Folklore Thursday’s theme for today is ‘Trees’ – I had no problem finding several remarkable trees in Lancashire and it was delightful to have a reason to gather them all together. Enjoy!
There are several hills around Carnforth; indeed the main street of the village is very steep. One hill on the north side of the canal was once known as Moothaw, a derivation of Moot Hall, for it is said that in ancient times it was a meeting-place for the local Saxon law court. On this hill there was also a magic tree. It was known as the ‘Shrew Tree’, because shrews and field-mice were habitually incarcerated within it as offerings to the spirit of the tree. This sacrificial act imbued the tree with magical properties so that a small twig could bring about healing in diseased cattle. It is recorded that the tree was ‘fed’ at regular intervals.
At Caton, standing next to the ancient Fish Stones, on which medieval monks from Cockersand Abbey would sell their catch, is a tree which is, unusually, a protected monument. Its age is all too readily obvious from its battered state and shrunken size, but that is forgivable as that plaque on it says it dates from ‘the time of the Druids’. The place where the Oak stands is the original settlement of Caton, a Norse name from Kati Ton. Modern Caton is on the other side of the Artle Beck.
A white lady has sometimes been seen on the road approaching this ancient place. Some drivers have been known to believe they have hit the woman, only to jump from their cars to investigate and find no trace of her at all.
In Chipping, Wolf House was so plagued by numerous boggarts that the local priest was called to turn them all out. The last boggart was laid under a yew tree by the gate of the farm with strict instructions that he should remain there until Chipping Brook ran dry. So seriously did local farmers take these instructions that they redirected field drains into the brook so that it would never run dry, even in the driest seasons. And when the yew tree was felled by a storm, it was replaced by a new yew sapling within hours.
Many years ago, the verger of Grindleton Church told how two boys had reported hearing fairy music in West Clough Woods, near Cat Steps, and had then seen little people dancing amongst the trees. The verger believed them because he had seen the fairies himself. Their coats had been green, their caps red.
Hurstwood’s boggart was either a black dog or a piece of white linen, depending on which version of the story is believed. It may have been this same boggart who is reported to have pulled the bedclothes off one family and which was often seen in an old yew tree, dressed in white. Hoggarth’s Cross is close to where the boggart was eventually ‘laid’, after it had promised never to cause trouble again as long as the stream through Holden Clough kept flowing.
In Melling, many, many years ago, throngs of people flocked to inspect a certain sycamore tree, as it had been reported far and wide that the sap exuding from the bark had fashioned itself into the form of a man’s face. What’s more, the face was recognised as a man by the name of Palmer, who had been buried without a coffin and was using this method to make his anger known. The contemporary report ends by noting that ‘inns in the area reaped a rich harvest…’
In Staining, the story of Staining Hall’s boggart seems to stem from the time of the Jacobite Rebellions, when many hundreds of brave men lost their lives fighting for their beliefs. The story says that a Scotsman was cruelly killed near Staining Hall and buried near a tree, in the vicinity of the old moat.
The ghost of the old Scotsman was seen many times over several centuries, a sad and forlorn figure wandering around the area, but as time passed his shade grew less distinct and appeared less often until finally it disappeared entirely. However, his memory was kept alive by the tree which marked the site of his burial, which perfumed the soil around it with the unmistakable smell of thyme. In those days, thyme was also believed to ease the passing of the dying and so was used to fragrance coffins. It was also carried by warriors as it was believed to magically impart courage – but the legend gives another reason for the scent at the Scotsman’s grave. It is said that his wife was travelling from Scotland to be by his side and he desperately tried to stay alive until she arrived. With his dying breath, he called out, ‘Time! Give me time!’