In the two previous issues of the Almanac, we’ve told stories of eccentric characters from the North West. In keeping with that tradition, let us introduce Tattersall Wilkinson, known as ‘Owd Tat’ or the ‘Sage of Roggerham’. We first mentioned Owd Tat in relation to his book, ‘Memories of Hurstwood, Burnley, Lancashire’, in which he tells the tale of the Barcroft Boggart. Folklore played a big part in Wilkinson’s life, but he also took an interest in astronomy, archaeology, geology and natural history.
He later attended the Worsthorne National School when it opened in 1831, and his name appears on the 4th page of the school book of the day, with the accompanying comment, “Tattersall Wilkinson, the son of Robert and Nannie Wilkinson, aged 6. Knows a few of his letters.”
Wilkinson was very well-read, especially for a young boy from a poor family, and was mostly self-taught. One story tells how he once heard a foreign language being spoken in Worsthorne. Upon discovering it was German, he immediately sought out a book and taught himself to speak the language.
At the age of ten Wilkinson was sent to look after sheep on the moors, and it was here that he had his first lesson in astronomy when Halley’s Comet appeared in the skies in 1835, with Tat’s mother prophesying disaster to follow. In 1848 Wilkinson moved to Blackpool, where he worked as a jeweller and auctioneer for thirty years, but a love of his home ground remained with him, and in 1882, at the age of 47, he moved back to his native hills. He was involved in the discovery and preservation of historical and pre-historical artefacts, and wrote extensively about the history, folklore and his own memories of the area. He also travelled, visiting the principal cities in Italy in 1892, including Milan, Turin and Rome. He was part of the great gathering of astronomers who met at Ovar, Portugal in 1900 to witness a total eclipse of the sun.
Wilkinson delivered lectures across East Lancashire and Yorkshire in history, folklore and science. In 1910 he paid a visit to Laycock’s Restaurant in Bradford, where he talked for an hour and a half on the subject of Rome, and according to the Burnley Gazette, “interest from beginning to end never flagged.”
Details about Wilkinson’s family life are difficult to come by, but he did have at least one child, a son, also named Tattersall. To celebrate his 92nd birthday, the Burnley Express and Advertiser published an article by an R. Stansfield, who commented on Wilkinson’s youthful and smart appearance at a recent meeting, suggesting, “it is because he is free from care; has a happy and contented mind; breathes the fresh upland air as it passes over the smiling fields and woodlands; lives frugally and carefully...and, generally, is in touch with all that is best in the human heart...Essentially a child of the hills, he naturally returned to their bosom when the opportunity came, and he has never let go his firm hold of Mother Nature since.” Stansfield concludes by asking readers “to give "three times three" cheers for the sage of Roggerham, and may he live until he has passed the century, and as he grows in years may he grow into a still nobler specimen of the human species.” Unfortunately Owd Tat didn’t make it to 100, passing away at the age of 96 in 1921. He did, however, live to see Halley’s Comet pass a second time in 1910, a remarkable occurrence in the life of a very remarkable man.