Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Ince Hall and the Dead Hand

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Part I: Legends and Traditions; Ince Hall and the Dead Hand.


Ince Hall is one of those curious half-timbered mansions which are now becoming rare in this county. Its six sharply-pointed gables, and its long ranges of mullioned windows, give it an imposing appearance from a distance; and on a nearer approach the remains of a moat are visible, which proves that it has once possessed means of defence. The estate connected with the Hall belonged to the Gerards for upwards of seven hundred years; the owners being descended from Walter Fitzother, castellan of Windsor at the time when Domesday Book was compiled. William, son of Walter, adopted De Windsor for his family name; but his brother Gerard was content with his ordinary patronymic, and became the ancestor of the Gerards of Bryn, now represented by Sir Robert Gerard of Garswood Hall.

The family of Ince is also very ancient, dating nearly, if not quite, from the conquest. Private documents show that Richard de Ince, in 1322, held one-sixteenth of a knight's fee in Aspull; and a grandson of this Richard left, as sole heiress, a daughter Ellen, who married John the third son of Sir Peter Gerard, of Bryn, about the year 1368. The township of Ince was conveyed to him by this marriage, and the family resided at the old Hall for many generations. Maurice Fitz-Gerald, or Gerard, was a younger son of this family, and was one of the adventurers who accompanied Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, on his expedition to conquer Ireland in 1170. The present Earls of Macclesfield are also lineally descended from the same John Gerard of Ince. This portion of the property subsequently belonged to a branch of the Walmsleys, whose parent stock resided at Showley, near Blackburn, and is now owned by Richard Walmsley, Esq., of Bath.

The mansion which has obtained the name of Ince Hall, without the designation of "old," was built by Roger Browne during the reign of James I. He was descended from Roger Browne de Ince, who is designated as a "gentleman," and held some lands here in the 14 Richard II., or 1390. A descendant named William resided here in 2 Elizabeth, or 1559, and was succeeded by his son Roger, who mortgaged his estates in order to defray the expenses of this costly erection. He died comparatively poor, but the mortgages were redeemed by his brother Ralph, his heir and successor, during 12 James I, or 1614.

There is a story of wrong attaching to Ince Hall which has given rise to the legend of the Dead Hand. One of its early possessors lay on his death-bed, and a lawyer was sent for at the last moment to make his will; but before he reached the man was dead. In this dilemma it was determined to try the effect of a dead man's hand on the corpse, and the attorney's clerk was sent for one to Bryn Hall in all haste. The body of the dead man was rubbed with the holy hand, and it was asserted that he revived sufficiently to sign his will. After the funeral a daughter of the deceased produced a will which was not signed, leaving the property to his son and daughter; but the lawyer soon produced another will signed by the dead hand, which conveyed all the property to himself. The son quarrelled with the attorney, and after wounding him, as he supposed mortally, he left the country and was never heard of more. The daughter also disappeared, but no one knew how or when. After many years the gardener turned up a skull in the garden with his spade, and the secret was revealed. When this took place the Hall had long been uninhabited; for the murdered daughter's ghost hung suspended in the air before the dishonest lawyer wherever he went. It is said that he spent the remainder of his days in Wigan, the victim of remorse and despair. There is a room in the Hall which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young lady, and her shadowy form is frequently seen by the passers by hovering over the spot where her remains were buried.

The Holy Hand alluded to in the preceding legend is now kept in the Catholic chapel at Ashton-in-Mackerfield. It is known to have belonged to Father Arrowsmith, who was executed at Lancaster on the 28th August 1628. As the crime for which he suffered has been variously stated, we may add that—Father Edmund Arrowsmith, of the Society of Jesus, was born at Haydock, in the parish of Winwick, during 1585. In 1605 he entered the college at Douay, and in 1612 was ordained priest. In the next year he was sent on the mission to England; and in 1628 he was apprehended and brought to Lancaster on a charge of being a Romish priest, contrary to the laws "in that case made and provided." He was tried and sentenced to death at the August assizes of that year. After he was cut down one of his friends cut off his right hand, which was kept for many years at Bryn Hall. On the demolition of that ancient structure it was removed to Garswood, and afterwards to Ashton, where it still remains in the custody of the priest.

The virtues of this "Dead Hand" are said to be manifold. It is believed to remove tumours when rubbed over the parts affected; and persons come from long distances to be cured by it of various diseases. In August 1872, a paralytic walked from Salford to Mackerfield, in order that she might be cured by the holy hand. She was found exhausted on a door-step by the way, not being able to reach her destination, and this brought the matter under the parish authorities. It is preserved with great care in a white silken bag, and many wonderful cures are said to have been wrought by this saintly relic.