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The parish of Pleasington and its environment has a number of little-known pieces of lore attached to it.


During my childhood, I spent a good deal of time poring over the pages of the 1951 tome Lancashire Landscape: Discoveries South Of The Ribble, written by a fine local historian (and former teacher of my mother) Jessica Lofthouse. In it, on page 158, I encountered the following interesting tidbit in a digression on the Ainsworth family of Pleasington: -

The most spectacular of the early Ainsworths was Henry, the Puritan scholar who left Cambridge as a young man determined to find some foreign country where "his principles for which he received nothing but taunts at home" would be better thought of. He found a hearing in Holland. [...] There is a strange story told of his death in 1664.
A diamond of rare worth came into his hands, passed to him by a Polish Jew, so it is said. At his death, it was reported that this same Jew had been seen in his house. Soon after the visit, Ainsworth was found, poisoned; both Jew and diamond had disappeared.

Whilst this is an attractive story, there are problems. Firstly, Miss Lofthouse appears to have dated Ainsworth's demise too late by almost half a century: Daniel Neal, the originator of this account of Ainsworth and the Jew, would place his death in around 1622. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Henry Ainsworth was a Pleasington man: a Henry Ainsworth or Aynsworth was baptised at Swanton Morley in Norfolk on 15th January 1569/70, and it is this individual who is commonly regarded as the Puritan divine.

All in all, my personal conviction suggests that, while a Brownist cleric by the name of Henry Ainsworth did indeed make great strides in developing an understanding of Hebrew literature whilst in Amsterdam, the story of his death is, as many suspect, mythical, and, in my view, comes from a desire on Neal's part to ensure that his account of this philosemite - Ainsworth's body of work includes translations from the Hebrew of various books of the Old Testament - was leavened with tales of a nefarious Jew. In particular, Neal suggests that Ainsworth's price for the return of the diamonhd was "nothing but a conference with some of his rabbies upon the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Messias, which the other promised; but not having interest enough to obtain it." Thus, Ainsworth's death is couched in terms of Jewish avoidance of a contest with a Christian man capable of refuting their scholars (a scenario both groups were familiar with for many years).


Pleasington also features in a strange tale, which the informant, a personal acquaintance, recalled hearing on the radio in September 1998 or thereabouts. In it, a caller during a phone-in programme related that he had heard tell of a "rune stone" secreted at Butler's Delf, an old quarry to the north east of the main settlement, the discovery of which would spell doom for the village. Though my informant was sincere and very much in earnest, ultimately, there seems to be little truth to the tale. Nevertheless, it is certainly an intriguing little yarn.


Butler's Delf, which is named for the Butler family who succeeded the Ainsworths as lords of the manor, is on the western slopes of the great ridge spanning much of this part of East Lancashire. Further to the north west, alum (a salt of aluminium) was mined at a great precipice now known as Alum Scar. King James I visited the mines during the early part of their existence during his trip to Hoghton Tower in 1618. Below the cliff there lies a small, dank hollow containing a murky mere, the waters of which hide the remains of the buildings associated with the works. A possible Roman road made its way across Alum House Brook just north of here. This road, which probably led to Ribchester and Wigan, can be traced southward over Woodcock Hill, where Stonefield Cottages suggest its presence, and down through Hoghton to Causeway Farm. To the north, it probably made its way by the station on Mellor Moor.


Nearby, just over the border in the former parish of Witton, is the now-wooded Billinge Hill, which hosted musters and moots for the old hundred or wapentake of Blackburnshire during medieval times, and which also yields evidence of sandstone quarrying. Another acquaintance informs me that the hill is the site for sinister rituals, perhaps of a satanic nature. Billinge Woods, and the narrow tongue Crow Wood, which extends southwards, certainly have a peculiar feel: people claim to have heard footsteps made by an invisible entity behind them on the paths, and have noted that the trees have an occasional tendency to change their appearance abruptly.


The extreme south west of the parish of Pleasington is marked by the confluence of the River Darwen and River Roddlesworth, which is known at this point as Moulden Water. The Preston to Blackburn road here originally crossed the Water by means of a ford. A rather terse notice in the Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser of 11th March 1876 supplies the following etymology: "[t]wo brothers once attempted to cross this ford - their names were Moulden - but they were not seen again." Far more likely is that the latter syllable comes from the Old English denu, meaning "valley": here the Darwen cuts through one of five diversion gorges formed after the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last "Ice Age," the others being located at Hoghton Bottoms, Samlesbury Bottoms and Roach Bridge. The village of Feniscowles, in Livesey, to the east of the valley was known in days of yore as Higher Moulden (the original Feniscowles, now Higher Feniscowles, lies within Pleasington). Moulden Water is now spanned by what is apparently the second of two bridges, the first - now destroyed - being slightly northward of the present location. Other local characters include a pinchpenny miller and a fellow attempting to pass off blank sheets of paper as records of parliamentary speeches, who, when confronted, said that the member in question remained silent.

Sir Graham