John Roby.

Traditions of Lancashire (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryJohn RobyTraditions of Lancashire (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

except at times, when terrible convulsions seemed to pass
over like the sudden roll of the sea, tossed by some unseen
and subterraneous tempest.. The neighbours began to
shun his dwelling. His presence was the signal for stolen
looks and portentous whispers. To church his wife never
came ; but the bench, her usual sitting-place, was deserted.
At the church-doors, after sermon, when the price of
grain, the weather, and other marketable commodities
were discussed and settled, Giles was evidently an
object of avoidance, and left to trudge home alone to his
own cheerless and gloomy hearth.

Dick Hargreave's only cow was bewitched. The most


effectual and approved method of ascertaining under whose
spell she laboured was as follows : —

The next Friday, a pair of breeches was thrown over the
cow's horns ; she was then driven from the shippen with a
stout cudgel. The place to which she directed her flight
was carefully watched, for there assuredly must dwell the
witch. To the great horror and dismay of Giles Dickisson,
the cow came bellowing down the lane, tail up, in great
terror — telling, as plain as beast could speak, of her dis-
tress, until she came to a full pause, middle deep in his
own mill-dam. This was a direct confirmation to his
suspicions ; but the following was a more undeniable
proof, if need were, of his wife's dishonest confederacy
with the powers of darkness.

One morning, ere his servant-man Robin had taken the
grey mare from the stable, Giles awoke early, and found his
wife had not lain by his side. He had beforetime felt
half roused in the night from a deep but uneasy slumber;
but he was too heavy and bewildered to recollect himself,
and sleep again overcame him ere he could satisfy his
doubts. He had either dreamt, or fancied he had dreamt,
that his wife was, at some seasons, away for a whole
night together, and he was rendered insensible by her
spells. This morning, however, he awoke before the usual
time, probably from some failure in the charm, and he met
her as she was ascending the stairs. Something like alarm
or confusion was manifest. She had been to look after the
cattle, she stammered out, scolding Robin for an idle lout
to lie a-bed so long. The stable-door was open. With an
aching heart, he went in. The grey mare was in a bath
of foam, panting and distressed as though from some recent
journey. Whilst pondering on this strange occurrence,


Robin came in. His master taxed him with dishonesty.
After much ado, he confessed that liis mistress had
many times of late borrowed the mare for a night, always
returning before the good man awoke. Giles was too full
of trouble to rate Robin as he deserved, contenting himself
with many admonitions and instructions how to act in the
next emergency.

Not many nights after, as Robin was late in the stable,
his mistress came with the usual request, and her magic
bridle in her hand.

" Now, good Robin, the cream is in the bowl, and the
beer behind the spigot, and my good man is in bed."

" Whitheraway, mistress?" said Robin, diligently whisp-
ing down and soothing the mare, who trembled from head
to foot when she heard her mistress's voice.

" For a journey, Robin. I have business at Colne ; but
I will not fail to come back again before sunrise.''

" Aye, mistress, this is always your tale ; but measter
catched her in a woundy heat last time, and will not let
her go."

" But, Robin, she shall be in the stable and dry, two
hours before my old churl gets up."

" But measter says she maunna go."

" Thou hast told him, then, — and a murrain light on
thee !"

With eyes glistening like witch-fires, did the dame
bestow her malison. Robin half repented his refusal ; but
he was stubborn, and his courage not easily shaken. Be-
sides, he had bragged at the last Michaelmas feast, that he
cared not a rush for never a witch in the parish. He had
an Agnus Dei in his bosom, and a leaf from the holy herb
in his clogs; and what recked he of spells and incantations ?


Furthermore, he had a waistcoat of proof given to him by
his grandmother.*

" Since thou hast denied me the mare, I'll take thee
in her place."

Robin felt in his bosom for the Agnus Dei cake, but it
was gone ! — He had thrown off his waistcoat, too, for the
work, and his clogs were lying under the rack. Before he
could furnish himself with these counter-charms, Goody
Dickisson threw the bridle upon him, using these porten-
tous words : —

" Horse, horse, see thou be ;

And where I point thee carry me."

Swift as the rush of the wind, Robin felt their power.
His nature changed : he grew more agile and capacious ;
and, without further ado, found Goody upon his back, and
his own shanks at an ambling gallop, on the high road to
Pendle. He panted and grew weary, but she urged him
on with an unsparing hand, lashing and spurring with all
her might, until at last poor Robin, unused to such expe-
dition, flagged and could scarcely crawl. But needs must
when the witches di'ive. Rest and respite were denied,
until, almost dead with toil and terror, he halted in one of
the steep gullies of Pendle near to Malkin Tower

* " On Christmas daie at night, a threed must be sponne of flax,
by a little virgine girl, in the name of the divell ; and it must be by
her woven, and also wrought with the needle. On the breste or fore
part thereof must be made, with needle-work, two heads ; on the head
of the right side must be a hat, and a long beard, — the left head
must have on a crown, and it must be so horrible, that -t male resemble
Belzebub ; and on each side of the wastcote must be made a crosse. "
— Discoverie of Witchcnifl by Reginald Scott, 1584.
L 4


It was an old grey-headed ruin, solitai-y and uninha-
bited. The cold October wind whistled through its joints
and crannies; — the walls were studded with bright patches
of moss and hchen ; — darkness and desolation brooded
over it, unbroken by aught but the cry of the moor-fowl
and the stealthy prowl of the weasel and wild-cat.

But this lonesome and time-hallowed ruin was now lit
up as for some gay festival, lights were flickering through
the crevices, and the coming of the guests, each mounted
on her enchanted steed, was accompanied by loud and fiend-
like acclamations. Shrieks and bowlings were borne from
afar upon the blast. Unhallowed words and unutterable
curses came on the hollow wind. Forms of indescribable
and abominable shape flitted through the troubled elements.
Robin, trembling all over with fright and fatigue, was told
by his mistress to graze where he could, while she went
in to the feast: — " Make good use of thy time, for in two
hours I shall mount thee back again."

This was poor sustenance for Robin's stomach, — furze
and heath were not at all to his mind, and he peeped about
for a quiet resting-place. Here he was kicked and bitten
by others of the herd ; several of them were in the like
pitiable condition with himself; but some were really of
the brute kind, and these fared the best and were better
mannered than most of their humane companions. Often
did our unfortunate hero wish himself in their place.
Having little else to do, he was prompted by curiosity to
approach the building, from whence the loud din of mirth
and revelry grated harshly on his ears. A long chink
disclosed to him some part of the mysteries within. There
sat on the floor a great company of witches, feasting and
cramming with all their might. An elderly gentleman of


a grave and respectable deportment, clad in black doublet
and hosen, sat on a stone-heap at the head, from whence
he dealt out the delicacies with due care and attention.
This was a mortifying sight to an hungry stomach, and
Robin's humanity yearned at the display. After the first
emotions had a little subsided, he found himself at leisure to
examine the faces of the opposite guests, and he recognised
several dames of his acquaintance, feasting right merrily
at the witches' board. Either his fears and " thick-coming
fancies" deceived him, or, as he afterwards declared, he
saw nearly the whole of the neighbourhood at the as-

Presently it seemed as if the first course were ended,
and the floor cleared by invisible hands in a twinkling.
" Now pull," said the grave personage in black.
Many ropes hung from the roof. These the women
began to pull furiously, when down came pies, puddings,
milk, cream, and rare wines, which they caught in wooden
bowls ; likewise sweetmeats and all manner of dainties,
which made Robin's mouth to water so at the sight, that
he could bear it no longer. Intending to groan, he invo-
luntarily uttered a loud neigh, which so alarmed the com-
pany thai: the lights were extinguished, and the guests
sallied out, each immediately bestriding her steed, and
setting forth at full gallop, save Goody Dickisson, who, in
attempting to mount Robin, met with a sore mishap.
Recollecting the charm which had operated upon him, he
gave his head a sudden fling : as good luck would have it,
the bridle became entangled about her neck. His speech
now came again, and he cried out, —

" Mare, mare, see thou be ;

And where I point thee carry mc."


Suddenly she was metamorphosed, and Robin, in his turn,
bestrode the witch. He spared her not, as will readily be
imagined, until he had her safe in her own stable before
break of day. Leaving her there with the bridle about her
neck, he entered the house, hungry and jaded. Soon he
heard Giles coming down stairs in a great hurry, —

" How now, sirrah ! " cried the incensed miller : — " did
I not tell thee to forbid thy mistress the mare ? "

" Why, master," replied Robin, scratching his head,
" and so I have : — the beast hasna' been ridden sin' ye
backed her on Friday."

" Thou art a lying hound to look me in the face and
say so. Thy mistress hath been out again last night upon
her old errands — I found it out when I awaked."

" And what's the matter of that?" said Robin, with great
alacrity. " Ye may go see, master, an' ye liken ; — the
mare's as dry as our meal-tub, and as brisk as bottled

Giles turned angrily away from him towards the stable,
tightening a tough cudgel in his grasp, with which he in-
tended to belabour the unfortunate hind on his return.
Nor was he long absent : — Robin had scarcely swallowed
a mouthful of hot porridge, when his master thus accosted
him : —

" Why, thou hob thrust, no good can come where thy
fingers are a meddling ; — there is another jade besides
mine own tied to the rack, not worth a groat. Dost' let
thy neighbours lift my oats and provender? Better turn
my mill into a spital for horses, and nourish all the worn-
out kibboes i' the parish ! "

" Nay, measter, the beast is yours ; and ye ha' foun'
her bed and provender these twenty years."


" I'll cudgel that lying spirit out o' thee," said Giles,
wetting his hands for a firm grasp at the stick.

"Hold, master!" said Robin, stepping aside: "she
has cost you more currying than all the combs in the
stable are worth. Step in and take off the bridle, and
then say whose beast she is, and who hath most right to
her, you or your neighbours. But mind, when the bridle
is off her neck, she slip it not on to yours ; for if she do,
you are a gone man."

Giles staid not, but ran with great haste into the stable.
The tired beast could scarcely stand ; but he pulled off
the bridle, and — as Robin told the tale — his own spouse
immediately stood confessed before him !

Here we pause. In the next part we shall rapidly
sketch another of the traditions current on this strange
subject. It will but be a brief and shadowy outline ; —
space forbids us to dilate : the whole volume would not
contain the stories that tradition attributes to the preva-
lence of this unnatural and revolting, though, it may be,
imaginary crime.



On the verge of the Castle Clough, a deep and winding
dingle, once shaded with venerable oaks, are the small
remains of the Castle of Hapton, the seat of its ancient
lords, and, till the erection of Hapton Tower, the occa-
sional residence of the De la Leghs and Townleys.
Hapton Tower is now destroyed to its foundation. It
was a large square building, and about a hundred years
ago presented the remains of three cylindrical towers
with conical basements. It also appears to have had two
principal entrances opposite to each other, with a tho-
rough lobby between, and seems not to have been built in
the usual form, — that of a quadrangle. It was erected
about the year 1510, and was inhabited until 1667. The
family-name of the nobleman — for such he appears to
have been — of whom the following story is told, we have
no means of ascertaining. That he was an occasional
resident or visitor at the Tower is but surmise. During
the period of these dark transactions, we find that the
mansion was inhabited by Jane Assheton, relict of Richard
Townley, who died in the year 1637. Whoever he might
be, the following horrible event, arising out of this super-


stition, attaches to his memory. Whether it can be attri-
buted to the operations of a mind just bordering on
insanity, and highly wrought upon by existing delusions,

— or must be classed amongst the proofs, so abundantly
furnished by all believers in the reality of witchcraft and
demoniacal possession, our readers must determine as we
unfold the tale.

Lord William had seen, and had openly vowed to win,
the proud maiden of Bernshaw Tower. He did win her ;
but he did not woo her. A dark and appalling secret
was connected with their union, which we shall briefly

Lady Sibyl, " the proud maiden of Bernshaw," was,
from her youth, the creature of impulse and imagination

— a child of nature and romance. She roved unchecked
through the green valleys and among the glens and moor-
lands of her native hills : — every nook and streamlet
was associated with some hidden thought, " too deep for
tears," until Nature became her god, — the hills and fast-
nesses, the trackless wilds and mountains, her compa-
nions. With them alone she held communion ; and, as
she watched the soft shadows and the white clouds take
their quiet path upon the hills, she beheld in them the
symbols of her own ideas, — the images and reflections, —
the hidden world within her made visible. She felt no
sympathy with the realities — the common places of life : —
her thoughts were too aspiring for earth, yet found not their
resting-place in Heaven ! It was no grovelling, degrading
superstition which actuated her : — she sighed for powers
above her species, — she aspired to hold intercourse with
beings of a superior nature. She would gaze for hours in
wild delirium on the blue sky and starry vault, and wish


she were freed from the base encumbrances of earth, that
she might shine out among those glorious intelligences in
regions without a shadow or a cloud. Imagination was
her solace and her curse : — she flew to it for relief as the
drunkard to his cup, sparkling and intoxicating for a
while, but its dregs were bitterness and despair. Soon her
world of imagination began to quicken ; and, as the wind
came sighing through her dark ringlets, or rustling over
the dry grass and heather bushes at her side, she thought
a spirit spoke, or a celestial messenger crossed her path.
The unholy rites of the witches were familiar to her ear ;
but she spurned their vulgar and low ambition, — she
panted for communion with beings more exalted — de-
migods and immortals, of whom she had heard as having
been translated to those happier skies, forming the glo-
rious constellations she beheld. Sometimes fancies wild
and horrible assaulted her ; — she then shut herself for
days in her own chamber, and was heard as though in
converse with invisible things. When freed from this
hallucination, agony was marked on her brow, and her
cheek was more than usually pale and collapsed. She
would then M'ander forth again : — the movmtain-breeze
re-animated her spirits, and imagination again became
pleasant unto her. She heard the wild swans winging
their way above her, and she thought of the wild hunters
and the spectre-horseman * : — the short wail of the

* In Lancashire these noises are called the Gabriel Ratchets, ac-
cording to Webster, which seem to be the same with the German
Rachtvogel or llachtraven. The word and the superstition are still
prevalent. Gabriel Ratchets are supposed to be like the sound of
puppies yelping in the air, and to forebode death or misfortune.


curlew, the call of the moor-cock and plover, was the
voice of her beloved. To her all nature wore a charmed
life : — earth and sky were but creatures formed for her
use, and the ministers of her pleasure.

The Tower of Bei'nshaw was a small fortified house in
the pass over the hills from Burnley to Todmorden. It
stood within a short distance from the Eagle Crag ; and
the Lady Sibyl would often climb to the utmost verge of
that overhanging peak, looking from its dizzy height until
her soul expanded, and her thoughts took their flight
through those dim regions where the eye could not

One evening she had lingered longer than usual : she
felt unwilling to depart, — to meet again the dull and
wearisome realities of life, — the petty cares that interest
and animate mankind. She loathed her own form and her
own species : — earth was too narrow for her desire, and
she almost longed to burst its barriers. In the deep agony
of her spirit, she cried aloud, —

" Would that my path, like yon clouds, were on the
wind, and my dwelling-place in their bosom ! "

A soft breeze came suddenly towards her, rustling the
dry heath as it swept along. The grass bent beneath its
footsteps, and it seemed to die awa}' in articulate mur-
murs at her feet. Terror crept upon her, her bosom
thrilled, and her whole frame was pervaded by some subtle
and mysterious influence.

" Who art thou?" she whispered, as though to some
invisible agent. She listened, but there was no reply : —
the same soft wind suddenly arose, and crept to her

" Who art thou?" she enquired again, but in a louder


tone. The breeze again flapped its wings, mantling up-
wards from wliere it lay, as if nestled on her breast. It
mounted lightly to her cheek, but it felt hot — almost
scorching; — when the maiden again cried out as before.
It fluttered on her ear, and she thought there came a
whisper, —

" I am thy good spirit."

" Oh, tell me," she cried with vehemence : — " show me
who thou art ! " — A mist curled round her, and a lam-
bent flame, like the soft lightning of a summer's night,
shot from it. She saw a form, glorious but indistinct,
and the flashes grew paler every moment.

" Leave me not," she cried ; — "I will be thine ! "

Then the cloud passed away, and a being stood before
her, mightier and more stately than the sons of men. A
burning fillet was on his brow, and his eyes glowed with
an ever-restless flame.

" Maiden, I come at thy wish. Speak ! — what is thy
desire ? "

" Let thought be motion ; — let my will only be the
boundary of my power," said she, nothing daunted ; for
her mind had become too familiar with invisible fancies,
and her ambition too boundless, to feel either awe or
alarm. Immediately she felt as though she were sweeping
through the trackless air, — she heard the rush of mighty
wings cleaving the sky, — she thought the whole world
lay at her feet, and the kingdoms of the earth moved on
like a mighty pageant. Then did the vision change. Ob-
jects began to waver and grow dim, as if passing through
a mist ; and she found herself again upon that lonely crag,
and her conductor at her side. He grasped her hand : —
she felt his burning touch, and a sudden smart as though


she were stung, — a drop of blood hung on her finger.
He unbound the burning fillet, and she saw, as though it
were a glimpse of that unquenchable, unconsuming flame
that devoured him. He took the blood, and wrote upon
her brow. The agony was intense, and a faint shriek
escaped her. He spoke, but the sound rung in her ears
like the knell of hopes for ever departed.

For words of such presumptuous blasphemy tradition
must be voiceless. The demon looked upwards ; but, as
if blasted by some withering sight, his eyes were suddenly


What homage was exacted, let no one seek to know.

After a pause, the deceiver again addressed her ; and
his form changed as he spoke.

" One day in the year alone thou shalt be subject
to mischance. It is the feast of All Hallows, when
the witches meet to renew their vows. On this night
thou must be as they, and must join their company.
Still thou mayest hide thyself under any form thou shalt
choose ; but it shall abide upon thee until midnight. Till
then thy spells are powerless. On no other day shall
harm befall thee."

The maiden felt her pride dilate : — her weak and com-
mon nature she thought was no longer a degradation ; — she
seemed as though she could bound through infinite space.
Already was she invested with the attributes of immateri-
ality, when she awoke ! — and in her own chamber, whither
the servants had conveyed her from the crag an hour before,
having found her asleep, or in a swoon, upon tJie verge of
the precipice. She looked at her hand, the sharp wound



was there ; and she felt her brow tingle as if to remind
her of that irrevocable pledge.

Lord William sued in vain to the maid of Bernshaw
Tower. She repulsed him with scorn and contumely.
He vowed that he would win her, though the powers of
darkness withstood the attempt. To accomplish this im-
pious purpose, he sought Mause, the witch's dwelling.
It was a dreary hut, built in a rocky cleft: — shunned
by all as the abode of wicked and malignant spirits, which
the dame kept and nursed as familiars, for the fulfilment
of her malicious will.

The night was dark and heavy, when Lord William tied
his steed to a rude gate that guarded the entrance to the
witch's den. He raised the latch, but there was no light

" Holloa," cried the courageous intruder ; but all was
dark and silent as before. Just as he was about to depart,
he thought he heard a rustling near him, and presently
the croaking voice of the hag close at his ear.

'• Lord William," said she, " thou art a bold man to
come hither after night-fall."

He felt something startled, but he swerved not from his

" Canst' help me to a bride, mother Helston ? " cried
he, in a firm voice ; " for I feel mightily constrained to
wed ! "

" Is the doomed maiden of Bernshaw a bride fit for
Lord William's bosom ? " said the invisible sorceress.

" Give me some charm to win her consent, — I care
not for the rest."

" Charm ! " replied the beldame, with a screech that
made Lord W^illiam start back " Spells have I none


that can bind her. I would she were in my power : —
but she hath spell for spell. Nought would avail thee,
for she is beyond my reach : — her power would baffle
mine ! "

" Is she, too, tainted with the iniquity that is abroad ? "

" I tell thee, yea ; and my spirit must bow to hers.
Wouldst wed her now — fond, feeble-hearted mortal ? "

Lord William was silent ; but the beautiful form of the
maiden seemed to pass before him, and he loved her with
such overmastering vehemence, that if Satan himself had
stood in the gap he would not have shrunk from his

" Mause Helston," said the lover, " if thou wilt help
me at this bout, I will not draw back. I dare wed her
though she were twice the thing thou fearest. Tell me
how her spell works, — I will countervail it, — I will break
that accursed charm, and she shall be my bride ! "

For a while there was no reply ; but he heard a mut-
tering as though some consultation were going on.

" Listen, Lord William," she spoke aloud. " Ay, thou
wilt listen to thine own jeopardy ! Once in the year —
'tis on the night of All Hallows — she may be overcome.
But it is a perilous attempt ! "

" I care not. Point out the way, and I will ride it
rough-shod ! "

The beldame arose from her couch, and struck a light.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJohn RobyTraditions of Lancashire (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 20)