Birchen Bower in Hollinwood, Lancashire.
I could not believe my eyes when I first read about Hannah Beswick of Birchen Bower. It was not that I could not believe in a ghost story — although that part of the legend I still find challenging — but that I could find a tale with so much in it: haunted houses, buried treasure, invading armies, a real-to-death mummy in the attic, AND find out I had an actual family connection to it all. That was the good news. More disappointing was attempting to investigate further and finding so few primary sources to draw upon.
The least suprising aspect of this tale was that there was a Dyson component to it. If any family was going to have a haunted house associated with them, it was going to be these Dysons of Lancashire, the siblings of the same James Dyson who was contemporaneously creating a new life for himself in Western Australia during the middle of the nineteenth century.
A DISMAL autumn evening. The mist hangs heavy on the silent landscape, and wreaths in ghostly folds above the stream. Along the highway rides carefully a man of sober garb and mien, who, passing the ancient Bower House, continues his way to a smaller residence by the river side of Birchen, Lancashire. “So she has left it,” he mutters as he glances back at the ancient residence, now but faintly outlined in the mist. “A goodly property ; and she fears the grave. Ha! who will inherit it, I wonder? And her money ? If rumour speaks truly, she has buried it.”
If an army of hairy Scotsmen were descending towards you in the November of 1745, you would have buried your gold too (and maybe yourself as well, to save time); you had only to look to history of how the Jacobites treated their own countrymen that last time, to know that no mercy would be shown to a rich Sassenach couple. But spinster Hannah Beswick and her bachelor brother John survived Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invasion of Manchester with their property unravaged. John had— apparently— almost been buried alive; his eyes flickered just as they were about to close the coffin lid. He still predeceased his sister, leaving her the manor house and farm of Birchen Bower in Hollinwood.
Enter the Dysons. James Dyson is out of this story. By the time Mrs Robinson, a descendent of Hannah Beswick on her mother’s side, sold sold the last of the property, James was on a convict ship to Van Diemen’s Land. In 1839, the same year James’s father Joseph died, there were worrisome reports that Chartists were drilling in the fields outside Birchen Bower. It seemed revolution was in the air.
Fast forward a decade, and it is pretty much obvious that the world did not end in 1839 and at some point between the years 1843 and 1851 Andrew and Joseph Dyson, older and younger brothers of James Dyson respectively moved into the district and operated a cotton spinning establishment named Bower Mill. Andrew, his unmarried sister Mary and her two illegitimate children John and Edwin had taken up residence of Birchen Bower. The codicil to Andrew Dyson’s will made just before his death in 1880 gives a strong indication that he owned the whole place and the Mill as well. Although they had dissolved their partnership a decade earlier, Andrew left the property to Joseph. After that the trail has not been pursued…