Friday, 30 January 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Of Piskies and Pasties Part I

The ancient lands of Cornwall are steeped in myth and legend, brimming with tales of giants, saints, monsters and witches. And as is often the case, its folklore is often tied to its own geography, with tales, traditions and customs growing up around certain sites and areas. However folklore is full of surprises, and over the years, certain Cornish traditions have not only intertwined and given rise to new folk tales, but also have been successfully exported round the world.

Cornwall is famous for many things, and while folklorists treasure its wealth of faery lore, food lovers celebrate its most famous export, the Cornish pasty. And surprisingly despite seemingly being very unrelated, this pair have enjoyed a special relationship over the years. Now pasties have been appearing in historical documents, and even in ancient recipe books, since the 13th century. Likewise as long as there has been a Cornwall, there has been tales of the piskies, the local little people. However it wasn't until the 1800s, when tin mining became a huge industry in Cornwall that the two came together.

Now the pasties of centuries past had very much been a snack favoured by the rich, with early recipes having the pastry case being filled with fancy fare such as venison or fine fruits and berries. But in the 19th century, the dish became popular among tin miners, and hence the traditional Cornish pasty was born. Now the proper, traditional Cornish recipe has minced beef - the cut known as steak skirt to be exact - baked in a pastry case along with sliced potatoes and turnip, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. The filling is mixed, then packed still uncooked in a circle of pastry that is then folded over and the edges crimped together to form a long thick crust that runs the entire length of the pasty. It is said that a proper Cornish pasty is folded to make a semi circular shape, but vintage cooking tomes and pictures show that crimping up the crust along the top of the pasty is equally traditional. 

Pasties were not only cheap to make and but also made for a filling meal - effectively you got a full dinner in one handy pastry package. They were easy to carry down the mines, compact to carry on your person, and stayed warm a long time. And if they did get cold, they were easily warmed up on a shovel held over a candle, with the bigger mines actually having ovens down the pits to reheat the miners' pasties. Pasties very soon became part of mining culture and developed a folklore all of their own. Firstly is was said that the mark of a good, proper, well-baked Cornish pasty was that it could be dropped down a mine shaft and land without breaking apart. 

Now there is no evidence to suggest that this was the usual delivery method of pasties at lunch time, however the popular call and response of "Oggie! Oggie! Oggie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" does come from dinner deliveries at the tin mines! The Cornish word for pasty is "hogen" which became "oggie" in miners' slang. Hence when the girls who worked on the surface, the bal maidens, lowered down a basket of pasties, they would cry "Oggie! Oggie! Oggie!" to let the menfolk know dinner was coming. And the miners would give the time-honoured reply of "Oi!Oi! Oi!" to let them know the pasties had been received and the basket was ready to be hauled up again. 

Another tale about the pasty, that is often said to be culinary folklore but is actually true, is the traditional recipes that expanded the pasty into a two course meal. By means of adding a pastry partition, the canny Cornish folk devised a pasty that contained not just dinner but a dessert too! The bulk of the pasty would be the traditional filling of meat and veg, but a section at one end would contain a sweet of fruit, apple being a favourite. And a traditional family recipe for these ingenious two course pasties can be found here. Also there is an attendant piece of lore attached to this inventive practice - it was commonly said that the enthusiasm for pasty making and experimenting with the recipe was so great, that the Devil himself was afraid to set foot, or rather hoof, over the River Tamor and cross from Devon to Cornwall for fear of ending up the filling in a Cornish pasty! 

Other legends have grown up around the pasty crust itself. It is often claimed that the thick hard ridge of pastry formed a useful handle to eat the pasty with, negating the need to bring knives and forks down the mines. Furthermore it has been claimed that as mining tin often brings up arsenic, the tradition of not eating the crust spared many a miner from a bout of poisoning. Modern pastyologists however have cast doubt on this belief however, citing pictures and photographs of tin miners eating their pasties from end to end and hold them in paper or muslin bags. 

Photo from 1893 showing tin miners eating their pasties in bags

But aside from these modern theories about avoiding arsenic poisoning, there is an older tradition regarding not eating the crusts. For while Old Nick may have had a fear of pasties, other supernatural beings were said to have a taste for them... and we will discover more about these fellows next week! 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

MICROGORIA 10 - The Truth About Jenny Greenteeth

In the first of two shows this week, Mr Jim Moon presents a bonus episode, giving you all a taste of his blog series Folklore on Friday. In this show we cover legends of fearsome dwellers in the depths and learn the truth behind these horrible drowners of folklore!

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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Truth About Jenny Greenteeth

Water is one of the essentials for life and any human settlement needs to have a source of water nearby. Therefore it is unsurprisingly that seas, lakes, rivers, ponds, springs and wells have all been considered sacred by our ancestors. Likewise given our dependence on waterways and water sources, it is not surprising that across the world, every culture has populated these crucial places with all manner of deities, spirits, faeries and demons. 

There were all manner of gods and goddess of the waters back in pagan times - from mighty Poseidon and Neptune who ruled the Graeco-Roman waves, to smaller local divinities such as the Celtic Sulis, the patron goddess of the thermal springs of Bath in England. But after the denizens of such polytheistic pantheons had faded away, legends persisted of strange beings who dwelt in the waters. Some were beautiful, water nymphs such as the nereids, naiads and assorted merfolk, but many were of dark character. Across the globe, folk tales tell of supernatural horrors that wait in the weeds and haunt the water's edge, just waiting to grab the unwary and grab them down to a watery grave. The Australian Bunyip, the Japanese Kappa, the Germanic Nixie, the Meso-American Ahuizotl and the Slavic Rusalka are but a few of these of malevolent dwellers in the depths.

The British Isles, being lands that are so famously green and pleasant thanks to the numerous rivers, streams, brooks, springs, ponds, lakes, lochs, meres and tarns, naturally has a host of such drowners in its folk tales. In Ireland there is the Aughisk, in Scotland the dreaded Kelpie, the Isle of Man has the Glashtin, in Wales the Morgens, and England is home to the Grindylows. Virtually every area has its own local watery horror, and folk tales abound of water horses and river hags. In my own immediate area, the River Tees is said to be the home of Peg Powler, a green-skinned water witch who waits to prey upon the unwary, grabbing the careless and dragging them down to drown on the murky river bed. 

Peg Powler from Faeries by Brian Froud & Alan Lee

However the most famous of these aquatic terrors is Jenny Greenteeth. Identical in all regards to Peg Powler, this hag haunted the waters of Lancashire and the North West of England and has become the poster girl for this kind of lurker in the waters. Not only has Jenny found her way into fantasy and horror fiction on numerous occasions, but tales about her were still being told well into the 20th century - for example, in some areas she is said to haunt those recent industrial additions to the modern landscape, the canals.

Jenny Greenteeth inspired Meg Mucklebones in Ridley Scott's Legend

And such folk-tales are probably still being told today, for there is nothing better to keep children away from dangerous stretches of water than a story that there is a monster waiting to drown them there. Death by drowning still accounts for a large proportion of accidental deaths in children across the world and hence scary stories about horrors that seek to drown you still serve a useful purpose. Indeed in the 1970s, a British Public Information film memorably put a modern spin in this kind of cautionary folk tale, employing the vocal talents of the great Donald Pleasence to scare the living daylights out of an entire generation - 

It has long being suggested that the origin of all manner of creatures from Jenny Greenteeth to kelpies and kappas, was in fact to warn folks away from  mucking about in stretches of water. However while there is undoubtedly some truth in the idea that these predatory water monsters are cautionary tales made folkloric flesh, this explanation of them is somewhat flawed. The problem is that this mooted origin is the product of an age where we usually stay away from the wild waters of the countryside; it is born of an age where we have running water piped into our homes. 

But not that long ago, folks didn't have the convenience of modern plumbing and municipal waterworks - bathing, washing clothes or even getting a drink meant a trip to the local water source. Hence warning folks away from the local stream or well, somewhere that you needed for nearly every aspect of day-to-day living , makes little sense. However living so close to natural waters was undoubtedly dangerous: in Tudor England - when a drink, a wash, or even a trip to the loo meant a stroll to the water's edge - drowning accounted for a whopping 40% of all accidental deaths. Therefore when death by drowning is so common, it seems possible that maybe tales of murderous water sprites may not be somewhat impractical warnings to stay away from the water but proposed explanations for so many drownings. 

Examining the gruesome mechanics of drowning certainly puts these sort of legends in a new light. Firstly we should note that drowning does not occur how we generally imagine it to, and indeed how it has been portrayed on TV and in movies. Rather than much splashing about and screaming and gasping, drowning is actually largely very quick and very silent. In fact death by drowning is alarmingly swift and quiet, occurring in under three minutes, and often with so little commotion that even people close by in the water will usually not notice there is anything amiss. This is due to the human body's involuntary responses that kick in the moment you begin to inhale water, and in 1971, lifeguard and researcher Frank Pia identified what are now called instinctive drowning responses, which most people will not notice but now, thanks to his pioneering work,  lifeguards are trained to spot. 

The first response is for the larynx to close preventing further water entering the lungs. However this also blocks the airways and silences the voice; indeed it is this defensive closing of the windpipe that causes the death in most cases rather than the lungs being filled with water. Hence the person will be floating in the water with their mouth above the water line, but still will be unable to breathe, and more crucially, make any sound.

The other response is for the body to automatically attempt to raise the mouth out of the water, and so it appears that the person drowning is merely swimming in a leisurely fashion, or treading water. However this physical response is so over-powering, so over riding, that they are actually physically unable to make any other voluntary movements, such as signal to others they are in distress. Due the rapid effects of the shutting down of the air supply, the victim soon slips into unconsciousness, and may in these stages appear perfectly calm. However once unconscious, they will just slip beneath the surface. It is then in some cases that the involuntary seal of the larynx may relax and the lungs will fill with water, but in the majority of cases, death will result from cardiac arrest before this occurs. And this is how coroners can tell if a body was alive or dead when it entered the water - a live person who has drowned will have relatively little fluid in their lungs, whereas someone who was murdered and thrown in the water will have lungs full to the brim. 

So then to any observers, a drowning person will appear perfectly normal, apparently just enjoying the water... only to suddenly vanish beneath the surface, and only to surfacing again as a drowned corpse! Hence as drowning occurs in such a different way to how we imagine, it is easy to see how people could well believe that the unfortunate drowned soul was suddenly pulled beneath the waters to their doom by some aquatic horror. Indeed the signs of drowning are so counter-intuitive, that even to our sophisticated 21st century eyes; to folks who do not believe in nixies or merrows, it would appear that some one who was enjoying the waters has abruptly been dragged below by a predator. And of course when no predator can be found, in ages gone by naturally enough it was assumed to be a creature from the supernatural realms rather than the local fauna.

Japanese Kappas find a victim

I am sure it is no coincidence that many of the murderous supernatural beings that haunt the shores and waterways of the world share a certain characteristic. And that is, from bunyips to kappas, from grindylows to Jenny Greenteeth, many are described as possessing long, strong arms with which they reach up from the weedy depths and catch the feet and legs of their prey. Folk beliefs often have their roots on misunderstood or unknown forces of nature, and in the case of these malevolent drowners that have haunted people in every corner of the world, it would appear that they spring from our ignorance of the gruesome mechanics of drowning. So then, do not only teach your children to take care when playing near water, but also make sure you learn and teach others how to spot the real signs of drowning. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

HYPNOGORIA 07 - A Tribute to Brian Clemens

Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to a true legend who recently passed away, the late great Brian Clemens, scriptwriter extraordinaire who gave us The Avengers, The Professionals and many many more, plus worked with legends such as Hammer, ITC, Gerry Anderson and Ray Harryhausen.

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Monday, 19 January 2015

EDGAR ALLAN POE - Fairy-land

To mark what would have been Poe's 206th birthday, Mr Jim Moon reads one of his famous eerie poems, Fairy-land

Friday, 16 January 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY: The Cauld Lad of Hylton

The north east of England is a land steeped in history and features a high concentration of ancient sites and ruins. And naturally where there are crumbling, tumbling stones, the visible remnants of where our ancestors used to live, in the shadows of their histories thrives folklore. For example, if one travels across Wearside, not far from the great city of Sunderland, you will find an impressive Gothic edifice, Hylton Castle. And naturally as you'd expect from any ruined castle worth its salt, it has a famous ghost, the Cauld Lad of Hylton. 

However as is often the case with tales that have been told over many generations, there are several differing accounts of Hylton Castle's supernatural resident. But while many of the differences in the stories are merely changes in the minutia of the tale, some versions cast an interesting light of the evolving nature of local ghost stories and folklore. The usual version of the Cauld Lad's tale goes like this... 

At the beginning of the 17th century, in the employ of the then Baron of the estate, Sir Robert Hylton, was a stableboy called Roger Skelton. According to many tellings of the tale, Roger often complained of being 'cauld' (that 'cold' to you folks unfamiliar with the Mackem dialect), and took to sleeping in the hay in his master's stables, which were warmer and cosier than the servants' quarters. However one day, young Roger overslept and didn't get his master's horse ready on time. The Baron flew into a terrible rage - some accounts claimed he struck the boy with a riding crop causing a head injury that would result in his death a few days later, but others say he hurled a pitchfork at the lad, slaying him on the spot. And more violently still, in some quarters it is alleged that the Baron's wrath was so great, he lopped Roger's head clean off his shoulders. 

Some versions claim that Roger's crime was dallying with the Baron's daughter, but whatever the circumstances of his death, the baron sought to hide his deed by concealing the body in a well or pond. But all the tales agree that the Baron would not go unpunished. Now it's said a few months later the body was discovered and that Sir Robert was put on trial for the slaying of the stable lad. However a servant testified that young Roger had died in an accident and so the Baron but walked away from court a free man.

But there are other Powers besides the law of man, and soon Hylton Castle was a troubled place. Pots were smashed, pans were thrown, the kitchen often trashed. Strange noises were heard, cries and wailing, and most sinister of all, a shape of a body, made from ashes from the fire would be found on the floor. Roger, the cauld lad, had returned to haunt the castle it seemed.  

A cook held a vigil one night to see who was causing the trouble and saw the spectre of a shivering, naked boy, wailing "I'm cauld! I'm cauld!". And so, this enterprising fellow and his wife procured a warm cloak and left it out the troubled spirit. The next night they held vigil again and saw the spectre happily take up the clothes proclaiming:  "Here’s a cloak and here’s a hood, the Cauld Lad of Hylton will do no more good".  And with that the ghostly lad vanished, never to be seen again...

...Or so that version of the story goes. A shorter version of the tale states that the Baron never should trial but suffered nightly hauntings until young Roger's corpse was discovered and given a proper burial in holy ground. But others claimed the Cauld Lad was never laid to rest; M.A. Richardson writing in 1843 reports that the Cauld Lad was still being seen, and furthermore was seen singing the following song which implies the spirit would never find rest -  
Wae’s me, wae’s me,*
The acorn’s not yet fallen from the tree,
That’s to grow the wood,
That’s to make the cradle,
That’s to rock the bairn
That’s to grow to the man
That’s to lay me!
* - "Woe is me, woe is me" in Mackem!

And indeed reports of ghostly wailing continued into the 20th century.

So then is there any truth to this tale? And what are we to make of the Cauld Lad's cryptic final remarks? Well, according to an 1857 tome The History of Durham Volume II there indeed was both a Roger Skelton and a Sir Robert. Indeed it is recorded that on 3rd July 1609, a servant boy Roger Skelton was found dead in the castle, with murder suspected and a inquest was held. The investigating authorities ascertained that the lad had been struck by a scythe wielded by Sir Robert Hylton, the 13th Baron of Hylton,  who was charged with manslaughter. However the trial found that the boy's death had been an "accident of misfortune" - apparent the Baron had been mowing the grass in the castle grounds and accidentally struck the boy who was stood behind him, in the leg, causing a "mortal wound one inch long and two inches broad".  Presumably the blade had  hit an artery for they were unable to stop the bleeding and poor Roger bled to death within an hour. And hence Sir Roger was granted a free pardon by order of Bishop James on the 6th September 1609. 

So then, considering the historical record it would seem at first that the tale of the Cauld Lad originates in a local scandal. Much like the truth behind the Babes in the Wood we investigated just before Christmas in this series, it would appear that a ghostly legend sprang up around a suspect death implicating a local authority figure. Indeed it is interesting to note that several versions of the tale have a faithfully old servant testifying to an accident being the cause of the boy's death, allowing the murderous master to walk free. And local historians have questioned the version of events given in court - why exactly would a wealthy nobleman be doing his own mowing being a key question. Certainly it does seem a trifle suspect! Hence the tales of ghostly troubles that appeared, reflect that the local populace had similar questions and did not perhaps have much faith the court's findings. Therefore local folklore was bringing the Baron a form of justice that the courts did not, and ensured his perceived crimes were not forgotten. 

However as regular readers of these articles will know, nothing is ever quite as it seems in the world of folklore. Our first clue is in the mysterious rhyme the Lad leaves us with: why does a troublesome spook, who appears to be behaving very much like a classic poltergeist, claim to be ceasing to do good? Well, a further clue lies in the method of his laying to rest which suggests the Cauld Lad may well date back further than the death of Roger Skelton. For traditionally a gift of clothes was away to rid a house of a very different species of supernatural resident... Yes, that's right rather than a folk rite for ridding one's home of a ghost, the giving of garments was a way to free a dwelling from a household faery. 

Looking at various tellings of the tale, some do mention that the Cauld Lad could be helpful as well as troublesome, such as doing household chores, and servants would leave out bread or cream to gain his good offices. Now such caprice is integral to faery behaviour and appeasement in this way an age-old way of placating the fair folk, and in this regard the Cauld Lad appears to be behaving like a traditional brownie or house elf. Indeed the tale of the haunting of Hylton Castle appears in many collections of faery lore, most notably being retold in English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs in 1890 where he is identified as a brownie, defined by Jacobs thus - "a Brownie is a funny little thing, half man, half goblin, with pointed ears and hairy hide".

The Cauld Lad as depicted by John D. Batton in English Fairy Tales (1890)

Doing some further digging into old tomes, the earliest tales of the Cauld Lad appear in The Histories and Antiquities of the County Palatinate of Durham by Robert Surtees, in Volume III published in 1820. According to Surtees  - 
Every castle, tower, or manor-house, has its visionary inhabitants. “The cauld lad of Hilton” belongs to a very common and numerous class, the Brownie , or domestic spirit; and seems to have possessed no very distinctive attributes. He was seldom seen, but was heart nightly by the servants who slept in the great hall. If the kitchen had been left in perfect order, they heard him amusing himself by breaking plates and dishes, hurling the pewter in all directions, and throwing every thing into confusion. If, on the contrary, the apartment had been left in disarray (a practice which the servants found it most prudent to adopt), the indefatigable goblin arranged every thing with the greatest precision. 
Our respected North Eastern antiquarian goes on to note that some "with an admixture of English superstition" have identified the Cauld Lad as the spectre of Roger Skelton and notes the historical court case detailed above as the likely origins of the ghostly variant. 

What is interesting here is that in this earliest surviving recorded account, is that Surtees first and foremost identifies the Cauld Lad story as an example of faery lore, and then adds the ghost version as supplementary account. Hence here in 1820, we have we have two separate folkloric traditions side by side. However as the nineteenth century progress the second version supercedes the first, for example with Richardson presenting the legend as a tale of  a restless spirit. And notably the Caul Lad being more presented as a spectre is occurring roughly in parallel with the rise in popularity of ghost stories in literature at the same time. However the elements of his original faery nature still remain in many versions of the tale as we have seen above.   

As always in the field of folklore, given the increasing sparseness of written sources the further back you travel in time, it is difficult to be definitive, but  it would seem that the Cauld Lad legend has its roots in older faery lore. Whether the Cauld Lad's tale changed later as ghost stories become a popular literary genre or whether his story is the result of older local legends of brownies and house-elves fusing with a tale of a murdered lad's spirit returning it is impossible to say. However certainly the mix of faery and ghostly lore we find in his story does reflect the evolving nature of folklore, and how over the centuries different mythological beings capture the popular imagination. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

TOMEGORIA 03 - Prospero's Mirror

In our third episode, Odile and Jim investigate the strange case of Prospero's Mirror - a weird tale that is part ghost story and part historical mystery and features the great MR James as a lead character!

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

MICROGORIA 09 - New Year Waffling

Just a quick little show to say hello and tell what going on with the podcast and what's coming up in the New Year!

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