The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective
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Hobs are mythical creatures of the North York Moors and elsewhere. Surprisingly, there seem to be no hobs in the Yorkshire Dales but some lived near the Yorkshire-Durham borders. One lived at Coniscliffe near Darlington and another was Hob Headless who haunted the lane between Hurworth and Neasham.
The story of the Lambton worm is perhaps the most famous of the dragon/worm/wyvern stories that abound in the north of England, alleged to have inspired Bram Stokers final novel “The Lair of the White Worm”. There are many similar stories from the region including the Laidley worm of Bamburgh, the Longwitton Dragon of Northumberland, The Dragon of Loschy wood near Stonegrave, Helmsley, the less well-known Handale (near Loftus) serpent, the Sexhowe dragon and the Sockburn worm which inspired Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” written in Croft in 1855.
Hob headless was a sprite that lurked on a road from Neasham to Hurworth. His presence was a nusance, pouncing on unsuspecting travelers, changing the direction of signposts, and causing vehicles to skid on the road. This headless figure was also known to lure unsuspecting travellers from their path into the treacherous waters of the River Tees. As such he was blamed for the various disappearances, deaths and drownings in the river that stretched along the road.
One of the most well known disappearances was that of the unfortunately named Robert Luck, a bricklayer from Darlington, on New Year's Eve in 1772. It is assumed that he had had a few drinks as part of the evenings festivities, which may account for his failure to be more cautious during his journey as he never returned home.
The townsfolk avoided his clutches in the village due to Hob being unable to cross a little tibutary of the Tees known as the the Kent Bridge. However the disappearance of Robert is thought to have prompted the people of Neasham to seek assistance from a priest to exorcise the malevolent sprite.
The priest is said to have successfullly banished the Hob to a hole by the roadside which was then covered by a large stone. Willam Henderson recorded the tale in his book Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (1879) noting
He has been exorcised, however, and laid under a large stone formerly on the roadside, for ninety-nine years and a day. Should any luckless person sit on that stone, he would be unable to quit it for ever.
It is believed the stone was cursed as an act of revenge by Hob Headless trapped beneath. The claim that those who sat upon the rock would remain stuck to it forever was enough to deter people from tampering with the rock, lest they accidentally unleash the malevolent creature once again.
The Torness Trows - an eyewitness account
This account was written in response to an article on trows published in a Scottish magazine in the 1960s. It came from an Englishman who had spent nearly two years on the island of Hoy during the Second World War:
"One stormy day in winter I was walking or struggling along the cliff top at Torness. The wind was high and howled about, low-lying, swirling clouds part-enveloped the land in misty rain. At times the pressure was so great that I was forced to bend and clutch at the heather to retain a footing.
Mistletoe and The Druids
The ancient Druids believed mistletoe to be an indicator of great sacredness. The winter solstice, called 'Alban Arthan' by the Druids, was according to Bardic Tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe is cut using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice. A cloth held below the tree by other members of the order to catch the spigs of mistletoe as they fell, as it was believed that it would have profaned the mistletoe to fall upon the ground. He would then divide the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.
The Druids are thought to have believed that the berries of the mistletoe represented the sperm of the Gods. When pressed, a semen like substance issues from the white berries. Mistletoe was considered a magickal aphrodisiac. Girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were asking for a bit more than a kiss, it seems.
The plant in old folklore is called Allheal, used in folk medicine to cure many ills, and indeed the Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. When taken as a form of diluted tea, it was thought as a curative for everything from infertility to epilepsy
A version of the story of the Fairy Widower, which appears in Robert Hunt's, Popular Romances of the West of England, pages 120-126. It is very closely allied to 'Jenny Permuen', also to be found in Hunt. 'Cherry of Zennor' is a curious story, and throws a number of side-lights on fairy beliefs. Sometimes one is tempted to believe that the story had a naturalistic foundation, and that it is an unsophisticated girl's interpretation of a human experience. On the other hand, it gives one quite a picture of the real traditions of underground Fairyland, such as that which was entered by True Thomas.
Peg Powler is a hag, who dwells in the River Tees. Although the crown of green tresses is normally sybolic of a water deity, she is believed to be responsible for the deaths of a number of children.
Sometimes known as the High Green Ghost by residents in Middleton in Tees, Peg Powler is commonly described as an ugly old woman with a green skin, long hair and sharp teeth. She grabs the ankles of those who stand to close to the water, pulls them under water and drowns them. Swimming or wading in this river is strongly discouraged.
The foam or froth which gathers on the higher reaches of the river in great masses is known as “Peg Powler’s Suds“, while a thinner accumulation of this surface scum is known as “Peg Powler’s Cream.“
Similarities to other legends
Deaths attributed to water dwelling creatures are common in English folklore. Peg Powler shares similaries with a Grindylow or Grundylow, a folkloric creature from Yorkshire and Lancashire and thought to be link to Grendel, a creature in Beowolf and often connected to bogs, meres and lakes.
Jenny, Ginny or Jeannie Greenteeth, described similarly to Peg is thought to inhabit waters in Lancashire, Cheshire and Shropshire and grab both children and the elderly to the deaths.
Slavic folklore has similar, albiet male versions, widely known as Vodyanoy. Believed to appear as a naked old man with a frog-like face, greenish beard, and long hair, with his body covered in algae and muck, usually covered in black fish scales. He has webbed paws instead of hands, a fish's tail, eyes that burn like red-hot coals. He usually rides along his river on a half-sunk log, making loud splashes. Consequently, he is often dubbed "grandfather" or "forefather" by the local people. Local drownings are said to be the work of the vodyanoy.
A widow and her little boy lived in a cottage near Rothley, Northumberland. One Winters night the child was very lively and would not go to bed as he wished to sit up for a while longer, "for," said he, "I am not sleepy." The mother finding remonstrance in vain, at last told him that if he sat up by himself the faries would most certainly come and take him away.
Long Meg and Her Daughters is a Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith in Cumbria, North West England. It was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The stone circle is the sixth-biggest example known from this part of north-western Europe. It primarily consists of 59 stones (of which 27 remain upright) set in an oval shape measuring 340ft (100 m) on its long axis. There may originally have been as many as 70 stones. Long Meg herself is a 12ft (3.6 m) high monolith of red sandstone 80ft (25 m) to the southwest of the circle made by her Daughters.
The monument is 109m x 93m in diameter. Long Meg herself stands 25m outside the circle, 6m above the farthest stone in the circle, " and is the tallest of the 69 stones at c.3.8m high and weighing c.9 tonnes." The Long Meg monolith is of local red sandstone, most likely from the River Eden or the nearby Lazonby hills, whereas the circle stones are of rhyolite and are glacial erratics. Two large blocks stand to the east and west and there are two extra 'portal' stones placed to the south-west. The placement of Long Meg is in the alignment between the centre of the circle and the point of the midwinter sunset. The south-west face of Long Meg has crystals in it, whereas the face looking towards the circle has spirals and other rock art inscribed on it.
Sir William Dugdale reported that there were 'two barrows of cobble-stones, nine or ten feet high' in the centre of the circle. It is thought that these were later burials using cobbles from the surrounding area.
Four of the stones in the circle appear to be non-local and are formed of quartz crystal. They seem to have been deliberately selected and placed at specific points in the circle that mark certain calendrical events (sunsets and solstices related to the four seasons, for example). They work by standing outside the circle at the stone directly opposite to the quartz stone concerned. One alignment, at Samhain / All Souls' Day, may involve Long Meg herself, a portal stone and one of the quartz stones.
The use of different coloured stones also seems to be significant - red, white and blue/gray predominate. There might also be a red 'equinox stone' on the east side of the Long Meg circle (as at Swinside and Castlerigg), involved in the Autumn and Vernal equinox sunrises and sunsets. The Long Meg stones may be involved not just with Solar timings, but also with Lunar ones as well (most northerly/southerly Moon rises and sets).
The Long Meg monolith has motifs on the face looking towards the circle arranged in three sections. The markings include: in the centre, a cup at the centre of three rings, a spiral of four turns and various concentric arcs; in the lower section, three faint figures at the left-hand corner, an anti-clockwise spiral, cup and ring and various concentric arcs; in the upper section are faint rings, ovoids, spirals and other markings. Some of the stones in the circle itself have artificial markings on them as well.
Dating and purpose
The large ditched enclosure lying immediately to the north of the circle is probably Neolithic. In this respect, it may be of the same date as other enclosures found in Cumbria that include: Carrock Fell, Skelmore Heads, Howe Robin, and Green How. If the stone circle is later than the enclosure, it is likely to be of early Bronze Age. There is the possibility that the Long Meg monolith was not contemporary with the stone circle.
Long Meg was something more than a burial place. However, the exact nature of the purpose of the monument is still a matter of conjecture. Clare summarises the various arguments concerning types, purpose, construction, size, layout, origins and dates, of Cumbrian stone circles and other monuments. His conclusion seems to be that the nature of the monument, and others like it (such as at Swinside), suggests that they are "places where people came together, probably at certain times of the year. Amongst activities at such times, we might envisage ritual, social exchange and trade." The "certain times of the year" mentioned here would probably have been calculated using the suggested predictive calendar as outlined by Hood. The actual building of the circle, perhaps taking place in stages over time, might in itself have been one of the purposes of the monument.
There a a few legends that surround the stones. The most well known is that they were once a coven of witches who were turned to stone by Michael Scott, a wizard from Scotland. It is said the stones cannot be counted - however if anyone is able to count them twice and come to the same total - the spell will be broken or it will bring very bad luck. Another legend states that if you walk round the circles and count the number of stones correctly, then put your ear to Long Meg, you will hear her whisper. The name is believed to come from a local witch, Meg of Meldon, who was alive in the early 17th century. It is said that from a certain angle, the Long Meg stone resembles the profile of a witch. A giant's bone and body believed to be buried there is though to have been large animal bones found at the site.
When Lanty M'Clusky married he set about building a house for his bride, and chose for it's site a beautiful green circle such as the faeries might choose as a playground. Although he was warned against this he thought the place was much too nice and he had no intention of building elsewhere no matter what the faeries thought of it.