We use storytelling a lot in our work with schools, presentations to groups, living history events, and increasingly at festivals, which is a great thing. I'm very keen to get more people involved in telling and listening to tales as once was so common in the past. It's also a great way to find out more about local folklore. Here's my version of a lesser known Cheshire legend...
Yes, I remember the lad. You’d find it hard to forget him, he'd a face like a Buckley panmug, such an ugly thing he was and cruel with it. Even when he were young, that Robert Nixon would be tormenting animals, and worse than that, just for the fun of it. So I’ve no idea why he got such a gift, or curse as it turned out.
Well, we were lads together at Over, you know, near Wine’s Ford, where the devil dropped the church. This was in the days of King Dick, or was it Edward, no, it would have to have been Dick wouldn’t it?
Now there he was, Nixon, in the fields where he should have been following the plough but he was sitting idle as he did all too often. Next I recall was a great skriking which made me to run from my tilling over to where Nixon was sat. He was there staring at the sky, and there were nothing there, just clouds.
Then he starts to shout, “Oh, ill done Dick! Well done Harry! Harry has gained the day.” Then down he goes and when he comes to he can’t remember any of it. And me and Thomas Buckley who were there too couldn’t make anything of it.
But by and by, we got word brought here from a place called Market Bosworth, or some such, saying king’s dead after a battle and new king is a Welshman called Harry. Well, we thought on this and what Nixon had been saying in that field and reckoned he mun have seen this in the sky.
Now, you know as well as I that word spreads of these things, and I reckon Thomas Buckley had been telling folk at Namptwich market, but soon enough we have all sorts of folk we’ve not seen before coming to Over and asking after Nixon. And they’re calling him a prophet and it’s gone to his head and he’s telling them all sorts like Northwich will be devoured by water and that Vale Royal abbey will become a raven’s nest. But like pilgrims listening to a pardoner, they’re all taking it in with good faith.
Folk started saying of Nixon how he was strong i’th’arm and wick in the head. You know, wick, like alive, quick of wit. Well, they must have been seeing a different side to him. But then this feller all in blue and red as you’ve never seen before comes to Over and says he’s been sent by the king to fetch Nixon.
Now Nixon starts saying how he won’t go and king’s man says he had to, king says so. But Nixon tells him that if he goes to king’s palace he will starve to death. So I say, it’s a palace with great kitchens and plenty of food and he won’t starve and anyroad if king says you have to go you can’t say no.
So he didn’t like it but goes along all the same. Now the rest I shall have to tell you as I’ve heard from others. They say that King Harry took a liking to Nixon and let him stay in the kitchen so he’d have no fear of being clemmed. King Harry gave him a test where he told Nixon he had lost a ring, but he just tells him back, “Who hides can find it himself.” Now, I could have made that guess an’all but it seems the king started to believe Nixon was a prophet. He asked him where a man might find safety at Domesday and Nixon says back to him, “In God’s croft, twixt Mersey and Dee.”
But soon enough King Harry had tired of his prophet and gone off hunting and suchlike. But there he was left living in the kitchen and all the while licking and picking at the meat until the cooks can’t thole it and shut him in a cupboard and lock it. And there he is left with food all around him but can’t get at it and he starves to death.
So, I don’t know what to think after all this. I’ve not seen any of his prophecies come to pass but there’s time yet.
Like many other prophets, nobody is quite sure whether Robert Nixon ever really existed and the earliest surviving records of his prophecies post-date many of them having come to pass. Some people say he lived in the late 15th century, which is the version I use, but others say he lived during the reign of James I, but if that was the case many of the supposed prophecies had already happened. In the mid-eighteenth century visitors to Over, near Winsford, would be shown Nixon's old cottage and a handful of pamphlets of his foretellings were published in doggerel verse. Egerton Leigh made his story known again in the mid-nineteenth century in his 'Ballads and Legends of Cheshire', but few people now know about him. Not so long ago Sue bought me a rare surviving pamphlet of Nixon's life and in it was this late eighteenth century engraving. Though comic in style, it is intriguing as the earliest known depiction of the Cheshire Prophet.