Lament of Lovesick Lizzie

If you were to visit the picturesque village of Chipping in the postcard pretty Ribble Valley you would be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back in time. Chipping can boast the oldest shop in the United Kingdom (which dates back to 1668) The grade ll listed Woolfen Hall, made from slobbered rubble, three almshouses dated around the late 17th century and an imposing 16th century church which is thought to be a rebuild of a 13th century edifice.

Picturesque Chipping

Situated beside the Forest of Bowland the ancient and secluded parish dates back hundreds of years, heralding a mention in the Domesday Book, where it was listed as ‘Chippenden’, which translates as market place.

The Almshouses

Today, I’d like to take you up the steep stone steps of The Sun Inn, situated at no. 2 Windy street, to regale you with a tale of heartbreak and haunting!

In the summer of 1835 a pleasing young lass named Elizabeth (Lizzie) Dean took up the position of scullery maid at the Sun Inn. Her charming demeanour and appealing appearance made her popular with the young men of the village and one in particular, James Freeman, set his cap for her.

Sun Inn

Along with her new best friend (fellow maid Elsie Trainer) Lizzie talked of the life she might enjoy with James, who had promised her a cottage, amongst other things, should she submit to his charms. His wooing paid off and the pair began courting in earnest.

In what was perhaps just an attempt at seduction, James asked Lizzie for her hand in marriage, this excited her beyond all measure, and as soon as they had begun to plan their nuptials she gave in to his desire and amorous advances.

C16th church

Poor Lizzie believed her matrimony was to take place on the 5th of November, at the adjacent St Bartholomew’s Church. However, on the third of the month, just two days before, James took her aside to explain he had in fact fallen for someone else. He had lost his heart to non other than Elsie and was now planning to wed her instead!

St Bartholomew’s Church

Lizzie felt as though her heart had been ripped from her breast by this double betrayal. Her anguish and despair was overwhelming.

Suffering such wretched melancholy, how she got through the next day is a mystery, but she continued to toil (alongside Elsie) at the Inn, eventually climbing into her bed, in the attic room of the pub, exhausted on what should have been the eve of her wedding.

How Lizzie may have looked

Lizzie was roused the next morning by the tintinnabulation of wedding bells, horrified she had overslept she ran to the window to pull back the drapes. But the sight she was met with almost destroyed her on the spot. There in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s stood her lost love, the dashing chap whom had once been her paramour, arm in arm with the seductress who had so cruelly stolen him from her. As they exchanged a look of pure adoration the despondent Lizzie could take no more. Driven by a paroxysm of pain she snatched up her nib and ink-pot and scrawled a message on a scrap of paper, leaving an outpouring of disconsolateness, along with her final wishes.

Grabbing at the curtain cord pull Lizzie fashioned herself a makeshift noose which she secured to the iron bed frame before slipping the looped end around her neck.

The wedding party looked up to see 20 year old Elizabeth precariously perched on the topmost sill of the Sun Inn, her outpouring of grief apparent in the tears that flooded her once beautiful face. Once she had the attention of the full congregation Lizzie pushed herself from the ledge.

Those gathered screamed in terror as the lifeless body pendulated some ten meters above the cobbles of the street below.

As the body of Lizzie Dean was cut down and laid in the parlour of the public house her suicide note was discovered. The letter stated her final wish was to be interred beside the church entrance, so the newly wed Mr & Mrs Freeman would be forced to think of her each and every Sunday morning as they attended worship.

Elizabeth Dean was laid to rest here

Perhaps surprisingly her wishes were carried out, although it is still widely believed suicides cannot be buried in consecrated ground, this is in fact a misconception. As long as the burial was performed under cover of darkness and without ceremony it was perfectly legal. (This law was abolished in the 1960s).

A visit to Lizzie

Unsurprisingly, James and Elsie could not bear the burden of such a reminder or the notoriety the whole sorry situation had brought upon them. They quickly relocated to the border of Scotland.

Perhaps this is why the spirit of Lizzie has never found peace. A spectral servant girl has been spotted in the pub standing by the stairs. One gentleman even reported a gaudily dressed young lady who faded as she walked through a wall. Also worth mentioning is a phantasmagorical shape floating by the ancient yew tree in St Bartholomew’s churchyard, for Lizzie was laid to rest by such a tree. Most recently a group of young men playing snooker were disturbed by a drifting apparition.

Another visit to the Sun Inn might just be on the cards, for I believe the pub was recently refurbished and nothing disturbs restless spirits like a bit of remodelling. Mines a pint of John Smiths if you decide to join me!

Deborah Contessa

From Misunderstanding to Murder

In the summer of 1950, twenty year old Fred Hardisty, of Devonshire Road Blackpool, was enjoying a break from his studies at Manchester University. The son of a coal merchant and former attendee at a most prestigious private school was enjoying a rather charmed life; having enough funds to to enjoy foreign holidays and to be university educated away from home.

Fred Hardisty

The provincial and perhaps naive young chap was visiting London as he returned home from a trip to Europe, where he had holidayed in both France & Switzerland, when he missed his last train home.

Fylde Rugby Team

Left to wander the the West End, Hardisty found himself strolling through the the bohemian district. Upon entering a café in Soho (which unbeknownst to Hardisty was a favorite with the local underground gay community) Fred got chatting to 32 year old Socrates Charalambous Petrides, a Greek Cypriot wine waiter. Socrates was well known for cruising the area and picking up men in local cafés and bars, but the sophomoric Fred was not to know this.

Unaware of the situation he was putting himself in Fred gladly accepted Socrates offer of a bed for the night.

The pair walked back to number 57 Grays Inn Road WC1 and entered the first floor flat chatting amiably, Hardisty still blissfully oblivious as to the circumstances he was about to encounter.

As Petrides shared his lodgings with another waiter (Nicholas Tsanakas) the pair went to Petrides room to settle down for the night.

After locking the door behind them Petrides quickly made his intentions obvious, all of which came as a dreadful surprise to the credulous student. Hardisty lashed out at the waiter, defending himself furiously against Petrides’ advances. The altercation soon escalated into a full scale assault. With Hardisty ( being a competent sportsman) quickly gaining the upper hand the Cypriot cried out to his flatmate for help, but with the door between them locked there was nothing Nick could do.

Purportedly to defend himself, Petrides snatched up an ornamental sword and after further affray plunged it into his adversary. The piercing cut instantly killing him.

When officers from Scotland Yard arrived at the flat in the early morning of August 10th they found a scene of decimation. The room was in total disarray, with widespread blood-spatters, smashed glass and broken china everywhere. Slumped in the corner of the room was the lifeless body of Fred Hardisty.

Headline

Socrates Petrides went on trial for Fred Hardisty’s murder at the Old Bailey. Despite evidence of further wounds on Fred’s body – including slashes to his arms and legs and a classic defense wound to his palm, Petrides was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter and received a sentence of five year’s imprisonment. Upon his release in 1955 he hastily relocated to Australia.

Hundreds of mourners including over forty of Fred’s old school friends from the illustrious Arnold School were in attendance at his funeral which was conducted at St Thomas’ Church.

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The Hardisty family grave, Layton Cemetery, Blackpool

Fred was laid to rest in his family plot, at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool.

Deborah Contessa

The Senseless Slaying of a Superintendent

It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that the seaside town of Blackpool is not all ‘fresh air and fun’ for beneath its gaudy exterior lies a much darker underbelly. It isn’t the drunken girls nights out I refer to nor the bawdy stag parties, but it’s links with organised crime. This planned criminal behaviour is run on a network spanning the whole of the nation. Blackpool’s Firm has always fostered close links with Glasgow and London.

Perhaps it was through this association a former used car salesman from down south learned of ‘Prestons’ a prestigious Jewelry business situated in The Strand, Queens Square, Blackpool.

Fredrick Sewell was a conniving, womanising, self styled Squire, who enjoyed a lavish champagne lifestyle – which soon earned him the nickname of Fat Freddie. His business acumen was only outshone by his ability to spend money and his eye for the ladies, he was, in his mind, the ultimate gangster.

Frederick Sewell

In the July of 1971 Fat Freddie found himself embarrassingly low on funds. As he was no stranger to law breaking he once again turned to his underworld connections. Possibly because of his desperation he banded together with a rather hapless crew comprising of; Charlie Haynes (a nightclub owner), armed robber Dennis Bond, Tommy Flannigan and Johnny Spry. Together they planned the jewellery heist in Blackpool.

The August of that year found the crooks, along with Sewell’s latest squeeze, travelling to the Fylde Coast in two stolen vehicles, armed with two saw off shotguns, a small hand gun & two service revolvers.

Sewell rented a flat on Cocker Street for himself and his mistress, from where he intended to stake out the jewellers for a few days.

The rest of the gang found lodgings in a boarding house.

Early in the morning of Monday 23rd August, 1971, the gang left their getaway vehicles in position- one situated in Queens Square, the other on Back Warbreck Street, well away from the busy thoroughfare.

Aware urgency and sheer terror were their best weapons the team burst through the door of Prestons (around half an hour after opening time) brandishing their firearms. Fred, wishing to confront the store manager, was immediately wrong footed when he realised he was nowhere in sight. Mr Lammond was in fact watching the gang from the safety of his repair room and was able to activate a silent alarm, alerting the local police. As Sewell menaced the customers Bond grabbed a haul of lesser priced jewels from trays on display.

A uniformed gent (who was actually a fireman) then entered the premises and Sewell, mistaking him for a police officer, knocked him unconscious.

The gang decided their best plan of action was to make a swift escape and ran towards their waiting motors.

First officer on the scene was PC Carl Walker who managed to clip one of the getaway cars with his own vehicle. He gave chase in his Panda and radioed for assistance. Help came in the form of PC Ian Hampson, who joined the pursuit. Forced to break suddenly PC Hampson was a left a sitting duck and Spry jumped from his own car and shot him in the chest.

Getaway car ©️Lancashire Evening Post

Just moments before, Hampson had been in radio contact with one of Blackpool’s finest – Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson.

Superintendent Gerald Richardson

Born in Blackpool in 1932, the son of a painter & decorator, Gerald Richardson had become a brave and highly commended police officer. Handsome, fearless and charismatic he was an exemplary copper, loving husband and pillar of the community. You never heard a bad word said about Gerry. After serving as a military police officer during his national service he quickly rose through the ranks and by ‘71, aged just 36, was one of the highest ranking police officers in England.

As more officers in panda cars and unmarked vehicles were deployed Superintendent Richardson himself joined the pursuit.

As the net tightened around the robbers and they found themselves backed into a corner the gang emerged all guns blazing. Charlie Haynes aimed his weapon at detective Andy Hills as Fred Sewell shot PC Carl Walker in the groin.

Freddie and his men then commandeered a butcher’s delivery van and made off down Cheltenham Road.

Stolen van

Not willing to sit on the sidelines and just watch as his officers were gunned down, Gerry Richardson chased the van in earnest, watching as it turned the corner of Carshalton Road and smashed straight into a wall as Sewell burst our through the back doors of the wrecked truck.

Ready to prevent any further escape Superintendent Richardson, unarmed yet determined, attempted to restrain Sewell as he dashed up an alley way. Once Fat Freddie realised his only exit was blocked he aimed his weapon at Gerry who was heard to say “Don’t be daft, don’t be silly” – the last words he uttered before being shot in the stomach, at point blank range, twice.

Transported by ambulance to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, Gerry’s only thoughts were for his fellow officers as he inquired after their injuries. Two hours later he was pronounced dead.

Funeral cortège through Blackpool town center

Fred Sewell meanwhile had fled back to London and was lying low. He was able to evade capture for 45 days as Lancashire Constabulary and the metropolitan police scoured the country in their search for him.

It was not until the 7th of October the police discovered the odious Sewell, hiding with a Greek family in a terraced house in Holloway.

At Sewell’s subsequent trial, in the February of 1972, he found himself sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for the contemptible murder of Supt Richardson. In court Sewell said of Richardson “I will see him every day of my life. He was too brave. He kept coming.”

Hero

Sewell was released from prison in 2001 at 68 years of age. Abominably, it is believed he made a fortune while behind bars and was able to purchase a luxury property, hand-built to his own specifications.

Superintendent Gerald Irving Richardson was buried at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool. More than 100,000 people lined the streets for his funeral. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross on November 13, 1972.

©️Imperial War Museum

This year marks the 50th anniversary of this brave hero’s death and a new access road leading to the recently built West Division Police Headqaurters in Blackpool has been named after the fallen police superintendent as a permanent reminder of his bravery that day (and of the daily courage all police officers display in order to keep the people of Lancashire safe.)

Gerry Richardson Way, Blackpool

I was lucky enough to witness part of yesterday’s memorial service.

Deborah Contessa

Double Walker

Allow me to share with you an anomalous encounter which happened one night, albeit several years ago, in the house where I still live . . .

After checking on my infant son, who was nestled beside the chimney breast in his carry cot, I climbed jadedly into my bed and pulled the covers tightly around my bone weary body. Having recently been widowed and left quite literally holding the baby (plus a young toddler) I was exhausted but looking forward to a few hours repose. Savouring the somnolence , it wasn’t long before I drifted into a deep and undisturbed state of slumber.

My children

Quite unexpectedly, I found myself back in the land of the living. Something had rather abruptly interrupted my much needed rest and wondering what could possibly have roused me, I untangled myself from the quilt before rolling over to investigate the cause. 

 As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness I perceived a shape silently developing beside my bed, unable to look away I was filled with indescribable terror as I realised I was face to face with myself! 

There I was, adorned  in my best coat and hat, staring down at me clad only in my pyjamas!! I did what any self respecting person would do confronted with such an alarming and bewildering sight . . . 

I quickly pulled the duvet over my face, hoping that the next time I dared to peek my bizarre duplicate would have departed. 

Mustering all my strength I once again glanced above the coverlet only to be again confronted by an identical version of myself. My ghostly double was calmly leering at me in a horrifying manner as the cold fingers of fear prickled down my spine. 

Seeing double!

 Fortuitously, my baby chose that moment to wake up and I instinctively turned to attend to him and although I didn’t dare get out of bed, I forced myself to glance back at the apparition.

Imagine my perplexity when I realised ‘I’ had gone, I was still filled with disquietude and unease but became almost euphoric when I realised my sons and I were safe.

Home sweet home!

I have often since contemplated on my nocturnal visitor and speculated as to why she chose to come by that night. Perhaps I’ll never have an answer, maybe I’d rather not know!

Walking between the stones (a taster tour)

youtube.com/watch

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