Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders
The Folk-Lore Society,
FOR COLLECTING AND PRINTING
RELICS OF POPULAR ANTIQUITIES, &c.
THE YEAR MDCCCLXXVIII
Alter et Idem.
THE FOLK-LORE SOCIETY.
PRINTED BY NICHOLS AND SONS,
25, PARLIAMENT STREET.
NOTES ON THE
NORTHERN COUNTIES OF ENGLAND
AND THE BORDERS.
A NEW EDITION WITH MANY ADDITIONAL NOTES.
AUTHOR OF “MY LIFE AS AN ANGLER.”
“Our mothers’ maids in our childhood . . . have so frayed us with bullbeggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, faunes, sylvans, kit-with-the-candlestick (will-o’-the-wisp), tritons (kelpies), centaurs, dwarfs, giants, imps, calcars (assy-pods), conjurors, nymphs, changelings, incubus, Robin-Goodfellow (Brownies), the spoorey, the man in the oak, the hellwain, the firedrake (dead light), the Puckle, Tom Thumb, Hobgoblin, Tom Tumbler, Bouclus, and such other bug-bears, that we are afraid of our own shadows.”
PUBLISHED FOR THE FOLK-LORE SOCIETY BY
W. SATCHELL, PEYTON and CO.,
THE MOST HONOURABLE
THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY,
IN REMEMBRANCE OF MUCH KINDNESS
AND OF MANY PLEASANT HOURS SPENT TOGETHER,
THIS VOLUME IS, BY PERMISSION, INSCRIBED
WITH EVERY SENTIMENT OE RESPECT AND ESTEEM
HIS LORDSHIP’S ATTACHED FRIEND,
The Council of the Folk-Lore Society, in issuing this work as one of the publications for the year 1879, desire to point out to the Members that it is chiefly owing to the generous proposal of Mr. Henderson they are enabled to produce in the second year of the Society’s existence a book so much appreciated by the Folk-Lore student. The first edition, published in 1866, has long since been exhausted, and it is only very rarely that a second-hand copy is to be met with. Moreover, the Author has added some considerable and valuable notes obtained since the publication of the first edition; and these facts brought the book within the compass of the Society’s Rules.
Castelnau, Barnes London, S.W.
G. L. Gomme,
Hon. Secretary to the Folk-Lore Society,
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The age in which we live is remarkable, as in other points of view, so in this, that old habits and customs, old laws and sayings, old beliefs and superstitions, which have held their ground in the universal mind from the remotest antiquity, are fast fading away and perishing. We of the nineteenth century may congratulate ourselves on their disappearance; we may lament it, but the fact remains the same; and I for one will frankly acknowledge that I regret much which we are losing, that I would not have these vestiges of the past altogether effaced. It were pity that they should utterly pass away, and leave no trace behind. My heart as well as my imagination is too closely bound up with the sayings and doings which gave zest to the life of my forefathers, and so I became a Folk-Lore student before Folk-Lore came into vogue as a pursuit. And, as befitted a genuine North-countryman, my researches were chiefly made in the district between the Tweed and the Humber. Accordingly, when, on the 14th of May, 1861, I was called upon as President of the Durham Athenæum to deliver a lecture in my native city, I chose for my subject the Folk-Lore of that part of England, and through the kindness of a few friends, resident in the North, if not natives of it, who zealously aided my researches, I was enabled to lay before the members of the Athenæum a considerable collection of the stories, sayings, and superstitions of old Northumbria.
It was plain that the mine was one of great riches, and it was to some extent unworked. Strangely enough, the mention of North Country Folk-Lore in Choice Notes, reprinted from Notes and Queries, is exceedingly scanty and meagre; and though Brand’s Popular Antiquities contains a fairer proportion of matter from this district, and there is a good deal that is interesting in Richardson’s Local Historian’s Table Book, much more clearly remained to be gathered up. But there was no time to lose. Old traditions were no longer firmly rooted in the popular mind, old customs were fast dying out, old sayings and household tales lingering only on the lips of grandsires and grandames; they had ceased to be the spontaneous expression of the thoughts and feelings of the mass of our peasantry. And this, I believe, from two causes: first, the more generally diffused education of the people, and the fresh subjects of thought supplied to them in consequence; and again, the migration of families which has taken place since the working of collieries and the extension of railways. Formerly, as our parish registers would show, families lived on for centuries in the same village or small town, sending out offshoots far or near, as circumstances might lead. Now whole families uproot themselves and move into other districts; and it has been found that when people are wrenched away from local associations, though they may carry their traditions with them, they fail to transmit them to their descendants.
Be this however as it may, I continued my researches, noting down carefully every morsel of Folk-Lore that came before me, and my reward has been far beyond my expectations. Besides many histories and sayings more or less noteworthy, I lighted on a treasure of exceeding value, which, through the kindness of my friend the Rev. R. O. Bromfield of Sprouston, I have been enabled to make my own. It was in fact a collection of Border customs, legends, and superstitions put together, about fifty years ago, by a young medical student of the name of Wilkie, residing at Bowden, near Eildon Hall; and this at the desire of Sir Walter Scott, for the purpose of being used by him in a projected work on the subject, which he never carried beyond two short essays on the Border Minstrelsy. Mr. Wilkie appears to have been a favourite and protégé of Sir Walter Scott, who procured him an appointment in India, where the young man died. The collection, although of great interest, was, as I received it, by no means in a fit state for publication. The contents were not arranged, there was a good deal of repetition, and the style was diffuse and wordy.
Meanwhile I had shown my lecture to the accomplished Editor of the Monthly Packet, whose interest in this and kindred subjects is well known, and whose varied and extensive reading renders her opinion peculiarly valuable. She expressed a wish that the lecture should be turned into an article for that magazine. This was done, and that article is the nucleus of this volume. To it I have annexed the numerous contributions which during upwards of five years I have received from a wide circle of friends, and with it I have incorporated the Wilkie MS. illustrating the whole, so far as I was able, by the Folk-Lore of other parts of the country, and in a measure of all Europe. But for the kindness of many valuable friends who have noted down whatever bore upon the subject, and communicated to me the result of their observations, the collection could never have been formed; and I desire to express my hearty thanks to all who have thus aided me in my task, especially to the Rev. J. C. Atkinson, Perpetual Curate of Danby; the Rev. J. Barmby, Principal of Hatfield Hall, University of Durham; the Rev. J. P. Bigge, Vicar of Stamfordham; the Rev. R. O. Bromfield, Sprouston; the Rev. J. Cundill, Incumbent of St. Margaret’s Durham; the Rev. W. Greenwell, Rector of St. Mary in the South Bailey, Durham; the Rev. J. W. Hick, Incumbent of Byer’s Green; the Rev. Canon Humble, St. Ninian’s, Perth; the Rev. George Ornsby, Vicar of Fishlake; the Rev. James Raine, York, Secretary of the Surtees Society; the Rev. H. B. Tristram, Master of Greatham Hospital; the Rev. R. Webster, Vicar of Kelloe; the Author of The Heir of Redclyffe; Mr. J. R. Appleton, Durham; Mr. Henry Denny, Assistant Curator of the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society; Mr. H. Heaviside, Stockton-on-Tees; Mr. James Hardy, Old Cambus; Mr. John Holland, Sheffield; the late F. H. Johnson, M. D. Sunderland; Mrs. Murray, Torquay; Mr. T. P. Teale, F.R.S. Leeds; Mr. George Markham Tweddell, Stokesley; Mr. P. J. Wharam, Durham; Mr. C. Waistall, Cotherstone; and Mr. W. Wilcox, Whitburn.
To my friend the Rev. George Ornsby I am under still further obligations for much valuable general assistance in my undertaking, and to the Rev. S. Baring-Gould for many notes of exceeding interest, and for much of the Introductory Chapter, including all the references to the Fathers and Schoolmen. The notes are dispersed throughout the work, and are distinguished by his initials. I must further add, that I have not pursued my labours single-handed, although it is the wish of my fellow-worker, who desires only to be designated by the initials S.W., that this volume comes out under my name alone. I cannot, however, in justice do less than state here that her share in the work has been fully equal to my own.
In comparing and classifying the subject-matter of this volume, I have chiefly used the following books: Brand’s Popular Antiquities,—Choice Notes from Notes and Queries: Folk-Lore,—Kelly’s Indo-European Traditions, Thorpe’s Mythology and Popular Traditions of Scandinavia, and Richardson’s Local Historian’s Table Book.Durham, 1866.
PREFATORY NOTICE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
At the close of the introductory chapter to the first edition of the following work, I expressed a wish which had grown and strengthened within me during its compilation—a wish that all such Folk-Lore as still existed in the remoter parts of our land should at once be gathered up, classified, and carefully preserved.
This was happily effected, after a lapse of some years, by the establishment, in 1878, of the Folk-Lore Society, which has for its object “the preservation and publication of popular Traditions, Legendary Ballads, Local Proverbial Sayings, Superstitions and Old Customs, and all subjects relating to them.”
Meanwhile, much new matter bearing on the Folk-Lore of the North of England and the Borders was brought before me by the kindness of my personal friends, and of others who felt an interest in the subject. All this was carefully incorporated into the original work, and this spring I placed the whole in the hands of the Honorary Secretary of the Folk-Lore Society, offering it, should such a course be desired, for publication under the auspices of that Society. The Council was pleased to accept my proposal, and hence the appearance of this volume under circumstances so gratifying to the Author.
I must next tender my grateful thanks to those among my earlier correspondents who have kindly communicated to me whatever fresh Folk-Lore has come under their notice, and also to the new friends who have come forward to impart to me the result of their observation and their researches. Among these latter I beg to particularise Henry Crombie, Esq. Woodville House, Isle of Man; Joseph Crawhall, Esq. Newcastle-on-Tyne; J. S. Crompton, Esq. Azerley Hall, Ripon; M. T. Culley, Esq. Coupland Castle, Northumberland; W. Dobson, Esq. Park Terrace, Fulwood Park, Preston; Mrs. Evans, Scremerston Vicarage, Northumberland; Colonel Johnson, The Deanery, Chester-le-Street; the Rev. W. De Lancey Lawson, Newland Vicarage, Gloucestershire; Professor Marecco, Newcastle-on-Tyne; G. A. Robinson, Esq. Hill House, Reeth, Yorkshire; the late Rev. G. Rooke, Vicar of Embleton; the late Thomas Sopworth, Esq. London; Mr. Joshua Stott, Perth; the Rev. Hugh Taylor, Wark, Hexham; T. C. Thompson, Esq. East Grinstead; the Rev. Morgan G. Watkins, Barnoldby-le-Beck Rectory, Great Grimsby; the Rev. T. H. Wilkinson, Moulsham Vicarage, Chelmsford; the Rev. T. P. Williamson, Little Brickhill, Bletchley; Mrs. Latham, Florence Villa, Torquay, to whom I elsewhere acknowledge my more than usual obligations; and Thomas Satchell, Esq. Downshire Hill House, Hampstead, who, with a most generous sacrifice of time and pains, has compiled the voluminous index which accompanies this edition of my work.
The pages of the present edition have further been enriched by references to Napier’s Folk-Lore of the West of Scotland; Denny’s Folk-Lore of China; Dobson’s Rambles by the Ribble; and Yorkshire Oddities, by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould
It only remains for me to add, that I feel it impossible for me sufficiently to express my obligations to my relative, Miss Susanna Warren, for much valuable assistance rendered to the work; indeed, ours must be understood to have been a joint labour.
Ashford Court, Ludlow,
The long survival of remnants of Heathenism—Toleration of the Church—Her severity—Credulity of Martin Luther—Of the Calvinistic Divines—Varied Sources of the Folk-Lore of Great Britain
Life and Death of Man.
Day of Birth—Hour of Birth—Border Customs at the Birth of a Child—Unchristened Ground—Unbaptized Children at the Mercy of Fairies—Safeguards for the Child—Folk-Lore connected with Baptism—Cutting of Nails—The Toom Cradle—The Child’s First Visit—The Ash-tree—Weeds and Onfas—Beads of Peony Root—The Caul and Veil—Folk-Lore of Childhood:—Rain Charms—Rainbow Charms—Crow, Snail, and Nettle Charms—Folk-Lore of Boyhood:—School-rites and Customs—The Riding of the Stang—Confirmation—Days for Marriage—Seasons for Marriage—Marriage Portents—Marriage Customs:—On the Borders—In Yorkshire—Throwing the Shoe—Kissing the Bride—The Petting-stone—Hotpots—Rubbing with Pease-straw—Race for a Ribbon—Portents of Death—Whistling Woman and Crowing Hen—Border Presage—The Wraith or Waff—St. Mark’s Eve—Cauff-riddling—Saining a Corpse—Death with the Tide—Discovery of the Drowned—Use of Pigeons’ or Game-fowl Feathers—Carrying the Dead with the Sun—The Passing Bell
Days and Seasons.
Christmas—St. Stephen’s Day—The Sword Dancers—Mummers—New Year’s Eve—New Year’s Day—The First Foot—Shrove Tuesday—Passion Sunday—Palm Sunday—Good Friday—Easter Day—May Day—Ascension Day—Whitsun Day—Corpus Christi—The Harvest, Mell Supper, and Kern Baby—St. Agnes’ Fast—Valentine’s Day—April 1st—First Cuckoo Day—The Borrowing Days—May 29—St. Michael’s Day—All-Hallow E’en—St. Clement’s Day—St. Andrew’s Day—Epithets for the Days of the Week
Spells and Divinations.
With the Horse-knot—Three Pails of Water—Holly-leaves—Yarrow—The Sark—The Willow Branch—Hair-snatching—Hemp Seed—A Glass Globe—A New-laid Egg—Wishing-chairs—Ring and Water—Palmistry
Portents and Auguries.
On the Borders—In Durham—At Leeds—From the New Moon—Gift of a Knife—The Spilling of Salt—First Stone taken from a Church—First Corpse laid in a Churchyard—A buried Charm—Auguries from Birds—Rooks—Swallows—Redbreast—Yellow Hammer—Wren—Bat—Raven—Magpie—Gabriel Hounds—Gabble Retchet—Wild Huntsman—Sneezing
Charms and Spells.
For Warts—Ringworm—Whooping Cough—Tooth-ache—Use of South-running Water—Weak Eyes—Epilepsy—Silver Rings—Sacrifice of Animals—Erysipelas—Ague—St. Vitus’ Dance—Bleeding at the Nose—Goitre—Worms—Cramp—Healing of Wounds—Sympathy—Rheumatism—Foul (in Cattle)—Dean and Chapter—The Minister and the Cow—The Lockerby Penny—The Black Penny of Hume Byers—The Lee Penny—Loch Monar—Burbeck’s Bone—The Adder’s Stone—Irish Stones—Calf hung up in Chimney—Need-fire—Dartmoor Charms—Knife and Bone—Salt Spell—Passon Harris—Cumbrian Charm—Yorkshire Spell
In the Borders—Drawing Blood above the Mouth—Witchcraft in Durham—In Devonshire—Witches in Dairies—Elf-shooting—The Evil Eye—Witchcraft in Sunderland—In the West Riding—Changelings—The Blacksmith’s Wife of Yarrowfoot—The Farmer’s Wife at Bollebeck—The Miller of Holdean—The Giant of Dalton Mill—Ronaldson of Bowden—The Farmer’s Wife of Deloraine—Hair tethers—Maydew—Laird Harry Gilles and the Hare—Tavistock Legend—Yorkshire Tales—Witches disguised as Hares—Toads—Cats—Ducks—Auld Nan Hardwick—Nannie Scott—Auld Betty—The Wise Man o’ Stokesley—Willie Dawson—Black Jock—Black Willie—Incantation of a Heart and Pins—Rowan Wood—Pins—Corp-cré—Bible and Key—Riddle and Shears—Billy Pullen—The Hand of Glory—The Lost Watch—Kate Neirns
The Bogle—Brownie—Dobie—Brown Man of the Muirs—Killmoulis—Redcap—Powries or Dunters—Wag-at-the-Wa’—Habetrot—Cowling E’en—Thrumpin—Dunnie—Hobhole Hob—Hob Headless—Hob Thrush—Peg Powler—Peg-o’-Nell——Cauld Lad of Hilton—The Radiant Boy—Silky—Picktree Brag—Hedley Kow Kludde—Oschaert—Padfoot—Barquest—Capelthwaite—Northern Sprites compared with those of Devon—The Evil Spirit—Cloutie’s Croft—The Minister and Satan—The Devil trying all Trades—Praying aloud
Worms and Dragons.
Probable Origin of these Legends—Worm of Sockburn—The Pollard Worm or Brawn—The Lambton Worm—The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh—The Linton Worm—Dragons at St. Osyth’s—Deerhurst—Mordeford—Chipping Norton—Denbigh—St. Leonard and the Worm—The Helstone Dragon—Review of the Subject.
Occult Powers and Sympathies.
Seventh Sons or Marcoux—Twins—Aërial Appearances—The School-boy and Neville’s Cross—Sympathy between Bees and their Owners—Sacred Character of Bees—The Old Woman and Spider—Marks on the Leg of a Pig—The Presbyterian Minister and the Fisher Folk
The Willington Ghost—Maiden’s Castle—Kirkstall Abbey—The Sexhow Farmer and Old Nannie—Mines Haunted—The Old Lady of Littledean—The Bow-brig Ladies—Apparition in Fifeshire—Haunted Spots in Durham—In Yorkshire—Sir Walter Calverley—Dalton Hill Head—Haunted Houses—Appearances at Ripon—Canon Humble’s Narration—Madame Gould—Devon Legends—Sussex Ghosts
Dreams presaging Death—In the North of England—In Ireland—Of the Rev. Jacob Duché—Dead Bodies discovered through Dreams—Visions at Horbury—In Lincolnshire—The Bodach Glas—Second Sight