The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Notes and Queries (June)


Mysterious Serenades, or Music and Invisible Musicians.—Mr. G——, a respectable Holderness farmer, resides in a mansion situated at a considerable distance from any other. He has been accustomed for several years, at intervals, to hear during the night the sounds of different musical instruments, which together produced a most delectable and harmonious concert. Two or three friends were taking their Christmas supper with him, when a domestic came to inform them that the musicians were at work in the garden. The party immediately sallied out, and, although they could perceive nothing save trees loaded with snow, their ears were ravished with notes of music. The night was more than usually serene, the moon nearly at full, and yet, notwithstanding a minute search, not the slightest vestige of a human being could be discovered. The music was all this time continued, and, as far as they could judge, within a few paces of the place they occupied. The farmer and his friends are convinced that they are indebted to "fairies" for the entertainment they received; and as that part of the country was formerly, according to oral tradition, the theatre often selected by Queen Mab and her tiny followers to perform their mystic evolutions, and "Dance the Hay," they are induced to hope it is again fixed upon for the same purpose, and that times like those in which of yore the "Elgin train" condescended to visit mortals are on the eve of returning.—Hull Packet.

Early Witch Trials.—The late Rev. James Raine, the learned historian of North Durham, published a little before his own death "A Memoir of the Rev. John Hodgson . . . . . . author of the History of Northumberland," 2 vols. 8vo. 1857-1858. This work was a labour of love to its author. There is not so far as I know a more excellent life of a man of letters in our language. Hodgson was not only a local historian who holds a high place in the first rank, but also a man of very wide culture. The memoir therefore, as was to be expected, contains much valuable and curious information on subjects which the ordinary reader would not think of looking for in its pages. The geological information given is useful and as accurate as it could be, when we allow for the fact that the existence of "the great ice-sheet" was unthought of when Hodgson made his observations. There are also many facts about the safety-lamp which will be new to most readers. We have good reason to believe (and we say this sorrowfully) that the "Memoir" has been but little read, except by natives of Northumberland and the few students who take interest in local history. As this is the case, it may be well to transfer the following passages therefrom to the Folk-Lore Journal.

On the 4th of March, 1821, Hodgson, who was in London, writes to his wife telling her that her aunt Mrs. Burke had repeated to him the following stories:—

"Admiral Delaval and his servant, coming late one night past Benton church (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne), they observed a light in it. He desired his man to get off and see what was doing; but the man refused, saying he did not dare to do it. The admiral therefore gave his horse to his servant, and went himself. Through a window he observed a man and a woman busy about a corpse. He found the door unlocked, and stepping up quickly to the persons found them cutting off the breasts of a female corpse. The man vanished, and was supposed to be the devil; the woman he secured and carried off, but when his servant was requested to take her up behind him he again refused through fear; the admiral therefore had her put up and tied on behind himself. On examining her at the proper court she was found to be a witch, and was of course hanged."

"The clergyman who preceded Mr. Hall, at Earsdon (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne), had a school for young gentlemen. A beggar-woman came to a poor person's house in the village, where a child was crying; and its mother being angry with it, dismissed the beggar with some sharp observations. The old mendicant had scarcely gone out of their presence than the child began to cry * Mother, mother, that old woman is tearing my heart out of me.' Alarm was given; the young gentlemen ran after the old woman, whom the child pricked on the forehead with a pin till the blood came, when the spell of torment which she had laid upon it was dissolved,"—Vol. i. pp. 352-3.

[The following document is quoted from the records preserved in the Consistory Court of Durham.]

"June 6, 1627. James Cowle, of the parishe of Morpethe, aged 30 years, a witness, &c., has known the said Sara Hatherick for 8 years, and the said Jane Urwen from his infancy.

"He saith that about two yeares since now last past, a more certaine time he remembrethe not, the said Jane Urwen came to this examinate's house, then situate in Morpeth, about some business in an eveninge, and after some other conference the said Jane asked this examinate how and upon what tearmes he had lett a house and certaine grounds unto Lancelott Hatherwick, husband to the said Sara, wherein he satisfied her; whereupon the said Jane Urwen replied and said, that the said Lancelott was nought; but, quoth she, his wife, meaning the said Sara, is worse; for, quoth she, there was a man went in Cotton Wood to seek his kyne and heard a noise ther, and there was present she, the said Sara, and her mayd, casting of ckies through a ridle of all kindes of coloures, as fast as oates, whereunto this examinate's wife betweene ther conference said, * Lord, how can this be?' to whome the said Jane replied and said, that she the said Sara Hatherwick, was a witche—then and ther being presente this examinate, &c.

(Signed) James Cowle."

"Dorothy Cowle, wife of James Cowle, of the parish of Morpeth, aged 30 years, a witness, &c., has known Sarah Hatherwick for 4 years and Jane Urwen for the same time.

"She saith that two yeares agoe, a more certaine tyme she remembreth not, the said Jane Urwen came unto this examinate's husband's house, then situate in Morpethe, and after divers speeches, amongest them she the said Jane Urwen told this examinate and her husband, &c. that ther was an honest man told her that he wanted his kyne, and beinge seekinge them in Cotton Wood, he heard a great noyse ther in a hollinge bushe, where he did see Sara Heatherick and her maid servant sittinge with a ridle betwixt them, and castinge clues as fast as oates; which this examinate much wonderinge att, asked how that could be, whereunto she, the said Jane, replied and said that she the said Sara was a witche: and this examinate askeing where she learned the same, the said Jane replied that she learned it of the Lady Pauncheforde articulate" (Book of Depositions from 1626 to 1631). — Vol. ii. pp. 279-280.

An Ancient Highland Superstition.— The following weird story appears in the Scotsman of Jan. 20, 1887:—An occurrence took place in Ullapool on Saturday which illustrates the strong hold that old superstitions still retain among the people of the Highlands. A woman of weak intellect, named Ann Macrae, about 70 years of age, and who resided with a sister and nephew at Moss Cottages, scarcely half a mile from the village, committed suicide by drowning herself in the Ullapool river close by her home. No one, however, seemed to care to have the body recovered until the police got notice of the affair, and two constables were despatched to the place. Notwithstanding the difficulty experienced in bringing the body ashore, owing to the depth at which it lay and the rocky surroundings of the place, not a soul in the crowd which began to gather would render the slightest assistance, though repeatedly asked to do so. The police, however, managed to recover the body, which was then removed to an outhouse, the use of which was granted by Mr. K. Mackenzie of Moorfields, as neither friend nor neighbour of the deceased would give the corpse admission on any account. A coffin was obtained, and a horse and cart procured to convey the body to the village burying-ground. By this time a crowd of about sixty men had collected. They deforced the authorities, and peremptorily refused to allow the remains of a suicide to be taken to any burying-ground which was within sight of the sea or of cultivated land, as such a step would prove disastrous both to fishing and to agriculture, or, in the words of the almost universal belief of the crofting-fishing community of the north-west, it would cause famine (or dearth) on sea and land. Some of those in the crowd found great fault with the police for taking the body out on the wrong side of the river! The police, of course, were powerless against such numbers, and the result was that the horse was unyoked and the cart on which the remains lay was wheeled about and conveyed for several miles over the hills, where beyond sight of sea and cultivated land the body was unceremoniously deposited in mother earth. The police, who followed at a respectful distance, noted that the remains were buried about three miles from Ullapool, on the way to Rhidorroch Forest. The Fiscal at Dingwall has been communicated with, and it is expected that investigations will be made into the affair. This belief regarding suicides is deeply rooted, and the custom has generally been to inter them in out-of-the-way places among the lonely solitudes of the mountains, and such burials are not by any means uncommon. A few years ago the body of a man who had committed suicide was washed ashore on Little Loch Broom. A rough deal box was hastily made, into which the corpse was put, after which all the tools used were sunk in the sea. The box with its ghastly cargo was then towed by ropes across the loch, thence dragged up the hillsides to a lonely nook behind that range of mountains which stretches to the west of Dundonell, where the box, ropes and all, was hastily buried. According to the popular belief, had the body been left in the loch, or on shore within sight of it, not a single herring would have ventured near it.

Plough Monday.—In Cambridge this year, Plough Monday was observed by bands of young men, profusely ornamented with scarves and ribbons, who dragged wooden ploughs of a primitive description about the streets. They ran at a good pace, and by their side ran a companion with a money-box collecting donations. In the bands which I saw, there was no woman or man dressed as a woman, such as we read of in Brand and Dyer. A friend, who was with me, noticed (what I failed to observe) that the men who were dragging the plough wore bosses in front, like the bosses which horses in harness have on their chests.

January, 1887.

Somersetshire Witch Tales.—The other day I heard for the first time two witch tales, which I will tell you. The locality is not mentioned, but I was led to infer that it happened in Somersetshire.

No. 1. "Some men were engaged in mowing a meadow close to which stood a witch's house. They were constantly annoyed and interrupted in their work by a hare which kept running between the sweeping scythes. By-and-by one of the men said, * I say, mates, I do believe that hare is the witch.' * I'll soon see,' answered a second man; and calling to his dog he urged him to give chase to the hare, all the men running, eager and excited, cheering on the dog, which ran faster and faster after the hare, which made for the witch's cottage; with a shriek and a bound the hare tried to jump through the window, but the dog made a bound too and seized the hare by the hind legs; in the struggle the hare had its leg much torn but it finally escaped into the cottage where the men heard dismal moans. On the morrow the witch was seen hobbling about with a bad leg, and on being asked what was the matter replied that she had ' cut her leg while chopping sticks.'"

No. 2. "A black colt was often seen to be feeding in a field close to a witch's house. It always appeared there in the evening, and no one could discover how it got there or to whom it belonged. by there grew a feeling in the neighbourhood that it was the witch; so some brave daring youths planned to lie in wait and catch the colt next time it came out to feed. Their plan succeeded admirably, and the colt was caught and taken to a blacksmith's shop where it was shod and turned loose into the field again. Next day the witch was seen with her hands tied up, and she walked as if in great pain; but no one could induce her to relate what had occurred to her. Years afterwards, however, people saw on her hands the print of nails."