Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Appendix/Samlesbury Hall and the Lady in White

Appendix: Samlesbury Hall and the Lady in White.


Midway between Blackburn and Preston, on a broad and rich plain of glacial drift, stands the famous old Hall of Samlesbury. The view towards the south comprehends the wooded heights of Hoghton;—on the east the background is filled in by the elevated ridges which run through Mellor, Ramsgreave, and Billington to Pendle;—the west is occupied by Preston and the broad estuary of the Ribble, the ancient Belisama;—and on the north the correctly-named Longridge leads on to the heights of Bowland;—thus enclosing a landscape which, for picturesque beauty, and historic interest, has few equals in the country.

It was here, in the early part of the reign of Henry II., that Gospatric de Samlesbury was seated in his ancestral home; surrounded by rich pastures and shut in by primeval forests of oak, from which the massive timbers were selected which formed the framework of the magnificent structure erected dining the reign of Edward III. The family pedigrees tell us that Cicely de Samlesbury married John de Ewyas about the middle of the thirteenth century; but, dying without male heir, his daughter was united to Sir Gilbert de Southworth, and the property thus acquired remained in the possession of his family for upwards of three hundred and fifty years. It was then sold to the Braddylls, and ultimately passed into the hands of Joseph Harrison, Esq., of Galligreaves, Blackburn; whose eldest son, William Harrison, Esq., now resides at the Hall.

After the disposal of the property by John Southworth, Esq., in 1677, the house was suffered to fall into decay. For many years it was occupied by a number of cottagers; it was afterwards converted into a farmhouse, and passed through various stages of degradation from neglect. Mr Harrison, however, determined that this fine old structure should be no longer thus desecrated. With a wise and just appreciation he restored both the exterior and the interior of the house in accordance with their original design; and under his hands the Old Hall at Samlesbury has become one of the most interesting and instructive mansions in the county.

Sir John Southworth was the most distinguished personage of his race. He was high in military command during the early years of the reign of Elizabeth—he mustered three hundred men at Berwick; and served the office of Sheriff of Lancashire in 1562. His possessions included Southworth, Samlesbury, Mellor, besides lands in eighteen other townships; but he was illiterate, bigoted, and self-willed. His rigid devotion to the faith of his ancestors led him to speak rashly of the changes introduced into the national religion; he also acted unwisely in contravening the laws, for which he was ultimately cast into prison, and otherwise treated with much severity until his death in 1595.

Tradition states that during his later years one of his daughters had formed an intimate acquaintance with the heir of a neighbouring knightly house. The attachment was mutual, and nothing was wanting to complete their happiness except the consent of the lady's father. Sir John was thereupon consulted; but the tale of their devoted attachment only served to increase his rage, and he dismissed the supplicants with the most bitter denunciations. "No daughter of his should ever be united to the son of a family which had deserted its ancestral faith," and he forbade the youth his presence for ever. Difficulty, however, only served to increase the ardour of the devoted lovers; and after many secret interviews among the wooded slopes of the Ribble, an elopement was agreed upon, in the hope that time would bring her father's pardon. The day and place were unfortunately overheard by one of the lady's brothers, who was hiding in a thicket close by, and he determined to prevent what he considered to be his sister's disgrace.

On the evening agreed upon both parties met at the hour appointed; and as the young knight moved away with his betrothed, her brother rushed from his hiding place, and slew both him and two friends by whom he was accompanied. The bodies were secretly buried within the precincts of the domestic chapel at the Hall; and Lady Dorothy was sent abroad to a convent where she was kept under strict surveillance. Her mind at last gave way—the name of her murdered lover was ever on her lips, and she died a raving maniac. Some years ago three human skeletons were found near the walls of the Hall, and popular opinion has connected them with the tradition. The legend also states that on certain clear, still evenings a lady in white can be seen passing along the gallery and the corridors, and then from the Hall into the grounds: that she there meets a handsome knight who receives her on his bended knees, and he then accompanies her along the walks. On arriving at a certain spot, most probably the lover's grave, both the phantoms stand still, and, as they seem to utter soft wailings of despair, they embrace each other, and then their forms rise slowly from the earth and melt away into the clear blue of the surrounding sky.