The goblin builders and other ghostly goings on . . .
WITH Halloween coming up we take a look at some tales from Rochdale’s spooky past.
●●THE Goblin Builders at St Chad’s
Originally intended to be in the Newgate area, legend has it that, as the building began for the parish church, goblins intervened.
During the night, piles of timber and stone were transported up the hill to the site of the present church.
The following day the building materials were laboriously carried back downhill, but as night fell the whole process started again.
The following outline of the tale appears in Lancashire Legends by Harland and Wilkinson, 1872:
The Site of St Chad’s Church Rochdale
“Towards the close of the reign of William the Conqueror, Gamel, the Saxon thane, Lord of Recedham or Rochdale, being left in the quiet possession of his lands and privileges was ‘minded, for fear of God and the salvation of his immortal soul, to build a chapel unto St Chadde’, nigh to the banks of the Rache or Roach. According to Mr Roby, in his ‘traditions’, a place was set apart on the north bank of the river, in a low and sheltered spot now called The Newgate. Piles of timber and huge stones were gathered in profusion - the foundations were laid, stakes having been driven and several courses of rubble stone laid ready to receive the grouting or cement. In one night the whole mass was conveyed, without loss of a single stone, to the summit of a steep hill on the opposite bank and apparently without any visible signs of the mode of removal. The Saxon thane was greatly incensed at what he supposed to be a trick of some of his own vassals and threatened punishment, to obviate which, a number of villeins and bordarii with great difficulty and labour conveyed the building materials back to the site for the church, but again were they all removed in the night to the top of the hill. Gamel having learned the truth, sought counsel from the Holy Church and it was thereon resolved that the chapel should be built on the hill-top, as the unknown persons would not permit it to be erected on the site originally selected. This explains the chapel or church of St Chadde, still standing on a hill so high that 124 steps were cut to accomplish the ascent and enable the good people to go to prayers. Such are the outlines of the tradition as dramatically told by Roby in his popular work under the title of ‘The Goblin Builders’. We find no vestige of the tradition in Baines’s ‘Lancashire’ or Dr Whitaker’s ‘Whalley’. There is a belief and a saying in Rochdale, which Roby connects with his tradition, but which seems to have no natural relation to it, that ‘in Rochdale strangers prosper and natives fail’.”
●●THE Baum Rabbit
Rochdale possessed a ghostly rabbit which hopped around the area known as the Baum, near St Mary’s Church and Toad Lane.
The rabbit was said to be plump and well nourished, was always beautifully clean and was said to be ‘whiter than snow’.
The Baum rabbit was often seen standing on its hind quarters and demurely brushing its whiskers.
One man who had to cross the churchyard on his way home every night wrote this: “Confound that rabbit! I wish some chap would grab it,
And stop habit; Confound that rabbit! Confound its head and eyes!
Confound its legs and thighs! its nightly Confound it otherwise! Confound that rabbit! Dogs rush out and squeeze him!
Worry toss and tease him!
That is, if you can seize him;
Confound that rabbit!”
●●THE Rake Inn Ghost
The Rake Inn, Blackstone Edge, is said to be haunted by a handsome cavalier, with twinkling eyes and an uproarious laugh.
●●CLEGG Hall Boggart
Legend has it that a scheming uncle, intent on seizing the Clegg Hall estate for himself, disposed of the two young heirs that were in his way by flinging them from the balcony into the moat.
From that time onwards, the hall was said to be haunted, with unaccountable sounds being heard at night and ghostly figures spotted.
As well as being mischievous spirits that rearranged furniture and break crockery, ghosts of people were also called boggarts.
In the 18th century, people flocked to the hall, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boggart or at least take a look in the room known as the ‘Boggart Chamber’.
●●FAIRY Chapel, Healey Dell
The River Spodden flows through Healey Dell and, with the force of the water, weird and wonderful shapes have been carved into the rocks over the years.
Folklore tells of witches meeting here before being banished by none other than Robin Hood, with a little help from the local fairies.
The fairies then took the spot over for their meetings, with the head fairy taking his position on the seat carved in the tall rock, which stands in the middle of the river.
Over the years, there have been several ghostly sightings, but the most notorious saga concerns Ralph de Stubley who served under Richard the Lionheart during the crusades.
While in Jerusalem, Ralph fell in love with Fatima, a daughter of Saladin.
Unfortunately in 1192 the expedition was forced to pull out, but before leaving, Ralph swore his undying love for Fatima and said he would return.
Before leaving he presented her with a diamond-studded cross.
Some three years later she had not heard from Ralph so, dressed as a troubadour, she set sail to find him. However all the crew and passengers of the ship caught the black death and perished.
The night Fatima died was Christmas Eve, the very night Ralph married the daughter of a rich Baron in order to save the family fortune.
During the celebrations at the hall, Ralph thought he heard the strings of Fatima’s harp playing one of her familiar love tunes.
He strode into the grounds and it is thought, among the trees he met his beloved Fatima.
When the guests went out to investigate his disappearance, they found him sprawled beneath an oak tree clutching the diamond studded cross.
Legend has it that the ghost of Fatima continues to haunt the grounds around the old Stubley Hall and her harp can be heard on Christmas Eve.
●●The Rake Inn
●●St Chad’s pictured in 1870 Pictures: Rochdale Local History
●●Clegg Hall pictured in 1860
●●Stubley Hall pictured in 1960
●●Fairy chapel, Healey Dell