Yesterday I visited Grange over Sands and was reminded that it was here, on Humphrey Head, that the last wolf in England was killed – or so the story goes.
I included this story in my book Tales of Lancashire, because Grange is in the original county of Lancashire, in an area known as Lancashire over Sands.
Sir Edgar Harrington of Wraysholme Tower had sworn to hunt out and kill every last wolf from Cartmel Forest. He had also promised that the man who killed the last wolf would receive the hand of his niece in marriage and half of his lands as well. His niece was a beautiful young girl named Adela who had been orphaned and was now Sir Edgar’s ward. Many of the local men were keen to make her their wife, especially a knight named Laybourne, but Adela was in love with her cousin, Sir Edgar Harrington’s son, John. Sir Edgar disapproved of this attachment and, following an argument, his son had gone away to fight in a foreign war, but before he left the young couple had sworn to be faithful to one another.
It was thought that John Harrington had been killed in battle, but the night before the wolf hunt a young knight, a stranger mounted on a white Arab stallion, came to Wraysholme Tower, calling himself Delisle. He was invited to stay and join the hunt.
The next day the huntsmen set out. Laybourne rode a large Flemish carthorse, of the type that could carry the heavy weight of a knight in chainmail and metal armour. The stranger, Delisle, rode his fleet-footed Arab.
They hunted the wolf from its lair through a long and tiring day, chasing it all around Cartmel Forest and even across part of Windermere, before heading it off towards Humphrey Head late in the evening. Out of all the men who set out, now only Laybourne and Delisle remained in the hunt. They chased the wolf up the limestone crag, but when they reached a gaping chasm in the rock, Laybourne’s heavy horse refused to jump across. But the knight Delisle was determined to win the hand of Adela and spurred his horse across the gap. It was too wide and the horse’s hooves couldn’t get a grip on the far side and it tumbled to its death, but Delisle managed to cling onto the ground and was unhurt.
Meanwhile, the wolf had cornered Adela who was watching from her horse nearby. It leapt at her barking and growling with bared teeth, and she was terrified, thinking that she would be torn apart by the ferocious creature. But Delisle drew his spear and flung it at the wolf, killing it. He then revealed his true identity as John Harrington – Sir Edgar’s long lost son and Adela’s true love. Sir Edgar welcomed back his son and told him that he would have Adela as his bride as he had won her so bravely.
As father and son embraced, the Prior of St Mary passed by to drink at the nearby Holy Well. The monk was asked to marry John and Adela on the spot, to which request he complied and the cave where the wedding took place was known afterwards as Sir Edgar’s Chapel.
The couple lived happily ever after, producing many healthy children, and used the image of the wolf on their crest. They are buried together in a quiet corner of Cartmel Priory, with their effigies cut in stone and a wolf carved at their feet.
In fact, John Harrington is buried in Cartmel Priory, although the name of his wife is Joan. But as a gesture towards the story, the weathervane on top of Cartmel Priory is in the shape of a wolf’s head and it is believed that Humphrey Head was the last place that a wolf was ever seen in England.