Glassensikes – Black Dogs & Will o’ the Wisp

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Glassensikes has goblins as grim as any river-demons of Scottish land. Headless gentlemen, who disappeared in flame, headless ladies, white cats, white rabbits, white dogs, black dogs; “shapes that walk at dead of night, and clank their chains;” in fact, all the characteristics of the Northern Barguest were to be seen in full perfection at Glassensikes. It is true that these awful visions occasionally resolved themselves into a pony, shackled in an adjoining field, or Stamper’s white dog, or a pair of sweethearts” under the cold moon,” but still a vast amount of credible evidence exists about the fallen glories of the night-roaming ghost of Glassensikes.

The Glassensikes witnesses are not all thoughtless, and superstitious men. An old gentleman of Darlington was, at the witching hour of midnight, returning from Oxeneyfield. It was a bright moonlight night, and the glories of the firmament led him, as he says, to possess a more contemplative turn of mind than he ever felt before or since. In such a frame he thought that if nothing was to be seen in the day, nothing could well haunt Glassensikes by night, and in firm faith, but without any wish to exercise an idle curiosity, he determined to look to it very narrowly, and satisfy himself as to the fallacy of the popular notion. Accordingly, when he came to the place where the road to Harewood Hill now turns off, he looked back, and was greatly surprised to see a large animal’s head popped through the stile at the commencement of the footpath, leading by the present Woodside to Blackwell. Next came a body. Lastly, came a tail.

Glassensikes iv

Now my hero, having at first no idea that the unwelcome visitant was a ghost, was afraid that it would fly at him, for it bounced into the middle of the road and stared intently at him, whereupon he looked at it for some minutes, not knowing well what to do, and beginning to be somewhat amazed, for it was much larger than a Newfoundland dog, and unlike any dog he had ever seen, though well acquainted with all the canine specimens in the neighbourhood; moreover it was as black as a hound of hell. He thought it best to win the affections of so savage a brute, so cracked his fingers invitingly at it, and practised various other little arts for some time. The dog, however, was quite immovable, still staring ferociously, and as a near approach to it did not seem desirable, he turned his back and came to Darlington, as mystified about the reality of the Glassensikes ghost as ever.

Of late years, this harmless sprite has seemingly become disgusted with the increased traffic past its wonted dwelling, and has become a very well behaved domestic creature. The stream, however, loves to make new ghosts, and by its stagnant nature does every thing in its power to obtain them.

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The headless man who vanished in flame, was, of course, the many-named imp, Robin Goodfellow, Hobgoblin, Mad Crisp, Will-the-Wispe,* Will-with-a-wisp, Will-a-Wisp, Will-and-the-wisp, William-with-a-wispe, Will-o’-the-wisp, Kitty-with-a-wisp, Kit-with-the-canstick (candlestick), Jack- with-a-lanthorn, Jack-w’-a-lanthorns, Fire-drake, Brenning-drake, Dicke- a-Tuesday, Ignis fatuus, or Foolish Fire (because says Blount, it only feareth fools), Elf-fire, Gyl-burnt-Tayle, Gillion-a-burnt-taile, Sylham lamps (being very frequent at Sylham in Suffolk), Sylens (Reginald Scot), Death- fires, Wat (seen in Buckinghamshire prisons), Mab (mab-led or mob-led in Warwickshire, signifies being led astray by a Will-o’-the-Wispe) with all the varieties of Puck. When seen on ship masts it is styled a complaisance, St. Helen’s fire, St. Helmes fires, the Fires of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Herme’s fire and St. Ermyn ; in classic times Helen, and when two lights occurred, Castor and Pollux.

The phenomenon is a forerunner of a dearth in popular fancy, at sea it is a weather symbol, and in superstitious times the Romanist clergy persuaded the people that the lights were souls come out of Purgatory all in flame, to move them to give money, to say mass for them, each man thinking they might be some relations’ souls, The grand settlement of the Ignis fatuus (a natural marvel never yet satisfactorily explained) was in the little square field, now surrounded by roads. It revelled in its bogginess, unearthly flames lighted up the hedge near the Blackwell-lane, and a woeful wight was unable to return from Blackwell on one occasion, in consequence of a great gulph of fire there.

Glassensikes iii

I am given to understand that the Will-o’-Wisp has been seen even since Harewood Hill was built, and the field improved. I am not sure that the headless man of Prescott’s stile (somewhat further up the bank, and hard by a little plantation of Nordykes, where the footpath to Blackwell turns out of the field into the lane) has quite disappeared from the ken of earthly eyes. I know not what the Prescotts did, but surely some dark deeds crossed their annals, or else their old deserted mansion at Blackwell, and their stile leading to it, would not have become the haunted spots they have.

The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington

William Hylton Longstaffe

1854

Mark’s-e’en Vigil

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Perhaps one of the oldest customs is that in connection with St. Mark’s Eve. The belief is still held that those who watch the church porch at the hour of midnight on that eve, will see pass in front of them and enter the church the spirits of all of those friends who will die during the coming year. With some it is held to be a sine qua non that the watcher must sit within the porch; whilst others hold four cross roads to be equally efficacious, alway provided that the body of one who had committed suicide, with the orthodox stake driven through the chest, had been buried there, that being the end of suicides in the good old days.

It should be borne in mind that there are two slight penalties attached to this porch or cross-road watching.

Firstly should the watcher fall asleep, there is every probability if its being the sleep of death. Should he however, manage to awaken from such a lethargic slumber it doesn’t amount to much, as he will assuredly die within the next twelve months. Secondly, whoever tries this game once must continue to do so ever afterwards. There is no escape; the spell upon them is said to be too strong to withstand.

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. 1911

 

Death or Wealth?

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When a cinder springs sharply out of the fire it was called either a purse or a coffin; the distinction depending not on the shape, but on its making a cracking noise or being perfectly silent; in the former case it is called a purse. This idle piece of superstition is not attended with very violent emotions either grief or joy, although originally, no doubt it was supposed to forebode wealth or death to the person nearest to whom it first fell.
A glossary of provincial words used in Teesdale. Frederick P Dunsdale. 1849

Happy New Year

I hope the lucky birds bring you all a happy and prosperous New Year

Hagmenay, Trollolay

Give us your white bread,

But none of your grey.

Hagmena, Hagmena,

Give us cake and cheese and let us go away.

The Legend of the Giant’s Lapstone

A giant lived in a cave near the top of Stony Ridge. He was a kindly bloke, a cordwainer by trade. The giant had a daughter who is described by Blakeborough as rarely with her father, and whilst absent on mysterious and ethereal missions left control of the household to an old housekeeper. The daughter longed to transform the cave into a luxurious home but could only use her magical powers for the good of others.

Stony Ridge

A wicked baron moved into the district and went about corrupting the local young men leading them into licentious, drunken and debauched behaviours. The women of the district were terrified of the baron and his entourage, many of the women fled in fear.

The giant began to hear tales of the shame that the baron was bringing to the women of the district and a number of men and women approached the giant to ask for his protection. On hearing of what was happening the giant was so shocked that his lapstone dropped from his knee with a crash that shook the local hills. He took the stone and hung it over the entrance to his cave. Then taking a metal bar he struck it three times calling on the gods to rise in vengeance.

Soon a beautiful chariot, fashioned in the shape of a giant boot and drawn by thirteen swans, descended from the sky driven by the giant’s daughter.  The daughter demanded to know why she had been summoned. Her father showed her the men and women who had come asking for his protection.

Woodcut,_showing_Venus_in_chariot._Wellcome_L0006603

The daughter turned to the men and told them that they had fallen because they were inclined to evil therefore their sin was their own. She then turned to the women and said that their case, in some, was different. Some were forced to wickedness but others, like the men, had brought themselves to shame and that they would be tested. The daughter then took her father’s knife and magically fashioned a hole in the lapstone, she then called upon each of the women to step forward and be tested by attempting the place their leg into the hole, then, depending on the verdict of the stone, divided the women into two groups.

Once the testing was complete the daughter addressed the first, largest group telling  them that they had nothing to feel ashamed about and any children born to them would crown their heads with blessing and not with remorse or shame,  she also informed them that any wrong done to them would be avenged on that very day. She then turned to the second, smaller, group of women and told them that the stone had convicted them and although their tempter will be removed, their shame will follow them for the rest of their days. The daughter then took the lapstone into her flying chariot and was seen, in the distance, to drop it onto the side of the bank of the Basedale Beck.

As the group retuned home from the giant’s cave they met a maiden who told them that she had been chased by the baron and his hounds. She told them how she had fled to the Basedale Beck hoping that she could escape from the pack by crossing running water. As she reached the edge of the beck the baron was just about to seize her when she lost her footing and slipped down the bank. At that moment she heard a loud thunderbolt fall to earth at which point she fainted. When she came around the hounds were lying dead around a large stone that had fallen to earth and there was no sign of the baron. Blakeborough ends the tale saying that the stone had at once become a Nemesis and a tombstone, and had rid the district of an evil thing.

Baysdale

Source – The Hand of Glory. J. Fairfax Blakeborough. 1924

Image of Venus on her chariot being drawn by swans by Albumasar Abalachi [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Giant’s Lapstone

Hob Hole

The Giant’s Lapstone was a large boulder on the southern slope of the Basedale Beck valley at Hob Hole. The boulder  was described by Blakeborough as Hanging, as though balanced and held by some unforeseen agency.  he goes on to state that The massive rock was believed to possess the power of detecting those maidens who had in any way deviated from the paths of virtue..It was recognised as a testing-place of virginity and purity.

In the centre of the boulder was a hole about two feet deep shaped like a foot print. The tradition held that a maiden whose purity was tarnished would be able to place her leg in the depression without difficulty, whereas the leg of a virtuous women would cause the cavity to close towards the apex thus preventing her foot from being fully inserted.

The stone was also a place of pilgrimage  for newly married women seeking a blessing on any children that they may have. For a pilgrim to receive a blessing from the stone she had to the perform the following ritual.

The visit must be made on a Monday, the mother to be had to bring a cobblers hammer and a shoe for her left foot. She had to then sit on the stone and recite a long doggeral rhyme. Blakeborough gives us an imperfectly remember version of the rhyme.

Cobbler, cobbler, look on me,

I come to crave thy blessing,

…….

I beat thy leather for thee.

…….

Nine nails to bind the heel I take.

…….

A wild boar’s bristle, long and strong, 

To thy wax-end I fix it.

To nine long strands well rolled,

I wax them well with drawn wax,

I wax, I wax it well for thee.

……..

I wet the welt, I beat the welt,

As on they last I lay the welt.

…….

Tough and firm from the middle hide,

Well-beaten on they lapstone,

I lay my sole upon thy last.

Strong as nine wax-ends thrice doubled,

So none but thy giant hands could pull asunder.

 

Now lifting up the shoe the supplicant had brought along with her, she continued:

 

The shoe is now made,

As well shaped as it I now put on, I pray

May all my children be;

Strong in every part.

I claim but one shoe from thee today.

May I never have a two-birth.

I cast my old shoes from me,

Poor and shapeless.

No part upon the lapstone ever lay-

Into the water I cast it-

To it may all my ill-luck cling,

And that of all that shall be mine. 

So cobbler look upon me

With favour and great graciousness,

I pray thee look upon me,

And all mine yet unborn;

Ere I bid thee good-day. 

Sadly, nothing remains of the Lapstone. Some time around 1830 the boulder slipped into the valley bottom causing an obstruction in the beck and the stone was broken up by blasting. The portion of the stone with the footprint shaped depression was taken to Castleton where it was used as a mounting-stone outside of one of the inns. This stone is thought to have been broken-up to repair the road. The legend of the Giant involves a wicked Baron and a boot-shaped chariot drawn by thirteen swans. I will write that tale in another post.

Source – The Hand of Glory. J Fairfax-Blakeborough. 1924

An Auld Wife’s End

Did ye ivver see an auld wife,

An auld, auld, auld, wife ;

Did ye ivver see an auld wife

Hung ower a dyke to dry ?

The day was het, the wife was fat,

And she began to fry ;

So there was an end o’ the auld wife.

Hung ower the dyke to dry

A while ago I found this nursery rhyme in the Denham Tracts (pub. 1895). I was drawn to the rhyme by the mention of the Auld Wife, I tried to make some sense of it but gave up. I recently returned to the rhyme after reading about harvest traditions in Britain and Europe. I suspect that the origin of the rhyme may lie in a tradition concerning the last sheath cut in the harvest.

willy Howe

In the past, in certain parts of  Northern Britain and Ireland, the first farmer to finish his harvest would create an effigy from the last sheath, it was then passed to his neighbour who finished harvesting next and so on until it reached the last farmer to finish his harvest. This farmer was then duty-bound to keep it safe until the following spring. The effigy was known as The Cailleach, Carlin or Carline. The English translation of the Gaelic word Cailleach is Old Woman, Hag or Crone.

HarvestSummer by Pieter van der Heyden

It’s interesting that this tradition is not just confined to the British Isles. In many parts of Europe the final sheath of the harvest is deemed to be a powerful Talisman and is often known as the old mother, old woman or grandmother. In Germany the last sheath is known as Der Alte, the Old One. In the Baltic countries the last sheath is referred to as Baba or Boba, the Old Woman. James Frazer wrote an account of this in his 1922 book The Golden Bough.

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James Frazer also describes a tradition in North Pembrokeshire were the last sheath of the harvest was known as the Hag (wrach). Once the Hag was cut it had to be taken into a neighbour’s house unobserved and dry. Neighbours would keep buckets and pans of water ready to drench anyone who may be trying to smuggle the Hag into their house. The person who managed to hang the Hag in a neighbours house was entitled to a small reward such as a jug of beer. I suspect the nursery rhyme may have it’s roots in the tradition of the harvest Hag, Hag being another word for an old woman.

Sources

The Denham Tracts, Michael Aislabie Denham. 1895

The Golden Bough. Sir James George Frazer. 1922

The Devil’s Arrows

The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.

Devils arrows

The stones exist in a wider, complex, prehistoric landscape, a recent archaeological survey of the surrounding area uncovered a number of features including a double timber post row and an associated ditch, extensive flint scatters and grooved ware pottery.

The tallest stones is 22.5 feet high making it the second tallest prehistoric standing stone in the UK after the Rudston Monolith at 26 feet. Graeme Chappell recently informed me that the Rudston Monolith, 44 miles away, is aligned precisely due East of the Arrows.

The antiquarian John Leland visited the town sometime between 1535 and 1540  and described the row as four upright stones with no mention of a fallen fifth stone

..little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat,as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.

A German traveler, Lupold Von Wedel visited the stones in 1584 and recorded seeing five stones, four upright and one lying on the ground. Thirty years later another antiquarian, William Camden visited the stones but only three were left upright, and again, no mention of a fifth stone..

Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides.

Aubrey

John Aubrey’s notes in his Monumenta Britannica complied between 1665 and 1693. Aubrey thought that the stones may have been part of a great stone circle. No evidence has ever been found to support his theory.

devils_arrows stukeley

Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776


The Arrows copy

Illustration from The Strangers Guide: Being a concise history & description of Boroughbridge by Boroughbridge. 1846

The fourth stone, toppled by treasure hunters, is thought to have been broken-up and used as the foundation for the bridge over the nearby River Tutt in 1621. There is an account of the top of the stone being taken and placed into the garden of Aldborough Manor.

If its lower portion was embedded in the bridge it may still be there. A local belief that the upper segment was set up in the grounds of Aldborough Manor (Lukis 1877, 134), has been kindly confirmed by the present owner, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred (pers. comm.).

The Devil’s Arrows: The Archaeology of a Stone Row by Aubrey Burl. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 63. 1991

Graeme and I have recently been discussing the fate of the fourth stone and decided to take a look to see if we could locate any traces of the missing stone.

Devils Arrows

We started at the stones themselves. There is currently a crop of beets in the field so we followed the well worn path around field margin. Whilst we were looking at the possible cupmarks on the northern stone we got chatting to a woman who told us that, whilst walking her dogs in the area, she had once experienced an energy at the stones that was so powerful it had made her feel ill.

I have enhanced this image a little to highlight the cupmarks on the stone.

We also noticed that there were lots of ladybirds on the stones, it turns out that these are Harlequin Ladybirds, an invasive species that are said to be responsible for the decline of our native species.

Devils Arrows grooves

I’ve recently read that the grooves on the tops of the stone were caused by The Devil trying to hang his grandmother from the stone.  The tale does not say why he was trying to hang her or whether he was successful. I was just surprised to learn that the prince of darkness had a grandmother

The road beside the field is currently being improved to provide access to a new housing development. It is always a little disturbing to see a development encroaching upon an ancient site.

We took a walk down to the bridge over the River Tutt to see if we could spot any remains of the stone.

Tutt Bridge

The Arrows are made of Millstone Grit and are thought to have been brought to the site from Plumpton Rocks, a distance of over 8 miles. The local building stone is a fairly uniform. fine grained sandstone so the coarser grained gritstone, with it’s large quartz grains is quite easy to identify. We didn’t find any evidence of gritstone in the bridge but Graeme did spot three large dressed gritstone blocks in the kerbing leading from the bridge.

Tutt Bridge kerbs

We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.

Aldborough.jpg

Aldborough is a small village on the outskirts of Boroughbridge. It is the site of a walled Roman town called Isurium Brigantum. We enquired at the Manor House regarding the whereabouts of the stone, the owner told us that they have looked for evidence of the stone in the manor grounds but not found any trace of it.

In the centre of the village is a large column called the Battle Cross. A nearby plaque states that the cross commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The plaque also mentions Thomas Earl of Lancaster who was in collusion with the Scots. A Yorkshireman rarely passes up the opportunity to have a pop at his Lancastrian neighbours.

The local church is reputed to be  built on the site of a Roman Temple, there is a carving inside the church which is thought to portray Mercury.

The devil's arrows

Having arrived at a dead end in our search for the fourth stone, we decided to visit the site where, according to legend, the devil stood when he threw the Arrows, How Hill.

How Hill

How Hill is just over 7 miles west of the Arrows. The first written record of the hill is from 1346 and refers to it as the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, possibly a place of pilgrimage. The site became a ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The tower was rebuilt in 1719 and further domestic buildings were added to it during the 19th century. It is likely that the tower was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh

What surprised both Graeme and I were the views from the hill, although relatively low lying it has a fantastic viewshed, the Pennines in the West, the North York Moors in the east and as far south as Drax power station.

The tower is currently boarded-up, it’s a substantial building, quite singular in design. It has a slight air of malice about it, I’m not sure I’d like to visit it in the dark, as Graeme once did. On checking the BGS website I discovered that the bedrocks around the hill are Plumpton Gritstone, the same stone as the Arrows, perhaps the folklore is right and the Arrows did originate from here.

smith's arrows

The Devil’s Arrows should be viewed as one of a number of prehistoric monuments that align roughly north-south through North Yorkshire. I recently found this lovely pdf booklet which details this alignment. Booklet

I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried to tie-in the Arrows with the Prehistoric  monuments that extend eastwards towards the Yorkshire coast, both Graeme and I believe that it is not unreasonable to think that there may be a connection.

Crown End

This morning I headed over to Westerdale Moor. I’ve been visiting this moor for many years and have always had the place to myself. As I walked up to the moor from Hob Hole I noticed a group of estate workers over on Little Hograh Moor, I made a small bet with myself that I’d be getting a visit from a gamekeeper within half an hour of setting foot on the moor.

The heather is in full bloom and the moors look stunning, after a few short minutes my boots were covered in a fine dusting of heather pollen. Later I encountered thousands of tiny bees congregating on a sandy bank at the side of the path, I presume these were Miner bees making the most of the pollen harvest.

My first landmark on the moor was the standing stone which can be seen from the footpath on the west end of the moor, this stone is below the crest of the ridge and is about 1.2m  tall

Due north of the stone and about 100m over the ridge of the moor is an alignment of standing stones and boulders that runs for about 70m towards the Baysdale Beck, also known as the Hob Hole Beck. This alignment has  been interpreted as a Bronze Age boundary and features in Blaise Vyner’s inventory of Cross Ridge Boundaries.

Returning to the path I noticed an object embedded in the dry mud at the side of the track. It was a Swiss Army knife, it had obviously been there for a while and had a name dymo-taped onto it, Roger Pybus. I pocketed the knife and a minute or two later noticed a large 4×4 pickup heading across the moor towards me, less than half and hour, I had won my bet.

Roger Pybus

I walked up to the pickup and had a chat with the keeper. He was friendly enough and told me that he was checking to ensure that I wasn’t going to have a barbecue or fly a drone over the moor. He told me about the sculpture that his boss had erected on the far horizon. I told him that I was more interested in standing stones and asked him if Roger Pybus was one of the blokes he worked with, he said he was so I gave him the knife to return to it’s owner.

Seated Man

On the skyline, Seated Man, a sculpture by Sean Henry commissioned by the estate owner David Ross and erected on Castleton Rigg. To the right of the sculpture are a group of visitors.

Cairn

The keeper, satisfied that I wasn’t a hungry drone pilot, went on his way and I continued  eastward across the moor. This side of the moor is dotted with low cairns and banks.

My next destination was the large embanked enclosure on eastern end of the moor. The enclosure is located on fairly level ground just before it dips down into the valley to where the River Esk meets the Baysdale Beck.

The Enclosure is about 40m square with fairly well defined walls. The walls are made of stones with the occasional large upright stone on the inner face. The walls stand at about 1.5m high and 2-3m wide. There is a 3m entrance on the east side. The general consensus is that the structure is Iron Age in date, but this is not certain.

I spent a little time walking around the enclosure and admiring the views along the Esk Valley to Castleton and then headed back to the road and Hob Hole via the Esk Valley Walk footpath.

Regarding the relationship between Hob Hole and the prehistoric remains, Stanhope White makes this observation

..the belief in a race of little men who lived under the earth may stem from the first interaction of the Celts with the indigenous Bronze Age people. When from time to time, a howe was opened for some purpose, possibly to win stone, if the so-called incense cups were found, they were regarded as proof of the presence of little men.

The North York Moors. An Introduction. Stanhope White. 1979

Urn Upleatham

Elgee Map

Frank Elgee’s map of Crown End.

maps

A lidar image and aerial view of the Crown End enclosure