The Hall of Waltheof/Chapter VIII

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"THERE is a tradition," says Hunter, "among the inhabitants of Wadsley, that the ancient owners of the hall were accustomed to entertain twelve men and their horses every Christmas for twelve days; and that at their departure each man was expected to stick a large pin or needle in the mantle-tree."[1] A curious superstition which seems to illustrate the custom at Wadsley, has been observed at the village of Pulborough in Sussex. "During the repairing of a house in that village, on removing the hearth-stone of one of the rooms, a bottle containing upwards of two hundred pins was discovered, every pin being bent, and some of them much curved. On a bystander expressing his astonishment at this discovery, the workmen told him that they often found such things, and that they were deposited under the hearth-stone at the building of a house to insure its safety from witchcraft."[2] Now the hearth, says Mr. Gomme, "was the seat, not of the fire only, but of the spirit of the house ancestor himself. In earlier times it appears that the bodies of the deceased ancestors were actually buried within their dwellings." It seems then that these offerings of pins and needles on the mantle-tree, or mantle-piece, of the chief's house at Wadsley, were originally offerings made to the household god, or, in other words, to the spirit of that dead ancestor from whom the chief and the whole clan or community claimed descent.[3] "The primitive religion," says Dr. Hearn, "was domestic. This domestic religion was composed of two closely-related parts ; the worship of deceased ancestors, and the worship of the hearth. The latter form was subsidiary to, and consequent upon, the former. The deceased ancestor, or his ashes, was either actually buried, or assumed to be buried, beneath the hearth. Here, therefore, according to the primitive belief, his spirit was supposed to dwell; and here it received those daily offerings which were its rightful dues, and were essential to its happiness."[4]

Wadsley appears to be derived from a personal or mythological name Wad, and we may assume the old form of the word to have been Wads-leáh, Wad's territory. Under the word Vad (Wad) Förstemann gives a long list of place-names compounded with this personal name. At the head of the whole race of heroes was placed King Vilkinus "named," says Grimm, "after Vulcanus as the Latin termination shews, a god or demigod, who must have had another and German name, and who begets with the merwoman a gigantic son Vadi, Old English Wada, Old High German Wato, so named I suppose because, like another Christopher, he waded with his child on his shoulder through the Grœnasund where it is nine yards deep (between Zealand, Falster and Moen)."[5]

He further tells us that the Danish hero Wate in Gudrun is identical with him, and that the Old English Wada is placed towards Helsingen. "Old English poetry," he says, "had much to tell of him, that is now lost." But Chaucer mentions "Wade's boot Guingelot," "boot" meaning "boat." Now Wads-ley is by the side of the Don, which was crossed by a ford (wath) there. It is difficult to separate the personal from the mythological name, but Wads-ley seems to be derived either from the name of a chief or founder of a clan, or from a mythological being like Chaucer's Wade.


  1. Hallamshire, p. 272.
  2. Henderson's Folk-lore, 1879, p. 232.
  3. These offerings of needles seem afterwards to have been made by way of nominal chief rents.
  4. The Aryan Household, p. 54.
  5. Teut. Myth. p. 376. This connection with the verb wade would probably be inadmissible in the present state of philological science.