Some Weaverham Characters
Before the Reformation our vicar was appointed by the Abbot of Vale Royal, and following that, by the Bishop of Chester – with ONE exception – the Rev Edward Shalcrosse, who was appointed ‘by lapse’ by the Queen in 1575, although she probably didn’t know him.
In Queen Elizabeth 1st’s reign news took a long time to reach the northwest of England. When it did, Cheshire as a whole did not react favourably to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, but out of a troublesome county, Weaverham was the worst parish – indeed, according to some A-level textbooks, it seems it was the worst in the country! The church had no copy of the bible in English, and no strong chest for alms for the poor, and there was Morris dancing in the church. Worse: Bells were rung on All Saints Day, there were crosses in the churchyard, rush bearing took place in the church – all of which was forbidden as superstition and smacked of popery.
Rev Edward Shalcrosse was severely criticised in the Bishop of Chester’s visitations of 1575, 1590 and 1592. It would appear that, like many of his parishioners, who attended the Ale houses rather than the church on Sundays, the Rev. Shalcrosse was a common drunkard. He didn’t wear his surplice in service time, he was an extortioner – doubling the amount of money he was allowed to charge for funerals etc. and he took bribes for certifying false penances. He only gave one sermon in three years and so the list went on. During the 1592 visitation he was so drunk coming back home from the Alehouse, he fell into a ditch. His parishioners had to help him out and carry him back to the vicarage. Despite all this, and more, he remained our vicar for the next 15 years a total of almost 32 years.
Fast forwarding a hundred and fifty years, according to the church wardens accounts 6d was spent in 1726 taking care that Grace Webster make no disturbance upon Easter Sunday, and in 1818 George Fluet caused quite a stir by going to church on Sundays disguised in women’s clothes. 3s 0d was spent to pay for the church warden and another gentleman to travel to Winnington Hall to consult Sir John Stanley about it.
There is a story that 300 years later Captain Hatton, an inhabitant of Weaverham was convicted of piracy at the beginning of the 19th century. He was sentenced to death by hanging. The old law said that a man ‘should hang for one hour and his body be given to his friends’. He was a little man and he had a silver tube inserted in his throat so that when his friends came to perform the last rites, it is said that he was seated on his coffin taking a stimulant. We are told that this is the reason the law was changed to say a man ‘shall be hanged by the neck until he be dead’. Is this story mythical or factual? Apparently, there are similar stories all over the country. Yet, there are no official records of anyone at this time cheating death by swallowing a silver tube, although several people did survive in the early days of hanging despite the efforts of the ‘hangers on’, without inserting a tube in the throat. In the 1650’s Anne Green of Oxford was a notable case. Of course, in the early 19th century, the Authorities wouldn’t want it to be widely known that a criminal could cheat death and avoid ‘justice’, so are the stories mythical or did the Government prefer not to acknowledge the matter? We will never know, but the wording of the law was definitely changed at this time.
Then there is Mr Wilde, an invalid, who lived at Weaverham Wood Farm in the 1870’s. His housekeeper, Miss Trim, could not have been a very good cook, because the farm workers would often complain about their meals and refuse to eat them. Mr Wilde would then shout to Miss Trim in a very loud voice ‘Wheel me in’ and when she took him to the kitchen in his wheeled chair, he would sit and stare at the workers until they ate their meal.
Thomas and William Yarwood burgled a house in order to retrieve the money the owner owed their family business for an unpaid bill. They were sentenced to death, but this was commuted to transportation to Australia in 1814, in Thomas’s case, for life. He arrived, age 18 in Sydney in 1815. Due to good behaviour he was granted a Ticket of Leave in 1818, and married his girlfriend, Sarah, who had followed him out there from Weaverham. They changed their name to Wood, had several children and, by 1822 Thomas was a landowner. By 1828 he was a farmer with 40 acres of land and two servants. A story with a surprisingly happy ending.
The Reverend Charles Spencer Stanhope was vicar from 1835 until his death in 1874, a total of 39 years. He, too, was once accused of Popery – but that’s another story. He was extremely absent minded and eccentric. When he was vicar the choir sang in the gallery and the tunes for the hymns were confined to those the barrel organ could play. He would sometimes change the appointed hymn and announce one not on the barrel organ. The organist, Mr Bayley Bebbington would shout down from the gallery telling the congregation which hymn the organ could and would play and which the choir would sing. If the vicar thought the singing was too slow, he would shout ‘A bit quicker Bayley, a bit quicker,’ whilst swinging his arm in imitation of the turning of the barrel organ.
He wrote his sermons on loose sheets of paper which frequently got out of order which, we are told, ‘enlivened his discourses on many occasions.’ When he returned from his honeymoon he happily drove away from the station leaving his wife on the platform. He was nearly home before he realised what he had done.