The Parish of St Andrew, Leyland
The Parish of St Andrew in Leyland dates from 1220, though it is thought a church has been on this site since the 12th Century. The church has had several alterations over the centuries, but what I want to concentrate on is the initial construction of the first church and the siting legends associated with it. According to legend, the church was originally destined to be built in Whittle-le Woods, but something stepped in to prevent this.
The first story suggests an Angel moved the foundations of the church each night from Whittle-le Woods to Leyland. The following rhyme refers to this story.
“Here I have placed thee,
And here thou shalt stand,
And thou shalt be called
The Church of Leyland”
The second tradition suggests that a cat chose the location of the church and James Bowker gave the following rendition of the story in his ‘Goblin Tales of Lancashire’ (1878).
Long ago—so long, in fact, that the date has been lost in obscurity—the piously-inclined inhabitants of the then thickly wooded and wild country stretching from the sea-coast to Rivington Pike and Hoghton determined to erect a church at Whittle-le-Woods, and a site having been selected, the first stone was laid with all the ceremony due to so important and solemn a proceeding. Assisted by the labours as well as by the contributions of the faithful, the good priest was in high spirits; and as the close of the first day had seen the foundations set out and goodly piles of materials brought upon the ground ready for the future, he fell asleep congratulating himself upon having lived long enough to see the wish of his heart gratified. What was his surprise, however, when, after arising at the break of day, and immediately rushing to his window to gaze upon the work, he could not perceive either foundation or pile of stone, the field in which he expected to observe the promising outline being as green and showing as few marks of disturbance as the neighbouring ones.
‘Surely I must have been dreaming,’ said the good man, as he stood with rueful eyes at the little casement, ‘for there are not any signs either of the gifts or the labours of the pious sons of the church.’
In this puzzled frame of mind, and with a heavy sigh, he once more courted sleep. He had not slumbered long, however, when loud knocks at the door of his dwelling and lusty cries for Father Ambrose disturbed him. Hastily attiring himself, he descended, to find a concourse of people assembled in front of the house; and no sooner had he opened the door than a mason cried out—
‘Father Ambrose, where are the foundations we laid yesterday, and where is the stone from the quarry?’
‘Then I did not simply dream that I had blessed the site?’ said the old man, inquiringly.
Upon which there was a shout of laughter, and a sturdy young fellow asked—
‘And I did not dream that I carted six loads from the quarry?’
‘Th’ Owd Lad’s hed a hand int’,’ said a labourer, ‘for t’ fielt’s as if fuut hed never stept int’.’
The priest and his people at once set off to inspect the site, and sure enough it was in the state described by the mason; cowslips and buttercups decking the expanse of green, which took different shades as the zephyr swept over it.
‘Well, I’m fair capped,’ said a grey-headed old farmer. ‘I’ve hed things stown afoor today, bud they’n generally bin things wi’ feathers on an’ good to heyt an’ not th’ feaundations uv a church. Th’ warlt’s gerrin’ ter’ble wickit. We’s hev’ to bi lukkin’ eawt for another Noah’s flood, I warrant.’
A peal of laughter followed this sally, but Father Ambrose, who was in no mood for mirth, sternly remarked—’There is something here which savoureth of the doings of Beelzebub;’ and then he sadly turned away, leaving the small crowd of gossips speculating upon the events of the night. Before the father reached his dwelling, however, he heard his name called by a rustic who was running along the road.
‘Father Ambrose,’ cried the panting messenger, ‘here’s the strangest thing happened at Leyland. The foundations of a church and all sorts of building materials have been laid in a field during the night, and Adam the miller is vowing vengeance against you for having trespassed on his land.’
The priest at once returned to the little crowd of people, who still were gaping at the field from which all signs of labour had been so wonderfully removed, and bade the messenger repeat the strange story, which he did at somewhat greater length, becoming loquacious in the presence of his equals, for he enjoyed their looks of astonishment. When the astounding narrative had been told, the crowd at once started for Leyland, their pastor promising to follow after he had fortified himself with breakfast.
When the good man reached the village he had no need to inquire which was Adam the miller’s field, for he saw the crowd gathered in a rich-looking meadow. As he opened the gate Adam met him, and without ceremony at once accused him of having taken possession of his field. ‘Peace, Adam,’ said the priest. ‘The field hath been taken not by me, but by a higher power, either good or evil—I fear the latter,’ and he made his way to the people. True enough, the foundations were laid as at Whittle, and even the mortar was ready for the masons. ‘I am loth to think that this is a sorry jest of the Evil One,’ said Father Ambrose; ‘ye must help me to outwit him, and to give him his labour for his pains. Let each one carry what he can, and, doubtless, Adam will be glad to cart the remainder,’—a proposition the burly miller agreed to at once. Accordingly each of the people walked off with a piece of wood, and Adam started for his team. Before long the field was cleared, and ere sunset the foundations were again laid in the original place, and a goodly piece of wall had been built.
Grown wise by experience, the priest selected two men to watch the place during the night. Naturally enough, these worthies, who by no means liked the task, but were afraid to decline it, determined to make themselves as comfortable as they could under the circumstances.
They therefore carried to the place a quantity of food and drink, and a number of empty sacks, with which they constructed an impromptu couch near the blazing wood fire.
Notwithstanding the seductive influence of the liquor, they were not troubled with much company, for the few people who resided in the vicinity did not care to remain out of doors late after what Father Ambrose had said as to the proceeding having been a joke of Satan’s.
The priest, however, came to see the men, and after giving them his blessing, and a few words of advice, he left them to whatever the night might bring forth. No sooner had he gone than the watchers put up some boards to shield them from the wind, and, drawing near to the cheerful fire, they began to partake of a homely but plentiful supper. Considering how requisite it was that they should be in possession of all their wits, perhaps it would have been better had not a large bottle been in such frequent requisition, for, soon after the meal was ended, what with the effects of the by-no-means weak potion, the warmth and odour sent forth by the crackling logs, and the musical moaning of the wind in the branches overhead, they began to feel drowsy, to mutter complaints against the hardship of their lot, and to look longingly upon the heap of sacks.
‘If owt comes,’ said the oldest of the two, ‘one con see it as well as two, an’ con wakken t’ tother—theerfore I’m in for a nod.’ And he at once flung himself upon the rude bed.
‘Well,’ said the younger one, who was perched upon a log close to the fire, ‘hev thi own way, an’ tha’ll live lunger; but I’se wakken tha soon, an’ hev a doze mysen. That’s fair, isn’t it?’
To this question there was no response, for the old man was already asleep. The younger one immediately reached the huge bottle, and after drinking a hearty draught from it placed it within reach, saying, as he did so—
‘I’m nooan freetunt o’ thee, as heaw it is! Thaart not Belsybub, are ta?’
Before long he bowed his head upon his hands, and gazing into the fire gave way to a pleasant train of reflections, in which the miller’s daughter played a by-no-means unimportant part. In a little while he, too, began to doze and nod, and the ideas and thronging fancies soon gave way to equally delightful dreams.
Day was breaking when the pair awoke; the fire was out, and the noisy birds were chirping their welcome to the sun. For a while the watchers stared at each other with well-acted surprise.
‘I’m freetunt tha’s o’erslept thysel’,’ said the young fellow; ‘and rayly I do think as I’ve bin noddin’ a bit mysen.’ And then, as he turned round, ‘Why, it’s gone ageean! Jacob, owd lad! th’ foundation, an’ th’ wō’s, an’ o th’ lots o’ stooans are off t’ Leyland ageean!’
The field was again clear, grass and meadow flowers covering its expanse, and after a long conference the pair determined that the best course for them to pursue would be that of immediately confessing to Father Ambrose that they had been asleep. Accordingly they wended their way to his house, and having succeeded in arousing him, and getting him to the door, the young man informed him that once more the foundations were missing.
‘What took them?’ asked the priest. To which awkward query the old man replied, that they did not see anything.
‘Then ye slept, did ye?’ asked the Father.
‘Well,’ said the young man, ‘we did nod a minnit or two; but we wir toired wi’ watchin’ so closely; an’, yo’ see, that as con carry th’ foundations ov a church away connot hev mich trouble i’ sendin’ unlarnt chaps loike Jacob an’ me to sleep agen eaur will.’
This ended the colloquy, for Father Ambrose laughed heartily at the ready answer. Shortly afterwards, as on the preceding day, the messenger from Leyland arrived with tidings that the walls had again appeared in Adam’s field. Again they were carted back, and placed in their original position, and once more was a watch set, the priest taking the precaution of remaining with the men until near upon midnight. Almost directly after he had left the field one of the watchers suddenly started from his seat, and cried—
‘See yo’, yonder, there’s summat wick!’
Both men gazed intently, and saw a huge cat, with great unearthly-looking eyes, and a tail with a barbed end. Without any seeming difficulty this terrible animal took up a large stone, and hopped off with it, returning almost immediately for another. This strange performance went on for some time, the two observers being nearly petrified by terror; but at length the younger one said—
‘I’m like to put a stop to yon wark, or hee’ll say win bin asleep ageean,’ and seizing a large piece of wood he crept down the field, the old man following closely behind. When he reached the cat, which took no notice of his approach, he lifted his cudgel, and struck the animal a heavy blow on its head. Before he had time to repeat it, however, the cat, with a piercing scream, sprang upon him, flung him to the ground, and fixed its teeth in his throat.
The old man at once fled for the priest. When he returned with him, cat, foundations, and materials were gone; but the dead body of the poor watcher was there, with glazed eyes, gazing at the pitiless stars.
After this terrible example of the power of the fiendish labourer it was not considered advisable to attempt a third removal, and the building was proceeded with upon the site at Leyland chosen by the spectre.
The present parish church covers the place long occupied by the original building; and although all the actors in this story passed away centuries ago, a correct likeness of the cat has been preserved, and may be seen by the sceptical.