10 September 1904

The Churchyard and its Quaint Epitaphs
Interesting Historical Sketches

More discoveries have been made in connection with the restoration of the Ashton Parish Church. For a long time the presence of dry-rot in the floor of the vestry had been recognised, and so insecure had it become that one day a parishioner put his foot through the linoleum lining and the woodwork. The flooring was thereupon taken up and newly boarded.

In removing a quantity of soil from underneath the floor in order to provide greater air space to prevent a recurrence of dry-rot, the workmen unearthed a tombstone, about two feet long by 15 inches broad, bearing the words:–

Rector, 1758

In the record of Parish Church rectors, the Rev. John Penny was inducted to the living in 1726, and there is at the present time a tablet to his memory in the chancel. It is therefore apparent that the body was interred below the vestry.

Another and interesting discovery was a very old oak moulding used as a joist supporting the floor of the vestry. On being taken out it was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation considering the many centuries during which it must have occupied a place in the fabric of the past and present churches.

The theory is that many centuries ago, prior to the building of the present church, it was used as a cornice in one of the old churches, and that when the latter was demolished, it was utilised as a joist. Rudely carved, and quite inartistic in comparison with the finer workmanship of the present day, it bears unmistakable signs of having at one time been stained and varnished. It is about six feet in length, and has been sawn into sections and will no doubt be preserved.

Much interest has been taken during the week in the operations of the workmen engaged in relaying the gravestones in the churchyard, many of which had become crooked and irregular owing to the sinking of the ground. In removing the accumulations of dirt and shale from some of the very old gravestones, for which the churchyard is noted, many quaint epitaphs have been revealed.

Some of the gravestones, however, date so far back into the hoary past that the lettering is absolutely obliterated, whilst in others it is only partially decipherable. Up to about 30 years ago there was a regular footway across the churchyard leading from Stamford-street to Scotland-street, and the constant passing and repassing did much towards wearing away the lettering on some historic stones.

Everyone acquainted with local history knows the story of the small square gravestone close by the railings on the south side of the church, on which are numerous imprints of coins. Tradition has it that several boys were playing pitch and toss, when the evil one appeared, and they became paralysed, the coins being transfixed in the stone. Close by is a slab containing the following doggerel:

”Here lies the son of Mars,
James Bromley, of the 10th Hussars;
In Ashton he resigned his breath,
At the command of Captain Death.”

The legend has it that Private Bromley’s troop was passing through this district, and whilst billeted in Ashton he died, and was interred in the Parish Churchyard. His comrades subscribed for a stone to mark his last resting place, but being unable to see the work carried out themselves, entrusted it to the then grave digger or sexton.

On a subsequent visit of the troop to Ashton it was discovered that the commission had not been executed by the person to whom it had been entrusted. Naturally the soldiers were greatly indignant, and looked the offender up, who appeased their anger by perpetrating the doggerel epitaph and having it inscribed on the stone slab, which measures 2ft. by 2ft. 6in.

Passing on a few yards one comes to a sarcophagus, dated 1822, known as the “horned tomb” on account of the horned structure at the ends of the tomb. It is the resting place of a man who evidently had deep regard for his wife, and having once experienced connubial bliss ventured a second time, and got married again. The inscription runs:

”When sorrow weeps o’er virtue’s sacred dust,
Our tears become us, and our grief is just;
Such were the tears he shed who grateful pays
His last sad tribute of his love and praise,
Who mourns the best of wives and friends combin’d,
Where female softness made a manly mind,
Mourns, but not murmurs, sighs, but not despairs,
Feels as a man, but as a Christian bears.”

At the east end of the church is a stone, dated 1840, sacred to the memory of Edward Moss, son of the then sexton of the church. It reads:

”Here lies a ringer beneath this cold clay,
Who’s rung many peals, both serious and gay;
Through Grandsire and Trebles with ease he could range,
Till death called the Bob and brought round his last change.”

Near the southern porch of the church is another square slab with imitation bells and ropes cut in the stone to perpetuate the remembrance of the late Aaron Walker, who died January 30th, 1851, aged 76. He had been a ringer at the Parish Church 57 years, and had assisted in bringing round 57 peals of 5,000 changes and two peals of 7,000 changes. He was the first man who rang the tenor bell single-handed in a peal of 5,000. He rang his last 5,000 in his 75th year. The following lines are inscribed on that stone:

”No more shall they hands ring thy fav’rite peal,
The ninth in St Michael’s which none could excel;
Yet the peals of this church shall ring o’er thy clay,
As thy soul finds from life’s troubled way.”

The epitaph over the grave of a collier named Thomas Smith who died in a coalpit shaft at Dukinfield, January 17th, 1783, is interesting. Only a portion is decipherable. It reads:

”For help he called, no human aid he found,
If Christ gave ear, he’s now in glory crowned.”

On the same stone is another epitaph to Joseph Hardy, late of Hurst, who died in the mine, August 14th, 1807, along with a miner named John Andrew, whose grave is a few yards further on. It reads:–

”Impelled by imprudent care,
Each other vainly daring strives,
Through suffocating death-damp air
To fetch a pick, thus lost their lives.
Hence miners of this serious warning take,
And cautious care a constant rule to make.”

On the north side of the church is a stone to the memory of John Harrison, who has been described as the “Cromwellian rector” on account of the fact that he was inducted into the living by a party of soldiers. Reference was made to him at some length in an article which appeared three weeks ago. He is said to have rifled the books and papers of his predecessor. He was buried near the altar, and the grave was unearthed during some alterations.

The lines on the tombstone of William Kershaw, butcher, near the southern porch, are interesting. He was a relative of Mrs. Earnshaw, wife of the borough surveyor (Mr J.T. Earnshaw).

”Here lies an honest inoffensive friend,
Peaceful in life, and happy in his end;
Harmless in words, and in his dealings just,
Constant to his friends, and faithful to his trust.”

The gravestone of Aaron Miller, joiner, Smallshaw, who died in 1806, in his 72nd year, bears testimony of his industry, for it states that in the course of his life he made 5,143 coffins.

The following tribute is paid to James Bromley, yeoman, who died in 1843:– His general deportment and benevolent disposition, combined with his unbounded usefulness in the walks of a commercial life, swayed by the noblest feelings of the human heart, gained him the universal esteem of all who knew him. The following appears on the grave of a woman named Shaw, in a quiet corner, aged 33:–

”Death did to me short warning give,
Therefore be careful how you live.
Prepare in time, make no delay,
I in my prime was called away.”

John A. Stuart pays tribute to his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1853:–

”Forty years she was my wife,
And died without a stain.
Her memory I will cherish
Until we meet again.”

The following appears on the gravestone of an eighteen-year-old youth named Pring, of Shepley:–

”Ye healthy youths who pass this way,
Like you I once was young and gay;
With patience I endured affliction’s rod,
In hope of peace resigned my soul to God.”

A lamentable note is struck in the following, which appears on the tombstone of George Hibbert, aged 27, who died in 1813:–

”Let patience guide thee to they end,
That’ my advice to thee, my friend,
What I’ve gone through no one can tell
But my good God, who knows it well.
Now slumbering here to take my rest
In hopes that Christ my soul will bless.”

A boy’s epitaph, taken away at the age of eleven, runs:–

”Short was my time, my wit and beauty bright,
I was my parents’ joy and great delight;
In me they thought true comfort for to find,
But God called me: it was his blessed mind.”

A stone fixed in the wall at the main entrance has the following:– Near here resteth the body of John Leech, of Hurst, buried the 16th day of October, 1689, aged 92 years; whereby Anne, his wife, he had issue twelve children, and in his life-time was father to twelve, grandfather to 75, great-grandfather to 92, great-great-grandfather to 2 – in all 181 persons.

Close by is the gravestone of Peggy, daughter of William Stopford, of Dodgleach, buried in 1780, and containing the following:–

”In vain the dear departing saint
Forbids our gushing tears to flow;
Forbear, my friends, your fond complaint,
From earth to Heaven I gladly go
To glorious company above
Bright angels and the God of Love.”

The following is on the grave of two boys named Andrew, who were drowned in 1833:–

”How mournful was that solemn day,
How dark its brightest light;
Yonder amidst the shining throng
They endless rest have found.”

On the grave of a girl of 20 summers, named Hegginbottom, who died in 1824, it states that her cheerful and amiable disposition, united to a benevolent mind, proved her to be a plant of much promise, but lo!

”The tender herb, the short-lived flow’r,
Are emblems of our life below;
They droop, they fall, they own the pow’r
Of rude and blighting winds that blow
And here lies one whose youthful head
Years were opening into bloom;
But ere her leaves of life were spread
Cold death has placed her in the tomb.”

The epitaph of Thomas Ledward (yeoman), who died in 1837, runs:–

”Go home, dear children, cease your tears,
I must be here till Christ appears;
My debts are paid; my grave you see,
Wait patiently, and follow me.”

Lines to an innkeeper, James Kershaw, died 1845:–

”An honest man here lies at rest
As e’ver God in His image blest;
A friend of man, a friend of truth,
A friend of age, and a guide of youth;
Few hearts like his with virtue warm’d,
Few hearts with knowledge so inform’d,
He’s gone to another world to live in bliss,
For he did all the good he could in this.”

To Henry Lees, innkeeper, buried in 1823:–

”Let friends forbear to mourn and weep
Whilst sweetly in the dust I sleep;
This toilsome world I left behind,
A glorious crown I hope to find.”

Close by is an epitaph of a woman named Darlington, buried 1811:–

”Give ear, O man, thy end is drawing near,
But if prepar’d there is no cause to fear;
What’er our state ‘tis the fate of all,
We must obey whenever death doth call.”

Numerous other epitaphs there are in the old churchyard, but space does not allow of their being given here.

The stone discovered in the vestry is a reminder of the interesting old stone, a curious tradition of the olden times, which was found during the demolition of the tower early in September, 1885. The stone was removed from the top of the belfry, and subsequently exhibited in a window in Stamford-street.

An extract from the “History of Lancashire” gives the following description:– “In 1413 the steeple of Ashton Church was building when Alexander Hyle, a butcher, playing at ‘Noddy’ with a companion in the neighbourhood of the church, swore that if the dealer turned up the five of spades he would build up a foot of the steeple. The very card was turned up. Hyle, like a good Catholic, performed his promise, and had his name carved, a butcher’s cleaver being put before the Alexander, and the five of spades before Hyle.”

The portion of stone thus exhibited contained the axe and the word “Alexader” in Old English, the “N” being omitted, and a mark of omission super-scribed. Then came a representation of a card, the five of spades (much larger than an ordinary playing card) and this was followed by “Hy.” Only part of the “Y” was visible. The rest of the name and the date were deficient. The lettering and representations were in high relief, large and distinct, and but slightly damaged.

In taking down the bell chamber portion of the tower, the men first found, it is said, the latter part of the stone, with the last two letters of the name “Hyle,” and the date 1413. Nothing could be made of it, and it was trundled off with the rest of the stones collected in the yard. Subsequently the portion exhibited was found, and its nature ascertained, but this was not at first easy as it was thickly coated with grease and soot from the belfry. When this was washed off the interesting nature of the discovery was realised. This stone must have been built purposely in the wall when that part of the tower was erected.

The five of spades stone is said to have been built in the tower of 1413, and again rebuilt in the tower of 1515. It was again used in rebuilding the tower in 1818, but unfortunately on that occasion was somewhat spoiled by being cut in separate pieces, the larger piece in the south wall and the small piece on the east wall. There are not many stones so curious that have helped to build four church towers.

There were several other sculptured memorial stones built into the inside walls of the old tower, one of which bore a number of hieroglyphics, and the name “Wood” in relieve. The stones were carefully built into the new tower in conspicuous places, as they undoubtedly commemorate remarkable circumstances.

The stone bearing the inscription “Alexander Hyle” and the five of spades has found a place in the ringing chamber on one side of the doorway, and the other one referred to was built in the wall on the opposite side of the doorway. The second piece of stone broken off the Hyle memorial has been irretrievably lost. It is not certain that the workmen saw the stone. The sexton had strict instructions to leave no stone unturned in the heap until he found the missing relic, but all his vigilance failed to discover it

Perhaps it may be tolerated to mention a little joke in regard to the old Hyle stone. It is stated by some people who are fond of poking fun at grave antiquarians, that many years ago when some repairs were being done to the tower, a Manchester antiquarian wrote a letter about the stone, and requested that a narrow inspection of the stones in the tower might be made in order to discover it. A great deal of trouble was taken, but no such stones was found, and in length (so the joke goes) the mason chiselled the words, etc, on the stone to save himself any further bother over it.

Sequel to a Lovers’ Quarrel

At the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday, Edith SIMPSON, a young factory girl, was charged with attempting to commit suicide at Ashton on Tuesday. She pleaded guilty.

Constable HAWCOURT said that last Tuesday about a quarter to twelve at night he was on duty at the junction of Park-street and Cavendish-street when SIMPSON passed him wet through and minus her hat. He asked her where she had been, and received the answer, “In the canal.” He asked her how she had got there, and she answered, “I threw myself in,” and talking further he learned that there had been some unpleasantness between her and her young man, who had on two or three occasions assaulted her, hitting her in the face.

About a quarter past eleven that night they had some words and she said she would drown herself. He told her to do so, and she went to the canal. Being an expert swimmer, however, she soon got out again.

The Magistrates’ Clerk: Why do you keep company with him if he hits you like that? Do you suppose there will be harmony in your married life when he behaves like that before? – No, sir.

The Chairman: You have done a very foolish thing. You will be wiser in future. You have all your future life before you, and if your young man behaves in such a foolish manner before marriage, what can you expect after? The world is large enough for you surely.

Take the advice of the bench and have nothing further to do with the man. The bench will let you off if you will promise not to do such a foolish thing again. Will you promise? – Yes, sir. – The chairman ended by advising the father of the girl to keep an eye on her, and not let her go out with the man again.

Woman Wounded

The use of the knife is becoming very common, and an instance of this was mentioned in a case which came before the city justices on Wednesday. There were two stabbing affrays related, and in one case a bricklayer’s labourer, named William WALL, was charged with unlawfully wounding Bridget KERWIN, at whose house he lodged at 28, Masonic-street, Oldham-road.

It was alleged that on Sunday night he came home the worse for drink. The son of the complainant (a tram guard) went upstairs after coming off duty, and WALL used foul language to him. The father heard this, and when he remonstrated with him, WALL assaulted him and knocked one of his teeth out.

Mrs KERWIN then went upstairs to try and make peace, and it is alleged WALL pulled out a knife and stabbed her in the left breast. She bled profusely, and her blood-stained blouse was produced in court. The wound, though not dangerous, necessitated treatment at the Ancoats Hospital.

Prosecutrix denied striking WALL when she came upstairs. – The case had been remanded from Monday for the doctor to give evidence. The prosecutrix and her husband (Richard KERWIN) gave evidence, and WALL, who appeared in the dock with his arm bandaged, was committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions.

WALL alleged that the KERWINs kicked him round the room, and finally dislocated his shoulder bone.

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