A new book recounts dozens of weird, wonderful and spine chilling stories from Lancashire folklore. Here author and local historian David Paul revisits a horrific story which is still told around Preston to this day
The story of Dorothy, the Bannister Doll, is very rarely spoken of as many of the good people of Preston believe that even mentioning her name will bring back her tormented spirit.
During the early 19th century Mayor Bannister lived in an old tenement building in Snow Hill – near the town’s Walker Street. Bannister’s beautiful daughter was called Dorothy and was known locally as Bannister Doll due to her beauty.
Being so attractive, there were many young men vying for her favours. It was therefore with some trepidation that Dorothy was faced with having to confess to her father that she was pregnant. Dorothy was fully aware that her father was a very strict man, but even she could not have foreseen the punishment that he meted out to her. Quite beyond himself in a fit of untold rage, he dragged her out of the house and tied her to a tree in the garden. He then proceeded to whip her until there was no more breath left in her.
She was thought a disgrace to the family; although, later evidence would suggest that she had been victim of a vicious rape. As the years rolled by new houses were built. A memorial stone was laid at the corner of Ladywell Street and Heatly Street, which was thought to be the place where ‘Dolly’ had been so brutally flogged to death. In order to instil in their daughters the virtues of being chaste, mothers would take their daughters to the spot and recount the legend of the Bannister Doll.
It is thought that Dorothy was buried in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Trinity Square, Preston, but there is some dispute about this. It was sometime after Dorothy had been laid to rest that the corpse of a young man was found near to the centre of Preston. The circumstances surrounding his death were a mystery to the authorities; his skull and ribcage had been crushed to pulp. Just two weeks after this dreadful event another young man’s body was found, and he, too, had died in a similar manner. Later still there was a third body found. By now there were all kinds of rumours spreading throughout the town.
Many held to the belief that the Bannister Doll had returned to the scene of her brutal murder to seek vengeance for the cruel and heartless way her father had murdered her.
Although the spate of vicious deaths came to an end the many sightings of the Bannister Doll continued, with many people claiming to have seen the ghost of a young maiden floating up Snow Hill. When Mayor Bannister eventually died another family moved into the house in which he had lived.
On their very first night, they were accosted by the Banister Doll. They stayed for a second night and were once again subjected to the haunting presence of the ghost. They fled the house, never to return. The next family to move in stayed for three nights, but then they, too, fled the scene, having witnessed similar sightings.
Although the Bannister Doll is still seen on occasions, it is hard to reconcile the truly malevolent character that still haunts the town with the gay and carefree Dorothy who walked those same streets so many years ago.
* The story of Bannister Doll is kindly republished from Illustrated Tales of Lancashire by David Paul which is available priced £14.99 from Amberley Publishing via www.amberley-books.co.uk