The Wizard of Alderley Edge
A farmer from Mobberley had a milk-white mare, which he decided to sell: he accordingly set out early one morning for Macclesfield Market. As he was riding across Alderley Edge, he was stopped by an old man, who offered to buy the horse from him there and then. He naturally refused, for he hoped to get a good sum at the market, where competing bidders would put the price up. The old man was unimpressed by this argument, however, and told him that he would find no buyer at Macclesfield; he would be waiting for him at the same spot on his return, when he would repeat his offer.
The farmer scoffed at the idea, and continued on his way, but, sure enough, despite the admiring remarks made about the horse at the market, no one put in a bid, and by evening he was forced to accept the truth of the old man’s prediction. He set off back home again, and, sure enough, the old man was waiting for him at the place he had encountered him that morning.
Though by now somewhat wary of the strange old man, he was still anxious to sell, and upon being promised he would be well rewarded for his horse, agreed to follow him. He was led across the back of the Edge in the gathering gloom until they reached a steep rock face.
The old man touched the cliff with his staff, whereupon it spit open with a thunderous noise to reveal a pair of huge iron gates, which he opened, revealing a passage descending into the hillside. At the sight of this the farmer, realising that the old man was no ordinary human, fell on his knees in fear, and begged for his life to be spared. The old man assured him that he would come to no harm, and instructed him to follow him into the passage, bringing his horse, which the farmer nervously did.
The passage led into a huge underground chamber filled with armed and armoured knights, all apparently asleep; in the chamber beyond the farmer saw a similar number of milk-white horses, just like his own, likewise asleep. A third, smaller chamber was filled with treasure, and the old man instructed the farmer to take what he liked in exchange for his horse.
As he filled his pockets, the farmer asked the meaning of what he had seen, and the old man explained that the men and their horses were an army which he had put under an enchanted sleep, ready for the day when they would be needed to ride forth and save England. There had been one horse short, and it was for this reason he had arranged the bargain that had just been struck.
The old man then directed the farmer back the way he had come and told him to leave; upon doing so, the farmer heard the sound of the iron gates closing behind him, and made his way home on foot. When, the following day, he told others of what had happened, and led them to the place, there were no iron gates to be seen, and since that day they were never to be found.
To the Printer of the Manchester Mail,
Returning the other day, to Macclesfield, by way of Monks-heath, near Alderley-park, the seat of John Thomas Stanley Esq. I could not help noticing a new sign which has lately superseded the ancient one of the Coach and Horses, at a Public house there. It is tolerably well painted; and as the subject appeared to be somewhat singular, I endeavoured to ascertain the story on which it was founded; supposing, as I afterwards learned, that it bore some allusion to a popular tradition, which has been long current in that neighbourhood. The following particulars are the result of my enquiries; and as they may possibly afford some entertainment to many of your readers, they are very much at your service, if you think them deserving of a place in the Manchester Mail. It should be observed that Monks-heath lies in the direct road between Manchester and Birmingham, and as the coaches usually halt for a few minutes at that place, the sign in question generally becomes an object of curiosity to inquisitive travelers.
Macclesfield, May 19 1105 [sic]
THE CHESHIRE ENCHANTER being a short account of the legend of the IRON GATES or the enchanted army, collected from the traditions of the neighbourhood, some slight written documents, but chiefly from the report of a very old man, commonly known among his junior brethren by the familiar appellation of “Old Daddy” and who has spent the major part of his life in the service of T. Stanley, Esq.
A great number of years ago, nobody can tell how many, but five centuries at least, an old Magician took it into his head to play the mad frolic of enchanting a whole army, consisting of cavalry, the horses being all white ones, and the men completely accoutred in the true military stile of that remote period. The army, which this extraordinary old man thought proper to lay under the magical power of enchantment was forthwith enclosed in an immense subterraneous cavern, at the foot of Alderley beacon, about two miles distant from where the sign is now exhibited. In confirmation of this astonishing fact, old Parson Shrigley, formerly clerk, and late Curate of Alderley, used to relate the following story, as generally believed by all the neighbouring peasantry.—
About 80 years before this time, a man out of Mobberley going to Macclesfield, to dispose of a fine white horse at Barnby Fair, in passing over Alderley-edge was met by an aged person, who enquired the value of the horse, and offered a certain price for him, which was refused. The old man then told the owner, that in case he did not sell the horse at the fair, on his return he would find him at the same place again, when perhaps they might strike a bargain. The man went to Macclesfield but did not part with his horse. Accordingly, on his return, he was again accosted by the same venerable personage, who observing he had not sold his milk-white steed, enquired if he was now willing to accept the price he had offered for him in the morning. The man consenting, he was desired to follow the stranger with his horse. Being led to a very large pair of Iron Gates, the old man struck them with his wand, upon which they instantly flew open, and discovered the inside of an extensive cavern, containing an immense number of military horses, with soldiers lying in various groupes, apparently fast locked in the arms of sleep. The horse being much frightened, suddenly drew back and dismounted his rider, who immediately fell on his knees before the old man, whom he now perceived, for the first time, to be a Magician. To remove his apprehensions the old man assured him that no harm should happen to him. He then conducted him farther into the cavern, where he perceived the number of horses to be greatly increased insomuch that they appeared to be a very large army. Having at length arrived at a deeper and more gloomy part of the recess, the magician opened an exceeding capacious chest, full of treasure, out of which he paid the man for his horse, and dismissed him.
Being once more restored to the light of the Sun, he hastened to inform his neighbours and the surrounding peasantry of all he had done and all he had seen; when a number of the most daring and hardy amongst them agreed to join themselves in a body, and go in search of the Iron Gates, at the mouth of this astonishing cavern. They accordingly sallied forth, with the Mobberley man at their head; but after a long and fruitless search, they were obliged to return their respective homes, fully convinced, however, that the place was enchanted, and that the Iron Gates, which, beyond all doubt, had been seen by the owner of the white horse, were now, by the powerful instrumentality of some invisible agent completely removed,
“And like the baseless fabric of a vision,
“Left not a wreck behind.”
The sign which commemorates this legend, represents a pair of large Iron Gates, thrown wide open, and discovers the entrance to a cavern of a very large extent, in which several military horses asleep with men, arms &c. Near the mouth of the cavern, stands the Enchanter, with a magic wand in his hand, dressed in the mode of the 13th or 14th century; before him kneels a man habited in the stile of more modern times, and behind him a grey horse, flying back very much terrified. The back ground of the painting represents a romantic view of Alderley-edge with part of the surrounding country. The whole has a good effect, and it has local interest to recommend it to notice, notwithstanding the belief in enchantment has long been laid asleep, whatever the Alderley army was, it often claims that notice which seldom is claimed by the paintings which distinguish the signs of public houses.
To my dear Young Ladies,
MAY I be allowed to dedicate this little Pamphlet to you ? The desire of many friends to preserve the original tradition, as nearly as possible, in the manner it was wont to be related by the Reverend Gentleman,* who professed to be the best acquainted with it, induces me to collect the papers, and to arrange them, so that they may gratify not only these friends, but also any enquirer, who, struck with the scene represented on the Sign at Monk’s Heath, may make his curiosity an excuse for calling to try the strength of the Landlord’s ale. This Tradition was long held in high estimation and credence by the peasantry of Alderley and Mobberley, and although the belief in Enchantment is extinguished by the gentle, but sure flow of Religious Instruction, yet there are many who would take pleasure in reading the tale of the powerful Wizard, who once held sway in the very place they now inhabit.
To you, then, let me tender this little offering of grateful respect: and I feel persuaded that under the guardianship of such Enchantresses, “The Iron Gates” will unfold to me a source of treasure, at least the value of the good man’s horse.
I am, with the truest respect,
My dear young Ladies’ most faithful
and obliged Servant.
To stamp the following tale with respectability , I shall first observe, that it was related by no less a personage than the Parson of the parish; who with the gravity attendant on his station, used to sit in the corner, and having gained the attention of his audience round the fireside, would give the Legend of “The Iron Gates” in almost the same tone and manner he used in his professional functions.
At the time in which the Reverend Gentleman used thus to amuse his neighbours, I regret to say, short-hand writers were much more scarce than in our present enlightened age, so that may be one reason why I cannot boast the honour of giving the Tradition to the curious in the narrator’s own words. I am obliged to content myself with selecting from the mighty volume of literary scraps, which may be supposed to have been left by such a personage “The Original Tradition of the Cheshire Enchanter,” “as it was recited, and believed, by the Ancient Inhabitants of Alderley, Mobberley, and all the country adjacent;” and which it would have been almost a sin to have condemned, or discredited.
The Sun appeared to be struggling to pierce the thick mists of an autumnal morning, and though himself unseen, cast a red and awful glare over the surrounding vapours, which , as they ascended, assumed a variety of fantastic forms, such as were calculated to establish in the minds of credulity a belief in supernatural appearances.
A Farmer from Mobberley, mounted on a milk-white steed, arrived on the Heath, which skirts Alderley Edge. He was journeying to Macclesfield, to dispose of the horse he then rode at the fair. Deeply musing on his errand, and reckoning on the advantages which might arise from the sale of the animal, he stooped to stroke its neck, and adjust the flowing mane, which the rude wind of the morning had deranged. On lifting up his head, he perceived a figure before him, of more than common height, clad in a sable vest, which enveloped his figure; over his head he wore a cowl, which bent over his ghastly visage, and screened not hid, the eyes, that sunken and scowling, were now fully bent upon the horseman; in his hand he held a staff of black wood, this he extended so as to prevent the horse from proceeding until he had addressed the rider. When he essayed to speak his countenance became more spectre-like, and in a hollow yet commanding voice, he said “Listen, Cestrian! I know thee, whence thou comest, and what is thy errand to yonder fair! That errand shall be fruitless; thy steed is destined to fulfil a nobler fate than that to which thou doomst him. He shall be mine. Vainly thou wilt seek to sell him; yet go and make the trial. Seest thou that Sun, whose beams just gild the beacon tower? When he shall have sunk beneath the western hills, and the pale moon has risen in his stead, be thou in this place! Nay, fear not! no evil shall betide thee if thou obey. Fare thee well! till night shall close again upon the world.”—Having said this, he walked away. The Farmer, glad to be released from his presence, spurred his horse and hastened to Macclesfield. Here nothing awaited him but vexation and disappointment. He boasted of the swiftness of his steed—the high blood of his progenitors—his sweetness of temper and docility—the surety of his footstep, and pleasantness of pace; he ranked him above all other animals around him, but in vain—no purchaser appeared willing to give the price required, he reduced it to the half, “but still the horse remained unsold.” He thought on the stranger, and his morning salutation. He saw the western sky reflect back the last golden ray of the setting sun. He viewed the Moon rising above the horizon, and mounting “his milk-white steed,” resolved, at all events to obey the command of the unknown. He hastened to the appointed spot, afraid to trust his mind to dwell on the idea of the meeting. He reached the seven firs, and condemned his eagerness when he saw the same figure reclining on a rock beneath. He checked his rapid pace, and began seriously to reflect on the probability of mischance. Who the being was that had thus commanded his presence!—who had thus foretold the events of the day, he knew not! If he were mortal, he strength and figure held a fearful superiority over him, should his intention be to ensnare him, or to take his life. Yet mortal strength he feared not—he was brave, and had learned the science of self-defence at the wakes and fairs, where broils were very frequent. He blamed his hesitation, and accused himself of cowardice, muttering the local phrase. “I defy him!” “I defy him!” and again set forward at his former pace. Presently he arrived on the verge of the heath and then suddenly stopped. The idea of the Stranger being an evil spirit, seized upon his mind, and subdued his courage. He gazed in trembling anxiety on him as he sat on the projection before him. The calm and apparently sleeping posture of the object abated his terror: yet he took the precaution to repeat all he could remember of a potent charm, taught him by his grandmother, to protect him from the influence of such as he feared the Stranger to be (It might have been “St. Oran’s Rhyme,” or “St. Fillan’s prayer.” But the Legend does not mention by name therefore I will not pretend to say what it was.) He however, began to think of returning, could he do it unperceived; but at that moment the Stranger rose and advanced towards him. “Tis well,” he said, that thou art come. Follow me, and I will give thee the full price for thine animal.” He then turned down the northern road, the horseman following in silent apprehension. They cross the dreary heath, and enter the Wood—they soon reach the Golden Stone—then by Stormy Point and Saddle Bole they pass—arrived at this extremity, the horseman seemed ready to exclaim “Speak, I will go no farther.” At that instant, from beneath their feet issued distinctly the neigh of a horse. The Stranger paused, again the neigh of a horse was heard—he reared his ebon wand, and hollow sounds, like the murmuring of a distant multitude, mingled with the horse’s neigh, which was again repeated. The Farmer gazed in wild affright, on his guide, and now first perceived that he was a Magician; to his terrified imagination, he, at that moment, appeared to have increased in stature far beyond the height of mortal man—his mantle, which now flowed loosely from his shoulders, added to the commanding air of his figure, and, with his arm and wand extended, he muttered a spell—the earth was immediately in a convulsive tremor, and before the Farmer could recover his breath, which had been suspended in his fright, the ground separated and discovered a ponderous pair of Iron Gates. The Magician again waved his wand, and with a noise, as it were of an earthquake, the gates unfold. The animal, terrified at the violent concussion, reared and plunged, and threw his rider to the ground. Soon as he recovered his bewildered thoughts, he kneeled before the Enchanter, and in piteous accents, besought him to have mercy on him, and to remember his promise, that “no evil should betide him if he obeyed.” “Nor shall there,” answered the Enchanter, “enter with me, and I will shew thee what mortal eye hath never yet beheld.”
The Farmer obeyed, and beheld a vast cavern, extending farther than his eye could reach; enlightened only by what appeared to be phosphoric vapours, its high arches were adorned by the distillations from the earth above, which had petrified into innumerable points, and illuminated by the unsteady light of the vapour, seemed, at one moment, to increase in number and beauty, and the next to vanish or recede from the view.—Ranged on each side were horses, each the colour and figure of his own, tied to stalls formed in the rock. —Near these lay soldiers, accoutred in the heavy chain mail of the ancient warriors of England—these seemed to increase in number as he advanced. In chasms of the rock he saw large quantities of ore, and piled in vast heaps, coins of various sizes and denominations. In a recess, more enveloped in gloom than the rest, stood a chest; this the Enchanter opened, and took from it the price of the horse, which the Farmer received, and fear being lost in astonishment, he exclaimed, “What can this mean?” “Why are these here?” The Enchanter replied, “These are the Caverned Warriors, who are doomed by the good Genius of Britain, to remain thus entombed until that eventful day, when over-run by armies, and distracted by intestine broils, England shall be lost and won three times between sun-rise and eventide. Then we, awakening from our rest, shall rise to turn the fate of Britain, and pour, with resistless fury, on the vales of Cheshire. This shall be when George, the son of George, shall reign—when the forests of Delamere shall wave their long arms in despair, and groan over the slaughtered sons of Albion. Then shall the Eagle drink the blood of Princes from the headless cross. But, no more. These words, and more also, shall be spoken by a Cestrian—be recorded and be believed. Now, haste thee home, for it is not in thy time, these things shall be!” He obeyed and left the cavern; he heard the Iron Gates close—he heard the bolts descend—he turned to see them once again, but they were no longer visible! He marked the situation of the place, and with a quick step, he pursued his way to Mobberley. He related his adventure to his neighbours, and about twenty of them agreed to accompany him in search of the Iron Gates. They went—they searched—but in vain! No trace remained; and though centuries have rolled away since that night, no person has ever beheld the Iron Gates.
Still hid the heights of Alderley;
In dragon forms the dun clouds past, And
scarlet leaves fell thick and fast; And
scarce the sun in feeble ray Broke
through the gloom with tardy day;
Bowed to the breeze the Pine-Tree swung,
And dewdrops on each Blackthorn hung.
Just such a scene as those appalling,
Who ventur’d in some home-bred calling;
Some chance has brought to Heaths and Plains,
And plashing Moors and falling rains;
Then Memory turns to smoke and strife,
And screaming bairns and scolding wife;
And noise and strife seems fair and good,
Compared with such wild solitude;—
But other thoughts employed the Mind
Of yon rough coated Cestrian Hind;
He bred in scenes where Winter cold
Have early made each Urchin bold;
Heeds not the blast; the miry way;
The falling leaf; the sullen day.—
But eager posting to the Fair,
With armed-heels pricked on his mare;
A flowing mane, his milk-white Steed,
Pride of his Grandsires favorite breed;
Graced the smooth Neck and ample Chest,
And this his early care had drest;
For tis the pride; the Cestrian’s brag,
The bone and breeding of his Nag;
He lov’d his Nag—yet sighed for gold.
He wished her kept; he wished her Sold.
So I have seen Temptation, even
Within thy Chapel-Wall, St. Stephen—
Where some great patriot would retain
The Mob’s laud plaudit, but for gain;
Now much in doubt for glory burns,
And now towards the Premier turns;
Conquered at last by love of Gold!
And like the Farmer’s Nag— is Sold!—
Strong blew the breeze with drizzling rain,
And backward flow’s the ample Mane;
His hat full flapping o’er his face,
A moment checked the Farmer’s pace;
When right before his horse’s head
A dark huge figure seemed to spread!
The Mare pricked up each startled ear;
The Farmer’s hair stood up with fear;
As straight before his purposed road,
He saw a form black huge and broad—
Above the human height it seemed,
Quick light’ning from his eye-balls gleamed;
And from beneath his shadowy brow
A solemn voice spoke deep and low—
“Stranger attend and Traveller hear!
I know what business brough thee here;
I know thine errand and full well;
Thy sordid purpose can I tell;–
Thou’dst give thy favorite Mare for pelf,
And sell for little more thyself;
But know thy horse is doomed to be
Heir to a nobler destiny.—
Sell as thou wilt that steed of thine,
Tis fated that the steed is mine!
Yet go—tho’ I can ne’er deceive,
Thy stubbornness will ne’er believe;
Mix with the Chapmen all, and try
Who chaffers for her— who will buy;
A vain attempt—but be it so—
And to the purposed Market go;
But mark me well—‘tis my behest;
That when the sun sinks in the west,
And e’er the Moon with silver light
Shall make yon waving pine tree bright,
Return thou here, and bring thy steed.
Fear not if here! else fear indeed!
Go ponder on my firm behest
But mark the hour! and watch the west”
The warning ceased. The Cestrian’s eye
Gazed; but it gazed on vacancy!
Nor man, nor seeming man was there,
All was dissolved and nought but Air
Ans Sky, and Hill and Heath and Wood,
Where late the Wizard’s form had stood.
He gasped for breath with terror cold;
But soon aroused for he was bold
By nature— and to such is light
The strongest image of affright.
To his good steed he gave the rein,
And swiftly scudding o’er the plain;
Reached in an hour the busy scene,
Where the crowd thickened on the green.
The village green—the gathering crowd,
In festive mirth, or bickerings loud,
The tempting baits in order spread,
The husband gilt in gingerbread;
The bleating calf in crowded pen;
The Tiger roaring in his den;
All that can please—amuse—amaze!
Broke on the Cestrian’s gladdened gaze;
The swinging bush high hung in air,
Proclaimed good ale was selling there;
High on a Booth with clattering din
Stood grinning Clown and Harlequin;
And cunning men of fate full sure,
And quacks infallible to cure;
Pleased, tho’ not wildered with the scene,
Thrift and pleasure placed between;
The Cestrian tho’ he liked it well,
Was come for profit and to sell;
Up through the street the snow-white Mare
Sped her best pace—a trotter rare;
Beneath her feet the pavement burned,
As in a gallop she returned;
The standing up on rising ground,
Swift and sure, he warrants sound;
Some praised and some found fault— the same,
For still no real bidder came;
For Guineas, Pounds—I’ll give one back,
For road for harness or for hack;
Yet still no buyer came—the Sun
Proclaimed his daily race was run;
And now he thought of the behest,
By the gay gilding in the west;
He must not pause, for now full soon
Will rise and shine the silver moon;
He must obey! bound by that spell,
He bade the noisy crowd farewell—
Returning with less eager pace,
Nor without fear regained the place;
The place where late the Phantom stood,
Half-way between the Hill and Wood;
Oft his mind turned upon the cause,
Why nature broke her common laws;
Why she allowed by day or night
To wander thus th’ imprisoned sprite;
His cheek now flushed, now icy cold,
Timid by chance—by nature bold—
Seven lofty firs had marked the spot
Which Cestrian since have ne’er forgot;
And there upon the thymy green
Reclined; the wizard’s form was seen;
Beneath a rock of summit steep
Lay the wrapt warner as in sleep;
The rider paus’d—with lightn’d rein,
View’d the strange sleeper o’er again;
Taxed his own timid heart and said,
I have no sense of guilt; and dread
To guilt belongs—my arm is strong,
Then to the base such tears belong;
Up and be bold and fairly boast
Thy first encounter with a ghost;
He spurred his steed and nearer drew
But as he came more near in view
Of that same form of unknown evil,
That unsubstantial might-be devil;
His fearful fit returned, and charms
He thought on for all his Magic harms;
Beads he had none—and little skill,
To muster up a prayer at will—
And once a sense of deep affright.
To ebbing courage counselled flight;
But to cut short his Meditation,
The Phantom took his former station;
And right before his horse’s head,
The giant’s form again was spread;
‘Tis well he said, good man and true,
Now follow me and take thy due;
And down the sable Phantom trode,
With noiseless step the Northern road;
The leafless wood they passed beneath,
And crossed upon the dreary heath;
By stormy point where tempests roll
They pass, and next by saddle bole
The horseman paused and seemed to say
Here stand—no farther will I—stay!
E’en at that instant from the ground
Forth issuing came a hollow sound;
Now sunk indeed the Cestrian’s soul,
Back on his heart his pulses roll ,
For now appeared his sable guide
In all the stern Magician’s pride;
And to the farmer’s startled sight
He seemed to rise in form and height;
Loose from his form his garments flow’d,
And with more fire and brighter glow’d
His piercing eye—He breathed a spell,
Earth trembling yawned, a seeming hell,
With all the very worst of fates,
Stood opening by two Iron-Gates;
He waved his wand and as he spake,
The very earth began to quake!—
Now plunged the steed, and on the ground
Soon the affrighted Rider found—
Who kneeling at th’Enchanter’s feet,
In piteous tone did thus entreat:
“Oh mighty chief of Magic spell,
“Are thou not pledged to treat me well?
“Didst thou not promise my return,
“My safety from they charms should earn?”
“It shall be so—be bold—proceed,
“I’ll stay thee at thy utmost need;
“Be bold and enter—feast thine eye,
“With more than mortal scrutiny!”
E’en at that word a spreading cave
Such as the alpine Hermits have,
Appeared with opening wide.
Bright from the roof on ev’ry side
Hung pendant chrystals icy bright,
Reflecting back phosphoric light;
Unsteady vapours seem’d to play
A kind of intermitting day—
Entered yet deeper; to the walls
Were fixed innumerable stalls,
Where milk-white steeds each side by side
Just like his own were careful tied;
And close by ev’ry steed was found
An armed-man in slumber bound;
And more and more the number seemed
As up the vault the vapours gleamed—
Bright was each steed from head to hoof,
Bright was each blade of temper proof;
And Mars himself with prideful eye
Had viewed such host of cavalry;—
Farther they passed, in clifts of rock
Was stored bright gold a plenteous stock;
But deeper hid within the gloom
There stood in this sepulchral room
A mighty chest of ponderous size
Bolted with bands of many dyes—
Up to this chest th’Enchanter came
And brighter burned each Magic flame;
And as he turned the massive lock,
The echo ran from rock to rock;
The from the chest, with care, he told
To the bold Cestrian counted gold.
“The steed is mine—bid wonder cease,
“Receive thy gold—depart in peace”—
Nay tell me more,” The Cestrian cried,
“Why are those steeds in order tied;
“Why are those men all bright in arms,
“And why prepared for war’s alarms;
“Say are they doomed to mortal toil,
“Or destined to unearthly broil?”—
On this the Wizard changed his face,
Assumed a mild and brighter grace;
And to his tone was something given,
As from a Messenger from Heaven:
“These are the Caverned-troops by fate,
“Foredoomed the guardians of our state;
“England’s good genius here detains
“These armed defenders of her plains;
“Doomed to remain till that fell day,
“When foemen marshalled in array;
“And feuds intestine shall combine
“To seal the ruin of our line.
“Thrice lost shall England be, thrice won,
“Twixt dawn of day and setting-sun!
“Then we the wond’rous caverned band,
“These mailed martyrs for the land,
“Shall rush resistless on the foe,
“And they the power of Cestrian know;
“And this all-glorious day be won
“By royal George, great George’s Son.
“The bootless groans shall travellers hear
“Who pass thy Forest DELAMERE;
“each dabbled wing shall ravens toss,
“Perched on the blood-stained headless cross;
“But peace may be another age,
“Shall write these records on her page;
“Begone. “Nor dared the Farmer wait,
He passed in haste the Iron-Gate;
He heard the bolts descend and clash,
And the hills echo to the crash;
He turned to gaze—his seeking eye
Found nothing left but earth and sky;
Wond’ring he stands! but fears to stay,
Homewards in haste pursues his way;
Soon was the strange adventure told,
To what high fate his horse was sold:
The neighbours hasted to the spot,
Vainly they search, “They find it not!”
No trace remain’d nor since that night
Hath mortal eye beheld the sight;
And till the hour decreed by fate
None e’er shall see the IRON GATE.
Sir Walter Scott, in his history of Demonology and Witchcraft, has omitted a tradition which is still popular in Cheshire, and which from its close resemblance to one of the Scottish legends related by that writer, gives rise to many interesting conjectures respecting the probable causes of such a superstition being believed in countries with apparently so little connexion or intercourse, as Cheshire and Scotland. The facts of Sir Walter’s narration are as follow: vide Demonology and Witchcraft, p. 133.
“A daring horse jockey having sold a horse to a man of venerable and antique appearance, had a remarkable hillock on the Eildon Hills, called Lucken Hare, appointed as the place where, at twelve o'clock at night, he should receive the price. He came, the money was paid in an ancient coin, and he was invited by the purchaser to view his residence. The trader followed his guide through several long ranges of stalls, in each of which a horse stood motionless, while an armed warrior lay equally still at his charger’s feet. ‘All these men,’ said the wizard in a whisper, ‘will awaken at the battle of Sheriffmoor.’ A horn and a sword hung suspended together at one extremity of the chamber. The former the jockey seized, and having sounded it, the horses stamped, the men arose and clashed their armour; while a voice like that of a giant pronounced these words:—
Who did not drew the sword before he blew the horn.”
Subsequent to this, Sir Walter proceeds to the relation of another kindred tradition, the incidents of which do not materially differ from those of the preceding. The scene of the Cheshire legend is placed in the neighbourhood of Macclesfield, in that county, and the sign of a public-house on Monk’s Heath may have arrested the attention of many travellers from London to Liverpool. This village hostel is known by the designation of the Iron Gates. The sign represents a pair of ponderous gates of that metal, opening at the bidding of a figure, enveloped in a cowl; before whom kneels another, more resembling a modern yeoman than one of the 12th or 13th century, to which period this legend is attributed. Behind this person is a white horse rearing, and in the back ground a view of Alderley Edge. The story is thus told of the tradition to which the sign relates:
A farmer from Mobberley was riding on a white horse over the heath, which skirts Alderley Edge. Of the good qualities of his steed he was justly proud; and while stooping down to adjust its mane, previously to his offering it for sale at Macclesfield, he was surprised by the sudden starting of the animal. On looking up he perceived a figure of more than common height, enveloped in a cowl, and extending a staff of black wood across his path. The figure addressed him in a commanding voice; told him that he would seek in vain to dispose of his steed, for whom a nobler destiny was in store, and bade him meet him when the sun had set, with his horse, at the same place. He then disappeared. The farmer resolving to put the truth of this prediction to the test, hastened on to Macclesfield Fair, but no purchaser could be obtained for his horse. In vain he reduced his price to half; many admired, but no one was willing to be the possessor of so promising a steed. Summoning, therefore, all his courage, he determined to brave the worst, and at sunset reached the appointed place. The monk was punctual to his appointment. Follow me, said he, and led the way by the Golden Stone, Stormy Point, to Saddle Bole.* On their arrival at this last named spot, the neigh of horses seemed to arise from beneath their feet. The stranger waved his wand, the earth opened and disclosed a pair of ponderous iron gates. Terrified at this, the horse plunged and threw his rider, who kneeling at the feet of his fearful companion, prayed earnestly for mercy. The monk bade him fear nothing, but enter the cavern, and see what no mortal eye ever yet beheld. On passing the gates he found himself in a spacious cavern, on each side of which were horses, resembling his own, in size and colour. Near these lay soldiers accoutred in ancient armour, and in the chasms of the rock were arms, and piles of gold and silver. From one of these the enchanter took the price of the horse in ancient coin, and on the farmer asking the meaning of these subterranean armies, exclaimed, “These are caverned warriors preserved by the good genius of England, until that eventful day, when distracted by intestine broils, England shall be thrice won and lost between sunrise and sunset. Then we awakening from our sleep, shall rise to turn the fate of Britain. This shall be when George, the son of George, shall reign. When the Forests of Delamere shall wave their arms over the slaughtered sons of Albion. Then shall the eagle drink the blood of princes from the headless cross (query corse.) Now haste thee home, for it is not in thy time these things shall be. A Cestrian shall speak it, and be believed.” The farmer left the cavern, the iron gates closed, and though often sought for, the place has never again been found.
The latter part of the monk’s prophecy has been fulfilled. Nixon, the well-known Cheshire seer foretold the same events in nearly the same words; but the belief in his dreams of futurity, has been much diminished by the decease of our late monarch. Recourse has been had, as in other works of greater moment, to various readings, and the probable mistakes of early transcribers, and many emendations have been proposed to supply the place of the name of George, but adhuc sub judice lis est. The Cestrian rustics of the neighbouring villages, still believe that at midnight the neighing of horses is audible under Alderley Edge.
* All places in the neighbourhood of Alderley Edge and Mobberley.
I love those tales of ancientry,
Those tales to fancy true,
That bring things back from fairyland
In all their glittering hue.
I love to hear of stalwart knights,
Of squires, and dwarfs, and fays,
Whose gambols in the pale moonlight
Fill rustics with amaze.
Those things are to a musing wight
Substantial things to view.
I love those tales of ancientry,
Those tales to fancy true.
I love those tales my grandame told
When I sat on her knee,
And looked into her aged face
With wonder filled and glee;
Those tales that made me quake with fear,
Though trembling with delight,
As some huge giant fell to earth
When vanquished in the fight;
Or some magician gave his aid
To whom that aid was due.
Once on a time there was a man,
A miller he by trade,
Down by yon brook he had his mill,
Where now the bridge is made:
An honest man that miller was,
An honest name did own,
His word would pass for forty pounds
Where’er that name was known;
And no one doubted what he said,
For credence was his due.
The miller had a noble horse,
It was an iron-grey;
It had a flowing mane and tail,
And pranced in spirit gay;
It looked like to a warrior’s steed
Its bearing was so good:
And much the miller prized his horse,
And boasted of his blood.
He rode him hard, but fed him well,
And he was sleek to view.
The miller to the market went
All on a market day,
And, as his custom always was,
Bestrode his gallant grey;
He bought and sold and profit made,
And added to his store.
Then homeward went along the road
He oft had gone before.
But his good steed and he must part,
Though grievous the adieu.
His way lay o’er a barren heath,
Where now are farms and fields,
For land where naught but thistles grew
Now wheat and barley yields;
The time was toward the gloaming hour,
When things are dimly seen;
No house nor man was in his sight,
It was a lonely scene.
His horse springs sideways with a start
The thing is something new.
The grey horse made a sudden start,
The miller in amaze
Looked out, and in the twilight gloom
An ancient met his gaze;
An ancient man there stood to view
Where just before was none;
His horse stood still, and he himself
Felt rooted like a stone.
That aged man the silence broke:
The horse did start anew.
The man was clad like to a monk,
A reverend air had he;
A white beard floated from his chin,
He wore a rosary.
He stretched his hand (ere yet he spoke),
A hand of skin and bone;
(The goodly grey seemed reft of power,
And seemed to turn to stone).
Mildly he on the miller looked,
The miller powerless too.
‘I want thy horse, sell me thy horse,
That good and gallant steed;
I’ll give thee gold to fill thy purse,
For much thy horse I need.’
So spoke that old mysterious monk.
The miller quoth he, ‘Nay,
I would be loath to sell my horse,
My good, my gallant grey:
For if I should my grey horse sell,
I might the bargain rue.’
‘I want thy horse, sell me thy horse,’
Again that old monk said
‘Name but the price, whate’er it be
It quickly shall be paid.
But certes ’tis, thy horse and thee
Must part within the hour.
Take gold whilst gold thou mayst receive,
And whilst to give I’ve power.’
The miller heaved a bitter sigh,
The grey horse trembled too.
‘I want thy horse, sell me thy horse,’
A third time spoke the man;
‘Again I say I’ll give thy price;
Then yield him whilst thou can;
For I have power to make him mine
Despite what thou mayst say,
But good King Arthur told me first
To ask thy price and pay:
It is for him I want thy horse,
And gold I bid in lieu.
‘For good King Arthur did not die,
As idle tales have said,
And years and years must pass away
Ere he sleeps with the dead.
For Merlin from the battle bore
His friend and King away,
That he might lead his chivalry
In England’s needful day:
It is for him I want thy steed;
Then yield thy King his due.’
There was a magic in his voice
That charmed, yet filled with fear,
And made his words fall like commands
Upon the listener’s ear.
An impulse by his voice was given,
Which no man might gainsay.
The miller said he’d sell his horse,
He heard but to obey.
‘Then follow me,’ the old monk said,
‘And I will pay thy due.’
The monk strode right across the heath,
The miller followed too;
Till they came to a green hillside
With an iron gate in view.
The miller knew the country well,
Each rock, each brake, each dell,
But could not in his mem’ry trace
The portal of that hill.
The monk bade ope the Iron Gate,
And open wide it flew.
The monk led through that Iron Gate,
The miller past likewise;
They scarce were through, it sudden closed
With loud and thundering noise;
And whilst they were within the hill
A strange mysterious light
Shone all around, and still revealed
Each wonder to the sight;
And much the miller was amazed
At all that met his view.
For first the monk the miller led
To cavern large and wide,
In which lay twice ten thousand men,
All sleeping side by side;
And they were cased in armour all
Of purest steel so bright,
And each man’s falchion near him lay
All ready for the fight;
And shield and lance each warrior had
Ready disposed in view.
And as the monk passed slowly on,
Each warrior turned him o’er,
Awoke a moment from their sleep,
Then sank down as before.
‘It is not time it is not time!’
The old monk calmly said,
‘And till the time is perfected
This rock must be thy bed;
For ye are for a noble work,
And are a noble crew.’
Then to the miller turning round,
He said with accents bland,
‘These are King Arthur’s chivalry,
The noblest in the land
Each warrior stretched before thee now
Hath been well tried in fight,
And proved himself before the foe
To be a valiant knight;
By Merlin’s power all here are laid,
But will go forth anew.
‘When England’s troubles painful grow,
And foemen cause her grief
Then Arthur and his noble knights
Will haste to her relief;
And then with deeds of chivalry
All England will resound;
And none so worthy as these knights
Will in the land be found;
For they are England’s paladins,
Men great and gallant too.’
Then onwards to another cave
The old monk led the way,
Where twice ten thousand gallant steeds
Were slumbering time away,
And by each horse a serving man.
It was a noble sight,
To see that band of gallant steeds
All harnessed for the fight!
And when the miller’s horse came there
He fell and slumbered too.
‘Your horse is mine,’ the old man said;
‘A noble price I’ll pay;
Thou seest he’s mine, for now thou canst
Not move him hence away;
He’ll good King Arthur’s war steed be,
And bear him bravely forth:
When thy head, honest miller,
Forgets all things on earth,
By Merlin he preserved will be,
As now he is to view.’
Then forth the old monk led the way
To a cave of smaller size:
But who may tell the sight that met
The miller’s wond’ring eyes!
A glowing light that cave contained,
Which fell on stone and gem;
And they threw back that glowing light
As all too mean for them;
And sparkling shone that glittering cave
With stones of every hue.
And there the miller saw huge heaps
Of gold in coin and ore.
The monk he bade the miller take
His horse’s price and more.
‘Take what thou wilt, take what thou canst,
I stint thee not,’ saith he;
The miller thought of his tolling dish,
And helped himself right free;
He took such store of gems and gold
To walk he’d much ado.
The monk then led him forth the hill
To th’ open heath again,
And said, ‘Thou art a favoured man
Within that hill to have been.
’Tis but to some few mortals given
To see that iron door;
And once thy back is to it turned
Thou’lt see it there no more.
In peace pass on—thy way lies there:
I bid thee, friend, Adieu,’
The miller looked, the monk was gone,
And he stood there alone,
And turning toward the Iron Gate,
Saw but the hill of stone.
The miller lived a prosperous man,
And long dwelt at the mill,
And oft to seek the Iron Gate
He wandered towards the hill;
But never more that gate he saw,
For aye it shunned his view.
And it was said that wizard monk
Had told him wondrous things,
Of all that must to England hap
Through a long line of kings;
Had made him wise beyond all men.
And certes he looked grave,
When asked what things the monk revealed,
Or what reward he gave;
But years, long years have past and gone
Since he gave death his due.
And since his death full many a man
Has sought that Iron Gate,
And wandered near that grey hillside
At early morn and late;
But still the gate is kept from view,
By Merlin watched each hour,
And will till off King Arthur rides
With all his knightly power;
But no one knows when that may be.
My tale is told—Adieu,
Such was the tale my grandame told
Whilst I sat on her knee,
And looked into her aged face
With wonder filled and glee;
And such a tale I loved to hear,
And listen yet I can
For oft what has beguiled the child
Will still beguile the man
Those things are to a musing wight
Substantial things to view.
I love those tales of ancientry,
Those tales to fancy true.
Who is he?—He
Who, beneath the Holy Well
Where secrets dwell
Where the Iron Gates are hid:
Who, when the time is right, will bid
Them to expand and show
Their treasure heap,
And, striking with his wand,
Awake from sleep
Steeds and an armed band,
The which for England’s safety ’tis decreed
Will issue forth when in her utmost need:
He, who on the heights of Alderley awaits
The coming of the day:
He, who is seldom seen by mortal sight,
And seen, seen only in the gloom of night
On Milk-white steed:
He is the Wizard, whom the Fates
Have bid to do the deed,
Strike with his wand the Iron Gates,
And wake the Armed Band!
What part of the Edge was supposed to conceal the Iron Gates is now utterly unknown, but somewhere not far from Stormy Point and the Holy Well is most generally suspected by the inhabitants in the neighbourhood to be the spot. It is an old tradition, long told by the firesides in Alderley; and even to the present day, there is, among many of the people who live near the Edge, a pretty strong belief that the Wizard does now and then appear, and that he and his sleeping warriors will some day come forth.
The sign at Monksheath represents a pair of large iron gates thrown widely open, discovering the entrance into a cavern; near the mouth of the cavern stands an old man drest in flowing dark robes, and at his feet a countryman kneels with every appearance of terror in his looks. The old man holds by the bridle a beautiful white horse starting back, as if scared at some unusual sight. In the back ground, is seen the Beacon, and view of Alderley Edge.
The sign of the alehouse on Alderley Edge represents The Wizard standing beneath some old fir trees, and pointing to the distant plain of Cheshire, as if he was shewing where the battle would be fought, the fate of which he and his enchanted army would on some future day decide.
The tradition says, that a Farmer from Mobberley, mounted on a milk-white horse, was crossing the heathy heights of Alderley on his way to Macclesfield, his errand being to sell the animal on which he rode. He had reached a spot now known by the name of the Thieves’ Hole, and was thinking as he slowly rode along, upon the profitable bargain which he hoped to make, when he was startled by the sudden appearance, in the uncertain light of a gray autumnal morning, of an old man, tall, and somewhat strangely clad in a dark and flowing garment. The old man, in a commanding tone, bade him stop; told him that he knew the errand upon which he was bent; and tendered him a price for his horse, which the Farmer refused, not thinking it sufficient. “Go, then, on to Macclesfield,” said the old man, “but, mark my words, you will not sell the horse, no purchaser will appear; should you find my words come true, meet me here this evening, and I will buy your horse.”
The farmer laughed at the old man’s prophecy that he would not find a purchaser for so fine a horse: but willingly promised to meet him if he should fail. On then to the Fair at Macclesfield he went. To his great surprise and still greater disappointment, though all admired, none were found to buy his beautiful horse; and accordingly in somewhat lowered spirits, the farmer turned his steps homeward, not much relying on the strange old man’s promise.
As he approached the hollow part of the road before mentioned, there, seated on a stone, and wrapt in his dark mantle, he saw the mysterious old man who had accosted him in the morning. The rays of the setting sun fell upon the tall motionless figure before him. The farmer checked his horse’s pace, and began to consider the question of how far it might be prudent to deal with a perfect stranger in so lonely a place, and one too that bore no good name, and when the day light was departing. However, before he had time to act upon this consideration, the old man rose from his seat and stood beside him. “Follow me,” he said, and silently he led the way, by the Seven Firs, the Golden Stone, by Stormy Point, and Saddle Bole. They passed still silently on, when just as the wondering farmer was beginning to think that he would rather not go further, the old man abruptly paused,— and the horseman fancied that he heard a horse’s neigh under ground. It was repeated, and stretching forth his arm, the old man (who now seemed of more than mortal stature to the affrighted rider,) touched the rock with a wand, and immediately there arose before his eyes a ponderous pair of Iron Gates. With a sound like thunder the gates flew open, the horse reared bolt upright, the terrified farmer fell on his knees, and prayed the wondrous man to spare his life. “Fear nothing,” quoth the Wizard, “but enter boldly, and behold the sight which no mortal eye has ever yet looked upon.”
They went into the Cave. In a long succession of caverns, the farmer saw a countless number of men and horses, the latter all milk white—fast asleep. In the innermost cavern, heaps of treasure were piled up on the ground. From these glittering heaps the old man bade the farmer take the price he desired for his horse. Then again the old man spoke:— “You see these men and horses; the number was not complete, your horse was wanted to make it so. Remember my words. There will come a day when these men and these horses, awakening from their enchanted slumber, will descend into the plain, decide the fate of a great battle, and save their country. This shall be when George the son of George shall reign. Go home in safety—leave your horse with me. No harm will befal you; but henceforward no mortal eye will ever look upon The Iron Gates. Begone!”
The farmer lost no time in obeying, he heard the Iron Gates close with the same fearful sound as before, and made the best of his way to Mobberley. It may easily be believed that when his tale was told, many were the attempts made to discover the cavern of the sleeping warriors; many and fruitless were they all.
From that day to this, though more than a century has past away, no human eye has seen The Iron Gates.
In 1805, a letter was published in the Manchester Mail, signed “A Perambulator,” and dated Macclesfield. It mentions that “Returning to Macclesfield by way of Monksheath, the Perambulator could not help noticing a new sign which had lately superseded the ancient one of the Coach and Horses at a public-house there, and, as the subject appeared to him somewhat singular, he endeavoured to ascertain the story on which it was founded; supposing, as he afterwards learnt, that it bore some allusion to a popular tradition which had been long current in that neighbourhood.” He then gives the story very nearly the same as that just narrated, heading it with the following lines:—
“Being a short account of the legend of the Iron Gates, or the Enchanted Army; collected from the tradition of the neighbourhood, and some slight written documents, but chiefly from the report of a very old man, commonly known among his junior brethren by the familiar appellation of ‘Old Daddy,’1 and who had spent the greater part of his life in the service of the Stanley family. The story used to be told by Parson Shrigley, formerly Clerk and late Curate of Alderley, as generally believed by all the neighbouring peasantry, and he placed the meeting of the Mobberley farmer and the Enchanter at about eighty years before his time, and the spot where the Iron Gates were seen, at the foot of the Beacon.”
Shrigley was Curate of Alderley in 1753; he died in 1776.
The story has been told mixed up with some prophecies that do not properly belong to it. The raven, who is to drink the best blood of England, from the Headless Cross, is one of Nixon’s prophecies relating to events which were to happen on the Forest of Delamere; so, too, is that of England being thrice in one day lost and won; when the son of a miller, with three thumbs, shall hold three Kings’ horses, up to his knees in blood.
A tradition very similar to this is told by Sir Walter Scott, as having happened in the Eildon Hills; the wondrous old man being no other than Thomas of Erceldoune. In this story, the colour of the horses is black, and in the cavern there hangs a sword and horn, which are pointed out to the horse-dealer as a means of dissolving the spell.
The man chooses the horn, which choice happens to be the wrong one; the sound produces an astonishing clamour, the horses start up, stamp, and shake their bridles, the men arise and clash their armour, whilst louder than all this tumult a voice is heard pronouncing these words:—
That did not draw the sword before he blew the horn.”
A whirlwind expels the terrified horse-dealer from the cavern, the entrance to which neither he nor any body else can ever again find out.
Thomas Ridgeway, speaking of this tradition of the Iron Gates, used to tell of a young woman who lived as a fellow-servant with him in his youth at Fallows Hall—her name was Ellen Beck. Ellen was wont to say, that she had seen the Iron Gates not far from the Holy Well, and returning with some person for the purpose of examining them, they were not to be found. She used to describe them as two large iron folding gates.2
The people living on the Edge persuade themselves that they hear music sometimes under ground. There are some now living who tell a wonderful tale of sounds and sights that they have heard and witnessed.
1 Thomas Broadhurst.
2 This Ellen Beck’s was a sad history—a Tragedy of real life, and alas it is to be feared, not a very rare one.
It would seem from the stories of two old men from whose recollections many an annal of the Parish has been collected, that they had both known her well. One of them had been her fellow-servant at Fallows Hall, She afterwards lived at the Old Hall, at Alderley. Ellen had a lover, who probably trifled with her affections. There was another young woman in the house of whom she was very jealous. One day, as she sate upon his knee, she asked him if he would marry her, and pressed him to fix a day: he put her off and refused. She then entreated him to give her poison. “Nay,” answered he, “I love thee too well.” Poor Ellen, however, found the poison for herself. Her happiness and peace he had poisoned sufficiently. She was found a lifeless corpse,
But still the Coroner found
That she by her own hand had died,
And should buried be by the wayside,
And not in Christian ground.”
And the body of poor Ellen Beck rests in a quiet grave where the grass grows green above her, under a hollow bank near the Brindlow Wood, in one of Armstrong’s Fields. It is a farm now tenanted by William Hulme. Ellen’s Grave is well known by all the people thereabouts—any one will point it out. Some years ago three upright stones marked the spot, but one Dewsbury took them up and threw them into the lane—they are no longer to be seen.
Connected with Alderley Edge there is a curious tradition which preserves a very ancient fragment of mythological belief; and is, therefore, worthy of notice.
The legend of the wizard of Alderley Edge first appeared in print in the Manchester Mail of 1805, by a correspondent who obtained it from the narration of a servant of the Stanleys, whose proper name was Thomas Broadhurst, but who was better known as “Old Daddy.” According to this veteran the tradition says that on upon a time a farmer from Mobberley, mounted on a milk-white horse, was crossing the Edge on his way to Macclesfield to sell the animal. He had reached a spot known as the Thieves’ Hole, and, as he slowly rode along thinking of the profitable bargain which he hoped to make, was startled by the sudden appearance of an old man, tall and strangely clad in a deep flowing garment. The old man ordered him to stop, told him that he knew the errand upon which the rider was bent, and offered a sum of money for the horse. The farmer, however, refused the offer, not thinking it sufficient. “Go, then, to Macclesfield,” said the old man, “but mark my words, you will not sell the horse. Should you find my words come true, meet me this evening, and I will buy your horse.” The farmer laughed at such a prophecy, and went on his way. To his great surprise, and greater disappointment, nobody would buy, though all admired his beautiful horse. He was, therefore, compelled to return. On approaching the Edge he saw the old man again. Checking his horse’s pace, he began to consider how far it might be prudent to deal with a perfect stranger in so lonely a place. However, while he was considering what to do, the old man commanded him, “Follow me!” Silently the old man led him by the Seven Firs, the Golden Stone, by Stormy Point, and Saddle Boll. Just as the farmer was beginning to think he had gone far enough he fancied that he heard a horse neighing underground. Again he heard it. Stretching forth his arm the old man touched a rock with a wand, and immediately the farmer saw a ponderous pair of iron gates, which, with a sound like thunder, flew open. The horse reared bolt upright, and the terrified farmer fell on his knees praying that his life might be spared. “Fear nothing,” spoke the Wizard, “and behold a sight which no mortal eye has ever looked upon.” They went into the cave. In a long succession of caverns the farmer saw a countless number of men and horses, the latter milk-white, and all fast asleep. In the innermost cavern heaps of treasure were piled up on the ground. From these glittering heaps the old man bade the farmer take the price he desired for his horse, and thus addressed him: “You see these men and horses; the number was not complete. Your horse was wanted to make it complete. Remember my words, there will come a day when these men and these horses, awakening from their enchanted slumber, will descend into the plain, decide the fate of a great battle, and save their country. This shall be when George the son of George shall reign. Go home in safety. Leave your horse with me. No harm will befal you; but henceforward no mortal eye will ever look upon the iron gates. Begone!” The farmer lost no time in obeying. He heard the iron gates close with the same fearful sounds with which they were opened, and made the best of his way to Mobberley.
This tradition found a place in the Hon. Miss L. D. Stanley’s “Alderley and its neighbourhood,” and has since been often quoted. Colonel Egerton Leigh has printed two rhyming versions, the one by Mr. James Roscoe, which is the most modern, and from a literary point of view the best, names the wondrous sleepers as King Arthur and his knights.
The antiquity of the tradition is not easily ascertainable, the story used to be told by Parson Shrigley, and he placed the meeting of the Mobberley Farmer and the Enchanter at about eighty years before his time. Shrigley was curate of Alderley in 1753. He died in 1776.
First, regarding dates and names, it will be noted that the earlier writers seem rather coy when it comes to mentioning their names, and that the second source I’ve listed, The Cheshire Enchanter or the Legend of the Iron Gates, has no printer’s date. Also, some versions were printed more than once in different books. Some explanations are therefore due.
The copy of The Cheshire Enchanter or the Legend of the Iron Gates I’ve used appears to be the second edition of a pamphlet that is referred to in the preface to Alderley Edge and its Neighbourhood: ‘The Legend of the Iron Gates being out of print, and that at a time when Alderley Edge seems more attractive than ever, a new Edition will, it is thought, prove welcome to some of its visitors…’ Thus we can be sure it predates 1843. Similarly it may be deduced that it followed the letter by ‘A Perambulator’ in the Manchester Mail in 1805, as both the full title and the introduction mention how it serves to explain the pub sign ‘The Iron Gates’ at Monks Heath. However that still doesn’t give it an exact printing date, which must remain a matter of supposition.
Though the original book Alderley Edge and its Neighbourhood gives only the title and the printer’s name, the 1972 reprint of the book I used gives the date of first printing as being 1843, while the author is identified as the Hon. Louisa Dorothea Stanley (the third daughter of John Thomas, First Lord Stanley of Alderley) in William Axon’s version and elsewhere. I have therefore used this information when citing the source.
The James Roscoe version I’ve given was taken from my copy of Egerton Leigh’s Ballads and Legends of Cheshire (Longmans and Co, London, 1876). However, since it first appeared in the February 1839 issue of Blackwoods Magazine I have given that as its source and date, in an attempt to keep the versions in chronological order.
So many versions of this legend have been written I’ve confined myself to the 19th century ones. I was tempted to leave out the very lengthy and rather flowery James Roscoe version, but included it on the grounds that it was the first to identify the sleeping army as being Arthur and his Knights (something often assumed, but not stated in the earliest printed versions).
Inns and alehouses
It’s amusing to realise that the ball was started rolling – as regards going into print at least – as a result of a pub’s efforts to promote itself to passing potential customers. The Coach and Horses was presumably in the process of changing its name to The Iron Gates at the time ‘A Perambulator’ noticed its new sign, which was to prompt him to enquire about the legend. Another pub, more or less at the spot on the Macclesfield road where the farmer encountered the wizard, was originally built as The Miners Arms in the 1780s, but was renamed The Wizard Inn in 1843, and adopted a similar sign; apparently Lady Stanley, viewing the new sign, hoped that people would not ‘mistake it for My Lord in his dressing gown’ (Clare Pye, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge Photographic Memories, Francis Frith, 2004). White’s History and Gazetteer of Cheshire, 1860, lists it as The Wizard of the Edge, so evidently it changed its name yet again, though I don’t know what year the name change took place.
These pubs were not to remain, however. According to popular tradition, this was because Lord Stanley was outraged to see men drinking at one of the pubs when they should have been working (another version has it that they were making fun of him as he passed). But the actual reason appears to be because Henry John Stanley, the third Baron Stanley was a Muslim, being converted in 1862. He inherited the estate in 1869 (becoming the first Muslim peer to sit in the House of Lords), and his religious beliefs prevented him from allowing the sale of alcohol on his land. He did, however, allow the Wizard to reopen as a tearoom to cater to the many visitors to the Edge. It is now a restaurant with a licence to sell alcohol with meals, but it never regained a full licence to be a pub again. The Iron Gates at Monks Heath, and a third pub, The Eagle and Child (just to the south of Nether Alderley Mill on the Congleton road) are private houses. I have come across references to the Black Greyhound in Over Alderley being included in the list of closed pubs, but in White’s 1860 History and Gazetteer of Cheshire it isn’t listed under ‘Inns and Taverns’ but just appearing as ‘Gould John, vict., [ie victualler] Black Grey Hound’. So unless the words ‘licensed’ and ‘Inn’ are supposed to be taken as read, it would appear that it had already lost its licence to sell alcohol and was included through association rather than due to fact.
Staying on the subject of pub names and signs for a little longer, a reference is made to the Iron Gates further on in Axon’s chapter about the Wizard of the Edge, where he discusses other, similar legends about sleeping heroes that are to be found elsewhere in the world. He quotes Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, who is commenting on the legend of Sir Guy the Seeker:
When Lewis wrote ‘…in Lancashire, where an alehouse, near Chorley…’ he was confusing Chorley in Lancashire with Chorley in Cheshire. Chorley was the earlier name of the town now called Alderley Edge, a term which until the late nineteenth century referred only to the geographical feature. The name change came about after the Stockport and Crewe section of the Manchester & Birmingham Railway opened in 1842, with a station at Chorley. The railway company, presumably not wanting people to confuse the two places called Chorley, named the station ‘Alderley’. This became ‘Alderley and Chorley’ in 1853 and finally ‘Alderley Edge’ in 1876 (R.C.V. Butt, Directory of Railway Stations, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1995). The town, which had grown enormously as a Manchester commuter town thanks to the coming of the railway, was officially renamed Alderley Edge, and the name of Chorley, once a village and township in Wilmslow parish, now only refers to a small civil parish to the west of the present civil parish of Alderley Edge.
I’m unable to explain why Lewis should describe the sign at the Iron Gates as depicting Sir John Stanley ‘following an old man with a torch, while his horse starts back with terror at the objects which are discovered through two immense iron gates’. He evidently thought that Sir John was the protagonist of the legend rather than the unnamed farmer, rather as Lady Stanley was to fear some years later when she made her remark about people mistaking the wizard on the sign at The Wizard Inn for her husband in his dressing gown.
The different versions
While the different versions all tell fundamentally the same story, each one has its own distinctive features.
‘A Perambulator’ uses the word Enchanter or Magician rather than Wizard, the term that would subsequently become integrated into the title of the legend (not to mention the pub). He writes of the farmer going to ‘Barnby Fair’ at Macclesfield, a reference which leaves me completely confounded, as the only Barnby Fair I’ve been able to find out about was one held at East Barnby in Yorkshire.
The Cheshire Enchanter or the Legend of the Iron Gates adds a good deal of elaboration, describing ‘Seven lofty firs’ as the place where the farmer met the wizard (as he is now called – though he’s still also referred to as an Enchanter). It introduces Stormy Point and Saddle Bole as the now familiar passing-points on the way to the Iron Gates – though it doesn’t mention Thieves’ Hole or Golden Stone. It also has the farmer ask the reason for the sleeping knights, and the wizard’s reply includes pieces of Robert Nixon’s prophesies. I am unable to explain why the introduction should be addressed to ‘my dear Young Ladies’, but it’s possible the unknown author may have been dedicating the book to the three daughters of the first Lord Stanley of Alderley.
‘H’ appears to be using The Cheshire Enchanter or the Legend of the Iron Gates as his source, but bear in mind I’m not quite sure about the chronology – it’s faintly possible this is the earlier version. Whichever it is, he is the first to mention Golden Stone as one of the points on the route; he also describes the old man as a monk rather than a wizard, though he preserves the term ‘Enchanter’ in the title.
James Roscoe departs from tradition in several ways. The farmer is now a miller, and his horse is grey instead of white; he is going to and from Macclesfield Market, but no longer to sell his horse; the old man is clad like a monk, and wears a rosary. None of the key passing points – Golden Stone, Stormy Point or Saddle Bole – is mentioned. For the first time the leader of the sleeping army is named as King Arthur; it is for him that the miller’s horse is required.
Though the monk says it was Merlin who put the spell on King Arthur, he doesn’t say how he himself comes into the picture – unless we are supposed to deduce that he is Merlin, which doesn’t seem to be the case.
He drops the references to Robert Nixon’s prophesies.
Louisa Stanley restores the traditional elements of the farmer selling his milk-white mare, but is the first to mention Thieves’ Hole as the place on the road to Macclesfield where the farmer met the wizard. This is slightly odd, as Thieves’ Hole is not on the Macclesfield road – at least the spot now described as being Thieves’ Hole is not. The obvious identifying spot for the encounter is the pub – but it was at that time a relatively modern building, so it could not be used in the legend.
William Axon sticks pretty closely to the by now well-established tale, though he has the wizard specifically tell the farmer that he is one horse short, an aspect that only James Roscoe thought to mention before, and in that case it is for King Arthur; William Axon however does not bring the Arthurian twist into his version (nor indeed does anyone else in this selection, though it is often assumed, and even stated in some later versions).
The origins of the legend
Regarding the legend itself, it’s impossible to overlook how closely the Alderley one resembles the story of Thomas of Erceldoune referred to by Sir Walter Scott (as mentioned in two of the sources above). For comparison with the legend of Alderley Edge I’ve included a fuller version of this story, Canobie Dick and Thomas of Ercildoun, published in 1889. In each case a man selling a horse meets a mysterious stranger who offers to buy it from him, and who leads him into a cave filled with sleeping knights. The only substantial differences are the fact that the stranger identifies himself as Thomas the Rhymer, the way the horse dealer sells several horses to him, the colour of the horses, and the sword and horn test. But the differences shrink further if an earlier version, referred to by Walter Scott himself, is taken into account. It appears in the third edition of Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (published in 1665), in a section added by an anonymous author. The following extract comes from the 1886 edition by Brinsley Nicholson, where some archaic spellings are updated for clarity:
By the affirmation of the person that had Communication with him, the last of his Appearances was on this following manner; I had been, said he, to sell a Horse at the next Market Town, but not attaining my price, as I returned home by the way I met this man aforesaid who began to be familiar with me, asking what news, and how affairs moved throughout the Country; I answered as I thought fit; withall I told him of my Horse whom he began to cheapen, and proceeded with me so far, that the price was agreed upon; so he turned back with me and told me, that if I would go along with him, I should receive my Money; on our way we went, I upon my Horse and he on another milk white beast; after much discourse I askt him where he dwelt, and what his name was; he told me, That his dwelling was about a mile off, at a place called Farran; of which place I had never heard though I knew all the Country round about; he also told me, That he himself was that person of the Family of Learmonts so much spoken off for a Prophet; At which I began to be somewhat fearful, perceiving us in a road which I had never been in before, which increased my fear and admiration more. Well on we went till he brought me under ground I know not how into the presence of a beautiful woman that payd me the moneys without a word speaking; he conducted me out again through a large and long entry, where I saw above 600 men in Armour layd prostrate on the ground as if asleep: at last I found my self in the open field by the help of Moon-light in that very place where first I met him, and made shift to get home by three in the morning, but the money I received was just double of what I esteemed it, and what the woman payd me, of which at this instant I have several pieces to show consisting of nine pences, thirteen pence halfpennies, &c.
This earlier version is considerably closer to the Alderley one; the sword and horn test is absent, and the horse is milk-white rather than coal-black, as in the Canobie Dick version. The man is on his way back from a market town, having failed to sell his horse for the price he wanted; the sale of a horse occurs only once, not on a series of occasions. The only significant differences are that the old man is indirectly identified as Thomas the Rhymer (the reference to ‘the Family of Learmonts’), and the payment being made by a beautiful woman (who, Walter Scott supposes, is the Fairy Queen, since Thomas the Rhymer is her lover). I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest this 17th century story of Thomas the Rhymer was the nucleus of the 18th century story of the Cheshire Enchanter. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that Parson Shrigley had a copy of Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, and that, having read the story, he decided to tailor a version in order to entertain his parishioners. All he had to do was to add a bit of local colour, and the legend of the Wizard of Alderley Edge would have been created.
The legend today
The legend of the Wizard of Alderley is probably one of the best known and most appealing of Cheshire folktales; it has been retold many times, and has led to the Edge becoming an even more popular tourist spot than it already was. It was used as a basis of the excellent children’s books The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, by local author Alan Garner, which made it even more widely known. He set parts of the tales in the old copper mines which riddle the Edge, and which may have inspired the setting of the legend here. The Edge itself may perhaps have become a little too popular, which takes much of the magic out of the place, but the mines definitely have the right atmosphere for such a story, and anyone visiting the Edge should consider taking a look inside them: see the Derbyshire Caving Club website for details of guided tours.
Thieves’ Hole is supposed to be a hollow just opposite what is now the National Trust warden’s cottage, and Seven Firs is identified as being just south of Engine Vein mine in a paper on the archaeology of the area, while Golden Stone, Stormy Point and Saddlebole (as it is now spelled) can be found on contemporary maps.
Though not directly related to the legend, the Edge has also become a place to visit on Halloween, perhaps because of its being chosen as a venue for a group of New-Age witches back in the 1960s. Hundreds of people go up there in the evening and wander round all over the Edge in the darkness.