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Feature - Clegg Hall - Brian Clegg

Why Clegg Hall?

This feature has nothing to do with science, but it has a significant to connection to my writing. My maternal grandmother, Annie Clegg (nee Pickersgill) was an enthusiastic story-teller, and I don't doubt the tales she spun for me inspired me to start writing myself. She was greatly influenced herself by the vicar from her childhood, the Reverend G. R. Oakley - and was responsible for my reading his melodramatic account of the ghost of Clegg Hall, and for a fascination with the Hall that has stuck with me over the years.

In the feature below you can find out more about:


The history

The 'Clegg' in the name of the current hall refers to the location (Little Clegg or Great Clegg) rather than the family - the house was built by a Theophilus Ashton in the early 17th century, and I've never seen anything that suggests that it has ever been lived in by a Clegg. It appears to be on the site of an earlier Clegg Hall(s??) whose occupants were Cleggs.

I have seen it said somewhere that the first know Cleggs, Bernulf (and his wife Quernilda) de Clegg were in the Domesday book, though they are more commonly said to date to King Stephen’s reign (1135-1154). That would seem sensible dating from the names, as they are all Anglo Saxon apart from the 'de' which is a Norman bolt-on, typical of the period before Norman Christian names became common.

The Clegg Hall boggart (as the ghost is better known) is usually placed in the 13th century. The longest version I've seen was a very romanticised version in a book called In Olden Days written by a local vicar (Revd. Oakley) in the early years of this century. (The full story is below.) It reckoned that the master of the house went off to France to fight with Henry. While the father was away the wicked uncle killed both his nephews, throwing them over the battlements into the moat of what was presumably a fortified house. Eventually the father returned. His brother crept through a secret passage from a nearby hall, ready to do away with the distraught father, when one of the children's voice was heard calling out "Father beware!" (or words to that effect) and the father awoke, sending his evil brother running terrified to plunge to his death. Ever since, allegedly, the phantom boy has been heard issuing warnings.

The current building was described in a 1626 survey of Rochdale as "a faire capital messuage built with free stone with all new fair houses of office there-unto belonging with gardens, fishponds and divers closes of land." It also refers to "barns, stables, courts, orchards, gardens, folds and pigeon houses."

I have two books which refer to the ghost and later uses of the current building. One is Harland & Wilkinson's Lancashire Legends, published in 1873. This says 'After many changes of occupants it is now in part used as a country alehouse; other portions of it are inhabited by the labouring classes, who find employment in that populous manufacturing district. It is the property of the Fentons, by purchase from the late John Entwisle Esq of Foxholes.' The other, Lancashire Legends by Katherine Eyre (1972) says that from 1818 to 1869 it was a public house called the Horse and Hounds, but generally known as the Black Sloven, the name of a favourite hunting mare of legendary speed which belonged to the former owner, Mr Charles Turner. He died in 1733. It says that 'The Boggart Chamber' became a place to be avoided (though it's not clear if this was in the pre-1620s house or not). It also says that 'during the Commonwealth era, there were hints of counterfeiting activities in the vaults and cellars of Clegg Hall.' That's quite interesting, as it was common for smugglers and counterfeiters to use tales of ghosts to scare off locals from seeing what was going on.


Clegg Hall now

Some time in the early 1900s there was a fire at Clegg Hall and it remained damaged for the rest of the century. We know it was in one piece in 1910, as the picture from Oakley's In Olden Days above dated 1910 shows it as a complete building. However the text (of a 1920s edition) describes it as "a ruined hall", so we can reasonably assume that the damage was done some time in that period. It has been a ruin ever since. I recently (2004) had an email from Keith Pate who remembers playing there in the 1950s, when the upper floors were still there, but a farmer used to house his cows on the ground floor.

Since then its condition has deteriorated more and more, left as a shell. Some time between my earlier black & white set of photographs, taken in the 1970s, and the ones taken in 1999, the most impressive external feature - the portico from the front door - has been removed.

In late 2003 I was contacted by a TV company hoping to make a programme about Clegg Hall as part of a series on ruined buildings in Lancashire. We were all set to do some filming at the Hall, when the owners withdrew permission because they ‘thought it might be bad publicity’ – the only reason I can see this was the case is if they intended to pull the building down, which would be a great shame.

At one point there was a suggestion that Clegg Hall which is very near the Rochdale Canal could be turned into a national canal museum, but this proved too expensive. In 2008/9 Clegg Hall had a massive change of fate. Quite remarkably, it was restored. Thanks to Nick Pickvance for the photographs of the hall nearing completion. It certainly makes an impressive sight - though sadly my two favourite features, that front portico and the delightful carving on the rear entrance (seen in the photo in the 'Visiting Clegg Hall' section below) have both been taken before the restoration, so the finished building lacks something of the élan of the original.

Given the huge cost of restoration, it's slightly surprising that the weavers' cottages to the right of the building appear to be still there in the new picture of the facade. It's not entirely obvious from the photo, as the hall is set back, but they really are very close.

Another interesting feature of the restoration is the tower on the back - I presume because of the lack of the little pointed roof, this wasn't really apparent back in the 1970s when the building was still a ruin.


Visiting Clegg Hall

Now that the hall is being restored, I don't know how much the new owners appreciate visitors, but the front of the hall faces straight onto a narrow lane leading past the associated factory and row of Victorian weavers' cottages which are built in startling proximity with the hall building. The front view above is from the lane.

Here's one route to get to the hall. From the Halifax Road (A58) between Rochdale and Littleborough (heading towards Littleborough) take the right turn at the traffic lights into Smithy Bridge Road (first right after the left turn to Birch Hill Hospital - Birch Road) and the BP garage. Follow Smithy Bridge Road down the hill and up the other side, crossing the railway line. Shortly after, turn right into the small Little Clegg Road (opposite a builders suppliers). Park in the road.

Continue on foot down Little Clegg Road. At the end it appears to enter a farmyard. Continue, and the road (still tarmac, but potholed) bends left then right and heads off over the hill. Follow it through fields and then through a cobbled section with a disused factory on either side. Immediately after, Clegg Hall is on the left. The walk takes 10 minutes.

Click here for a map.


Reverend Oakley

The best account of the Clegg Hall boggart appears in a work by the vicar of nearby Dearnley, the Reverend G. R. Oakley. Oakley was, according to my grandmother, a charismatic man who was an excellent storyteller. One, rather unusual, aspect of his work comes out in the photograph alongside. It was from a pageant Oakley organised around 1916 (the absence of young men reflects the period in the first world war). My grandmother is the figure reclining at the front.

Oakley wrote several books of rather tedious religious instruction, but also In Olden Days, a collection of local legends and tales.

The style of the book is rather laboured and decidedly old-fashioned, but Oakley clearly was very enthusiastic that these local legends, still preserved orally at the time, should be written down.


The Legend of Clegg Hall - from In Olden Days

The scent of bluebells was in the air, and the song of birds was joyous when, on one fair morning in the year of our Lord, 1241, the drawbridge was lowered at the fortress of the De Cleggs, and its chief rode forth in his shining mail, surrounded by his retainers and with his standard waving in the breeze. Henry, the king, in spite of the advice of his counsellors, had determined to wrest again from the French the fair province of Poitou, and had summoned to his aid all those knights and nobles of England on whose loyalty he could rely. And so it came to pass on this bright morning the Baron de Clegg was about to say what perchance might be a long fare-well to home and dear ones.

Without the moat he reigned in his steed, and addressed a knight - whose likeness to himself proclaimed a near relationship - in tones shaken by feeling true and deep.

"To thee, my brother," said the Baron, "do I leave a precious charge - that of my sons - Bertrand and Randulph - the pledges twain left to me of my lady's love when God took her soul away five years agone. It may be that I shall ne'er return. But an it be so, thou, Richard, wilt guard and tend them - wilt thou not? - and see that in due time they take their place here or abroad - as God and the King shall determine - fair knights of truth and honour."

"Brother and Lord," replied Richard de Clegg, "thou could'st leave them in no safer hands. By my soul I swear to guard them as the apple of mine eye. God send thee a safe and speedy return and crown the arms of England with victory."

The brothers embraced after the fashion of the day, and as the Baron and his retinue turned their steeds towards the town of Rachedall, Richard retired within the castle and the drawbridge was raised and the portcullis lowered without the gate.


Scarce had the white sails of Henry's ships faded from the site of those who watched them leave the English shore when Richard de Clegg - traitor and villain - began to seek how he could best break his oath and knightly word and remove from his own path the two young lives which barred his way to great inheritance.

For in those days the family of the De Cleggs was rich and prosperous - many and far-reaching were their domains and a bright future indeed seemed to lie before the fourteen-year-old heir Bertrand and his brother Randulph - younger by a year.

Cheerful, frank, generous and true were both the lads, and all who knew their happy faces and lithesome forms loved them and wished them well - all save that uncle whose stern soldierly face drew the boyish reverence and admiration of Bertrand, but whom Randulph - keener in perception of his character - distrusted with a great distrust.

And so it came to pass that, whilst Richard de Clegg brooded and thought of the means by which he could attain his end, Randulph watched and wondered and watched again.

One moonlight night Bertrand wandered - as boys of all times will - some distance from his home, and it was late when he returned. The sentry at the entrance admitted his young master and, noting not that Bertrand turned towards the battlements of the fortress - for a fortress great and strong was in those days the home of the De Cleggs; its walls were high and thick, and a moat both wide and deep surrounded them - returned to rest himself in unsoldierly neglect of duty.

Had he but watched young Bertrand for a moment he would have seen a tall, dark form steal softly through the shadows following the boy. And had he watched still longer he might have seen also the small lithe shape of a second boy, following with equal care the tall, dark shadow as it moved.

For at last, thought Richard de Clegg, one of those who stood between him and his brother's lands was delivered into his hands. None but the sentry knew that Bertrand had returned, and could he but hurl the boy, dead, into the moat below, a heavy bribe would win the sentry's silence - for he knew the man - and men would think that accident or a stranger hand without the castle had cast him there.

Now just beyond the shadow of a turret Bertrand paused in the bright moonlight and gazed upon the wooded hills around in quiet enjoyment of the beauteous night, and, but a few yards away, his uncle crouched like some beast of pray about to spring.

"Brother, beware!"

The words rang out, clear and crisp, upon the night and, with the quickness of the soldier born, the young heir flashed his dagger from its sheath and stood upon his guard.

But quicker even than he was Richard de Clegg - trained in many a fight in other lands - and, turning, with a single bound, he gained the place whence Randulph's voice had come and seized the younger lad in a grip of steel. His strong hand closed upon the fair young throat, and then, as Bertrand darted forward to see what happened in the mysterious shadow, he saw his uncle swing one moment a light form over his head, and then hurl it out over the castle walls to fall far down into the moat below.

One bitter cry of anguished love and Bertrand leaped upon the foul assassin with his dagger raised - aye, and struck well, too, for blood gushed forth and stained his uncle's tunic. But what availed one young lad's arm against a warrior strong and trained in war. A brief, fierce, silent struggle and then another dreadful pause ere through the night brave Bertrand's body followed that of his loyal brother to the waters of the moat as they lay gleaming in the light of the moon.


In shameful flight had Henry's army fled before the French at Taillebourg even unto Saintes, and, saddened and humbled, returned the Baron de Clegg to his home. Not that he had aught for which himself to blush, save that he lived and had seen fair England's shame. All that mortal man could do had the baron done to stem the tide of France's victory, and not until he lay unconscious beneath a heap of slain had his strong right hand ceased to strike for king and country. But it was not God's will that he should die, and so once more he reigned in his horse before the gateway of his ancestral home. Hard throbbed his heart within his bosom. The fortune of war had indeed been cruel, but he himself had earned the praise alike of friend and foe, and needed not to hang his head before the sons he longed to see.

His esquire blew a blast upon the bugle. Anon the drawbridge was lowered and the portcullis raised. Then the gates flew open, and Richard de Clegg rode forth to meet his brother. The false knight's face was sombre and yet calm as that of one who had a sad but truthful tale to tell. And, sooth to say, events had fallen out well for Richard. None had suspected that the lads whose bodies had been found floating in the moat (after the country had been scoured in search of them) had died otherwise than by accident or some foul play on the part of strangers - alas! too common in those days. The sentry had fallen victim to Richard's bribes and sworn that Randulph had gone forth to meet his brother and neither had e'er returned.

Truly simple seemed the story dread which the treacherous murderer had to tell his brother, and he told it with the smooth false tongue he knew so well how to use.

"By my soul," quoth he, as he finished his lying tale, "an' I find by whose hand they have fallen - an' it be by will and not by hap - never more will I rest until I have exacted direst vengeance."

The baron sat as turned to stone - his horse in sympathy, as immovable as its rider. What was this which had come upon his house? Returning from a shameful and accursed war, he found those gone from him forever whom he had left -

His wrath blazed forth, terrible to see, and Richard quailed before it.

"Whether thy story be true I wist not. One think I know - I left to thee and to thy oath my sons in charge, and by neglect most shameful at the very least they now are dead. Why didst thou suffer them to wander far afield in these dangerous days? Go from my sight, and God forbid that thou should'st ever darken the doors of Clegg again!"

Then, with his head bowed down upon his breast, the baron rode into his house forlorn, the while his brother, with dark and lowering countenance, spurred his steed in wrath away.

But not far did Richard ride, but turned his course to Stubbeley, for there he knew that he could find one who would help him in his villainy. The Lord of Stubbeley of those days was stained with crime - had justice had its due his head had long paid the forfeit. To such a one turned Richard in his strait. The murderer had hoped to live within the walls of Clegg until death of some kind removed his elder brother from his path - but now he could not wait. Long course of sin had rendered friends and money scarce. Something he must do, and do at once, and Hubert de Stubbeley, he knew, would help him if he made it worth his while.

"If thou wilt aid me in this venture," said Richard to De Stubbeley, as together they quaffed their goblets of rich wine, "then I will pass to thee those lands of Clegg which thou dost covet on the nearer side to this, and will add to them a thousand marks of gold. For, an' I succeed - as succeed I will - both lands and money will be mine."

De Stubbeley hearkened and consented to the crime, and late that night led Richard to the cellars of the house, each with a lantern in his hand.

Now in the early days of William the Conqueror, when the old Saxons were not yet wholly repulsed and beaten down, a passage had been dug beneath the earth from Stubbeley unto Clegg (although in those days both bore different names) in order that if pressed by enemies the Norman inhabitants of the one might fly in secret to their cousins at the other. The secret of the entrances to this places was known to the heads of each house alone, having been handed down from those soldiers of the Conqueror who - although they employed many men to make the passage - took care that few should know the closure of it at either end. This secret now would de Stubbeley sell to Richard de Clegg for prospective land and gold.

He touched a stone so like the others in the wall that none save he could know the difference, and, as a hidden door revolved, the lantern which de Stubbeley carried cast a light upon a narrow passage damp and dark, from which rushed forth an odour rank and vile.

"Nay, falter not," said de Stubbeley, with grim smile, as de Clegg shrank back before the gloom and stench. "Some human bones most truly lie upon the way, and reptiles strange which find there home in darkness such as this. Yet naught will harm thee, and the air is good enough, for to that the builders saw. At the farther end ascends a flight of steps. Within the thick walls of Clegg are they built. When thou reachest the topmost thou wilt see a while spot upon the wall. That press and thou wilt find thyself within thy brother's bedchamber, behind the tapestry which hangs around. Strike surely and return the way thou camest, and then away ere break of day and none will ever know the deed was done by thee."

Richard drew his dagger from the sheath and, with the lantern in his other hand, he stepped into the mysterious gloom, whilst de Stubbeley stood to wait, lest by chance any other should come nigh.


Bowed down with sorrow, the Baron de Clegg retired to rest that night, caring not whether he ever saw another dawn. Restlessly he tossed upon his bed, until at last, worn out by sadness and fatigue, he slept - slept while the murderer stole along his way.

Stay, what was that?

"Father, beware!"

At the words the soldier baron leaped up from his couch and gazed in wonder and half-awakened awe on what his eyes beheld.

There, where the moonlight fell upon the tapestry, stood a form both young and fair - the figure of his younger son, his well-beloved Randulph.

His hand was raised and pointed towards another corner of the chamber, and thither, as compelled, the baron turned his eyes and as he did so, lo, the tapestry slid back, and there before him, a dagger in his hand, stood his recreant brother Richard.

One moment Richard glanced towards the empty bed, and then turned to search the chamber. Oh, what a cry was that, as maddened with terror at the sight - the sight of him whom he himself had slain - he turned to flee into the secret passage. But such flight could not be. The door had closed and none might find the spring. Scream upon scream sent forth the recreant knight, and, then tearing open the ordinary chamber door he fled down flights of stairs, along corridors, until the open air beat upon his brow. The castle was alarmed, and servants rushed from chambers, gathering in haste their arms. Awhile in the confusion they knew not what had happened. Then on the battlements they espied the tall, dark form of Richard - one moment towering upon the topmost wall outlined against the sky - the next, with one more hideous cry, leaping blindly forth to his doom in the moat below.

Unconscious in his chamber they found the baron, and long was it ere again he gained his health. But many years of loneliness he lived and ever danger was averted from him by his younger son - on battlefield or in council chamber he was safe, for ere a false step could be taken he heard the warning cry of "Father beware!" and hearing was saved.


The wheels of time have rolled along their way, and a ruined hall, built in the seventeenth century, alone now marks the spot where the moat-bound fortress of the de Cleggs stood seven centuries ago. Many are they who bear the name of the same great family and their blood is found in merchant mansion and cottage home, but still the memory of Randulph clings around the spot where he watched over the brave young Bertrand, and still will those who love such tales tell how the "Clegg Hall Boggart" is none other than the warning ghost of him who died for love of a brother dear. That brother, they say, died as a soldier dies, and so passed hence, but Randulph is forever blessed as the guardian spirit fo the Cleggs - the gentle youth whom none but the evil need fear and all who are good may love.

Brian Clegg is a popular science writer whose books include A Brief History of Infinity and Light Years.




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