Smithills Hall, Bolton

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Smithills Hall, Bolton
    The following account is from The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain By John Ingram (1897).

    Smithills Hall, Halliwell, Lancashire, the seat of Richard Henry Ainsworth, Esq., is one of those lovely and picturesque ancestral abodes for which England is famous. It is replete with the subdued charms which only antiquity can generate, and which no amount of
    expenditure, however lavish, can create. The origin of this splendid old mansion is lost in the proverbial " mist of ages " ; historians retrace its story to the time of the so-called Saxon ”Heptarchy," and, as if in confirmation of this remote ancestry, an ancient gateway bears the date of 680. Less mythical records of the place and its various owners are carried back to the early part of the fourteenth century, when the Lord of the Manor of Smithills was a William Radcliffe. Subsequently, an heiress by marriage carried this manor and the estates into the Barton family, and from that family it passed by purchase, in 1801, into the possession of the Ainsworths, by whom it is still held.

    In a description of this ancient mansion, recently given in the Bolton Journal, it is said : " Smithills Hall requires to be sought for. It lies far from the road, which curves in its course, thus effectually hiding it from the public gaze. . . . When reached, the full beauty of the building is not at once seen. But passing through an arched gateway the south front is disclosed to view. Emerging by the gateway with the ‘680’ inscribed above it, the visitor finds himself in the antique court-yard, at the head of a beautiful lawn, reached by a flight of steps. Turning from the view before us to admire the architecture and appearance of the old building, one is impressed with the air of calm repose which seems to rest over all. The old Lancashire lath-and-plaster style of building is everywhere apparent.

    Black beams placed obliquely on a ground of dazzling whiteness, with ornamentations of quatrefoil standing out in charming relief, present a pleasing picture of the taste of our ancestors in matters architectural. The ivy clusters lovingly over porch and walls, the effect on the ‘ 680 ‘ gateway being especially lovely. The old-fashioned domestic chapel forms a wing to the east of the block, and around this, too, clusters the loving parasite, the healthy hue of green blending charmingly with the stained windows, rich in design, and commemorative of the heraldry of past and present of Smithills."

    The writer then proceeds to speak of the interior of this fine old place, of its rich wainscottings, its oaken mouldings, and of its other relics of the past, but then recurs, as must all who mention Smithills Hall, to the mysterious footprint, to the far-famed Bloody
    Footstep seen on the stone in the passage leading to the chapel. Above this indelible footstep is a plate bearing the inscription, "Footprint of the Reverend George Marsh, of Deane, martyr, who was examined at Smithills, and burnt at Chester, in the reign of Queen

    The legend connected with this marvellous relic of the past is thus given in the local journal: Robert Barton, at one time owner of Smithills, was " the famous magistrate before whom George Marsh, the Martyr of Deane, appeared in 1555, to answer for his Protestant faith. Tradition described Mr. Barton as a zealous bigot, and alleges rude treatment on his part towards the martyr. It was after the examination before this worthy that, it is stated, Marsh, descending the stairs leading from the court-room, stamped his foot on the stones, and ‘ looking up to heaven, appealed to God for the justness of his cause ; and prayed that there might in that place remain a constant memorial of the wickedness and injustice of his enemies,’ the print of a man’s foot remaining to the present day as such ‘ constant memorial/ "

    A tradition in the place, a resident of Smithills Hall informs us, says the stone bearing the imprint of the mysterious footprint was once removed and cast into a neighbouring wood, but ghostly noises became so troublesome in consequence that the stone had to be
    restored to its original position.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne, the famous American novelist, at one time enjoyed the hospitality of Smithills Hall. The legend of the " Bloody Footstep " made an intense and lasting impression upon his mind, and in three separate instances he founded fictions upon it. He saw the " Bloody Footstep/’ as he says himself, with his own eyes, and from the lips of his hostess heard the particulars of its origin. Either from what he heard, or imagined, about this weird symbol of a bygone crime, he gave in his romance of Septimius the following
    story as that of the Bloody Footstep :

    " On the threshold of one of the doors of Smithills Hall there is a bloody footstep impressed into the door- step, and ruddy as if the bloody foot had just trodden there ; and it is averred that, on a certain night of the year, and at a certain hour of the night, if you go and look at the door-step you will see the mark wet with fresh hlood. Some have pretended to say that this appearance of blood was hut dew; but can dew redden a cambric handkerchief? Will it crimson the fingertips when you touch it ? And that is what the bloody footstep will surely do when the appointed night and hour come round. . . .

    " It is needless to tell you all the strange stories that have survived to this day about the old Hall, and how it is believed that the master of it, owing to his ancient science, has still a sort of residence there and control of the place, and how in one of the chambers there is still his antique table, and his chair, and some rude old instruments and machinery, and a book, and everything in readiness, just as if he might still come back to finish some experiment. . . . One of the chief things to which the old lord applied himself was to discover the means of prolonging his own life, so that its duration should be indefinite, if not infinite; and such was his science that he was believed to have attained this magnificent and awful purpose. . . .

    " The object of the lord of Smithills Hall was to take a life from the course of Nature, and Nature did not choose to be defrauded ; so that, great as was the power of this scientific man over her, she would not consent that he should escape the necessity of dying at
    i his proper time, except upon condition of sacrificing some other life for his ; and this was to be done once for every thirty years that he chose to live, thirty years being the account of a generation of man ; and if in any way, in that time, this lord could be the death of a human being, that satisfied the requisition, and he might live on. . . .

    " There was but one human being whom he cared for that was a beautiful kinswoman, an orphan, whom his father had brought up, and dying, left to his care. . . He saw that she, if anyone, was to be the person whom the sacrifice demanded, and that he might kill
    twenty others without effect, but if he took the life of this one it would make the charm strong and good. . . . He did slay this pure young girl ; he took her into the wood near the house, an old wood that is standing yet, with some of its magnificent oaks, and there he plunged a dagger into her heart. . . .

    " He buried her in the wood, and returned to the house ; and, as it happened, he had set his right foot in her blood, and his shoe was wet in it, and by some miraculous fate it left a track all along the wood-path, and into the house, and on the stone steps of the threshold, and up into his chamber. The servants saw it the next day, and wondered, and whispered, and missed the fair young girl, and looked askance at their lord’s right foot, and turned pale, all of them. . . .

    " Next, the legend says, that Sir Forrester was struck with horror at what he had done . . . and fled from his old Hall, and was gone full many a day. But all the while he was gone there was the mark of a bloody footstep impressed upon the stone door-step of the Hall.
    . . . The legend says that wherever Sir Forrester went, in his wanderings about the world, he left a bloody track behind him. . . . Once he went to the King’s Court, and, there being a track up to the very throne, the King frowned upon him, so that he never came there
    any more. Nobody could tell how it happened; his foot was not seen to bleed, only there was the bloody track behind him. . . .

    "At last this unfortunate lord deemed it best to go back to his own Hall, where, living among faithful old servants born in the family, he could hush the matter up better than elsewhere. … So home he came, and there he saw the bloody track on the door-step, and dolefully went into the Hall, and up the stairs, an old servant ushering him into his chamber, and half a dozen others following behind, gazing, shuddering, pointing with quivering fingers, looking horror-stricken in one another’s pale faces. . . .

    u By-and-by he vanished from the old Hall, but not by death ; for, from generation to generation, they say that a bloody track is seen around that house, and sometimes it is traced up into the chambers, so fresh that you see he must have passed a short time before."

    " And this is the legend," says Hawthorne, " of the Bloody Footstep, which I myself have seen at the Hall door."

    It will be seen, however, how widely different is the story told by the great American romancist from that given by the owner of Smithills Hall, and believed in by the tenants around. Whether the author of Septimius really had any traditional authority for his version, or whether he evolved the whole recital from the depth of his imagination, it would he difficult to say.

  2. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Smithills Hall, Bolton

    Smithills or Smethells Hall is situated in a wood, above a small glen, two miles and a half from Bolton. The court-gate exhibits nothing remarkable in its construction. On the left hand was the principal entrance, and a flight of stairs leading from the court. The glass casements, and greater part of the ancient front, have been removed, giving place to a more comfortable, if not a more pleasing style of architecture. The wainscot once displayed a profuse assemblage of ornaments, some of which now remain. Amongst them was formerly shown a likeness, said to be of King Egbert, though from what cause it should be assigned more particularly to that illustrious monarch, it would be difficult to conjecture.

    In a room called the Green Chamber, it is said that George Marsh, the subject of the following history, was examined before Sir Roger Barton. In a passage near the door of the dining-room is a cavity, in a flag, bearing some resemblance to the print of a man’s foot, which is supposed to be the place where the holy martyr stamped, to confirm his testimony, and which is shown to this day as a memorial of his good confession.

    The stone was once removed for a frolic by two or three young men who lived in the house. Taking advantage of their parents’ absence, they cast it into the glen behind the hall. That same night, on retiring to rest, the inhabitants were disturbed by many strange and hideous noises. Much alarm and inquiry being excited, the offenders confessed, and the stone was restored to its place with great reverence and solemnity. Some fragments that were broken off upon its removal were carefully replaced; after which, according to common report, the noises ceased.

    Another story current in the neighbourhood is as follows:—

    About the latter end of the year 1732, one Saturday night, a stranger sleeping alone in the Green Chamber was much terrified by an apparition. He stated that about ten o’clock, as he was preparing for bed, there appeared a person before him dressed like a minister, in a white robe and bands, with a book in his hand. The stranger getting into bed, saw it stand by his bedside for a short time. It then slowly retired out of the door, as if going down-stairs, and he saw it no more. This person invariably persisted in the same story; and the owner of the estate immediately ordered divine service at the chapel on a Sunday, which had long been discontinued.

    The vaults seem to have been strongly walled and fortified, and were most probably used as burying places, many bones having been found when digging. There is a tradition that King Egbert founded this place, and kept his court here; but no corresponding trace of it occurs in history: and we may suppose, from the order of his conquests, that his residence would be in the more southern parts of the kingdom.

    The situation is secluded, and well calculated for concealment, favouring the general opinion that it was the retreat of the famous pirate, Sir Andrew Barton, whose exploits and defeat are so beautifully told in the old ballad of that name in Percy’s Reliques. It is surprising that so little should be known of this great and bold man, whose conduct had nearly occasioned a war between England and Scotland, and whose death, it is supposed, was one of the grievances which led to the battle of Flodden.

    "Up to the time of Henry the Seventh, it appears, the Radcliffes were lords of Smethells; but Joan, daughter and sole heir of Sir Ralph Radcliffe, having married Robert Barton of Holme, he became in that reign seised of the manor and lordship, where his posterity continued, until Grace, sole daughter and heir of Thomas Barton, the last male heir, was married to Henry, eldest son of the first Lord Fauconberg, whose descendant Thomas, in the year 1721, sold the manor, which afterwards passed into the hands of the Byrons of Manchester, by whom it was sold to Mr Peter Ainsworth of Halliwell, a descendant of the Ainsworths of Pleasington, in this county, the present owner.

    "Smethells is dependent upon the superior manor of Sharpies, the lord of which claims from the owner of this place a pair of gilt spurs annually; and, by a very singular and inconvenient custom, the unlimited use of the cellars at Smethells for a week in every year."

    At the close of a cold, keen day, about the early part of spring, in the year 1554, there came two men across a bleak and barren tract of land called Dean Moor, near to Bolton-in-the-Moors. When at some distance from the main path, and far from the many by-roads intersecting this dreary common, they—first looking cautiously around, as though fearing intruders—fell on each other’s neck and wept. The sun’s light beamed suddenly through a cleft in the heavy clouds near the horizon, along the stunted grass and rushes, stretching far away to many a green knoll in the distance, behind which the dark hills and lowering sky looked in wild and terrific blackness over the scene. The sun, descending fast below the hills towards Blackrode, beamed forth as if to cast one short ray of gladness on the world of sorrow he was just quitting. Rivington Pike, and the dark chill moors stretching from it eastward, were bathed in a wide and stormy burst, of light, like the wild and unnatural brightness that sometimes irradiates even the dim shadows of despair. A heavy mist lay at their feet, hiding most of the intermediate space from the eye of the observer, so that the long line of barren hills seemed to start out at once from a sea of vapour, like the grim barriers of some gigantic lake. The clouds were following hard upon the sun’s flight, so that by the time he had disappeared the sky was covered with a dense and impervious curtain, rendered darker by the rapidity of the change. Chill and eddying gusts rustled over the dreary heath; the voice of nature only responding to the chords of sadness and of sorrow. The hollow roar of the wind was like the moaning of a troubled ocean; a few big drops from the hurrying scud seeming to presage an approaching tempest.

    The two friends had crept behind a stone wall, built up in a hollow, by a stagnant pool, taking but little heed of the darkness and the storm, so intent were they upon the subject which engrossed their thoughts.

    "I might flee, Ralph, but it would straightway be said, not that I had left my country and my kin alone, but rather that I had deserted the faith and doctrine I profess, after having unworthily ministered hereabout for a season, which might be an occasion of much scandal, a weakening of the faith of my poor flock, and a grievous discouragement to those that remain."

    "’A living dog is better than a dead lion,’ says the wise man. Besides, it is apresumingon His providence, when He opens away for our escape, and we, of our own wilfulness and folly, neglect the blessing. ‘Do thyself no harm.’ Provide for thine own life, and run not as the horse and mule, that have no understanding, into the very throat of thine enemies, and them that seek thine hurt."

    The first speaker was a man of plain but comely appearance, habited in a coarse doublet buckled about the waist with a leathern girdle. A round woollen cap, from beneath which a few straight-combed locks hung about his face, gave a quaint and precise aspect to his figure. His features, though slightly wrinkled, did not betoken either age or infirmity: but his whole appearance indicated a robust and vigorous frame, capable both of exertion and endurance. The other individual exhibited a more ungainly form and deportment. He had not the same look of benevolence and good-will to man which irradiated the features of the first, of whom it might be truly said, that his inward affections did mould and constrain his outward image into their resemblance, so that meekness and benignity shone through his countenance from the ever-glowing spirit of love and Christian charity within. There was a sharp and shrewd intelligence in the eye of the latter speaker which showed that some considerations of selfish and worldly wisdom might, by possibility, mingle with his unerring notions of duty. Yet was he a man of great piety and worth, and well fitted as a counsellor in times of peril and distress.

    "Ralph Bradshaw," replied the other, "thou hast been my tried friend and my stay in this waste and howling wilderness, and I have found thy counsel hitherto wholesome and pleasant; but," continued Marsh, with a heavy sigh, "I have not told thee how Sir Roger Barton’s servants have made diligent search for me in Bolton, and have given strict charge to my brother Robert that he should, by to-morrow at the latest, appear with me at Smethells, else shall he and my poor mother answer before him at their peril. By God’s grace, I would not leave these weaklings of the flock to suffer for my sake."

    "Leave this matter until thou depart; I will devise some means for their relief. I would not have thy life needlessly put in hazard, seeing how few men have been raised up like unto thyself, privileged as thou art to minister the bread of life to the hungry and famishing poor in this barren corner of God’s spiritual vineyard."

    "And yet," replied Marsh, "I ought with all boldness to confess the truth, fearing not to answer for the hope that is in me; and why should I refuse to obey the commands of those who are in authority? for the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain."

    "Truly, obedience were his right, if so be this were some righteous judge raised up of God for the punishment of evil-doers. But, as thou well knowest, the justice thou shalt demand will not be rendered: the summons thou hast received to answer on doctrinal and disputed points, and to argue them before these wicked and crafty men, as touching thy belief, are but manifest excuses to get thee into their power, from which they mean not to liberate thee but by the fire that shall consume thy body, and free it for ever from their murderous gripe. Thou knowest, too, that Sir Roger beareth thee a malice, and hath used all subtlety that he might have wherewith to seek occasion against thee. Didst thou not rebuke him openly for his irreverence, when that he must needs play with his puppy, that had its collar full of bells, during God’s holy service—that comfortable form of worship established and publicly taught in the lifetime of our last good King Edward, and not this papistical, idolatrous mass which they now use, to the eternal ruin of both soul and body? No mercy shalt thou have at their hands. And doth our blessed Master require of us that we give our bodies up to these wicked and malignant deceivers, that their devilish pleasure may be glutted in torturing and spitefully using us, while they go about putting innocent men to cruel and shameful deaths? As soon would He require that we should yield our bodies up to Satan and his angels."

    "I know not how to answer thee, Bradshaw, in this matter; but my mind misgives me in taking so hasty a departure from our suffering and afflicted realm. Yet will we ask counsel of Him who guideth the weak, and will not suffer us to be tempted beyond measure."

    Whereat these persecuted disciples did unite in prayer to that throne before which, having finished their earthly warfare, they now stand with crowns of victory on their foreheads, purified from this gross mortality. Marsh, much comforted by the exercise, doubted not that, according to his faith, wisdom and direction would be granted in the way he should take.

    Hereupon they separated, wishing each other "God speed."

    Through the darkness and tempest of that fearful night George Marsh approached the town, where, in a narrow lane leading from the brow of the hill by the church, abode his mother and her youngest son. Raising the latch, he saw the old woman alone, seated by the fire, weeping.

    "Praised be His mercy, thou art yet safe!" said she, clasping her withered hands together. "They have again been here to seek for thee, and I was fearful thou hadst not escaped their power."

    "Who has been here, and from whence?"

    "Divers of Justice Barton’s servants were here again, not an hour ago, who have charged thy brother Robert and thy cousin William Marsh to seek for thee, and by to-morrow, ere noon, to render thee up at Smethells. They are now gone to Atherton, and elsewhere, for aught I know."

    "Then may I not tarry here to-night?"

    "Nay, I beseech thee, flee for thy life. In tarrying here shall thou not escape; for a man’s enemies are now truly those of his own household."

    Marsh, after a pause, determined to listen to her advice, and departed.

    Cold and weary, he retraced his steps, going beyond Dean Church, where, at a friend’s house, he staid for the night, "taking ill rest," as he quaintly expresses it in his journal, "and consulting much with myself of my trouble." He expected, or at least hoped, that some intimation would be vouchsafed from his Master as touching the way he should pursue, but none was granted; and he lay there, full of tossing and unquiet, the greater part of the night. On the following morning, at his first awaking, which was early, being still in heaviness, and not knowing what to do, came another friend to his bedside, who advised him that he should in no wise depart, but abide boldly, and confess the faith. At these words he felt so convinced, and, as it were, suddenly established in his conscience, that he doubted not, as he says, but the message was from God. He thenceforth consulted not with flesh and blood, but resolved on immediately presenting himself before his persecutors, and patiently bearing such cross as it might please Heaven to lay upon him.

    He arose betimes, and as his custom was, recited the English Litany, with other prayers, kneeling by his bedside; after which he prepared to go towards Smethells, calling, as he went, at the dwellings of several whom he knew, desiring them to pray for him, to commend him to all his friends, and to comfort his mother and his little children, for, as he then said, he felt assured that they should not see his face any more. Taking leave, with many tears and much, sorrow of heart, he came nigh to the residence of Sir Roger Barton, a bigoted persecutor, and an avowed enemy of the reformed church.

    It was about nine o’clock, on a cold and bitter morning, when he came in sight of the court-gate. Then surrounded with trees, the mansion itself was not visible but within a short distance. This house, now ancient and decayed, then existed in all its pomp and magnificence, having only been erected, as tradition informs us, some fifty years before, by Sir Andrew Barton, a famous pirate or free rover, who was knighted by James III. of Scotland for his great bravery. In the third year of Henry the Eighth, with two stout vessels called the Lion and The Jenny Perwin, he considerably interrupted the navigation on the English coasts. His pretence was letters of reprisals granted him against the Portuguese by James III. Under colour of this grant, he took ships of all nations, alleging that they had Portuguese goods on board. Complaint being made to the Privy Council of England, the Earl of Surrey said, "The narrow seas should not be infested while he had estate enough to furnish a ship, or a son capable of commanding it." Upon this, two ships were immediately fitted out, and commanded by Sir Thomas and Sir Edward Howard, sons to the Earl of Surrey, at their own expense, when, having been some days at sea, they were separated by a storm, which gave Sir Thomas Howard an opportunity of coming up with Sir Andrew Barton in the Lion, whom he immediately engaged. The fight was long and doubtful, for Barton, being an experienced seaman, and having under him a determined crew, made a desperate defence, himself cheering them with a boatswain’s whistle to his last breath. The loss of their commander, however, caused them to submit, on which they received fair quarter and good usage. In the meantime, Sir Edward attacked and captured the Jenny Perwin, after an obstinate resistance. Both these ships, with as many of their crew as were left alive, about one hundred and fifty, were brought into the river Thames, on the 2nd of August 1511, as trophies of the victory. The prisoners were sent to the Archbishop of York’s palace, now Whitehall, where they remained for some time, but were afterwards dismissed and sent into Scotland.

    James the Fourth having then ascended the Scottish throne, after the murder of his predecessor, exceedingly resented this action, and instantly sent ambassadors to Henry demanding satisfaction, on which the king gave this memorable answer, "That the punishment of pirates was never held a breach of peace among princes." King James, however, was still dissatisfied, and from that time was never thoroughly reconciled to the English nation.

    Sir Andrew was descended from a good family in Scotland, and adopted a seafaring life when very young. A motive of concealment might be the cause of his erecting a mansion here, the roads being then almost impassable; and the extensive woods, which lay in almost every direction from this spot, together with its great distance from the sea-side, might be additional recommendations in its favour. An opinion exists, though now involved in much doubt and obscurity, that his immediate descendant was the Sir Roger Barton whom we have already named, and unto whom this pious servant of the truth was about to commit himself.

    On venturing through the gate, Marsh observed several men standing by a door on the left hand, being the principal entrance.

    "What, ho!" said one, "art come to morning prayers?"

    "Nay," replied another, "his cap cleaves to a heretic’s sconce."

    "’Tis Marsh," said the foremost of the group, who proved to be Roger Wrinstone, the knight’s prime minister, constable, and entrapper of heretics. "Now, by my faith," he continued, "if this wily fox do not think, by his coming, to take Justice by the nose, and outface her through his impudence. But he will be sore mistaken if he think to outwit our master by his cunning. Good friend, thy business?" said Wrinstone, cap in hand, addressing the minister scornfully, and thrusting his tongue into his cheek, to the great diversion of his companions, who, with shouts of laughter, began to ape the buffoonery of their leader.

    "I would fain speak with the Justice," said the stranger, meekly.

    "And suppose I were he," said Wrinstone, putting himself into an attitude of great authority and importance, setting out his paunch, at the same time, something like unto the knight himself. Another laugh, or rather titter, went through the courtyard at this exploit; a suspicious glance, however, was directed towards the casement above, some apprehensions evidently existing lest Sir Roger should have been eye-witness to the ceremony.

    "Roger Wrinstone, thy mocking is ill-timed," said Marsh, with a severe and steadfast gaze, which seemed to awe even this unblushing minion of intolerance. "If thy master be not arisen, I will tarry awhile his worship’s leisure."

    "Sir Roger is with his priest at confession," said one, with a shout of derision. "Art come to confess him too, Father Marsh?" and with that they plucked him by the beard, mocking and ill-treating him. But, filled with joy that he was accounted worthy to suffer, he passed from them into the great hall, at that period a large and lofty room, which, as tradition reports, would have "dined all the monarchs of Europe, and all their trains." It has since been much curtailed of its proportions, modern improvements having appropriated it to more useful purposes. The wainscots were enriched with choice and beautiful carvings, representing bucks’ heads, flowers, and portraits of the most distinguished ancestors of the family. So numerous and varied were these ornaments, that, it is commonly reported, the artist wrought out his apprenticeship in executing this grand work, which for minuteness and the astonishing number and ingenuity of the devices, perhaps exceeded most of the like nature throughout the realm. Amongst other whimsical fancies was a ton crossed with a bar, having the cyphers A and B above and below, which worthless and absurd pun, a sort of emblematic wit much cultivated by our forefathers, indicated the name of the founder, Sir Andrew Barton.

    Marsh, on his first entrance, inquired of a servitor if the Justice might be spoken with. The menial was bearing off the remains of a substantial breakfast, and having a flagon of beer at hand, invited the stranger to a hearty draught, saying that he looked tired and in need of refreshment; but he meekly put it aside, with due courtesy, still standing as he repeated his question. The man departed to make the inquiry, when presently followed the constable and his gang, who, seeing that the hall was cleared, strode in, rudely seizing Marsh by the shoulder.

    "Thou art my prisoner," said Wrinstone; "I arrest thee in the Queen’s name."

    At this moment came running in a little girl, bounding and frolicsome as a young fawn from its covert, who, hearing the word prisoner, and seeing a man of such a preposessing and benign aspect in custody, immediately came up to Wrinstone, and laid hold of the skirts of his doublet, saying,—

    "You shan’t, Wrinstone. If he has done amiss, let him go, and I’ll give thee some plums out of my midlent pasty."

    The meekness and peaceable demeanour of this unoffending servant of the Church had in a moment won the heart of the child, and she pulled him by the hand, as if to convey him from the grasp of his persecutor.

    "May Heaven bless thee, my child, and make thee a blessing!" He lifted up his eyes while he thus spake. "Thy nature hath not yet learnt the cruel disposition of these tormentors."

    It is said that his prayer was heard; and a passage in the subsequent history of this little girl may, in all likelihood, find a place in another series of our Traditions.

    A tear for the first time trembled in the poor man’s eye as he looked on this tender and compassionate babe. He thought upon his own sufferings, and the hard fate of his own little ones. But he soon repressed the rising murmur, calmly awaiting the result.

    The child still clung to him; nor would she depart, though threatened with Sir Roger’s displeasure by his deputy. Indeed, she cared little for the issue, being fully indulged in all her caprices by the knight, her grandfather, who was mightily entertained with her humours. But threats and cajolements failing in their effect, they were glad to let this wilful creature accompany them to the presence of Sir Roger as the dispenser of justice, or rather of his own vindictive will; and to his private chamber they were shortly summoned.

    Now this distinguished knight was heavy and well-fed, and of a rich and rubicund countenance. From over-indulgence he had become unwieldy, being propped up in a well-stuffed chair, one leg resting on a low stool, his whole frame bloated by indolence and sensuality. He was short-necked and full-chested. His eyes, gray and fiery, were almost starting from his head, by reason of some obstruction to the free current of the blood in that direction. This was accompanied by a wheezing and phlethoric cough, which oft troubled him. At his side sat a priest, who had a fair smooth face, and a shining head sprinkled over with a few pale-coloured locks close cut and combed back with becoming care from his temples. His eyes were small and restless, scarcely for an instant keeping to one position. He seemed to pay a silent deference to his patron, allowing Sir Roger to begin the examination as follows:—

    "So thy relatives have ferreted thee forth at last. Nothing like making their kindred in some sort answer for the bodies of these heretics."

    "I came of my own free consent, and alone, your worship," replied Marsh; "and hope to be honestly dealt with. If I have offended the laws, I am here to answer; if not, I claim your protection."

    "Peace! Will none o’ ye stop that fellow’s prating? Justice thou shalt have, and that speedily, as thou sayest, but not in the way thou couldst desire. Look thee!" He fumbled in his pouch as he spake. Drawing out a letter, he continued—"My Lord Derby hath commanded that thou be sent to Lathom along with some others who do mightily trouble us, and sow evil seed and dissension among the people."

    "This, please your grace, I deny; and I would know mine accusers, and what they allege against me."

    "Now this is a brave answer, truly," replied the Justice. "These rogues be all of one tale, pretending that they have done nothing amiss, and desiring to know, poor innocents! of what they are accused, as though they were ignorant of their own lives and conversation hitherto. Tush! it were a needless and an unthrifty throwing out of words to argue the matter—for they are wiser in their own eyes than seven men who can render a reason. Do thou question him, and urge him to the test," said Sir Roger, turning to his conscience-keeper.

    "What art thou?" said the priest, leaning forward for the purpose of a more strict examination.

    "I am a minister," said Marsh. "It is but a short time agone since I served a cure hereabouts."

    "Who gave thee orders? Or hast thou indeed received any?"

    "The Bishops of London and Lincoln, after that I had diligently studied and kept terms aforetime at Cambridge."

    "Humph!" said Sir Roger. "These bishops be of the reformed sect; and, I have a notion, will some day or another answer for it before the Queen’s council."

    "What knowledge hast thou of these men?"

    "I never saw them but at the time I received ordination."

    After a few more questions of little moment, the priest threw out the usual net with which his fraternity were wont to entangle those of heretical opinions.

    "What is thy belief respecting the sacrament?"
    "That is a question of too general and multifarious a nature for a plain and faithful answer."

    "Are the bread and wine, by virtue of the words pronounced by the priest, changed into the body and blood of Christ? And is the sacrament, whether reserved or received, the very body and blood of Christ?"
    "I am not careful to answer such inquiries, seeing that I am but unskilled and unlearned in scholastic disputes. Why do ye ask me these hard and unprofitable questions, to bring my body in danger of death, and to suck my blood?"

    "We are not blood-suckers, and intend none other than to make thee a better man and a good Christian," said the priest, mightily offended. Whereat Roger Wrinstone, in his great zeal and affection for the Holy Church, smote Marsh a lusty blow on the mouth, saying—
    "Answerest thou the priest so? By your worship’s leave I will mend his ill manners."
    The little girl at this rebuke fell a-crying, and her grief became so loud that Sir Roger was fain to pacify her by ordering Wrinstone to stand farther apart. With red and glistening eyes she looked up and smiled at the suffering martyr, who, remembering his own dear babes, could scarce refrain from embracing her as she clung about him, to the great displeasure of Sir Roger.
    "Answer this reverend and spiritual admonisher, to the true purport and bearing of his question," said Sir Roger, with a mighty affectation of sagacity.
    "I do believe Christ to be present with His sacrament, inasmuch as He is alway with His people to the end of time. But as I am not skilful in matters of such nicety, I would ask of this reverend casuist, who is more able to answer in questions of such weight than I; who am, as I said before, unlearned in disputed points; and truly I am in nothing more wishful than to come at a right knowledge and understanding of the truth."
    "Say on," said the priest, something flattered by this modest appeal to his opinion.
    "Our Lord took the cup and blessed it, of which He then drank, and afterwards His disciples?"
    "Yes. But this doth not sanction its being sent round to the laity," replied the priest, not aware of the drift and true bearing of the inquiry.
    "Then He took the bread and brake, and did eat likewise with His disciples?"

    "Of a truth," replied the unwary disputant. "For these questions need but a plain and simple answer."
    "Then," said Marsh, "of a surety He must have ate and drank Himself!—Nay," continued he, seeing the priest turn pale with rage and vexation, "I can find none other alternative. For, unlearned and unpractised as I am; the absurdity of your belief is manifest."
    "Thou art a child of perdition—an impious and pestilent heretic! Thou eatest and drinkest damnation to thyself; and the Holy Church consigns all such to the flames, and to the fire of eternal wrath hereafter!" roared the infuriate priest, whose choler waxed hotter in proportion as he felt unable to withstand the conclusion of his opponent.

    "For," as it has been observed, even by some of the most enlightened Catholics themselves,[18] "theological animosity, so far from being an argument of men’s conviction in their opposite sects, is a certain proof that they have never reached any serious persuasion with regard to these sublime subjects. Even those who are most impatient of contradiction in other controversies, are mild and moderate in comparison of polemical divines; and whenever a man’s knowledge and experience give him a perfect assurance in his own opinion, he regards with contempt rather than anger the opposition and mistakes of others. But while men zealously maintain what they neither clearly comprehend nor entirely believe, they are shaken in their imagined faith by the opposite persuasion, or even doubts of other men, and vent on their antagonists that anger and impatience which is the natural result of this state of the understanding."

    "Master," cried Wrinstone, "shall I fetch the bridle that we so oft use for scolds and ill women?"

    "Ay, do, prithee run, Roger," said the child, hastily, and looking towards him, "for my grandfather’s priest is like to need it soon."

    At this the worthy professor of Christian charity and good-will, darting a furious look at the girl, exclaimed—

    "Sir Roger, beware lest this viper thou art hatching be suffered to sting us. Look to it! This minion of thine is not too young either to work mischief or to escape its punishment!"

    Whereupon Sir Roger, mightily afraid of his spiritual guide and granter of indulgences, rebuked the offending little one, and ordered her out of the room. With some difficulty this command was executed; but the disturbance at the door became so loud, that they were fain again to admit her, upon a sullen promise that she would behave in a more reverent manner to the priest, and refrain from interruption.

    "Answer me no more with thy deep and devilish sublety," continued this champion of the Catholic faith; "for of a truth the devil doth wonderfully aid and abet ye in all disputes touching this holy sacrament; but show me thy belief in regard to so wholesome and comfortable a doctrine."

    "I have answered before, as far as my weak understanding will permit, and by God’s grace I will not swerve from my profession. A doctrine pushed to an absurdity is its own refutation."

    Then spake one that was standing by, but who had hitherto taken no part in the debate.

    "Truly ’tis a pity that one so proper and well-gifted, and who might doubtless gain some profitable appointment, should so foolishly cast himself away by holding these dangerous and heretical opinions. Thou wilt bring both body and soul into jeopardy thereby. If not for thyself, yet for thy children’s sake, and for thy kindred, who must needs suffer from thy contumacy, return to the communion from which thou hast cast thyself out, and to the arms of that compassionate mother who is ever ready to receive back her erring but repentant children."

    "Verily," replied the martyr, "life, children, brethren, and friends, with all the other delights and comforts of this present state, are as dear and sweet unto me as unto any other man, and I would be as loath to lose them if I might hold them with a good conscience. But seeing I cannot do that, I trust God will strengthen me with His Holy Spirit so that I may lose all for His sake. For I now hold myself but as a sheep appointed to be slain, and patiently to suffer whatsoever cross it may please my most merciful Father to lay upon me. But, as God is my witness!"—he seemed to speak with a prophetic denunciation, "from these vile ashes shall a fire-brand come that shall consume and destroy utterly these bloody men and persecutors of God’s inheritance!"

    So astonished were the bystanders at his audacity, that they did not so much as attempt to stay his tongue or to lay hands upon him, whilst he continued, raising his arm in a threatening attitude—

    "Ye killers of the prophets, and destroyers of them whom God hath sent unto you!—Because we reproach you with your evil deeds, and"—

    "Blasphemy?" cried out Sir Roger, who was the first to recover his speech: "we will have thy tongue bored for its offence."

    "Away with him!" cried the priest, who seemed nothing loath to begin his torments.
    "Thou shalt to my Lord Derby, and he will know how to deal with such a bitter and foul-mouthed heretic."

    All was uproar and confusion. The Justice was even moved from his chair, and swore out lustily that by ten o’clock the day following, unless this blasphemer were delivered at Lathom, he would imprison the whole family of them: such a pestilent fellow being fit, as he said, to infect all the parish with the plague of heresy.

    Roger Wrinstone and his crew were preparing to drag him down-stairs; but the Justice, hobbling on his crutch, preceded them, leaning on the arm of his priest. The party, on their entrance into the hall, found Marsh’s two kinsmen awaiting the event. They soon found that no favour was intended.

    "See to it, knaves," bellowed the knight, "that this fellow is delivered up to my lord at Lathom by to-morrow, or your own carcases shall answer for his."

    Then did these poor men pray and beseech their kinsman that he would in some wise conform to the religion of his superiors, or find some way of escape from a cruel and ignominious death.

    But Marsh, standing steadfast before them all, cried out with a loud voice—

    "Between me and them let God witness!" Looking up to heaven, he exclaimed, as if with a sudden inspiration—"If my cause be just, let this prayer of thine unworthy servant be heard!"

    He stamped violently with his foot, and the impression of it, as the general notion is, yet remains, to attest the purity of his cause and the cruelty and injustice of his persecutors.

    To this day may be seen the print of a man’s foot in the stone, which by many is believed to exist as a memorial of this good confession.

    In shape it is much like that of a human foot, except its being rather longer than common. In that part where the sole may have rested is a small dent, as though a man had stamped vehemently on the soft earth, and the weight of his body had borne principally on that place. The impression is of a dark-brown or rather reddish hue, and is very perceptible when damp or moistened by cleaning.

    Marsh’s subsequent history is soon told. From Lathom, where he was examined before Lord Derby and his council, and found guilty of heretical opinions, he was committed to Lancaster, and from thence to the ecclesiastical court at Chester, where, after several examinations before Dr Cotes, then bishop of this diocese, he was adjudged to the stake, and burnt in pursuance of his sentence, at the place of public execution near that city, on the 24th April 1555.