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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.

 

 

 

BUCKLOW HILL AND ROSTHERNE - THE LAKE OF THE
HOLY CROSS
by
Mark Olly  
 
The lost village of 'Strettle'
 
A vanished Medieval monastic site is thought to have existed at The Swan pub crossroads with the A 556 Roman road between Manchester and Chester at Bucklow Hill.

It is thought that The Swan stands on the site of an old hospice or 'hostelry' established by monks for travellers and the present building alongside the main road has a Roman mile stone set into the side under a cleverly placed double chimney arch.

The Swan Bucklow Hill
The Swan at Bucklow Hill, Site of a Medieval Hostelry

Aerial photographs have revealed a barrow type crop mark in the field across the road from The Swan and at least a further five clustered together into a 'barrow cemetery' in the next field south on the other side of Bucklow Lane next to the A 556 Roman road. As noted in the section on moated sites there is also a visible mound in the back garden of Denfield Cottage just to the north.

Somewhere in these fields surrounding Mere junction is also thought to lie the lost village of 'Strettle'.
 

Rostherne Mere

Set in a hollow a mile or so to the south of Dunham Massey and north of Tatton Park is Rostherne Mere, the largest and certainly one of the most picturesque lakes and villages in Cheshire.

Evidence of prehistoric activity in the area is limited so far to the discovery of two flint flakes (one burnt) during archaeological activity round the mere in the early 1990's.

Rostherne Mere
Rostherne Mere looking south towards the Church & Village

Aerial photography has been a little more successful locating a possible 'barrow cemetery' of at least four circular features in a field just north of the church and bordering on the lake. There are also some interesting mound features visible on this shore of the lake. Two more barrow circles exist three fields south of the church on the south side of New Road.

A single fragment of coarse, grey Roman pottery from the late first or early second century (150 AD to 250 AD) has also been found on the south-east side of the mere.

The origin of a name

 
There are two opinions as to the origin of the name 'ROSTHERNE'. In Ewall's 'Origins Of Place Names In England' it is said to derive from the old Norse personal name 'RAVOS' and 'THORNE' making it 'RAVOS-THORNE', the 'thornbush of Ravos'. The more popular alternative is that it originates with the Saxon 'ROOD' meaning 'cross' and 'THERNE' meaning 'lake'. This would mean that Rostherne ('CROSS-THERNE') was once known as 'The Lake of the Holy Cross'.

Roman Mile Stone The Swan Bucklow HillA legend, similar to that known at Combermere, tells of a workman who cursed a bell as it was being conveyed to Rostherne Church and was promptly knocked into the water and drowned, followed by the bell which was never recovered. Another version simply states that he left it in the lake after the third attempt to recover it. The mere is deep in places, over a hundred feet, but is far from being bottomless as was once believed.

Right: The Roman Mile Stone at The Swan

Another legend tells how the mere is connected to either the Red Sea (!), Irish Sea or River Mersey by an underground channel and that every Easter a mermaid swims up stream to the lake and rings the bell hidden in the watery depths.

This is not as strange as it sounds as the mere was the only known location in Britain for a form of freshwater smelt, an esturine fish of the salmon family, which may indicate a former connection to the sea via an estuary. Sadly the last known specimen of this intriguing fish was caught here in 1922.
 

A Mermaid in the lake

 
People would visit the mere on Easter Sunday in the hope that they would see the mermaid, hear the bell or hear the mermaid sit on the bell and sing while combing her hair

A variation of the mermaid legend recorded by G.A. Payne in his 1904 publication 'A History Of Knutsford' combines both stories so that the mermaid occasionally rises and rings the bell which was dropped by accident into the Mere. He also notes that the mere is 103.5 feet deep (32.7m) and 1250 yards (1184.2m) at its extreme length.

Another local legend states that 21 year old Charlotte Egerton of Tatton Park, who's striking white marble monument stands in the Egerton Chapel of Rostherne church, died as a result of drowning in the mere, but this remains only a legend.

Unlike the 'flashes' to be found along the north side of the river Mersey, the 'meres' are mostly of natural formation and a glance at any map of Cheshire will show a dozen or more in this area, some of considerable size.

Rostherne covers over a hundred and fifteen acres (48.5 hectares) yet some, such as 'Ridley Pool' mentioned in the 'Itinerary' of Mr. Leyland in 1534 and 'Bagmere' which warned the heir to Brereton Hall of impending death by its activity, have been drained away to nothing.

In 1961 the 119+ acres of lake and woodlands were bequeathed to the nation by the late Lord Egerton of Tatton and are now managed as a closed wildlife reserve by English Nature (who should be contacted for all access of any kind). Otherwise the closest members of the public can get to the lake is on the mound on which stands Rostherne church of St. Mary, the original parish church of the Knutsford area.


 
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: CELTIC WARRINGTON & OTHER MYSTERIES -
VOLUME TWO: EAST TO SOUTH. MARK OLLY. CHURNET VALLEY BOOKS,
43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

 
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