Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Bernshaw Tower and Lady Sybil

Part I: Legends and Traditions; Bernshaw Tower and Lady Sybil.


Bernshaw Tower, formerly a small fortified house, is now in ruins, little else than the foundations being visible above the surface. It stood in one of the many beautiful ravines branching off from the great gorge of Cliviger, about five miles from Burnley, and not far from the noted Eagle's Crag. Its last owner, and heiress, was celebrated for her wealth and beauty: she was intellectual beyond most of her sex, and frequently visited the Eagle's Crag in order to study nature and admire the varied aspects of the surrounding country. On these occasions she often felt a strong desire to possess super-natural powers; and, in an unguarded moment, was induced to sell her soul to the devil in order that she might be able to join in the nightly revelries of the then famous Lancashire Witches. The bond was duly attested with her blood, and her utmost wishes were at all times fulfilled.

Hapton Tower was then occupied by a junior branch of the Towneley family, and "Lord William" had long been a suitor for the hand of "Lady Sybil" of Bernshaw Tower, but his proposals were constantly rejected. In despair he had recourse to a famous Lancashire witch, one Mother Helston, and after using many spells and incantations, she promised him success on the next All-Hallow's Eve. On that day he went out hunting, according to her directions, when, on nearing Eagle's Crag, he started a milk-white doe, and his dogs immediately gave chase. They scoured the country for many miles, and, at last, when the hounds were nearly exhausted, they again approached the Crag. A strange hound then joined them, which Lord William knew full well. It was the familiar of Mother Helston, which had been sent to capture Lady Sybil, who had assumed the disguise of the white doe. On passing the Crag, Lord William's horse had well-nigh thrown its rider down the fearful abyss; but just as the doe was making for the next precipice, the strange hound seized her by the throat and held her fast, until Lord William threw an enchanted silken leash around her neck, and led her in triumph to Hapton Tower. During the night the Tower was shaken as by an earthquake, and in the morning the captured doe appeared as the fair heiress of Bemshaw. Counter-spells were adopted—her powers of witchcraft were suspended—and soon Lord William had the happiness to lead his newly-wedded bride to his ancestral home. Within a year, however, she had renewed her diabolical practices, and whilst enjoying a frolic in Cliviger Mill, under the form of a beautiful white cat, she had one paw cut off by the man-servant, Robin, who had been set to watch by Giles Robinson, the miller. Next morning Lady Sybil was found at home in bed, pale and exhausted; but Robin's presence at the Tower, with a lady's hand, soon dispelled the mystery of her sudden indisposition. The owner of the hand, with its costly signet ring, was soon detected, and many angry expostulations from her husband followed. By means of some diabolical process the hand was restored to Lady Sybil's arm; but a red mark round the wrist bore witness to the sharpness of Robin's whittle. A reconciliation with her offended husband was afterwards effected; but her bodily strength gave way, and her health rapidly declined. On the approach of death the services of the neighbouring clergy were requested, and by their assistance the devil's bond was cancelled. Lady Sybil soon died in peace, but Bernshaw Tower was ever after deserted. As Mr Roby truly observes, popular tradition "still alleges that her grave was dug where the dark Eagle Crag shoots out its cold, bare peak into the sky; and on the eve of All-Hallows, the hound and the milk-white doe meet on the crag a spectre huntsman in full chase. The belated peasant crosses himself at the sound, as he remembers the fate of the Witch of Bernshaw Tower."