Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Wardley Hall Tradition


Wardley Hall was originally the property of the Worsleys or Workedleys, who were settled at Worsley about the time of the Norman Conquest. They retained possession of Wardley till about the reign of Edward II., when Thurston de Tyldesley marrying Margaret, daughter and heiress of Jordan de Workesley, it passed to the Tyldesleys; and, prior to the herald's visitation of 1567, became the residence of the elder branch of the family; a younger branch being settled at Morley Hall in Astley, which had come to the family by the marriage of Edmund, second son of Thurstan Tyldesley, of Tyldesley and Wardley, with Anne, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Leyland, of Morley; and from that line descended the unfortunate and gallant royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley. Wardley continued the property of the Tyldesleys until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Thurston, son of Thomas Tyldesley, of Gray's Inn, Attorney-General for the Duchy of Lancaster, sold the estate in parcels, and Wardley passed to the Cheshire family of Downes. Roger Downes, the first of the name settled at Wardley, was Vice-Chamberlain of Chester to William Earl of Derby, and James Lord Strange, his son. He died about 1638, leaving by his wife, a daughter of John Calvert, of Cockerham, three sons and one daughter. Francis and Lawrence both died young; John succeeded to the estates on the death of his father; and Jane married Robert Snede, Esq., of Keele, Staffordshire. John Downes, a zealous Roman Catholic and supporter of the Royalist cause, accompanied Lord Strange (afterwards the unfortunate Earl of Derby) to the siege of Manchester in September 1642. He married Penelope, daughter of Sir Cecil Trafford, knight, the only issue being Roger, son and heir (who was unfortunately killed by a watchman at Epsom Wells in June 1676), and a daughter named Penelope. How the story of the skull arose, it is impossible to say; but it seems to have been to a great extent true; at least, as regards Roger Downes, who is represented as being one of the wildest and most licentious of the courtiers of Charles II. Upon the wall of Wigan Church is a tablet to the memory of this same Roger Downes, with the inscription:—"Rogerus Downes de Wardley, armiger, filius Johannis Downes, hujus comitatis, armigeri, obiit 27 Junii 1676, ætatis suæ 28"—(Roger Downes of Wardley, Esq., son of John Downes of this county, Esq., died 27th June 1676, aged twenty-eight years).

Thomas Barritt, the antiquary, besides the story he has given relating to the skull in his "MS. Pedigrees," offers the following explanation:—"Thomas Stockport told me that the skull belonged to a Romish priest, who was executed at Lancaster for seditious practices in the time of William III. He was most likely the priest at Wardley, to which place his head being sent, might be preserved as a relic of his martyrdom. ... The late Rev. Mr Kenyon of Peel, and librarian at the College in this town [Chetham's Library, Manchester], told me, about the year 1779, that the family vault of the Downeses in Wigan Church had been opened about that time, and a coffin discovered, on which was an inscription to the memory of the above young Downes. Curiosity led to the opening of it, and the skeleton, head and all, was there; but, whatever was the cause of his death, the upper part of the skull had been sawed off, a little above the eyes, by a surgeon, perhaps by order of his friends, to be satisfied of the nature of his disease. His shroud was in tolerable preservation; and Mr Kenyon showed me some of the ribbon that tied his suit at the arms, wrists, and ankles; it was of a brown colour—what it was at first could not be ascertained." Penelope, sister and heiress of Roger Downes, conveyed the estate by marriage to Richard Savage, fourth Earl Rivers, who died in 1712, leaving an only daughter, Elizabeth, married to James, fourth Earl of Barry more, the representative of an ancient Irish family. The only issue by this marriage was a daughter named Penelope, wife of James, second surviving son of George, Earl of Cholmondeley, who died without issue in 1775. Wardley is now the property of the Earl of Ellesmere. The hall itself is an interesting structure, of the time of Edward VI.; partially surrounded by a moat, and constructed of ornamental timber and plaster, the interstices of the framework being filled with bricks. It is quadrangular in form, with a courtyard in the centre, the entrance being by a covered archway. The principal room has an ornamented wainscot, and a ceiling of fluted oak; in this room is also preserved a coat of arms of the Downes family—sable a hart lodged argent. Wardley Hall has been engraved in Philips's "Old Halls of Lancashire," and in other works.