Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/The Clegg Hall Tragedy


Clegg Hall, about two miles N.E. from Rochdale, stands on the only estate within the parish of Whalley which still continues in the local family name. On this site was the old house built by Bernulf de Clegg and Quenilda his wife as early as the reign of Stephen. Not a vestige of it remains. The present comparatively modern erection was built by Theophilus Ashton, of Rochdale, a lawyer, and one of the Ashtons of Little Clegg, about the year 1620. After many changes of occupants, it is now in part used as a country alehouse; other portions are inhabited by the labouring classes, who find employment in that populous manufacturing district. It is the property of the Fentons, by purchase from the late John Entwisle, Esq., of Foxholes. To Clegg Hall, or rather what was once the site of that ancient house, tradition points through the dim vista of past ages as the scene of an unnatural and cruel tragedy. It was in the square, low, dark mansion, built in the reign of Stephen, that this crime is said to have been perpetrated,—one of those half-timbered houses, called post-and-petrel, having huge main timbers, crooks, &c., the interstices being wattled and filled with a compost of clay and chopped straw. Of this rude and primitive architecture were the houses of the English gentry in former ages. Here, then, was that horrible deed perpetrated which gave rise to the stories yet extant relating to the "Clegg Hall boggarts." The prevailing tradition is not exact as to the date of its occurrence; but it is said that some time about the thirteenth or fourteenth century, a tragedy resembling that of the babes in the wood was perpetrated here. A wicked uncle destroyed the lawful heirs of Clegg Hall and estates—two orphan children that were left to his care—by throwing them over a balcony into the moat, in order that he might seize on their inheritance. Ever afterwards—so the story goes—the house was the reputed haunt of a troubled and angry spirit, until means were taken for its removal, or rather expulsion. Of course, this "boggart" could not be the manes of the murdered children, or it would have been seen as a plurality of spirits; but was, in all likelihood, the wretched ghost of the ruffianly relative, whose double crime would not let him rest in the peace of the grave. Even after the original house was almost wholly pulled down, and that of A.D. 1620 erected on its site, the "boggart" still haunted the ancient spot, and its occasional visitations were the source of the great alarm and annoyance to which the inmates were subjected. From these slight materials, Mr Roby has woven one of those fictions, full of romantic incident, which have rendered his "Traditions of Lancashire"[1] so famous. We have taken such facts only as seem really traditionary, recommending the lovers of the marvellous to the work just cited for a very entertaining tale on this subject.

In a curious MS. volume, now the property of Charles Clay, Esq., M.D., of Manchester, Mr Nuttall states that "many ridiculous tales were told of 'the two boggarts [so that they were the ghosts of the children] of Clegg Hall,' by the country people. At one time, they unceasingly importuned a pious monk in the neighbourhood to exorcise or 'lay the ghosts,' to which request he consented. Having provided himself with a variety of charms and spells, he boldly entered on his undertaking, and in a few hours brought the ghosts to a parley. They demanded, as the condition of future quiet [the sacrifice of] a body and a soul. The spectators (who could not see the ghosts), on being informed of their desire, were petrified, none being willing to become the victim. The cunning monk told the tremblers, 'Bring me the body of a cock and the sole of a shoe.' This being done, the spirits were forbidden to 'revisit the pale glimpses of the moon' till the whole of the sacrifice was consumed. Thus ended the first laying of the Clegg Hall boggarts. But, in later times, it was conceived that the sacrifice must have been wholly consumed, and, consequently, that the two boggarts had full liberty to walk again; and hence the revival of the tradition and superstition." Another ballad by Mr Nuttall, entitled, "Rolfe and Quenilda," has Clegg Hall for its scene.

  1. It is only just to state that the story of "Clegg Hall Boggart" was communicated to Mr Roby by Mr William Nuttall, of Rochdale, author of "Le Voyageur," and the composer of a ballad on the tradition. In this ballad, entitled "Sir Roland and Clegg Hall Boggart," Mr Nuttall makes Sir Roland murder the children in bed with a dagger. Remorse eventually drove him mad, and he died raving during a violent storm. The Hall was ever after haunted by the children's ghosts, and also by demons, till St Antonea (St Anthony), with a relic from the Virgin's shrine, exorcised and laid the evil spirits.