Published on April 8th, 2021 | by All Things Warrington


‘Bewsey – A Poem’ by John Fitchett

Published in 1796, ‘Bewsey – A Poem’ was written by Warrington poet John Fitchett and is of significant local interest due to its subject matter – the murder of Sir John Butler, a former lord of manor, at Bewsey Old Hall in 1463. 32 pages long, the poem is in the process of being transcribed below. John Fitchett is buried at St Oswalds Church, Winwick.

WHILE poets, touched with PHOEBUS’ sacred fire,
In strains renowned, sweet as the charms they paint,
Have sung of GRONGAR, or of COOPER’S HILL,
My humbler Muse with fond delight shall stray,
To scenes familiar; to this peaceful spot,
Less famed perhaps but not less dear: shall sing
Of thee, O Bewsey, and, with raptured eye
Hang on thy rural charms, and sylvan scenes.

HERE, from the summit of this rifling brow,
I gaze around, and white yon gaudy East,
The god of day bedecks with streaming gold,
Through dewey mists, which at his glad approach
Dissolve away, the widening prospect view.
O! may the still serenity around
To sober though attune the temper’d mind,
And make my song in sweeter numbers flow.

COME, meek-eyed companion, hither lead
Thy fair attendant, sweet Tranquility,
The nymph, whose winning smiles, and placid mien,
Drive from the pleased and sympathetic breast
Each rude emotion: at her look sedate
Care flies precipitate, and leaves the heart
Alive to every calm, congenial joy.
O! come, and breathe into my humble lay
A pensive cast of thought, a serious vein
Of melancholy softness, not too sad;
Such as will serve to sooth, but not depress.

SEE, where yon venerable mansion rears
Its aged front, in rude majestic state
Towering; and such as erst our artless Sires
More studious of convenience and of ease
Than labour’d elegance, admired and prized:
Emblem , perhaps, of their plain, honest minds,
Which cherish’d more the charms of innate worth,
Than all the tinsel glare of outside show.
As yet the bold Corinthian had not learnt
To rear in ALBION’S untaught isle the head
Magnific; nor as yet, with simpler grace,
Th’Ionian, or the Doric pile aspired;
Uplifting domes, proud swelling, to the sky
But yet to him, whom, fond of rural ease,
The sober Goddess Contemplation loves,
These walls, imbrowned by Time’s all-changing power,
Yield more delight, than all modern Art
With ostentatious hand can now display
For these solicit the enraptured mind
To measure back Time’s distant track, and view
Ages, when, here tho’ Science had not dawned,
ASTRAEA pleased had left again the skies,
Among our Sires with Innocence to dwell.
When, tho’ the Arts scarce deigned to caft a look
On this sequestered isle, yet here were found
The manly virtues, Honour, Valour, Truth,
Showering their influence through this favoured land,
And in the straw-built cot content to stay.

PERHAPS in yonder arched, time-hallowed porch,
Round which the creeping woodbine, fragrant, twines
Its fondling branches, there has musing sat
Full many a Hero (in those warlike times
Each was a Hero) who with generous glow
Has viewed his fields, and garden’s simple pride,
With no parterres adorned, or thrown his eye
Across the landscape, while his country’s love
(Such as the bold CARACTACUS might own)
Swelled in his breast, and fired his haughty soul.

YONDER have dwelt (if History claims belief)*
Those, who in days of Chivalry have shone
Conspicuous in the warlike Tournament;
And to the admiring circle have advanced
On richly-mantled steed, his lofty plumes
Nodding defiance, as he pranced along.
While to the trumpet’s animating found
His louder neighs re-echoed, on his back
The valiant Champion, clad in dazzling steel,
Rode, proudly-stern, and with gigantic arm
Wielded the glittering lance’s massy weight.
Not less intrepid has his eager Foe
Entered the lists, when each, his lance quick-couched
Spurs to the hostile fight his ardent steed,
Impatient: both with equal strength endure,
Firm in their seats, the first impetuous shock:
Again, with force redoubled, they renew
The fierce assault, till shivered through the air
The useless weapons fly. The fight revives;
Forth from the thigh the burnished sabre springs
Instant, and, wielded with a mighty hand,
Flames broad and horrid, as upon the crest
Of the less ready foe it sudden falls:
Unable to sustain the furious blow,
Prone to the ground the vanquished hero sinks;
And thundering plaudits rend the echoing sky.

Such sports as these, BRITANNIA, once were thine,
When all thy noble youths, ambitious, strove
In feats of arms to shine, trained and inured
To warlike deeds: taught by their valiant Sires,
Arms were their sole employ, their sole delight.

But every good (so certain Fate has willed)
Owns its attendant Evil; for from hence,
As time rolled on, sprang jealousies, and pride,
And civil discords: Friendship’s sacred leagues
Bowed to their darling passion: neighbouring power
Excited envy; envy fancied wrongs;
And these were but the prelude to a scene
Of strife and bloodshed, malice and revenge.
Even here in the contemplative eye may trace
Marks of this martial genius; for behold!
Throughout is laid a system of defence,
Built on an eminence, in castle-form,
Securely proud, yon solemn pile commands
The ample view around; the moat, deep-filled
With ambient waters, bays approaching foes.

BUT yet the historic page records a tale, 
Crimsoned with blood, when even these stately walls,
As yet uninjured by the shocks of time,
Could not the sword of massacre repel
From their own guarded Lord: for civil strife
Bade here dark Murder his fell poignant steep
In the defenceless breast.** A hireling band
At the dead of night, when Nature sunk to rest,
And sleep secure had these proud towers disarmed,
Hither insidious stole. Their dread designs
Base-creeping fraud forewent, and bribery sped.
For from yon window of old Gothic form
Beamed light persidious, set by venal hands,
Guiding their silent steps. The guardian moat
Saw wondering its strange passengers, borne over
In stranger vehicles. With Fancy’s eye,
There do I still behold the taper set,
With treason big, blue-gleaming on the wave:
There too, again I view, aghast, the band
Of grim assassins, murder in their looks,
In silence cross the glimmering lake, and hear
Yon massy door hoarse-creaking on its hinge,
By traitorous hands slow-drawn. —Ah! there, behold!
The nightly raven, screaming, flaps his wing,
Portending death: and hark! within, the sound
Of clashing arms, horrific, stuns the ear!
Ah! list the dying groans, the fearful shrieks,
The hollow-trampling feet, the murderers shout,
That, mingling in one horrid echo, bid
Even Fancy’s self, wild-starting, shrink appalled!
Tradition tells, a faithful Negro braved
Singly their savage rage, and bold opposed
Their passage to the room, where thoughtless slept
His dearly honoured master, till at last,
Overpowered by numbers, and overwhelmed with wounds,
Alas! he nobly fell. Their reeking hands,
Unfated yet, had still to execute
Deeds of black import, and dire schemes of blood:
For ah! unarmed, and in his bed surprised,
Vilely they butchered the devoted Lord!
Meanwhile a serving maid, with pious guile,
Bore in her apron, artfully concealed,
The infant heir; and, many a danger braved,
Saved him uninjured from the ruffian’s sword
The Negro’s valour favouring her escape***

For thee, brave Champion of thy house, for thee, 
(Thou proof that virtue grows in every foil)
Thy truth acquired a place in death, deserved
In life so well, for by thy master’s side
Sleep they remains in honour and peace. ****

To be continued – pages 11-32 still outstanding

Footnotes taken from the book

* The Botelers or Butlers, who formerly resided here, were a very ancient and honourable family, as appears by Dugdale’s Baronage, Vol. 1. p. 652 and also by Camden’s Britannia, Leigh’s Lancashire and Bolton’s extinct Peerage, in the last of which authors it is said, speaking of Butler, “Several of the name, of Beausy near Warrington, were summoned to parliament by the title of Baron Butler of Beausy, in the reigns of Edward the first and Edward the Second.”

** The following is a copy of a manuscript in the Bodleian library, which will illustrate the above, and the circumstances that follow: “Sir John Butler, knight, was slaine in his bedde by the procurement of the Lord Stanley, Sir Piers Legh and Mister William Savage joining with him in that action (corrupting his servants,) his porter setting a light in a window to give light upon the water that was about his house at Bewsey. They came over the moate in lether boats, and so to his chamber, where one of his servants, named Houlcrofte, was slaine, being his chamberlaine : the other basely betrayed his master ; they paid him a great reward, and so coming away with him, they hanged him at a tree in Bewsey Parke ; —long after this Sir John Butler’s lady pursued those that slew her husband, and obtayned 20 men for that saute; buton being married to Lord Grey, he made her suites voyde, for which reason she parted from her husband, and came into Lancashire, saying, ‘ If my lord will not let me have my will of my husband’s enemies, yet shall my body be buried by him ; ‘ and she caused a tomb of alabaster to be made, where she lyeth on the right hand of her husband Sir John Butler.”

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