Strong Hill – Richmond

Dodgson attended Richmond Grammar School for a year while his father was vicar of Croft

Hunting for erratics amongst the river-worn cobbles of Frenchgate.

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Shap granite

Zealous and Consistent members

The town has two subterranean legends. One tells of how a potter named Thompson discovered a cave beneath the castle. In the cave was a round table around which were a group of sleeping knights. Upon the table was a great sword and a horn. Thompson reached for the horn, waking knights from their sleep. Thompson fled and as he ran he heard a voice behind him say..

Potter Thompson, Potter Thompson!

If thou hadst drawn the sword or blown the horn,

Thou hadst been the luckiest man e’er was born.”

The second legend concerns a tunnel that runs from the castle to Easby Abbey. The tunnel was supposed to have been dug to allow the abbots to escape from the marauding Scots. Some soldiers wanted to explore the tunnel but found it too narrow. They sent a drummer boy into the passage and instructed him to beat his drum as he walked, allowing the soldiers to track his progress from the surface.  At a point between the castle and the abbey the drum fell silent and the boy was never seen again.

A stone has been erected on the riverside path to mark the point where the drumming ceased. The local legend is that the drummer boy’s ghost still walks the passage and occasionally his drum can still be heard beating.

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Death & Burial

Bob Fischer kindly invited me to contribute a weekly item to his Thursday night BBC Tees show.  These are the notes from a show a few weeks ago on the subject of death & burial traditions from our area

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On the coast it was believed that a person couldn’t die until the tide was out and couldn’t be born until the tide was in.

It was believed that a person couldn’t die on a mattress stuffed with the feathers of pigeons or wild birds.

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Following a death all fires must be extinguished in the room where the corpse is kept and any animal that jumps over the coffin must be killed immediately and without mercy.

If a person is drowned, it is said that their body will float to the surface on the 9th day.

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When searching for a drowned body it was said that a loaf of bread soaked in quicksilver will swim towards the location of a corpse.

At funerals there was a custom to hand ‘burnt wine’ to the funeral goers in a silver flagon, out of which every one drank. The drink was a heated preparation of port wine with spices and sugar and if any remained, it was sent round in the flagon to the houses of friends for distribution. The passing bell was then tolled at all hours of the night to keep away evil spirits.

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Some folk had an aversion to be taken to the church by hearse, choosing instead rather to be carried by hand. The coffin was carried by slinging linen towels beneath it. Women were carried by women, men by men, and children by children

If a woman died in childbirth, a white sheet was thrown over the coffin.

If an unmarried female died, a garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral. The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was stitched or written the name and age of the deceased. A couple of these garlands have been survived and can be seen in St Stephens church at Robin Hoods Bay.

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When a girl, or an older unmarried female was carried by hand, the bearers were all young or single women dressed in white wearing white straw bonnets. If the body is taken to the gates of the churchyard by the hearse, the plumes of the vehicle and the hatbands of the carriage drivers were entwined with white ribbons

It was customary to send gloves to the friends of the deceased, white for the funeral of an unmarried person, black for the married.

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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