Cankey And The Dead

I went for a walk with three of my children through the old cemetery. I have posted photographs of this place before, along with the neighbouring Jubilee Park.
This time I was showing them something that is well known, infamously known, to most of the locals in my hometown of Middleton: Cankey Ginnel.

The old cemetery stands above the town center, perhaps to remind us all of our ultimate destination whether life causes us to escape the town boundaries or not. From here we could see the shame of the 192 year old Providence United Reformed Church, allowed to fall into ruin despite being in proximity to the so called Golden Clusterย of historic buildings. Not to mention Takeaway Run.


From here we came to the top of a passageway known as Cankey’s Ginnel. Cankey is said to have been a body snatcher who used to live at the bottom of this passage, in a cottage across the road.


It is said that Canky would be sat in front of his cottage, puffing on a pipe, watching as a burial was taking place up above him. Then at night, by cover of darkness, he would go up to the cemetery and dig up the body.

This is the passage viewed from the position of Cankey’s said home, looking up towards the cemetery.


Then he would carry the newly exhumed body down this ginnel. Behind his cottage lay the River Irk that runs through Middleton. He would transport the body by water to Manchester, where he would sell the cadaver to medical students and anatomists willing to pay for such corpses.

This story is well known in the town, indeed Cankey is often mentioned in the local newspaper, although I’m not too sure how much actual evidence there is for this notorious figure. I’ve never seen any contemporary news article reporting on Cankey and his nefarious deeds. And, as with all great legends, there is not usually much in the way of quotes and source references. But why let that get in the way of a good story?

It isย recorded though that Middleton’s famous son Samuel Bamford, 19th century radical poet and reformer, kept the body of his beloved wife Mima at home for a month before burying her in an attempt to thwart such body snatchers.

In places other than Middleton, family members are recorded sitting by gravesides for a number of days, effectively on ‘watch’ against the stealing of their loved ones.

The ginnel has always attracted local children, especially in the hours of darkness, wanting to retrace Cankey’s steps up into the old, overgrown cemetery and experience that sought after thrill of fear.

Perhaps a few older people too.

For the time being, my children take their chances by daylight.


17 thoughts on “Cankey And The Dead

  1. What a fascinating story! Gotta love local legends. (Though ewww on the keeping of a cadaver for a month, however understandable the motive.) I wouldn’t want to hang out in that ginnel at night. (I learned a new word today: ginnel.)


  2. Pingback: Cankey and the Dead | Dolphin

    • And so you should-they are very mischievous ๐Ÿ™‚
      There is an area of woodland about half way between my town and Manchester City center, known as Boggart Hole Clough. The old story is of a mischievous Boggart who haunted a farmhouse which used to stand in there but is now long gone. (I have also heard that the story was invented by Sam Bamford, mentioned in this post, who ‘borrowed’ it from elsewhere. But that’s just boring!)
      As kids we used to think it was called Bucket O’ Clough. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Very sweet post. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I also can’t help being rather jealous at how far more thrilling your town’s legends are!
    The most enthralling tale of my town is -quite literally- centred upon the ‘adventures’ of a fish…


    • Erm..a fish..(trying to remain positive here) I guess fish can be inspiring too. I Went Out With A Trout. Left In The Lurch By A Promiscuous Perch.
      Tell me more.


      • Haha! That is only fitting, the story is riddled with suspense!
        It’s a tale of how the town got it’s name … a king who resided over the castle lost a ring in the river and threw the blame onto an otherwise innocent maid. Before her execution for this robbery there was a feast which included the culinary wonders of a pike. However, when this fish in question was cut -to a crowd’s surprise- there, inside the fish, sat the ring! In a way of apology the king married the maid and all was well once again followed by the naming of the town ‘Pickering’.
        I hope that was worth the wait. ๐Ÿ˜‰


      • I love old folklore stories. Wonder if it’s true……
        Here Middleton folk are called Moonrakers. It goes to back to a couple of simple men trying to rake the reflection of the moon from a pond. For simple folk read simple-minded folk. Or thick ๐Ÿ™‚


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