Friday, 18 March 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Great Pyramid of Liverpool

While only officially a city since the 18th century, history abounds in Liverpool. Originally founded in a charter from King John, over the centuries Liverpool grew from a small borough to a bustling port and then into a centre of international trade. Naturally this rich heritage is reflected in the landscape of the city itself, and coupled with the scousers' love of a good yarn, there's a story waiting around every corner. Take for example Rodney Street - this row of impressive Georgian houses was the birth place of British Prime Minister William Gladstone and the poet Arthur Clough. It is famed for being the residence of numerous doctors over the years, and has been dubbed the Harley Street of the North. However what often attracts the eyes of visitors these days is the graveyard of St. Andrews Church. For many years the church itself was derelict, having been gutted by a fire back in the early 1980s, But now it has been restored and the site redeveloped. However the original churchyard remains, and among the usual leaning tombstones and weathered crosses stands a large pyramid, some 15 feet high. 

Now at first one might very reasonably assume that this is a relic of the great crazes for all things Egyptian that swept through fashionable society in the 19th and early 20th centuries - for example, in the famous Highgate Cemetery in London, there is a whole array of tombs known as Egyptian Avenue. And while the dating of the monument would fit into the general trend for Egyptian inspired architecture, in local lore this monument, often called the Great Pyramid of Liverpool, has far stranger tales attached to it.  

For this is the grave of a Mr William Mackenzie, born in 1794, and who died in 1851 at 74 Grove Street where he had resided since 1843. Son of a Scottish contractor, but born in Nelson, Lancashire, Mackenzie started out as an apprentice weaver but went on to train as a civil engineer. And it was in this field that he was to make his mark, becoming one of the leading engineers of his day, working on railways and canal projects not just all over England, but all over the world. We know much about his life thanks to detailed journals he left, that were published as The Diary of William Mackenzie, by Thomas Telford Publishing in 2000. He became a very wealthy man from his endeavours, and when he died left an estate of £341, 848 - a massive amount today but relatively worth even more back in the 1850s. 

William Mackenzie

When he died, he was buried in the Scottish Presbyterian church of St. Andrews, back then a new building having being constructed in 1824. The inscription on the pyramid actually gives us it true origin - 
In the vault beneath lie the remains of William Mackenzie of Newbie, Dumfriesshire, Esquire who died 29th October 1851 aged 57 years. Also, Mary his wife, who died 19th December 1838 aged 48 years and Sarah, his second wife who died 9th December 1867 aged 60 years. This monument was erected by his Brother Edward as a token of love and affection A.D. 1868. The memory of the just is blessed.
We should note here that Edward had good cause for affection, as he had inherited a good proportion of his brother's estate. However despite the inscription telling anyone who cares to read it that this curious monument was actually erected some 16 years after Mackenzie's death, that hasn't stopped some remarkable stories springing up around the pyramid.

To begin with Mackenzie's ghost has been spotting in the vicinity of the graveyard. But this is no amiable old phantom merely walking the streets of his old home town, for Mackenzie's spectre is something of an imposing figure in top hat and cloak, and seemingly delights in giving those who see him a ruddy good scare. Passers-by have been terrified by the sight of Mackenzie striding through the tomb, and even walking out through the the old blackened church walls. In fact according to local legend, Mackenzie's spectre has even been seen brawling with another local phantom.

For Rodney Street is allegedly home to several different ghosts, indeed it is claimed to be one of the most haunted streets in Liverpool. Now one of these other ghosts is a fellow dubbed Lantern Jaw - a tall figure in top hat and opera cape. And if you are thinking that this spectral gent sounds very similar to the reported appearance of Mr Mackenzie's shade, you would be quite right - for one is often confused with the other, and the only way to definitely tell them apart is that Lantern Jaw is somewhat taller. Of course, another way of telling betwixt the two is if you see the ghostly pair together - which according to local legend some folks have. Allegedly the two are sometimes spotted arguing and even fighting! No one is sure what the pair are squabbling about, but one cannot help but wonder if perhaps this is some spectral turf war over haunting rights! 

Now if you know anything of ghost lore, you will know that ghosts rarely haunt their burial places. Contrary to decades of spooky stories and horror movies, cemeteries and graveyards tend to be some of the least haunted places, for as a rule the shades of the dead tend to reappear at either places they were close to in life or at the locations where they passed away. So then why does old Mr Mackenzie stride around the tombs of St. Andrews and pavements of Rodney Street?

Well, the story goes that Mackenzie was a gambler and had lost his soul to the Devil in a game of cards, the deal being that Old Nick would claim his prize when the old Mackenzie was buried. However being a wily old fellow, Mackenzie therefore arranged to be interred above ground, hence the construction of his pyramid tomb. It is said he was entombed inside, sat up at a table, and therefore as he was never laid to rest six feet under, the Devil is still waiting for his soul. However as his soul still is promised to Hell, Heaven has no claim to him either, and so Mackenzie's spirit still walks the earth. However local legend has another twist to the tale - for it is claimed that several years ago, the police were called to St. Andrews one night. Apparently some one had thought to break into the old tomb. And inside the now opened pyramid, the police discovered a skeleton propped up at a table, just as the local tales claimed. But what's more, in its bony figures were clutched a winning hand of cards...

Next time on Folklore on Friday - we shall be , if you'll pardon the pun, digging a little deeper into the origins of these strange tales... 

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