Today's stop on my tour of NW England is Salmesbury, a small village in the Ribble Valley. It’s pronounced ‘Sarms-berry’ and the name comes from the Old English ‘sceamol’ meaning ledge, and ‘burh’ meaning fortification.
Those of you who remember my post about the Pendle witches may be interested to know that three Salmesbury women – Jane Southworth, Jennet Brierley and Ellen Brierley – were charged during the same series of trials in 1612 as the Pendle witches.. As with the Pendle women, it was a young girl who accused them of witchcraft. Grace Sowerbutts aged 14 said the Brierley women (her grandmother and aunt) were able to transform themselves into dogs which haunted her. She also said the women had taken her to the home of Thomas Walshman and his wife, and had stolen their baby in order to suck its blood. The baby died the following night, but Grace said the woman dug up its body and took it home. They then cooked and ate part of it, and used the rest to make an ointment which enable them to change into different shapes. Later Grace admitted the stories were not true, and the women were found not guilty of the charges of child murder and cannibalism.
Salmesbury Hall was owned by the Southworth Family, and is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Dorothy Southworth, known as the ‘White Lady’. In the 17th century, the Southworths were strong Roman Catholics, but Dorothy fell in love a young man from the Protestant de Hoghton family. The young lovers, although forbidden to meet, still met in secret and planned to elope. Dorothy’s brother discovered their plan, ambushed the young man and his two retainers, and killed them all. Dorothy was then sent to a convent abroad where she became insane due to her grief and soon died.
Her ghost has been seen around the house and also near to the spot where her lover was killed. Many visitors to the house have also heard the sound of weeping, and the rustle of long skirts in the galleries and corridors. There are even reports of motorists on the nearby main road stopping to pick up a lady in white – who then disappeared.
In the late 1800’s, three bodies were discovered when drains were being laid nearby – maybe the luckless young lover and his squires?
Another story about Salmesbury Hall concerns a priest who took refuge there when Catholic priests were being persecuted during Elizabeth I’s reign. He was hidden in a small, secret room known as a priest-hole, but unfortunately for him, he had been followed. Soldiers broke into the room and beheaded him on the spot. Legend has it that the floor was stained so badly with his blood that no-one was able to wash it way. The room was bricked up for 300 years, but when it was opened in 1898, the servants refused to go in until the floorboards were replaced. Even so, there are reports that the bloodstain continues to re-appear, even to this day!
Photo of Salmesbury Hall © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence