The Skull


‘Verily a mother in Israel!’

William Henry Entwisle
William Henry Entwisle, 1867-1954

My grandfather William Henry Entwisle was born in March 1867. While researching his family tree I came across his great-grandmother Catherine Waddicor, born Catherine Whewell in 1778. Catherine died at the cottage known as Drummers Stoops, Blacksnape, only a couple of months before my grandfather was born. Drummers Stoops is only about a mile up the Roman Road from my own home.

Browsing in our local library’s reference section I found a news cutting from Darwen News of 1934 referring to an astonishing little article in their archives from February 1867, just after Catherine’s death at the age of almost 90:

‘In February 1867, reference is made to Mrs. Catherine Waddicor, of Drummers Stoops, who was the mother of nine children, grandmother of seventy-eight children, great-grandmother to one hundred and twenty-six children, and great-great-grandmother to three children, all of whom were alive when she died at the age of 90 years. Verily a mother in Israel!’

My grandfather just missed out on being her 127th living great-grandchild! Since then I have met or discovered many other descendants of Catherine (including the ITV’s Coronation Street actor William Roache a.k.a. Ken Barlow!)

Searching for Catherine’s ancestors

Drummers Stoops
Drummers Stoops

Catherine was baptised at Lower Chapel in Darwen in September 1778, the child of Edmund and Mary Whewell of Hatton’s at Blacksnape. She married Thomas Waddicor in 1797 at St Mary’s Church, Blackburn and they lived in Blacksnape, first at Pinnacle Nook, then at Drummer’s Stoops for the rest of her life.

Catherine’s mother was Mary Entwisle, probably the daughter of Ralph and Ann Entwisle. Edmund and Mary had married in 1777 at Turton Chapel, a chapel of ease of St Peter’s, Bolton. Catherine’s father, Edmund Whewell, had been baptised at Lower Chapel in 1753. He was the son of Moses and Catherine Whewell.

Edmund’s father, Moses Whewell, was also born at Blacksnape, in 1712. I haven’t found his marriage to Catherine, but a will made in 1756 by William Duxbury mentions his daughter Catherine Duxbury as wife of Moses Whewell. Moses died in 1790 at Hatton’s, Blacksnape.

Further research into my grandfather’s forbears then becomes much less certain but takes us back, possibly, to a George Whewell and an astounding story!

The Skull at Affetside

The Skull
The Skull behind the Bar

The first clue was found online. A researcher in the USA had added a drawing of a scythe alongside George Whewell’s name on his family tree on Ancestry. This intrigued me and led to more Googling and the discovery of the following story in an old Lancashire newspaper cutting.

‘A skull, black and polished with age, is not what you expect to see behind the bar in your local pub!’

The Pack Horse Inn
The Pack Horse Inn

The pub was the Pack Horse Inn at Affetside, a rather picturesque village on the old road along the border between Bury and Bolton in Lancashire. The skull is said to be that of the George Whewell who executed the Earl of Derby on the 15 October 1651 in Bolton!

The Pack Horse Inn is still there, only 8 miles along the road from my home, so of course we had to pop over there and into the bar for a drink to meet ‘George’. Pinned up by the bar was a card on which was printed this verse:

The Skull
In a pub called the ‘Pack Horse’ in Affetside,
Which stands on Watling Street,
Can be seen the skull of a man long dead,
Yes, in a pub where the locals meet.
This skull, I was told, came from an Edgworth man,
Who once had a lovely daughter,
She was cruelly raped by Lord Derby’s men,
At the siege of Bolton, and its slaughter.
After a bloody battle in Bolton, they marched, to fight against Cromwell’s men,
In Wigan they fought and lost that fight,
There was only retreat for them.
Down to Worcester Lord Derby did flee,
To fight with King Charles and his men,
Though the battle was long, the Roundheads were strong,
And the Royalists were defeated again.
Again Derby escaped but was captured in Chester,
He was tried and then sentenced to death,
As a way of revenge he was sent back to Bolton,
On the gallows he would take his last breath.
On the ‘Olde Man and Scythe’ in Churchgate,
Lord Derby did sit there and wait,
For the executioner to come down from Edgworth,
To complete a strange circle of fate.
Yes, that jawless skull is still in the pub,
And still with its deathly grin,
As a reminder to all, even Kings or Lords,
That the gallows can be the wages of sin.
Angus McLeod Scarlett, Isle of Man


George Whewell was a local farmer said to have been involved in the defence of Bolton against the Royalist troops in 1644. [1] He returned to his home on the moors north of Bolton to find his family had been attacked by marauding Royalists. He vowed to avenge this and seven years later he got his chance!

The leader of the Lancashire Royalists was James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and he was blamed for much of the bloodshed at Bolton. In 1651, during Cromwell’s Protectorate, Derby was captured while supporting an invasion by the future King Charles II. He was tried for treason at Chester Castle and sentenced to death by beheading. The Parliamentarians decided that revenge would be sweeter if he were to be executed at Bolton. The execution was set for 15 October 1651.

Execution of Derby
The Execution Scene

Shortly after noon on that day Lord Derby was brought to Bolton. The scaffold was not yet ready, so he was placed in a house near the church, which tradition says was Ye Olde Man and Scythe Inn. From the inn he could see the scaffold which was said to have been constructed from timber from the destruction of his old home, Lathom Hall in Lancashire.

There was a delay while the authorities tried to find an executioner. Then George Whewell stepped forward and volunteered to do the job. Lord Derby felt the edge of the axe to assess its sharpness then gave George some money. “This is all I have,” he said, “do your job well!” And, in front of a large crowd, George carried out his task.

Whose skull?

Skull in glass case
The Skull in a Glass Case

Now, let’s go back to look at the skull on display at Affetside, about six miles from Bolton. It is not the Earl’s skull that we see at the Pack Horse, but George’s. It is not known how it got there but it is thought that following his natural death, in about 1671, supporters of the restored Royalist regime sought revenge and removed the head from George’s body. The village of Affetside is situated at an ancient crossroads so maybe the head was put on display there before eventually being moved to the pub.  

It’s a few years since we first called in at the Pack Horse to check on the skull’s existence. Since then we’ve visited a few times, especially taking our children to visit their (possible) 10 x great-grandfather! The Pack Horse underwent a major refurbishment recently and ‘George’ now has his own glass case with his story etched into the glass!

Ye Olde Man and the Scythe Inn is still in Bolton, on Churchgate, and has a small display of items from Lord Derby’s execution.

Old Man and Scythe
Ye Old Man and Scythe

[1] For a fuller story of the Bolton Massacre of May 1644, see Twissle Times issue from March 2017.

Eileen Cowen, member 241 and Editor

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