Walking between the stones (a taster tour)

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A taster walk around the cemetery . . . We hope you enjoy it 🪦

Learn something of the stories beneath the stones, walk with Juliette Gregson, Heritage Photographer, and I as we share a little of its history . . .

Last Goodbye

Allow me, if you will, to share with you a strange yet poignant encounter I experienced around five years ago which deeply touched me . . .

Ruminating on my tasks for the day I somewhat wistfully peered out of the bus window, observing pedestrians encumbered with bulging shopping bags, hurriedly heading home to peel parsnips, roast chestnuts and wrap last minute treasures in gaudy paper before safely ensconcing them beneath their Christmas trees. I sighed at the thought of the labour ahead of me, for although it was only shopping, I envied those who were done with such undertakings.

Festive Window

Taking in the sights of festively decorated windows, behind which stood proud conifers adorned with multicoloured baubles and vibrant fairy lights I longed to be finished for the day; spending done, food refrigerated, gifts swathed in tissue and ribbons.

The bus slowed to a stop to allow more passengers to alight and my attention was suddenly caught by a familiar figure, inside a tanning salon I spied Stacey, an old fried from my youth! I marvelled to myself about how fantastic she looked, her coal black hair expertly coiffured into unswept spikes, her still slim and girlish physique encased in leather and lace and a stack of silver bangles glistening on both of her bone white, slender wrists. Back in the day we both competed to be queen of the Goth scene and although on that particular day Stacey would have won hands down I couldn’t help but giggle to myself – a Goth with a tan? what was she thinking? No self respecting Goth would be seen dead in a tanning salon surely!

Old Friend

Continuing on my journey I couldn’t help but muse on the sighting of my friend, the years hadn’t treated me too badly, but she had looked a total knock out, she didn’t seem to have aged at all.

Back in my heyday

Later that evening, my chores complete, I mentioned the encounter to my fiance. He laughingly suggested she had discovered the elixir of youth and I had to agree with him! In a subsequent phone call to a mutual friend I discussed the experience at some length bemoaning the fact of the passing years as together we pondered what Stacey’s secret could possibly be.

Girls night out!

Just as I was intending to retire for the night my phone beeped shrilly, indicating a late night text from my aforementioned pal.

Rather ominously the message read ‘Check Facebook.’

Thinking she could only be referring to out earlier conversation I logged in and tentatively typed Stacey’s full name into the search bar. Upon reaching the page I read the most current post and my blood ran cold… It was a heartfelt message from her beloved husband, lamenting the sad passage of his beautiful wife who had been cruelly taken from him by cancer.

It seemed she had been ill for some time and had lost her battle with the dreadful disease only the day before.

As I brooded on this tragic state of affairs, experiencing the bitter sweet remembrance of out friendship and epic nights out together an unexpected recollection hit me like a bolt from the blue; Sundaze Tanning Salon had previously been an insurance brokers with a cozy flat above, a flat where Stacey and her then boyfriend Michael had resided for a time, a place where we had all shared some fabulous times and made some very wonderful memories.

The salon today

Deborah Contessa 🥀

Who is Peg of the Well?

Peg O’Nell

Terrifying tales of malevolent water spirits lurking beneath the surface of ponds, lakes and rivers, patiently laying in wait for a likely victim are familiar throughout the Land.

Jinny Greenteeth is known the length and breadth of Lancashire as the water witch just waiting to devour the soul of any defiant child who has wandered from the safety of their parent’s side too close to the waters edge. The original Jinny is reputed to haunt the beautiful St James’ gardens, the sunken, secluded former cemetery in Liverpool which was once a sandstone quarry.

St James’ Gardens home of Jinny Greenteeth

But it is to Waddow Hall, nr Clitheroe, Lancashire we are heading for our eerie encounter today. The 17th century grade ll listed building is now used as an activity centre and conference venue . . . but it has a far more sinister past!

Waddow Hall

On the bank of the River Ribble, beside an ancient spring, within the resplendent grounds of the Hall stands an isolated, headless statue assumed to be the image of either St Margaret or St Helen relocated from Whalley Abbey during the reformation. This statue is also believed to serve as a memorial marker for an unfortunate young woman named Peg O’Nell.

Peg in the grounds of Waddow

According to legend, the lovely young Peg arrived in Liverpool from her native Ireland in search of employment. It was there she met John Weddell a wealthy textile baron and owner of Waddow Hall.

Now John had an eye for the ladies and couldn’t resist this Irish colleen so immediately offered her the job of live-in maid at his estate.

Mrs Weddell didn’t find her new employee quite as enchanting as her errant spouse so obviously did, therefore she became a formidable mistress to the girl. Ruling her new servant with a rod of iron, spurred on by her own insecurities and fears, her behaviour towards the poor wretch became uncharitable and spiteful.

Peg’s maltreatment cast a shadow over the whole household, but still her torment continued. One winters evening as Peg followed orders (given more out of spite than necessity) to draw water from the river the lady of the house was heard to call out after her “I hope you break your neck and die.”

. . . and unfortunately she did. For no sooner had the curse escaped her lips Peg lost her footing on the slippery Hipping Stones and plummeted into the turbulent waters!

The following morning her lifeless body was discovered in the shallows, her neck broken.

In remembrance of their colleague the household moved a statue from the house and placed it near the waters edge to commemorate Peg’s demise.

In memory of Peg O’Nell

Several families subsequently resided at Waddow Hall, but the one thing they all had in common was the unexplainable phenomena they bore witness to: Footsteps echoed around empty rooms, the clash and clang of pots and pans was a regular aural assault, and perhaps most terrifying of all were the sightings of a frail young maiden shuffling along the corridors.

After yet another change of hands, the property was inhabited by the Starkey family. Mrs Starkey experienced a run of bad luck which she attributed to Peg and at the end of her tether she ordered the statue by the well to be beheaded!

Decapitated Statue

After the simulacrum’s decapitation the strange occurrences within the Hall abated.

Who lies waiting in the waters of Lancashire?

The raging waters of the Ribble, by Brungerly Bridge are now said to claim a soul every seven years. If a pheasant, chicken or family dog don’t fall foul of the malison then the river will take its revenge on anyone unlucky enough to be passing by.

The River Ribble

The Retributory Haunting of Bannister Doll

Ladywell Street in Preston is renowned for a very grisly haunting indeed. The spectral figure has been known to shape-shift as her residual energy has the ability to take on various forms. Sometimes her existence is only marked by eerie tripping footsteps or the sight of sinister peg-a-lanterns, others have witnessed a small child or black dog, but by far the most terrifying form encountered is that of the Bannister Doll herself, a once beautiful young woman, until she was brutally whipped to death.

Ladywell Street, Preston, today

Some controversy surrounds this tale as passed through the generations the validity of the story was compromised. Her father was mentioned as The Mayor of Preston or at the very least a wealthy mill owner residing at a private dwelling atop Snow Hill in Preston, Lancashire. After perusing historic records of Preston it was noted no such gentleman was ever recorded.

However, it has come to light there was a John Bannister who became governor of a House of Correction, located at the former Greyfriars Convent between Lower Pitt Street and Ladywell street. Not only were whippings of course commonplace at such an institution it also transpired John had a daughter called Dorothy Bannister ( affectionately known as ‘Dolly’ for short) so we may have found some truth behind the legend!

A suitor for Dolly?

As Dolly was such attractive young lady she found she had many admirers and a number of potential suitors, that said, no one was actually aware of her having a sweetheart. That is until the day she was forced to confess to her widowed father she had found herself ‘with child’. This being sometime in the 18th century her father was apoplectic with rage! An unmarried daughter was damning and dishonourable, bringing shame on her mother’s memory and besmirching her fathers good standing in the community.

With his beloved daughter defiled and his own reputation seemingly in tatters the fury he felt overwhelmed him.

In a fit of temper he dragged poor Dolly by her hair out into the street, where he tethered her to a post and proceeded to violently whip her with such vitriol and ferocity her blood began to flow in rivulets down the road, forming crimson puddles in the gutter. As his dreadful temper abated somewhat he ordered his miscreant daughter be cut down and taken inside. Alas, it was too late for Dolly, her injuries were unsurvivable. John Bannister had murdered his child.

Later Mr. Bannister was to learn his innocent daughter had in fact been raped, her pregnancy being the result of a forcible violation and not the romantic liaison he had so feared.

It is thought the trauma of such a harrowing and brutal death can leave a psychic imprint on a place. Such an impression is not dissimilar to a video recording and may be the explanation for the apparition of a pale and bloodstained figure which has been known to manifest itself in the area.

A phantasmagorical Dolly walking Snow Hill

Her bruised and battered body was interred at the Holy Trinity churchyard, an area which still causes ghostly disquietude to this day!

Not long after Dorothy’s demise the crushed corpse of a young chap was discovered in the town centre, his rib cage and skull had been mashed to a pulp and no explanation could be found for how he’d met with such a grisly fate. Just a fortnight after another was found in similarly unexplainable circumstances. When the cadaver of a third young bloke turned up the local menfolk were terrified – had the ghost of Dolly Bannister started a vengeful murder spree?! The mysterious deaths stopped there, but the sightings of Dolly intensified, in the half light of dusk a spectral form was seen ascending Snow Hill from the direction of Ladywell Street most evenings, the vision so strange and frightening the good people of Preston gave the area a wide birth.

To this day the Bannister Doll still returns through the dark veil to terrorise locals and visitors alike. Following lone travellers along the dark, deserted streets and sometimes attempting to converse with them. Upon realising the young woman behind them is a bloodied phantasm most folk flee in absolute terror!

Beware of strolling here alone at night

A victim of the most horrific crimes is it any wonder the Bannister Doll has never been truly laid to rest, instead spending all eternity on a quest for retribution.

The Boggart beneath the Buttery Stone

Intersecting the Roman road from Ribchester to Lancaster, just outside Longridge in the village of Grimsargh you will find the aptly named Written Stone Lane. Perhaps unsurprisingly at the top of said lane, beside Written Stone farm (formerly Cottam House) you will find the ‘Written Stone’, a sandstone slab of considerable length bearing the legend “RAUFFE:RADCLIFFE:LAID:THIS:STONE:TO:LYE:FOREVER:A:D:1665:”

Written Stone Lane

Many folk tales and fables surround this gritstone block, it has been suggested it was once a standing stone, possibly an outlier or altar piece, a relic of past paganism Mr Radcliffe wished to see stand no more hence its horizontal positioning.

Other theories include it having been the lintel stone which once sat above a doorway.

Resting beneath the prickly holly

However, non of this explains how the stone found itself established beneath the holly bushes at the crossway of two quiet country lanes. The quintessential mythos is as follows, that on the very spot where the cursed stone rests an atrociously brutal murder was said to have occurred, and collaborating in such a heinous crime were members of the Radcliffe family!

The restless spirit of the victim, unable to achieve eternal repose, began to bedevil the conspirators. Family members died in unexplainable and mysterious ways, as though the whole household were cursed. In a vain attempt to appease the relentless disquietude (and perhaps as atonement for his part in the slaying) Mr Radcliffe arranged for the inscription of the monolithic tablet before organising its emplacement at the scene of the crime.

RAUFFE:RADCLIFFE:LAID:THIS:STONE:TO:LYE:FOREVER:
A:D:1665

Despite such measures being put in place the disturbances amplified: from an audible haunting of screams, shrieks, knocks and banging it grew into the more malevolent (& physical) spite of painful pinching and clothes being torn asunder by unseen hands!

Alas, the plague and torment became so relentless the Radcliffe’s upped sticks and moved far away, to an undisclosed location. Remember this was the 17th century, a time of sorcery and witchcraft where the weltscmerz felt regarding curses seemed undoubtedly real.

Cottam house became the home of new tenants who knew nothing of the trauma and tribulation suffered by the previous occupants, they happily went about their business of dairy farming until the day they decided the stone in the lane would be better put to use as a ‘buttery stone’.

The stone in the lane

Removal and relocation of the stone proved far more laborious and problematic than the residents could have ever imagined, many local folk and a team of six strong horses battled to move the great hunk the short distance to the house. It was heard to emit a strange echoing sound and several locals were injured during the remotion!

Once repositioned in the farmhouse kitchen the strange occurrences accelerated – on its very first evening in its new residence all hell broke loose, any object placed upon the stone was forcefully thrown across the room by an invisible power and an unearthly cacophony unceasingly emitted from it until first light.

In situ as Rauffe wished

Fearful the newly liberated spirit would never permit his family rest at night the farmer felt compelled to convey the stone back to whence it came. Strangely, only the farmer and one horse were required to facilitate the return.

The Boggart from beneath the stone?

Unfortunately, this was not the last to be heard of the malevolent spirit, a doctor on horseback had his mount spooked when riding up the lane, it hysterically galloped off at full speed leaving the poor physician hanging on for his dear life for at least two miles! Deciding upon a return to the area he bravely confronted whatever dwelt below the stone only to witness a shapeless mass form atop it. Taking on substance the mass was able to seize him and drag him from his saddle almost crushing the last breath from his lungs.

A lady wearing a fancy bonnet has also been reportedly spotted walking the lane on several occasions, nothing strange about that you might be thinking . . . except her head, complete with bonnet, is being carried by her side in a basket!!

The phantasmagorical vision

Walkers braving the hike down from Jeffrey Hill have had their hats whipped from their heads and encountered indiscernible hands tugging at their anoraks. To this day strange phenomena is described as occurring in the vicinity of the Written Stone.

So who, or rather what, can these occurrences be attributed to? Many folk believe the cursed stone is home to a boggart and the narrow track has become locally known as Boggarts Lane. Dissimilar to the modern storybook boggarts who live in houses our Lancashire variety are much more likely to be encountered outdoors. They favour fields, marshland, under bridges and holes in the ground. Some have been known to dwell by the roadside at dangerously sharp bends .

North West folklore is teaming with tales of these wicked, geographically defined spirits. Always vengeful, spiteful and vicious they are considered insuppressible. Beware getting lost over moor or marshland as you may just fall foul of a flesh eating boggart, yes dear reader, they can devour our kind! Others lurk deep in the still waters of rivers, ponds and lakes – for who’s mother hasn’t warned them of Ginny Greenteeth when they’ve strayed too close to the brink of a pool. Appearing as both man and beast I recently learned some have the ability to shape-shift, taking the form of various animals and that of the most fearful of creattures!

Perhaps we will never know the true story of Written Stone Lane and why a four hundred year old inscribed slab is still shrouded in mystery and superstition. Ramblers often meander by the stone seemingly oblivious to its terrible history, yet visiting paranormal enthusiasts have feared to even reach out and touch the reposing pillar in trepidation of what could ensue.

Beware of getting lost in these parts!

The stone has been recognised as being of national importance and special interest and has been given a grade II listing.

Deborah Contessa

The Fylde Hag who roamed as a Hare

The parish church of St Anne, Woodplumpton, has been in existence since since 1340, being rebuilt in both 1639 & 1900. It’s a very curious looking place and appears rather cosmopolitan in style.

Old postcard of St Anne’s churchyard showing the Witches Grave

During restoration original stonework dating back to the 12th century was discovered. The main entrance into the churchyard is through the Lychgate which was erected in 1912, flanked on one side by the now restored 18th century stocks and a mounting stone, which was well used in times gone by when travellers arrived on horseback.

The stocks outside the churchyard

The burial ground lies mostly to the south and west of the church building where the graves seem to have been placed nonsequentially, as if the mortal remains were placed there in a hurry – and one such occupant was . . . for on Saturday the 2nd May 1705 the torchlit interment of the Woodplumpton Witch took place under cover of darkness, as the tintabulation from the west tower heralded the midnight hour. (Probably!)

But who was the Woodplumpton Witch/ Fylde Hag?

Meg Shelton (Aka Margery Hilton) was reputed to be a malevolent and powerful witch and although she did actually exist it is thought her misdemeanours were somewhat exaggerated.

Was Meg just an unmarried or widowed wise woman, with botanical knowledge of healing plants and herbs and perhaps some capability in childbirth?

We do know Meg was clever, shrewd and frugal, surviving on just her wits and what she was able to steal from the local farmers. Corn and milk were often reported to have gone missing but the perpetrator could never be found, this was put down to Megs otherworldly ability to transform herself into all manner of innocent domestic equipment. Flights of fancy tell of the old woman disguising her milk jug as a goose and of her own metamorphosis into a sack of grain.

Her dwelling was a ramshackle hovel known locally as ‘Cuckoo Cottage’ which formed part of local landowner Lord Cottam’s Catforth estate. Legend has it Meg won the cottage from Cottam in a bet, as she was known to have lived out her life there rent free. Even stranger tales tell of blackmail, black artistry and even surrogate motherhood (Lady Cottam being infertile) being the reason behind such an arrangement.

The pronounced limp Meg walked with was also attributed to her witchy shenanigans. The aforementioned bet consisted of Meg transforming into a hare and racing her landlords dogs back to her home, the leveret was witnessed heading towards Meg’s cottage followed by a baying pack of hounds. It raced through the front door, beating them by a whisker, but not before receiving a nasty nip to its hind leg.

How Meg might have looked

Some believe these stories may be a cover up for a dalliance, as Meg was rumoured to have once been the paramour of a local dignitary. Was it he who funded her rent free cottage and paid for her moonlight burial in consecrated ground?

If Meg’s life appeared to be clouded in a mix of fact and fiction it seems her death also was. Even after her life was ended she refused to go quietly.

Meg was discovered dead in her isolated home in 1705, apparently the victim of a freak accident which resulted in her becoming crushed betwixt the cottage wall and a heavy oak barrel.

The villagers were convinced her dealings with the dark lord had resulted in her demise.

Being in no doubt that a witch had the power to return post-mortem the locals decided her spirit may rest if placed in the hallowed ground of St. Anne’s.

The author paying a visit to Meg

But, as the sun rose on the morning after her interment her cadaver was spotted lying beside the freshly opened grave. It is claimed this happened again and again, after each & every attempt at reburial. The alarming regularity of her escapes caused a local catholic priest to be summoned who decided it was in the community’s best interest to reinter Meg head down and her resting place be covered by a large glacial boulder, which fortuitously was lying nearby. One exorcism later and the good folk of Woodplumpton once again slept safe in their beds.

The large boulder atop Meg’s grave

But in her own indomitable style Meg Shelton has ensured her name is still whispered from the lips of West Lancashire folk. Locals claim to have spotted Meg around the village on many occasions, grown men have felt the ghostly thwack of a broom on their backsides only to turn and spy nowt but a bedraggled hare limping off across the fields. During one visit a small boy was terrified by ‘a wicked old woman in old fashioned clothes’ chasing him around the church as his parents chatted outside!

Shapeshifter?

Should you ever visit the picturesque village of Woodplumpton (it’s beautiful hiking country and I’d highly recommend it) do pay a visit to Meg’s grave, I always gift her a trinket, if I’ve nothing pretty in my pocket I’ve been known to slip off an earring to leave! If you stand atop her boulder and turn around three times you can even make a wish.

A ghostly imagining

I’ve also known others to walk around her stone thrice chanting her name in an attempt to renew the blessing/curse which keeps the dwellers of Woodplumpton at peace from this formidable lady!

The Blackpool Brew that Caught a Killer

The general consensus on a young James Hanratty was that he wasn’t ‘quite right’ – he displayed evidence of impaired intellect and delayed development (his personality having been described as anti social, disinhibited and egotistical.) By the time he was ready to move up to St James’Catholic High School In Barnet, North London, his teachers proclaimed him to be uneducable.

However, his doting parents were having non of it and resisted all attempts to send him to an educational institution which would better serve his complex needs. So upon leaving school in 1951 Hanratty found himself unpopular, unqualified and illiterate.

After a failed job with the local council James headed for the bright lights of Brighton and after a couple of years made his way to the bohemian utopia of Soho where he endeavored to affiliate himself with the criminal underworld.

Eventually forced to seek treatment for his psychiatric problems Hanratty spent a while as an outpatient at the Portman Clinic, this was possibly a requirement of his probation, as he had by now acquired an increasing number of convictions, (including house braking & various motoring offenses). Unfortunately the treatment had no effect whatsoever and the next seven years of his life were spent in and out of prison. In each of the institutions that housed him Hanratty became well know as a psychopath.

Hanratty

In the March of 1961 Hanratty left Strangeways and headed back down south.

Fast forward five months to the night of the 22nd of August and the picturesque village of Dorney Reach. An amorous couple inside a Morris Minor are parked up in a cornfield. He is a scientist at the Road Research Laboratory, his paramour a lab assistant. This clandestine meeting is to be their last.

Ms Storie

Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie were abducted at gunpoint and forced to drive in a roundabout manner, as their assailant chatted away in his distinctive, uneducated cockney accent occasionally ordering them to stop and pick up supplies.

Complaining of fatigue and spying a lay-by the back seat conquistador forced Gregsten to pull over. Rather ominously his final destination was Deadman’s Hill, beside the A6.

Scene of the crime

After parking up Gregsten reached down to retrieve a duffle bag and the sudden movement spooked their perfidious passenger, two shots rang out, both of which hit Gregsten in the head at point blank range. He died instantly.

The understandably hysterical Ms. Storie was unceremoniously forced into the back seat where she was ordered to remove her undergarments before being viciously raped. After the attack Valerie pleaded for her life, handing over both her money and the car keys in a vain attempt to save her own skin. But the fiend showed no mercy and after appearing to back off turned and fired the gun at her seven times (even pausing to reload).

Hitting the ground the courageous young woman ‘played possum,’ and believing her dead the gunman drove off. Although she had escaped with her life Valerie was left paralyzed from the bullets which had penetrated her shoulder, arm and leg. Her spinal cord was severed. Aged just 23, she was never to walk again.

James Hanratty was arrested for this heinous crime on the 11th of October 1961 at the Stevonia Cafe on Central Drive, Blackpool. Quite what he was doing in Blackpool has never been explained, it is thought he had arranged to meet some contacts in the Philharmonic Club on Foxhall Road, but this has never been verified.

Stevonia Cafe, Blackpool

It was in fact two prostitutes who recognised the villain as he sipped his tea, after seeing a facial composite in the national press. One of the ladies gamely engaged him in conversation whilst her companion went to inform the local police.

Intriguingly, Hanratty was not the only suspect in this case, Back in London, the manager of the Alexandra Court Hotel reported a surreptitious tenant to the authorities, one Peter Louis Alphon, a local transient who bankrolled his accommodation by gambling. In an extraordinary twist of fate Hanratty had been a hotel guest there at the same time as Alphon.

When spent cartridges from the murder weapon were discovered down the back of a sofa in a basement guest room rented by Hanratty, ( at the Vienna Hotel) and the gun found wrapped in a gents handkerchief on a local bus, this evidence seemed to indicate Hanratty was the guilty party.

The Vienna Hotel

(Alphon was also able to provide police with a credible alibi for that fateful evening.)

Valarie Storie subsequently identified Hanratty in a police line up, for although he had made an attempt to disguise his image, when asked to repeat the phrase “shut up, I’m thinking” his cockney accent and fricative tendency to say ‘f’ instead of ‘th’ were a dead giveaway.

At his capital murder trial on the 22nd January 1962, Hanratty faced judge and jury at Bedfordshire Assizes. After 21 days of listening to evidence and nine hours of deliberation the jurors delivered a unanimous verdict of guilty.

Hanratty leaving Court

James Hanratty was hanged on the 4th April by Harry Allen, who shares the dubious joint honor of being Britain’s last hangman. (Harry, incidentally, later retired to Fleetwood where he got a job giving change on the pier!)

Later, evidence came to light casting doubt on Hanratty’s conviction and a band of campaigners including MPs, politicians, journalists and even John Lennon & Yoko Ono contested the judgement. His family repeatedly called for further inquiries into the case.

famous campaigners ©️Daily Mail

In the spring of 2001 James Hanratty’s body was exhumed for the purpose of obtaining a DNA sample. This was compared with DNA extracted from mucus on the handkerchief that accompanied the gun and on semen found in Valerie Storie’s underwear.

It was found to be a match.

Further appeal hearings were held, bad storage was blamed for contamination of samples, new theories and conspiracies were heard, but the verdict of guilty was not to be overturned.

One person adamant Hanratty should not be exonerated was Valerie Storie, so I’ll give her the last word;

Valerie

“ I identified the guilty man, I looked in his eyes and he looked into mine. I knew who he was, and he knew I recognised him. I had found the guilty person.”

Love Never Dies

Edward Rifle Mann & Helen Wolstenholme

Layton Cemetery is located in the seaside town of Blackpool, within the county of Lancashire. A holiday destination situated on the NorthWest Coast of England.

Opened in 1873 when the council decided its parish churchyard was replete with burying. This sprawling Victorian necropolis contains many notable graves.

If you walk through the original peeling cemetery gates and head towards the now derelict Church of England Chapel, you may catch a glimpse of a modest stone, weathered, crumbling and unassuming, yet adorned with the imagery of a strong Christian faith.

Love’s final resting place

Although obscured by a towering monolith celebrating the life of a local brewer, its worth risking a twisted ankle on the soft ground and paying a visit to the final resting place of Edward Rifle Mann.

During the summer season of 1886, Edward Rifle Man, a twenty six year old German national, was employed on Blackpool’s seafront by The Wolstenholme Bathing Van Co. Very much enjoying the summer sunshine, sea air and bathing belles he was happy in his work.

Bathing machine

Being young and strong he coped admirably with the physical labour and long hours, he worked voraciously, saving every penny he earned for his up and coming wedding to his beloved fiancée Helen.

Now bathing machines (or vans) were a necessary component of English beach etiquette during the 19th century. Typically a canvas, windowless box, stretched over a wooden frame with a door at each end which was raised off the floor by its wheels. Entry was made via a stepladder before being pulled out to sea.

The machines protected the modesty of bathers, allowing them the privacy to change into swimwear away from prying eyes!

Towards the end of the afternoon of the 1st of August, Edward, his boss Samuel Wolstenholme & Samuels brother, John, were preparing to pack up for the day when Edward was approached by two young gents eager to hire a van and enjoy a quick dip in the briny water. But the tide appeared on the turn, the weather seemed to be becoming inclement so conditions were not ideal.

The gentlemen though, could not be discouraged.

Against his better judgement Edward reluctantly agreed, dragging men and machine out to the waters edge.

After a short while spent standing on the beach, he noticed the swimmers in some difficulty quite a distance from the shore.

With no thought for his own safety Edward swiftly dove into the unforgiving waves in an attempt to rescue the pair.

Bravely battling against the current he managed to reach one of the friends and drag him to the safety of the sand. He then valiantly headed back out into the whitecaps, but the sea was relentless and the second man was swallowed by the undercurrent.

Tragically Edward lost his own life performing this courageous recovery, for he too was drowned.

With just two weeks until they were to be wed poor Helen was left bereft, her dreams shattered and her heart broken.

Helen had longed to marry Edward

Edwards memorial stone in Layton cemetery was paid for by the local townspeople. As news of his bravery had spread a collection was generously donated to – in testament to the heroic young man. It is one of very few English graves that relate the full story of how someone died.

Two months after Edwards sad demise a baby son was born into the Wolstenholme family. He was named Edward Mann Wolstenholme in Edwards honour.

Helen went on to marry John Wolstenholme, who you may remember was not only Edwards colleague but also his boss’s brother! But her first love was never far from her thoughts. In fact, she continued to carry a torch for him throughout the rest of her life.

Upon her death in 1903, her selfless husband arranged for her to be buried alongside her One True Love.

Helen lays here alongside her beloved Edward

So although parted in life Edward and Helen are forever reunited in death. They now eternally rest together.

Must be Something in the Water

Mermaid tales in folklore run as deep as the waters they swim in, they have been both feared and revered, celebrated and abominated. From the stories of my youth where benevolent beauties bestowed magical gifts upon menfolk, (often falling in love with them, thus transforming themselves into radiant women) to the older, darker fables of enchanting sirens luring unsuspecting sailors and seafarers to the inky black depths of a watery grave.

Fairytale Mermaid

The earliest mention of mermaids was most likely Atargatis, a Syrian goddess associated with water. She was reputed to have dove into a lake, wishing to take the form of a fish. However, she was rescued and emerged piscatorial from the waist down. Ataragatis was worshiped at a magnificent temple built in her honour, surrounded by pools of sacred fish.

Martin Mere is situated on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, close to the village of Burscough, the outcome of the last Ice Age, when the glacial drift sculpted the landscape leaving behind vast depressions which filled with peaty, black water. When the pools became larger their waters merged, forming the largest body of fresh water in England covering 3,000 acres. In 1695 the land was reclaimed for agriculture following an act of parliament and work began on digging drainage channels. Although it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when steam powered pumps were introduced, the landscape began to look recognisable.

These days Martin Mere is home to a wildfowl collection, overseen by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It attracts pink footed geese, whooper swans, wigeon, numerous birds of prey and even the rare snow goose.

Martin Mere

Surprisingly, the wetlands also have a history steeped in folklore, local fables link the area to several sagas in Arthurian Legend.

Close companion of the King, Sir Lancelot (of the Lake) was brought from France to the safety of Lancashire by his birth mother and left beside the mere, whereupon he was stolen by a nymph and taken into the lake by her.

Martin Mere is also supposedly the body of water from which The Lady of the Lake handed Arthur Excalibur after his weapon was broken during an altercation with the King of Listenoise. Ostensibly, it has been named as the lake into which Sir Bedivere returned the aforementioned Excalibur, hurling the sword into the dark waters to fulfil Arthur’s dying wish.

Excalibur

But let us travel now to the seventeenth century, for I promised you a mermaids tale! A yarn filled with melodrama, abduction and murder!

Captain Harrington and his friend Sir Ralph Molyneux embarked on a ride around the mere, well caparisoned cavaliers the pair of them. As they trotted along enjoying the silence they observed the setting of the golden sun as it seemed to slide beneath the water. Simultaneously and unexpectedly, their curiosity was piqued by a female form raised half way above the pool, her long dark hair floating behind her as she mysteriously glided along.

Captain Harrington was the first to regain his composure and cried out to the creature, he addressed her as ‘Sea- wench’ which certainly attracted her attention.

After momentarily returning the gentlemen’s gaze, she flicked up her iridescent tail and disappeared with a small splash. Convinced their eyes had deceived them and the woman had just sunk they considered searching for her, but twilight was rapidly drawing in so they instead instructed their mounts to head for home.

The Sea-Hag

Their progress was rather difficult as their steeds were barely able to keep their footing, often often plunging knee deep into the quagmire.

Although completely lost by now the fellows continued, eventually spotting a light in a lone hut bordering the lake. They were greeted by a kindly fisherman who bade them welcome to his simple abode.

As they recounted their experience to the peasant and his wife, they were surprised to see no incredulity on the couple’s faces but alarm, or something similar perhaps, which awakened their suspicions.

Noticing the infant on the woman’s lap beginning to stir, Harrington paid it the obligatory attention, but as she smiled Harrington was at once smitten, for never before had he seen such a beautiful child, he thought her the image of perfect loveliness.

Suddenly, a low, guttural muttering was heard at the window causing the peasants wife to turn as white as a ghost. Her husband disappeared outdoors for a while before returning to relate quite the series of events.

It had indeed been the ‘meer-woman’ who had called at the hovel with a warning the child must be removed speedily. It transpired she had been stolen by the mere hag in an act of vengeance and could not be returned ‘till the wrongs were righted.

As the abducted babe’s life appeared in mortal danger Harrington agreed to her becoming his ward. His signet ring was passed, as a promise, to the mere hag in agreement that whomever presented the ring back to him would be able to rightfully claim the child.

Many years passed and Harrington was as good as his word, little Grace (as he had named her) flourished and blossomed. He went on to marry an altruistic lady who happily raised Grace as her own.

Haunted by the pact he had made Harrington took to seeking the elusive mere hag, but never could he find her.

Although their existence was a blessed one, the vow caused feelings of grave foreboding to grow in his heart.

One fine evening Mrs Harrington spoke openly with her husband, recalling a dream she’d had of a mermaid stealing away their precious daughter and began to sob as she repeated tales she’d been told of a mermaid haunting local waters.

Just days later, glancing over the balustrade, Harrington spied his worst fear. Beside a pillar, staring straight at him was a hooded, cloaked figure. The signet passed over, and he knew what he must do.

The next day Grace’s mare was prepared and Harrington mounted his steed, the child was filled with excitement as never before had she been permitted to ride to the mere. All the way she prattled on about ‘seeing a mermaid’ as her ‘father’s’ heart grew heavier.

When they arrived at the fisherman’s hovel it was dirty and damp with decay, but inside they went – and they waited. A low guttural muttering was heard by Harrington, he was in no doubt who was outside. He raced to the door to confront the mere hag, walking along the shore trying to catch a glimpse of her.

When the muttering became distant he returned to the hut to find his beloved daughter gone. He threw himself to the floor in anguish and wept as though his heart would break.

Abruptly, Harrington felt his arms pinioned as a bandage was wound tightly around his eyes. Rough hands steered him to a boat upon which he was forced to embark. Before long he was transferred to a larger vessel and thrown unceremoniously into the cabin.

As his bandage was removed and his eyes became accustomed to his dimly lit surroundings he found himself facing a weather beaten pirate, armed with both cutlas and pistol.

The captain told the tale of his own precious daughter, entrusted to a siren, stolen by Harrington, then dying in infancy. Harrington’s protestations fell on deaf ears.

As the ships clock began to strike midnight the fierce mariner drew his weapon. On the count of three as the bloodthirsty freebooter squeezed the trigger, the mere hag appeared, at once throwing herself between the executioner and the condemned.

The pirate seemed horror struck at his deed and as the mere hag threw him a look of reproach her spirit departed.

Years later, in a tiny cottage on the Harrington estate, dwelt a wisened old man and his beautiful daughter. The savage grew tame, he repented his many sins. The young woman, with her two devoted fathers, felt the richest in the land.

More recently there have been strange occurrences witnessed at Martin Mere, an unknown large creature has been spied attacking swans and large birds on the lake, dragging them beneath the surface, never to be seen again. There have been many reports of local folk observing something huge and dark circling the mere, one of whom described it as ‘a powerful, fast swimming creature of immense proportions’.

Richard Freeman, former head keeper of Twycross Zoo claims the beast is a very old, huge, Wels catfish.

Perhaps it is . . . but perhaps there’s just a possibility it’s something far more interesting.

Deborah Contessa Hargreaves

Military Murder at Princess Parade

When vacationing families return to their rooms and day trippers journey home, the bright lights of Blackpool are often witness to more sinister sights.

On such an evening, during wartime in 1944 the body of a local girl was discovered in an air raid shelter by North Promenade. Perhaps surprisingly, she had not fallen victim to the Luftwaffe but the US flying corps.

Miss Joan Long

Joan Long, a naive and cheerful Blackpool lass, lived in Bristol Avenue, Bispham, Blackpool. She was the eldest of three children and helped her widowed father, William, to run the home and raise her younger siblings.

William Long himself must have had quite a story to tell, achieving an exemplary military record, having signed up as a Private but leaving as Lieutenant.

Joan had suffered from meningitis as a child which left her partially paralysed, she walked with a pronounced limp and struggled to use her right hand effectively. She had also been born with what we now correctly refer to as learning difficulties, nevertheless she didn’t let this dampen her spirits and often visited the town centre hostelries to enjoy the lively nightlife on offer.

On the evening of July 25th Joan donned her glad rags and headed for the pub to meet friends, it was here she got chatting to a smart and attractive aircraft mechanic. Enjoying the attention she agreed accompany her newly acquired beau around further licensed establishments.

The couple were seen later that night huddled in a tram shelter before heading along the promenade towards the Princess Parade colonnades by The Metropol Hotel – originally built as sea defense but repurposed as an air raid shelter.

The Princess Parade Colonnades as they are today

In the early hours of Wednesday 26th, four chaps (two civilians & two servicemen) came upon the shelter in their search for somewhere to doss down for the night. After shoving the door open, entering and lighting a match, they were met with the most grisly of sights. The partially clothed body of Joan was laid out on the ground. Cuts and bruising were evident on her face.

Princess Parade in 1944

It didn’t take long for the police to establish Thomas Montoya as a person of interest in this case. He was traced to his base at Warton and taken in for questioning.

The 24 year old Native American Airforce officer from New Mexico was initially charged with the heinous crime of first degree murder but at his Court Marshal, heard at the local A.R.P headquarters, 24 year old Thomas Montoya pleaded not guilty. He claimed his companion that night had died from an epileptic seizure and his defense described her as “frothing at the mouth”.

Despite there being no evidence of this, Montoya was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years hard labour.

The Guardian’s report on Montoya’s sentencing

Joan had never been diagnosed as epileptic, during autopsy Dr Bruce, a police surgeon, concluded she had died of asphyxia due to manual suffocation.

Article from a Brisbane SA newspaper

(An interesting post script to the trial was the global headline ‘Dead Girls Brain Exhibited in Jar’ which referred to the brain being produced during the trial, for Doctor FB Smith, pathologist, to scrutinise – the murder itself was not so well publicised.)

Poor Joan Long (aged just 22) was laid to rest in an unmarked grass grave in a quiet corner of Layton Cemetery.

The unmarked grave of Joan Long