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Legend of Mab's Cross


IR WILLIAM BRADSHAGHE was a great traveller and soldier, and married a fair lady named Mabel, daughter and sole heiress of Hugh Morris de Haghe and Blackrood.

Sir William was absent at the wars for ten years, and the lady hearing nothing from him, after a time was persuaded that he had fallen in battle, and accepted in second nuptials a Welsh knight, whose love was chiefly given to her money. But at length, in the habit of a pilgrim, Sir William returned to Lancashire, and, joining a party of poor people who were going for alms to his old home, came into the presence of his wife and her second husband. As he bent before her, the Lady Mabel, struck by his resemblance to her first (and supposed) dead husband, murmured a sad regret that he had not returned as others had, and burst into a flood of tears. Enraged, and jealous even of the dead, the Welsh knight, with a savage oath, struck her. Her husband, angry and indignant, at once drew her to him, and exclaimed, "I am the man you mourn; I am William Bradshage."

And he turned from the hall, and went to make himself known to his tenants, "in which space of time," says the legend, "the knight instantly fled; but Sir William pursued him, overtook him near Newton Park, and slew him for his past and present cruelty to a woman." For this deed Sir William was tried and punished by exile for some time from England.

Lady Mabel had been faithless, and had (though not consciously) committed bigamy. She sorely repented of her fault, and her husband forgave her; but her confessor enjoined, as a penance for it, that she should go bare-footed and bare-legged to a cross near Wigan from her home, the Haghe, once every week, as long as she lived, to weep and pray for pardon. The cross to this day is called Mab's Cross. It stands at the top of Standishgate, at the entrance to the town by the Standish road, and consists of the base of a pillar and a half shaft of four sides, rounded off by time. To this the lady made her weekly pilgrimages, as we have said, in penitential attire, from the chapel of Haigh Hall, a distance of two miles.

At the end of the tomb now in the church the lady is represented at the foot of the cross, and at the other the knights are seen in deadly combat. On the sides are a number of shields and monkish figures. Within the rails which enclose the tomb are two beautifully executed marble monuments; one to Maria Margaret Frances, wife of James, Earl of Crawford; born 1783, died 1850; and the other to Alexander, seventh Earl of Balcarras, and Elizabeth Bradshaigh, his wife.

It was this heiress of the Bradshaighs of Haigh who, having in 1780 married Alexander, seventh Earl of Balcarras, brought Haigh Hall to him, and from this event dates the connection of the Lindsays with Lancashire.

Earl Alexander served in the American Revolutionary War, and at Saratoga was opposed to Benedict Arnold. Some time after, when present at court, the king introduced him to the American traitor. "What, sire!" exclaimed Balcarras, drawing back, "the traitor Arnold!"

This insult led to a challenge; of course a duel followed, and it was agreed that the principals should fire at a given signal. Arnold fired and missed. The earl did not fire; he turned and walked away. "Why don't you fire, my lord?" asked Arnold. "Sir," said Lord Balcarras, glancing back, "I leave you to the executioners."

On Lord Balcarras's return from Jamaica in 1801 he lived chiefly at Haigh, which had been in a sad state of decay, but which he perfectly restored, as well as the fortunes of his family. To his sister, Lady Anne Barnard, the nation is indebted for the exquisite ballad of "Auld Robin Gray."

But perhaps the most remarkable of the Lancashire Lindsays was Alexander William Crawford Lindsay, the eighth earl. He was a graceful writer, and an accomplished art critic. His charming "Lives of the Lindsays" was published in 1838, and is dated from Haigh. The "History of Christian Art" is well known, as are his "Letters from the East," and "Memoirs of the Revolution in Scotland." He died in 1880.

His son, who represented Wigan in the House of Commons, is a good astronomer, and fitted out, at his own expense, the expedition to the Mauritius for observing the transit of Venus.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004