Saint Hilda’s Well

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Saint Hilda’s Well can be found in the churchyard in Hinderwell.

The legend is, that there was once a drought in the area and Saint Hilda was asked to intercede. Her prayers were answered and a spring appeared on the hillside. The well is said to have healing properties for eye diseases and became a place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages.

On Assumption Day, a ceremony called Shaking Bottle Sunday was held at the well. Local children would collect the well water in bottles and add a stick of liquorice to make a pleasant drink.

Green-eyed greedy,

Brown-eyes needy,

Black-eyed never blin’

Till it shames o’ its kin.

Trad Scottish

Nanny & the Sexhow Hoard

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An old woman of Sexhow called Nanny, appeared after her death in a dream to a local farmer. She informed the farmer that, beneath a certain tree in his apple orchard, he would find a hoard of gold and silver which she had buried there. He was to take a spade and dig it up, she told him that he could keep the silver for his trouble but was to give the gold to a niece of hers who was then living in great poverty.

At daybreak, after his dream, the farmer went to the spot that the old woman had described where dug and found the treasure. Now, despite his share being more than enough to look after him for the rest of his days, he decided to keep the whole hoard for himself. This was an act of greed that he would live to regret, as from that day forward he never knew rest or happiness again.

Every night, whether at home or abroad, old Nanny’s ghost visited him, reproaching him for his greed and his failure to help Nanny’s niece.Though previously a sober man, the farmer took to drinking, but all in vain as his conscience and Nanny’s ghost would give him no rest.

At last, late one Saturday evening, the farmers neighbours heard him returning home from Stokesley Market; his horse was galloping furiously, and as he left the high road to go into the lane which led to his farm he never stopped to open the gate but cleared it with a single bound.  As he passed a neighbour’s house, they heard him screaming out, ” I will I will I will ! ” and when they looked out they saw a little old woman in black, with a large straw hat on her head, whom they recognised as old Nannie, she was seated behind the terrified man on the runaway horse, clinging to him closely. The farmer’s hat was off, his hair stood on end, as he fled past them, uttering his fearful cry, ” I will I will I will ! ” But when the horse reached the farm all was still, and the rider… a corpse!

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Image Albert Edward Sterner [Public domain]

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