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The Ring O' Bells

The Ring O'Bells is said to be one of the oldest buildings in Middleton, and may be one of its most haunted. Historically the pub's foundations are thought to date all the way back to Saxon times, and legend has it that a Druidical temple stood at this spot in the Iron Age - perhaps a place of ancient sacrifice. In the Middle Ages it served as a refectory for monks brewing their potent ale, probably in the area where the pubs cellars are currently situated.

The Ring O' Bells: by Lee WaterhouseThe Ring O' Bells: by Lee WaterhouseThe Haunting
The pub is said to be haunted by a Sad Cavalier, who has been nicknamed Edward. When we last talked to the Landlord (some 15 years ago now), he described how the ghost, dressed in his royalist finery, had been seen on a few occasions, within the pub and outside by other landlords anood a local lady. He also explained that 'Edward' manifested in other less visual ways, including footsteps sounding on the stairs, and other strange noises. He was also known to lay a heavy hand on customers, much to their surprise when they turn to find nobody in the vicinity. One of the more frightening incidents was recorded in the Oldham Evening Chronicle, August 18th 1972: the Landlord at that time, Mr George Barnett, was checking barrels in the cellar around midnight when a stone was thrown at his shoulder, he looked around but no-one was in the room. This was the first time Mr Barnett had been shaken by a strange event within the pub; he had felt a strange presence, and had even seen a glass slide along the bar but the stone throwing seemed a more aggressive action. He thought that someone had perhaps upset the spirit.

The Old Boars Head: by Lee WaterhouseThe Old Boars Head: by Lee WaterhouseThe Legend
The traditional story about the Sad Cavalier suggests he was the son of the Lord (Stannycliffe) of Stannycliffe Hall in the 1600's. The Lord and his family were unwavering Royalists during turbulent times of the Civil War. Unfortunately for them Middleton became more staunchly Parliamentarian, with the Old Boars Head becoming the Roundhead's headquarters in the area. The story goes that a pocket of Royalist resistance - including the Lords son - survived in the area, and used the cellars of the Ring o' Bells as a clandestine meeting place. The cellars were linked to Middleton Parish Church by a secret tunnel, by which they could escape if their furtive council was compromised (this passage is said to have been verified by openings which were bricked up within the cellar). One day somebody betrayed the son of Lord Stanycliffe to the Roundheads whilst he was still in the pub. He managed to flee to the cellars and down the dark tunnel, only to be cut to pieces by Roundheads who were waiting at the church by the passage exit. His body is supposed to have been buried under the flagstones of the cellar, where he is said to remain to this day. Some time in the past helmets and pikes have been discovered under the cellar floor, which date to the 1600's, but no human remains have been found.

At one time the snug (a small room in many old pubs; now often disappearing with modern alterations), which is situated directly over the cellar, was said to have been the room in which the Cavaliers plotted against the might of Cromwell's Model Army.

Middleton Parish Chruch: by Lee WaterhouseMiddleton Parish Chruch: by Lee WaterhouseThis served as a focus for the haunting, and a seat within the snug was for long known as the Cavaliers seat, which was always said to be much colder than the rest of the room. Some enthusiasts, who were allowed to spend a night there, recorded colder readings in this area than in any part of the room.

While there could be a rational explanation for all of the phenomena that happened in the pub, the wealth of traditions attached to the pub make it one of the more interesting buildings in Middleton, and I certainly intend to call in for a beer when I am back in that neck of the woods.

Ian Topham

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