The  Blacksmith  Who  Slew  the  Griffin

–  Legend  and  History

According to legend, John Houghton, the village blacksmith, was the founder of the Bold Family and gained lands to the north of Farnworth after slaying the Griffin (or Gryphon), a dragon like creature who was terrorising the neighbourhood by killing cattle and sheep.

There are at least two versions of the legend. One is that John placed himself in a field where the griffin was likely to be and dressing himself in an animal skin, the griffin seized John in his talons and carried him over the Mersey to Halton where it dropped him on to the rocks. As the griffin flew down to kill John, John slew it with his sword, cut the creatures head off and carried it back to Farnworth. Another version of the legend is that John built a metal cage, locked himself within it in order to fight the griffin in safety, the griffin seized the cage and flew with him to Halton rocks and tried to kill John by dropping the cage on the rocks. John eventually slew the griffin, etc.

As a reward John was granted all the land the could ride around in the night – this became known as the lands of Bold and John was known as John de Bold, the founder of the Bold family who were aristocratic landowners for centuries. The Church in Farnworth Village, St. Lukes now, once known as St.Wilfreds, dates from the 11th and l2th century. Bull and bear bating took place in the village up until 1849, when the wakes were usually held for three days in October. The wakes finished in l865. There are numerous stained glass windows in the church depicting the area and the Bold Family, there are also stained glass panels in the Ring of Bells pub opposite the Church. The Bold family are buried in St Lukes church. I heard one tale of a reptile skin being found in the rafters of the church in the eighteen hundreds.

Bold pillar and Ladies Lake

Richard Bold re-built Bold Hall in 1616, a lovely building complete with moat. A New Bold Hall was designed by an Italian artist, Leoni, in 1730 in a classical style. In 1859 all the property belonging to the Bold family was sold to William Whiteacre Tipping, for £120,000.

A bachelor mine owner, Mr Tipping was rough in manner and dress. He lived in the hall but used only four of the rooms. He used to visit the local hostelries with buckets of gold sovereigns, in particular the Tipping Arms (more recently known as The Griffin, a pub/restaurant), on the A57 in the village of Bold. He liked card playing and cock fighting. He died intestate in March 1889 and the property was sold by his next of kin, Mrs. Wyatt of Hampshire. It was bought by a syndicate who pulled it down. The old hall was demolished in 1936 because of concerns about typhoid from the drains.

The site of Old Bold Hall can be accessed by a public right of way along an unmade road that starts more or less opposite The Griffin Pub/Restaurant.  – the route passes the Mersey Valley Golf Club. It makes a nice walk through farmland field so go down the aforementioned unmade road. After just over a kilometre you pass through the sandstone pillars of the bridge across the moat and the moat itself can clearly be seen, if a little overgrown. From this point the path is known as ‘ladies walk’ and if you follow it through the fields and across the bridge over the M62 the motorway (not that the ladies had to do this!) on your right there is a pool surrounded by trees just over the bridge (another 500m). This is known as ‘Ladies Pool’. Rumour has it that this pool was lined in marble and was the swimming and bathing place for the ladies of Bold Hall.

Uphill away from Ladies Pool a woodland area is being developed on what was farmland and an old wooded area has been named Griffin Wood. Further on turn right on to a roadway and you reach a walled area on your right hand side, this was where the New Bold Hall once stood. The stables and barn of the hall are still there, now developed into houses – this is private land.

Mary Christine Roach

Aug 2010

T h e B l a c k s m i t h

In Farnworth village in days of old

There lived a man called big John Bold

A mighty blacksmith a strong young man:

I am going to kill the bold griffin.

He built a cage both strong and stout

To keep himself in and the griffin out

Battle commenced in a field nearby

The griffin seized the cage and flew up high.

And over river and over hill

To Halton village that’s standing still

The griffin flew down with the cage and John

From a fearful height he dropped it like a stone.

The griffin screamed down from the skies to kill

But brave John Bold he was standing still

He struck with his sword a mighty wound

And the griffin soon lay dead upon the ground.

They carried John back to the hamlet small,

Where he became lord and master of all.

In St. Lukes church you can clearly see,

Blacksmith John is now a member of the aristocracy.

© Chris Roach.

Blacksmith John Click to hear the above song which is wrote and sung by Mary Christine Roach

Originally Griffin Wood was a 12 acre agricultural field, with one hectare of mature woodland in the northern corner. The woodland was in a poor condition having received little or no management by its private owner over the past few decades.

The site was first acquired by Community Forest North West (CFNW) in May 2005 and a plan was drawn up to reach nearby communities. Although the site was acquired in 2005, The Mersey Forest Team who are managing the land took the decision to only undertake essential woodland management during the first year prior to extensive community engagement on the design of the scheme. This consultation took place during 2006. The name Griffin Wood was chosen from a shortlist suggested by members of the public. The name linking in well with the local area as a griffin features in the legend of how Bold got its name and also appears on the St Helens coat of arms. The final design of the woods layout was also decided at this time and this also led to the formation of the Friends of Griffin Wood (FoGW) in 2007. A FoGW volunteer group continues to be supported by the Mersey Forest in action planning and neighbourhood outreach.

Implementation commenced in March 2007, first with wildflower seeding then woodland planting. Funding from Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust enabled the use of new creative conservation techniques to convert the agricultural land into a diverse wildflower habitat. There are three different areas, one sown with shade loving species and planted with a mix of native trees and shrubs, one with high impact annual and perennial wildflowers in direct sunlight, and another with wetland wildflower species to complement the series of new and existing ponds which stretch across the site. The site was ploughed and sowed under the supervision of Landlife – the National Wildflower Charity.

After the wildflower seeding, the site was planted with a mixture of native broadleaf trees in March 2007, with the participation of local residents at several community tree planting days.

The footpath work was carried out in 2008 and included the upgrading of the existing track into the site and the installation of a new footpath to provide greater accessibility throughout the year across part of the site. This linked to the footpath through the existing woodland and provided a 1km circular route through meadows and woodland. The Friends group have created waymarked (with marker posts) mown trails to supplement these.

In April 2010 a Sculptured seat was designed and installed by Julian Taylor. Julian a sculptor based in Liverpool, took inspiration for the design from the magnificent  Broad Buckler ferns (Dryopteris dilatata) that can be found within the mature woodland at Griffin Wood, as well as linking it back to the coal mining heritage of Clock Face.  The presence of dense fern forests 300 million years ago helped create the rich coal seams that were found in the surrounding area. Julian was able to construct the bench using timber that had been extracted from the mature woodland as part of tree safety works

In May 2010 a sculpture trail was created using five designs from local families at a community Wood works event. These designs were then turned into full size sculptures by professional chainsaw artists and installed at various locations around the site.