Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Preface
Popular legends and traditions are rapidly disappearing from the fireside literature of our county. Some of them pass away with the ancient mansions to which they were attached; others die out with the individuals who were wont to repeat them orally to their descendants; and not a few have become modified by the changes which have taken place in our social relationships to each other. Elementary education, also, is doing its work slowly, but surely, and with the spread of correct information amongst the masses, much of our popular superstition will cease to exist. That which remains will become modified according to prevalent ideas, just as Pagan rites, ceremonies, and beliefs, were Christianised by our forefathers and accepted under their modified forms.
How, or when, many of these popular legends took their rise cannot now be determined. Their origin is lost in the far distant past, and forms matter for mere conjecture. Some have probably been invented in order to account for certain unusual appearances, and a resort to the supernatural has been too frequently indulged in when natural phenomena have not admitted of an easy explanation to those who lacked the requisite information. The ringing of the curfew bell at Burnley, and other places, is plainly a relic of early Norman times, and the origin of the custom is well understood; but when the mysterious writing was found on the walls of the cellar at Barcroft Hall, the confinement of the heir to the estates until he became an idiot, by a younger brother, was needed to connect the writing with an item in the family pedigree. Many generations, no doubt looked with wonder upon the sculptured Paschal Lamb on the south front of the steeple at Burnley before it was connected with the demon pigs and the goblin builders, whose origin has never yet been satisfactorily explained. The same may be said of the rude figure of the pig and bell at Winwick church, and its curious legend, which Mr Worsley has proved to belong to St Anthony and his well-known badge.
When readers were few it was necessary to give as much publicity as possible to important local transactions. Hence we can explain the custom of holding a ruler or wand when taking the oath in presence of a jury on being enrolled as a holder of property in a Manor; and the same necessity suggested the practice of paying money on the font of the parish church in the presence of the congregation. Paying pepper-corns, presenting gloves, spurs, &c., instead of rent for land, are obviously relics of military service handed down to us from feudal times; and when white gloves are presented to judges in courts of law, they intimate that the sheriff vacates his office with clean hands, which had a real significance when disembowelling formed one of the accessories to capital punishments.
The agency of the Devil is a frequent ingredient in the composition of our local legends. His bonds are always signed with the blood of his victims, and not a few of our localities can produce traditional instances of his crafty doings. He is also credited with the production of certain natural appearances which seem to lie beyond the powers of human labour. The Roman roads which intersect our wild and still almost impassable moors, are said to have been formed by diabolical agency. Huge boulders which lie scattered on the crests of our hills, marking the outcrop of the millstone grit, are popularly said to have been hurled by him from their parent rocks when exhibiting his feats of strength, forcibly reminding us of the labours of Thor, one of the principal deities of our Scandinavian ancestors.
When we examine our minor superstitions we find many that will admit of no rational explanation. They have descended to us from remote antiquity and different races of people. Very many are relics of ancient faiths and ceremonial rites; and not a few have served as explanations of natural phenomena, and were accepted as satisfactory by those to whom they were addressed. In certain cases their origin is tolerably clear. The custom of turning to the east is undoubtedly a relic of sun worship, to which our early ancestors are known to have been addicted. Looking backwards when leaving home is considered unlucky; and this has grown into a superstition from the fact of its having been disastrous to Lot's wife. Many religiously disposed persons object to a national census on the ground that it is sinful, and they adduce in proof the punishment which overtook David when he numbered the people. Hook-nosed persons are considered to be avaricious, because this characteristic attaches to the Jews, who have lain under this imputation for more than a thousand years. A superstitious regard for certain numbers has caused thirteen at dinner to be looked upon as ominous, since Judas was a traitor when he sat at meat with the twelve. In Courts Leet once calling suffices for ordinary cases, but three times are considered necessary when the authority of the sovereign is concerned. The origin of many of our pageants and pastimes is not difficult to trace. Most of them have degenerated from religious or civic festivals, some of which date from the very earliest colonisation of the county. Several might be noted that still retain marked characteristics of Pagan, early Christian, and mediæval times. With slight modifications, the same may be said of our punishments, whether legal or popular, and even of the games which are practised in nurseries and playgrounds by our children. The derivation of the great bulk, however, of all these, whether legend, pageant, or game, must for ever remain in a state of much uncertainty; and hence we have rarely ventured to enter upon a branch of the subject which is scarcely adapted for the general reader.
The following pages are intended to preserve a few of the more important legends, traditions, pageants, &c., as well as a portion of the more miscellaneous folk-lore of the county. In the first part of the work we have given a series of legends and traditions mostly attaching to our ancient mansions, and these are usually introduced by short genealogical notices of the principal persons named, together with the present state of the houses they either erected or improved. In the case of the Old Hall at Samlesbury it may be considered that more detail ought to have been given of the recent extensive renovations, but this has been so ably done by Mr James Croston in his exhaustive account of "Samlesbury Hall and its owners," that nothing more than a reference to that sumptuous work is required. It may be hoped, however, that this praiseworthy example will be followed by other owners of our historic mansions.
The second portion contains several curious accounts of our local pageants, &c., including that of the still noted Preston Guild. Further information respecting this ancient pageant may be found in the very full and intering "History" of this guild by Mr William Dobson and my late colleague, who, amongst other matter, contributed a new translation of the "Custumal," which preserves some singular items from the ancient Breton laws. The wakes and rushbearings have engaged the attention of the historian as well as the novelist; and the description given by the latter enables us to live over again many episodes of youthful days.
The third portion relates to Lancashire sports and games. The division might have been much enlarged, but it was deemed unnecessary to include such as leap-frog, weights, ring by ring, sally water, &c., &c., since they are still well known and practised daily. The introductory article may be instanced as explaining many of our ancient games of which the names only now remain.
The fourth part contains an account of our old punishments, together with several still in use. Whipping has been revived as one of our legal punishments, and it is not improbable but that the occasional use of the stocks will shortly follow.
The fifth division contains a collection of popular rhymes, proverbs, similes, &c., in common use amongst our peasantry. Many of these are to be found in Collier's "Tummus and Meary" and other similar works; but more especially in the writings of Waugh and Brierley, respectively two of our most talented and popular Lancashire authors.
The sixth portion of the work is devoted to miscellaneous superstitions and observances, all of which have been collected within the past four or five years, and are still believed in, and practised at the present time. They have been classified under different heads as far as possible; but there are many curious items which do not readily admit of any special arrangement.
In the appendix will be found a reprint of a rare old chap-book on the Lancashire Witches, an account of the Lady in White of Samlesbury Hall, &c., all of which will probably be acceptable both to the general and the antiquarian reader.
We have now the pleasing duty of tendering our acknowledgments to R. W. Procter, Edwin Waugh, Benjamin Brierley, and William Beamont, Esqrs., and other authors whose writings are occasionally quoted. Our thanks are also due to W. C. Boulter, Esq., of Hull, and Joseph Chatwood, Esq., President of the Manchester Literary Club, for the poems and extracts contained in the memoir. We are also much indebted to W. A. Waddington, Esq., of Burnley, for his spirited and accurate sketch of the Foldys Cross, which forms so appropriate a vignette to the present volume. The inscription round the octagonal base runs thus:—"Orate pro anima Johannis Foldys cappellani qui istam crucem fieri fecit anno domini mcccccxx." This stately memorial was erected in the churchyard at Burnley by a Foldys of Danes House, who was then incumbent, and, after being thrown down many years ago in a drunken frolic, it was removed to Towneley, where it has been re-erected on the lawn behind the Hall. It is to be hoped that in a short time it will be restored to its original site, from which it ought never to have been removed.
T. T. W.
- Proceedings of the Liverpool Architectural and Archæological Society, 1871.