SM 53 – Oct 15
On the edge of Bolton, in Greater Manchester, there is a splendid, rambling Elizabethan manor house called Smithills Hall. It is one of the oldest halls in Lancashire – part of it actually dates back to the reign of King John in the 14th century, and it has been added to progressively since that time. Fig 1 is taken from the website of the Smithills Hall and Park Trust, who managed the Hall until March 2006.
Fig 1 – The Smithills Hall Courtyard (Photo by Margaret Koppens)
The Hall is said to be haunted by the ghost of a Protestant martyr called George Marsh, who was burned at the stake in 1555, during the reign of Queen Mary. Captured during those predominantly catholic times, he was brought to Smithills by its then owner, a local magistrate called Robert Barton. During his interrogation, Marsh is reputed to have stamped his foot on the floor, and prayed that its mark should be left there to show the injustice of his accusers. A depression miraculously appeared in the doorstep where he had stamped his foot, and his spectre is said to have wandered the hall ever since.[i]
The legend goes on to say that, if one goes to look at the doorstep at a certain hour of the night, on a certain night of the year, they will see the mark red with fresh blood, but that is not the subject of this particular story. The period with which these notes are more concerned is 1873-75, when the Hall was in the hands of the Ainsworth family. They became very wealthy in the cotton bleaching industry, and the Head of the family at that time was Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926).
He contracted James 2 to build a:
‘Waterfall, and rocky stream with bridge’[ii]
. . across the tributary of the River Tonge that runs through the glen along the bottom of the steep cliff that forms the southern boundary of Smithills Park, and one can see what this looked like in Fig 2. This picture is taken from the issue of Country Life dated 8th November 1902, and shows the ivy-covered bridge and overflow, while Fig 3 shows the same feature as it was one hundred years later.
[i] ‘The Bloody Footstep’ from The Haunters and the Haunted – Ghost Stories edited by Ernest Rhys, published by Daniel O’Connor, 1921.
[ii] Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery by James 2 c1877