Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Thurstan de Bower

A Tradition, and other Notices of

THE once famous family of De Bowers resided a short distance west of Tideswell: some say at or near what is now called Hargate Wall; certain it is, however, that they possessed much property in that locality. They were in their day reputedly rich, and exercised great influence, and were regarded for a many generations with wealth-inspiring awe and veneration. One of the De Bowers was an only son, named Norman, a tall, athletic young man of commanding mien, and winning disposition and manners. The father of young Norman beheld him with pleasure, or rather pride; the mother all but worshipped him. True it is, that child-worship too often produces baneful results, or at least such coincidences are too often witnessed. Norman became fretful, wayward, sullen, and exhibited at times all the doggedness which self-will can generate. At length, at the instigation of some dissolute companion, he left the house of his fathers, and was unheard of for years.

[Page 201] His mother became pale and wan, the dread uncertainty of the whereabouts of her wayward child increased the trouble of her anguish-pierced soul. To her, morning brought sighs, and evening tears. Ah! woman, truly has it been written: “thy heart is the altar of holiest affections”; it is the shrine where the pale lamp of love, memory, and affection dies not but with life. Who can measure or describe her feelings when the sweet fountain of her love of offspring is dashed by the waters of heart-bursting affliction? Unhappy woman, could she not have said -

“As mine own shadow was this child to me,
A second self, far dearer and more fair,
Which, clothed in undissolving radiancy
What now is overwhelmed with dark despair!”

Whether Norman De Bower returned to his home and inherited the patrimony of his ancestors, tradition does not say; most of what little is known of the De Bowers relates to Thurstan.

Among those who contributed to the erection of Tideswell Church (said to be the finest country church in England) Thurstan De Bower was conspicuous, for according to traditionary statement he erected at his sole cost the whole of the spacious south transept. It is furthermore averred that his benefactions in other respects were many and liberal; but in particular as regards the due completion of this sacred and noble edifice. Of this benefactor little further is known, save that he [Page 202] and his wife lie buried in the transept he erected: and that, until of late their tomb with their whole length figures or effigies might be seen. Some remains of the tomb exist in the original place: but the figures, with a dog at their feet, now lie neglected in the back pew in the chancel. How forcibly this brings to mind the affecting circumstances of that generous being who built and endowed a hospital, and after a reverse of fortune was denied reception therein himself. The figurine of Thurstan de Bower and his wife ought not to have been disturbed, but preserved as much as possible from the devastating hand of time, as a just but slight acknowledgement of his liberal benefactions. It is hoped they will be restored to their original place.[1]

Tideswell derives its name from the once far-famed ebbing and flowing well in the immediate vicinity of the town - a phenomenon which ceased above a century ago, caused, as stated by some, by the filling up of the well with rubbish. Despicably stupid and contemptibly ignorant were those who thus destroyed the visible manifestation of one of nature's phenomena - one of the most distinguished natural wonders of the Peak - one which would have greatly added to the interest of this secluded, and to some degree, neglected town.

[Page 203] The Church, so much admired, was re-erected about the reign of Henry the Second, and tradition says the principal workmen were Italians, who had previously built Sheffield Old Church and Beauchief Abbey. The labourers had a penny a day. The interior of the superb structure contains some very antique monuments, and quaint-looking brasses, well worthy of the attention of those whose vertu is the most refined. In the chancel there is a tabular monument to the memory of Samson Meurrills: he was engaged in eleven battles under the Duke of Bedford, of the Maid of Orleans' notoriety. Samson was knighted by the Duke at Saint Luce, for his military prowess; and was afterwards honoured with the title of Knight Constable of England. He died A.D. 1462, aged 74 years. The chancel contains also, another monument to the honoured memory of Bishop Pursglove, once Prior of Gisburn Abbey, afterwards Bishop of Hull. He was born of humble parents, at Tideswell, yet rose to become one of the great instruments of Henry VIII. In the reign of that Sovereign's daughter, Elizabeth, he was deprived of his ecclesiastical honours, and retired to his native place, Tideswell, where his life terminated at a good old age, after having founded a Free School with rich endowments, and a Hospital for twelve poor people - acts of charity and benevolence which encircle the memory of the good Bishop Pursglove with a halo of grateful recollection.

Tideswell is somewhat noticed for “having [Page 204] degenerated” from its former importance. here once resided the famous Sir John Statham, who, in the reign of Elizabeth, could at his own expense raise a troop of horse : the family is now extinct. Here also resided the family of the Earls of Chesterfield, the Beeches, and a very many others, distinguished for wealth and other qualifications. The dwellings of these families are now raised to the ground, and but few traces of their existence can now be pointed out.

To whatever degree Tideswell and its immediate vicinity may have decreased in wealthy residents, this has been compensated by its vicinity having been the birthplace - the occasional residence and burial-place - of individuals of extraordinary genius. Three miles west-by-south of Tideswell is the small hamlet of Tunsted, in the parish of Tideswell, the birthplace of that great genius, James Brindley, whose name must ever have the most distinguished place in the annals of inland navigation. In this secluded little hamlet, Brindley - at whose command mountains disappeared - first saw the light; here in his natal hour Genius descended from

“Her starry throne,
High above the burning zone,
In radiant robe of light array'd”. - H.K.W. [Ed: Henry Kirke White]

In this little humble place, were spent the juvenile days of Brindley - a man endowed with an intellect of an order which must ever command the admiration of the world. Let those who visit the hallowed place of [Page 205] Brindley's birth, see him in imagination a child toddling before his native cot; and, then in after years, standing in might and glory of his splendid genius, before the august assembly of the British House of Commons, startling them by the following novel but philosophical reply to a question contemptuously put - “Rivers, I say, were made to feed navigation canals!” - Brindley died in 1772, in the fifty-sixth year of his age, after having executed numberless mighty works, principally under the patronage of the Duke of Bridgewater. His birthplace is frequently visited by the devout worshippers of heaven-born genius.

Litton, a township adjoining Tideswell, has also some claim to literary notice; here was born and resided John Howe, Author of “Trifles light as air”, a poetical production; he was also known to be the author of other poems under the signature, “Cecambo”. The ancestors of the celebrated novelist Bulwer Lytton, had a very large estate and resided here.

William Newton, the “Peak Minstrel” of Miss Seward, may be designated the bard of Tideswell. He was one of those who possessed the “gift” without its usual accompaniments.

“Weeping Woe, and Disappointment keen,
Repining Penury, and sorrow sour,
And self-consuming spleen”. - H.K.W.

This highly gifted individual was born about the middle of the last century, in a small cottage situated on [Page 206] the moors, about three miles from Tideswell; his parents were humble, but honest and industrious! and it was not until he approached manhood that he began to exhibit unequivocal signs of poetical inspiration. From his “mountain home” he removed to Tideswell; and, there married comparatively early in life. It was soon after, or about this period, that the star of his genius began to rise in the glorious horizon of poetical fame: Seward, Hayley, and Cunningham, all gladly hailed the new-born son of song.

Some time after his marriage he removed to Cressbrook, in the vicinity of Tideswell; a place celebrated for its picturesque scenery, where he dwelled in peace among his family, loved and courted by all. He died some years ago at a good old age, and his remains, - over which a splendid tomb has been of late erected by his son, as a just token of filial affection, - repose in peace, in Tideswell churchyard, where

“The dead are sleeping in their sepulchres:
And, mouldering as they sleep, a thrilling sound,
Half sense, half thought, among the darkness stirs,
Breathed from their wormy beds all living things around,
And mingling with the still night and mute sky
Its awful hush is felt inaudibly.” - SHELLEY.[2]
[1] One of the descendants of the honoured Thurstan De Bower is John Bower Brown, Esq., Woodthorpe Hall, one of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the Borough of Sheffield and West Riding of Yorkshire.
[2] Beebe Eyre, a poet now residing in Derby, and whose poetical effusions are often in the poets' corner of the “Reporter”, was born at Tideswell.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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