Cleworth Hall near Leigh was demolished in 1805. It was probably a many gabled, half timber structure with a flag roof surrounded by a moat.
We don’t know when it was built, but a Cleworth Hall is mentioned in the 14th century as the residence of a William Tuthill and his daughter and heiress, Emma. Emma married Oliver Parr of Worsley.
The Parr family derived their name from Parr in Prescot, originally hailing from Westmorland, the most famous of the line being Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. The Worsley line were a younger branch, started by Richard Parr who married. Ellen, the daughter of Richard Worsley of Kempnough and thus acquired Kempnough Hall in Worsley. Richard’s son, Oliver (born possibly c 1350) married Emma Tuthill to live in Cleworth.
Oliver’s descendants held the estate for five generations, intermarrying with the Tyldesleys of Tyldesley and the Radcliffes of Ordsall amongst other families. John Parr (1523-1550) was the last of the line. He married Margaret Massey the daughter of Thomas Massey of Whickleswyke. Their daughter, Anne Parr (1560-1610) was the sole heiress to the estate.
Anne married first Thurston Barton, the son of Andrew Barton of Smithills, then in 1578 she married Nicholas Starkie of Huntroyd (c1556-1618). We met the Starkie family briefly at the Hall I’Th’Wood. The Starkie family originally came from Stretton in Cheshire. Upon his marriage, Nicholas fixed his family seat at Cleworth and was still living there in 1594. The family alternated between Cleworth and Kempnough, and had their children baptised at Eccles parish church.
It was during Nicholas’ time at Cleworth that the house became notorious. In 1594 he was living there with his wife and children, John (1584-1665) and Ann (b 1558) and the children became possessed by an evil spirit. The distraught father called in a conjurer, John Hartley to exorcise the demon. Ann was the first victim, she was taken with a dumpish and heavy countenance, and a fearfull starting and pulling together of her body her brother developed symptoms a week later.
Whilst Hartley did cure the children, he ensured that the treatment took time, and lived for over two years at Cleworth tending to his charges. Eventually in 1596 Nicholas started to implore him to leave, but he protested he had nowhere to go, nor would it be easy to locate him if he did depart.
Absolutely coincidentally, young John Starkie succumbed to his symptoms again at this time, and Hartley managed to extract a pension of £2 pa, but when he demanded a house in the grounds it was the last straw and Nicholas refused. At this, Hartley flew into a rage and left.
That very afternoon, seven of the staff started acting as if possessed, letting off loud whoopings, the noise being described as of a type never heard in England. Hartley continued his mischief and Nicholas himself became tormented after a visit to his father.
In desperation, Nicholas applied to John Dee, the alchemist, who at this time was Warden of Christ’s College in Manchester. He refused to get involved, and suggested Nicholas consult some godly preachers instead. He merely rebuked Hartley for his behaviour.
The young John Starkie was once again stricken, and complained that whilst reading, some force gave him a terrific blow to the neck, flooring him. He suffered awfully in his bed for two weeks, and behaved like a mad dog, biting everyone, sparing none, not even his mother. His sister followed suit, as did three other children in Nicholas’s care and a lady friend of Nicholas’ wife, Anne, one Margaret Byrom of Salford also succumbed. This continued for some time, with the Hall now resembling a madhouse.
John Starkie took to washing his hands constantly, and demanding fresh water each time he did¹. A now desparate Nicholas attempted to bring the children before a magistrate so that Hartley could be sent to the assizes, but they were now far to ill to give any evidence.
Margaret Byrom now started to have visions, she saw a black dog which threw her down and grabbed her tongue. This was followed by a black cat which took away her eyes and hands, and then a large mouse which took her senses away, so that she would not eat for days on end.
Eventually Hartley was taken to trial at Lancaster Assizes, and sentenced to death by hanging for practising witchcraft. He pleaded innocence on the scaffold, and when hung the rope snapped, necessitating another to be sought. Whilst awaiting the replacement he confessed his guilt and the second rope did its job.
Meanwhile the victims had not been relieved of their torments. John Darrell the rector of St Mary in Nottingham and George More the pastor of Calke in Derbyshire were brought in by John Dee and a full day of prayers brought relief for six of the seven sufferers. Margaret Byrom described her demon as a crow, which came out of her throat, John Starkie had a hunchback tormenting him. The one remaining sufferer, a servant, Jane Ashton was dispossessed the following day, and despite a night where they were all visited by demons with promises of gold everyone returned to a normal life thereafter.
After this John Darrell went on to perform a further exorcism in Nottingham, but was denounced, and despite a letter of support from Nicholas Starkie was thrown into jail after appearing before the Archbishop of Nottingham.
Young John Starkie went on to succeed his father in 1618 and fought with the Roundheads in the Civil War, defending Blackburn. During the capture of Houghton Tower, his son Captain Nicholas Starkie was killed by a blast of gunpowder.
He married Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Leigh of Adlington, and died in 1665, aged around 80.
The Hall then faded into history with no further great dramas. The Starkies consolidated their property at Huntroyd. Cleworth was demolished in 1805 and replaced with a farmhouse. Three generations of the Lowe family lived there from 1833 to later than 1911 There was also a coalmine built in the grounds in the 1870s.
¹ Presumably fresh water for washing hands was not a thing.
² Cousin to Francis Aspinall Philips of Bank Hall
Views of the Old Halls, N G Philips : Henry Gray, 1883
Two Halls of Tyldesley, S Smith: Leigh Local History Society, 2003
© Allan Russell 2020