TALES FROM FIDDLER’S FERRY: THE BLACKSMITH AND THE GRIFFIN
Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station takes its name from a local Inn which stands in Cuerdley on the site of an ancient ferry which once took passengers across the River Mersey, but the site has a older history that stretches back to the age of myth and legend.
One legend from before the Dark Ages which has been passed down from generation to generation, tells of the exploits of Robert Byrch, a blacksmith whose forge was situated at Cuerdley where Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station stands today. There Robert let his prize ox graze on the lush grasses of Cuerdley Marsh alongside the cattle of the villagers of nearby Farnworth.
Unfortunately, according to legend, a nearby rocky outcrop was home to a vicious beast. Some versions of the legends call it a Dragon, but most agree that it was a Griffin – a carnivorous monster with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. It regularly flew around the wide Mersey estuary, swooping low over the marsh and picking up the villager’s cattle to take back to it’s lair. The sight of this winged beast struck fear into the hearts of the villagers, who could do nothing to stop its attacks.
Robert was lucky at first, as the fires of his forge seemed to keep the beast away from his livestock. But the nearby villagers were not so fortunate. Each night, the terrifying beast slowly picked off the villager’s cattle, and took them back to it’s lair to devour one by one. At first Robert ignored the plight of his fellow villagers – until one night the Griffin finally overcame its fear of Robert’s forge, swooping down from the sky and snatching up his prize ox. That night, Robert Byrch decided that ‘enough was enough’ and devised a plan to put an end to the beast once and for all.
He fashioned a stout iron cage, large enough to hold him along with some food and drink, and covered it with a cow hide. Robert also forged himself a sharp double-edged short sword, which could easily be wielded against his foe through the bars of the cage.
Several days later, when the Griffin was next seen swooping over the marsh again, Robert ordered all the other cattle to be hidden in the nearby woods. This made his hide-covered cage an irresistible target for the ravenous beast, and Robert climbed inside and waited.
Eventually the Griffin spotted what it thought was an ox, swooping down and sinking its claws into the cow hide and gripping the cage in the process. With a single beat of its enormous wings the Griffin flew into the skies, carrying the cage aloft with Robert inside. Robert thrust his sword into the Griffin’s belly with all his might, and the beast screeched in pain as blood sprayed from its wound. Suddenly Robert felt the Griffin’s grip on his cage loosen. Perceiving his mistake, Robert looked down in panic, grasping for the first time exactly how high the creature had flown in mere seconds.
In desperation Robert pulled the sides of the wound together to try and stop the flow of blood and prevent the creature from bleeding out. Slowly but surely, the Griffin flapped home to it’s lair, some versions of the legend say it landed near Halton Hill (where Halton Castle now stands) while others say it was the promontory that later became known as Rocksavage.
When the beast landed Robert struck him again, delivering a fatal blow in the creature’s abdomen. Then Robert climbed out of the cage and with a single swing of his sword, removed the Griffin’s head.
Triumphantly he returned home to Cuerdley, with the Griffin’s head as a trophy. Celebrated by his fellow villagers as a hero, news of his heroic victory spread quickly throughout the region. The news soon reached the local king, who issued a decree stating that henceforth Robert would be known as “Robert the Bold”. The king also granted Robert as much land as he could plough around in a single day. This became the ancient perimeter of a parish, which was named “Bold” after Robert, which was the seat of the wealthy Bold Family for centuries and is now part of the Borough of St Helens.
The legend of Robert Bold is often discounted as an fanciful explanation of the name of a local parish, but there are some possible origins behind the story. No historic record exists of Robert the Bold but the story could, for example, be read as a metaphorical account of a local hero who saw off a robber baron. Both the Bold family and the Barons of Halton used a Griffin as a symbol, which has created a strong link between the Griffin legend and the area.
There is, however, one last epilogue to the story. Whether they were descendants of the legendary Robert or not, by the 19th century the Bold Family had gone into decline. The last member of the family, Henry Bold-Hoghton, sold the Bold estates in 1858 and dropped the “Bold” part of the surname shortly afterwards.
One of the few remaining remnants of the Bold family’s wealth and power was the family pew at St Luke’s Church in Farnworth. Having been abandoned by the family for some time in the 1870s the canopy of the pew collapsed, and a dusty relic that had remained hidden on the top fell to the ground. The newspapers of the time are supposed to have reported that it was the untanned hide of a cow, with curious claw-like marks all over its surface …
The exhibition ‘Fiddler’s Ferry: Cloud Factory’ showcasing the artwork of artists Shaun Smyth and Lee Harrison created during the last days of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station continues at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery until Sunday 2nd October 2022.