Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Mab's Cross at Wigan

Part I: Legends and Traditions; Mab's Cross at Wigan.


In the Church of Wigan near one of the four gates called Standish Gate, stands a ruined stone cross, connected with an ancient tradition, which the late Mr Roby, more suo, has expanded and embellished into a long and interesting story; but the principal source he draws from is the genealogical roll of the Bradshaighs, from which we take the old tradition, in the quaint terms of the original:—"Sir William Bradshaigh, second son to Sir John, was a great traveller and a soldier, and married to Mabel, daughter and sole heiress of Hugh Norres de Haghe [Haigh] and Blackrode, and had issue, &c. Of this Mabel is a story by tradition of undoubted verity, that in Sir William Bradshaigh's absence (being ten years away in the holy wars) she married a Welsh knight. Sir William, returning from the wars, came in a palmer's habit amongst the poor to Haghe; who when she saw and congetringe [conjecturing] that he favoured [resembled] her former husband, wept—for which the knight [her second husband] chastised her; at which Sir William went and made himself known to his tenants; in which space the knight fled, but near to Newton Park, Sir William overtook and slew him. The said Dame Mabel was enjoined by her confessor to do penance by going once every week, barefooted and barelegged, to a cross near Wigan from the Haghe, whilst she lived, and [it is] called Mabb's to this day; and their monument lies in Wigan Church, as you see them there pourtrayed." Sir William Bradshaigh was outlawed during the space of a year and a day for killing the Welsh knight; but he and his lady, it is said, lived happily together afterwards until their death. The remains of the effigies on their tomb have been decayed by time, perhaps further injured by iconoclasts, and finally have suffered from the embellishing hands of whitewashing churchwardens. The tradition trips in stating that Sir William was in the Holy Wars, as he was not born till about ten years after the sixth and last of the Crusades. It is probable that he was in the disastrous campaign of Edward II. against the Scots; and his long absence from home is accounted for by the supposition that he was for the greater part of the time a captive.

The most ancient and interesting monument in Wigan parish church is placed under the stairs leading to the east gallery, where two mangled figures of whitewashed stone preserve the remembrance of Sir William Bradshaigh, of Haigh, and his lady Mabel—he in an antique coat of mail, cross-legged, with his sword partly drawn from the scabbard by his left side, and on his shoulder his shield, charged with two bends; and she in a long robe, veiled, her hands elevated and conjoined in the attitude of fervent prayer. The history of this valorous knight and his lady is preserved in the family pedigree of the Bradshaighs in the terms already given. In 1664, when Sir William Dugdale made his visitation, he sketched a drawing of the monument, as it then stood, upon the family pedigree, now in the possession of the Earl of Balcarres. Sir William was not only outlawed for slaying the Welsh knight, but in the Inquisitiones ad quod damnum of ii Edward II. (1317-18), he is designated "a felon." Mab's Cross stands at the top of Standish Gate, Wigan, at the entrance to the town from the Standish road, and consists of the base of a pillar and half a shaft of four sides, rounded off by time, to which the lady made her weekly pilgrimages, in penitential attire, from the chapel at Haigh Hall, a distance of two miles, in an age when ten years' widowhood was not thought a sufficient expiation of the crime of taking a second husband.