RADCLIFFE's roots go deep and sitting in the historic verdure of the oldest district of the town is one of its most ancient edifices ­— the medieval Radcliffe Tower.

Although now a shadow of its former grandeur and prestige the crumbling relic still inspires wonder and reverence.

A manor house was first built on the site after the Norman conquest on the land of a former Saxon estate granted to Sir Nicholas FitzGilbert de Talbois ­— the grandson of a knight engaged in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England ­— for his conduct in wars in Scotland.

Upon his assumption of the land Sir Nicholas took the name “de Radclive” from the name of the area as listed in the Doomsday Book and derived from the Old English words for red cliffs found on the banks of the River Irwell.

A fortified Pele tower was added to the manor house in the mid 14th century, which connected to the great hall, followed by further fortifications in the reign of Henry IV.

After changing hands from the de Radcliffe's to the Assheton family in the 1560s and later to the Wiltons of Prestwich in the 1760s the manor began to decline.

By the 1800s the Wiltons were only occupying a single wing and by 1840 the great hall and west wing were gone and the tower had been converted to a farm building.

More demolition followed and the land around the tower became a gravel pit and then a decrepit landfill site in the 1970s.

Fortunately the tower was listed in the 1920s and, although little now remains of the structure, ongoing conservation efforts have ensured the invaluable monument still stands today.

Beyond its historical pedigree, Radcliffe Tower has long been object of fascination and folklore ­— including a famous ballad of one tenant of the manor, Lord Thomas, and his beautiful, kind and much admired daughter, Ellen.

Thomas was a noble and successful lord and doting father who treasured his daughter more than anything in the world.

However, as Ellen grew older and blossomed into womanhood her advancing beauty and sweet character aroused increasing jealousy and malice in her hateful and invidious stepmother.

One day when Lord Thomas was out hunting the wicked stepmother sprung her long planned conspiracy to dispose of gentle Ellen.

Finding the maid out embroidering in the pleasant autumnal afternoon, the step mother asked her to pay a visit to the manor’s cook and instruct him to “dress that fair and milk-white doe”.

Ever an obliging and beneficent daughter, Ellen went at once to the kitchens where she found the cook waiting with a nefarious look in his eyes.

Upon repeating the concealed signal, and before she had chance to realise her foolishness, Ellen was seized by the duplicitous chef.

However, before the cook prematurely and bloodily ended Ellen’s life by taking a knife to her throat, a scullion boy screamed out in appeal that the butcher might stay his hand and take his own life in her place.

But the blood thirsty cook only retorted a threat that if he did not hold his tongue the scullion would join her before plunging in his blade and dicing and spicing Ellen’s flesh into meat pies.

That evening, fresh from his hunt, Lord Thomas sat down to a dinner of heavenly smelling pies. But noticing that his dutiful and punctual daughter was absent the lord vowed not to eat until she arrived.

When his villainous wife lied that the maid had found God and joined a nunnery, the scullion boy, now serving their wine, blurted out the truth of what he had seen and how he had offered his life in Ellen’s stead.

At the boy’s candour, Lord Thomas immediately flew into a wild rage and had his wicked wife and her depraved accomplice locked up.

In recompense for their abominable crimes the step mother was burned at the stake as heathen, while the cook was boiled in lead until his flesh sloughed from bones and he wailed his last breath.

In reward for his bravery and honesty the scullion boy was adopted by Lord Thomas and made his heir.

Rumours persist that in a graveyard near the town sits a white tablet marked with the names of Lord Thomas and Fair Ellen possessing of miraculous powers.

Over the decades shards of the stone are said to have been taken as protective talismans by the people of Radcliffe.

Curiously there is also said to be a apparitional black dog ­— an ancient portent of death and the devil ­— which now haunts the tower and is perhaps somehow linked to the dark tale of Fair Ellen. Although mysteriously the creature has never been seen by two people at the same time.