Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 6/The Devil at Cockerham

"the devil at cockerham."

"A story strange I'll tell to you,
Of something very old and new.
New—because of it you 've never heard;
Strange—even now, upon my word.

"The devil his presence hath maintained;
He came unfettered and unchained;
In the churchyard his form was seen,
His habit mixed of blue and green;
Such ne'er before, or since, was seen.

"What time his reverence had escaped,
When the wide gates of hell wide gaped;
He with his horrid crew in plight,
From thence on lowly earth alight.

"As smoke uprolleth from some mighty fire,
These spirits blue and green rise from the mire;
All shapes and sizes they at will assume—
Of grovelling snakes, or warriors decked with plume.

"Wandering up and down the earth,
Midst scenes of sorrow, scenes of mirth;
Till at last the devil tired hard,
Alights in Cockerham Churchyard;
Invisible, but still he prowled
About, and oft at midnight howled,
Scaring the natives of the vale,
Dwelling in neighbourhood of my tale.
All things went wrong, and nought was right,
None could do aught, try as they might;
By night, by day, his presence was felt,
When they ate or fasted, stood or knelt.

"The people at length in assembly met,
And appointed the schoolmaster the devil to get;
To try his skill if he could not master,
And with his power the devil bind faster;
So proud of his station, and confidence placed in him,
He determined to seek and try to chasten him.
 
"One day in the school, in the corner of churchyard,
The windows all fastened, the doors all barred,
With the gypsies' blarney, and the witches' cant,
He drew him forth with his horrible rant.

"Amazed stood the pedagogue, frightened to see,
A spirit in harness from head to the knee;
With eyes large as saucers, and horns on his head,
His tail out behind, a dread shadow he shed.

"All silent he stood, the master quaked more,
And tried to move, as if for the door;
The spirit his tail gave a wag from behind,
Now for his doom! the master made up his mind.
'Ay,' thought he, 'I'm now in a pickle,
But wouldn't I mangle him, if now I'd my sickle!'
So to put on a bold face, he straightway began—
'Who art thou? answer, fiend or man?'
'Know I'm the devil, hear and tremble,
And unless thou attendest me, thou'lt soon me resemble;
And unless by thy lore thou anon entanglest me,
By the shivers and brimstone, mangled thou'lt be.'

"'Twas said in a voice deep as thunder outpoured,
'Twas a terrible sound, as a lion had roared.
Aghast stood the master, his limbs oscillating,
Too frightened to speak, or to think, contemplating!
'Quick,' said the devil, 'three questions thou must put,
Or otherwise off with me thou must to my hut.'

"This put the chap more in a terrible flutter,
His voice now had gone, he could only mutter;
At length, after thrice essaying, he thus began—
'Tell me, kind sir,' (O Moses! how wan
Was the fellow's countenance as he began)—
'How many drops of dew on yon hedges are hinging?'
The devil and imps flew past it swinging;

He numbered them all. And the man in his walks,
Said—'In this field how many wheat stalks?'
At one swoop of his scythe, the stalks he all trundles,
And bound them up quick in manifold bundles,
And gave him the number, as he held them in hand.
 
"Now the poor fellow's was a pitiful case,
As plain might be seen from his long length of face.
'Now make me, dear sir, a rope of your sand,
Which will bear washing in Cocker, and not lose a strand.'
 
"The devil and mate then went down to the strand,
In a jiffy they twisted a fine rope of sand,
And dragged it along with them over the land;
But when they brought the rope to be washed,
To atoms it went—the rope was all smashed.
 
"The devil was foiled, wroth, and gave him a shaking;
Up he flew to the steeple—his frame all a-quaking.
With one horrid frig—his mind very unwilling,
He strode to the brig o'er Broadfleet at Pilling."

Pilling is a small town and chapelry in the parish of Garstang, and has long been noted for its moss. In the year 1745, there was an irruption of this moss, similar to that of Solway Moss in 1771. Part of it, near Heskam House, gradually rose to a great height, and then moved slowly towards the south, covering more than one hundred acres of land under cultivation. The vast supplies of turf for fuel obtained from this dreary waste has given rise to the saying—"As inexhaustible as Pilling Moss." The "Devil's Stride," from Cockerham to Pilling, must have been, at least, the orthodox seven miles in length.