Dame Dorothy Legh, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy Legh (1565–1639) born Dorothy Egerton was the only legitimate child of Sir Richard Egerton of Ridley in Cheshire and Mary Grosvenor. She was known as Dorothy Brereton, Lady of the Manor of Worsley after she was married to Richard Brereton of Tatton and Worsley in 1577 when she was aged only twelve.[a]The age of consent for a female in England was established by the Westminster 1 statute of 1275 to be 12 years of age. In 1875 it was increased to 13, and then to 16 under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.[1] The Brereton’s only child Richard died while young.[2]

After Richard Brereton’s death in 1598 Dorothy inherited the manor of Worsley for life, after which, probably because of her intervention, it reverted to her step-brother, Sir Thomas Egerton.[3] Brereton was buried in Eccles Church where, in 1600, she erected a monument to him in the form of an altar tomb with recumbent figures. The man wears armour and his helmet is by his side, the lady wears an Elizabethan ruff and the figure of a child lies by her side.[4]

In 1605 Dorothy married Sir Peter Legh of Lyme, a widower with children. He died in 1636, three years before Dame Dorothy.[2] She was buried in Eccles Church alongside her first husband.[3][4] Her ghost is reputed to haunt an ash tree near Worsley Old Hall. To appease its spirit, a cock chicken was offered rather than a human life, and so her spirit in the form a swallow, appeared at the hall each year.[3]


Her portrait was painted twice. The first, by Zuccaro (mislabelled The Queen of Bohemia), was painted after she was first widowed. In it her face is described as “sad and numb”, she is dressed in black and her hand is placed on a Bible. The second portait painted in about 1615, is by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. In contrast it portrays a middle-aged lady with a “wide-awake face” wearing a hat, festooned with pearls, jewels, and a tame monkey. At Lyme it was called the “kit kat” portrait.[2]

Coal owner

The small coal pits she started were the forerunners of the Bridgewater CollieriesCoal mining company on the Lancashire Coalfield with headquarters in Walkden near Manchester.. Her Hulton pits were equipped with “windlass, ropes and chains” valued at £16 in 1639.[5] Coal mined and ready for sale at the pit banks was worth £140. In her will she left her workmen in her coal and cannelType of bituminous coal. pits in Middle Hulton, ten shillings each.[3][6]


Dorothy Legh gave money to provide a minister for Ellenbrook ChapelActive Anglican church of ancient foundation. and founded a charity to provide for the poor of Worsley and Middle Hulton.[3] Common Head in Tyldesley was purchased to provide income for the charity, and in 1828, according to custom, a quarter of the income was for the poor, one-third was given to the overseer of the poor of Middle Hulton to distribute at his discretion. Dame Dorothy Legh’s Charity is extant.




Ashmore, Owen. Industrial Archaeology of Lancashire. David & Charles, 1969.
Atkinson, Glen. The Canal Duke’s Collieries Worsley 1760-1900. Neil Richardson, 1998.
Emerson, Kathy Lynn. “DOROTHY EGERTON (1565-April 4,1639).” A Who’s Who of Tudor Women: E,
Farrer, William, and John Brownbill. “The Parish of Eccles: Introduction, Church and Charities.” A History of the County of Lancaster, Vol. 4, 1911,
Farrer, William, and John Brownbill. “Townships: Worsley.” A History of the County of Lancaster, Vol. 4, 1911, pp. 376–92,
Robertson, Stephen. Age of Consent Laws.