The Cheshire town of Alderley Edge, located outside of Macclesfield, is renowned for its spectacular panoramic views, craggy rocks, and inspiring woodland, and thousands of people, from all corners of the world, visit the area, having been drawn by its sheer beauty and history. On a bright and sunny day, it is quite possible to see the mountain tops of Wales, to the Derbyshire Hills, and historical landmarks, such as Mow Cop, or Peckforton Castle. Before the arrival of the railway, in the mid nineteenth century, Alderley Edge was a small agricultural town known as Chorleigh, or Chorley, with many small cottages dotted around its landscape. Also present at this time was the De Trafford Arms Public House. The railway made life easier for people to visit, and many families, including wealthy landowners from neighbouring counties, established themselves here in 1864, thus bringing the town of Alderley Edge to life.
Legends abound whenever the village of Alderley Edge is mentioned, and it is said that King Arthur, together with his Knights, will one day rise again, when the country is in desperate need of a saviour. It is stated that King Arthur, somewhat bewilderingly, lies fast asleep in at least three different locations; in Cornwall, the Eildon Hills, and, of course, at Alderley Edge, where they are watched over by the Wizard, Merlin. If these legends are to be believed, then it seems that they were last seen by a farmer, from nearby Mobberley, in around 1696.
On a cold autumn morning, a farmer from the village of Mobberley had to cross the Edge, so that he could sell his beautiful white horse at a market in Macclesfield. Upon reaching the area known as Thieves Hole, an early form of boundary defence, the horse stopped dead and refused to move any further. From out of nowhere, or so it seemed, appeared a strangely dressed old man, with long scraggly hair and a beard. Somewhat, amazed, the farmer went about his business, but was ordered to stop by the old man, who told him that he wanted to buy the horse and offered the farmer a vast sum of money. The farmer, admittedly tempted, refused, as he believed that he could get a much better offer at the market. At this, the old man said that many people would stand and admire the mare, but none would buy it. As he turned to leave, he said that their paths would again come to pass later that evening, where he would again offer to buy the horse. The farmer found such prophecies amusing, and headed to the market.
To his surprise, the farmer found that what the old man had said was true. Many people admired the animal, but none wanted to buy it. After a while, realising that he wasn’t going to get a sale, he decided to make the journey back to Mobberley. As the farmer approached Thieves Hole, where he had first met the strange old man, he was amazed to see that once again their paths did indeed cross, just as he had prophesied. By now, the old man had changed into a tall, proud Wizard, holding a large staff in his hand. The Wizard ordered the farmer to follow him, and together they walked by the Seven Firs, the Golden Stone, past Stormy Point, and Saddle Bole. At one point, the farmer was sure that he could hear the neighing of horses coming from underneath the Edge, but this, to the farmer, sounded ludicrous.
Soon enough, the Wizard held out his arm and stopped. Then, holding aloft his staff, he brought it down upon a rock face, which, with a thunderous rumbling sound, opened apart to reveal a pair of iron gates. At this, the horse reared and was ready to bolt, whilst the farmer sank to his knees, fearing the worst. The Wizard told him not to fear anything, but to gaze upon a sight which no mortal eye has ever looked upon before. Together, they went inside the cave, and through a long succession of caverns, until they came across a countless number of men and horses, of which all were milky-white in colour, as was the farmer’s mare; all, both men and horses, were fast asleep. The Wizard explained that these were the Sleeping Knights, and that one day, they would again rise from their slumber when the Country was in peril and save the day, he went on to tell the farmer that all but one of the Knights had a white horse, and that was why his mare was needed, to make up the numbers. The Wizard then led the farmer into a separate cave, which was full of jewels and asked him to take whatever he wanted as payment for his horse. With that, the Wizard motioned for the farmer to leave, which he wasted little time in doing. Once outside the cave, he heard the Iron Gates slam shut behind him, again with the same thunderous noise. On many different occasions, the farmer returned to the Edge in search of the Iron Gates, which he said were on a path between Stormy Point and Saddle Bole, but his efforts proved to be fruitless.
Origins of the Legend of the WizardEdit
The legend of the Wizard and King Arthur at Alderley Edge was first told by Parson Shrigley, who was the Rector at Nether Alderley, in 1753, and, in printable form at least, appeared in the 1805 edition of the Manchester Mail.
Many people, over the years, have scoured the length and breadth of Alderley Edge, in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of these gates, but to date, they have never been found. One woman, Ellen Beck, claimed that she had indeed found the Iron Gates, placing them near the Holy Well, but when she rushed off to find a witness, once again they had disappeared. Unfortunately, Ellen Beck was not seen to be a reliable witness, and her story was quickly dismissed. In later life, Ellen had a young lover, but he refused to marry her. In a fit of jealousy, she killed herself by taking poison. Her body is said to lie under a hollow bank in a field near to Brindlow Wood. At one time, the area was marked by three stones, but these have since been removed.
Alderley Edge has many different legends, but almost all of them are associated with the legend of the Wizard; for instance, when he was a young boy, Eric Garner was at Stormy Point, in January 1941, with two friends when they suddenly heard music all around them, and under the ground. This music was never heard again. A young Roy Pearson was often taken to the Old Alderley Quarry, and was told by his father if he was to place his ear to the ground, he would often hear the sound of the Knights and their horses stirring. Fred Wright, who resided at Beacon Lodge, tells the tale of three boys who were once walking near to the Wizard Inn, heading for Alderley Cross, when they decided to play a game of ’turnpikes’. Together, the boys joined hands and stood in the middle of the road, their intention was to stop anyone they came across and demand payment to pass. Near Brynlow, they happened to see a woman, who was heading towards them, and as they tried to stop her, she passed right through them. Fred Wright claims the three boys ran all the way to Alderley Cross.
According to Fred Wright, he claimed that the boys had met the ghost of Nell Beck, who once suggested that she had seen the Iron Gates. Beck was a servant at Alderley Hall, and after she was rejected by the man that she loved, she killed herself. Her body was buried in a field, under a hollow bank near to Windmill Wood, close to Armstrong Farm; her grave was marked by three large rocks, and these remained for many years, before finally disappearing. One night, in 1993, a taxi driver was passing through Alderley Edge, travelling from Macclesfield to nearby Mobberley. As he reached the Wizard Inn, he saw what he described as an abnormally tall, thin man, dressed from head to foot in dark clothing, with long white hair and a beard. Suddenly the oddly dressed fellow stepped out into the road, forcing the poor taxi driver to swerve out of his way. The driver stopped, looked around but could find no sign of anyone; the road was completely deserted.
For centuries, there has been rumours of witches and witchcraft being used at Alderley Edge, and during the 1960s, a local newspaper managed to take pictures of them. In the photograph, a Coven, from nearby Manchester, were walking around a fire, dressed in white robes. Unfortunately, they were forced to abandon the Edge because of the bad publicity that followed.
The Legend of the Iron GatesEdit
The Legend of the Iron Gates, a tale told by Parson Shrigley, a former Clerk and Curate of Alderley, until his death in 1776, first appeared in a local newspaper, the Manchester Mail, in 1805, entitled simply The Cheshire Enchanter. According to Shrigley, who places the origins of the legend at around 80 years before his birth, the majority of the tale comes from local villagers. The next time the legend would resurface would have been in 1839, published in Blackwoods Magazine.
The Legend of the Iron Gates, first published in pamphlet form, starts with an introduction from Parson Shrigley. In it, he writes: 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. Parson Shrigley finishes his introduction with the signing of his name underneath.
Shrigley then starts the narration of his tale; it begins: 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 around 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 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 of 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 around Alderley Edge. He was journeying onwards 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 such a fine animal, he stooped to stroke its neck, and adjust the flowing mane, which the rude wind of the morning had slightly deranged. Upon 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, 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, the 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 be- yond 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.
The Sign which commemorates this Legend, represents a pair of large Iron Gates thrown wide open, and discovers the entrance to a cavern of very large extent, in which are several military horses sleeping, and men, arms, etc. Near the mouth of the cavern stands the Enchanter, with a magic wand in his hand, dressed in the antique mode of the 13th or 14th century; before him kneels a man habited in the style of more modern times, and behind him a grey horse flying back very much terrified. The back ground of the painting represents a view of Alderley-edge, which is an eminence of considerable height, commanding a beautiful and extensive prospect of the surrounding country.