Tomb poses a true mystery

The headless and footless statue lying on the tomb outside Priory Church, Lancaster
The headless and footless statue lying on the tomb outside Priory Church, Lancaster

Lancaster residents and visitors alike have often wondered just what happened to this tomb, which is in a prominent position close to Lancaster Priory, to leave the poor woman without a head, hand or legs.

The feet disappeared some time ago, as the photograph from 1990 by reader Raymond Harris shows, while the head and hand went more recently.

The tomb and effigy pictured in 1990, with head but no feet. Photo by Raymond Harris.

The tomb and effigy pictured in 1990, with head but no feet. Photo by Raymond Harris.

According to English Heritage, the tomb chest and effigy is from the mid19th century and is constructed from marble on a sandstone plinth.

The effigy is of a young woman in a flowing gown, half-reclining and resting her head on her right hand [before the hand disappeared].

It was originally surrounded by cast-iron railings, of which only two sides remain in damaged condition, with colonnette standards at the corners and railings decorated with cusped Gothic arches.

The inscription is now illegible, but the memorial is said to be to Ann Rothwell, wife of William Talbot Rothwell of Foxholes, Bay Horse.

People have been discussing the tomb on social media this week, with many recalling tales they were told as children.

Some say the tomb houses a woman who fell to her death from the Priory, as she tried to put the clock back to halt either her husband’s or father’s hanging.

Jim Johnson said on Facebook: “Fact or fiction I was led to believe that her father was being hung at a certain time (always as the Priory clock struck) and she had climbed up to rotate the clock backwards when she fell to her death. She was supposed to have been incarcerated where she fell. Quite a tale, but somewhat unbelievable if I’m honest.”

Lisa Hackett said: “I heard that she was cleaning the clock and she fell. I can’t imagine cleaning a clock that high up though.”

Lucy Reynolds said: “The head is still in the Priory shed but the church are worried that it will get more vandalised if they stick it back on.”

Andy Mcallister added: “If the council can restore Eric’s leg then I’m sure this head can be restored, and if church authorities are worried about vandalism perhaps a safer place could be found.”