The Devil once took a liking to the pretty village of Cockerham and decided to take up residence there. He delighted in patrolling the lanes of this sleepy village, frightening the villagers and filling their noses with the smell of brimstone. At last they called upon the cleverest amongst them, the schoolmaster, to find some way to be rid of him. One night, at midnight, the schoolmaster consulted an old book of spells and summoned the Devil using the time-honoured device of repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards.
When the Devil duly appeared, the schoolteacher demanded that he henceforth leave the village, but the Devil was not so obedient. He did, however, strike a compromise – he challenged the schoolteacher to set him three tasks, promising that if he could not complete them, he would leave that place for ever.
The first task was to count the number of dewdrops in a hedge. This, unfortunately, the Devil found too easy, for when he went to the hedge to count, the wild wind caused by his arrival blew the hedge dry and there were only thirteen dewdrops left to count.
The second task thought up by the schoolteacher was to count the number of stalks in a cornfield. Unfortunately, when the Devil gave his answer, the schoolteacher realised he had no way of checking whether he was correct!
The third task was to make a rope of sand, which could be lifted and would withstand washing in the river Cocker. The Devil vanished, but in just a few moments he proudly reappeared with a beautifully woven rope of sand. His confidence soon faded, however, when he and the schoolteacher went to the river to wash the rope, which promptly dissolved clean away.
The Devil was furious, but a bargain was a bargain and, accepting that he was beaten, the Devil flew away to Pilling Moss and was never seen in Cockerham again.
In Pilling, it is said that he landed on Broadfleet Bridge – and his footprint can still be seen there, stamped into the stonework.
Incidentally, there is another story about the Devil in Cockerham – but this time the Devil was one unwittingly carved on a rood-screen by a singularly inept craftsman.
The church’s original rood had been destroyed by order in the reign of Henry VIII, but when Henry’s daughter Mary came to the throne the churchwardens and parishioners were obliged under law to find the money to provide a new one. They employed a man who was alleged to be skilled at carving to decorate the rood-screen with an image of the crucifixion. The image, when it was completed, was just terrible. The churchwardens refused to pay the bill, preferring instead to appear in court at Lancaster to explain their actions.
The Mayor of Lancaster, presiding over the case, was told that the image was so ugly and frightening that children were scared to come near it. The Mayor dismissed that argument, saying that the man deserved to be paid for his work, whatever their opinion of it. He then advised them to ‘clap a pair of horns on his head, and so he will make an excellent devil.”