Friday, 2 December 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres VII

Welcome once again dear readers to yet another exploration of all things ghostly and folkloric. This week we are still considering the possible classifications we can make under the heading of Animal Apparitions. We already discovered the spectral equivalents of man's best friends, the hound and horse, and last week investigated the strange fluttering of avian apparitions. So then it's only right and proper that we first sketch in a subcategory for Feline Phantoms, for as cats have enjoyed our company for many centuries it is unsurprising there are a fair few folk tales relating to metaphysical moggies.

Now to keep us on track and focussed on ghostly folklore, I'm not going to be making such mention of the reports of panthers and pumas roaming the British Isles. For these Alien Big Cats (or ABCs for short) are a relatively recent phenomena, and are perhaps more properly considered as belonging in the field of cryptozoology rather than folklore. Now that is not to say that folklore cannot be modern or recent, and while some writers and researchers have mooted the theory that ABCs are possibly a modern mutation of traditional tales of phantom black dogs, I tend to consider them to me more likely real creatures than phantom animals. Aside from tricks of perspective causing misidentification of regular felines, I think it is telling the ABC phenomena begins after a law was passed in the early 1970s that regulated the ownership of exotic animals, and several reports have been uncovered of big cat owners releasing their former pets into the wild as a result.

However even leaving ABCs aside, there is still a strong enough tradition of ghostly cats to justify a Feline Phantoms category. However while spectral hounds tend follow the same pattern, and tales feathered phantoms can be classified into distinct sub-groups, accounts of ghostly moggies seem to prove that even when they are ethereal or ectoplasmic, cats will still be cats i.e. independent to the last, always doing their own thing, and generally defying any rules we try and impose on them!

Naturally several tales of ghost cats would appear to be accounts of deceased pets returning. For example, at a house in Birtley, County Durham, a phantom Persian cat has been spotted on several occasions, and research has revealed that such a cat was the pet of a former owner. While at the Market Cross pub in Swaffham, Norfolk, a phantom cat is frequently mistaken for a real moggy. It is speculated that possibly this feline phantom was the pet of one of the pub’s other ghosts, one of the spectral old fellows who are sometimes seen sat drinking and smoking by the fire.

Actually it would appear that pubs are something of a favourite haunt of spectral cats. In Bedford, London, the Square Inn (formerly known as The Bull-nosed Bat) there have been many sightings of a phantom cat. While at The Beehive in Great Waltham, a ghostly grey cat is often seen disappearing through walls. This would appear to be something of a favourite trick with feline phantoms, as in the Gatehouse Restaurant, in Battle, Sussex, the ghost of a former house cat floats about and allegedly is often seen disappearing through a wall. At the Old Talbot public house in Worcester, a ghostly cat has been known to brush up against people, only to disappear as soon as it  has gained their attention. And at Sower Carr Lane, in Hambleton, another spectral cat does much the same trick, rubbing against the legs of walkers yet remaining invisible.

At Ye Olde Starre Inne in York two phantom black cats are often seen, and seem to delight in spooking the dogs of any patrons. It is said they are the spectres of two cats that were bricked up in a pillar between the front door and the bar. While this may sound terribly macabre and cruel, it is a historical fact that many dead cats have been found walled up in old buildings. The theory is that these animals were a kind of sacrifice or protective charm carried out when these places were built, and this practice is suspected to be the origin of several ghostly moggies. For example, the black cat that haunts the bridge over the River Coquet, in Rothbury, Northumberland may well have been such a sacrifice made when the bridge was built.

In a tale of a haunting in the late 19th century which took place at Lower Seedly Road, Manchester, part of the ghostly manifestations was the sound of a cat crying, and later the spectre of a headless cat appeared. Quite how it cried without a head remains a mystery. However being missing bodily appendages does not appear to overly trouble feline phantoms, for in 1675 the house of a Mr Edward Pitts in Puddledock, London suffered a poltergeist infestation, and one of the phantoms reported was a legless cat floating through the house. Of course cats famously never abide with convention, as demonstrated by the phantom puss that haunts Balbriggan, County Dublin who appears sporting a striking shade of green.

Surprisingly given that traditional association with witches, there don't seem to be very many ghostly cats linked with witchcraft. However there are a couple who appear to belong distinctly to the dark side. Firstly there's tales of a seemingly evil black cat that manifested in a room at Powerham Castle and attacked a guest. But perhaps the most famous ghostly moggy of all also enjoys a highly sinister reputation. Montpelier Hill in County Dublin, Ireland was the home of the Irish Hellfire Club where much whiskey was drunk and allegedly orgies, debauchery and evocations of Satan took place. The club's mascot was a large black cat who allegedly took the place of Satan in their gatherings. It was also said they had burnt a cat alive and committed several murders at their gatherings.

At first they met in a ruined hunting lodge atop the hill, and later in a nearby Victorian mansion, the Killakee house. In 1968 when renovations were being done on the now crumbling house, workmen began reporting ghostly manifestations, and soon several folks had seen an evil looking black cat. One of these was the painter Tom Massey who was left badly shaken after an encounter with the snarling brute, which he described as having burning eyes - and he would later paint the beast as seen below. In 1970, further work at the house uncovered a shock secret, a small skeleton was buried beneath the kitchen floor, and what's more with the bones was a brass statue of  a demon. This macabre discovery seemingly proved the old tales that the Hellfire Club had once beaten a deformed boy to death. However there's still tales of ghostly activity in the area, and the malevolent spectral cat is still allegedly seen at the house and prowling Monpelier Hill...

Well folks, that brings us to the end of Species of Spectres for this year - over the next few weeks we'll be shifting gear into a more festive mode and looking at some Yuletide folklore...


Anonymous said...

I saw a Lost Cat notice up in the local shop the other night enquiring if anyone had seen "Greymalkin". Someone, in the village appeared to know ancient cat names or had seen Night of the Demon (1957). Maybe both.
There is a monster- cat of Norwegian extraction in our village, also. About the size of a springer spaniel, he is. I hope Greymalkin hasn't came up against him.

Anonymous said...

I does wonder if these ABC's (I have seen about half a dozen myself over the course of twenty years, and would be the owner of a skull of one of them, if i hadn't been thwarted by a boutof evil fortune ) fit in somewhere with 'Black Shuck' type hellhounds. Some of these devil dogs were reported to have the face of a man, perhaps a muzzle-less feline face would appear human like to a bumpkin, along with the blazing green eyes suggesting some diabolical origin.
I remember reading that flocks of geese flying through the nighttime winter skies were believed to be packs of infernal hounds out on the business of their dark master. Didn't these people notice that they sounded exactly like the geese that were shitting all over the village pond?

Anonymous said...

As a morbid ten year old taking a detour on the way home through some old Co-op buildings that had been partially destroyed by fire and partly demolished, ST.CLAIRE found a mummified cat in the rubble, unfortunately crushed flat by some tracked vehicle. It definitely wasn't a recent kill as it was completely hairless and dessicated, and almost completely weightless.
The strangest part was, the building was only built in 1901.
As I say, we do things differently up here...
Valued Servant,

Anonymous said...

You appear to be something of a big cat magnet, St Claire. Perhaps you would be kind enough to tell us more about these incidents.

Anonymous said...

The first was in 1995, a large lynx-like beast but a bit sturdier built sitting on a path through a grassy field next to a burn.
The next encounter was at night as a bunch of us played on some haybales, this would be in about 2000. We spotted a two large black cats waiting in the field margins, before the sauntered across the field in front of us.
My final sightings happened in an area 3 or 4 miles from the others.
Me and two friends saw two black cats three nights in a row by the side of a small wood, this was about 5 years ago.
The skull incident concerned a large fanged skull that I discovered in a large area of peat bog known as 'Star Moss' (sounds Lovecraftian, I know). Unfortunately, there was some brain matter present and an accompanying odour and my dad demanded its disposal before we left the Moss and it was duly stashed in a dry stane dyke.
I originally thought it was a monkey's skull until I researched it and realised it was a cat of abnormal proportion's skull.
Of course, when i returned to the area years later, the skull was gone as was the dyke. The victim of a field enlargement it would seem.
I realise its sounds like I've been at the ether, but I can assure you the above is all true.

Anonymous said...

Sightings of a similar creature appeared in the media under the title "Beast Of Balbirnie" around the time of the final sightings I had.
There was a later attempt to discredit the sightings by a fellow who claimed the footprints (which had already been identified as a big cat) had been made by his dog (St Bernards or similar type I think).
I think his certainty was partly due to the cash reward he got for his story in one of those rag magazines you get in waiting rooms and such like.
I certainly doubt that his dog ate the swan who's shredded remains i found while running in Balbirnie estate.
I must add, i haven't seen any for a while so I'm guessing that they've all been shot.

Anonymous said...

It may be a co-incidence or perhaps I am mistaken with the name (this was some years ago) but I once attended a natural history exhibition in St.Andrews, Fife and amongst the exihibits was stuffed cat of unusually large size. I took it to be a Scottish Wildcat but I'm not sure what it was, exactly. The note inscribed on a plate beneath proclaimed "Shot at Balbirnie..." and then further details including the date which may have been in or around the 1920's.
I may have to do some research about the reputed beast or beasts of those parts.

Anonymous said...

I actually live in Fife and am certain this would be the cat shot by John Balfour, local landowners who still live on the estate, around that time.
I saw the stuffed carcass when it was an exhibit at Kirkcaldy Museum as a child, and remember it looking like a reddish tabby striped lynx, but of less athletic build. Perhaps this was a result of shoddy taxidermy rather than any identifiable specific trait.
I don't know where it is now, haven't been to the museum in a long time, it certainly perked up an otherwise terminally boring afternoon looking at stuff about coal mining and herring fishing, I can tell you.
The local authority on these cats is a man called George Redpath, an ex-policeman who collects information and evidence about these cats, I don't know if it was ever published but he was writing a book at one point.
I remember him saying that a man who lived in north east Fife in the 60s used to walk his pet leopards on leashes through the town market.
Before anyone thinks I'm trying to say Fife is overrun by savage beasts, I can safely say that I see kids camping in the woods and lone women walking dogs all the time and none of them, to my knowledge has ever been eaten by a cat.
Good Evening,

Jim Moon said...

Most fascinating tales folks! I have the tale of the honking geese/hellhound barking - and while this tidbit seems to turn up in many write-ups of black dog lore, I rather suspect this is an oft repeated explanation advanced by a old folklorist and repeated so often that it has mistakenly been reported as a part of the actual lore. I shall delve further into that for a future Folklore on Friday if there is anything in that theory!