Aintree derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon “an-treow” – meaning “one tree” and that one tree was an ancient sprawling oak, sacred to the Druids and the Lily-White Boys cult of nature worshippers. This once heavily forested area is unusually flat, and when the trees of the great forest were cleared away, it became prime land for racing horses and pioneering aeroplane flights. In Elizabethan times, majestic horse races were held at Aintree, and of course, the place is synonymous today with the world-famous Grand National, but let us go back to the 1760s, when highwaymen such as Tom Barrow, Captain Moonlight, and Gentleman Higgins terrorised the good folk of Lancashire and Cheshire. Captain Moonlight was an unidentified highwayman, given his nickname by superstitious locals who believed him to be working in league with the Devil, as he always managed to avoid the law by apparently vanishing into thin air during the chase. Tom Barrow, a rather effeminate-looking scoundrel, was said to have been captured at Maghull, where a bounty-hunter discovered Barrow to be a Lord's beautiful daughter in disguise. Gentleman Higgins was a highwayman by night and a respectable member of the landed gentry by day, but someone finally put two and two together and Higgins ended up on the gallows in 1767 before a ring of well-to-do female spectators who wanted to see the handsome rogue die. The odd one amongst these bandits of the road was Captain Moonlight, who was, without a doubt, involved in Occultism. He was at large across Lancashire from Hunt’s Cross to Aintree, and was active over an impossibly long time-span, unless, of course, someone else took on his mantle when he retired.
One night on Tithe Barn Lane at Melling Captain Moonlight held up a coach carrying a corrupt local magistrate and three of a local farmer’s daughters who were forced regularly to be his mistresses. With two flintlocks trained on the magistrate and driver, Moonlight ordered the Justice of the Peace to strip naked, and he complied. The mysterious highwayman took his share of jewellery and items of value from the magistrate, and said the word “Meadows”. The judge trembled and returned a shocked look, as if the uttered word meant something. “I know your little secret,’ said Moonlight, “and so shall everyone else unless you cease bothering these girls.”
He then instructed the driver to take the farmer’s daughters home, leaving the judge naked in the road. Moonlight then rode off into the night, and the meaning of “Meadows” has never been unravelled. Some wondered if the judge had murdered an old landowner of that name years before, but no one really knows. Armed posses of men scoured Lancashire and beyond to capture Captain Moonlight, but he seemed to enjoy his cat and mouse games with his pursuers and would always vanish into the night. One foggy night he put a scarecrow on a horse and the posse chased it as far as Kirkby before they realised they’d been duped. Almost a hundred years later, the people of Wavertree, West Derby and Old Swan were terrorised by a masked, cloaked man in a tricorn, who was believed by the superstitious to be Captain Moonlight. Some asserted that he could be nothing more than an impostor, but the older folks who had seen him as children were convinced it was Moonlight, and that he’d returned from Hell to indulge in his demonic pastime again. Women on their way to church were allegedly outraged, and every blaze in the districts where Moonlight was said to be at large was accredited to him.
Who was Captain Moonlight? Well, when I delved into the many adventures of this sinister yet fair highwayman, a certain name came up again and again with a curious regularity, but no one would have suspected this person because he was a man of the cloth, but I cannot prove he is the Highwayman from Hell. How can I explain his abnormally long life, which easily surpassed a hundred years? Such longevity with that type of agility is impossible, unless he struck a deal with someone who trades in souls...