I was browsing the British Newspaper Archive this evening (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) when I came across this collection of snippets… from a newspaper dated 1857, when Folklore was still alive and well in Lancashire. It was also, coincidentally, the year my house was built. (Meaningful to me…) Several of these I have mentioned before, but I’m delighted to find reasons for some of these customs, and more definitive descriptions. Lovely!
The history of a district is incomplete so long as nothing has been recorded of the current superstitions. Although the belief in witchcraft is nearly exploded, yet in the rural nooks, and indeed in the smaller towns of South Lancashire there still lingers many a quaint relic of the folk-lore of by-gone days. Dreams are still read, charms and spells are occasionally resorted to, and signs and omens yet prognosticate lucky and unlucky events to follow. The following—more than one hundred—specimens hare been noted down at intervals, observed during the last seventeen or eighteen years, amongst the peasantry and cottiers of this neighbourhood. We have seen more than one tavern bearing the sign or motto “Luck’s All” and few persons disbelieve the old proverb, “It’s better to be born lucky than rich.” People frequently talk also of good, bad, indifferent, and ill luck, and such phrases as “I’m out of luck to-day,” “As luck would have it,” and the like, are quite common hereabouts.
Persons born between light and dark, i.e. from break of morn to dusk eve, will not be afraid of boggarts or fearing. (Fairies – Ed.)
Those born whilst darkness predominates will be nervous and timid; and those whose nativity occurs between the “witching hour” of twelve and one at night, will be able to see both boggarts and spirits.
If in new-born infant the vein over the nasal bridge appears prominent and of a deep blue colour, or in case the hair on its forehead assumes the form of a peak, either the child will never live to know its parents, or otherwise they will both die before it knows them.
The seventh son, as well a posthumous child, i.e. one born after the death of its father, is endowed with the gift of second sight, or prophecy.
A child with two crowns on its head is destined to reside in two kings’ dominions.
Infants born on Shrove Tuesday are not sharp, or old-fashioned, as others, consequent on having batter in their heads instead of brains.
Cross infants are invariably better tempered after being christened.
Babies turned without caps on Good Friday are not liable take cold.
When infant laughs it sees heaven.
Infants under a month old should not be permitted see either fire, candlelight, or daylight, lest they should become too “wacken” i.e. wide awake, or roguish. Probably, if gaslight had existed when this remarkable theory was discovered, it also would have been prohibited.
Cutting an infant’s finger nails before it is a year old makes it “light fingered,” i. e. thievish, and it will assuredly be hung; if too long, they may be bitten off.
The hair of infants is also guarded from the scissors during the first year of life.
When an infant teeths soon, it betokens that its “nose will soon be put out.’’
COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
In leap-year, it is legitimate for the ladies to court the gentlemen; in other years it is not so; but when such events occur, it is truly remarked, “It’s time for’t yoke when th’cart come to th’horse.”
It is unlucky to court on a Friday evening, derisively termed “th’tinker’s night,” When couples are caught in breach of this point of rural etiquette it is usual to ring (drum) the frying-pan, as an intimation to the damsel that she ought rather to be cleaning at home, in order to lighten the domestic duties of the following day.
Long courtships are unpropitious; hence the rhyme, “Happy is the wooing, That is not long in doing.”
A bachelor of maid taking the last or “old bachelor’s” piece of toast or bread and butter from the platter is doomed to a life of single blessedness.
An unmarried person unwittingly snuffing out a candle will not be married during the current year.
Two sweethearts, standing together on two occasions as groomsman and bridesmaid, will never marry each other.
In order to determine whether a bachelor or spinster shall first be blessed with hymen’s favours, let them pull at opposite ends of that bone or duck called ‘merrythought’, until it breaks. That with the smallest particle will first enter upon married life.
A bachelor, or spinster, placing a portion of bridescake beneath the pillow when retiring to rest, will that night dream of his or her future spouse.
If an unmarried person suspend behind the entrance door either the entire peel of a turnip or a pea-hull containing nine peas, the first member of the opposite sex coming through the door will prove the operator’s future partner for life.
Place the butt-end of the key of the entrance door in a Bible, upon Ruth i. 16, 17: close the book, and firmly tie it with your left garter: suspend it by slightly placing a forefinger under each end of the bow, and the mentally repeat the above text whilst a friend audibly enunciated the successive letters of the alphabet. On arriving at the initial of your future spouse’s Christian name, the Bible will vibrate or turn round, and fall from your fingers.
On all Hallowe’en (October 1st) put some molten lead into a dish of cold water. On teeming off the liquid you will find resemblances to the several implements used in the occupation of your future husband or wife.
Friday is accounted an unlucky day on which to marry of commence a journey.
Two teaspoons found placed unawares in a bachelor or spinster’s cup or saucer, denote his speedy marriage.
After stirring your tea of coffee, a white circular frothy gathering on the centre is called ‘money’, and denotes a pecuniary gift or payment at hand. A small slip of the branch or tea stalk floating on the surface of your cup is termed a sweetheart, whose constancy can be tested by biting with your teeth.
Brambles adhering to ladies’ dresses are also termed sweethearts, and their devotion is exhibited by pertinacious adhesion, or otherwise.
To determine the distance of matrimonial happiness, get a new silk handkerchief that has never been washed, and look through it at the first new moon in the year; and as many moons as you see you will have to wait years before marriage.
Throwing an old ‘shuff’ or trash’ after a couple on their way to the altar is an ancient custom, said to have Jewish origin, and to be a remedy against unhappiness. It is now frequently done when one of the parties is ‘stepping out of turn’, i.e. preceding an elder brother or sister n wedlock. The popular verdict subjects the ‘slow coach’, i.e. the brother or sister passed over, to ‘dance barefoot’, ‘dance round the pig trough’, or the more arduous atonement of ‘dancing the peck bottom out’.
It is accounted a propitious circumstance, indicative of happiness, if the sun shines on a hymeneal cortege, or the rain falls on a funereal cavalcade. “Happy is the bride that the sun shines on; happy is the corpse that the rain rains on.”
Good luck ensues when a back-haired, dark complexioned man “lets the new year in”, i.e. first enters your dwelling on that day. But ill luck betide you if the first to cross your threshold is a woman of a light-complexioned man, and especially a red-haired person, who is believed to be descended from the Danes of old.
Lanterns should not be used by anybody on New Year’s Day, as it is unlucky either to give or take a light out of the house on that day.
Ill luck betides the farmstead harbouring ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen’ for they ‘would drive the devil out of his den’.
If your nose itch, it is assign of news coming to hand; if your right eye, it foreshadows laughter and mirth; whilst the left denotes crying and sorrow near at hand.
If your right ear burns hot, back-biters and busy somewhere; but if the left, then someone is praising you behind your back.
Pull each of your finger joints, and add up the number of times they crack, and you will discover the number of your future family.
Female infants with small white hands are born to be ladies.
A flat hand denotes open (or free) handed disposition; whilst hooked fingers imply ‘close-fistedness’.
WEATHER, JOURNEYS, ETC.
The sun shining through the apple-trees on Christmas Day, presages a fruitful season to come.
Trees retaining their foliage until autumn is far advanced, predicates a severe winter: ‘If on the tree the leaf shall hold, The winter coming will be cold.’
Aged persons assert that summers are not near so hot, nor winters so cold, as they formerly were. Farmers were then, whilst mowing, frequently obliged to wipe the honey-dew off their scythes; such a thing is now never heard of.
If the new moon lie on its back, it will hold water, consequently the new quarter will be a wet one. If the horns point downwards, it will be a dry one. If they point neither up nor down, the moon, standing perpendicularly, the weather will be of a moderate cast.
Caterpillars, called ‘rainy-bolts’ crawling on the ground in the daytime, foreshow rain.
To stop a shower of rain, cross two sticks on the earth, without watching the process. To put rainbows out, i.e. to decompose or annul them, cross two sticks, and add a very small lump of coal.
She-oaks come into leaf before he-oaks. The female broom flowers; the male plant does not.
The moulting of fowls is either pre-influenced by or has an influence on the weather: “if the cock moult before the hen, We shall have weather thick and thin; But if the hen moult before the cock, We shall have weather hard as a block.”
It is also popularly remarked that “Such a Friday, (as to weather) such a Sunday.”
It is unlucky to walk backwards, or to run at starting, or to turn again for anything after setting out on a journey.