Warrington is a picturesque town located in the north of England, and is dominated by the expansive River Mersey. Its origins date back millennia, specifically to the Roman invasion of England, which began in 43 AD. Just like so many old English towns and villages, Warrington has its very own saga of the supernatural kind attached to it. It is a story that goes back to the 1600s and revolves around the malignant machinations of a local, evil crone. She was known by the people of the area as Old Peggy Gronach and was described as being “evil, ugly and haggard.” The tale is a strange one. It was carefully and independently investigated and chronicled by two English researchers of the paranormal, a good friend of mine, Neil Arnold, and the late Wally Barnes, the former in an article titled “The Warrington Man-Beast!” and the latter in a 1990 book titled Ghosts, Mysteries & Legends of Old Warrington.
So the old tale goes, much-feared Peggy had, for years, managed to successfully stay one step ahead of the many witch-hunting gangs that roamed the countryside, and who were determined to see all of England’s witches roasted to death on flaming bonfires. Whether due to good luck or the effects of some dark and disturbing incantation, Peggy was clearly not meant to have a fiery end. She successfully went from hamlet to hamlet, and from town to town, and carefully ensured that she never – ever – stayed in one place for too long. And that included Warrington, too, which she chose to call her next home, after skillfully eluding hunters from the eastern England city of Norwich. Although the witch-hunters failed to catch up with Peggy, her reputation most assuredly preceded her – to the effect that when word got out that she was on the way, a chilled and ominous atmosphere quickly descended upon Warrington and its worried people. It was an atmosphere which remained for months, to the regret of just about everyone.
Due to the fact that, back in the 1600s, it took weeks – sometimes months, even – for news to travel the length and the breadth of the country, Peggy knew that she was safe for at least while. As a result, she quickly put down roots at what became known locally as Peggy Gronach’s Chicken Farm. It was a ruined, spooky old building that no-one wished to visit. Not even the local, and usually adventurous, children of the town. At least, that is, not for a couple of weeks.
The day came, however, when that spirit of youthful excitement got the better of a group of young kids, who decided to check out the old farm for themselves. It was something that one and all bitterly came to regret. And quickly so, too. As they stealthily crept through the wild, tall grass that surrounded an old and battered cottage that stood next to the farm, a terrible and fierce face appeared at one of the windows. The children were momentarily frozen by the sight of a creature that, with a degree of hindsight, sounds like some unholy combination of a Bigfoot and a demon: it was a hair-covered humanoid that sported blazing red eyes and two huge horns which sat on top of its large, bulbous head. Suddenly, the slavering monster was gone, and old Peggy came screaming through the front door, running wildly in the direction of the hysterical children.
When the kids told their parents of the terrible thing they had just encountered, in no time at all rumors got around that the horned, hairy thing and Peggy Gronach were one and the same – a witch that understood, and employed, the mysterious secrets of shapeshifting. And in terrible fashion. Others believed that the beast was Gronach’s familiar – a familiar being a supernatural entity, such as an imp or a demon, that could take on the form of numerous animals, such as cats, toads, rats and monstrous things. No-one dared go anywhere near the old farm, lest they became the next victim of Peggy or her familiar.
Thankfully, things quietened down for a couple of weeks. That is, until a local man, pulling his horse and cart, was attacked, by what sounded very much like the same, hideous beast. Luckily, no harm came to man nor horse, and both managed to flee the area and while never looking back. Only days later, however, there was yet another supernatural assault. On this occasion, the outcome was very different: a local farmer found one of his cows savagely mutilated and killed – by violent decapitation.
A group of locals – no doubt waving flaming torches and provoking, for us, imagery of those old black-and-white Frankenstein movies of the 1930s and 1940s – headed off to the farm. It was time to bring Peggy Gronach’s reign of terror to an irreversible halt. Perhaps anticipating that she had outstayed her welcome, Peggy was nowhere in sight. The only tell-tale sign of her dark presence was the bloodied, and half-eaten, body of a dead goat.
Although that was the end of the story, and Peggy was never seen again, years later rumors swirled around Warrington to the effect that the skeleton of a strange creature had been found, semi-buried in an old, nearby field. It was said to have had the body of a large, four-legged animal and the skull of a human. Old, wizened Peggy struck down halfway through a terrible transformation from woman to monster? That’s exactly what many of the townsfolk of Warrington thought.