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Didisburye in the '45 online

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CAVING almost finished the MS. of this work, I
called upon an old woman whom I had not yet



called upon, and who I was told might probably
give me some additional information. The result

was so surprising, that, instead of making sundry
additions to that already written, I thought it
better to give the old lady's legends in an
appendix, and as nearly as I could recollect them in her own words.

" I dare say I can tell you as much about Didsbury as most of folk,
for I were born at the farm again the church, where Highbank now
stands, an our family have lived in th' parish for above three hundert
years that they could trace. They did ner always live in one house,
mind ; part o' th' time they lived at th' Goosecroft, that's where they call
Barlow Moor now; they came from Birch, near Manchester, at first.
They were always queer folk, th' Birches were, rayther too fond o'
fightin, and yet they were mostly scholars, and if onything partikler
happent i' th' parish they'd a written it down on a bit o' sheepskin and


a kept it; and in time them bits o' sheepskin filled an oaken chest there
was, an if you'd seen them they was the best history o' Didsbury that
ever was written.

"'Did I ever see them?' did you say? I'm like as if I could see
them now; but keep quiet, Mr. Moss, an I'll tell you all about them,
though they are all gone now. Some on em went back to th' times
when Didsbury Church was made of wood and belonged to the Roman
Catholics. When th' Reeformation was, we turned our religion same as
the rest o' folk turned theirs, but we allus kept Church and King men,
an we're for Church and King yet ; they'd a shed the last drop o' blood
for Church and King. There never was but one Radical in th' family,
an he fought for Oliver Cromwell ; his name was Thomas. Yea, there
was my Uncle John, he was a Leveller; he was on the hustings with
Hunt, at Peterloo; you've heard of that happen. Some o' th' Birches*
fought for Charles, an when Cromwell's men came to Didsbury Church,
ours helped to beat them back ; not that there was much in it
to fight for, but Didsbury folk was always for Church and

"Did we spell our name with a j? Some folk spelt it Burche ; for
grandfather said that was the name of a man, but Birch was the name of
a tree. They spell it any way now, it matters nothing nowadays how
we spell it ; they was better off then, and had lands of their own ;

* There appears to have been several Colonels Birch in the Parliamentarian army.
Colonel John Birch, from Herefordshire or Bristol, buried at Weobley, was a member of the
Lancashire family. The Birches had acquired the Birch Hall estate about the middle of the
thirteenth century.


there's fields in Didsbury to-day called after us, but they're gone
from us.

" Can I tell you anything about the Highlanders in '45 ? Yes, I can
tell you many things if I've time. My grandfather was a lad then; he'd
used to take us childer on his knee and tell us things as happent, but
when he spoke of th' rebels and beheading them, my heart failed me,
and I couldn't bide to hear. I was only th' younger end of em. I wish
you could a heard th' old folks. Grandfather's been dead sixty years or
more, fully that; he were eighty-five, and two yards high, an as straight
as a stick when he died ; he lies close to your garden by th' lane side.
Some of his sons were taller than him, one of em was in th' Life Guards,
but they are all gone now. If he wasn't sure of the date of anything,
he'd say to us, 'Thee go and fetch that bit o' sheepskin out o' th' box,"
and read that, it '11 tell thi.' Some on em were very old and faded, and
hard to read; th' writing was different in them days. His father was
driving his cows at th' end o' Dark Lane and Birch fields when the
Highlanders came up, and they took th' boots off his feet ; but they was
only clogs he'd made hissen, made o' wood, with a bit o' leather, so they
wouldner have em, but threw them in th' river, an they went floatin
down th' stream. They took all th' horses i' th' country; they couldn't
take his, cos they was cows he had; he had no horses, they weren't
so common then. Which way did they come? Why, they come
along the old road, and he were near the back way to Parr's

I had never before heard or seen of any road in Didsbury being
called the old road, but the reader who is acquainted with the district


may see it is exactly the route I had given in the fourth chapter as
being taken by the Prince's army.

"The old road was called the old road by the old folks cos it used
to be the old road to Manchester afore their time; it went by Boulton
Wood and Slate, an what I called th' back way to Parr's Wood is by
Dark Lane, it's now th' front way; things awter so. Th' Highlanders
were very well behaved on th' whole, though there was a fight at Scotch-
croft, for bones an things have often been found there when they've
been ploughing. Kingston isn't an old name; it was Bethell's flats in
my time.

"Did I ever hear of George Fletcher's head being stuck up in
London ? Of course I did ; but I tell you my heart used to fail me at
hearing o' them things. I remember old George Fletcher, that was
called after his uncle George, who was beheaded ; he was living when I
was a girl, and grandfather used to say he was a bit proud, cos when
common folk got hanged, Fletchers got beheaded, showing they was
better than common folk.* He was only a littlish chap, but he thought
rather much o' hissel. Then there was another man had his head taen
off i' that affair. He lies i' th' church yard wi his head fastened to his
body with a broad black ribbon round his neck. His name was
Seymour, his head was cut off at Lancaster, or somewhere up north
(perhaps Carlisle); but he was akin to us, and they brought him here,
and buryet him at night, for they darednet do it openly. He lies near

* During some centuries of England's history the victims of State-Trials were allowed the
privilege of being beheaded if they were of "gentle blood," otherwise they were hanged.
Therefore the old lady's remark bore strong internal evidence as to the truth of her story.


th' sun dial where Phillips, of Bank top, made their vault after; he wasn't
a Didsbury man, but he lies there I tell you, for he was akin to us, and
was put in one of our graves. He was great uncle on the mother's side
to my Aunt Nanny; her name was Hannah, and she'd married her
cousin Birch, of Ardwick, and her aunt left her Seymour's picture, but
she gave it away to some ladies in Manchester who wanted it badly;
and our folk saw him in his coffin with th' broad black ribbon round his
neck holding his head on."

Here was another surprise for me. I had never heard of this man
either in history, "tradition, legend, tune, or song," and yet the old lady's
tale was too precise in its details not to be true; even the man's name
savoured of Church and King.

"Which side did your people take then, missus?"

"They was always for Church and King."

"But in those days it was the Church and King men that were
called rebels ?"

"I cannot say how that may be, I think we kept quiet that time;
but we was always for Church and King." They took extreme
measures to keep Seymour quiet, I thought, and as nothing further
seemed to be known about him, I asked about the Duke's

"Do I know how th' Duke's Hillock came by its name; aye, cos
there were two Dukes buried there in th' time of th' rebellion. There's
bin more rebellions than one, I don't know which rebellion ; but there
was two Dukes I've always heard."

Here again the old lady's tale agrees with what I had written,


excepting as to the burial of the Dukes, and history would almost
certainly have mentioned the burial of two Dukes if it had ever taken
place. The Dukes of Perth and Atholl were almost undoubtedly at
Didsbury in 1745 with the Prince's army; and they, and the greater
part of the army, must have rested on or about the village green, while
the first rough bridge of poplar trees was being made. The date of the
fall of this bridge I had found from the church registers ; but the date
of the fall of the next wooden bridge I had never been able to learn ; a
tradition said it fell in a flood time, just as old Mary Astle, of Gatley,
was crossing in a higgler's cart Now, at last, I get the desired informa-
tion by learning when the third bridge was built.

"Cheddle first stone bridge was built in 1777. How do I know? I
know very well, cos my uncle William, and old Sammy Gaskill the last
parish clerk, was both born i' the same year, three sevens, and they
allus said it was the same year as the first stone bridge (stone, mind you)
to Cheddle was built, that was 1777 ; and the man that built it was
killed by the scaffolding falling on him as they took it down ; his
name wur Chandley; there's black Chandleys and red Chandleys at
Cheddle still."

I had heard the red Chandleys were builders even now, and I re-
membered the last clerk of Didsbury as an old man, and making a small
mental calculation I found the old lady was about right as to the time
of his birth. Like most of the old Didsbury folk who never bothered
with doctors or change of air, Sam Gaskill, the last clerk, lived to be
long past the fourscore years, for I remember him and others much
older than he was, regularly going to the Holy Well for the water for


their households. As in patriarchal and primitive times the villagers
went to the well or spring at eventide and tarried and talked while the
water flowed. It mattered nought to them that the water flowed from
the churchyard, from the burial-place of their forefathers; they had
always been healthy as their forefathers had been healthy, and they
wanted no other water and would have no other; that always bubbled
up fresh and sparkling in summer or winter, in drought or frost, and
never failed. Only this week I noticed a gravestone over four of
the natives, and their average age was eighty-seven. One of them was
one hundred and one, and an adjoining stone recorded ninety-seven.
Then I asked the old lady if she was "owt akin" to the John Gaskill
who was buried at Didsbury after being shut up in Gibraltar for twenty-
four years, having gone through the memorable siege of red-hot ball
notoriety under General Elliott. She replied, " I don't know ; th' Gaskills
were ner very warlike ; they were ill-tempered enoo, they were that, but
they would ner fight. I can tell you a true ghost story about Didsbury
that it isn't everyone knows, for th' house is haunted yet if the folks only
knew that lives in it. That's the Swivel House; oh, not the one you
mean; there may have been two houses called th' Swivel House.
Swivels were machines, handlooms for making tapes an such like, and
once upon a time there was an old man called Sam Dean lived there,
who kept a lot o' swivels. He was thought to be very rich, for he was
an old bachelor, but when he died th' money was missin, an a fine hand-
some lady, in old-fashioned dress, used to come again in the night time
an 'walk' an frighten folk. Miss Nanny Broome lived there a bit, but
no one would stop with her cos o' th' house being haunted. Then Mrs.


Markland came a rich lady. That chair that you are sitting on
was her mother's, so it's an old one. My mother was housekeeper for
her, an there were two menservants slept in th' house, but they were
feart, an my mother said it were nothing but their silly fancies ; an Mrs.
Markland said, ' Margaret, you may have anyone to sleep with you you
like,' but she would ner. However, one morning in June, when it's
mostly light aw neet, mother heard someone coming upstairs in wooden-
heeled shoes, as the ladies used to wear, an then a silken gown rustled, an
a fine lady, in a rich green brocade with lace, came an stood by th' bedside,
although the door was fastened. Mother sat up quite calm, an they looked
at one another a bit, an neither spoke. Then the lady for she was a
handsome lady, and richly dressed, according to a fashion that was old
then, for mother could have told you everything she had on and what
was in her hair then the lady beckoned to her and glided backwards
through the door, fast as it was, and kept on slowly beckoning, so." Then
the old lady showed me how the ghost beckoned and glided backwards,
and an awesome sensation seemed to come over us, as of times long since
gone by. It had gradually become quite dark. "Round about the
tempest thundered," for the weather was very wild and wet in the end
of August, 1891. I had been sitting for nearly two hours in wet clothes
in a lonesome house with an old woman, six cats, and a stuffed parrot.
My two dogs had been left outside on the doorstep, and they were
getting impatient ; they were probably anxious to know if anything
was wrong, as the smell of cats would be rather strong to them, and
make them suspicious. As they whined and scratched at the door the
cats became uneasy; their eyes glistened in the flickering fire-light as


they blinked and gibbered at one another. I looked to see if there was
a birch broom lying handy, and at the chimney to see if there was
space for a broomstick held slantwise to pass up or down, and then I
wondered what would be the effect of a Paternoster said either back-
wards or forwards. A High Cockalorum seemed not unlikely, but
overcoming such gruesome thoughts I asked if there were any ghosts
nearer to nowadays. Well, it had been said that house where we were
sitting was haunted, and threshing had been heard i 1 th' night time i' th'
barn, but she had seen nothing, and the threshing in the barn was
probably a dim survival of the legend of Hob the hobgoblin. The
man that was murdered near to in Dark Lane some folk said used
to walk; but then folk didner go that way now, since them at Parr's
Wood closed the road, but she'd gone that road scores o' times, both
walking and in a cart, but now she had to go round, an it made it much

Here the old lady's folk-lore ended, for it seemed uncanny to
be talking of witches and fairies as the fire burnt low and the storm
got worse. Lights are not much used by those who rise at five
and go to bed betimes ; so, having spent a very pleasant evening,
I went forth into the storm, to grope my way across the fields in
as dark and wild a night as our English harvests almost ever knew.
In keeping with the time, a veritable screech owl screeched its hoarse
good night, as, stumbling along, I mused over many things. The old
parchments, where were they? If any were in existence, I must ferret
them out; but the chance of recovering any was small indeed. Does the
reader remember that when Carlyle had written his "Letters of Oliver


Cromwell" he had ransacked everywhere and everything to find any trace
of genuine information about his great hero, and when the work was
published there came to him one day, from an unknown correspondent,
a Copy of thirty-five letters of Oliver's, with notices of other old docu-
ments as kept by Sam Squire, Cornet and Auditor of the Ironsides. The
letters Carlyle stated to have been of indubitable authenticity, the original
autographs to have been worth hundreds of pounds; the Journal of an
Ironside he prized as probably the most curious document in the Archives
of England, not to be estimated in tens of thousands, and yet the unknown
correspondent, with closed lips, with sacrificial eyes, and terrible hand
and mood, sternly consumed them all with fire, saying, " Much evil here
lies buried." He and his kindred had lived under the shadow of a
Cathedral city for three hundred years ; some had been Roundheads,
some had been Royalists, and he knew what Oliver Cromwell was in the
minds of the men and night birds that dwelt there, and how they might
blaze up into fierce contentions; therefore he did not wish even his name
to be mentioned, but to let the old sorrows and animosities be buried
in kindly oblivion.

I also thought what a treasure the old documents about Didsbury,
that I now heard of for the first time, might be. There was a Colonel
Birch rated to the relief of the poor at Didsbury in 1655 ; he was probably
Colonel Thomas Birch of the Parliamentarian army, and of the same
family as the old lady to whom I had been talking. An endless vista of
local historical discoveries seemed to unfold itself, but it was only as a
dream. The bits of old sheepskin are all lost, and yet I had heard the
contents of some of them, and the one relating to Seymour in his coffin,



with the black ribbon round his neck holding his head on, and his burial
at Didisburye in the '45, is to me undoubtedly true.

How strange it is that this old gentlewoman should be earning her
daily bread for herself and a decrepit husband by the sweat of her brow,
rising at five in the morning, winter and summer, walking two miles
to her work, and having done so for over sixty years, and yet her con-
versation is more intellectual than a deal of the empty babble and chatter
that society conventionally calls conversation. Family pride and the
pride of long descent have helped her in life's long struggle. The
scientific philosopher would say it was a case of atavism. The old
farmer would say, " th' breed '11 tell."






By the same Author.

The Manchester Guardian says : " There are few places whose history will not be found
interesting, if only you are lucky enough to meet with someone who knows all about them
and is willing to impart his knowledge. These qualifications Mr. Moss undoubtedly possesses
as regards Didsbury. ... If there be such a thing as the genius of the place, he is
probably better entitled than anyone else to be considered its incarnation. . . . The book
is, moreover, full of salt touches of homely and sometimes rather pungent humour expressed
in racy vernacular. We rather like the flavouring. "

The Courier says : " In a pleasant, gossiping volume Mr. Fletcher Moss not only records
his personal recollections of the Didsbury of former days, but has summoned to his aid some of
the older inhabitants, and gathered from them a mass of legendary lore now fast fading from
their memories, with local incidents, scraps of family history, . . . many interesting par-
ticulars respecting the church, with extracts from the registers, copies of the more notable
inscriptions, remarks on the origin of the names, &c. . . . The work is pleasant, chatty,
and entertaining, and cannot fail to be interesting to Lancashire men generally, and to the
people of Didsbury in particular."

The Examiner says : "Men of some reading and taste, living in a small country town or
village, could hardly better employ their leisure time than in collecting and recording the
history and traditions of the neighbourhood. To the men who make these records our most
hearty thanks are the smallest guerdon we can offer, and Mr. Moss should receive them without
stint. He has written of one of Lancashire's oldest villages a most pleasant book, free from
personal bias, free from wilful misstatement, and free from tediousness."

The City News says: "One of the rarest of literary productions is a readable local
history, and Mr. Fletcher Moss may fairly be congratulated upon having made an addition to
the number. More delightful he could not possibly have been, nor could he have produced
anything more racy or more genuinely characteristic in the description of the old-fashioned
natives. Mr. Moss is a representative of one of the oldest families in the village, being able to
trace back his ancestry on his mother's side as residents in the place for at least three hundred
and thirty years. . . . It is this personal touch, this penetrating feeling, that he belongs
in no common measure to the place about which he writes, that gives unity and enthusiasm to
Mr. Moss's little book. For the rest, whilst the record is delightfully chatty, and free, and
unconventional, there is no lack of the solid information which goes to the making of a trust-
worthy history. . . . He brightens his narrative with abundance of anecdotes, particularly
the odd sayings of the ancient natives. Almost every page tempts to a quotation. . . . We
take leave of a charming book with reluctance. The accomplished and delightful writer Dr.
Jessop will find in Mr. Fletcher Moss a literary worker after his own heart, and higher praise
we could not give."


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