Barcroft Hall and the Idiot's Curse


From Memories of Hurstwood Lancashire, 1889, by Tattersall Wilkinson

The family of Barcroft occupied a high position among the local [Lancashire] gentry during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dr Whittaker records that Barcroft was, from the earliest times to which records extend down to the middle of the seventeenth century, the property and residence of a family of the same name.

The present Barcroft Hall was built in the early part of the seventeenth century, though there are traces of an older edifice of much earlier date. Over the door is the inscription - William Barcroft, 1614 - and entering the house is a fine hall, or banqueting chamber, at one end of which is a gallery for musicians. William Barcroft, who built the present hall, appears, from a contemporary pedigree, to have died in 1620, leaving one daughter and three sons, the second of whom is described as a lunatic. With regard to this unfortunate man, tradition says that he was imprisoned here by a younger brother, who, by spreading a report that he was insane, endeavored to obtain possession of the property. He confined his brother in a chamber or cellar beneath the hall, where the unfortunate youth became demented. It is said that his inhuman brother was one night entertaining a party of friends in the banqueting room, when the lunatic burst in upon the revelers, and pronounced a withering curse on the estate and family - locally known as the "Idiotís Curse," prophesying that the hall should pass into strangersí hands, and the race of Barcroft become extinct; which curse, in this neighborhood at least, was soon fulfilled. On the walls of the cellar below the house still remain fragments of the old plaster, on which are scratched many disjointed words and sentences, said to have been written by the lunatic, among which may be deciphered the following

"Rise pottage - venison - cod - lobster - plumpudinge, whey pottage - Easter 1638 - a larnbe py - fresh hearings - a sacke possit -  Doncaster - Hapton - Rufforth - Doctor of Hereforde - Banke Tope

- The Lady Redman supped here a night with a leg of mutton - Thou hast nothing to doe with Ann Coollars - A man kild his wife - John Whittaker," &c.

If, as tradition asserts, these words are the writing of the lunatic, they prove that when imprisoned he was a grown-up man, able to write and spell as well as most gentlemen of his time. The following lines are founded upon the local tradition, which relates that it was the eldest son who was imprisoned and became a lunatic; the local histories do not make any mention of the tradition, but the pedigree in Whitaker's "Whalley" gives Robert (n.1598, ob. 1647) as the eldest son, William, a lunatic (ob. 1641), as the second son, and Thomas (ob. 1668) a third son. Robert died childless; Thomas Barcroft had one son, who died in childhood, and three daughters, to whose children the Hall descended; so that the ancient name of Barcroft became extinguished in this neighbourhood within thirty years of the "Idiotís Curse."