A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/Folk-lore


The curfew bell is still rung at Dronfield at six o'.clock in summer, and seven in winter. A bell is ateo rung at twelve, the hour of noon.

It is considered ill luck to meet a pynot or magpie. When a magpie crosses a man's path he will say :.

I crossed the pynot, and the pynot crossed me, The devil take the pynot, and God save me.


It is considered good luck to meet two magpies, but bad luck to meet one. Of the magpie people say ' One for bad luck, two for good luck, three for a weddin', and four for a berrinV

If one robs a swallow's nest or a robin's nest it is said that the cows will give blood in their milk.

If one finds a horse-shoe he should take it home and nail it to the stable door.

It is said that

When the gorse is out of blossom, Then is kissing out of fashion.

The gorse, it is said, never is out of blossom. I am told that these lines are quoted by the country people in Cornwall.

When a lover was forsaken by his mistress, oval-shaped garlands, made of leaves, flowers, and ribbons, were found hung early in the morning in a tree near the house of the forsaken one. This was done in Cold-Aston fifty years ago.

Morris dancers, who generally came from Whittington, used to dance and sing on 'the Cross' at Cold-Aston thirty or forty years ago. They were a very numerous body, and were gaily dressed in many-coloured clothes.

I have seen ' Robin Hood's men ' dressed in green coats.

It is said that if you hold a poppy to your eyes it will blind you. In Mid- Yorkshire the wild poppy is called blindybuff.

If a bee-master, or person who keeps bees, dies, cake and wine must be given to them on the day of his burial, or the bees will die too. Some bees at Hazelbarrow in Norton languished and died, the reason being, as was said, that they did not partake of the funeral feast of their late master.

It is said that the feathers of pigeons should not be used for stuffing pillows or beds, because a man 'cannot die' on a bed which contains such feathers ; by which is meant that he cannot die easily and without pain upon such a bed. Fynes Moryson, in his Itinerary -, printed in 1617, part iii., book i., says: 'The Italian Sansovinus grossely erreth in this kinde, being otherwise a man of great wit and iudgement, who affirmes that parents in England take the pillowes from the heads of their children ready to die, out of tender pitty and


charity to put them out of their paine.' It is commonly said in this neighbourhood that people cannot die easily on feather beds, and that if a dying person is lying upon a feather bed it should be changed to a flock bed. Old nurses in this district used to take the pillows, if stuffed with feathers, from the heads of people who were about

to die.

When a cow 'casts' her calf it is, or lately was, the custom at Norton to make a bonfire on the ground, and to burn the body of the calf upon the fire. The cow in question, and other cows, are then driven round the fire, and this, it is believed, protects these cows against similar accidents in future. This curious rite has also been practised of late years in Bradfield. Kemble* states that in the Mirror of June 24th, 1826, there is an account of a similar rite having been performed in Perthshire, on the occasion of a cattle epidemic. This account states that 'a few stones were piled together in the barnyard, and woodcoals having been laid thereon, the fuel was ignited by will-fire, that is fire obtained by friction ; the neighbours having been called in to witness the solemnity, the cattle were made to pass through the flames, in the order of their dignity and age, commencing with the horses and ending with the swine.' On a subsequent page of this Introduction I shall refer to places called Bell Hagg and Burnt Stones, and shall show that these were places where, in former times, bale-fires were kindled, and where, doubtless, the rites of which these late instances are survivals were practised.

These rites are connected with the worship of Frea, and although, says Kemble, ' distinct proof of Fred's worship in England cannot be supplied during the Saxon period, we have very clear evidence of its still subsisting in the thirteenth century. 't He then quotes the Chronicle of Lanercost in Scotland, showing how, in one case, when a plague called Lungessouth attacked some cattle, an image of Priapus was set up, and an attempt made to rescue the cattle by means of the need-fire or will-fire^ and how, in another case, the rites of Priapus were performed. In both cases the rites were

  • Saxons in England, ed. 1876, i., p. 360.

t Loco cit.


initiated by churchmen, the one being a lay-brother of the Cistercian order, and the other a parish priest. It is highly probable that similar rites were practised down to a comparatively late period; indeed, when we consider that plays were acted in churches even after the Reformation, we shall see how tenaciously the people cling to their old customs and superstitions.

'The needfire, n^dfjfr, new-German nothfeuer,' says Kemble, ' was called from the mode of its production, confrictione de Hgnis, and, though probably common to the Kelts as well as the Teutons, was long and well known to all the Germanic races at a certain period. All the fires in the village were to be relighted from the virgin flame produced by the rubbing together of wood, and in the highlands of Scotland and Ireland it was usual to drive the cattle through it, and as a preservative against disease.'*

I am told by those who attend to the breeding of cattle that when a cow ' casts ' her calf there is a tendency amongst other cows under the same roof, or in the same farmyard, to do likewise. It is believed that the dead calf is a source of infection to the others.

Behind Derwent Hall, in Derbyshire, there is, or was, a heap of stones. I am told that it is, or was, the custom for shepherds, when passing by this heap, to throw a stone upon it. A shepherd would not go by until he had done this. He seemed to regard it as his duty to throw the stone, and that some evil would befall him if he omitted to do so.

At Norton, if a pig's hock is hung up in the house, and white- washed every time the house is whitewashed, the cattle of the farmer will be protected, it is said, against disease.

If one of the ears of a calf is nicked before it has seen two Fridays, it will be protected against disease, and especially against the speed.

If a calf is sick, and one carries a spoon containing medicine into the cowhouse, the spoon must be carried in with the handle foremost, otherwise the medicine will be of no use.

If two knives are laid across, ill-luck to the house is thereby presaged.

  • Saxons in England, ed. 1876, i., p. 360. See more on this subject in Grimm's Teutonic



It is usual to fasten horse shoes upon the doors of stables and outbuildings to keep witches out.

When ale is brewed, the farmer's wife makes a cross upon the yeast which floats on the top of the wort in the brewing vat. She also throws a few red-hot cinders into the vat. The process is called 'crossing the old witch out.' It will be noticed in this glossary that the tap-wisk of the brewing vat is called the betany. The herb betony is called in Anglo-Saxon Uscop-wyrt, from which we may infer its sacredness, and this herb was so much esteemed amongst the ancients that it was regarded as a protection from misfortune. (Tantum glorise habet, ut domus in qua sata sit tuta existimetur a piaculis omnibus. Pliny, 25, 46, cited by Grimm, in Teut. Myth., iii. 1208.) The process here called 'crossing the old witch out' is called 'setting the keeve' in Somersetshire. (See Elworthy's West Somerset Words.}

When a man has deeply coveted but failed to obtain an animal, such as a cow or a horse, he is sometimes said to have heart-eaten it. A heart-eaten being, it is said, will not prosper. A farmer near Bradfield wished to purchase a cow from a neighbour, but did not succeed in doing so. Shortly afterwards the owner of the cow told him that she had 'picked? her calf.' 'Well, I didn't heart-eat her,' the farmer said. He meant that he did not so covet the cow as to have done her some secret injury. See Evil Eye, p. 308, below.

In Bradfield people nail sprigs of wiggin, witchen, or mountain ash upon their ' leaven-kits,' or vessels for leavening oat-cake, ' to keep out the witch.' It is said that the wiggin is a protection from witchcraft. Fifty years ago people in Bradfield liked to have cups, bowls, &c., made of this wood for the same reason. The Old Norse reynir, rowan tree, or mountain ash, was a holy tree, consecrated to Thor. It occurs in local names in this glossary, such as Renathorpe, Rener House, Renishaw. 'The sorbus or service-tree,' says Grimm, 'is in O N. reynir, Sw. ronn, Dan. rb'nne (rowan ?) : it is a holy shrub, for Thorr in the river clutched it to save himself, hence it is said: "reynir er bib'rg Thors," sorbus auxilium Thori est, Sn. 114. In Sweden they still believe that a staff of this ronn defends you

p. 173, below.


from sorcery, and on board ship the common man likes to have something made of ronn-wood, as a protection against storms and watersprites. ' Teutonic Myth., iii. 1215.

If human hair is cut off and thrown into the fire it will some- times blaze, and occasionally it will not. If it blazes, it is said that the person from whose head the hair has been taken will not die that year. If, on the contrary, the hair will not blaze, but is dry and ask, and without moisture, death is said to be indicated.

On St. Mark's Day a good farmer must put his seed-hopper away.

Large funeral feasts have been common in the villages about Sheffield, for example in Bradfield, during the present century. Upon the death of a well-known and wealthy yeoman in Bradfield, I am told that the feast was prodigious. The yeomen and farmers came from every quarter of that large village, some of them being dressed in coats which would have been fashionable a generation or two ago. Large tables were covered with alternate joints of beef and mutton; plum puddings followed, and lastly, tobacco and brandy. The poor people of this district are still lavish in the money which they spend over funerals. I am told that at a workman's funeral seven pounds of butter were provided, although the mourners or guests were few in number.

From entries in the Norton parish registers it appears that early in the seventeenth century burial at night occasionally took place.

When Norton Church was 'restored' in the year 1882, I copied the following inscription from a stone which lay under the altar or communion table adjoining the east window :

In puncto perpendicular! hujusce superficei mortalis pars Barbarae uxoris lohannis Lee filiaeque lohannis Lees generosi de East Retford continetur quse non tarn setate quam virtute clara hujusce mundi fruitionem deseruit vicesimo secundo die Octobris anno domini 1674 setatis suae 28.

Prima sui breviter gracilis pars defluit sevi, luxta distillans, igne premente, liquor.

It appears from this remarkable epitaph that the body of this poor woman was buried in a perpendicular hole in the place where the high altar once stood, there being probably no room to lay the coffin in the usual position. The words of the couplet which con- cludes the epitaph are obscure, but I take them to mean that Mrs.


Barbara Lee, who seems to have been the wife of the parish clerk/- was buried under or near to the fireplace, which was then built upon the site of the altar. There is something ghastly in the idea of the body melting or 'sweating' away from the heat of the fire above it. The epitaph, which is copied correctly, can have no other meaning. The body stands upright, with the fireplace over the head. The desire to be buried in the church long survived the Reformation, and the neighbourhood of the altar was the favourite resting-place. In old York wills the desire is sometimes expressed to be buried with the face turned towards the altar, or with the feet touching the feet of the priest who celebrated mass.

I have several times heard it said that if a corpse is carried through an enclosure of any kind a right of road is thereby obtained through such enclosure. A writer in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, June 28, 1888, in describing the death of the wood-collier, whom I have mentioned under that word in the glossary, says :

The accepted version is that after his wife had left him (she had brought him his supper) he is supposed to have gone to sleep, and that a spark from the burning wood caught the cabin, and he was burnt to death, and only his bones were found by the men whose names are on the headstone. The reason he was buried there is said to be that wherever a corpse is carried a right of road can be claimed. Whether this is so or not is a question for the lawyers. A number of larch trees were planted in the shape of the cabin, and were in existence until a few years ago close to the headstone, where a descendant of one of those who found the bones and the present writer were passing a quiet hour under the shadow of the friendly branches from the heat of the sun, when we both fell asleep, and were only awakened by a loud peal of thunder and a deluge of rain.

It need hardly be said here that no legal right could be thus established.

On St. Mark's Eve (April 24th) an old man at Dronfield used to sit in the porch of the church there at midnight and watch, in order

  • ' Mr. Thomas Lee, who was 74 years old, and who has been clerk at Norton Church from

the time he was 18 years of age, died last Wednesday. His father was also the clerk at Norton, and it is said that Mr. Lee's ancestors have been associated with the clerkship of Norton Church for two centuries.' Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Jan. 31, 1885. The parish clerk was once the 'gentleman and scholar' of a country village. Absolon, the parish clerk in Chaucer's Miller's Tale, was a lady's darling with curled hair, clad in a kirtel of fine watchet, &c.

A mery child he was, so God me save ;

Wei couthe he lete blood, and clippe and shave,

And make a chartre of lond and acquitaunce.


that, as he said, he might see the spirits of those who would die that year pass into the church. It is said that if a man once watches in this way, he must continue to do so every succeeding St. Mark's Eve.

On the eve of some saint my informant does not remember which girls watch at night, in a room which has two doors in it, to see their future husbands. It is necessary that there should be two doors, so that the apparition may pass through without interruption. A smock or chemise is washed or dipped in urine and hung on a chair before the fire, and a loaf and a knife are laid upon the table. When the apparition comes in he turns the smock over, and turns it towards the girl whom he intends to marry. If he takes up the knife and cuts a piece from the loaf and eats it, he will prove to be a good husband ; but if he takes the knife and cuts the smock in two, he will be a bad husband. An old woman at Troway, near Eckington, who related the account of this incantation, said that on one occasion a large black dog, * as big as an elephant,' came in at one of the open doors and went out at the other.

The dumb-cake, or ' speechless cake,' is made on the eve of some saint. I do not know the details of making it, or of the ceremony. It is said, however, that the cake must be made of a 'virgin egg,' that is from the first egg which a young hen has laid. During the making of the cake complete silence must be observed, or the spell will be broken. Bits of the cake are taken by young women, and put under their pillows, when they dream of, or see the likenesses of, their future husbands.

It is customary, after baptism, to give the baptised child an egg, a little salt, and a small silver coin, such as sixpence.

I here insert a number of riddles which have been related to me.


I turn paraditum, all clothed in green : The king couldn't read it, no more could the queen ; They sent for the wisemen out of the east Who said it had horns, but it wasn't a beast.

A holly leaf.

[See a somewhat different version in Halli well's Nursery Rhymes of England, 1886, p. 133.]


Creep hedge, crop corn,

Little cow with leather horn.

A hare.


Clink, clank, Under t' bank,

Ten against four.

A woman milking.


As I was going up Saladine,

I met a herd of wild swine,

Some with nickets, some with nackets,

Some with fine yellow jackets

Such a drove of wild swine

As ne'er was seen in Saladine.

A swarm of bees.

[In Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes^ ed. 1886, p. 122, a very different version is given.]


Down in yon meadows I have two swine, The more corn I give them the harder they cryen.

A corn mill.


In a garden was laid a most beautiful maid,

As fair as the flowers of the morn ; She was made a wife before she had life,

And died before she was born.



A field full, a fold full, And can't catch a bowl full.

A mist.


Flour of England, fruits of Spain,

Met together in a shower of rain ;

Put in a bag, tied up with a string,

Come tell me this riddle with a hey ding a ding.

A plum pudding.

IX. Framed long ago, yet made to-day,

Employed while others sleep ; What few would wish to give away, Or any care to keep.




I went to the wood and got it, and when I'd got it I couldn't find it. I came home to seek it, and when I found it I threw it away.

A thorn in the finger.


As I was going o'er London bridge,

I pept [peeped] o'er a wall, I saw four-and-twenty white cows,

And a red one licked them all.

The tongue and the teeth.


Humphrey Humphrey burnt bottom

Sits i't corner end ; Humphrey Humphrey burnt bottom

Is everybody's friend.

An oven.


There was a miller met a miller

In a dirty lane, Says this miller to that miller


Black I am, and much admired,

Men do seek me till they're tired ; When they find me break my head,

And take me from my resting bed.


[A very different version is given in HalliwelPs Nursery Rhymes of England, p. 129.]


As I went through our garden gap, I met a thing with a red cap ; A stone in his head, a stick in his hand, My riddle is hard to understand.

A cherry.

[See Halliwell, ut supra, p. 133.] I have heard the following lines :

Lucy Locket lost her pocket

In a dirty lane ; T' milner found it, t' milner ground it,

In a peck of meal.

The following lines are sung to an interesting tune : When good King Arthur ruled this land, He ruled it like a king ; Three sons out of four he turned out of door, Because they could not sing.


The first he was a miller, The second he was a weaver, And the third he was a little tailor, With his broad cloth under his arm.

The miller he stole corn,

And the weaver he stole yarn,

And the tailor he stole good broad cloth

To keep the three rogues warm.

The miller was drowned in his dam, And the weaver was hanged in his yarn, And the devil flew away with the little tailor, With his broad cloth under his arm.

Descriptions of games and customs, and also a few notices of the folk-lore of the district, will be found under various titles in the