Gruesome tales from Macclesfield history
IN the late 1700s construction workers were designing a toll road between Bullocks Smithy (now Hazel Grove) and Leek.
It was decided the road should go through Adlington and past the ancient, revered Butley ash tree into Tytherington and Macclesfield before travelling south towards Leek.
The ash tree had, in its time, been worshipped as a tree of life, or one housing a specific god.
There are no records of where this tree actually stood, other than that a public house, the Ash Tree at Butley, known as the Butley Ash by locals, was named in its honour.
But when the construction gang reached Butley, they uncovered a huge burial site where hundreds of people had been interred several thousand years ago. Clearing the site regardless, the road was built.
Around 150 years later, at the turn of the 20th century, the young lord of Swythamley Hall in Macclesfield Forest, Sir Philip Brocklehurst, and author Doug Pickford’s grandfather, Isaac Pickford, or Ike, as he was known, discovered a document in the hall’s library that shook them to their socks.
Ike came from a family who had been tenants of the Brocklehursts and their predecessors, the de Traffords and one day the two best friends did something they were forbidden to.
Rummaging through the dusty leather-bound books and drawers underneath the bookshelves, they unearthed a letter written by a construction foreman, for apparently, the Brocklehurst family had been investors in the toll road after it was built. In the letter the foreman asked for money to send the body of an Irish teenager, who had died in a mysterious way, back to his home town for burial.
He wrote that after the ancient bones were unearthed, some of the navvies refused to work, on the grounds they were desecrating a burial site.
Fights erupted between those who refused, and were dismissed, and those who carried on.
As they fought, the foreman wrote, the Irish lad began to scream, rising in the air above the men’s heads and dropping into a pile of bones which were crushed under his weight.
As he talked in a strange language, possibly Latin, a horse pawed at his body.
Many of the men ran away, those remaining seeing his body convulse before he died, at which point a lightning bolt struck a nearby ash tree.
Was this the famous Butley Ash?
Sir Philip Brocklehurst, centre, left, with his mother performing the opening ceremony of Rushton fete in the early 1920s. Right: The Brocklehurst family home, Swythamley Hall in Macclesfield Forest
●● One of the bedrooms, said to be haunted, at Swythamley Hall at the beginning of the 20th century