Folk-Lore/Volume 1/Miscellanea (March)


The Giant of New Mills, Sessay.—At Sessay parish, near Thirsk, is a mill. It has recently been rebuilt, but when I was there the old building stood. In front of the house was a long mound, which went by the name of “the Giant’s Grave”, and in the mill was shown a long blade of iron, something like a scythe-blade, but not curved, which was said to have been the giant’s razor, and stone porridge-basin or lather-dish. There lived a giant at this mill, and he ground men’s bones to make his bread. One day he captured a lad on Pilmoor, and, instead of grinding him in the mill, he kept him as his servant, and never let him get away. Jack served the giant many years, and never was allowed a holiday. At last he could bear it no longer. Topcliffe Fair was coming on, and the lad entreated that he might be allowed to go there to see the lasses and buy some spice. The giant surlily refused to give him leave; Jack resolved to take it.

The day was hot, and after dinner the giant lay down in the mill with his head on a sack, and dozed. He had been eating in the mill, and had laid down a great loaf of bone-bread by his side, and the knife was in his hand, but his fingers relaxed their hold of it in sleep. Jack seized the moment, drew the knife away, and, holding it with both his hands, drove the blade into the single eye of the giant, who woke with a howl of agony, and, starting up, barred the door. Jack was again in difficulties, but he soon found a way out of them. The giant had a favourite dog, which had also been sleeping when his master was blinded. Jack killed the dog, skinned it, and, throwing the hide over his back, ran on all-fours barking between the legs of the giant, and so escaped.

I do not think the miller’s story at Dalton is taken bodily from the Polyphemus tale, for there are extraordinary similarities to it to be found all over the world. The preservation of the knife and the mound show that the myth I heard is not of recent origin at Dalton. I am told by one of my servants from Dalton that at the rebuilding of the farm the mound was opened, and a stone coffin found in it; but whether this be a kistvaen or a mediæval sarcophagus I cannot tell. I wrote some time ago for another version of the giant story to compare it with mine, and about the stone coffin, but have had no answer.

At Dalton there is also an old barn, haunted by a headless woman. One night a tramp went into it to sleep. At midnight he was awakened by light, and, sitting up, he saw a woman coming towards him from the end of the barn, holding her head in her hands like a lantern, with light streaming out of the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. He sprang out of the barn in a fright, breaking a hole in the wall to escape. This hole I was shown some years ago. Whether the barn still stands I cannot say.

S. Baring Gould.

A Welsh Conjurer, 1831.—The following cutting from the Lincoln Herald, of August 19, 1831, is worth a place in the columns of Folk-Lore:

A Welsh Conjurer.—Denbighshire Assizes. Before Mr. Baron Bolland.—John Evans, a Welsh seer, who officiates as high priest of the far-famed and much-dreaded Ffynnon Elian (or St. Elian’s Well), near Abergele, was indicted for obtaining 7s. from one Elizabeth Davies, by falsely pretending that he could cure her husband, Robert Davies, of a certain sickness with which he was afflicted by taking his name out of the well.

“This case affords a remarkable instance of the ignorance and simplicity of the Welsh peasantry even in these days of the march of intellect. Ffynnon Elian is celebrated in Cambrian history and song; and owing to the popular belief in the virtue and extraordinary property of its waters, the number and extent of the impositions practised upon the credulity of the people in past ages by a succession of impostors almost exceeds credibility. A few years ago the magistrates of the county prosecuted one of the high priests of the well, who, in consequence, was found guilty of cunning, cheatery, and fraud, put into prison, and his well of holy waters destroyed. For a time the celebrity of St. Elian and the protégé died away; their anathematisation ceased; and their memories were fast sinking into obscurity, when the prisoner revived them by laying in a stock-in-trade, and commencing business near the same spot as the high priest and favoured minister of the Saint.

“The following is the method pursued by the prisoner to gull the poor people. Into the Ffynnon Elian (a very shallow well) he put a large quantity of pebbles, slates, and stones, inscribed with number-less initials and names. No sooner did he hear of any poor person’s ill-health, or of anyone being afflicted with misfortune or disease, than he contrived to let them know that their names were in the well, and that nothing could cure or benefit them unless they were taken out. Of course this could not be done without money; and many hundreds of ignorant people were known to travel on foot thirty and forty miles to seek relief, and that, too, in the most distracted state of mind. The frauds of the prisoner were not the only evils which his abominable practices produced, for, like his predecessors, he pretended he had power to put anyone into the well, afflict them with misfortune or bad luck, and take them out for money, when he pleased. The consequence was, that ignorant persons were frequently induced to charge their misfortunes to the malignity of their neighbours, and thereby engendered the most disgraceful quarrels; whilst hundreds of equally ignorant fools would expend their money on the prisoner in order to gratify, as they thought, a bit of spite.

“The facts of the case were proved by Elizabeth Davies, who said: My husband has been ill for many years. I had heard of the virtue of the well of St. Elian; I went twenty-two-miles to consult the defendant, who had the charge of it. I asked if my husband’s name was in the well; he said he did not know, but he would send to see; he sent a little girl, who came back with a dishful of pebbles and small slates, marked with different sets of initials; he looked at them, and said my husband’s name was not among them; he sent the little girl again, who returned with a number more, which were strewed upon the table, and I found a stone marked with the letters R. D. and three crosses. I said, Is that my husband’s name? He said it was. I said I was not satisfied, and asked if my husband’s name was in a book? The prisoner said he did not put the name in the well, or else it would be in the book, but the water would tell whether it was his name or not. We went to the well, which was in the garden, near the prisoner’s house. He took out some water, and said, ‘The water changes colour; it is your husband, sure enough.’ I asked what it would cost to take my husband’s name out of the well. He said 10s. was the lowest. I told him I had no money, but could bring him some. I asked him to let me take the stone home, and he said I might, but I must not show it to any one. I asked him what I should do with it. He said I must powder it, and put it, with salt, into the fire. I then went away. In about two months I came again with my brother-in-law, William Davies. The prisoner was cross, because I had mentioned what had passed to Mr. Clough, a magistrate, but he said, for the sake of my brother-in-law, he would do something. He said I must have a bottle of the water of the well, and give 9s. for it. I bargained with him for 7s., which he said must be given to the well. The money was given to the well, but the prisoner took it out and put it into his pocket. He muttered some spells, which I thought were Latin, but all I could make out was the name of St. Elian. The prisoner said the water must be taken by my husband three nights successively, and he must repeat a portion of the 38th Psalm. I asked him who had put my husband into the well, and he did not tell me, but he said if I wished he would put that person in the well, and bring upon him any disease I liked. I paid him the 7s.

“William Davies, a tailor at Hollywell, brother-in-law of the last witness, corroborated her testimony as to what took place at the latter interview with the prisoner.

“The prisoner in his defence said he never sent for anyone to come to the well, nor did he say there was any efficacy in the water; but if a person believed that there was, and chose to give him some money, he took all that they had a mind to give.

“The Jury returned a verdict of Guilty; and the learned Judge—after expressing his regret that any person could be found so lamentably ignorant and credulous as to believe that any man, by such ridiculous means, had the power of relieving or controlling the diseases and afflictions of another—sentenced the prisoner to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Bottesford Manor, Brigg, January 10, 1890.

Story of Solomon’s Wisdom.—In the last number of the Folk-Lore Journal (vol. vii, pp. 315-16) the origin of the soldier’s answer in “Cards Spiritualised” was asked; whether one could trace it back, or refer to a similar one.

In answer to that question I will give all the parallels known to me. The story of the Queen of Sheba’s test of Solomon’s wisdom is of a very ancient date. The Bible says (1 Kings, ch. x, v. 3), “And Solomon told her all her questions.” The nature of these questions, and the answers given, is left to the fancy of interpreters, who availed themselves fully of that opportunity.

Thus we find a series of such riddles and their solutions attributed to the Queen of Sheba and to Solomon in an Aramaic commentary to the Book of Esther, dating from the fifth century. Nothing, however, is therein mentioned of boys dressed as girls, or vice versâ.

In another Hebrew work of about the same date (fifth century), viz., Midrash to the Book of Proverbs, we already find a closer parallel to our story. In the Midrash it runs as follows:

“And another similar puzzle she (the Queen of Sheba) prepared for him (Solomon). She brought boys and girls, all having the same appearance, the same stature, and all in like attire; and she said, ‘Separate the boys from the girls.’ He ordered his attendants to bring some nuts and apples, and when these were brought, Solomon said, ‘Distribute them among the boys and girls.’ The boys, not being bashful, put them in their skirts; the girls, being bashful, put them in their kerchieft And Solomon said, ‘Those are boys, whilst these are girls,’ Whereupon the Queen said, ‘My son, thou art a very wise man.’ ”

The Arabic legends far more approach the Western (English) parallel. Sale has the following note to chap. xxvii of his translation of the Koran, which I give here, as it bears directly on our story: “Some add that Balkio (the Arabic name for the Biblical Queen of Sheba), to try whether Solomon was a prophet or not, dressed the boys (of whom there were five hundred) like girls, and the girls (same number) like boys; and sent him in a casket a pearl not drilled, and an onyx drilled with a crooked hole; and that Solomon distinguished the boys from the girls by the different manner of their taking the water, and ordered one worm to bore the pearl and another to pass a thread through the onyx. The source of this note is the Arabic commentary to the Koran by Beidharwi.”

A detailed account of the different ways of their taking the water is given by Hammer, in his Rosenoel (Stuttgart und Tübingen, 1813, pp. 160-61). Solomon ordered the table to be laid, and after dinner water to be poured out for washing the hands. The custom in the harems at that time was that the girls caught the water in the hollow of their hands, whilst the boys let it run over the outside. When the servants poured out the water the boys held their hands under, whilst the girls caught it in the hollow of their hands, as they had been accustomed to do.

So far the Eastern parallels. No less numerous are those to be found in Western writers. First, in the Annals of Glycas (iii, 8), reproduced by Fabricius (Cod. vet. Test. Apocryph., i, p. 1031-1032).

“Among other tests by which she tried the wisdom of Solomon, was also the following. She showed Solomon some beautiful boys and girls, both dressed alike, and both having the same shape of tonsure, asking him to distinguish between the two sexes. So he ordered them to wash their faces, and by that he recognised their nature, for the boys rubbed their faces in a stronger manner, whilst the girls did so more softly and more delicately. She was filled with wonder, and exclaimed: ‘More have I seen than I have heard.’ ”

From the Greek it entered into Slavonian literature. An exact parallel of this version of Glycas, combined with that in the Midrash of Proverbs, is to be found in the old Slavonic Palia from the twelfth or thirteenth century (Al. Wesselofsky, Solomon i Kitovras, St. Petersburg, 1872, p. 248). A Roumanian parallel, tallying exactly with Glycas, is contained in a hitherto unpublished manuscript Chronicle from the seventeenth century.

I have confined myself to tracing the story from the East to Europe, thus showing the literary source of the story. It remains still to connect directly the English version with the legends of the Queen of Sheba current in the West of Europe, such as the Sibyllen Weissagung of Gottfried of Uslerbo, etc. I have dealt more amply with this series of legends in my Roumanian Popular Literature (Bucharest, 1885, 326); still less do I wish to follow out in the world’s literature the theme of testing the sex of the hero. Suffice it to refer to R. Köhler’s learned annotations to Wolf, Jahrbuch f. rom. und engl. Litteratur, iii, 57-58, and 63-67.

The Burial of Mr. Rose’s Boots.

To the Editor of The Times”.

Sir,—Your Southern readers would note with surprise the remarkable reticence of the police when examined and cross-examined respecting the non-production of the boots worn by Mr. Rose at the time of his murder. The Highland constable who buried them under water acted in accordance with the ancient tradition that by doing so he would “lay” the ghost of the murdered man, and thus prevent it from disturbing the people living in the neighbourhood of the catastrophe. It is not unlikely that the officers had a lurking suspicion that they would be laughed at by modern sceptics if they revealed the motive of their apparently strange conduct.—Yours, etc.,

Rothesay, N.B., Nov. 11.

B. St. J. B. Joule.

Police-Sergeant Munro (Lamlash) said he was well acquainted with the hills, having lived there for thirty-one years. He observed the condition of the body when it was found, but could not say whether the neck was broken. He saw boots on the deceased. They had iron heels and sprigs. He could not say where the boots were now. He believed they were buried on the beach at Corrie, below high-water mark. He said Constable M’Coll must have buried, the boots. He believed he told him to take the boots out of the shed in which they were kept.

The Dean of Faculty.—Did you ever know such a thing being done in the investigation of any murder?—No answer.

Did you not think it might have been material to the ends of justice to have those boots? Witness.—I did not consider that at the time.

Have you no explanation why one of your policemen was ordered to take away those boots and bury them on the beach?—Witness made no reply.

By the Lord Justice Clerk.—Who was present when these boots were buried? I could not say; I told a constable to take them away, and might have said to him to take them down to the shore, but I don’t know what was done with them.

Cross-examined by the Dean of Faculty.—Did you merely bury the boots because you were ordered to put them out of sight?—Well, there was no reason given to me. I was told to put them out of sight.

Did you not think it rather strange that you were ordered to do this when the other things were preserved?—Well, I do not know; I was never about such a case before. (Laughter.)

Did you not think that these boots should be kept in order to be examined by those who have to form an opinion on the merits of the case?—Well, there is a description of them.

But do you think your description of them is as realistic as the boots themselves?—There is no doubt the boots would be better than the description.

They were buried below high-water mark, so that you were determined they should be properly out of sight?—I put some stones on the top of them. I have not gone for them, because they were never asked for.

Duncan Coll, police-constable, Shiskine, Arran, said, as to the boots of the deceased, he was told by Constable Munro, of Brodick, to “put them out of sight”. He thought he meant to bury them, and he did so.

Horsehair turned into Water-Snake.— Had your correspondent, F.-L.J., vii, 317, or the Editor of The Spectator, from which he quotes, been as well read as they ought to be in Notes and Queries, they would have known that this subject has been exhaustively discussed there, and instances of belief in the matter adduced from every part of the world. See Series VII, ii, 24, 110, 230, 293; iii, 249 ; iv, 33, 253, and I think few unprejudiced persons will doubt that the suggestion I gave for the origin of this most curious piece of folk-observation, Series VII, ii, 24 (July 10, 1886), and iii, 249, is the most likely one.