Goblin Builders and the Parish Church

In the 11 th century, at the time of the Domesday Book, the area of Rochdale was the manor of
Recedham and ruled by Gamel who was a Saxon thane. A thane was a free retainer or lord of the
manor. A century later the oldest known parts of the parish church in the manor were built by Adam
de Spotland but there must have been an earlier building under Gamel as it was from his time that a
strange legend was recorded. True or fanciful, it is nonetheless one of the more colourful stories
about the town.
The story goes that Gamel, in thanks for his good fortune in maintaining his manor and privileges
after the Norman Conquest was ‘minded, for the fear of God and the salvation of his immortal soul’
to build a church in the town dedicated to Saint Chad of Mercia who had been a prominent 7th-
century Anglo-Saxon Catholic monk. After consulting with his men, Gamel chose to build his church
by the river which flowed through the valley. According to the historian Roby in his ‘Traditions’ a
place was set apart for it on the north bank of the river in a low and sheltered spot called ‘Newgate’
(possibly near to what was the old Post Office building).
All was prepared for the build. Boundary stakes were driven into the ground, foundations were dug
and all materials gathered on-site. The story goes that many piles of timber and several courses of
rubble stone were assembled to make up the walls of the church. When night fell everything was left
ready for the next morning’s construction. However, when the workmen came next day, all of the
stones and the wooden struts were gone, found some time later at the top of the hill on the
opposite side of the river. Gamel was angry at this, thinking it a trick by his own subjects, so
following his instructions and taking a full day and fifty ‘stout men,’ all the materials were brought
back down and work made ready for resumption of building on the next day. But on the next night it
happened again so that when morning broke all the heavy stones and the foundation equipment
was again up on the top of the hill overlooking the river. On the third night, Gamel ordered some of
his men to stand guard to make sure that the stones were not removed again. Some of them refused
because they had suspicions of their own – dark suspicions – about strange and devilish powers in
the world. Belief in the supernatural was rife in those days and magic thought to be an everyday
possibility so when those of Gamel’s men who were brave enough to wait through the night
reported that creatures described as goblins were responsible for the strange goings-on and that
they were indicating where the church should be located, this was readily accepted.
Another version of the tale was that a vagabond or tramp who spent the night up on the hill
witnessed ‘crowds of strange looking men carrying heavier burdens than no mortals could sustain’
across the river and up the hill. The vagabond showed Gamel a ring on which were runic charms
which he claimed one of the creatures had dropped. Whether these creatures were ‘doing the devils
work’ or following revenge orders from the old pagan Gods that had been replaced by Christianity or
again (and as some suggest) simply showing the best place for a church, is open to debate.
An alternative and bizarre story was that only one person stood vigil through the night. He was a boy
who had no power of speech named Uctred. When morning came not only had the stones been
moved but Uctred, after going missing, was found under a pile of building materials on the top of the
hill where he had found a strange ring. Putting on the ring made him grow to monstrous proportions
upon which he ran from the site and was never seen again !
Following some of these mysterious happenings, Gamel sought counsel from the Holy Church and
upon their instruction gave way and decided to build his church where the goblins were suggesting it

should be, at the very top of the hill. This meant, of course, further building the one hundred and
twenty four church steps which those attending the church would have to climb to attend services –
a sort of penance !
All of which is a colourful town legend. Two things do connect it to the present day. Firstly there is a
list of past vicars in the porch of the Parish Church and one of them, Geoffrey, Dean of Whalley is
thought to be Gamel’s great, great grandson. Secondly, the church itself still stands on its high point
overlooking the town. But whether this location is through supernatural interference or that it was
simply a good and prominent site for a church I’ll leave to you to decide !