The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Notes, Queries, Notices, and News (pp. 28-32)


The Divining-Rod.—Mr. E Vaughan Jenkins sent to the Times the following letter from a gentleman residing at Westbury-sub-Mendip, Wells, Somerset:—I have read your letter in the Times of Tuesday. You may possibly like to hear of my experience as to the divining-rod. In July, 1876, that very hot summer, the old well under my house became fouled and the water unfit to drink; so I decided on sinking another well about 100 yards off from my house, if I were advised that water could be found there. The field is perfectly dry, and there is no appearance of water anywhere near where I wished to sink. So I sent for a labouring man in the village who could "work the twig"—as the divining-rod is called here—and he came and cut a blackthorn "twig" out of my hedge and proceeded round the field, and at one spot the "twig" was so violently affected that it flew out of his hands; he could not hold it. I may here observe that the village churchyard adjoins my field, and it was of consequence to me to know whether the spring went through or near the churchyard. So I asked the man to tell me which way the spring 1 an (of course under the ground); and he proceeded to follow up the spring and found that it did not go near the churchyard. Having some doubts as to this man, about a month after I heard of another man living seven miles off, who, I had been told, could "work the twig." I sent for him, and he was quite unaware that the first man had tried for water; and to my astonishment, when he came near the spot indicated by the first man, he could not hold the twig, it was so much affected. I then asked him to tell me the course of the underground spring, and he went as near as possible to the first man—from about south-west to north-east. I thereupon decided to sink a well, the last man assuring me that water was not very far down. At 39ft. the well-sinker came upon a spring of the most beautiful water, and there is in the well about 30ft. of water in the summer, and in the winter it is nearly full. Now, there is nothing whatever to indicate water in my field or anywhere near it. The men who "worked the twig" will take nothing for their trouble.

The Divining-Rod in Gloucestershire.—Several of our contemporaries are making samewhat merry over Mr. Vaughan Jenkins' avowed belief in the powers and virtues of the "divining-rod." Some years back Mr. Jenkins bought two acres of hillside land in the neighbourhood of Cheltenham, on which to build a house. To live in the house it was necessary to sink a well. The well-sinkers went to work, sank themselves to a depth of fifty-one feet, and then declared that "from the nature of the strata, &c., it would be perfectly useless to proceed farther." At a consultation of experts it was decided that, owing to the dip of the land and for various other reasons, "there was not the least possible chance of water being obtained on the plot of land anywhere." The foreman of the masons, however, suggested that the divining-rod should be tried, and further stated that he had a boy well qualified to carry out the trial. This child was said to have the gift in a remarkable degree; and the father declared that "if water was to be obtained on the plot he would pledge his character that the boy would find it." The trial was made. The boy was sent for, and this is what happened: "He immediately repaired to a neighbouring hedge, and returned with a rod of blackthorn or hazel—I think the former—about 2ft. Sin. in length, and of the thickness of telegraph wire. Then placing the ends of the rod between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, bending it slightly, and holding it before him at a short distance from the ground, he started on his expedition; I and others following him, and watching every movement closely. After going up and down, crossing and re-crossing the ground several times, but never on the same lines, the lad stopped, and to our great surprise we saw the rod exhibit signs of motion, the fingers and thumbs being perfectly motionless. The motion or trembling of the rod increasing, it slowly began to revolve, then at an accelerated pace, fairly twisting itself to such an extent that the lad, although he tried his best to retain it, was obliged to let it go, and it fled to some distance." These phenomena were so striking that—"coupled with the respectability of the parents, members of a religious body "—they persuaded Mr. Jenkins to call his well-sinkers together again to dig on the spot indicated, and on reaching the depth of 48ft. they had the gratification of striking a strong spring of pure and beautiful water, coming in so fast as to cause them to make a hurried exit, and in a few hours the well contained a depth of 10ft. of water, rising since occasionally to 15ft. and so it now continues. Such is the story Mr. Jenkins tells, and which is now exciting very considerable comment.—Midland Counties Herald, Oct. 12, 1882.

Curious Superstition in Lochee.—Hooping-cough being rather prevalent in Lochee at the present time, various cures are resorted to with the view of allaying the distress. Amongst these the old "fret" of passing a child beneath the belly of a donkey has come in for a share of patronage. A few days ago, two children, living with their parents in Camperdown Street, were infected with the malady. A hawker's cart with a donkey yoked to it happening to pass, the mothers thought this an excellent opportunity to have their little ones relieved of their hacking cough. The donkey was accordingly stopped, the children were brought forth, and the ceremony began. The mothers, stationed at either side of the donkey, passed and repassed the little creatures underneath the animal's belly, and with evident satisfaction appeared to think that a cure would in all probability be effected. Nor was this all, a piece of bread was next given to the donkey to eat, one of the women holding her apron beneath its mouth to catch the crumbs which might fall. These were given to the children to eat so as to make the cure more effectual. Whether these strange proceedings have resulted in banishing the dreaded cough or not has not been ascertained, and probably never will be. A few years ago the custom was quite common in this quarter, but with the spread of education the people generally know better than to attempt to cure hooping-cough through the agency of a donkey.—Aberdeen Evening Gazette, 24th August, 1882.

A Neapolitan Custom.—The Times correspondent at Naples writes, August 2nd: "A remarkable trial took place last week before the Court of Assize, terminating with the condemnation of Vincenzo and Carolina Garguillo, son and mother, the former to hard labour for life, the latter to 'seclusion' for three years. It is upwards of a year since the daughter of Carolina, one of the beauties of Sorrento, was married to a sailor, called Giuseppe Esposito. The usage of the lower classes of the country, which efforts have been made in vain to suppress, is for the bridegroom to visit his mother-in-law on the morning following the marriage, and Esposito was reminded of it. The visit was not however paid, nor was it after waiting a fortnight. The mother-in-law, then becoming furious, complained to her son, urging him to avenge the honour of his sister and of the family. Vincenzo Garguillo thereupon went to his sister's house and waited for the husband, who on his arrival welcomed him and begged him to stay and dine. The answer was that Vincenzo, drawing a knife and throwing himself on his brother-in-law, stabbed him and laid him dead at his feet. The result of the trial, after a delay of upwards of a year, was as I have narrated. I do not enter into details of the custom, the omission of which was so fatal, but they may easily be surmised. Even clerical influence cannot suppress it; the honour of a family is supposed to be connected with it."

Mermaid Tradition.—At a meeting of the Society of Manchester Scientific Students, Sept. 27, 1882, the members visited Hayfield. On leaving Hayfield railway station the party proceeded to the edge of Leygate Moor. From thence they reached the Old Oak wood near the lower house. A short walk from here is the Downfall. Near here is the Mermaid's Pool, of which the natives have a tradition that a beautiful woman lives in the side of the Scout; that she comes to bathe every day in the Mermaid's Well, and that the man who has the good luck to behold her bathing will become immortal and never die. The old people of Hayfield, moreover, tell a long story of a man who, sometime in the last century, went from Hayfield over the Scout, and was lucky enough to meet this mountain nymph, by whom he was conducted to a cavern hard by. Tradition adds that she was pleased with this humble mortal, and that he lingered there some time, when she conferred on him the precious gift of immortality.


Bibliography of Folk-Lore. I have made a note of the two following books: Blackwood's Confessions of Witchcraft, and T. Brown-hall's Treatise of Spectres. I cannot find these books in the British Museum Catalogue, and should be glad of any information thereon.

Morris Dance. What is the correct derivation of morris? Is Ellis in Brand correct?


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