreted Free Library is open six
hours out of the twenty-four, but these hours fall precisely within
that part of the day in which people who have to work for bread are
cooped up at their occupations. At night, when the casino, the
singing-room, and the ale-house, and all the low temptations of a
great city are open, and actively competing for their prey, the
Chetham Library has been locked up for hours. I am not sure that the
noble-hearted founder would be satisfied with it all if he saw the
relations of these things now. It seems all the more likely that he
would not be so, when one observes the tone in which, in his will,
he alludes to the administration of certain other local charities
existing in his own time. After specially naming the class of "poor
boys" for whose benefit his hospital was intended, he specially
excludes certain others "in regard the town of Manchester hath
ample means already (IF SO EMPLOYED)
for the maintenance of such impotents." Judging from the glimpse
we have in this passage of his way of thinking upon matters of this
kind, it seems likely that, if it were possible to consult him upon
the subject, he would consider it a pity that the twenty thousand
books in the library and the five hundred thousand people outside
the walls are not brought into better acquaintance with each other. So, also, murmurs many a thoughtful man, as he walks by the college
gates, in his hours of leisure, when the library is closed.
clough known by the name of "Dulesgate," or "Devil's Gate," is about
three miles long, from Gauxholme up to Sharney Ford, a little hamlet
on the moors, about half way between Todmorden and Bacup. The lower
part of the clough is narrow and craggy, and the hills rise wild and
steep on each hand. Close by this end, the canal, the railway, and
the high-road run side by side, and within a few yards of each
other. A Roman road also skirts the side of the hill which faces the
end of the clough; and here and there a rough old packhorse road
meanders down the rocky steeps around. There is generally some din
of business at Gauxholme, for there are several manufactories and a
number of workmen's cottages clustered in that part of the valley. A
wandering footpath leads up the hill on the east side to an old
mansion called Stones. It stands nearly a thousand feet above the
sea, and commands a fine view of the surrounding hills. Close by
this house there is a buttressed mound,—the stations of one of those
beacons by which intelligence was formerly flashed from hill to hill
across the island. Dulesgate must have been a gloomy spot in
ancient times, when thick woods clothed the sides of the ravine, and
when the stream was dammed up here and there by fallen trees, making
the bottom of the clough a tangled swamp. In those days, what
rude roads there were in this then wild district led along the
hill-sides or over the hill-tops,—as the Roman road from Manchester
to Slack, or Cambodunum, near Halifax, still traceable, climbed over
the top of Blackstone Edge, and then skirted along the side of the
southern hills overlooking the Todmorden valley. There are
many fragments of ancient roads upon these hills still, which may
have been British or Saxon. I do not know whether the name of
Dulesgate is derived from the gloomy appearance of the clough in
ancient days, or from incursions made by the foresters of
Rossendale, in those times, down this pass, which was then, as now,
the shortest route into the Todmorden valleys. There are
traditional stories of such incursions from the Forest side of the
hills into these vales. I remember one, of a party of
foresters stealing the horses from the stables of Buckley Hall, by
night, in the olden time. Being pursued by the then Buckley of
Buckley and his tenants, they were overtaken at a spot on the moors
called "Th' Midgy Hillock," where the leader of the forest party was
shot, and the horses retaken. . . . There is now a good road through
Dulesgate, and over the hills into Rossendale, and it was upon this
road that I wandered alone one summer day. The sky was
cloudless, and after I had left the houses at Gauxholme behind I
began to enjoy the scenery of the clough. The most picturesque
part of Dulesgate is the lower half, where the banks are steepest
and the gorge is narrowest. In two or three places there is
only room for the road and the stream; in others, the clough expands
a little, and a few clean-looking cottages stand by the way-side,
and here and there a larger and more tasteful house, with a bit of
trim garden about it. These houses are occupied by mill owners
and their work-people, for there are several mills in the clough.
They are all built of stone. The woods have long since been
thinned, the stream is now confined to its natural bed, and in some
places the rock has been cut away to make room for the road; but
wild Nature still sufficiently asserts herself to make Dulesgate an
interesting scene. The valleys of this district abound in
excellent springs; and stone well-troughs, brimming with clear
water, are familiar features by the waysides. There are
several in this clough. And now, anybody who wishes to see
scenery of this kind to advantage should always travel upward, and
meet the falling water,—then only can its best features be seen.
This moorland stream glints out prettily upon the ascending
traveller, as it comes dancing down the rocky hollow, full of frolic
loveliness,—here peeping through a screen of leaves like a child at
play, there babbling unseen in its deep bed below the road, and
there in a leafy nook, stopping to rest in a burnished pool under
the trees. Now it glides into sight again, laving the mossy
stones with liquid beauty; and then it leaps down the smooth-lipped
rocks in headlong glee, scattering showers of spray upon the
greenery around. . . . The little glen is full of wild charms in
summer time. In some parts, rough crags overfrown the road,
contrasting well with the surrounding green; but the steep banks are
mostly covered with pasture, or plantations, or wild underwood,
blending here and there with the moorland heather which crests the
summits of the hills. As I went up the road that day rindles
of water laced the hill-sides, for there had been heavy rain in the
night; the rocks were festooned with bright ferns, and lichens, and
tufts of heath; the blending songs of birds filled the clough with
wild delight; and the lush verdure of June fringed the way-side with
beauty. . . . I met very few people on my way. A round-faced
lad came clattering by in clogs, whistling as he went; a tattered
cobbler, on tramp, looking damp and doleful as he limped down
towards Todmorden, with a pair of raggèd "pushers" on his feet, like
bits of ruined dish-clout; a jolting stone-cart, attended by a great
bare-breasted, brown-faced driver, in mud-stained corduroy; and a
lonely, wan-faced woman, clean as a new pin, and dressed in decent,
quaint-fashioned black, with a blue lin umbrella in her hand.
She was evidently on her way to a funeral. As I passed by a
mill, the buzz of wheels came upon the ear like the rush of water
over a drowsy fall; and when I came to a cluster of cottages,
children were playing about the doors, and women looked out, hearing
footsteps out upon the road. Now and then a dog barked, seeing
a strange face; and I noticed in the window of a schoolhouse by the
road side a placard announcing that some notable preacher was coming
to the opening of a new chapel in the clough. Some of the
chapels in these vales are built so like mills that it seems as if
the trustees intended, in case of failure in converting the
congregation, that at least they should be able to convert the
chapel. About two miles up, where I left all sylvan features
behind, and where the scene grew bleaker at every stride, a few
cottages and a tollbar stood close by the road. A few yards
above the tollbar there was a comfortable stone-built inn, called
the Bay Horse. It stood back from the road, leaving a space
where carts could draw up. About half a dozen cottages trickle
off from the upper end of the inn; and this cluster of dwellings was
the high-water mark of human life in Dulesgate, for there was
nothing in sight above but the unshaded moorlands.
I went into the Bay Horse. There was a fire in the
tap-room, where four carters were sitting at their ale. They
were talking briskly enough as I walked up the lobby, but the moment
I entered the room they became silent, and stared. I called
for a glass of ale, and took a seat by the fire. The landlord,
who was a stout elderly man, sat by the door with his elbows on his
knees, looking at the ground, and now and then casting a sly glance
at me. The four carters, too, were quietly taking stock of me,
from head to toe, wondering, perhaps, whether I was a "Scotchman," a
quack doctor, or an attorney's clerk, and what business had brought
me up there.
"Tay, I doubt," said one of the carters, in a whisper, to his
"Pills, for a quart," whispered the other in reply.
In two or three minutes the landlady entered with a plate of
mutton chops. "Theer," said she, as she set the plate down in
front of one of the carters. "Get that into tho! . . . Aw
guess thae'll want some brade?"
"Come, aw'll fot (fetch) a bit," said she; and out she went.
"Hasto no saut?" said the landlord, half raising his head,
and looking at the table.
"Heigh!" cried the landlord, shouting towards the kitchen.
"Bring some saut!"
"Comin'!" replied the landlady's voice from the kitchen.
The landlady returned with the bread and salt, and setting
them down silently, she went out again, looking askance from the
doorway to see what I was like. The carter fell to his mutton,
and all was so still that I could hear his jaws at work.
Before he had eaten many mouthfuls, he knocked with his empty pot
upon the table, and said, "I can manage another."
The landlord raised his head, and shouted out at the doorway
again, "Heigh! Dost yer? Another pint." Then, as
if suddenly bethinking himself, he took up the pitcher, and said,
"Come, aw'll fot it," and for a minute or two there was not a sound
in the room again but the carter's knife and fork and his champing
jaws. As the landlord came back with the ale, he stopped at
the door, and looking out towards the high-road, he said, "Hello!
there's two moor gooin' deawn, I see."
The carters jumped up, and looked through the window.
"Ay," said one of them. "Yon belungs th' same lot."
"Who are they?" said the landlord. "Conto mak 'em eawt?"
"Nay, aw don't know 'em," replied the carter; "but they
favvourn Todmorden chaps. I'll be bound they're upo' th' same
"Aw dar say they are," replied the landlord. "They're
come'd a-viewin', aw guess."
Then they sat down, and all was still once more, and they
eyed me again, with more curiosity than before. "What's bin to
do?" said I to the landlord.
"Some sheep worried, upo' th' tops here," replied he, without
even raising his elbows from his knees, as if he thought I was
somehow connected with the affair, and had crept in there to gather
information in an underhand way.
"How mony?" said I.
"A twothre," replied he, giving another sly glance, and then
looking at the floor again.
Here one of the carters began to be more communicative.
"There's bin four dogs at th' job, as far as I con yer," said he;
"an' there's law flyin' o'er it. . . . They're foos for gooin' to
law. It's wur nor feightin' in a fire-hole,—th' best on 'em 'll
"Ay," replied the landlord, "there wur four dogs, I believe,
bi what they say'n; but I know nought mich abeawt it."
"There wur four dogs, I tell yo," continued the carter.
"I know folk 'at see'd 'em. But two o'th dogs belungs poor
chaps, an' they'n drops upo' thoose two. Tother are too big
for 'em to hondle, aw guess."
"Thae knows nowt abeawt it, Joe," said the landlord; "nobbut
what somebry's towd tho."
"Dunnot I?" replied the carter. "Aw know 'at kissin'
gwos by favvour, owd lad; an' th' waiker side 'll ha' to go to th'
wole i' this dog stir, th' same as everythin' else."
"Well, ay," answered the landlord; "there's summit i' that.
But let's drop it wheer it is, whol we yer'n fur into't."
"O reet," replied the carter. "Bring another pint."
The landlord brought the ale, and then dropped into his seat,
with his elbows on his knees again. In the meantime, I
bethought me of a plan by which to dispel the reserve which kept us
asunder. As it happened, I had known this inn many years
before, and the owner of it was an old friend of mine.
"Has Charles bin up lately?" said I, addressing the landlord.
"What Charles?" replied he, taking his elbows from his knees.
"Charles o' Jimmy's."
"Dun yo know Charles?" replied he, looking me full in the
"Ay," said I. "I've known him a good while. Has
he bin up lately?"
"Nawe; but I know when he will be up to a day or two."
"It's th' rent-day," replied the landlord; "an' it doesn't
want aboon a fortnit' to, now." After that, he looked
thoughtful for a minute or so, and then, taking up the poker, he
said, as he scaled the ashes out of the fire-grate, "O, ay! what,
dun yo know Charles, then? Here, lass! Bring some
naplins to this fire."
The landlady came and mended the fire. When she had
gone out the old man began again by asking if I knew "Brown Tummy."
I did not know Brown Tummy.
"Ay, well! " continued he, "his wife's just at last, I yer."
"What age is hoo?" said I.
"Hoo'll be fifty," replied he; "an' he'll be threescore, I
"It'll be a bad job for th' owd chap," said I.
"Well, ay," replied he; "I dar say he'll miss her,—he's so
like. But hoo's like potito-settin's,—hoo'll be th' best
i'th ground. Hoo's lad (led) him a feaw (foul) life,—hoo
We were now getting nicely a-swing together, and I thought I
would keep it up.
"Yo'n getten a new poker, I see," said I, taking it up from
"New poker!" replied he, staring me in the face. "Well,
ay. . . . Whau, nay,—we'n had it,—let's see. Hea lung han we
had this poker, lass?"
"Oh, a good bit," said the landlady, setting her hands upon
her hips, and turning round to look at me again. "We'n had it
a good bit; an' what bi that?"
"Nay, nought," answered I; "but yo use't to have a little
short un, worn sharp at th' end."
"Ay, an' so we had. What, yon bin here afore, I yer?"
"O, ay," replied I; "lung sin. I've seen th' poker
"Hello!" cried one of the carters; and then they all laughed
"What the dule!" said the landlord; "han yo bin in at th'
poker-weighin', then? Well, an' heaw did yo go on?"
"Ay," said the landlady, "heaw wenten yo on? Let's be
I told them the tale briefly but this was how it happened to
me at the time:—
About six years before the day of which I am writing, I
wandered into Dulesgate, one winter afternoon, and I called at this
same inn, the Bay Horse. There was a large company in the
taproom, chiefly carters, and they were very noisy. But as
soon as I entered, being a stranger, I became the subject of curious
observation, as usual, and they were still for a few minutes.
At last a carter who sat next the hob took up the little worn poker,
and stirred the fire; and then he began to balance the poker quietly
upon the palm of his hand, like an Irishman examining a new
shillelagh. He then gave a kind of meditative grunt, as he
laid the poker down again, and seemed to turn his mind to something
else. The other carters had been silently watching this all
the while. "Jim," said one of them, "what's up wi' th' poker?"
"Nay," replied he, "I're nobbut wonderin' whether I could guess th'
weight or not." "Gi' me howd," cried another. "I'll
guess ony on yo for a quart." Then he tried it on his hand.
"Two peawnd four eawnce and a quarter," said he, handing it to the
next. "What says thae, Joe?" The other seemed to try it
with great care, and as he handed it back he said, with a knowing
air, "A quarter lower, for a quart." And so they sent it round
amongst them, some guessing one thing, some another, but all
hovering about the same weight. At last, when the poker came round
to the one who had started the thing, he tried it again, and then,
handing it to me, he said, " Two peawnd four eawnce an' a hauve.
What say'n yo, maister?" Now betting was not in my way, but I began
to feel a little interest in the thing, so I, too, balanced the
poker, and guessed something. "By th' mon," cried one of them,
taking the poker out of my hand, "I believe that chap's th' nearest
of ony on us. I'll venture an odd pint upo' th' same weight,
as heaw. It's o'th brass 'at I have abeawt my rags, or else"
"Here, let me have another do," said a little stiff fellow, who sat
in a corner playing with his whip. He tried it once more, with
critical nicety, and then, addressing me, he said, "I'll bet yo a
shillin', maister, 'at yor aboon an eawnce eawt." An I took
the challenge for the fun of the thing. The moment I had done
so there was a general cry, "Come, lads, let's have it weighed!"
"Wheer mun we goo?" said one. "Han yo a pair o' scales?" said
another. "Nawe, we ha' not," replied the landlord. Tak
it deawn to John Ho'th's, at th' tother side. He'll weigh it
for yo." This John Howarth kept a little grocery shop a few
yards below the inn. Away we went with the poker, half a dozen
of us or so. A little bell tingled as we opened the shop door,
and out came John from the kitchen. "Here, John, owd brid,"
said one of the carters, "weigh this fire-potter for us, wilto?"
"What, again?" said John; and as he readied his scales, his eyes
wandered inquiringly through the group. At last they settled
on me, being a stranger, and a quiet smile crept over his face, in
which a great deal of sly fun mingled with something like contempt.
But, with a kind of humorous earnestness, he seemed to weigh the
poker very carefully. I forget what it weighed, but I was
several ounces wrong; and as he handed it back he said that it had
worn a great deal lighter since he first knew it. The carters
kept countenances till we got out; but I saw that I was sold.
John followed us to the door, and as I went out he said, as he
tapped me on the shoulder, "Yo'n happen know th' weight o' that
poker th' next time yo seen it."
The weighing of the poker pleased the landlord and the
carters very well. They had seen the same trick done many a
time; and they were very sociable with me after the story. But
twilight was stealing on, and I had a long distance to go, so I took
leave of them, and went on my way across the wild moors.
Come unto these yellow sands,
Then take hands:
Court'sied when you have, and kissed,
The wild waves whist.
AT the western
edge of that quiet tract of Lancashire called the Fylde, lying
between Wyre, Ribble, and the Irish Channel, the little wind-swept
hamlet of Norbreck stands, half asleep, on the brow of a green ridge
overlooking the sea. The windows of a whitewashed cottage wink
over its garden wall as the traveller comes up the slope, between
tall hedgerows; and very likely he will find all so still that, but
for wild birds that crowd the air with music, he could hear his
footsteps ring on the road as clearly as if he were walking on the
flags of a gentleman's greenhouse. In summer, when its
buildings are glittering in their annual suit of new whitewash, and
when all the country round looks green and glad, it is a pleasant
spot to set eyes upon,—this quiet hamlet overlooking the sea.
At that time of year it smells of roses, and of
Cribs where oxen lie;
and the little place is so steeped in murmurs of the ocean that its
natural dreaminess seems deepened thereby. I cannot find that any
great barons of the old time or that any world-shaking people have
lived there, or that any events which startle a nation have ever
happened on that ground, but the tranquil charm that fills the air
repays for the absence of historic fame.
There is seldom much stir in Norbreck, except such as the elements
make. The inhabitants would think the place busy with a dozen people
upon its grass-grown road at once, whatever the season might be. It
is true that on a fine day in summer I have now and then seen a
little life just at the entrance of the hamlet. There stands a
pretty cottage, of one storey, consisting of six cosy rooms, that
run lengthwise, its white walls adorned with rose-trees and
fruit-trees, and its windows bordered with green trellis-work. Two
trim grass-plats, with narrow beds of flowers, and neat walks, mosaically-paved with blue and white pebbles from the sea, fill up
the front garden, which a low white wall and a little green gate
enclose from the road. In front of this cottage I have sometimes
seen a troop of rosy children playing round a pale girl, who was
hopelessly infirm, and, perhaps on that account, the darling of the
whole household. I have seen her rocking in the sun, and with
patient melancholy watching their gambols, whilst they strove to
please her with all kinds of little artless attentions. Poor Lucy! Sometimes, after swaying to and fro thoughtfully in her chair, she
would stop and ask questions that sent her father out of the room to
wipe his eyes. "Papa, are people lame in heaven?" "Papa, are angels
poorly sometimes, like we are here?" . . . It is one of those
beautiful compensations that mingle with the mishaps of life, that
such a calamity has often the sweet effect of keeping kind hearts
continually kind. The poor Lancashire widow, when asked why she
seemed to fret more for the loss of her helpless lad than for any of
her other children, said she couldn't tell, except "it were becose
hoo'd had to nurse him moor nor o' tother put together." Surely,
There is a soul of good in all things evil.
About this pretty cottage, where little Lucy lived, is the busiest
part of the hamlet in summer time. There may chance to be two or
three visitors sauntering in the sunshine; or, perhaps, old Thomas
Smith, better known as "Owd England," the sea-beaten patriarch of
Norbreck, may paddle across the road to look after his cattle, or,
staff in hand, may be going down to "low watter" a-shrimping, with
his thin hair playing in the breeze. Perhaps Lizzy, the milkmaid,
may run from the house to the shippon, with her skirt tucked up, and
the neb of an old bonnet pulled led down to shade her eyes; or Tom,
the cow-lad, may be leaning against a sunny wall, whistling, and
mending his whip, and wondering how long it wants to dinner-time. There may be a fine cat dozing on the garden wall or gliding
stealthily towards the outhouses. These are common features of life
there. For the rest, the sounds heard are mostly the cackle of
poultry, the clatter of milk-cans, the occasional bark of a dog, the
distant lowing of kine, a snatch of country song floating from the
fields, the wild birds'
Tipsy routs of lyric joy,
and that all-embracing murmur of the surge which fills one's ears
wherever we go. In Norbreck everything smacks of the sea. On the
grassy border of the road, about the middle of the hamlet, there is
generally a pile of wreck waiting the periodical sale which takes
place all along the coast. I have sometimes looked at this pile, and
thought that perhaps to this or that spar some seaman might have
clung with desperate energy among the hungry waters, until he sank,
overpowered, into his uncrowded grave. The walls of gardens and
farmyards are mostly built of cobbles from the beach, sometimes
fantastically laid in patterns of different hues. The garden beds
are edged with shells, and the walks laid with blue and white
pebbles. Here and there are rockeries of curiously-shaped stones
from the shore. Every house has its little store of marine rarities,
which meet the eye on cornices and shelves wherever we turn. Now and
then we meet with a dead sea-mew on the road, and noisy flocks of
gulls make fitful excursions landward, particularly in
ploughing-time, when they crowd after the plough to pick slugs and
worms out of the new furrows.
With a single exception, all the half-dozen dwellings in Norbreck
are on one side of the road, with their backs to the north. On the
one side there are gardens, and a few whitewashed outhouses, with
weather-beaten walls. The main body of the hamlet consists of a
great irregular range of buildings, formerly the residence of a
wealthy family. This pile is now divided into several dwellings, in
some of which are snug retreats for such as prefer the seclusion of
this sea-nest to the bustle of a crowded watering-place. A little
enclosed lawn, belonging to the endmost of the group, and then a
broad field, divides this main cluster from the only other
habitation. The latter seems to stand off a little, as if it had
more pretensions to gentility than the rest. It is a picturesque
house, of different heights, built at different times. At the
landward end, a spacious yard, with great wooden doors close to the
road, contains the outbuildings, with an old-fashioned weather vane
on the top of them. The lowermost part of the dwelling is a
combination of neat cottages of one story. The highest part is a
substantial brick edifice of two stories, with attics. This portion
has great bow windows, which sweep the sea view, from the coast of
Wales, round by the Isle of Man, to the mountains of Cumberland. In
summer, the white walls of the cottage part are covered with roses
and creeping plants, and there is an air of order and tasteful
rusticity about the whole, even to the neat cobble pavement which
borders the way-side. On the top of the porch a stately peacock
sometimes struts, like a feathered showman, whilst his mate paces to
and fro, cackling, on the field wall immediately opposite. There are
probably a few poultry pecking about the front; and, if it happens
to be a sunny day, a fine old English bear-hound, of the Lyme breed,
called Lion, and not much unlike his namesake in the main, may be
seen stretched in a sphinx-like posture in the middle of the road,
as if the whole Fylde belonged to him, by right of entail, and
slowly moving his head with majestic gaze, as if turning over in his
mind whether or not it would be polite to take a piece out of the
passing traveller for presuming to walk that way. Perhaps in the
southward fields a few kine are grazing and whisking their tails in
the sunshine, or galloping from gap to gap under the influence of
the gad-fly's spur; and it may happen that some wanderer from
Blackpool can be seen on the cliffs, with his garments flapping in
the breeze. Except these, and the rolling surge below, all is still
at this end of the hamlet, unless the jovial face of the owner
appear above the wall that encloses his outbuildings, wishing the
passer-by "the fortune of the day." Norbreck, as a whole, is no way
painfully genteel in appearance, but it is sweet and serene, and its
cluster of houses seems to know how to be comfortable, without
caring much for display. Dirt and destitution are unknown there,—in
fact, I was told that this applies generally to all the scattered
population of that quiet Fylde country. Though there are many people
there whose means of existence are almost as simple as those of the
wild bird and the field-mouse, yet squalor and starvation are
strangers amongst them. If any mischance happen to any of these
Fylde folk, everybody knows everybody else, and, somehow, they stick
to one another like Paddy's shrimps,—if you take up one you take up
twenty. The road, which comes up thither from many a mile of playful
meanderings through the green country, as soon as it quits the last
house, immediately dives through the cliffs, with a sudden impulse,
as if it had been reading "Robinson Crusoe," and had been drawn all
that long way solely by its love for the ocean. The sea-beach at
this spot is a fine sight at any time; but in a clear sunset the
scene is too grand to be touched by any imperfect words. Somebody
has very well called this part of the coast "the region of glorious
sunsets." When the waters retire, they leave a noble solitude, where
a man may wander a mile or two north or south upon a floor of sand
finer than any marble, "and yet no footing seen" except his own;
and hear no sounds that mingle with the mysterious murmurs of the
sea but the cry of the sailing gull, the piping of a flock of
silver-winged tern, or the scream of the wild sea-mew. Even in
summer there are but few stragglers to disturb those endless forms
of beauty which the moody waves, at every ebb, leave printed all
over that grand expanse, in patterns ever new.
Such is little Norbreck, as I have seen it in the glory of the year. In winter, when the year's whitewash upon its houses is getting a
little weather-worn, it looks rather moulty and raggèd to the eye;
and it is more lonely and wild, simply because Nature itself is so
then,—and Norbreck and Nature are not very distant relations.
The waves shall flow o'er this lilye lea,
And Penny Stone fearfu' flee:
The Red Bank scar scud away dismay'd,
When Englond's in jeopardie.
STONE: A TRADITION
OF THE FYLDE.
IT was a bonny
day on the 5th of March, 1860, when I visited Norbreck, just before
those tides came on which had been foretold as higher than any for a
century previous. This announcement brought thousands of
people from the interior into Blackpool and other places on that
coast. Many came expecting the streets to be invaded by the
tide, and a great part of the level Fylde laid under water, with
boats plying above the deluged fields, to rescue its inhabitants
from the towers of churches and the tops of farmhouses.
Knowing as little of these things as inland people generally do, I
had something of the same expectation; but when I came to the coast,
and found the people going quietly about their usual business, I
thought that, somehow, I must be wrong. It is true that one or
two farmers had raised their stacks several feet, and another had
sent his "deeds" to Preston, that they might be high and dry till
the waters left his land again; and certain old ladies who had been
reading the newspapers were a little troubled thereby; but, in the
main, these seaside folk did not seem afraid of the tide.
During the two days when the sea was to reach its height,
Blackpool was as gay, and the weather almost as fine, as if it had
been the month of June instead of "March,—mony weathers," as Fylde
folk call it. The promenade was lively with curious inlanders,
who had left their looms at this unusual season to see the wonders
of the great deep. But when it came to pass that, because
there was no wind to help in the water, the tide rose but little
higher than common, many people murmured thereat, and the town
emptied as quickly as it had filled. Not finding a deluge,
they hastened landward again, with a painful impression that the
whole thing was a hoax. The sky was blue, the wind was still,
and the sun was shining clearly; but this was not what they had come
forth to see.
Though some were glad of any excuse for wandering again by
the shores of the wild ocean, and bathing soul and body in its
renovating charms, the majority were sorely disappointed.
Among these, I met one old gentleman, close on seventy, who
declared, in a burst of impassioned vernacular, that he wouldn't
come to Blackpool again "for th' next fifty year, sink or swim."
He said, "Their great tide were nowt i'th world but an arrant sell,
getten up by lodgin'-heawse keepers, an' railway chaps, an'
newspapper folk, an' sich like wastril devils, a-purpose to bring
country-folk to th' wayter-side, an' hook brass eawt o' their
pockets. It were a lond tide at Blackpool folk were after; an'
they wanted to get it up i' winter as weel as summer. He could
see through it weel enough. But they'd done their do wi' him.
He'd too mich white in his een to be humbugged twice o'er i'th same
gate, or else he'd worn his yed a greyt while to vast little end.
But he'd come no moor a-seein' their tides, nor nowt else,—nawe, not
if th' whole hole were borne't away,—folk an' o', bigod! He
did not blame th' say so mich,—not he. Th' say would behave
itsel' reet enough, iv a rook o' thievin' devils would nobbut let it
alone, an' not go an' belie it shamefully, just for th' sheer lucre
o' ill-getten gain, an' nowt else. . . . He coom fro' Bowton, an'
he're beawn back to Bowton by th' next train; an' iv onybody ever
see'd him i' Blackpool again, they met tell him on't at th' time,
an' he'd ston a bottle o' wine for 'em, as who they were. They
had a little saup o' wayter aside o' whoam that onsert their bits o'
jobs i' Bowton reet enough. It're nobbut a mak ov a bruck; but
he'd be content wi' it for th' futur,—tide or no tide. They
met tak their say, an' sup it, for him,—trashy devils!" Of
course this was an extreme case, but there were many grumblers on
the same ground, and some amusement arising out of their unreasoning
Down at Norbreck, about four miles north of Blackpool, though
there was a little talk, here and there, about the curious throng at
the neighbouring watering-place, all else was still as usual.
Owd England, the quaint farmer and fisherman of the hamlet, knew
these things well. He had lived nearly seventy-four years on
that part of the coast, and he still loved the great waters with the
fervour of a sea-smitten lad. From childhood he had been
acquainted with the moods and tenses of the ocean; and it was a rare
day that didn't see him hobble to "low watter" for some purpose or
other. He explained to me that a tide of much lower register
in the tables, if brought in by a strong wind, would be higher, in
fact, than this one with an opposite wind and he laughed at the
fears of such as didn't know much about the matter.
"Thoose that are fleyed," said he, "had better go to bed i'
boats, an' then they'll ston a chance o' wakkenin' aboon watter i'th
mornin'. . . . Th' idea of a whol teawn o' folk comin' to't seea for
this. Pshaw! I've no patience wi' 'em! . . . Tide!
There'll be no tide worth speykin' on,—silly divuls,—what I knaw.
I've sin a fifteenfuut tide come far higher nor this twenty-one fuut
eleven can come wi' th' wind again it,—sewer aw hev. So fittin'
it should, too. . . . But some folk knawn nowt o'th natur o'
Lame old Billy Singleton, a weather-worn fisherman, better
known by the name of Pegleg, sat knitting under the window, with his
dim eyes bent over a broken net. Owd England turned to him and
said, "It wur a fifteenfuut tide, Billy, at did o' that damage at
Cleveless, where th' bevel-men are at wark."
Old Pegleg lifted his head, and replied, "Sewer it wor,
Thomas! An', by th' hectum! that wor a tide! If we'd hed
a strang sou'west wind, this wad ha' played rickin', too. I've
heeard as there wor once a village ca'd Singleton Thorpe, between
Cleveless and Rossall, weshed away by a heigh tide, abaat three
hundred year sin'. By th' hectum! if that had happen't i'
these days, Thomas, there wod ha' bin some cheeop trips an' things
stirrin' ower it." He then went on mending his net.
Old bed-ridden Alice, who had spent most of the daylight of
seven years stretched upon a couch under the window, said, "But it
never could touch us at Norbreck,—nowt o't sooart! It's nearly
th' heighest point i't country,—isn't it, uncle?"
"Sartinly," said Owd England. "But," continued he, "iv
yo want to see summat worth rememberin', yo mun go to low watter.
It'll be a rare seet. Th' seea 'll ebb far nor ever wor knawn
i'th memory o' mon; an' there'll be skeers an' rocks eawt as hesn't
bin sin of a hundred year. Iv ye'd like to set fuut o' greawnd
at nobody livin' mun walk on again, go daan with us at five o'clock
o' Friday afternoon."
I felt that this would indeed be an interesting sight, and I
agreed to accompany the old fisherman to low water.
It was a cloudless, summer-like evening, when our little
company of four set out from Norbreck. As we descended the
cliffs, the track of the declining sun's beams upon the sea was too
glorious for eyes to endure, and every little pool and rill upon the
sands gleamed like liquid gold. A general hush pervaded the
scene, and we could hear nothing but our own voices, and a subdued
murmur of the distant waves, which made the prevailing silence more
evident to the senses.
Owd England led the way, with his favourite stick in hand,
and a basket on his arm for the collection of a kind of saltwater
snail called "whilks," which he said was "the finest heytin' of any
sort o' fish i'th world for folk i' consumptions. . . . Yo happen
wouldn't think it," said he, "bod I wor i' danger o' consumption
when I were a young mon."
As we went on, now over a firm swelling sand-bank, now
stepping from stone to stone through a raggèd skeer, and slipping
into pools and channels left by the tide, or wading the water in
reckless glee,—the fine old man kept steadily ahead, muttering his
wayward fancies as he made towards the silver fringe that played
upon the skirts of the sea. Now and then he stopped to point
out the rocks and tell their names.
"That's th' Carlin' an' Cowt,—a common seet enough. Yo
see, it's not far eawt. . . . Yon's th' Mussel Rock, deawn to
so'thard. Ther's folk musselin' on it neaw, I believe.
But we'n go that way on. . . . Tak raand bith sond-bank theer.
Yaar noan shod for wadin', an' this skeer's a varra rough un. . . .
That's Penny Stone reight afore yo, toward the seea. Ye'll hev
heeard o'th Penny Stone Rock, mony a time, aw warnd. There wor
once a public-heawse wheer it stons, i'th owd time; an' they sowd
ale theer at a penny a pot. Bod, then, one connot tell whether
it wor dear or cheeop till they knaw what size th' pot wor,—an' that
aw dunnot knaw. Mr. Thornber, o' Blackpool, hes written a book
abaat this Penny Stone; an' I believe that Mr. Wood, o' Bispham
Schoo', hes one. He'll land it yo in a minute, aw warnd.
Yo mun send little Tom wi' a bit ov a note. I never see Penny
Stone eawt so as to get raand it afore. . . . Neaw, yon far'est,
near low watter, is th' Owd Woman's Heyd. I've often heeard on
it, an' sometimes sin a bit o't tip aboon watter, bod I never see it
dry i' my life afore,—an' I never mun again,—never."
He then paddled on, filling his basket, and muttering to
himself about this extraordinary ebb, and about the shortness of
human life. The sun began to
Steep his glowing axle in the western wave,
and the scene was melting every moment into a new tone of grandeur.
As we neared the water, the skeers were more rugged and wet, and in
a few minutes we picked up a basketful of "whilks," and a beautiful
variety of the sea anemone. After the sun had dipped, his
lingering glory still crowded the western heavens, and seemed to
deepen in splendour as it died upon the scene, while the golden
ripples of the sea sang daylight down to rest. I never saw
mild evening close over the world with such dreamy magnificence.
We wandered by the water, till
Was mounted high in top of heaven sheen,
And warned his other brethren joyeous
To light their blessèd lamps in Jove's eternall house.
The tide was returning, and the air getting cold, so we went
homewards, with wandering steps, in the wake of our old wandering
fisherman, by way of Penny Stone Rock. There is a tradition
all over the Fylde that this rock, now only visible
On the utmost verge of the retired wave,
marks the locality of a once famous hostelry. Doubtless the
tradition has some foundation in fact, as the encroachments of the
sea upon this coast have been great, and sometimes disastrous, as in
the destruction of the village of Singleton Thorpe, about a mile and
a half to northward, in 1555. In the Rev. W. Thornber's
interesting little volume, called "Penny Stone; or, a Tradition of
the Spanish Armada," he says of the old hostelry associated with
this now submerged rock,—
It was situated in a vale,
protected from the sea by a barrier of sand-hills, at a short
distance from a village called Singleton Thorpe, in the foreland of
the Fylde, Lancashire. The site of the homestead was romantic,
for it was in the very centre of a Druidical circle, described in a
former tradition of the country, one of the huge stones of which
reared its misshapen block near the porch. Into this stone a
ring had been inserted by the thrifty Jock, its host, to which he
was wont to attach the horses of his customers whilst they regaled
themselves with a penny pot of his far-famed ale. Hither the
whole country resorted on holidays, to spend them in athletic games,
and to quaff the beloved beverage,—nay, so renowned was the hostel,
that "merrie days of hie away to Penny Stone" was common even to a
proverb. Here lay the secret enchantment of its popularity.
The old distich tells us that
Hops, reformation, bays, and beer,
Came into England all in a year.
Ale was a beverage which had been well known in
England, but in the reign of Henry VIII. it assumed a new name from
the infusion of hops. Now, Jock's father, a cunning lout, was
the first to commence in the Fylde this new, and at that time
mysterious, system of brewing, which so pleased the palate of his
customers that while others sold their insipid malt liquor at
twopence per gallon he vended his ale at a penny per pot.
Hence his hostel became known by the name of Penny Stone.
Such is the embodiment Mr. Thornber has given to the common
tradition of Penny Stone, which we were now approaching on our
homeward way. As we drew near it, we saw five persons coming
over the shining sands towards the same spot, and we heard merry
voices ringing in the air. I first made out my friend Alston,
in his strong shooting-dress of light-coloured tweed, attended by
two favourite terriers, Wasp and Snap. We met at the rock, and
I found my friend accompanied by three "brethren of the mystic tie,"
one of whom was Mr. Thornber, the veritable chronicler of Penny
Stone. The latter had wandered thus far, with his companions,
mainly to avail himself of this rare chance of climbing his pet
legendary crag. His hands were full of botanical specimens
from the sea, and, in his fervid way, he descanted upon them, and
upon the geology of the coast, in a manner which, I am sorry to say,
was almost lost to my uninitiated mind. I took the opportunity
of inquiring where he found the materials for his tradition.
He answered that there was no doubt of its fundamental truth, "but,
as to the details wrought into the story," said he, pointing to his
forehead, with a laugh, "I found them in a cellar, deep down in the
The gloomy mass was surrounded by a little moat of salt
water, nearly knee-deep, through which we passed; and then, clinging
to its Triton locks of sea-weeds, we climbed to the slippery peaks
of Penny Stone. The stout lad in attendance drew a bottle from
his basket; and then each in his way celebrated this unexpected
meeting in that singular spot, where we should never meet together
I shall never forget the sombre splendour of the scene, nor
the striking appearance of the group upon that lonely rock, when the
rearward hues of day were yielding their room to "sad succeeding
night." We lingered there awhile, but the air was cold, and
the sea began to claim its own again. Four then returned by
the cliffs to Blackpool, and the rest crossed the sands hastily to
Norbreck, where, after an hour's chat by the old fisherman's great
kitchen fire, I crept to bed, with the sound of the sea in my ears.
A very good piece of work, I assure you,
and a merry. Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your
actors by the scroll. Masters, spread yourselves.
"million-fingered rain" was tapping at the kitchen window as I sat
by Owd England's bright hearthstone one forenoon, hearkening to the
wind that moaned outside like a thing in pain. I could hear by
a subdued thump that Lizzy was churning in the dairy; and I knew, by
the smell of fresh bread which came from a spacious out-kitchen,
that Granny was baking. Little Tom, the cow-lad, had started
early with the cart to Poulton for coals, making knots on his
whiplash as he went along, to help his memory, which was crowded
with orders to call at one place for meal, at another for mutton,
and at others for physic, and snuff, and such like oddments, wanted
by the neighbours. Owd England had gone to the seaside, with
his staff, and his leather strap, to fetch the daily "burn" of
firewood, and to see what he could see, for every tide brought
something. One day he hauled a barrel of Stockholm tar from
the waters,—on another, part of the cabin furniture of an
unfortunate steamer,—and then a beam of pine was thrown ashore,—in
all of which the old man had a certain interest as "wreck-master."
Pegleg, the fisherman, was mending a net; and lame Alice lay, as
usual, wrapped up, and in shadow, on the couch under the window,
with her pale face, and a nose "as sharp as a pen," turned to the
ceiling; while Tib, with her soft legs folded under, lay basking
luxuriously in the fire-shine, dreaming of milk and of mice.
The old clock ticked audibly in the corner, and a pin-drop silence
prevailed in the room.
"That's a fine cat," said I.
"Ay," replied old Alice. "Isn't it a varra fine cat?
It's mother to that as Missis Alston hes. It cam fra Lunnon,
an' it's worth a deeol o' money is that cat. The varra day as
you cam, it weshed it face an' sneez't twice,—it dud, for sewer.
Missis Eastwood wor gettin dinner ready at th' time, an' hoo said, 'We'st
hev a stranger fra some quarter this day, mind i' we hevn't;' an'
directly after yo cam walkin' into th' heawse, I tell yo, just as
nowt were. I offens think it's queer; bod I've sin cats as
good as ony almanack for tellin' th' weather an' sich like."
"Will it scrat?" said I, stroking Tib, as she stretched and
yawned in my face.
"Well," replied Alice, "it's like everything else for
that,—it just depends what you do at it. Bod I can onser for
one thing,—it'll not scrat as ill as th' Red Cat at Bispham does.
I hev sin folk a bit mauled after playin' wi' that."
"Ay, an' so hev I, too," said old Pegleg. "I ca'd theer
tother neet, an' by th' hectum! heaw they were gooin' on, to be
sewer! I crope into a corner wi' mi gill, there wor sich
liltin' agate; an', ye knaw, a mon wi' one leg made o' wood and
tother full o' rheumatic pains is nowt mich at it. Beside,
I've taen a likin' to quietness,—one does, ye knaw, Alice, as they
getten owd. I geet aside ov a mon as wor tellin' abeawt Jem
Duckworth, o' Preston, sellin' his midden. Ye'll hev heeard o'
"Nay, I don't know as I hev, Billy. What is it? I
dud hear at once th' baillies were in his heawse, an' they agreed to
go away if he'd find 'em a good bondsman. So Jem towd 'em that
he had a varra respectable owd friend i'th next room that he thowt
would be bund wi' him to ony amount,—if they'd let him fotch him.
So they advised him to bring his bond in at once, an' hev it
sattle't baat ony bother,—for th' baillies wor owd friends o' Jem's,
ye knaw, an' they didn't want to be hard wi' him. Well, what
does Jem do bod go an' fotch a great brown bear as he'd hed mony a
year, an' turns it into th' place wheer th' baillies were, baat
muzzle, and says, 'Gentlemen, that's my bondsman.' Bod, never
ye mind, if th' baillies didn't go through that window moor sharper!
. . . I've heeard mony a queer tale o' Jem. What's this abaat
th' midden, Billy?"
"Well, ye knaw, Jem wor a good-temper't mon, but full o'
quire tricks. He wor varra strong, an' a noted feighter,—
th' cock o'th clod in his day, for that. An' he kept a deeol
o' horses, that he leet aat for hire. Well, he'd once gether't
a good midden together fra th' stables, an' farmers began o' comin'
abaat th' yard to look at it; so one on 'em says, 'Jem, what'llto
tak for th' midden?' 'Five paand,' says Jem. 'Well, I'll
gi' tho five paand,' says the farmer. So he ped him, an' said
he'd send th' carts in a day or two. In a bit, another comes,
an' axes th' price o'th midden. Jem stack to th' owd tale, an'
said, 'Five paand,—an' cheeop, too;' an' th' farmer gev him th'
brass at once. 'Sowd again,' says Jem, 'an' th' money drawn!'
Well, at the end of o', it happen't at both sets o' carts cam for th'
midden o'th same day, an' there were the devil's delight agate i'th
yard between 'em. At last, they agreed to send for Jem.
So he cam, wi' a face as innocent as a flea, an' wanted to know
whatever were to do. 'Didn't I buy this midden, Jem?' said
one. 'Yigh, sure thae did,' said Jem. 'Well, an' didn't
I pay tho for't at th' same time?' 'Sure thae did, owd lad,—reet
enough,' says Jem. 'Well, but,' says tother, 'didn't I buy it
on tho?' 'Yigh, thae did,' says Jem; 'an' thae ped me for't,
too, honourably, like a mon,—an' I'll tak very good care that nob'dy
but yo two hes it.' That wor rayther awkert, ye knaw, an' I
know not heaw they'd end it,—for Jem wor bad to manage. They
wor tellin' it at th' Red Cat tother neet, bod I could hardly hear
for th' gam at wor afuut. Lor bless yo! There wor a
gentleman fra Fleetwood tryin' to donce i'th middle o'th floor; an'
owd Jack Backh'us stood i' one corner, wi' his yure ower his face,
starin' like wild, an' recitin' abaat th' Battle o' Waterloo.
Three chaps sit upo' th' sofa as hed been ower Wyre, o' day, an'
they'd etten so mich snig pie at th' Shard that it hed made 'em
say-sick, so Tom Poole wor mixin' 'em stuff to cure it.
Another wor seawnd asleep on a cheer, an' little Twinkle, fra
Poulton doncin' abeawt, challengin' him to feight. An' it wor
welly as bad eawtside, for there wor a trap coom up wi' a lot o'
trippers as hed bin to Cleveless, an' Bugle Bob upo' th' box, playin'
'Rule Britannia.' Bod I left when th' bevel-men fra Rossall
begun o' comin' in, singin', 'Said Dick unto Tom,' for I felt my yed
givin' way under it."
The song, "Said Dick unto Tom," alluded to by the old man, is
a rude fishing ditty, never printed before, and hardly known out of
the Fylde, to which it relates. I wrote it down from the
recitation of a friend near Norbreck. There is not much in the
words except a quiet, natural tone, with one or two graphic strokes,
which breathe the spirit of the country it originated from.
The tune is a quaint air, which I never heard before. The song
was written some time ago, by William Garlick, a poor man, and a
weaver of "pow-davy," a kind of sail-cloth. These are the
Said Dick unto Tom, one Friday at noon,
Loddle iddle, fol de diddle ido.
Said Dick unto Tom, one Friday at noon,
"Aw could like to go a-bobbin' i'th mornin' varra soon."
To my heigho, wi' my bob-rods an' o',
Loddle iddle, fol de diddle ido.
Then up i'th mornin' Dick dud rise.
Loddle iddle, &c.
Then up i'th mornin' Dick dud rise,
An' to Tom's door like leetnin' flies.
To my heigho, wi' my worm-can an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
So up Tom jumped, an' deawn th' stairs dart.
Loddle iddle, &c.
So up Tom jumped, an' deawn th' stairs dart,
To go a-gettin' dew-worms afore they start.
Wi' my heigho, an' my worm-can an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
Then they hunted, an' rooted, an' seeched abaat.
Loddle iddle, &c.
Then they hunted, an' rooted, and seeched abaat.
"Egad," says little Tom, "there's noan so many aat!"
To my heigho, wi' my worm-can an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
So off they set wi' th' bob-rods i' hond.
Loddle iddle, &c.
So off they set wi' th' bob-rods i' hond,
Like justices o' peace, or governors o' lond.
To my heigho, wi' my snig-bags an' o',
Loddle iddle, &c.
An' when they gat to Kellamoor, that little country
Loddle iddle, &c.
And when they gat to Kellamoor, that little country
Th' childer were so freeten't at they dorsn't show their
To my heigho, wi' my bob-rods an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
An' when they gat to Brynin', folk thought there'd bin a
Loddle iddle, &c.
An' when they gat to Brynin', folk thought there'd bin a
Till little Tommy towd 'em they were bod baan to bob.
To my heigho, wi' my snig-bags, an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
An' when they gat to Wharton, they wor afore the tide.
Loddle iddle, &c.
An' when they gat to Wharton, they wor afore the tide,
They jumped into a boat, an' away they both did ride.
To my heigho, wi' their bob-rods an' o'.
Loddle iddle, &c.
Soon after dinner the clouds broke, and it was fine again.
I went to the seaside, and, after pacing to and fro by the waves a
while, I struck out towards Rossall, through the by-paths of a
wilderness of sand and tall grass called Starrins, that run along
the edge of the cliffs. I had scarcely gone a mile before
The rattlin' showers drave on the blast
again, and the sky was all thick gloom. Dripping wet I hurried
towards the hotel at Cleveless, and, darting in, got planted in a
snug arm-chair by the parlour fire watching the storm that swept
furiously aslant the window, and splashed upon the road in front.
Three other persons were in the room, one a workman from Rossall
College, hard by, and the other commercial men on their route to
Fleetwood. It is wonderful how much rough weather enhances the
beauty of the inside of a house.
Better a wee bush than nae bield.
Well, we were just getting into talk, when the door opened and a
humorous face looked in. It was a bright-eyed middle-aged man,
shining all over with wet. A blue woollen apron was twisted
round his waist, and he had a basket on his arm. Leaning
against one door-cheek, and sticking a knife into the other, he
"By gobs! didn't I get a fine peltin' out o' that! . . . Do
yees want any oysters, gintlemin? The shells is small," said
he, stepping forward, "but they're chockful o' the finest fish in
the world. Divul a aiqual thim oysters has in the wide
ocean,—mind, I'm tellin' ye. . . . Taste that!"
"Hollo, Dennis!" said one of the company, "how is it you
aren't in Fleetwood?"
"Well, because I'm here, I suppose," said Dennis.
"Bedad, ye can't expect a man to be in two places at once,—barrin'
he was a burd. Maybe it's good fortune sent me here to meet
wid a few rale gintlemin. Sorra a one I met on the way, but
rain powrin' down in lashins, till the oysters in my basket began to
think they were in the say again."
"Well, Dennis," said the traveller, "I'll have a score if
you'll tell us about the Irishman in the cook's shop."
"Ye will? Thin divul recave the toe I'll stir till ye
get both! . . . Will ye take another score, sir,—till I tell the
tale? It's little chance ye'll have o' meetin' thim oysters
agin,—for they're gettin' scarce. . . . An' now for the tale," said
he, with his knife and his tongue going together. "It was a
man from Nenagh, in Tipperary,—he was a kind o' ganger on the
railway,—an' he wint to a cook-shop in a teawn not far from this,
an' says he to the missis o' the heawse, 'A basin o' pay-soup,
ma'am, plaze,' says he,—for, mind ye, an Irishman's naterally polite
till he's vexed, an' thin he's as fiery as Julius Sayzur.
Well, whin she brought the soup, Paddy tuk a taste mighty sly; an'
turnin' reawnd, says he,—just for spooart, mind,—says he, 'Bedad,
ma'am, your soup tastes moighty strong o' the water.' Well, av
coorse, the woman was vexed all out, an' she up and towld him he
didn't understand good aitin', an' he might lave the soup for thim
that had bin better eddicated. But bowld Paddy went on
witiheawt losin' a stroke o' the spoon, an',—purtendin' not to hear
her,—says he, 'I'll go bail I'll make as good broth as thim wid a
penny candle an' a trifle o' pepper.' Well, by gobs! this riz
the poor woman's dander to the full hoight, an' she made right at
him wid her fist, an' swore, by this an' by that, if he didn't lave
the heawse she'd knock him into the boiler. But Paddy was nigh
finishing his soup, an' he made up his mind to take the last word,
an' says he, 'By the powers! that'll be the best bite o' mate ever
went into your pan, ma'am!' an' wi' that he burst into a laugh, an'
the philanderin' rogue up an' towld her how he said it all for
divarshun, an' divul a better soup he tasted in his life.
Well, she changed her tune, like a child. Bedad, it was like
playin' a flute, or somethin'. An', mind ye, there's nothin'
like an Irishman for gettin' the right music out of a woman,—all the
world over. So my tale's inded, an' I'd like to see the bottom
o' my basket. Ye may as well brake me, gintlemin.
There's not more nor five score. Take the lot, an' let me go
home; for I've a long step to the fore, an' I'm wet to the bone, an'
the roads is bad after dark."
Still lingering in the quiet paths.
AFTER a good deal
of pleasantry, Dennis got rid of his oysters, and as the storm was
still raging without he called for a glass, just, as he said, "to
keep the damp away from the spark in his heart," more by token that
he had no other fire to dry his clothes at. "But, begorra for
the matter o' that," said he, "they're not worth a grateful o'
coals. Look at mi trousers. They're on the varge o'
superannuation; an' they'll require a substitute before long, or
else, I'm thinkin' they'll not combine daycently. How an'
ever, gintlemin," continued he, "here's hopin' the fruition of your
purses may never fail ye, nor health to consign their contents to
utility. An' neaw," said he, lighting his pipe, and putting
the empty basket on his head like a cowl, "I must go, if the rain
comes in pailfuls, for I'm not over well an' if I could get home wud
wishin', I'd be in bed by the time ye'd say 'trap-sticks!' But
dramin' and schamin's neither ridin' nor flyin', so I'll be trampin',
for there's no more use in wishin' than there would be in a doctor
feelin' a man's pulse through a hole in a wall wid the end of a
Kitchen poker. An' neaw, I'll be proud if any gintleman will
oblige me by comin' a couple o' mile an the road, to see the way
I'll spin over the greawnd. . . . Ye'd rather not? Well, fun
an' fine weather's not always together, so good bye, an' long life
to yees!" and away went Dennis through the rain towards Fleetwood.
Waiting for the shower to abate, I sat awhile, and, as one of
the company had been to a funeral, it led to a conversation about
benefit societies, in relation to which one person said he decidedly
objected to funeral benefits being allowed to people who had died by
their own hands, because it would encourage others to commit
suicide. From this we glided to the subject of consecrated
ground, and a question arose respecting a man who had been
accidentally buried partly in consecrated and partly in
unconsecrated ground, as to what result would ensue from that
mistake to the poor corpse in the end of all. The doubt was as
to whose influence the unconsecrated half came under. The
dispute ran high, without anybody making the subject clearer, so I
came away before the shower was over.
Next day I went to Blackpool, and while awaiting at the
station the arrival of a friend of mine, I recognised the familiar
face of an old woman whom I had known in better days. Tall and
thin, with a head as white as a moss-crop, she was still active, and
remarkably clean and neat in appearance. Her countenance,
though naturally melancholy, had still a spice of the shrew in it.
"Eh," said she, "I'm glad to see you. It's seldom I
have a chance of meeting an old face now, for I'm seldom out."
She then told me she had been two years and a half
housekeeper to a decrepit old gentleman and his two maiden sisters,
in a neighbouring town.
"But," said she, "I'm going to leave. You see I've got
into years; and though I'm active,—thank God!—yet I'm often ill; and
people don't like to be troubled with servants that are ill, you
know. So I'm forced to work on, ill or well; for I'm but a
lone woman, with no friends to help me but my son, and he's been a
long time in Canada, and I haven't heard from him this three years.
I look out for th' postman day by day,—but nothing comes.
Sometimes I think he's dead. But the Lord knows. It's
like to trouble one, you're sure. It's hard work, with one
thing and another, very: for I 'have to scratch before I can peck,'
as th' saying is, and shall to th' end o' my day, now. But if
you can hear of anything likely, I wish you would let me know,—for
leave yonder I will. I wouldn't stop if they'd hang my hair wi'
diamonds,—I wouldn't, indeed. I've said it, and signed it,—so
there's an end. But what, they'll never ask me to stop, I
doubt. It's very hard. You see, I have to keep my son's
little boy in a neighbour's house,—this is him,—and that eats up
nearly all my bit o' wage; and where's my clothing to come from?
But, don't you see? yon people are greedy to a degree. Lord
bless you! they'd skin three devils for one hide,—they would, for
sure! See yo, one day—(here she whispered something which I
didn't exactly catch)—they did, indeed! As Missis Dixon said,
when I met her in Friargate, on Monday forenoon, 'It was a nasty,
dirty trick!' But I've had my fill, an' I shall sing 'Oh, be
joyful!' when my time's up. I shall be glad to get to my own
country again,—yes, if I have to beg my bread. See, they're
actually afraid of me going out o'th house, for fear I should talk
about them to th' neighbours! Bless yo! they judge everybody
by theirselves! But I'd scorn the action! It is just as
Missis Smith said, 'They're frightened o'th world being done before
they've done wi' th' world,'—they are, for sure! Such gripin',
grindin' ways! They'll never prosper,—never!'"
"And is this your grandson?" said I.
"Yes; an' he's a wonderful child for his age. He's such
a memory. His father was just the same. I often think
he'd make a rare 'torney,—he remembers things so, and he has such
queer sayings. I've taught him many a piece off by heart.
Come, George, say that little piece for this gentleman. Take
your fingers out of your mouth. Come, now."
The lad looked a minute, and then rattled out,—
"Said Aaron to Moses, 'Aw'll swap tho noses!'"
"Oh, for shame!" said she. "Not that!" But he went on,—
"Said Moses to Aaron, 'Thine's sich a quare un!'"
"For shame!" said she. "You see they teach him all
sorts o' nonsense; and he remembers everything. Come, be
quick, 'Twinkle, twinkle.'" But here the train was ready, and
in five minutes more she was on her way to Preston and not finding
my friend I walked home along the cliffs.
In my rambles about Norbreck I met with many racy characters
standing in relief among their neighbours, and marked with local
peculiarities, as distinctly as anything that grows from the soil.
In a crowded city they might be unnoticed, but amid
The hamlet's hawthorn wild,
where existence seems to glide as noiselessly as a cloud upon a
summer sky,—save where friendly gossips meet, like a choir of
crickets, by some country fire,—they are threads of vivid interest
woven into the sober web of life; and among their own folk they are
prized something like those old books which people hand from
generation to generation,—because they bear the quaint inscriptions
of their forefathers. In my wanderings I had also the benefit
of a genial and intelligent companion, and whether we were under his
own roof, among books, and flowers, and fireside talk about the
world in the distance, or roving the green lanes and coppice-trods,
chatting with stray villagers by the way, or airing ourselves in the
On the beached margent of the sea,
I found pleasure and assistance in his company, in spite of all our
political differences. My friend Alston lives about a mile
down the winding road from Norbreck, in a substantial hall, built
about a hundred years ago, and pleasantly dropped at the foot of a
great natural embankment, which divides the low-lying plain from the
sea. The house stands among slips of orderly garden and
plantation, with poultry-yards and outhouses at the north-east end.
The green country, sparely sprinkled with white farmhouses and
cottages, spreads out in front, far and wide, to where the heathery
fells of Lancashire bound the eastward view. The scene is as
quiet as a country church just before service begins, except where
the sails of a windmill are whirling in the wind, or the fleecy
steam-cloud of a distant train gushes across the landscape like a
flying fountain of snow. On a knoll behind the house there is
a little rich orchard, trimly hemmed in by thick thorn hedges.
In March I found its shadeless walks open to the cold sky, and all
its holiday glory still brooding patiently down in the soil; but I
remember how oft, in summer, when the boughs were bending to the
ground with fruit, and the leaves were so thick overhead that the
sunshine could only find its way through chinks of the green
ceiling, we have pushed the branches aside, and walked and talked
among its bowery shades, or, sitting on benches at the edge of the
fish-pond, have read and watched our floats, and hearkened the
birds, until we have risen, as if drawn by some fascination in the
air, and gone unconsciously towards the sea again. There we
have spent many a glorious hour and there, at certain times of the
day, we should meet with "Quick," or "Mitch," or some other
coast-guardsmen belonging to the boat's crew at Fleetwood, pacing to
and fro, on the look-out for Frenchmen, smugglers, and wreck.
As we returned from the shore one afternoon last March, an old man
was walking on the road before us, carrying what looked in the
distance like two milk-pails. These he set down now and then,
and looked all round. My friend told me that this part of the
Fylde was famous for singing-birds, especially larks. He said
that bird-catchers came from all parts of Lancashire, particularly
Manchester, to ply their craft there; and he would venture a guess
that the quaint figure before us was a Manchester bird-catcher,
though it was rather early in the season. When we overtook the
old man, who had set down his covered cages in a by-lane, we found
that he was a bird-catcher, and from Manchester, too. I
learned, also, that it was not uncommon for a clever catcher to make
a pound a day by his "calling."
The primitive little whitewashed parish church of Bispham was
always an interesting object to me. It stands on a knoll,
about a quarter of a mile over the fields from Norbreck, and its
foundation is of great antiquity. Its graveyard contains many
interesting memorials, but none more solemnly eloquent than a
certain row of green mounds covering the remains of the unknown
drowned washed upon that coast from time to time. Several of
these, which drifted ashore after the burning of the Ocean Monarch
off the coast of Wales, in 1848, now lie mouldering together in this
quiet country graveyard, all unknown, save a lady from Bury, in
Lancashire, to whose memory a tombstone is erected here.
As the great tides declined, the weather began to be troubled
with wintry fits; but when the day of my return came, it brought
summer again. After dinner, at Bispham House, I went up with
my friend to bid farewell to Owd England, at Norbreck; and it was
like parting with some quaint volume of forgotten lore. Nursed
here in the lap of Nature, the people and customs of the country
were part of himself; and his native landscape, with all the
shifting elements in the scene, was a kind of barometer, the
slightest changes of which were intelligible to him. At the
eastern edge of Norbreck, a low wall of cobble stones encloses his
garden. Here, where I have sometimes made a little havoc among
his Bergamots, Old Keswicks, and Scotch Bridgets, we walked about,
whilst I took a parting look at the landscape. Immediately
behind us the sea was singing its old song; and below lay the little
rural parish, "where," as I heard the rector say in one of his
sermons, "a man cannot walk into the open air but all his neighbours
can see him." Beyond, the tranquil Fylde stretches out its
drowsy green, now oblivious of all remembrance of piratical ravage,
which so often swept over it in ancient times. Yonder, the
shipping of Fleetwood is clearly in sight to the north. And
there, a sunbeam, stealing between the fleecy clouds, glides across
the land from field to field, with a kind of plaintive grace, as if
looking for a lost garden. Over meadow, over wood, and little
town it goes, dying away upon yon rolling hills in the east.
The first of these hills is Longridge; and behind it weird old
Pendle, standing in a world of its own, is dimly visible.
Northward, the hills roll on in bold relief,—Parlick, and Bleasdale,
and the fells between Morecambe and "time-honoured Lancaster."
Still northward, to where yon proud brotherhood of snow-crowned
giants, the mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland, looks so
glorious in the sunlight, awaking enchanting dreams of that land of
romance the Lake District, hallowed by so many rich associations of
genius. They toss their mighty heads on westward, till solemn
old Black Coomb dips into the Irish Sea. Altogether a fine
setting for the peaceful scene below.
The afternoon was waning, so, taking leave of the old
fisherman and his household, I returned from Norbreck like a man who
rises from his dinner before he is half satisfied. Accompanied
by my friend I walked four miles, on highways and by-ways, to meet
the train at Poulton. The road was pleasant and the day was
fine, and I reached Manchester before midnight, feeling better in
soul and body for my sojourn by the sea.