The Smell of Water Part 2. Hob Hole and the Giants Lapstone

Wise Men

york rattle1

My friend Graeme Chappell sent me this photo that he took in the York Castle Museum.  The photo is of a Cunning or Wiseman’s rattle, another example from the Whitby Museum can be seen here

The rattles are constructed of pine spills and decorated with charms and mottoes. Rattles were often used by shamanic healers. The rattle is often thought to represent the cosmos, the seeds or pebbles inside are spirits and souls of ancestors. Shaking the rattle activates these spirits who will then assist the shaman. (The Shaman. Voyages of the Soul. Piers Vitebsky. DBP 1995)

Below, a short piece that I wrote for the Bob Fischer show on BBC Tees

Wise Men

In past times when ordinary people were poorly educated, many held a strong belief in magic and witchcraft. If someone had problems they would often consult the local Wise Man.  According to the late Edna Whelan, the last wise man of the moors died in the 1930’s. His name was Charlie Brocket and he lived in Ellers Cottage in Goathland. Charlie had a good reputation for producing Amulets and talismans against witchcraft, many of which were found when clearing out his house

The most famous wise man in our area was John Wrightson of Stokesley, he was the seventh son of a seventh daughter. Wrightson travelled around the district dressed in a long black cloak bedecked with bottles, jars, herbs and a human skull. He had a powerful reputation as a seer, healer and vet, people would travel from far and wide to consult him.

Blakeborough describes him as ‘a man endowed with marvellous psychic power and with the smallest amount of fakery possible’. However local writer and historian George Markham Tweddle considered Wrightson to be little better than a huge swindler.

In his book Yorkshire Wit, Blakeborough tells the tale of Nathan Agar. Nathan was a sixty year old man who wanted to marry an eighteen year old woman. Wrightson had advised against the marriage and foretold an unhappy future for Nathan, but Nathan was besotted with the woman and the marriage went ahead. Later, Nathan called to see the wise man telling him that his savings, five golden guineas kept in a sock, had vanished from its hiding place in the eaves of his house. Wrightson told him to go home and place a leaf of the bible beneath the front doorstep to his house and then carefully watch to see who stumbled as they entered . Nathan did this, the first person to enter the house was his young lodger, who stumbled, he was followed by Nathan’s wife who also stumbled. Nathan returned to the Wise man to inform him of what had happened. Wrightson told Nathan that he would find his property hidden in the pig-sty along with an old watch that Nathan had not missed. The wise man advised that Nathan should return home, keep his watch, give the five guineas to the couple and send them packing.

Wrightson occasionally fell foul of the law, in 1799 he was hauled before an enquiry in Bedale into the poisoning of Thomas Hodgson of Theakston and in 1808 he managed to get himself outlawed from the town of Malton. Ten years later he was re-arrested and en-route to Northallerton jail took some of his own medicine and died.



The Maiden’s Garlands of Robin Hood’s Bay


St. Stephens church is a lovely box-shaped Georgian church built in 1821 replacing an 11th century building. The church is no longer used and is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust.

The interior of the church has painted plaster walls and numbered box pews. There is a three-decker pulpit and a gallery on the west and north sides.

Inside the church, behind a glass panel are two Maiden’s Garlands, a third, modern replica, is hung in the nave. The garlands were made by the friends of a young woman who had died before she was married. Her coffin bearers would be young girls dressed in white, the garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral.  Of the two original garlands in the church; one was made for Elizabeth Harland with died in 1848 aged 19, the other was made for Jane Levitt who died in 1859 aged 20.

The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre of which was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was written or worked in some fine stitch the initials or name in full and age of the deceased. According to locality this garland was either carried in front of the coffin by one of the deceased’s dearest companions, or laid upon it.

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


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


‘T’Hunt o’ Yatton Brigg

‘T’ Hunt o’ Yatton Brigg is a dialect poem by Richard Blakeborough which was published in 1896. The poem is too long to reproduce here but it tells the tale of the Old Witch and John Simpson.

John Simpson was in love with a girl from Great Ayton called Mary Mudd, unfortunately Mary loved a man named Tom Smith. John Simpson’s love soon turned to hate of the pair and he asked the local witch, Old Nanny, to work an evil spell on Tom and Mary.

After some arguing Old Nanny agreed , telling him to go to the churchyard and gather certain things, these are not specified in the tale. Once this was done she gave him instruction what to do with the things that he had collected. She then instructed him to wash in the old well and leave her besom (broom) by its side.


John carried out Old Nanny’s instructions but broke faith and ignored Nanny’s final injunctions, thinking that the Old Hag would not know. He then set out for home.  He soon discovered that he was mistaken and was visited by a number of demons followed by three hags who knocked him down and flew him to the top of Roseberry Topping.


Once on the top of the peak the hags bound the besom to John’s legs and told him to hurry away as fast as he could because they were going to hunt him with all the unearthly things suchlike could call to their aid.


After a terrifying chase John remembered that the witch had told him that he would be safe from harm as long as he had a foothold on Ayton Bridge (Yatton Brigg). John ran for the bridge but with just a few yards to go was tripped by the besom and fell into the beck. The hags dragged him out of the water and bit and scratched him until he was half dead. The hags finally left him as dawn broke and the tale ends.