The Hanging Town

The Hanging Town

The ancient city of Lancaster was once known as the ‘hanging town’ as more people were hanged here than anywhere else outside London. Between 1782 and 1865 around 265 people were hanged at Lancaster, only 43 were for murder, other crimes included burglary, passing forged bank notes, robbery,  cattle and horse theft.

Aerial view of Lancaster Castle.

Gallows Hill

Up to 1800 the executions took place on the moors outside the city’s southern gate, known as  Gallows Hill, where The Ashton Memorial now stands in Williamson Park. As many as nine condemned prisoners and their coffins would be carried in a cart from Lancaster Castle, along Moor Lane and stopping at the Golden Lion public house (still serving pints to this day) at the corner of Brewery Lane so the condemned prisoners could take a last drink with their friends and family.  An execution could bring as many as 6,000 people from all over the county into Lancaster to watch the hangings and the local ale-houses, inns and market traders did a roaring trade.

The Ashton Memorial on the site of Gallows Hill.

From 1800 to 1865 it was decided it would be more convenient to carry out executions  in the grounds of the castle and the spot chosen became known as ‘Hanging Corner’. (Below is a photo of ‘Hanging Corner’. The bricked up doorway on the left is where the condemned where brought from).

The last public  hanging was on 25th March 1865 when Stephen Burke  was executed for the murder of his wife.

The Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 ended public executions, requiring that criminals be put to death in private.

The last hanging at the castle was on 15th November 1910. Thomas Rawcliffe was executed for the wilful murder of his wife.




Lancaster Castle.

The castle from across the River Lune. The church to the right is Lancaster Priory, formally the Priory of St Mary.

Lancaster Castle dates back to Roman times and is built on the site of a Roman fort. It was built by Roger of Poitou in 1093 as a hilltop Norman stronghold. Lancaster is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Loncaster, where ‘Lon’ refers to the River Lune and ‘castle’ from the Latin castrum for ‘fort’ referring to the Roman fort.

Duchy of Lancaster

The castle is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (Her Majesty the Queen is the Duke of Lancaster). The Duchy of Lancaster is an ancient inheritance that began in 1265, when Henry III gifted to his son Edmund Crouchbank lands which had been forfeited by the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort.

Later that same year, lands taken from Robert Ferrers, Earl of Derby were added to this holding. However, it was not until Edmund was given the ‘county, honor and castle of Lancaster’ in 1267 that it became known as the ‘Lancaster inheritance’.

Duke of Lancaster

The title ‘Duke of Lancaster’ did not come into existence until it was conferred on Edmund’s grandson Henry Grosmont in 1351. At the same time, Lancaster was made a County Palatine for Henry’s lifetime.

This meant that the Duke had Royal powers within the county and could do practically everything that would otherwise be the king’s privilege. The law courts were in the Duke’s hands and he appointed the Sheriff, the Judges, and the Justices of the Peace, as well as all other senior officials.

John O’Gaunt

Henry died without leaving a male heir in in 1362, so the title and inheritance became part of his daughter Blanche’s dowry. Through her marriage, Blanche passed on both to perhaps the best known Duke of Lancaster, her new husband, John O’Gaunt. The third son of King Edward III and the younger brother of the Black Prince, this was the ‘time-honoured Lancaster’ referred to by Shakespeare.

Over the next several years, John O’Gaunt added significantly to his wealth and possessions. On 28 February 1377, Edward III recreated the Palatinate for John’s lifetime. In 1390, this grant was extended to include John’s heirs. The Duke of Lancaster had now become one of the most important figures in the country.

When John died in 1399, the young King Richard II was fearful of the power that the Lancaster inheritance gave to his heir, Henry Bolingbroke. Richard therefore banished Henry from England and took the Duchy of Lancaster title, lands and properties for himself. Bolingbroke returned to England at the head of an army and overthrew the King in 1399, reclaiming his historic Lancaster inheritance.

On his accession to the throne as Henry IV, Bolingbroke passed a Royal Charter which decreed that the Duchy should be a distinct entity held separate from all other Crown possessions and handed down through the Monarchy.

The Monarch is always the Duke of Lancaster – hence the historic Lancastrian toast ‘The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!’. The title is always that of ‘Duke’ for both Kings and Queens.

(All photos courtesy of Google images.)


A Christmas Carol

Around this time of December I always read A Christmas Carol, it gives me the feel good factor on the run up to the big day. I’ve several copies of the book but always go for a pocket size edition I bought at Sweetens Book Shop, (now Clintons Cards I think!)  Fishergate, Preston in 1969.

It was written by Charles Dickens at the height of his fame in 1843 and first published in December that year with 6,000 copies sold on the first day.  The full title of the book is A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas. It is a novella and depending which version you read and the number of illustrations, the short story will be around ninety pages.

Above is the cover of the 1843 first edition published by Chapman and Hall. As you would expect a first edition is very valuable and the ultimate possession for a book collector and would worth anything from £12,000 to £40,000.  In 2010 a signed copy was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London for £182,250. If you have a copy get it on eBay!

Very few people on the planet will not know the story of A Christmas Carol, but it is worth remembering that the book was written during depressing times of poverty, starvation and inhuman working conditions. Dickens himself left a harsh boarding school at the age of 12 to work 10 hours a day at a shoe-blacking factory to support his struggling family who were facing financial hardships which resulted in his father spending time at Marshalsea, a debtors prison. This stayed with him throughout his life and his outrage at the social injustice of the poor, particularly children is a recurring theme in his writing.

Dickens at the blacking factory by the Victorian illustrator Fred Barnard.

It is a ghost story but not in the classic British style of a haunted house with maleavolent apparitions, faces at the window and opening doors.  In the story  Ebenezer Scrooge is described as ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!’ He was a miserly money lender in central London who up to a few years previously was in partnership with Jacob Marley, who died on a Christmas Eve. That is the premise for this great Christmas story.

Below is the cover of the MacMillan edition showing Jacob Marley visiting Scrooge.


On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by four ghosts, the first is his old business partner, Jacob Marley followed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.  In their own way they each show Scrooge how his selfish behaviour has affected those around him throughout his life. At the end of the story (Spoiler alert!) he awakes on Christmas morning to discover that there is still time for him to change his ways.


These are the original illustrations of the three ghosts by the artist John Leech.

Battle of Preston 1648

Priest Town

Lieutenant-General Cromwell’s New Model Army of nine thousand had crossed the Pennines from Wetherby, Yorkshire into Lancashire using the Gisburn Road, then followed the north bank of the Ribble, arriving at the outskirts of Preston on Saturday the 16th August 1648.

He halted his Parliamentarian force on its push to Ribbleton Moor, where beyond this marshland, Sir Marmaduke Langdale and two thousand Royalists were guarding the northern and eastern routes into the town, while the Duke of Hamilton and eighteen thousand troops waited at Walton Bridge, protecting the south. 

Come nightfall they bivouacked in open fields and driving rain, their meagre campfires visible to the Roundheads.

The intelligence Cromwell received was good news.

These are the opening paragraphs of Priest Town but the story is not about the English Civil War. It sets the scene for an unfolding supernatural drama of action and tragedy two hundred and fifty one years later in 1889.

Bloody Preston 1648

While researching the Battle of Preston I received a copy of Bloody Preston by Stephen Bull and Mike Seed as a Christmas present from my wife, Bev. I was not aware of the book until then and apart from its value as research, it is an excellent read.

I am Preston born and breed, left the town in 1977, but I’ve always had family and social links with the town (I should now say ‘city’). Even so, up to a few years ago, I was completely ignorant to the Second English Civil War that was decided in the fields and marshes around Preston.

The paragraph below is the ‘Introduction’ from Bloody Preston published by Carnegie Publishing 1998.

It is paradoxical that the most important battle of the English Civil Wars should be the least well known, yet ‘Bloudy Preston’ (as it was tagged in at least one contemporary account) is at once both critical for the course of British history, and moderately obscure. Those damp August days three hundred and fifty years ago brought together in one of the largest battles of the period the best that parliament could field, against a massive Scottish army, and a diminutive yet loyal veteran force of English Northern Loyalists.

The Battle

The Battle of Preston was fought over two days in August 1648. After this battle, a defeated Charles I stood no chance of overthrowing Parliament’s power. The Battle of Preston allied a Scottish force with the Royalists who had also gathered in Scotland. By simply doing this, should Charles ever be captured again, he faced the real peril of being charged with treason. At the very least, no one in Parliament would trust him again.

In April 1648 a small force of Scots commanded by Marmaduke Langdale had crossed the border and taken Berwick and Carlisle. On July 8th a much larger force commanded by the Marquis of Hamilton marched into Carlisle. By mid-July, 12,000 men (8,000 Scots and 4,000 Royalists) looked poised to march south in support of Charles. However, there were delays in the Scottish advance and this allowed a Parliamentarian force led by General John Lambert to cross the Pennines east to west to confront the invaders. A force led by Oliver Cromwell helped him. Pembroke Castle had fallen to Cromwell on July 11th and freed up men to march north and support Lambert. They met at Wetherby.

However, they were confronted by a much larger force: Hamilton’s army numbered 20,000 men while Cromwell had 9,000 men of whom only 6,500 were experienced soldiers.

What Cromwell had on his side was discipline. In some respects the Scots had become a very undisciplined unit. Hamilton had allowed his army to spread itself over twenty miles – a distance far too great to allow for good communications between all parts in it. Without good communications, Hamilton had little ability to fully control his force. Hamilton’s cavalry was in the front while the infantry trailed behind. Therefore, each was unable to support the other. While Hamilton’s cavalry had the advantage of travelling by horse, the terrain in the area was not conducive to speedy travel and the rain that had been falling made the ground even more boggy than normal.

On August 17th Cromwell attacked the infantry in the rear of Hamilton’s greatly extended force.

The Battle of Preston was fought in boggy terrain and the skill and power of the New Model Army was severely restricted as it relied very much on its cavalry. The battle was initially fought with little finesse as Cromwell used his horse to simply bludgeon the Scots into submission. He then turned on Hamilton’s main force, many of whom had based themselves actually in Preston. The fighting in Preston was bloody even by the standards of the English Civil War. It was now that it became clear to Hamilton that keeping his force spread out over such a large distance was a fatal flaw. Cromwell fought mainly foot soldiers. Hamilton had to get his horse to Preston but they were mainly in Wigan, some miles away. The fighting on August 17th at Preston cost the Scots 8,000 men – 4,000 killed and 4,000 captured. The battle continued on August 18th.

The night of August 17th/18th had been blighted by rain. The Scots who were still in the field were both wet and hungry, as many had not eaten properly for days. To make matters worse, a lot of their ammunition had become damp and unusable. On the 18th, about 4,000 Scots laid down their weapons at Warrington rather than fight a smaller Parliamentarian force. Men under the command of Hamilton marched south away from Preston. Hamilton’s plan was to march south and then back north away from Cromwell’s men and back to Scotland. The plan had some credibility to it but Hamilton’s men were unwilling to follow him and he surrendered his forces at Uttoxeter to John Lambert. Hamilton himself was sent to Windsor.

The fighting during the Battle of Preston was particularly vicious and as a result of this those who had volunteered to fight for Hamilton and had been captured or surrendered were harshly treated. They were sent as virtual slaves to the plantations in Barbados and Virginia. Those conscripted into Hamilton’s army were sent home.

The loss of the Scots and the accompanying Royalists who had fought at Preston was a devastating blow for Charles. He now had no decent power base in England, Wales, Ireland or Scotland.

The above is an edited extract from by C N Trueman.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell was an imposing figure at six foot two. Up to a few years ago he had been a farmer and Member of Parliament before he decided to act against the King.

The above is from Priest Town.

On his march to Preston, Cromwell’s army camped in the grounds of Stonyhurst. He spent the night sleeping on a table in the middle of the Great Hall in full armour due to his mistrust and fear of assassination by the Catholic, royalists hosts.


A plaque at Stonyhurst College commemorates  Cromwell’s stay in the Jacobean Great Hall, now known as the Top Refectory.

The next day Cromwell and his 9,000 troops continued their march towards Preston and crossed the River Hodder at Hurst Green using a pack horse bridge built in 1561 by Sir Richard Shireburn, the own and builder of Stonyhurst.

The bridge is no longer in use but ‘Cromwell’s Bridge’ as it has become known was replaced in 1819 by the Lower Hodder Bridge a short distance upstream. ‘Cromwell’s Bridge’ has three segmented circular arches, it was 2m wide with low parapets so laden pack horses could cross.

Charles Cattermole

Charles Cattermole born 1832 – 1900 was an established English painter and engraver.

A famous watercolour painting by Cattermole completed in 1877 named The Battle of Preston and Walton, August 17th, 1648 is on public display in the Harris Museum, Preston.



Chingle Hall


Just before you get to the village of Goosnargh, with the Bowland Fells two or three miles away to your left and travelling along Whittingham Lane (B5269) from Broughton, there is a narrow lane on the right leading to Chingle Hall. There was once a signpost but that has long gone, as Chingle Hall is reputed to be the most haunted house in England.

History of the Hall

It is a small manor house shaped as a crucifix, partially moated and built by Adam de Singleton in the 13th century, using massive curved timbers hauled from the wreck of a Viking longboat found in the River Ribble more than 700 years ago. The original sturdy front door still bears the heavy and rare ‘Y’ knocker. A stone bridge over the moat has replaced the original drawbridge.

Roman Catholics

The Wall family,  succeeded to the estate in 1585 after the death of Eleanor de Singleton, at a time when Catholics were being persecuted and it was illegal to practice mass in Britain. During these turbulent years Chingle Hall was used as a place of worship, with a tiny window in the porch where a lit candle would indicate that mass was about to be celebrated. The faithful would cross the dark fields and hopefully enter the hall away from prying eyes, fully aware to be caught meant certain torture and death.

Priest’s Hides

Priests would travel the country in disguise to celebrate mass and hide in specially designed spaces, large houses such as Chingle Hall had built to secrete the priests. The house has two Priest holes and there may yet be more to be discovered. One is in the Priest’s Room above the chapel, another in a chimney breast. It is not recorded if ever priests where found hiding at Chingle Hall, but the most famous priest with connections to the hall during The Reformation was John Wall.


It is claimed that Saint John Wall, a Franciscan priest was born at the hall in 1620 and was one of the last Roman Catholic English Martyrs. He was arrested by the kings soldiers and executed in Worcester in 1679 for his religion. After his execution, his quartered body was given to his friends and buried at St Oswald’s churchyard, Worcester and his severed head recovered by friars was eventually returned to Chingle Hall. It is said that Wall’s head is either buried in the grounds or hidden in the building itself.


Lady Eleanor de Singleton, who was deemed mad and kept captive in her bedroom until her death or murder at the age of 20  haunts her room to this day. Visitors to her bedroom which is said to be the most haunted room in the house, have claimed to be overcome with an overpowering feeling of sadness, had their clothing tugged by invisible hands, others have experienced a strong smell of lavender and some have even fainted. Orbs of light have been seen by many visitors.

Saint John Wall has been seen walking the grounds and inside the house many times. The figure is seen as a hooded monk in a brown cowl and Mrs Howarth, the owner of the hall in the 1970’s has recalled that on many an evening, she would be in the far end of the lounge watching the TV with her two dogs by the fire, (she was now a widow and lived alone) when the sound of the front door opening and closing could be clearly heard and she has watched the hooded apparition of John Wall silently cross the room to the stairs doorway then disappear. Her two dogs would leap up with tails wagging and walk with him to the stairs.

There are allegedly up to 16 different ghosts haunting Chingle Hall including a poltergeist in the kitchen. There have been numerous paranormal investigations of the  grounds and house in particular the Priest’s hides, and many of the results are documented online, with varying success. According to Haunted Rooms website, it is ‘ a hotbed for capturing spirit lights and paranormal activity’.

Mrs Howarth

I am not sure how my mother, Flo Woods (she died 1977) became a friend of Mrs Margaret Howarth, who with her husband rented the hall from 1945 and bought the premises in 1960. By all accounts Mrs Howarth loved Chingle Hall and was open about the paranormal activity and her own experiences.

I believe they met through the Women’s Guild, a Catholic volunteer organisation of which my mum was actively involved with and I think so was Mrs Howarth. I can remember going to Chingle Hall with my mum at least on one occasion and meeting Mrs Howarth. I would have been six or seven years old and I cannot recall anything spooky or frightening happening. I don’t think I even knew the history of the place then, probably just as well!( I also went to Stonyhurst College with my mum for the day while she supervised the tombola at a garden party!)

Chingle Hall used to open to the public when Mrs Howarth was the owner and I visited the place many times as a paying visitor, but sad to say I having nothing of interest to report for those occasions. I even took a first date there around 40 years ago. I don’t think she was too impressed but it seemed a good idea at the time. The chilled feeling I got was not from anything supernatural!

When Mrs Howarth died in the 1980’s the hall was left to her sister, Ann Strickland, but the house fell into disrepair, left empty it was vandalised and set on fire. In 1986 it was bought by new owners who lovingly restored the hall and kept it open for visitors. The hall continued to be popular for day trippers, sponsored groups stopping overnight, especially on Halloween and numerous paranormal investigators.

Since Mrs Howarth’s death several decades ago, an apparition of a Grey Lady has been seen several times in the house and it is now said the Grey Lady is Margaret Howarth herself visiting her beloved Chingle Hall.

In 2007 it changed hands again and is now a private residence.

The lounge at Chingle Hall in the 1970’s.





Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


The interior of St Peter’s reflected the wealth of its previous owners, including Thomas Weld, who gifted the Stonecross mansion to the Society of Jesus. During the religious persecution in the 16th century the college offered refuge to Catholics who were forced to hide.

The Raven Towers of Stonecross College were just visible beyond the nearest hill. A land-mark amongst the rolling countryside.

Above are an extracts from When Evil Visits.

While researching my first novel, When Evil Visits, part of the story was set at Stonyhurst  College,  Clitheroe, Lancashire but I changed the name to Stonecross so I did not infringe copyright. During this time I came across Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s name as a former alumni of Stonyhurst. He spent seven years at the Jesuit boarding school and according to his biography it was during these years the he realised he had a talent for storytelling. Years later he wrote, “Perhaps it was good for me that the times were hard, for I was wild, full blooded and a trifle reckless. But the situation called for energy and application so that one was bound to try and meet it. My mother had been so splendid that I could not fail her.”

Stonyhurst College sits near to the village of Hurst Green, overlooked by Longridge Fell and the wildness of the Bowland Fells.

He is best known for the fictional detective he created, Sherlock Holmes.  Conan Doyle’s first novel introducing Sherlock Holmes was  A Study in Scarlett, published in 1890 and he went on to write 60 stories about the great detective. I have read several of these novels, my favourite being The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in 1901. The story is set largely on Dartmoor, Devon an area similar in unspoilt beauty and bleakness to the Bowland Fells and Conan Doyle is said to have based this classic on his memory of the fells whilst a pupil at Stonyhurst College.

An aerial view of the college.


Bleasdale Circle

At the foot of Fair Snape Fell, near to the village of Bleasdale and part hidden in a woodland copse stands the famous Bleasdale Circle. It is now a circle of eleven concrete posts marking out where a circle of  massive oak posts used to be. The site, referred to as a ‘henge monument’ includes a burial mound within the circle and has been dated to the early Bronze Age between 2,200 – 1,500 BC.

Visiting the prehistoric monument is worth the trek from the nearest road passing Bleasdale Church, to appreciate the fascinating earthworks and circular ditch and even the small concrete posts, indicating where the wood-henge once stood. The site covers an area of 50 metres by 40 metres with small inner circle 17 metres by 20 metres, the surrounding ditch is approximately 5 feet wide and the funerary mound 3 feet high. The site and former construction is known as a palisaded barrow.

The circle was first discovered in 1898 when excavation began. It has since been established that an early tribal community lived in this natural setting and the timber circle would have had obvious mythical importance to the ancient settlers.


Inside the mound was a grave and two pottery urns 21 cm high, filled with human bones and ashes. Further examination shows that bodies were wrapped in linen and burnt on a funeral pyre. These urns and some of the original oak posts are on display in the Harris Museum, Preston.

If you did the walk up Parlick from the car park at Fell Foot, mentioned in a previous post and continued to the cairn at the summit of Fair Snape Fell, there is a footpath down to the Bleasdale Circle  via Higher Fair Snape Farm, towards Vicarage Farm. From the circle there is a footpath skirting the base of Blindhurst Fell which takes you back to the car park or stick to the country lane which would also take you back to Fell Foot. Ideally you would need a map for this route. We use Ordnance Survey OL41 The Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale.





Project S.W.O.R.D.

My younger brother Paul, who moved to the dark side years ago (that’s Yorkshire to any non-Lancastrians) is an authority on Gerry Anderson and his creations which include: Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlett, UFO, Space: 1999, Terrahawks, Joe 90 amongst others and the little known Project S.W.O.R.D.







In 2012 Paul wrote and published his own book, dedicated to the box art origins of Project S.W.O.R.D toys called The Art of S.W.O.R.D.

The following is the introduction in the authors own words:

“Project S.W.O.R.D was created by Gerry Anderson’s Century 21 Organisation in 1967. It originated as a black and white comic strip, evolved into a colour Annual and culminated in a fabulous range of nineteen plastic space toys.

S.W.O.R.D was never going to be as famous as megastar stable mates Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett but the huge toy range was graced with the most fabulous box art steeped in the space-race of the 1960’s. This box art reflected the cutting edge of NASA spaceship design and fantastic creations of the Century 21 studios.

Although the Century 21 box artists still remain unidentified, we can however, explore the fabulous space art which may possibly have influenced some of them

This book is an exploration of such possibilities, a journey into artistic space”.

The daily blog which Paul created over ten years ago has had nearly 3 million views and is well worth looking at if you are of a certain age and embrace TV nostalgia or have the remotest interest in Gerry Anderson productions.

The book, The Art of S.W.O.R.D is available via the link below: