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You are in: Lancashire > History > Local History > Two Graves and their Occupants

George Lyon's grave photo by Jim Farrell

George Lyon's grave photo by Jim Farrell

Two Graves and their Occupants

Local historian and writer Michael Finney on two of UpHolland's famous sons... one an engineer - one a scoundrel!

Mention Blackpool, and people immediately think of the tower. Mention Wigan, and the Pier springs to mind. Mention the village of UpHolland, and if it is known at all to 'outsiders,' it will probably be on account of the 'highwayman's grave' to be found in the burial ground of the village's priory church of Saint Thomas the Martyr. This might, in the words of Oscar Wilde, be described as a 'pleasing paradox,' because the highwayman in question was never a highwayman...

Below the level of the roadway, on the extreme western edge of the church burial ground and directly opposite the White Lion Hotel, lies a flat tombstone, with the single name 'Nanny Lyon' inscribed on its surface. This is believed to be the grave of George Lyon, the UpHolland, highwayman,' and his two accomplices David Bennett and William Houghton, who were all hanged at Lancaster in April 1815, for an offence of burglary at Westwood Hall, Ince, Wigan.

Saint Thomas the Martyr Church, UpHolland

St Thomas the Martyr Church, UpHolland

As their crime did not involve the taking of human life, the criminal code of the day permitted release of their bodies for Christian burial, and they were brought back to UpHolland, in a cart, by the landlord of the village's Old Dog Inn, Simon Washington. He later declared that the devil had followed him every step of the homeward journey. Record of the burial of Lyon and his cronies can be found in the church parish registers.

Despite the fact Lyon was convicted and executed as a burglar, time and village folklore have bestowed the role of highwayman and local Robin Hood upon him. Unfortunately, no evidence exists to substantiate the many stories of him robbing the rich to feed the poor; existing documentary evidence paints a far more sordid picture.

In his mid fifties at the time of his execution, Lyon had narrowly escaped hanging almost thirty years earlier, when in 1786, he had been convicted of robbery with violence in the Winstanley district of Wigan. By all accounts, this crime was little more than a 'mugging;' devoid of any derring do, or glamour. On this occasion, the death sentence was commuted to transportation to the colonies for a seven year period. Unusually for the time, and no doubt to the chagrin of many, Lyon returned to this country and the village of his birth at the end of his sentence, and continued his criminal career as a petty thief and burglar until 1815, when Nemesis, in the form of the public hangman overtook him; evidently Napoleon was not the only man to meet his Waterloo in that year.

Far from being a local folk hero, Lyon was a thorn in the side of his fellow villagers, and if remembered for anything, it should be for siring illegitimate children. On 23rd May 1809, the diarist Ellen Weeton wrote to her friend Mrs Whitehead:-

"(Up) Holland is, if possible, more licentious and more scandalous than when I lived in it; such numbers of unmarried women have children, many of whom one would have thought had years, discretion, sense and virtue to have guarded them. In two houses near together, there have been in each, a mother and daughter lying in, nearly at the same time; and one man (the notorious George Lyon) reputed to be father to all four!"

Footpad - yes. Burglar - yes. Petty thief - yes. Serial adulterer and fornicator - definitely. Highwayman - highly unlikely.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Up Holland is best known to many for the grave of a soi-disant highwayman, for the churchyard is also the last resting place of a man far more worthy of recognition, one now known only as a footnote in some historical works .

At the south east comer of the church, next to the vestry, a railed enclosure surrounds a granite tomb bearing the following inscription:-

"In this vault lie the remains of Robert Daglish Esq, of Orrell Lodge. Who died December 26th 1865, Aged 88 years."

Northumbrian by birth, and now largely forgotten, Daglish played a major role in the development of industrial Lancashire. He came to Wigan in 1804, and was engaged by Lord Balcarres as engineer and manager of the Haigh Foundry and Brock Mill Forge, on the Haigh estate, to the east of the town. During his time there, he designed a number of steam engines for pumping and winding work in local collieries, all of which were hailed as a radical improvement on existing designs, and led to greater safety and efficiency.

Michael Finney

Michael Finney

Daglish's greatest work was done in 1814, after he had left Haigh, and was employed by coal owner John Clarke, as manager of the Orrell collieries, on the opposite side of Wigan. Here, a horse tramway was used to haul coal three and a half miles from the collieries, to the canal quay at Crooke, on the town's outskirts.

Finding this commercially unviable, Daglish, after obtaining the necessary patent licence, built a steam powered locomotive, to the design of John Blenkinsop, a Leeds engineer. The 'Blenkinsop pattern' locomotives possessed a fifth wheel, resembling a large cog wheel, the teeth of which engaged in slots on the outside of the rail, as an aid to traction. Christened 'The Yorkshire Horse,' Daglish's locomotive replaced flesh and blood equines on the tramway.

It was a great success, and two more were built to the same pattern. Each could haul a load of over thirty tons, up a one in thirty six gradient, or a load of ninety tons on the level, at a speed of between three and five miles per hour, fourteen draught horses being needed to perform similar work, previously. The same locomotives operated at the colliery for over thirty years, and it was estimated they represented a saving of five hundred pounds per annum on stabling and fodder; a considerable sum, in the early nineteenth century.

In the years that followed, Daglish's reputation as an engineer led to him being appointed consultant engineer on many railway projects, both in England and on the American continent. Sadly, his pioneering work has been overshadowed, by the names that now appear in the history books.

In 1814, the year 'The Yorkshire Horse' made its remarkable debut, George Stephenson was still experimenting unsuccessfully at Killingworth colliery, in Northumberland, with his locomotive 'Blucher'.

Lancashire, albeit with the aid of another 'Geordie,' in the shape of Robert Daglish, stole a march on Stephenson, and the Industrial Revolution.

Until recently, George Stephenson could be found on the back of £5 bank notes. Robert Daglish can still be found - in UpHolland churchyard - playing second fiddle to an executed felon.

Article sent in by website user Michael Finney

The views expressed on this page are those of the contributor and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the BBC.

last updated: 30/05/2008 at 10:38
created: 29/05/2008

Have Your Say

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Sue Riley
An enjoyable and informative article. I knew of the tomb of Robert Daglish, but had no idea of his role in the development of the steam engine. Another interesting person associated with Up Holland church, and one who deserves to be far more well-known.

Michael Finney
Trevor: If you search Google books using the keywords 'Haigh foundry', there are a couple of informative works available which can be downloaded without charge.

Trevor Keneth McClennon
An excellent article.Like many people in life, he was not granted the fame he so richly deserved.Tracing my family tree, I discovered an ancestor who was employed by Mr. Daglish so I am still searching for the records of Daglish's foundry

Michael Finney
Many thanks for your kind comments Richard.As you say, the windows do exist as a memorial to Robert Daglish, but sadly as far as the overwhelming majority of people are concerned, the church is only famous as Lyon's burial place.My article was an attempt to redress the balance a little, and bring to attention a man who played an important, if not pivotal role in the industrial history of our country.

Richard Daglish
As a direct descendant of Robert Daglish I am delighted to see Michael Finney's article, but did he see the stained glass windows in memory of Robert and other family members inside the church? There are none there for Lyon!

Andrew Houghton
I was told that I was related to William Houghton by my Father although, I have not yet made the link.

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