Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Appendix/Mellor Hall, or Abbot House

Appendix: Mellor Hall, or Abbot House.


Mellor Hall, or Abbot House, is an ancient structure of the early Tudor period. It formerly possessed an antique porch and pointed gables, but these have long since disappeared. The internal walls and partitions were formed of "raddle and daub," held together by upright and cross beams which reached from wall to wall. The upper rooms were reached by a spiral stone staircase, and the floor of that over the hall was formed of yellow clay spread on "raddles" at least a foot thick. A portion of the south-west angle of this room had been partitioned off, and was known by the name of the "Priest's room." This was probably the hiding-place for one of the missionary priests when the Hall was occupied by a junior branch of the Southworths of Samlesbury. Tradition states that the last owner of that name wasted all his property, and was ultimately compelled to beg for bread. A large flat stone was formerly pointed out upon which the old man used to sit while he chanted in tremulous tones—

"When I was young and in my prime,
All these fields down here were mine;
But now I'm old, and grown so poor,
I'm forced to beg from door to door."


Mancunium, Mamecestre, the modern Manchester, was probably founded by Agricola, in the year A.D. 79. It continued in the hands of the Romans, until their final departure from Britain, during the reign of Honorious, about A.D. 425. After the Romans left the country, their camp on the Irwell was occupied by the native Britons, who had again to give place to the victorious Saxons. These hardy warriors appear to have become masters of Lancashire about A.D. 618, when they seized the old Roman station at Mamecestre, which more than a century before is fabled to have been occupied by a semi-mythic personage named Sir Tarquin. Tradition states that he was "a giant in size and a monster in brutality." Be this as it may, the Britons made two desperate attempts under King Arthur and his knights, to retake this stronghold; and Sir Tarquin is said to have fallen a victim to the prowess of Sir Lancelot du Lake in single combat, during the second attack.

After the death of King Arthur, the Saxons and Danes regained their ascendancy; but the tradition has outlived the success of the Britons. The combat between the two knights not only forms an interesting incident in the "Morte d'Arthur;" but has been alluded to by Shakspeare in the second part of his Henry IV.; and preserved to us in Bishop Percy's valuable "Reliques." There is also an extended version of the metrical legend included in the privately printed "Memoirs of the Mosley Family;" but we prefer to give the original ballad, merely localising it by the words included within brackets.

"When Arthur first in court began,
And was approved King,

By force of arms great victories wanne,
And conquest home did bring.
Then into England straight he came,
With fifty good and able
Knights, that resorted unto him,
And were of his Round Table.
And he had jousts and tournaments,
Whereto were many prest;
Wherein some knights did far excell,
And eke surmount the rest.
But one Sir Lancelot du Lake,
Who was approved well,
He for his deedes and feats of armes,
All others did excell.

When he had rested him awhile,
In play, and game, and sport,
He said he would go prove himselfe.
In some adventurous sorte.
He armed rode in [Lancashire]
And met a damsel faire,
Who told him of adventures great,
Whereto he gave good eare.
'Such wolde I find,' quoth Lancelot,
'For that cause came I hither';
'Thou seem'st,' quoth she, 'a knight full good,
And I will bring thee thither.

'[In Mamecestre] a knight doth dwell,
That now is of great fame;
Therefore tell me what knight thou art,
And what may be thy name.'
'My name is Lancelot du Lake;'
Quoth shee: 'It likes me than;
Here dwells a knight who never was
Yet matcht with any man.

'Who has in prison threescore knights
And four, that he did wound;
Knights of King Arthur's court they be,
And of his Table Round.'
She brought him to the [Irwell] side,
And also to a tree,
Whereon a copper bason hung,
And many shields to see.

He struck soe hard, the bason broke;
Sir Tarquin soon he spyed;
Who drove a horse before him fast,
Whereon a knight lay tyed.
'Sir knight,' then said Sir Lancelot,
'Bring me that horse-load hither,
And lay him down and let him reste,
We'll try our force together:
'For, as I understand thou hast,
Soe far as thou art able,
Done great despite and shame unto
The knights of the Round Table.'
'If thou be of the Table Round;'
Quoth Tarquin speedily,
'Both thee and all thy fellowship
I utterlye defye.'
'That's over much,' quoth Lancelot, tho'
'Defend thee by and by:'—
They sett their speares unto their steedes,
And eache att other flye.
They coucht their speares (their horses ran
As though there had been thunder),
And strucke them each immidst their shields,
Wherewith they broke insunder.
Their horses' backs brake under them,
The knights were both astounde;
To voyd their horses they made haste,
And light upon the grounde.

They tooke then to their shields full fast,
Their swords they drew out than;
With mighty strokes most eagerlye,
Each at the other ran.

They wounded were and bled full sore,
They both for breath did stand;
And leaning on their swords awhile,
Quoth Tarquin: 'Hold thy hand;
'And tell to me what I shall aske;'
'Say on,' quoth Lancelot tho'.
'Thou art,' quoth Tarquin, 'the best knight
That ever I did know.
'And like a knight that I did hate,
Soe that thou be not hee,
I will deliver all the rest,
And eke accord with thee.'

'That is well said,' quoth Lancelot;
But sith it must be soe,
What knight is that thou hatest thus;
I pray thee to me shew.'
'His name is Lancelot du Lake;
He slew my brother deere;
Him I despise of all the rest,
I would I had him here.'
'Thy wish thou hast, but yet unknowne,
I am Lancelot du Lake,
Now knight of Arthur's Table Round;
King Haudes' son of Schuwake;
'And I desire thee do thy worst;'
'Ho! Ho!' quoth Tarquin tho',
'One of us two shall end our lives,
Before that we doe goe.
'If thou be Lancelot du Lake,
Then welcome shalt thou bee;
Wherfor see thou thyselfe defend,
For now defye I thee.'

They buckled then together soe,
Like unto wilde boars rashing;
And with their swords and shields they ran,
At one another slashing.

The ground besprinkled was with bloode;
Tarquin he gan to yielde,
For he gave back for wearinesse,
And lowe did bear his shield.
This soone Sir Lancelot espyde,
He leapt upon him then,
He pulled him downe upon his knee,
And pushing off his helme;
Forthwith he struck his neck in two,
And when he had soe done;
From prison three score knights and foure
Delyvered everye one!"

This legend has been noticed by Hollingworth in his "Chronicles of Manchester," who, after quoting Chaucer respecting the state of the county when—

"In al that lond dursten non Christen rout,
Al Christen folk bin fled from the countrey;
Through Paynims that conquered al about,
The plagues of Northumbria by lond and see,"

gives in his own quaint manner the following particulars.

"It is said that Sir Tarquine, a stoute enemie of King Arthur, kept this castle (of Manchester) and neere to the fooarde in Medlock, about Mab-house, hung a bason on a tree, on which bason whosoever did strike, Sir Tarquine, or some of his companye, would come and fighte with him; and that Sir Lancelot de Lake, a Knight of King Arthure's Round Table, did beate upon the bason—foughte with Tarquine—killed him—possessed himselfe of the Castle—and loosed the prisoners. Whosoever thinketh it worth his pains to reade more of it may reade the history of King Arthur. It is certain that about A.D. 520, there was such a Prince or King, and it is not incredible that hee or his Knightes might contend about this castle when he was in this countie; and (as Minius sayeth) hee put the Saxons to flight in a memorable battle near Wigan, about twelve miles off."

Mr Roby, also, in the first series of his "Traditions," included a prose version of "Sir Tarquin," but this was suppressed in the later editions, and a short notice only was added to his tale of the "Goblin Builders." His first essay was evidently based upon the "Morte d'Arthur," and the extended metrical version of which he quotes the opening stanza.

"Within this ancient British land,
In Lancashire I understand,
Near Manchester, there lived a knight of fame,
Of a prodigious strength and might,
Who vanquished many a worthy knight,
A giant great—and Tarquin was his name."