Monday, 10 September 2007

Saint Ambrose Barlow and Manchester.

Wardley Hall, home of the Bishop of Salford.
Wardley Hall again, you can see the 'screaming skull' in the central lower picture set into a display case in the wall.
Barlow Hall in the 1930's.
Barlow Hall today.
The skull of St Ambrose Barlow (apparantly).

I used to live in Chorlton Green, in South Manchester which is a very nice area, but it developed a taste for wine bars and expensive shops at around the time that I started to go off it. Chorlton is home to Barlow Hall, the hereditary home of St Ambrose Barlow, whose feast day falls today. I do not intend boring you with his hagiography, there are plenty of websites devoted to just that, but here are some pictures of Barlow Hall (now a golf club, so there are probably more Roman Clergy there than at any previous time in it's existance).

In Wardley Hall, near Swinton in North Manchester, there resides both the Bishop of Salford and the Skull of St Ambrose Barlow. The skull is taken to Ambrose Barlow Church in Chorlton on this day every year where it is venerated during the morning Mass. Many legends surround the skull, including this one, which you can take or leave as you see fit!

The Screaming Skull of Wardley Hall.

The skull that resides at Wardley Hall is a skull with opposing legends to account for its existence. In tradition the skull - which was kept behind a panel - was supposed to be that of royalist Roger Downs who lived in the 17th century. Roger was a man of ill nature, and according to legend once killed a Taylor in a drunken unprovoked attack, because he had sworn to kill the first person he met. His influence in high society allowed him to literally get away with murder. Eventually Roger picked a fight with somebody more than his equal, and during a drunken brawl on Tower Bridge in London, a watchman (or waterman) severed his head with one stroke. His body was unceremoniously dumped into the River Thames. His head is said to have been delivered to the hall in a wooden box. The story was disproved when his coffin was opened in 1779, as his head was still attached to his body. The skull actually belonged to Father Ambrose Barlow, who was hung and quartered for his faith in 1641; his head was then put on display at Manchester church or at Lancaster castle. According to some sources the skull came into the hall when it was bought by a catholic sympathiser, who kept the skull hidden lest his true leanings were discovered. The skull was then rediscovered in the 18th century by the owner of the house. One day a servant found the skull and threw the grisly relic into the moat, whereupon there was a terrible storm that led the owner of the hall to believe the skull was venting its wrath at being removed. He had the moat drained and the skull was returned to its position. From traditional stories the skull seems to be indestructible as it has been buried, burned and smashed into pieces, always to be found outside the hall the next day, wearing its eternal grin. The actual story is thought to date from the 1930s when a visiting journalist was duped into believing that that the skull was one with a tradition as a screaming skull. The skull has also been removed (by the Bishop of Salford) from the house for periods, without the purported paranormal occurrences.