The Wading of the Sun

There is an old custom, almost dead now. It is only in hidden and unfrequented spots that it still survives – I mean ‘the wading of the sun.’ It was common enough thirty years ago. The modus operandi was as follows :- As the sun rose on Easter morn, a bucket of water was placed in such a position that the sun was reflected in it. If the sun waded, i.e. glimmered in the water, it would rain that day; but if it kept fine in the morning and rained in the afternoon, then the spring would be fine and the autumn wet, and vice versa. On this morning too the flight of crows was carefully observed; if they settled near home, instead of flying far afield to feed, the farmer shook his head, for they plainly told him, by doing so, that grub and other pests would sorely afflict his crops that year.

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs

R. Blakeborough 1911

Published by W. Rapp & Son Ltd. Dundas St. Saltburn by the Sea


Sea Coal


Sea coal is a rare bounty on Saltburn beach, generally only found after large storms and spring tides. The coal originates from offshore seams and has been gathered from North East beaches since at least the 7th century.

I was taught to use sea coal sparingly as it burns with great heat and can damage a fireplace. It is best used to cover a fire at the end of a night where it forms a crust which retains the heat of the fire until the following morning. I was also taught that a fire should not be extinguished but allowed to go out naturally.

A Suicide a Wen & a ‘Wise Woman’


The body of a suicide who had hanged himself in Hesleden-Dene, not far from Hartlepool, was laid in an outhouse, awaiting the coroner’s inquest. The wife of a pitman at Castle Eden Colliery, suffering from a wen* in the neck, according to advice given her by a ‘wise woman’ went alone and lay all night in the outhouse, with the hand of the corpse on her wen. She had been assured that the hand of a suicide was an infallible cure. The shock to the nervous system form that terrible night was so great that she did not rally for some months, and eventually died from the wen. This happened about the year 1853, under the cognisance of my informant, The Rev. Canon Tristram.

Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders.

William Henderson 1879

*Wen – a boil or cyst.


A singular circumstance has been related to me as having occurred a few years ago at a funeral, in the village of Stranton, near West Hartlepool.

The vicar was standing at the churchyard gate awaiting the arrival of the funeral party, when to his surprise the whole group, who had arrived within a few yards of him, suddenly wheeled round and made the circuit of the churchyard wall, thus traversing its west, north, and east boundaries, and making the distance some five or six times greater than was necessary. The vicar, astonished at the proceeding, asked the sexton the reason of so extraordinary a movement. The reply was as follows: “Why, ye wad no hae them carry the dead again the sun; the dead maun ay go wi’ the sun.”


This custom is doubtless an ancient British or Celtic one, and corresponds with the Highland usage of making the deazil, or walking three time’s round a person according to the course of the sun. Old Highlanders will still make the deazil around those to whom they wish well. To go round the person in the opposite direction, or ” withershins,” is an evil incantation, and brings ill fortune.

Notes on the folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders

William Henderson 1879

Plant Lore


The fruit of the blackberry bramble is vulgarly known in this district by the name of bumble kyte, from its being supposed to cause flatulency when eaten in too great a quantity. No knowledgeable boy will eat these berries after Michaelmas Day, because the arch-fiend is believed to ride along the hedges on the eve of that great festival and pollute everything that grows in them, except the sloes, by touching them with his club foot. The same notion prevails further north, where the bramble-berries are called lady’s garter berries.

bramble print


It was formerly supposed thought “fern seed” was obtainable only at the exact hour of midnight, on the eve of the day on which Saint John the Baptist was born ; and people believed that if they gathered it at that particular time, it would endow them with the power of walking invisible. The right way to obtain it was to hold a plate under the plant, and let the seed fall into it of its own accord, for if was shaken off by the hand it lost its virtue. This belief was founded on the doctrine of signatures, according to which certain herbs were held to be specific remedies for particular diseases, because they bore upon them some impress of the symptoms accompanying them. Thus the liver wort was supposed to be a sovereign remedy against the heat and inflammation of the liver, because it was shaped like that organ ; the lungwort, from its spotted leaves, was a popular remedy for diseased lungs ; the pilewort, on account of the small knobs on the roots, was administered in cases of hemorrhoids ; The seed of the fern, being on the back of the plant, and so small as to escape the sight of ordinary observers, was assumed to have the property of rendering those who tasted it, or carried it about their persons, invisible for the time.

The mercy of God… maketh… Herbes for the use of men, and hath… given them particular Signatures, whereby a man may read… the use of them.

William Cole (1626-62)


Country people plant the house-leek or sen-green, locally termed “full ” or ” fullen,” on the thatched roofs of their cottages, in order to preserve them from thunder and lightning, which, it is said, will never strike this evergreen herb.

house leek


The common purple clover {Trifolium pratense) is very good for cattle, but very noisome to witches. In the days when there was at least one noted witch in every hamlet, the leaf was commonly worn as a potent charm, being regarded as an obvious emblem of the Blessed Trinity. The belief in its magic virtue is not extinct even yet.



One saying is —

If your whipstick’s made of rowan

You may ride your nag through any town.

Another —

Woe to the lad

Without a rowan tree gad.

The latter has fallen into disuse since tlie old fashioned twelve-oxen plough was laid aside. When that cumbersome affair was at work, making those enormous S-shaped ridges of which are still seen the traces left in some outlying old grass fields, a gadman to take charge of the team was as necessary as a ploughman to take hold of the stilts, and his iron pointed instrument was made of a young mountain ash or rowan tree, which kept the witches away from making the cattle “camsteery.”


To cure sores or other diseases caused by witchcraft.


Tak’ tweea ‘at’s red an’yan ‘at’s blake (yellow)

O’ poison berries three,

Three fresh-cull’d blooms o’ Devil’s glut,

An’ a sprig o’ rosemary;

Tak’ henbane, bullace, bumm’lkite,

An’ t’ fluff frev a deead bulrush;

Nahn berries shak’ fra t’ rowan-tree,

An nahn fra bottery bush.

Wit, Character Folklore & Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire

Richard Blakeborough. 1898

Weather Lore


Custard winds the pining north east winds prevalent here about Easter when custards are more particularly in request as a popular dainty.


The wind at north and east,

Is neither good for man nor beast;

So never think to cast a clout

Until the month of May be out


Don’t change a clout

Till may is out;

If you change in June,

‘Twill be too soon.

Weather Lore


When ’ t winds in ‘t east,

Cauld and snaw comes ‘t neist;

When ‘t winds in ‘t west,

It suits ‘t farmer best

When ‘t winds in ‘t north,

We ha’ to sup het scalding broth:

When ‘t winds in ‘t south,

It’s muck up to ‘ t mouth


The wind of the south will be productive of heat and fertility

The wind of the west of milk and fish

The wind of the north of cold and storm

The wind from the east of fruit on the trees.



If you put milk in your tea before sugar, you will lose your sweetheart.

Left-handed people are not safe for a traveller to meet on a Tuesday morning

It is unlucky for a traveller on Monday morning to meet a man with ‘schloof’ or flat feet.

If meat shrinks in the pot, it presages a downfall in life.

If a quill be thrown over the house, and caught in a basin, it will turn into a silver spoon.

It is sinful to burn evergreens which have been used for decorations.

Children before baptism are at the mercy of the fairies, who may carry them off at pleasure

It is unlucky to be bitten by a fox.

The first body buried in a graveyard goes to the devil

Eels blood will cure a wart

Sunday children are in Yorkshire deemed secure from the malice of evil spirits

Eating porridge that has been made over a stream that flows north to south will cure whooping cough

The first child baptised in a new font will die

A crow disperses the bad luck that a magpie brings.




Another friend, the Rev. J. Cundill tells me how , while he was fishing a short time ago in Stainsby Beck, in Cleveland, a peasant came along the stream in search of a ‘wick’ ( quick or live) trout, to lay on the stomach of one of his children who was much troubled with worms, a trout so applied being a certain cure  for that complaint.

Again the little sufferer may be passed under the belly of an ass or a piebald pony with good hopes of a cure in consequence. This is carried out more fully at Middlesbrough, where a friend of mine recently saw a child passed nine times over the back and under the belly of a donkey, and was informed by the parents that they hoped thus to cure it of whooping-cough.

Folklore of the Northern Counties of England

William Henderson