Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The Fairy Doctor of Carue

My post today tells of a curious tale I came across completely by chance whilst holidaying near the Cairngorms in Scotland. I would say it's not often I book holiday accommodation only to discover there's a fairy site a 5 minute walk away... but this seems to be happening surprisingly often!

This tale takes us to a beautiful forested area east of the Cairngorms, near the village of Logie Coldstone. According to Epitaphs & inscriptions from burial grounds & old buildings in the north-east of Scotland, by Jervise (1875) the fairies once lived in the Seely Howe, a hollow in the Carue Hillock upon the laird of Blelack's land. Before leaving for the 1745 wars he became determined to dislodge them from his land, and called upon the services of "a reputed magician, named John Farquharson, tacksman in Parks". However, the fairies refused to obey his command to leave until they were assigned a new place to live. Farquharson agreed, and sent them to the Hill of Fare near Banchory, but they deeply disliked their new abode and announced to Gordon, the laird of Blelack:

"Dool, dool to Blelack, 

And dool to Blelack's heir, 

For drivin' us frae the Seely Howe, 

To the cauld Hill o' Fare!" 

Whilst to Farquharson himself they told:

"While corn and girs grows to the air, 

John Farquharson and his seed shall thrive nae mair!". 

Jervise adds that Farquharson's luck went bad from that day onwards and he left his native country and was never heard of again. The laird died without lawful issue and his estate passed to his sister's son. 

However, according to Tales and memories of Cromar and Canada by Donald Robert Farquharson (1930s?), John Farquharson's fate was not so terrible after all, and the plot thickens! According to the author, John Farquharson was also known as "The Fairy Doctor" and the author's father told him that he lived at the farm of Carue, though his father may have been in error as another family of the same name believed that he lived at "The Parks of Coldstone", the farm on which the author's father was born. However, the fairies lived on the farm of Carue, in a knoll known as "The Fairy Seely Howe".  He tells:

"In this hollow the lingering fairies were supposed to have their abode or place of meeting, and the most friendly relations seem for some time to have existed between them and The Fairy Doctor. Their visits to his home were frequent, and there were times when, in words betokening the most tender attachment, they deigned to serenade their friend. To this latter fact witnesses the one refrain of their songs which has come through my father to my knowledge: 

"Johnny, I lo'e ye, Johnny, I lo'e ye, 

"Nine times in ae nicht will I come and see thee." 

At last, for some reason not disclosed there was a breach in the harmony. Probably the little people in green became a nuisance either to Johnny himself, or to the laird of Blelach whose residence was near Carue. Whatever the cause, Johnny, the "Witch" or "Fairy" Doctor, was constrained to summon them out of The Seely Howe. On the ground that the summons was defective inasmuch as it had failed to indicate an assigned destination, the fairies refused to move. Johnny thereupon peremptorily ordered them to remove to the "Hill of Fare," about seventeen miles distant, and near the town of Banchory. Reluctantly the little people obeyed the behest, but first left with their quondam friend a permanent reminder of their opposition and malice, in words which my father rendered, 

"As lang as corn and girse grow to the air, 

"The Farquharsons will be rich nae mair."" 

The author then mentions the story also appearing in Rev. J. G. Michie's History of Logic Coldstone (1896), and tells that the copy he was gifted in Feb 1897 included a manuscript sheet in the handwriting of Mr Michie with some further information, probably received from his friend the minister of Selkirk.

 "The full imprecation on Farquharson ran thus : 

"Now we maun awa' to the cauld hill o' Fare, 

"Or it will be mornin' e'er we get there ; 

"But though girs and corn should grow in the air 

"John Farquharson and his folk shall thrive nae mair."

However it appears that John Farquharson and his descendants did thrive, and the following record was received by Mr. Michie from one of John's descendants, but too late for insertion in his book. 

"John Farquharson, born about the year 1700 A.D., became tacksman of The Parks of Coldstone which he left soon after the Rebellion of 1745, migrating to Moray where he took a farm near Forres, in the churchyard of which he was interred, and his son after him and where there is a tomb-stone to his memory. The legend about the fairies was preserved in the family, in consequence of which he was known as "The Fairy Doctor."

The book continues with further information about the successful lives of his descendants. It appears in this instance at least, the fairies did not follow through with their threats to him, a narrow escape compared to the fate of the poor laird of Blelack.

As I was staying in a holiday lodge a short walk from Blelack I couldn't resist going for a wander to see Carrue for myself. Issue 59 of Ballater & Crathie Eagle magazine, Autumn 2010, contains an article titled The Fairy Doctor of Carrue by Ken Glennie and confirms that "Carrue, a former farm, is now a wooded area south of Blelack House, Logie Coldstone". Unfortunately it's difficult to know exactly which knoll the stories speak of, and the ground is so densely forested that it's hard to spot hollows and knowes. I hope the maps and photos below will give an idea of this beautiful location though. No wonder the fairies were reluctant to leave!

Sources and Further Information
Epitaphs & inscriptions from burial grounds & old buildings in the north-east of Scotland, Jervise (1875)
History of Logie-Coldstone and Braes of Cromar by John Grant Michie (1896)
Tales and memories of Cromar and Canada by Donald Robert Farquharson (Book is undated, some library catalogues say 1930s)
Issue 59 of Ballater & Crathie Eagle magazine, Autumn 2010, The Fairy Doctor of Carrue by Ken Glennie

A big thank you to Cairngorm Lodges, it was on their website I first discovered the story, after I'd booked a week away in one of their beautiful lodges! If anyone is thinking of taking a quiet forest break, I thoroughly recommend them.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Skinningrove Merman

Many many years ago in the North Yorkshire village of Skinningrove, or Skenegrave as it was once known, a most unusual and newsworthy event took place. A sea man, or merman, was captured by the fishermen of the village and kept for many weeks before escaping back into the sea!

I first read of the sea man of Skinningrove in Graves' The History of Cleveland (1808) and Ord's The History and Antiquities of Cleveland (1845), and they both give the source of the tale as the Cotton manuscripts, a collection once owned by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631), and now held in the British Library. With the kind help of Jeff Kattenhorn at the British Library we discovered the mention of the sea man is found in the Cotton MS Julius F VI 1529-1640 collection, in a letter from one H. Tr[…], possibly to Sir Thomas Chaloner. Concerning antiquities in the north of England, particularly around Gisborough. ff. 453r-462r.   

It was fantastic to finally see photos of the letter mentioning the sea man, and with the help of Jarvis Transcriptions I include below a transcript of the part of the letter that mentions the sea man:

"For when all wyndes are whise and the sea restes unmoved as a standinge poole, sometymes there is such a horrible groninge heard from that creeke at the leaste six miles in to the mayne Lande that the fishermen dare not put forth, though thirste of gayne drive them on houdlinge an opynion that the Ocean as a greedy beaste rageinge for hunger desyres to be sattisfyed with mens carkases. At  Skenegrave the olde proverbe is verifyed that abundance makes them poore; for albeyt that they take such abundance of fishe, that often they are forced to throwe greate part of ther purchase over boarde, or make their greater sorte of fishe for lighter carriadge shorter by the heade, neverthelesse for the moste part what they have they drinke and howsoever they reckon with god yt is a familar maner to them to make even with the world at night that pennilesse and carelesse they may goe lightly to labour on the morrowe morninge. It was my fortune to see the cominge in of a five man Coble which in one night had taken above 21 score of greate fishe a yearde or an ell in length, happie were that contry if a generall fishinge were enterteyned by buildinge Busses and store of fishboates. Ould men that would be loath to have their credytes crackt by a tale of a stale date reporte confydentlye that 60 yeares since or perhaps 80 or more a sea man was taken by the fishers of that towne whome duringe many weekes they kepte in an oulde house givinge him rawe fishe to eate for all other foode he refused in steede of voyce he skreeked and shewed  a curteous acceptance of such as flocked farre and neere to visyte him. Fayre maydes were welcomest  guestes to his harbour, whome he woulde behould with a very earneste countenaynce, as if his phlegmaticke breaste had bin touched with a sparke of love. One daye when the good demeanure of this newe gueste had made his hoastes secure of his aboade with them he privily stoale out of doores, and ere he coulde be overtaken recovered the sea wherunto he plonged himself, yet as one that woulde not unmanerly depart without takinge of his leave, from the mydle upwardes he raysed his shoulders often above the waves and makinge signes of acknowledging his good entertainment to such as beheld him on the shoare as they interpreted yt, after a pretty while he dived downe and apeared noe more." 

Below is the actual letter, held in the British Library, and included below with their permission:   

© British Library Board (Cotton MS Julius F VI ff. 456r-457r)  

The oldest published mention I have managed to find so far of the Skinningrove sea man is in William Camden's Britannia. First published in Latin in 1586, it was later published in English in 1610.  

"Upon the shore, Sken grave a little village is much benefited by taking great store of fish: where also, by report, was caught a Sea-man about 70. yeeres since, that for certaine daies together fed of raw fishes: but espying his opportunity escaped away unto his proper element againe."

Below you can see the text as it appears in the 1637 edition: 

Google books contains a copy of the 1600 Latin edition that includes Kilton Castle but does not seem to mention the sea man. A translation of the 1607 edition by Philemon Holland can also be found online here and does mention the sea man, where he is described in Latin as a "hominem marinum". This 1607 edition tells the sea man was caught about 70 years ago, which would place the capture date at around 1537. However the undated Cotton MS letter tells he was caught 60, 80 or more years ago, suggesting the tales of the sea man's capture may have been passed down orally with the exact date unknown, and could be much older. 

Another author to mention a "hominem marinum" was Pliny, a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher who lived during the 1st century. He wrote in his Natural History of a sea man with a human body in the Gulf of Cadiz who would climb on board ships at night and the side of the vessel where he sat was weighed down and if he stayed there longer then it could go below the water. This does rather remind me of Wally the Walrus, who spent this summer months causing trouble on the Isle of Wight and sinking boats! Indeed, some old tales of sea men and mermen may have been a case of mistaken identity and were actually walruses or other exotic sea creatures rarely seen in English waters.   

The Merman of Skinningrove has certainly not been forgotten! There is a beautiful merman wall ceramic in the town as part of the Skinningrove art trail and the village's beautiful beaches are well worth a visit.

Curiously, there are also rumours of mermaids at nearby Staithes too, but the oldest version of that tale I've managed to find is Peter Walker's Folk Tales from the North York Moors (1990), it's a fantastic tale but perhaps an original story by Peter himself? I'd love to be wrong though so please do leave a comment below if you know of an older mention of the Mermaid of Staithes!

Sources and Further Information

Britannia, or, A chorographical description of Great Britain and Ireland, together with the adjacent islands, Camden

The History of Cleveland, Graves (1808) 

The History and Antiquities of Cleveland, Ord (1845) 

Skinningrove Art Trail

A big thank you again to Jeff Kattenhorn at the British Library and Claire Jarvis of Jarvis Transcriptions for their help with this research, without them this blog post would not have been possible.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Fairies of the Whitby Area

Bridge at Beck Meetings

After a year and a half of hiding in the house avoiding Covid, and not reading nearly as many books as I had intended to, I've had my covid vaccines and the world is finally starting to feel like a safer place again. Last week I ventured out to the Whitby area on a careful and cautious socially distanced holiday that involved a lot of early morning wanderings before the car parks filled up, and a lot of Yorkshire banoffee ice cream in Runswick Bay! 

This post will focus on fairy sites and sightings of the Whitby area, for lack of a better geographical description! Some sites are further north and south along the coast, and others further inland, but all are within reasonable proximity to Whitby. There are many more sites further west into the North York Moors and beyond but I will save those for a future visit and blog post!    

Thanks to Percy Shaw Jeffrey's Whitby Lore and Legend (1923) we know that fairies were sighted in the Whitby area as far back as 1650. Jeffrey was assisted in his research by folklorist Major Fairfax-Blakeborough, who gave him access to his father's research and his great-great-grandfather's diary, as mentioned below. He writes, "There is a very circumstantial and interesting account of some Whitby fairies in Major Fairfax-Blakeborough's old diary under the date ye 7, 1650, as follows:- 

"Very earlie in ye morning Ralph Blackburn, George Pickersgill, Anthony Thompson and Mary his wife, having to goe to Whitby when they came nigh unto Anthony Barker's small close they one and all espied many fairies disporting themselves righte merrilie in their splightlie midnight revels. They watched yem for some time, until one dancing a little space from ye ringe discovered yem when, giving a signal, they departed on the instant, and not one of them kennd wither. Alle ye witnesses are of good report. Thys pleaseth ye Townsfolk mightly, none been seen syn Dan Outhwaite war murdered eight year cum next Candlemas.

Ye fairies were oft seen after thys, even by mysen as late as a week ago, T.R. (Thomas Rogers, who transcribed the notes from the original MS in 1695)."

A note has been added to this: "Me Thos. Dodd seed Fairies in our close mony a time at Beck Meetings. T.D." 

Beck Meetings

 Jeffrey notes that Beck Meetings is a small village near Staithes, and elsewhere in the book writes "even so late as 1870, when any Staithes fishing coble was driven into Whitby by stress of weather, the thirteen members of the crew would walk home to Staithes through the dark winter evenings hand in hand, in order to give them other confidence against the various terrors that fly by night." Gutch's Folklore of Yorkshire (1901) also mentions Staithes folk and tells that "fearless as are the fishers in their daily juggling with the dangers of the sea, yet so fearful are they of nameless spirits and bogies, that I am assured I should be unable to find a volunteer who for a couple of sovereigns would walk by night to a neighbouring village of Hinderwell, a couple of miles distant." Folks certainly seemed to be scared of something lurking in the nearby area after dark.


The Hob-Hole Hob of Runswick Bay

In Runswick Bay are a series of arched caves and holes reaching deep into the cliffs along the shoreline. The most famous of these was known as Hob-Hole, and according to Young's A History of Whitby volume 2 (1817) it was 70 feet long and 20 feet wide at the entrance, with a double pillar that has since disappeared. Leyland's Yorkshire Coast and the Cleveland Hills (1892) tells that the caves were excavated by the action of the sea, but the jet-diggers have now destroyed the "cavernous features of the haunt of the Hob, whereto he was want to beguile the unwary that there they might be destroyed by the incoming sea." Most sources describe the Hob as a benevolent character, and according to Young "his powers were exercised in curing young children of the hooping-cough. When any child in Runswick or the vicinity was under that disease, one of its parents carried it into the cave, and with loud voice thus invoked the demi-god of the place: 

"Hob-hole Hob! My bairn's got kink-cough:

Take't off; take't off!"

 Illustration of Hob-Hole from Young's A History of Whitby vol  2 (1817)

The caves as they stand today are still extremely dangerous and should not be entered as the rocks are unstable and can fall down at any time, you can safely view them from a distance at low tide though.

Claymore Well Fairies

At Claymore Well near Kettleness, according to Young's A History of Whitby vol 2 (1817) "the fairies in days of yore were wont to wash their clothes, and to bleach and beat them; and, on their washing nights, the strokes of the battle-door were heard as far as Runswick!". Atkinson's Forty Years a Moorland Parish (1891) explains that the Battledore was an old-fashioned implement used to smooth newly washed linen, now replaced with the mangle! 

The Black Dog of Kettleness

Although possibly not one of the fairy folk, I feel a quick mention should be made of the curious exorcism of the black dog of Kettleness. Yorkshire boggles and boggarts were known for their shape shifting and could appear in many forms including cats and dogs. 

The Reverend Dr Donald Omand recieved a letter in the 50s from a schoolmaster who claimed that himself and two friends had experienced a wave of terror when looking over the shore at Kettleness and had seen a huge hound, "so large it could not be mortal", that appeared from thin air and disappeared as silently as it had appeared. They were left with a strong sense of evil and believed an exorcism should be performed. Omand agreed to their request and as they set off at night to the shore at Kettleness they saw "what looked like a huge black hound, but bigger than any member of the canine species, known to man. It was moving straight in our direction". The schoolmaster fled back to the car and Omand performed an exorcism, splashing holy water in the dog's direction, and it disappeared. A more in depth account and further information can be found on Simon J. Sherwood and Wendy E. Cousins paper, The Black Dog of Whitby and Kettleness

In a curious twist to the story, at nearby Goldsborough once stood a Roman signal station and when excavated it was found to contain the skeletons of 2 men and a large dog who had met with a violent end. Some say the dog's jaws were clamped around the neck of one of the men. Further details can be found in the Yorkshire Journal issue 3 Autumn 2014. 

Kettle Ness, as viewed from the cliffs above

Mulgrave Woods, Sandsend

Young's History of Whitby vol 2 (1817) tells that a mischievous fairy named Jeanie of Biggersdale lives in the woods "at a place so called at the head of Mulgrave woods". Presumably this is referring to Biggersdale Hole Waterfall, marked on present day ordinance survey maps. 

"A bold young farmer, perhaps under the influence of John Barleycorn, undertook one night, on a wager, to approach the habitation of the sprite, and call to her: but his rashness nearly cost him his life; Jeanie angrily replied that she was coming, and while he was escaping across the running stream, he fared worse than Burn's Tam O'Shanter, when pursued by Nanny the witch; for Jeanie overtaking him just as his horse was half across, cut it into two parts, though fortunately he was on the half that had got beyond the stream!"

Atkinson's Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect (1868) tells that a hobthrush lives in the woods in a certain cave, and that when addressed replies:

"Hob-trush Hob! where is thou?

Ah's tying on mah left-fuit shoe;

An' Ah'll be wiv thee - Noo!" 

Katherine Simpson's Jeanie o' Biggerdale and Other Yorkshire Stories (1893) gives the same rhyme but with the first line being "Biggersdale Jeanie! where is thoo?", in this book Jeanie is described as "the wicked sprite, or bogle, that haunted the mill and glen. Was it not well known that her mocking laugh was never heard but as the forerunner, or accompaniment, of accident or calamity". She was said to bring misfortune on those who inhabited Biggersdale Mill, and resented it being constructed. 

I do wonder how much is fiction or whether many many years ago a woman named Jeanie lived in these woods. Or perhaps she is a nursery bogie character, and children dared each other to call to her inside the cave and then run away before she could catch them? I would love to hear from any locals who have their own stories to share.

The Sandsend Bogey

The infamous Sandsend Bogey, according to Jeffrey's Whitby Lore and Legend (1923), was supposed to live in a cupboard in Mr Snowden's Cottage, and "it used to accompany the fishing boats when they put out to sea, sitting quietly in the bows, and its presence was welcomed by the fishermen as it foreboded a good catch. But after a while, it became more enterprising and, as it took to frightening the village children, the inhabitants of Sandsend petitioned the priest of Lythe, who came to their rescue and exorcised the Bogey with bell, book, and candle, so that thereafter it appeared no more."

The Fairies of Pannett's Park, Whitby

Johnson's Seeing Fairies (2014) includes a Whitby fairy sighting from July 1956 in Pannett's Park. "We were peacefully on a seat after an enjoyable but rather strenous walk when I noticed some considerable movement in a tree that grew at the foot of a wooded slope facing us. It was swarming with elves, and when I drew my sister's attention to it, she could see them too, but neither of us had any idea what they were doing so busily." She describes the elves as brown, and they seemed to be moving quite easily above, below, and between the branches.

Old postcard of Pannett Park

Roxby and Mickleby Fairy Mounds

In the Roxby and Mickleby areas the fairies were said to live in houes, or grave mounds, but the mounds had been dug into and ploughed over so "the former denziens had clearly been evicted and forced to retire", tells Forty Years in a Moorland Parish, Atkinson (1891). 

Fairy Cross Plains

The Reverend John Atkinson was a keen writer and collector of local Yorkshire folklore and customs, and he collected some wonderful tales of the fairies. In his Forty Years in a Moorland Parish book (1891) he tells of visiting an elderly parishioner and her husband who tells him of the fairies of nearby Fairy Cross Plains, she said they used to come down the hill by her door and go into a large culvert which conveyed the water of a small beck underneath the road about a stone's throw from the cottage. "A further question elicited the reply that it was a little green man, with a queer sort of a cap on him, that had been seen in the act of disappearing in this culvert." She said they lived under the ground, "why t'mouldiwarps (moles) dis, an' wheea not t'fairies?". 

Reverend Atkinson also spoke to a parish clerk who told him that his childhood had been spent near the Fairy Cross Plains, and that the fairy-rings just above the inn were the largest and most regular and distinct he had ever seen. He and the other children had amused themselves by running round and round in the rings, but never nine times, "you see if we had run the full number of nine times, that would have given the fairies power over us, and they would have come and taken us away for good, to go and live where they lived." The Reverend asked if he really believed that and he replied that he did, "for the mothers used to threaten us, if we wer'n't good, that they would turn us to the door (out of doors) at night, and then the fairies would get us." 

An interesting article on the Darlington and Stockton Times website by Nicholas Rhea titled Fryup - a dale of horses and fairy rings includes more recent fairy beliefs. Rhea tells he used to play there as a child but never found any fairies, though that is where they were thought to live and "some thought the fairy rings indicated the whereabouts of an underground fairy village". He says that it was not considered sensible to dance around the circles on the Eve of May Day or at Halloween as those nights were given over to the fairies, and that it was believed that sheep and cattle would never graze near the fairy rings and that locals believed it risky to try and remove the circles.  

Fairy Cross Plains, as seen on Google Maps

The Hob of Hart Hall

Hobs are said to be a type of domestic house spirit, similar to a Brownie, and most often found in very old farm houses. Atkinson's Forty Years in a Moorland Parish (1891) tells of a Hob at Hart Hall near Glaisdale:

"Hob would come unasked, unwarned, to the rescye, and the corn would be threshed, dressed, and sacked, nobody knew how, expect that it was done by the Hob. Unaccountable strength seemed to be the chief attribute ascribed to him". When the farm workers of Hart Hall were carting hay to save it from approaching bad weather a wheel slipped and the cart became stuck. They tried to pull it loose with both horses and men but efforts were in vain and as darkness approached they had to abandon it for the night. After they had retired to bed, "Hob went forth in his mysterious might, made no difficulty about extricating the locked-in wheel, and trailing the cumbersome load up the steep, broken road to the homestead, putting the hay in beautiful order on the stack, and setting the wain ready for the leading that would of course be renewed early in the morning".

According to Atkinson's Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect (1868), he was "a farm-spirit 'of all work', thrashing, winnowing, stamping, the bigg, leading, &c. Like the rest of the tribe who ever came under mortal eye, he was without clothes - nak't - and having had a harding-smock made and placed for him, after a few moments of - it would seem, ill-pleased - inspection, he was heard to say- Gin Hob mun hae nowght but a hardin' hamp, He'll coom nae mair, nowther to berry nor stamp". Atkinson explains in his Forty Years in a Moorland Parish (1891) that stamp was the action of knocking off the awns of the barley previous to threshing it, and berry meant to thesh. Hamp was one of the English peasant's only garments, a "smockfrock-like article of raiment, gathered in somewhat about the middle, and coming some little way below the knee". 

Atkinson asked an elderly woman about the Hart Hall Hob and she gave a more detailed story, claiming that one moonlight night one of the lads of the farm had heard him working and peeked through a little hole in the boards and say "a lahtle brown man, a' covered wi' hair" working hard and striking the sheaves with the flail. The lad crept away unseen and related what he had seen to the other workers. They knew the winter nights were cold and were worried about "t' lahtle hairy man, amaist as nakt as when he wur boorn", "wiv nobbut thae au'd rags". They decided to make something to help him, and made a new outfit, as near as the boy had described him as wearing, "a sort of a coorse sark, or shirt, with a belt or girdle to confine it around his middle". They laid it in the barn before nightfall, ready for the Hob to find, and as in the previous tale he was not pleased with his new clothing!  

Hart Hall is now a Bed and Breakfast, but whether the Hob is still a guest or not I cannot say!

The Hob of Hog Garth

Another Hob dwelled at Hob Garth, south west of Glaisdale. Jeffrey's Whitby Lore and Legend (1923) includes a very early mention of the Hob from the diary borrowed from Major Fairfax-Blakeborough.

 "May ye 13, 1669. Nathan Warner of Castleton, thys daye had speech of the Hobman that hanteth ye Hob Garth from beyond whither he had been. Thys he sweare to an oath, and he is a man of good report and not given to vaine talk. Methought I once had sighte of hym mysen but not been ower certayne out (of it) I helde my peace, but after what warner declareth on oath, I hav smalle doubt that yt was hym I spied mysen, but I do not declare yt, the Lord knoweth." 

A more detailed account of the Hob's antics can be found in Richard Blakeborough's Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire (1898). The author was told of the hob by an old man who worked on the Mulgrave Estate, whose grandfather Thomas Stonehouse lived at Hob Garth for many years and kept sheep. A misunderstanding arose between him and a neighbour Matthew Bland of Great Fryup. Matthew was said to have broken Thomas' hedge one night allowing the sheep to escape, and Thomas only managed to gather up five out of the forty missing before retiring to bed with a severe cold. The next morning much to his surprise he found not only the lost sheep returned to their field, but the hedge had been repaired too with new posts and rails. The next night every head of his enemy's cattle had been turned loose, but not by Thomas as he was still very ill in bed. Matthew recovered his cattle and Thomas' sheep were once again turned lose, and the neighbours did all they could to gather them again but few were found. Sure enough, the next morning all but four had been returned to the field again and further repairs had been made to the fence. The missing four were later found dead, having fallen into a disused quarry. The villagers began to talk, and they decided that it must be the hobman who was gathering up the sheep and repairing fences. "When this conclusion was come to, heads were shaken in an ominous manner, for evidently if Tommy was befriended by the hobman, Matthew would have to mind what he did."  

As soon as he had recovered, Tommy set off to see his sheep. It was late at night and a neighbour offered to drop him at the field and pick him up later when he returned. Tommy counted his sheep and cut some hay for them, and then sat by the gate waiting for his lift home....

"Presently an old man accosted him, and begged him not to fret about the lost sheep, as they would be more than compensated for when lambing time came. The old chap told him that Bland had on both occasions been guilty, but that he had not to mind. Just then his friend drove up. Tommy bade his new acquaintance good-night, thanked him, and got into the cart. No sooner was he seated, than the good neighbour asked him what he meant by saying good-night and thanking nobody at all. It transpired that the owner of the cart had not noticed any one speaking to Tommy. In the end he thought the old chap ’war a bit waak an rafflin.’ Anyway, when lambing time came, though the weather was very severe, and every one else, and more particularly Bland, lost many lambs, Stonehouse never lost one. Ewes, during Tommy’s absence, were found safely delivered of their lambs, and mostly had two, and never a black one amongst them. ‘An’ noo that war a larl bit sing’lar, warn’t it? Bud then, ya knaw, i’ them daays when t’ hobman did tak ti yan, ya war yal reet i’ t’ lang-run; an’ ivvery wo’d ’at Ah’ve tell’d ya’s trew, ’coz Ah’ve heeard mah gran’father tell t’ taal ower an’ up agaan; bud it’s a gay bit sen noo,’ wound up my informant. The hobman was described as a little old fellow, with very long hair, large feet, eyes, mouth, and hands, stooping much as he walked, and carrying a long holly stick. The date of the story would be about 1760."

Egton Grange Fairy Butter

Atkinson's A Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect (1868) tells that "Egton Grange has (as alleged) been famous within the memory of living persons for the nocturnal proceedings of the said elves; one of their pranks being to fling their butter so as to make it adhere to the gates and doors of the premises". An Elderly lady near Fryup told Rev Atkinson that she had never seen a fairy but had frequently heard them making butter whilst servant at a farm. She said there was a certain gate and she had heard the fairies at their work "as plain as plain, and in the morning the butter was clamed (smeared) all over main part o' t' gate." A History of Whitby vol 2 (1817) explains that fairy butter is a type of yellow soft fungus that grows on dead wood, and that "when found in houses it is reckoned very lucky!" 

The Fairy Child

Atkinson's Forty years in a Moorland Parish (1891) tells a most curious tale of a fairy bairn, told to the author by an elderly lady near Fryup. "She had known a lass quite well, who one day, when raking in the hayfield, had raked over a fairy bairn. "It was liggin' in a swathe of the halfmade hay, as bonny a lahtle thing as ever you seen. But it was a fairy-bairn, it was quite good to tell. But it did not stay lang wi' t' lass at fun' (found) it. It a soart o' dwinied away, and she aimed (supposed) the fairy-mother couldn't deea wivout it any langer".


What do fairies smell like?

I will leave you with my favourite snippet of folklore from Yorkshire, concerning the important question, what does a fairy smell like? Morris writes in Yorkshire Folk Talk (1892) of a lady who had never seen the fairies (though her relatives often had) but she had smelt them! 

"On his asking what sort of odour he was to expect so that he might be similarly favoured, she went on to enquire if he had ever been in a very crowded 'place of worship' wherein the people had been congregated for a length of time. Such was the description; a very different one had been looked for; but it is the unexpected which happen. It was supposed that the young woman who was such an adept at scenting out the fairies was in reality trying to give an idea of the gushes of hot air one sometimes comes across on broken ground during summer time."

Sources and Further Information

A History of Whitby volume 2, Young (1817)

Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect, Atkinson (1868) 

Forty Years in a Moorland Parish, Atkinson (1891)

Yorkshire Folk Talk, Morris (1892)

Yorkshire Coast and the Cleveland Hills, Leyland (1892) 

Jeanie o' Biggerdale and Other Yorkshire Stories, Katherine Simpson (1893)

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Blakeborough (1898)

Folklore of Yorkshire, Gutch (1901)

Whitby Lore and Legend, Jeffrey (1923) 

Seeing Fairies, Johnson (2014)

The Black Dog of Whitby and Kettleness, Simon J. Sherwood and Wendy E. Cousins

Fryup - a Dale of Horses and Fairy Rings, Nicholas Rhea, Darlington and Stockton Times 

Yorkshire Journal issue 3, Autumn 2014

Monday, 28 June 2021

Old Pam of Threshfield School - Ghost, Devil or Hobgoblin?

(Photo by Chris Heaton,

Today I blog to bring to you the story of Old Pam! It's been a while since I visited anywhere new due to the current Covid situation, so i've been taking a break from my blog, but with plans up ahead to visit Yorkshire I've been dipping my toes back into the folklore research pool! Sometimes the smallest little snippet of folklore can take you on surprising journeys and today was one of those days. Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Parkinson (1888) tells: "'Our Lady Wells,' that is wells dedicated to the virgin, are numerous in the country. One at Threshfield, near Linton, in Craven, has the attribute of being a place of safe refuge from all supernatural visitants - hobgobins and the like."

I was immediately intrigued, and wondered what 'supernatural visitants' the village folk were seeking refuge from! Much as there's no smoke without fire, there's no supernatural refuge without supernatural foe! The supernatural foe in question appears to go by the name of "Old Pam" and can be found at Threshfield school, a short distance from the well.

Ordnance Survey 6 inch to 1 mile Old Map (1888-1913)

The school was founded in 1674 as a grammar school and is still in use as a primary school today. The earliest mention of 'Old Pam' i've found so far appears in Rambles in Upper Wharfedale, Harker (1869) p119-121 written by Harker, an ex-pupil of the school:

"In connection with Threshfield Grammar School there is many a ghost story ; the name of the ghost that is said to dwell in it is Old Pam, and there is not a more popular ghost anywhere than he. He is said to frequent one room of the school more than any other portion of it, and for that reason it is called Old Pam's chamber; into it few of the scholars will dare to enter. Besides being a popular ghost, Old Pam is a merry one ; he has always been fond of fun, and, according to some people, has played many a trick on persons who have passed the school in the night-time. "It is related," says one (who is a native of this district, and was a schoolboy here), "with the utmost seriousness by eye-witnesses, that on accidentally passing the school at uncanny hours they have heard with fear and trembling the joyous shouts and hearty laughter of Old Pam's guests as they danced to his spirit-stirring fiddle, and have seen the school lighted up most brilliantly, the glare flashing from the windows illuminating the surrounding objects." The schoolmasters, it is said, have also been annoyed with the ghost's jocularity ; sometimes in the day strange noises have been heard, as if Old Pam were pacing the upper rooms of the school ; and if a little door, that is in the side of the ceiling, were to partly open, the whole school would be filled with terror, expecting every moment to see the ghost make his appearance. There is an improbable tale which says that a parson once left his sermon behind him in the school, and on coming to fetch it at a late hour on the Saturday night Old Pam caught him, dragged him round the place, soundly cuffed his ears, and then sent him home "....All tattered and torn." "It is said that this was done out of revenge, for when Pam was in the flesh it is supposed that while in a state of intoxication he was foully murdered by the parson, and his body then buried by him. under the hawthorn at the east end of the school. The following are a few verses which I once wrote when reflecting on the days I have spent in this ghost-haunted place : — 

Ghosts aren't usually known for being fond of fun and tricks, or playing the fiddle, this doesn't sound like your average ghost! In 1881 Dixon writes of Pam in his Chronicles and Stories of the Craven Dales p299-301 with a detailed explanation of the different types of ghosts, and he comes to the conclusion that Old Pam should be classed as a Hobgoblin. In Yorkshire folklore we do see tales of more traditional fairies who dance in fairy rings, create fairy butter, resist the building of churches, kidknap children and fire bolts at cattle, but many of the fairy folk of Yorkshire are of a different variety. We have the Hob, a domestic spirit (usually helpful and loyal but occasionally troublesome) similar to a Brownie, and then we have a wilder arrangement of fae folk called Bogles, Boggarts, Boggles, Bogills, and Boggards. These creatures are often tricksy and troublesome, some resemble a type of Hob and live in human houses, and others are said to haunt country lanes. They seem to take a variety of forms both animate and inanimate, from dogs and cows to haystacks. Sometimes Bargests, Padfoots and Guytrashes are also described as a type of Boggart, but they can also appear as a death omen, often at night and dragging a chain. The names vary from area to area too.  

Dixon tells us more of Old Pam including his physical appearance: "When the school-master finishes his day school, Pam commences his evening school. Once when Daniel Cooper was passing the school at a late hour of night (which was not a very unusual occurrence with him,) he found all the windows lighted up; so he took a peep at what was going on. Now it is only proper to say, that although on that occasion Daniel was in that happy condition when a man sees double, he had still all his senses about him, and could distinguish between a horse and a haystack. Pam was fiddling to a lot of young Pams - giving them a treat as a finale to their scholastic labours. Pam looked like a “ wizened owd man, summat of a monkey sort”— he was covered with “soft downy hair, colour of a mowdwarp, but wiv more blue in it”— he “wor about bouk o three foot.” On this night Pam was seated in the master’s chair, where his head bobbed time to the music. Daniel could not perceive that old Pam had any tail, for, unfortunately, the position of the fiddler was such as precluded an inspection of such an article, even if he had possessed one! The probability, however, is, that Pam is tail-less, because his scholars, who resembled the master in all but their size, had no such quadrupedal adornments. Daniel, unfortunately, attracted notice by sneezing, which caused a break-up of the party. In homely phrase he “had tu run for it,” and only escaped by taking refuge in the very middle of “Our Lady’s Well,” which they durst not approach. They, however, waited for Daniel at a respectable distance, and kept him in cold water, till the first cock announced the matin hour, when they fled, vowing that they would punish him severely if he ever again dared to act the part of an eavesdropper."

Dixon finishes with the story of Old Pam's demise, but this attempted murder seems to be on the ghost or hobgoblin rather than a living man. "We conclude our history of Pam with an adventure in which the Rev. Mr. Smith acts a prominent part. Mr. Smith was in the habit of writing his sermons in the school. It is traditionally reported, that one Saturday evening, on visiting the school after dark, in consequence of his M.S. having been left there, he was soundly cuffed by old Pam. The parson, in return for this attack, on his quitting the school on the following afternoon, left, on the master’s desk, a bottle of brandy for Pam’s especial use and benefit. The bait succeeded, and the parson discovered Pam in a state of most unghostly drunkenness. Now was the time for Mr. Smith’s revenge. Pam was fiercely attacked; and, it is said, killed outright. To make sure of his destruction, Mr. Smith is said to have buried Pam in a grave, where he did not receive the rites of the church, he not being one of the baptized brutes! The grave was behind the school. The place is still shewn at a corner of the play-garth over which the lads used to scramble, instead of entering by the gate. It is about two feet square, and a little lower than the adjoining earth. Pam, as this strange tale. goes, was not killed after all. He returned to his old scenes to inflict fresh annoyances on his priestly assailant. Never was the story of a haunted room more accredited than the above adventure of Mr. Smith. Were it necessary, Pam’s doings at the present day could be verified by oaths. He still has his evening school!!" 

The Naturalist, a monthly illustrated journal of natural history for the north of England, No 608 September 1907 claims that Old Pam is the devil himself. "In connection with the recent meeting of Yorkshire Naturalists in Littondale, Mr. W. Morrison supplied the members with some interesting local information. The devil, locally known as Old Pam, takes the Threshfield Grammar School for one night in the year, and teaches the little Wharfedale devils, who are 'that clever that they need nobbut yan nicht's schuling i' the year.'"

In 1910 Pam also gives name to a book by Halliwell Sutcliffe called Pam the Fiddler. From this description on the Halliwell Sutcliffe's works webpage it appears to be a historical novel about the rescue of Mary Queen of Scots from Bolton Castle so i'm not sure how much the folklore of Pam has contributed to the story, but I will have to read it to find out! 

Gee's Folk Tales of Yorkshire (1952) also mentions the well as a safe retreat from supernatural beings, and tells of a Threshfield man returning late from the public house one evening when he comes across a ghost (the ghost isn't given a name here) and "a number of wicked imps or goblins". As in Dixon's story, the man accidently gives himself away by sneezing and is chased to the well and kept there until cock crow. Included is the fantastic illustration below:

I'm happy to report that stories of Old Pam seem to be alive? and well! Pam receives mention on the Holy and Healing Wells website, which contains information from back issues of the Holy Wells Journal including an article in Issue 4 from March 1986 by Edna Whelan titled 'Holy Wells in Yorkshire part 2'. She writes, "The well was looked on as a sure and certain place of safety and refuge from all supernatural visitants, as shown by a certain legend; Pam the Fiddler was a teacher at Threshfield school many years ago and as he played his fiddle to entertain his pupils a ghost would appear and stand listening to the music. After Pam’s death a local man returning home late one night saw Pam on the roof of the school fighting with the local vicar and accompanied by imps. The witness sneezed, and the imps and Pam’s ghost chased him; he took refuge in the shelter of the well where he stayed till cock-crow, safe from attack. This story was told to me by Robert Greenwood, a farmer’s son who was born and still lives in the area, and attended the school in the 1970s." She goes on to ask the intriguing question of "Could ‘Pam’ derive from Pan?"

So was 'Old Pam' the ghost of a once living person cruelly murdered by the parson, or a rather hairy hobgoblin? Was he the devil himself, who held nightly classes for his imps? Or does the tale have origins with Pan himself? It's a curious tale indeed! What do you think?

You can listen to a more recent retelling of the folklore of Old Pam, in this wonderful song Old Pam by Jim Jarratt, I thoroughly recommend you give it a listen!

Spooky poems by James Carter and Brian Moses contains a delightfully spooky poem about Old Pam:

I hope you've enjoyed the tales of Old Pam, I'd love to hear from any students past and present of the school who have their own tales to tell! Hopefully i'll be able to visit the area in person one day too when it's safe to do so.

Sources and Further Information

Rambles in Upper Wharfedale, Harker (1869) 

Chronicles and Stories of the Craven Dales, Dixon (1881)

Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Parkinson (1888)

Folk Tales of Yorkshire, Gee (1952)

Holy and Healing Wells Website

Historic England: Threshfield School

Friday, 13 March 2020

The Piskies of Cornwall

(Image from Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle)

"See saw; Margery Daw
Sold her bed and lay upon straw;
She sold her straw, and lay upon hay,
Piskies came and carr'd her away."
- Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch (1855)

A recent query about pixies in the Fairy Folklore Facebook Group reminded me that I still hadn’t gotten around to writing a blog post about Cornish folklore! I visited in 2013 but for some reason never got around to blogging about it, which I apologise for profusely as the Piskies certainly deserve a mention. The fairy folk of Cornwall are still very much celebrated locally, especially in Polperro where you can still choose from a wide selection of piskey statues and charms in the Joad the Wad shop!

In this blog I have only included stories that directly refer to piskies by name, but many more stories of the “small folk” can be found in Cornwall, including a good selection in Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England.

Are Piskies and Pixies the same?

As far as I currently understand, and please do correct me if I’m wrong, in Cornwall they are known as piskay (Hitchins and Drew), piskey (Bottrell), pigsey (Hunt) or piskies (Hunt), and further afield in Devon they are known as pixies, piscy or pixy (Hunt). The most commonly used spelling seems to be piskey or piskies (plural) so that is the name I will use here unless directly quoting another source.  

According to Evans-Wentz, “Pisky or Pisgy is really Pixy. Though as a patriotic Cornishman I ought not to admit it, I cannot deny, especially as it suits my argument better, that the Devon form is the correct one.” He goes on to explain, “I think the original word is really Cornish. The transposition of consonants, especially when s is one of them, is not uncommon in modern Cornish English.” This is outside of my area of expertise but feel free to comment with your thoughts on this.

Most agree on Piskies and Pixies being the same thing, but with regional names, however according to Hunt's Popular Romances (1865) the piscy or pixy of East Devon and Somerset is a different creature from his Cornish cousin, with the East Devon and Somerset Pixies being mischievous but harmless, and the Cornish Pixies being more cunning and with sharpened wits.

What are Piskies?

Hunt's Popular Romances (1865) divides the fairy family of Cornwall into 5 categories- Small people, spriggans, buccas bockles and knockers, browneys, and piskies or pigseys. He describes the piskey as a "most mischievous and very unsociable sprite. His favourite fun is to entice people into the bogs by appearing like the light from a cottage window, or as a man carrying a lantern. The Piskie partakes, in many respects, of the character of the Spriggan. So widespread were their depredations, and so annoying their tricks, that it at one time was necessary to select persons whose acuteness and ready tact were a match for these quick-witted wanderers, and many a clever man as become famous for his power to give charms against Pigseys.” “They must have been a merry lot, since to "laugh like a Piskie" is a popular saying. These little fellows were great plagues to the farmers, riding their colts and chasing their cows."

Evans-Wentz disagrees with Hunt's classifications and comments "The Pobel Vean or Small People, the Spriggans, and the Piskies are not really distinguishable from one another. Bucca, who properly is but one, is a deity not a fairy". He adds, "But the only true Cornish fairy is the Pisky, of the race which is the Pobel Vean or Little People, and the Spriggan is only one of his aspects. The Pisky would seem to be the ‘Brownie’ of the Lowland Scot". This is a fair comparison as piskies do seem fond of helping on farms, and like the brownie they disappear when given new clothing.

Courtney divides the fairies of Cornwall into four classes and also removes the Bucca, listing the classes as “the Small People, the Pixies (pronounced Piskies or Pisgies), the Spriggans, and the Knockers.” (Folk-Lore Journal Vol 5, 1887)

Couch disagrees with the categorisation of fairies of Cornwall and writes, "This creed has received so many additions and modifications at one time, and has suffered so many abstractions at another, that it is impossible to make any arrangement of our fairies into classes. "The elves of halls, brooks, standing lakes, and groves” are all now confounded under the generic name pisky." (Couch, 1871)

A most thorough description of piskies can be found in Couch’s article in Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, (1855) "Our piskies are little beings standing midway between the purely spiritual and the material, suffering a few, at least, of the ills incident to humanity. They have the power of making themselves seen, heard, and felt. They interest themselves in man's affairs; now doing him a good turn, anon taking offence at a trifle, and leading him into all manner of mischief. The rude gratitude of the husbandman is construed into an insult, and the capricious sprites mislead him on the first opportunity, and laugh heartily at his misadventures. They are great enemies of sluttery and encouragers of good husbandry. When not singing or dancing their chief nightly amusement is in riding the colts, and plaiting the manes, or tangling them with the seed-vessels of the burdock. Of a particular field in this neighbourhood it is reported that the farmer never puts his horses in it but he finds them in the morning in a state of great terror, panting and covered with foam. Their form of government is monarchical, as frequent mention is made of "the King of the piskies".
Illustration from North Cornwall Fairies and Legends, Tregarthern (1906)

 Evans-Wentz mentions "the not very common idea that piskies are the souls of unbaptized children" and Henry Spragg, aged 70 of Delabole, told Evan-Wentz "I can remember hearing the old people say that the piskies are the spirits of dead-born children." Evan-Wentz also mentions the belief that "the little people are the living souls and bodies of the old Pagans, who, refusing Christianity, are miraculously preserved alive, but are condemned to decrease in size until they vanish altogether." He also mentions a theory of the survival of the traditions of a "dark pre-Celtic people. These were not necessarily pygmies, but smaller than Celts, and may have survived for a long time in forests and hill countries, sometimes friendly to the taller race, whence come the stories of piskies working for farmers, sometimes hostile, which may account for the legends of changelings and other mischievous tricks." 

Evans-Wentz spoke to some of the older generations on a visit to Cornwall and published these accounts in 1911, and both an 80-year-old and 82-year-old spoke of the belief that piskies were thought of as spirits. A 78-year-old told him "I always understood the piskies to be little people. A great deal was said about ghosts in this place. Whether or not piskies are the same as ghosts I cannot tell, but I fancy the old folks thought they were." Miss Mary Ann Chirgwin of Newlyn told him that "The old people used to say the piskies were apparitions of the dead come back in the form of little people, but I can’t remember anything more than this about them."

"Piskey" was also said to be a common name in the neighbourhood of Truro for moths; "which are there believed by some to be fairies, by others, departed souls. As a consequence of this latter belief, it is there thought that when moths are very numerous their appearance is an omen of a great mortality." (Thoms, 1865)

Evans-Wentz paid visit to the country home of Miss Susan E. Gay, author of a history of Falmouth. She explained, "The pixies and fairies are little beings in the human form existing on the ‘astral plane’, who may be in the process of evolution; and, as such, I believe people have seen them. The ‘astral plane’ is not known to us now because our psychic faculty of perception has faded out by non-use, and this condition has been brought about by an almost exclusive development of the physical brain; but it is likely that the psychic faculty will develop again in its turn.’"

"Others say: there were no piskies at all in Cornwall before the invasion of the saints; but when St. Keverne and St. Just and St. Sennen and the rest sailed across the sea of their goodly millstones (for such was their saintliness that they could not do the simplest thing except in a miraculous way), the piskies came with them, perched on their shoulders, or hanging on to their beards; for in those days sanctity wore a merry face, and holy men were well disposed towards the sprightly little folk, and loved to have them about them, to cheer their vigils with sport and frolic. Others again declare the piskies to be no others than the ancient pagan gods of Cornwall; and this to me is the most probable explanation of all." (Cornish Magazine Vol 2, Lee 1899)

I end this section with a wonderful poem by Couch titled The Piskies, published in The Cornish Magazine Vol 2 Jan-May 1899

"We were not good enough for Heaven, 
Not bad enough for Hell : 
And therefore unto us ’twas given 
Unseen on earth to dwell :

To listen by the moonlit thatch, 
By window-blinds to lurk, 
To watch men on their knees, and watch 
Men go about their work.

We watch in hope to be forgiven ; 
But still we cannot tell 
Whose deeds are good enough for Heaven, 
Whose bad enough for Hell."

What do Piskies look like?

In a tale of Piskey helping to thresh corn found in Bottrell's Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Second Series (1873), the old dame "saw that the threshal was worked by a little old man, no more than three feet high, covered only with a few rags, and his long hair that hung over his shoulders like a bunch of rushes, (a bunch beaten for making sheep's spans). His face was broader than it was long; she couldn't make out the colour of his great round owl's-eyes, they were so shaded by his shaggy eyebrows, from between which his long nose, like a snout, poked out. His mouth reached from ear to ear, and they were set far back to make room for it. Pee noticed, too, that his teeth were very long and jagged, for he was so eager about his work that, with each stroke of the threshal, he kept moving his thin lips round and up and down, and his tongue in and out. He had nothing of a chin or neck to speak of, but shoulders broad enow for a man twice his height. His naked arms and legs were out of all proportion, and too long for his squat body; and his splayed feet were more like a quilkan's (frog's) than a man's." In another tale of a piskey thresher the piskey is described as "a little fellow, clad in a very tattered suit of green" (Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch, 1855) In both tales the piskies are unfortunately offered new clothing, and as expected disappear soon after.
Illustration from Polperro Pisky-Lore and Legendland booklet

A Penzance man described them to Evans-Wentz, "In general appearance the fairies were much the same as pixies. They were small men and women, much smaller than dwarfs. The men were swarthy in complexion, and the women had a clear complexion of a peach-like bloom. None ever appeared to be more than five-and-twenty to thirty years old." An elderly woman of Trevescan told him that said her grandmother saw piskies dancing, and they were like little children, and had red cloaks”

For the piskies of Polperro, a “disposition to laughter is a striking trait in their character, and a person who laughs heartily and unrestrainedly is said to "laugh like a pisky." I have been able to gather little about the personality of these beings. My old friend, before mentioned, described them as about a span long, clad in green, and wearing straw hats, or little red caps, on their heads. (Couch, 1871)

An article by Charles Lee in the Cornish Magazine Vol 2 (1899) agrees that piskies wore red hats, and tells of a particular wood where "on Mondays, if you peep into the woods as you pass, you may chance to see scores of little red caps hanging up to dry on the thorn-bushes."

A piskey who knocked on the door of a preacher in West Cornwall was described as "a tiny little man, no bigger than a whitneck when it sits up on its hind paws. Like a whitneck he was dressed in a brown coat and white waistcoat; his breeches were brown also, his stockings were green, and his shoe-buckles were two silver dewdrops. On his head he wore a red cap, which he doffed politely as soon as the door opened, discovering a natty little wig made of grey lichen. And in his right hand he flourished a straight twig, to the end of which a shred of white linen was died, by way of flag of truce." (Cornish Magazine Vol 2, Lee, 1899)

The King and Queen of the Piskies

“Their form of government is monarchical, as frequent mention is made of "the King of the piskies.” He tells that two are known by name, as mentioned in the following rhyme:

“Jack o' the lantern! Joan the wad,
Who tickled the maid and made her mad;
Light me home, the weather's bad.”
- Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch (1855)

Wad was an old Cornish word for torch. Charms of Joan the Wad and Jack O’ Lantern have been sold in Cornwall for many years, especially around Polperro, and they are said to bring good luck, health and happiness. They can still be purchased online from the Joan the Wad Shop. They also sell charms of the lesser known Nicky Nan Knight Of The Knockers, Billy Bucca Duke Of The Buccas, and Sam the Prince of the Spriggans.
Carvings of the Polperro Piskies, taken when the Joan the Wad shop was on Fore Street

 In a little booklet from 1950 titled The Astonishing History of the Lucky Cornish Piskies published by the Queen's Parlour established 1860, we are told that their King is Jack O'Lantern and their Queen is Joan the Wad, and they are the King and Queen of all the Cornish Piskies, and their Kinsmen the Devonshire Pixies. It describes them as the world's luckiest reigning monarchs, and all-seeing and able to foretell events, all-knowing, and they alone hold the secret to good health and happiness. The statues in the booklet really are beautiful, I wonder if any readers have their own?
Advert from The Astonishing History of the Lucky Cornish Piskies, 1950

Another piskey with a name was Colman Grey. It was found starving with cold and hunger by a farmer at Langreek, who took it home to warm it by the hearth, and he fed it with milk. It recovered and never spoke but became very lively and playful and was a favourite in the family, until about three or four days later when a shrill voice was heard calling three times "Colman Grey!" and at once the piskey sprang up and cried "Ho! Ho! Ho! my daddy is come!" and off it flew through the keyhole. (Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch, 1855)

The Trouble with Piskies

"If a traveller among the peasantry happened to lose his way, whether by daylight or in darkness, especially if it was a road with which he had been well acquainted, he immediately concluded that he was "piskay led:" and in his belief he was confirmed, by the public opinion of his neighbours, who were always ready on his return, to recount a number of similar adventures, as corroborating evidences of the fact. To dispel the charm with which the "piskay led" traveller was entangled, nothing was deemed sufficient, but that of his turning one of his garments inside out. This generally fell upon one of his stockings; and if this precaution had been taken before the commencement of the journey, it was fully believed, that no such delusion would have happened. The turning of a garment inside out was therefore sometimes adopted as a preventative, and sometimes reported as a remedy, when the spell of the piskay was experienced." (Hitchins and Drew, 1824). However, according to a late witty Cornish doctor, "Pisky led is often whiskey led." Which may offer a more rational explanation for men getting lost walking home from the pub. (Folk-Lore Journal Vol 5, 1887).

A clergyman, whose veracity is unquestionable, assured me that many of the inhabitants of Paul to this day believe devoutly that the piskies control the mists, and can, when so disposed, cast a thick veil over the traveller. Sometimes the fairies throw a light before his face that completely dazzles him, and leads him backwards and forwards, without allowing him to make any progress in his journey. This is called being pixy-laden; and a man lately going from Newlyn to Paul, as straight a country road as can well be imagined, was thus teased by the fairies, and it was not until he thought of turning his coat inside out that he escaped the effects of their influence. (Halliwell, 1861)

Hunt’s Popular Romances (1865) agrees, "No Pigsey could harm a man if his coat were inside-out, and it became very common practice for persons who had to go from village to village by night, to wear their jacket or cloak so turned, ostensibly to prevent the dew from taking the shine off the cloth, but in reality to render them safe from the Pigseys."

Piskies are blamed for many a mischief, not just leading travellers astray. Hitchins and Drew go on to explain that piskay was also blamed for the entangled threads of the seamstress, if her patches were discomposed, her thimble was lost, domestic articles mislaid, and much more! "If an accident happened, of which the immediate cause was not obvious, the blame was instantly thrown upon the piskays, and these invisible offenders were sometimes loaded with execrations."

Sometimes Piskey could be very troublesome indeed. (Bottrell, 1873). "Whilst she was still stooping, and groping for her glove and the buckles, she felt a great number of the small tribe—a score or more—leap on her back, neck, and head. At the same time others, tripping up her heels, laid her flat on the ground and rolled her over and over. More than once, when her face was uppermost, she caught a glimpse of Piskey, all in rags as usual, mounted on a year-old colt, his toes stuck in the mane, holding a rush in his hand to guide it. There he sat, putting on the smaller sprights to torment her, making a tee-hee-hee and haw-haw-haw, with his mouth open from ear to ear."

Piskies were said to be very fond of riding horses, especially those belonging to local farmers. “I was on a visit when a boy at a farm-house situated near Fowey river. Well do I remember the farmer with much sorrow telling us one morning at breakfast, that "the piskie people had been riding Tom again; " and this he regarded as certainly leading to the destruction of a fine young horse. I was taken to the stable to see the horse. There could be no doubt that the animal was much distressed, and refused to eat his food. The mane was said to be knotted into fairy stirrups; and Mr told me that he had no doubt at least twenty small people had sat upon the horse's neck. He even assured me that one of his men had seen them urging the horse to his utmost speed round and round one of his fields.” A Liskeard farmer also found this to be a problem, “If you’d had yourn hosses wrode to death every nite, you’d tell another tay! I reckon. But as sure as I ‘se living the pigsies do ride on ‘em whenever they’ve a mind to.” (Hunt, 1865)

A farmer in Bosfrancan in St Burrien had a fine cow called Daisey, who had an udder like a bucket yet she would only yield a gallon or so of milk before she would give a gentle bleat, cock her ears up, and the milk would stop flowing. No one could tell what was the matter, and they tried to get rid of but as fast as they drove her up the lane, she would escape and be back in the field again before they were half way home. On midsummer's evening, Daisey was the last cow to milk and the maid's bucket was so full she could scarcely lift it so she plucked up a handful of grass and clover to put in the head of her hat to steady the bucket. She had no sooner placed the hat on her head when she saw "hundreds and thousands of Small People swarming in all directions about the cow, and dipping their hands into the milk, taking it out on the clover blossoms and sucking them. The grass and clover, all in blossom, reached to the cow's belly. Hundreds of the little creatures ran up the long grass and clover stems, with buttercups, lady's smocks, convolvuluses, and foxglove flowers, to catch the milk that Daisey let flow from her four teats, like a shower, among them. Eight under the cow's udder the maid saw one much larger than the others, lying on his back, with his heels cocked up to the cow's belly. She knew he must be a Piskie, because he was laughing, with his mouth open from ear to ear. The little ones were running up and down his legs, filling their cups, and emptying them into the Piskie's mouth. Hundreds of others were on Daisey 'a back, scratching her rump, and tickling her round the horns and behind the ears. Others were smoothing down every hair of her shining coat into its place." The maid realised she must have put a four leafed clover in her hat, granting her sight of them. The mistress's mother knew the small people couldn't abide the smell of fish, nor the taste of salt or grease, and advised the maid to rub the cow's udder with fish brine. She did this, but soon wished she hadnt interfered. Daisey would go around the fields bleating and crying as if she'd lost her calf, and she pined away to skin and bone and was sold at the next Burrien fair for next to nothing, and the farmer only found bad luck afterwards. (Hunt, 1865)

One of perhaps the more unusual activities blamed on Piskey is “After Michaelmas, it is said, that blackberries are unwholesome because Piskey spoils them then.” A green bug, frequently found on bramble bushes in autumn, is also called by the name of piskey (Bottrell, 1873), so I’m not entirely sure who is getting the blame here, the bugs or the fairies! A lady in Newlyn said it was after the 31st of October when the blackberries are not fit to eat as "the pixies have been over them" (Evans-Wentz, 1911).

One evening John Taprail moored his boat beside a much larger barge and in the middle of the night was awoke by a voice warning him to get up and shift his rope over as his boat was in danger. He hurried to the boat only to find no dangers at all, but on his way back he spotted a crowd of little people congregated under the shelter of a boat lying dry upon the beach, and they were holding their hats out as one of their kind pitched a gold piece into each hat one by one. The sight of the gold made John forget the respect due to an assemblage of piskies and their habit of punishing those who intrude on their privacy, and he crept over and managed to add his hat in without being noticed. He withdrew his hat and snuck away before detection, taking his gold with him, but the defrauded piskies were soon on his heels and he barely escaped, leaving the tail of his sea-coat in their hands. (Crouch, 1871)

A tale common in many areas of the UK is that of the fairy midwife, and a piskey version can be found in Polperro. An old nurse was called upon to help a diminutive lady in labour and paid generously for her services. Afterwards she was washing the baby when she accidently applied soap to one of her eyes, and lo and behold her true surroundings were revealed to her and she saw "a crowd of piskies thronged the room, and went through unimaginable pranks". She returned home but spotted one of them later at a local fair, and when he asked which eye she could see him with she pointed to the eye she had smeared with the fairy suds, and she immediately received a blow from his pisky first and she was blind forever in that eye.

Like their fairy cousins of other areas, piskies were sometimes said to be responsible for the theft of human children. "A woman who lived near Breage Church had a fine girl baby, and she thought the piskies came and took it and put a withered child in its place. The withered child lived to be twenty years old, and was no larger when it died than when the piskies brought it. It was fretful and peevish and frightfully shrivelled. The parents believed that the piskies often used to come and look over a certain wall by the house to see the child. And I heard my grandmother say that the family once put the child out of doors at night to see if the piskies would take it back again.’" (Evans Wentz, 1911) 

Another method of getting the real child back was to pay a visit to Men-an-Tol. "At the Men-an-Tol there is supposed to be a guardian fairy or pixy who can make miraculous cures. And my other knew of an actual case in which a changeling was put through the stone in order to get the real child back. It seems that evil pixies changed children, and that the pixy at the Men-an-Tol being good, could, in opposition, undo their work." In another story the true child could only be returned by laying a four-leaf clover on the changeling. (Evans-Wentz, 1911)

Illustration from North Cornwall Fairies and Legends, Tregarthern (1906)

Piskies Being Helpful

Piskies could also be very helpful, and were especially known for helping with threshing corn and cleaning houses. In a tale in Bottrell's Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall(1873) an old dame in a story tells "ever since I can remember, I have heard it said that Piskey threshed the corn in Boslow of winter's nights, and did other odd jobs all the year round for the old couple who lived here, but I wouldn't believe it. Yet here he es!" Unfortunately the old dame makes a mistake in fairy etiquette and when the small folk start sneezing due to all the straw dust she says "God bless 'e little men!" and they disappear and she feels a handful of dust thrown into her eyes as Piskey says "I spy thy snout, old Peepan Pee; And I'll serve thee out, or es much to me.". Remember, the fairies never like to be spied upon! 

In many tales the piskies are similar to the Scottish Brownie, helping on farms and in old houses, and like their Scottish cousin they leave when given new clothing. The old dame in the tale mentions "We all know ragged as Piskey es, he's so proud that he won't wear cast-off clothes, or else he should have some of my dear old man's—the Lord rest him." She makes him some brand-new clothes, and sure enough when he puts on his new breeches, stockings, coat, and cap he sings "Piskey fine and Piskey gay, Piskey now will run away." and is never seen again. In another tale the man who spies the threshers incautiously thanked them through the key-hole, and when the piskies, who love to work "unheard and unespied", heard him they instantly vanished and never visited the barn again. (Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch, 1855) 

A farmer's wife at "Colmans" in the parish of Werrington of a piskey that "frequently made its appearance in the form of a small child in the kitchen of the farm-house, where the inmates were accustomed to set a little stool for it. It would do a good deal of household work, but if the hearth and chimney corner were not kept neatly swept, it would pinch the maid. The piskey would often come into the kitchen and sit on its little stool before the fire, so that the old lady had many opportunities of seeing it. Indeed it was a familiar guest in the house for many months. At last it left the family under these circumstances. One evening it was sitting on the stool as usual, when it suddenly started, looked up and said, - "Piskey fine, and Piskey gay, Now, Piskey! run away!" and vanished; after which it never appeared again. (Choice Notes from Notes and Queries, Folk Lore 1859)

The Astonishing History of the Lucky Cornish Piskies (1950) tells of piskies bestowing a wonderful gift on a young blacksmith. Matthey Hosken, son of the smith of Porthennis, was a thoughtful and studious lad but his father did not appreciate his habit of "trying to make iron do what iron won't do", as he had a terrible habit of spoiling jobs. In his spare time he liked to climb the headland and lie among the furze with his back against the ancient cromlech overlooking the sea. Here he would lie and dream of intricate iron traceries and fine filigree work that one day he would accomplish, once he had learned the secret to make iron do what iron won't do. The piskies were aware of his hopes and dreams and that he was a good young fellow who followed an old and honourable trade, and they decided to help him prosper and told him of "the flux, the secret of Teague the smith, he who was armourer to King Arthur and his Knights." In the church of Porthennis, there stood a screen of ironwork, the centre panel of which had a spider in its web, that was a marvel that caused smiths from all over the country to wonder how the iron had been wrought so thin, but young Hosken let the secret die with him, and unfortunately his masterpiece later rusted away to nothingness. This seems to be a rewrite of an earlier version by Couch, where the gift was bestowed upon the blacksmith's son by a wren bird after he promises to stop shooting birds. Interestingly, in Couch's version the wrens are described as "the friend of a race that inhabited Cornwall ages ago. It builds in their cromlechs, and its song remembers them". (Couch, 1929)

Piskies do seem rather fonder of metal than the fairy folk of other areas. The Polperro Pisky-Lore and Legendland booklet tells “In Cornwall it is believed that wherever the piskies are fond of resorting the depths of the earth are rich in metal. Very many mines have been discovered by their singing”.

A piece of tin put into an ant's nest could "through pisky power be transmuted into silver, provided that it was inserted at some varying lucky moment about the time of the new moon." (Folk-Lore Journal Vol 5, 1887)

I’m not sure if this counts as being helpful, but it definitely did the man no harm. A lad from Portallow was sent to Polperro to buy some household necessaries from the shop, but night had set in by the time he headed home. When he heard a voice say "I'm for Portallow Green' he thought he may as well have the company and he answered "I'm for Portallow Green" too. He suddenly found himself on the Green surrounded by "a throng of little laughing piskies" and when a cry was heard from several tiny voices of "I'm for Seaton Beach" he joined in and was whisked away with them. After they had danced a while he heard a cry of "I'm for the King of France's cellar" and once again he joined in, and immediately found himself in a spacious cellar, and joined his mysterious companions in tasting the richest of wines. He returned home to Portallow Green with them eventually, but stole a goblet along the way to prove his journey, and it remained in his family for many generations after. (Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Couch, 1855)

Appeasing the Piskies

"A recent old cottage tenant at Poliphant, near Launceston, when asked why he allowed a hole in the wall of his house to remain unrepaired, answered that he would not have it stopped up on any account, as he left it on purpose for the piskeys to come in and out, as they had done for years." (An itinerary of Launceston, 1865)

Milk seems to be a favourite of the piskies. "It was only last winter, in a cottage not a hundred yards from where I am writing, that milk was set at night for piskies, who had been knocking on walls and generally making nuisances of themselves. Apparently the piskies only drank the ‘astral’ part of the milk (whatever that may be) and then the neighbouring cats drank what was left, and it disagreed with them. (Evans-Wentz, 1911)

An article by Charles Lee in the Cornish Magazine Vol 2 (1899) tells of an old woman who never looked dirty, for "Every night she opened the window a little way, set a dish of milk on the table, and went to bed. Every morning the milk was gone, the cloam washed and put by, the slab polished, the floor swept and sprinkled with white sand, and not a cobweb left under the planchin."

Protection from Piskies

"The country people in this neighbourhood sometimes put a prayer-book under a child's pillow as a charm to keep away the piskies. I am told that a poor woman near Launceston was fully persuaded that one of her children was taken away and a pisky substituted, the disaster being caused by the absence of the prayer-book on one particular night." (Choice Notes, 1859)

If you had been cursed by a piskey, Mrs Jane Tregurtha of Newlyn advises that "to remove the curses people would go to the wells blessed by the saints." (Evans-Wentz, 1911)

"In West Cornwall knobs of lead, known as pisky's pows or pisky feet, were placed at intervals on the roofs of farm-houses to prevent the piskies from dancing on them and turning the milk sour in the dairies." (Folk-Lore Journal Vol 5, 1887)

Apart from the above and turning an article of your clothing inside out, little else seems to have been written on how to protect against piskies, other than not angering them in the first place! A Penzance man told Evans-Wentz that “people of miserly nature used to put salt around a cow to keep the pixies away; and then the pixies would lead such mean people astray the very first opportunity that came.” In the previously mentioned tale of Daisey the cow, the piskies were kept away with fish and salt, but the story certainly did end well for the farmer. Perhaps using protection against the piskies isn’t quite such a good idea after all, and it’s better to leave them to their business. 

Seeing Piskies & Where to Find Them

If you’d like to go and see a piskey, I’d urge you to think again! The piskies certainly don’t like to be spied on, and to do so would put yourself in great danger. Piskies were once used by parents as a warning. An 82-year-old man told Evans-Wentz in 1911 that “If we as children did anything wrong, the old folks would say to us, “The piskies will carry you away if you do that again.”’

However, if you would still like to see a piskey, a Penzance man offers this method, "I have heard my nurse say that she could see scores of them whenever she picked a four-leaf clover and put it in the wisp of straw which she carried on her head as a cushion for the bucket of milk. Her theory was that the richness of the milk was what attracted them. Pixies, like fairies, very much enjoyed milk" He also adds that “According to some country-people, the pixies have been seen in the day-time, but usually they are only seen at night.” Richard Harry, the historian of Mousehole, tells that the piskies are thought to appear on moonlight nights. Frank Ellis, aged 78, of Trevescan advises "If you keep quiet when they are dancing you’ll see them, but if you make any noise they’ll disappear." Mr Male, aged 82 of Delabole, tells "Piskies always come at night, and in marshy ground there are round places called pisky beds where they play." (Evan-Wentz, 1911).

The Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall of 1864 mentions that stone spindle-whorls found during the tilling of the ground are called in Cornwall "Piskey Grinding-Stones".

One sign of there being piskies nearby is the presence of a fairy circle. “In certain grass fields, mushrooms growing in a circle might be seen of a morning, and the old folks pointing to the mushrooms would say to the children, “Oh, the piskies have been dancing there last night.”’ (Evan-Wentz, 1911).

Below are further details of some of the places you may want to visit in search of piskies….

The Pisky-House, Bosahan
Little information is given on this site apart from William Murphy paid the site a visit with a surveyor and "the two of them heard such unearthly noises in it that they came running home in great excitement, saying they had heard the piskies.’" (Evans-Wentz, 1911)

Bal Lane, Germoe
Bal Lane in Germoe was said to be a notorious place for Piskies, according to Hunt's Popular Romances (1865) and one man returning from drinking found it "covered all over from end to end, and the Small People holding a fair there with all sorts of merchandise the prettiest sight they ever met with." He thought he saw his child there, and in the morning found an ugly wizened child in its place.

Logan Rock Cairn
"If the adventurous traveller who visits the Land's End district will go down as far as he can on the south-west side of the Logan Rock Cairn, and look over, he will see, in little sheltered places between the cairns, close down to the water's edge, beautifully green spots, with here and there some ferns and cliff-pinks. These are the gardens of the Small People, or, as they are called by the natives, Small Folk. They are beautiful little creatures, who appear to pass a life of constant enjoyment amongst their own favourite flowers." A native of St Levan tells "when I have been to sea close under the cliffs, of a fine summer's night, I have heard the sweetest of music, and seen hundreds of little lights moving about amongst what looked like flowers. Ay! and they are flowers too, for you may smell the sweet scent far out at sea. Indeed, I have heard many of the old men say, that they have smelt the sweet perfume, and heard the music from the fairy gardens of the Castle, when more than a mile from the shore." Strangely enough, you can find no flowers but the sea-pinks in these lovely green places by day, yet they have been described by those who have seen them in the midsummer moonlight as being covered with flowers of every colour, all of them far more brilliant than any blossoms seen in any mortal garden." (Hunt, 1865) This same story, almost word for word, appears in the Polperro Pisky-Lore and Legendland booklet, but the location has been changed to the Polperro cliffs and the small folk are called piskies instead.

Last but not least, a visit to Polperro is a must for anyone interested in learning more about piskies, and I recommend including a visit to the Joan the Wad shop on Lansallos Street to buy some lucky Polperro Piskies. If you live too far away to travel, they also sell online through their website. Below are some photos of the shop, with many thanks to the Joan the Wad shop for providing these wonderful photos. 

Lucky Piskies
Mention must be made of the tradition of Piskies being lucky. I'm not sure when this tradition began, but it certainly became popular, and as mentioned above in the section on Kings and Queens, many various charms and statues were and still are available to grant luck to the owner. A huge collection of them can be viewed here on the PelTorro Website.
Some of my own lucky piskies and adverts for them

The Joan the Wad shop in Polperro had a lucky well inside the shop itself, and it can still be seen today in their premises on Lansallos Street.
Image kindly provided by The Joan the Wad shop

The piskies still seem to giving good luck more recently too. A newspaper article in the Falmouth Packet September 2018 titled ‘Cornish Pisky leads to lost wedding ring found near Coverack’ tells how a holidaymaker lost his wedding ring on the beach near Coverack, only for it to be found two weeks later by Caroline Beadle, co-creator of Cornish Pisky Pals in the village, who was walking along the same beach, with one of her creations in her pocket.

The Decline of the Piskies

Hitchins and Drew describe in 1824 the already declining belief in piskies, "But the age of piskays, like that of chivalry, is gone. There is perhaps at present scarcely a house in Cornwall, which they are reputed to visit. They neither steal children, nor displace domestic articles. Even the fields and lanes which they formerly frequented, seem to be nearly forsaken. Their music is rarely heard; and they appear to have forgotten to attend their ancient midnight dance. The diffusion of knowledge, by which the people have been enlightened during the last half century, has considerably reduced the number of piskays: and even the few that remain, are evidently preparing to take their departure."

In 1871 Couch wrote regarding Polperro, "The belief in the little folk is far from dead among us, although the people of this generation hold it by a slighter tenure than their forefathers did, and are aware that piskies are now fair objects of ridicule, whatever they may formerly have been."

In a story of a piskey and a preacher, the piskies tell him that when the white monks came from Ireland and sprinkled them with holy water they shrank as the drops fell on them, and became as dwarfs. Later, the monks were replaced by people in black gowns and as people were not sure who to follow the piskies stopped shrinking, but then one day not long ago they woke to find they had suddenly grown old overnight, "so wizened were our faces, so shrunken our limbs" and the grass now towered above their heads. A new preacher from the East had arrived with another new creed. Some piskies wanted to move to Ireland, others wanted to waylay the preacher, but they instead decided to speak with him. They explained their situation and asked if there was room for them in his message as forgotten they would perish, but the preacher showed no sympathy and denounced the piskies as evil spirits, and imps of the pit, and he foretold the imminent doom of all piskies, spriggans, knockers, and brownies, and how they would in a little white be forgotten and perish from the land. They piskies wailed shrilly and fled shrieking and lamenting into the woods, never to be seen again (Cornish Magazine Vol 2, Lee, 1899).

I’m very glad to say that the piskies have never been completely forgotten, partly with great thanks to the Joan the Wad shop in Polperro for continuing to promote these traditions. Just remember, as long as we continue to remember the Cornish piskies, they will never shrink and disappear completely!

I will end by sharing with you a 'Prayer to the Piskies' found in an undated little booklet called A Short History of "Joan the Wad" Queen of the Lucky Cornish Piskeys, issued from Joan's cottage in Lanivet in Bodmin:

"Oh, Piskey fine, piskey gay,
Piskey lead me not astray,
Piskey rain, Piskey hail,
Piskey, wellwish me by sail.
Oh, Piskey, in the dark wisht wood,
Piskey, help me to be good,
Piskey frost, piskey snow,
Piskey'm mazed my love to know,
Oh, Piskey in the cauchy well,
Piskey, please my love to tell."

Sources and Further Information
The History of Cornwall: From the Earliest Records and Traditions, to the Present Time, Hitchins and Drew (1824)
Notes and Queries, Series 1, Volume 11, Folk Lore of a Cornish Village, Couch (1855)
Choice Notes from Notes and Queries, Folk Lore (1859)
Rambles in Western Cornwall by the Footsteps of the Giants, Halliwell (1861)
An itinerary of Launceston, Cornwall (1865)
Three Notelets on Shakespeare, Thoms (1865)
Popular Romances of the West of England, Hunt (1865)
The History of Polperro, Couch (1871)
Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Second Series, Bottrell (1873)
Cornish Folk-Lore Part III, The Folk-Lore Journal Volume 5, Courtney (1887)
Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Hope (1893)
The Cornish Magazine Vol 2 Jan-May, articles by Couch and Lee (1899)
The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, Evans-Wentz (1911)
News from the Duchy, Couch (1929)
The Astonishing History of the Lucky Cornish Piskies, Bailey (1950)
Polperro Pisky-Lore and Legendland, Pisky Place booklet (undated but appears to be pre-1950s)