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