Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Rhodes and Pilkington Traditions


In Watson's MSS. the following traditionary story relating to the estate called Rhodes, in the manor of Pilkington, is preserved:—"Rhodes of Rhodes, having his estate, and it being land of inheritance, and lying within the manor of Pilkington, then belonging to Sir John [? Sir Thomas] Pilkington, the knight, desirous of purchasing the estate, applied to Rhodes; but he, being unwilling to part with it, refused to sell. The estate is of considerable length, and is bounded by the river Irwell for more than a mile, and at the extremity of the land stood a cowhouse, of which Rhodes made use as a shelter for young cattle during winter, but at other times it was disused. Into this building, it is said. Sir John ordered some of his own cattle to be put, and locked them up there, giving out that they were stolen, and a reward was offered accordingly. Some time passed before the cattle were found; at length, as had been concerted, some of Sir John's people found them in the above cowhouse; and proceedings in law were immediately commenced against Rhodes for this pretended robbery, against which Rhodes defended himself; but the fact of the cattle being locked up in his building being notorious, and the presumption of his being privy to, if not a principal in, the concealment, was evidence so strong against Rhodes, that he was obliged to come upon terms with Sir John, which caused the loss of his inheritance. Sir John afterwards forfeited the manor of Pilkington: this, in those days, was called a just judgment, and believed to have been inflicted upon him for the above treachery. The manor was given to the Derby family by the crown. The mansion-house was formerly encompassed by a moat, part of which still remains."

The late Mr Thomas Barritt, the antiquary, gives the following very diflferent account of the matter:—"In Prestwich parish is a place called the Rhodes, where there is an old hall nearly surrounded with a moat. This appears to have been long ago the seat of some old family of note, but of what name I cannot learn. There is, however, a tradition in that neighbourhood that the first Earl of Derby had lands given him in Lancashire by his stepson, Henry VII., that belonged to gentry in this county; particularly in Broughton, Pilkington, Prestwich, Bury, and Chetham. The owners of these estates not taking the part of Henry, were by him outlawed, and were driven from their homes by the Earl of Derby. Amongst them was Sir John Chetham of Chetham, whose seat was at what is now called Peel, a little beyond Scotland Bridge, Manchester. His house was razed. Quere, whether the site of a Roman castrum at this place, mentioned by the Rev. John Whitaker, was not the old situation of Sir John Chetham's house? This land is now owned by the present Earl of Derby (1780), who likewise now owns one half of Rhodes estate, and one half of the old hall, which is now divided into two dwellings. On a chimneypiece in one of the parlours I observed the letters 'H.P.,' which recalled to memory that this house was once the residence of the Prestwich family of Prestwich, one of which family founded Prestwich church. All or great part of this estate was sold by the sequestrators in the time of the civil war in the reign of Charles I., and one half was bought by a Mr Fox, whose family hath lived there till very lately. But after the Restoration, Charles, Earl of Derby, son of that Earl who was beheaded at Bolton, laid claim to the share that Mr Fox had bought, who was determined to keep his purchase. The Earl, on finding this, had recourse to the following stratagem:—It was pretended that two oxen had been stolen from Knowsley; but they were privily conveyed one night into the shippon of Mr Fox. Persons were immediately dispatched all over the country in search of the beasts, which were found in the shippon of Mr Fox, who was seized on as the thief, and threatened with being sent to prison. Mr Fox, knowing his innocence, and that the charge was a juggle, was willing to go to prison; but the persons sent by the Earl, and instructed how to proceed, finding this, offered him the Earl's pardon on condition he would deliver up the land, which Mr Fox still refused, and persisted in going to prison. But when he had got a little distance from the house, his wife and children followed, and persuaded him to hearken to the terms proposed by the Earl's servants; who then offered him his release upon these terms,—that the Earl should receive again the estate, and Mr Fox still continue thereon, and become the Earl's tenant, and, on paying rent for the same, continue, he and his heirs, tenants for ever; which place they now enjoy."