Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 1/Sykes's Wife at Lumb Farm

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OLD SYKES'S WIFE.

In a secluded dell, on the banks of Mellor Brook, not far from the famous Old Hall of Samlesbury, stands a lonely farmhouse which was occupied for many generations by a family named Sykes. They gave their name to the homestead, or vice versâ, on its being cleared from the forest; and from the fact of the pastures lying at a short distance from a broad and deep portion of the brook, it became generally known by the name of Sykes Lumb Farm. The Sykes, however, have long since become extinct; but the doings of one of the race have passed into tradition, and will, no doubt, be handed down to many future generations.

It is said that one of the latest occupiers of the farm had become very rich, partly by the constant hoarding of his ancestors, partly by the thrift of his too covetous wife, but much more by having discovered the hidden treasures of some former possessor. Be this as it may, civil troubles arose, and the Wars of the Roses exhausted not only the wealth but the population of Lancashire. Old Sykes's wife had neither son nor daughter. Her husband was too old to be called off to the wars; and hence her only anxiety was lest some lawless marauders should seize upon their stores. She had, besides, no notion of becoming dependent upon the bounty of the Southworths of the Hall, nor did she relish the idea of soliciting charity at the gates of the lordly Abbot of Whalley. The treasure was therefore carefully secured in earthenware jars, and was then buried deep beneath the roots of an apple-tree in the orchard. Years passed away, and the troubles of the country did not cease. The Yorkists at length lost the ascendancy, and the reins of government passed into the hands of the Lancastrians;—until at last the northern feud was healed by the mingling of the White Rose with the Red. Henry VII. sat upon the throne with Elizabeth of York as Queen;—but, ere peace thus blessed the land, Old Sykes had paid the debt of nature, and left his widow the sole possessor of their buried wealth. She, too, soon passed away; and, as the legend asserts, so suddenly that she had no opportunity to disclose the place where she had deposited her treasure. Rumour had not failed to give her the credit of being possessed of considerable wealth; but, although her relatives made diligent search, they were unsuccessful in discovering the place of the hidden jars. The farm passed into other hands, and Old Sykes's wife might have been forgotten had not her ghost, unable to find rest, continued occasionally to visit the old farmhouse. Many a time, in the dusk of the evening, have the neighbouring peasants met an old wrinkled woman dressed in ancient garb, passing along the gloomy road which leads across the Lumb, but fear always prevented them from speaking. She never lifted her head, but helped herself noiselessly along, by means of a crooked stick, which bore no resemblance to those then in use. At times she was seen in the old barn, on other occasions in the house, but more frequently in the orchard, standing by an apple-tree which still flourished over the place where the buried treasure was afterwards said to have been found. Generations passed away, and still her visits continued. One informant minutely described her withered visage, her short quaintly-cut gown, her striped petticoat, and her stick. He was so much alarmed that he ran away from the place, notwithstanding that he had engaged to perform some urgent work. "She was not there," he gravely said, "when I went to pluck an apple, but no sooner did I raise my hand towards the fruit, than she made her appearance just before me." At last, it is said, an occupier of the farm, when somewhat elated by liquor, ventured to question her as to the reasons of her visits. She returned no answer, but after moving slowly towards the stump of an old apple-tree, she pointed significantly towards a portion of the orchard which had never been disturbed. On search being made, the treasure was found deep down in the earth, and as the soil was being removed, the venerable looking shade was seen standing on the edge of the trench. When the last jar was lifted out, an unearthly smile passed over her withered features; her bodily form became less and less distinct, until at last it disappeared altogether. Since then the old farmhouse has ceased to be haunted. Old Sykes's wife is believed to have found eternal rest;—but there are yet many, both old and young, who walk with quickened pace past the Lumb whenever they are belated, fearful lest they should be once more confronted with the dreaded form of its unearthly visitor.