History of Gawsworth

Gawsworth’s history goes back to the 1086 Doomsday Book, listed as “Gouesurde” and belonging to Earl Hugh of Chester.

The first school in Gawsworth was built by Lord Mohun in 1707 close to the Church of St James, it was used as the village school until 1832 and is now the new Rectory. The next school was down Church Lane by the crossroads and was in use until 1966 when, owing to the expansion of the village a new school was needed.

Gawsworth Old Hall is a grade I listed building built between 1480 and 1600 it was extensively remodeled in 1701, the hall was the subject of the most famous duel in English History – between Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton. Gawsworth New Hall, a grade II listed building was built in 1707 by Lord Mohun, but abandoned after he was killed in the duel. Gawsworth Old Rectory is yet another Grade I listed building, build around 1470 and noted as one of the best preserved medium sized houses in Cheshire.

Records indicate that a chapel existed in Gawsworth in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until 1430 that the Church of St James was constructed. The nave dates to this time, with the chancel and tower built in 1470. In the churchyard there is a 15/16th century cross base, with a 20th century wooden cross. Inside the church are the tombs of four members of the Fitton family who lived in Gawsworth Old Hall, one of which is Mary Fitton, a contender for the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Parish registers date to 1557.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built in 1892.

The Population of Gawsworth was well recorded in the 19th century, and fluctuated between 567 and 847, it boomed in the 1950’s when it reached 1,093 and in 2011 the population was recorded as 1,705.

Maggoty Johnson

The Last Jester in England

Visitors to Gawsworth might be curious as to why a single tomb lies in a small spinney known as “Maggoty Wood”. Samuel Johnson (1691-1773), also known as Maggoty Johnson and Lord Flame, was a dancing master and dramatist, best know for the nonsense play “Hurlothrumbo”. It is noted that he was one of England’s last professional jesters, employed by the Lord of the manor at Gawsworth Old Hall. He was a talented musician and his violin remains on display in the dining room of the Old Hall. In retirement he lived in Gawsworth New Hall, a gift to him by the Lord of manor and upon his death was was buried in the churchyard. However it was discovered that his wish was to be buried in the vault he had designed and built in the woods he used to visit with his servant. He was disinterred and reburied in the area now known as Maggoty Wood. Upon his grave is a stone bearing an inscription thought to be written by Samuel himself, with a further stone added in 1851 bearing another inscription.

Original Inscription

Rest the Remains of Mr SAMUEL JOHNSON
Afterwards ennobled with the grander Title of LORD FLAME
Who after having been in his Life distinct from other Men
By the Eccentricities of his Genius
Chose to retain the same Character after his Death
And was, at his own Desire, buried here May 5th
A.D. MDCCLXXIII aged 82.

“Stay, thou whom Chance directs or ease persuades,
To seek the Quiet of these Sylvan shades,
Here, undesturbed and hid from Vulgar Eyes,
A Wit, Musician, Poet, Player, lies
A Dancing master too in Grace he shone,
And all the arts of Opera were his own,
In Comedy well skilled he drew Lord Flame,
Acted the Part and gaind himself the Name,
Averse to Strife how oft he’d gravely say,
These peaceful Groves should shade his breathless Clay,
That, when he rose again, laid here alone,
No friend and he should quarrel for a Bone,
Thinking that were some old lame Gossip nigh,
She possibly might take his Leg or Thigh.

1851 Inscription

If chance hath brought thee here, or curious eyes,
To see the spot where this poor jester lies,
A thoughtless jester even in his death,
Uttering his jibes beyond his latest breath,
O stranger pause a moment, pause and say:
“Tomorrow should’st thou quit thy house of clay,
Where wilt thou be my soul? in paradise?
Or where the rich man Lifted up his eyes”.
Immortal spirit would’st thou then be blest,
Waiting thy perfect bliss on Abraham’s breast,
Boast not of silly art or wit or fame,
Be thou ambitious of a Christian’s name,
Seek not thy body’s rest in peaceful grove,
Pray that thy soul may rest in Jesus love,
O speak not lightly of that dreadful day,
When all must rise in joy or dismay.
When spirits pure in body glorified,
With Christ in heavenly mansions shall abide,
While wicked souls shall hear the Judges boom,
“Go ye accursed into endless gloom”,
Look on that stone and this, and ponder well,
Then choose twixt Life and Death,
Heaven and Hell.