Earl of Crawford’s body was stolen by a rat catcher

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

Geoffrey Shryhane takes a look back at a macabre story from Wigan’s history...

Did you know that some Earls of Crawford are buried in a crypt under Wigan Parish Church?

Not so much today, but many former earls whose home was Haigh Hall played a vital part in the life of our town.

But their connection with Wigan came to an end when in 1947 the hall was sold to Wigan Council.

Thumbing through musty old documents, “My World” came across a spooky story following the death of the 25th earl who was once our MP and in 1873 had the honour of entertaining the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Let me tell you the story...

When the great man died in 1880 in Florence he was brought home and buried in the family mausoleum in Scotland.

But within a year, his body had been stolen, later to be found in a sandpit not far away.

There was only one course of action – bring the body to Wigan to lie with his ancestors.

In the early hours of the morning, police lined the route from the station to the church. At dawn staff and workmen from Haigh Hall, carrying lanterns, screened off the vault from public gaze.

In the grey light, the earl’s oak coffin was lowered and then carried to its final resting place.

The dowager Lady Crawford and relatives visited the vault, after which it was re-sealed.

Later a Scottish rat catcher was sentenced to five years penal servitude.

+++

Mines and miners are in the news. It won’t happen overnight, but there are plans to honour the thousands of pitmen with a statue.

Could cost £100,000. So there’s a long way to go.

Time has gone by since the last Wigan mine ground to a halt, and since then the terms for mining jobs have faded.

So today, thanks to Cyril, My World is resurrecting some, and I wager that even some of the terms are totally unknown to many. So here goes:

Scotcher: A miner who inserts metal lockers (or scotchers) in tub wheels to bring them to a halt.

Lasher on: A miner who couples a chain onto a moving haulage rope.

Engine tenter: Looks after stationary haulage engines.

Door tenter: A young miner who used to open underground doors to allow passage of tubs.

Hever: A miner at the coal face breaking down the coal.

Drawer: A miner who assists with filling the tubs.

Shunt minder: One who marshalled full tubs for haulage to the pit bottom.

Dataller: A miner of all general underground duties.

Pusher on: A miner responsible for moving coal supplies.

Pumper: A miner in charge of maintaining underground water pumps.

Packer: A miner who filled cavities left after coal had been removed.

Pony drawer: In the old days, a miner was in charge of the ponies that hauled the tubs.

Ripper: A miner who enlarged underground roadways after coal had been removed.

Spragger: A miner who followed the cutting putting props (or sprags) in a coal cutting seam.

Timberlad: A young miner who supplied supports to the faceman.

My World reader Alan Farrimond has sent in these mill terms, remembered from his days working at Eckesley’s Mill, where his boss was Dave Whelan’s dad.

Stripper: cleaning equipment during the “stop” times.

Doffers: the girls who took away completed bobbins.

Jobbers: men who changed the spinning frame settings.

Carders: worked with raw cotton and removed impurities.

+++

They stood on street corners bawling their heads off. They were the newspaper sellers of yesteryear.

Sadly these characters – mostly men – have quite literally slipped into history. No bawling “Chronicle” any more.

And what happened to Juddy on his bicycle? He took the final editions of newspapers around at eight o’clock at night. He had bags of customers for the pink, and his bag empty he peddled off into the winter mist.

In those days, few people could imagine that in times to come, a lot of the news would be on the internet at the touch of a button.

One of the most well-known Wigan newspaper sellers was Bill Wright, who occupied a damp cellar in Rowbottom Square, home of this newspaper until 1966.

Bill was a big chap with a fiercely ruddy complexion and a flat cap. Fashion had never been his strong point.

To watching him selling several newspapers and juggling small change at the same time was visual poetry.

He had the biggest shout in Wigan.

Seems to me that there are fewer “characters” about these days. In the 60s and 70s there were dozens. Folks who were “different” who, despite their oddness, seem to lead happy lives.

Spring to mind, “Ciggy” from Ince who always wore white pumps and cadged cigarettes from bus passengers.

And Skipping Lizzy, Mo Lyas, Soft Clara and German Billy Gun.

Yes, they made us laugh. But I like to think we laughed with them and not at them.

n If you recall some of our characters, please drop me a line here at the Observer at Martland Mill or email me at g.shryhane@btinternet.com.

+++

I’ve been thinking about the old days. Well, nothing unusual in that. Nostalgia is the name of my game and my memory was jogged by a photo of one of those old typewriters weighing almost as much as a bag of coal.

These days, when I settle into m My World office, I am often struck by the sound of silence. A dozen reporters can be bashing away on their laptops but the noise is minimum unlike the deafening sound of an office full of manual machines.

About 30 years ago, the noisy machines disappeared overnight, to be replaced by little personality-lacking computers. They changed all our lives and not, in my view, for the better. Yes three decades have gone by but I am not ashamed of admitting that I miss the simplicity of the typewriter. Other than needing a new ribbon every so often, they never went wrong.

Now computers are a different tale altogether and putting it mildly are a confounded nuisance and ever temperamental.

Me? I hate them with a vengeance. Screens freeze, cursers stick, material disappears into thin air, the internet’s always crashing, hard-drives die, the printer has a wonky life of its own, and so it goes on. It was never like this with those old typewriters. All you needed was sheets of paper.

I still have the manual I first used in the mid 50s onwards. Alas, I left it on a shelf in the garage and it’s sadly rusted. If you have an old working typewriter you no longer want, drop me a line at g.shryhane@btinternet.com. A new home awaits.

+++

I felt glum. Very glum last Monday when I lost my wallet. Money, credit cards, little family photos and my bus pass, which I’ll use when I get older. I only write the truth.

It happened like this. Used the cash machine outside our local post office, walked round a corner and climbed to the first floor dentist.

Drills whirred and fixative was fixed. Then back to reception to pay.

After several minutes of feeling myself up, I had to admit that the trusty old wallet was gone.

It’s a heart-sinking moment as those in the same situation know all too well.

Brief searches here and there but nope.

Down in the dumps, I came home and cancelled my debit card. Ten seconds later, the phone goes.

“Geoff” said this kind voice. “I’ve found your wallet.”

God is good!!!

It had somehow leapt out of my deep coat pocket.

Reunited with the precious lost item, the good lady said she spotted it on the ground outside the post office when she got off of the bus.

Needless to say, I thanked her profusely and gave her little girl a little £20 reward. She danced about with glee.

It is as I always say, 99.999% of people in this world are scrupulously honest.