James Cooper`s 19C Memories

By Yoland

James Cowper, the village Schoolmaster, was also a keen seeker after the local history of the village where he had been born and brought up.  With this interest, he became a good friend and colleague of Robert Lloyd Kenyon of Pradoe.   While Kenyon poured over ancient documents recording the history of our village and the XI Towns, Cooper recorded the memories and stories he heard from his mother and other older people in the village.  Many of James` stories appear verbatim in Kenyon`s treaties in the articles published by the  Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society  or slipped in as “James Cooper says ….”.  In 1895, when Mr. Cowper was 77 and living in Chesterfield, he wrote more of his reminiscences in a letter to the Kenyon family.

James` tale of the Coton Ghost comes straight from a winter`s night round the fireside – strange noises could be heard, a headless man known as Old Corbet walking round the house and even the inevitable white lady.  There is much more to this story, which will perhaps, make a future article for the History Blog 

Ruyton has a Borough Mace which is rarely allowed out of its prison in the bank but James tells of Charlie Belyle who got very drunk on a pub crawl through the village, as we did in times past.  On a wet and stormy night he kicked down the pub doors until the Sergeant at Mace, a sort of village policeman, brought Charlie to order with the Borough Mace across his neck, when the silver top of the instrument fell off into the water running down the street,, never to be seen again.  Charlie spent a wet night in the stocks outside the lock-up where the village cross now stands.  He was summarily dealt with by Mr. Kenyon, in his capacity as Magistrate, in the morning.

Less dramatic were memories of hemp and flax which was grown, and then spun by women in the village  until the middle of the 19th century.  The last weavers were John Williams and William Prince.

The old Court House stood where our village shop now is, it was pulled down when James` mother was a girl and the furniture and old chests were moved to the lock-up and court house where the cross now stands.  The contents of these chests have recently been examined and indexed and a CD can be obtained from the History Society.

James remembered a pool and cunnery in the little field between the old school and the Oaklands.  Both the pool and the medieval rabbit reserve, which was kept for winter food, had gone in the later 19th century.

There was an ancient Borough Cross where the finger post now stands opposite the 19th century cross.  Waggons loaded with lime or limestone from Porthywaen quarries, would race from Knockin  to this cross, the winner earning a gallon of beer from the Cock Inn where Hall Farm now stands.

Stories of the gibbet which once stood on the mound opposite the Burgage Field, and next to the house called Bawtry, inspired James to investigate, and the bones he found there were confirmed as human by Dr. Broughton.  Stories of a glassworks up Chapel Lane led to James discovering wasters from glass making, More such remains found when Packwood created a sports field have since found their way to the Pilkington`s Glass Museum in St. Helens.

In front of Pam`s flower shop, until a year or so ago, you could see red floor tiles, this is where there was a row of very poor cottages which were pulled down in the first half of the 20th century.  James was told that there were tan pits at the back of these cottages and yes, he found evidence of Ruyton`s past leather industry.

James was not impressed by the “silly people of Ruyton” who referred to Blackbow Hill instead of Blackberry Hill.  He remembers an incident when a whole cart and horse disappeared into a hole below the road when two shafts were discovered in the rock.  As this is in line with the copper mine near Pradoe, it was very likely the workings of an even earlier search for the precious metal.

James tells of the old wooden Platt Bridge, which was probably just for pedestrians, as the ford was below the present bridge.  I remember the old chaps in the pub saying a house could not be built there as that was a public right of way for access to the ford, but of course, it was built!  The cottage on the opposite side of the road was once the kennels for the Shropshire Hunt and who knows, perhaps Rowland Hunt`s much prized Otter Hounds.  After the hounds had vacated the premises, the Ruyton Fire Engine was stored in the building but was moved when it was found the damp was rotting the fabric hoses.

When the church was enlarged in 1845, amongst the rubble James found fragments of painted plaster on the old wall. What might have been an ancient mural was lost, but without James, we would never know it could have existed.

There was already a legend of a tunnel between the castle and Coton (perhaps part of the Coton Ghost story) but I am afraid James` `proof` of a piece of lead pipe he found could have carried water from one building to the other has even less credibility. 

Much more interesting was James` discovery of the causeway from the castle to Hockley Hole crossing.   When you walk down the lane next to The Grove to get to the playing field, you will see evidence of cobbles which James followed and found it crossed the meadow (playing field) to the far corner, site of a very early river crossing.  Before the Baggy Moor drainage acts,  James remembered all the meadows along the Perry were flooded and a resort for wild geese, ducks and herons and he had seen the floods in winter all across the School Road and up to the houses.

James was a bell ringer and tells a great story of the wedding between one of the Hills of Hawkestone Park and Miss Mytton of Halston Hall, why were they getting married in Ruyton?!  At this time, there were only 3 bells but they were to be rung for three days - in relays I hope. During the second day one of the bells refused to sing, the ringers rushed upstairs and found the clapper had completely disappeared – no clapper no ring.  However, instead of falling straight down, “when it would probably killed poor Doveston”, it was no-where to be seen.  After a search, James noticed a few grains of sand on a wooden beam, it seems the clapper had flown through unglazed window aperture, flown across the chancel roof and embedded itself in the churchyard!  The carpenter was called for and he was able to reattach the tongue to the bell with eel skins and ringing resumed to celebrate the young people`s nuptials.


The moral of this story is WRITE DOWN YOUR MEMORIES.

“When an old person dies – a whole library is burned to the ground”


 Mace 1
Mace 2 
 Lock  up
 Borough Mace  Ends of the Borough Mace  Village Lock-up by Mrs. Broughton 1851, where Cross is now

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