THEY say boys will be boys. But centuries ago a group of Bury Grammar School pupils got more than they bargained for when they unwisely dabbled in black magic during one of their midnight escapades.

As their tomfoolery got out of hand the startled boys would find themselves duelling with the Devil himself.

Bury Grammar School can trace its roots back to 1570 and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I ­— making it one of the oldest schools in the world.

At this time education was flourishing in England as many rich men founded such schools up and down the country.

Bury was established by the wealthy clergyman and philanthropist, Reverend Henry Bury, and the Parish's rector, Reverend Peter Shaw.

It was built next to the Rectory ­— what is now Bury Parish Church ­— close to the ancient market place, on land granted by the third Earl of Derby.

Although the school was "public" it was open only to boys until 1884.

Sons of the wealthy, and occasionally those given financial charity, would attend grammar schools from age of around six or seven.

There they were taught basic literacy and writing skills using a hornbook, made from wood and a thin sheet of animal horn, as well as undertaking a classical education of Latin and Greek.

Lessons took place six days a week, with few holidays, beginning at around 6am and ending at around 5pm.

Discipline in 16th and 17th century schools was savage, and teachers would frequently carry a stick with birch twigs, with which pupils would be beaten on their bare buttocks.

It is no surprise then that when the watchful gaze of the schoolmaster was away the boys would indulge in all manner of mischievous and merry misadventures.

And, according to legend, this could have hellish consequences.

One cold night in the early 1600s, a group of schoolboys were naively dabbling in arcane magic when by some terrible ritual, using mere bread and sticks, they summoned Satan himself from the flames of the fireplace.

Bury Times:

The terrified boys sought desperately to send the Prince of Darkness back from whence he had come. But to no avail.

They then, as boys often do, tried to hide their mistake. However, realising this misdemeanor might not be as easily disguised as their usual blunders, they discerned that they must ask for help.

Shameface and scared, the boys hurried for the schoolmaster ­— Old Mr Hodgson ­— who already well knew something was awry after his ensorcelled trencher had begun to spin by some necromantic spell.

The schoolmaster hurried at once to confront the evil intruder whom he found smugly awaiting him.

Tauntingly Satan called to the schoolmaster: "Yea know the bargain. Thou hast but three chances to defeat me in a battle of wits or else thy soul is mine for eternity."

The wise schoolmaster challenged his adversary to first count all the blades of grass on the Castle Croft.

In a flash of smoke the Devil hurried away to banks of the Irwell near to Bury Castle and completed the task in less than an hour.

The schoolmaster then challenged him to count all the grains of sand on the School Brow. But in this too the Devil succeeded.

For his final task the undaunted and steady schoolmaster challenged Satan to count all the letters in the parish church's large bible.

After jeering that this too would prove easy, Satan made his way to the nearby church and upon finding the leather-bound book on the pulpit he heaved open the cover.

At once, however, the words on the ancient velum began to dance and blur before his eyes and he knew that he had been beaten.

Enraged, Satan departed back into the fireplace and with a deafening crack a large fissure appeared in the stone.

To this day "The Devil's Stone" remains visible and now sits under the Girls' School clock.