The Serpent

The following story is taken from a most fascinating booklet published in 1983, ‘150 years of Methodism at Delph Hill, Bolton’ under the heading ‘A Methodist Stalwart’

In 1828 a revival of religious fervour took place at Dean Mills, Barrow Bridge. About the same time, according to an article which appeared in the ‘Bolton Weekly Guardian’ on the 18th August 1883 when Delph Hill celebrated its Jubilee, ‘a number of ardent Methodists of the good old school, meeting every alternate Sunday at the house of Mrs Richard Leigh, Lord’s Fold, were much distressed at the spiritual destitution which prevailed in the neighbourhood.’

Richard was an artist on the ‘serpent’, a large brass wind instrument so named because of the twists and turns in the brass tube of which it was made, and because of his skill his services were in great demand for concerts and services over a wide area. But his musical success brought him in the way of temptation and when invitations to drink followed invitations to play he was always ready to accept them, for he loved drink as much as he loved music.

Returning home in the early hours of a summer morning at the end of a round of engagements which had taken him from Bolton to Manchester, from Manchester to Liverpool and from Liverpool to Rivington, where services at the church on Sunday had been followed by a bout of drinking, conversion came to him as he was crossing the moors above Burnt Edge.

It was a beautiful morning. The sun rose in a cloudless sky, larks sprang form the grass and soared into the air singing their happy song, and the peace and loveliness of it all reached his heart. Stopping in his tracks he contemplated his mode of life, saw the wreck he was in danger of making of it, and realised wherein his temptation lay. ‘It was a serpent that beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden,’ he said brokenly, ‘and it’s a serpent that’s beguiled me. I’ll never play thee again.’

And he was true to his vow. When he reached his cottage at the top of sixty three steps he buried his instrument in the garden and from that day he was a changed man. Men tried to persuade him that it was a shame to waste his musical talent, but he remained firm, and he only dug up the serpent when a customer came to buy it from him. ‘Just play us one tune,’ urged the buyer, but Richard would not. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ll sound a note to let thi’ hear the tone,’ and he did. But that single note was the only one he ever sounded after his early morning conversion.

And before he died on January 29th 1864, at the age of 76, as is both recorded on a memorial tablet in the Chapel and under his framed portrait in the minister’s vestry, he had redeemed his early wild ways by many years of faithful work.

The article in the ‘Bolton Weekly Guardian’ states that services were held at his house in Lord’s Fold, where he moved after his conversion, and that ‘in 1862 it was resolved to hold a prayer meeting at six o’clock every Sunday morning in a joiner’s shop which Mr Leigh prepared for the purpose.’ It would appear that these prayer meetings were suspended in the following winter but that they were resumed in the spring of 1833.

‘150 years of Methodism at Delph Hill, Bolton 1833 – 1983’ contains a reprint of the centenary booklet issued in 1933 and printed by Blackshaw, Sykes and Morris Ltd.

By Peter Nightingale