Last time I introduced you all to the Beast of Ennerdale, an unknown creature that rampaged over the Lake District in north western England in 1810. Here is Ennerdale:
The original source for the tale was a book called “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life” by William Dickinson. It was published in 1876, more than sixty years after the events it portrayed. Here, a typical chase after the Monster is described:
“One Saturday night a great number of men was dispersed over the high fells, watching with guns and hounds, but the animal avoided them and took his supper on a distant mountain ; and the men not meeting with him, came down about eleven o’clock on Sunday morning and separated about Swinside Lane End:
In a few minutes after, Willy Lamb gave the “view halloo.” He had started the beast in crossing the wooded stream, and away went the dog with the hounds in full cry after him. The hunt passed Ennerdale Church during service ; and the male part of the congregation, liking the cry of the hounds better than the sermon, ran out and followed. It has been said the Reverend Mr Ponsonby could not resist, and himself went in pursuit as far as he was able. This run ended at Fitz Mill, near Cockermouth, in a storm which the wearied men and dogs had to encounter in a twelve-miles return.”
The Beast’s identity was still a matter of considerable debate for the locals:
Some thought it was a lion. Some thought it was a tiger. Some thought it was a wolf. One wealthier farmworker, who had recently been to France for his holidays, said that it was “Like a wolf but not a wolf”.
And exactly as had been the case in France, many of the local peasants thought it was a werewolf, although the one who had been to France for his holidays, said it was “un loup-garou” or even “un rougarou”. Proof of the supernatural qualities of this Beast came in the fact that it drank blood:
Just as a piece of information, there were no wolves in the Lake District at this time, and had not been for, probably, the best part of 400 years. The most recent record of wolves in England came, most fittingly, from Nottinghamshire where, in the reign of Henry VI (1422-1460), Robert Plumpton, who owned land in Nottingham itself, was given the job of “chasing wolves in Sherwood Forest”. By 1500, wolves were totally exterminated in England.
Whatever the Beast of Ennerdale was, the locals came up with a cunning plan to catch it. Somebody thought of putting together all the best hunting dogs into an élite pack, a Special Forces Unit which would hunt down the Sheep Slayer once and for all:
There was a pursuit which lasted several days. Finally, the poor monster was flushed from cover. It fled, but the hounds caught it. The plan now went pear shaped though, as the Beast took on all of the Special Forces dogs at once in a ferocious combat. Several of these ninja sheep dogs were killed outright in a matter of minutes. All the survivors then suddenly changed their minds and headed off home, to the safety of their nice safe kennels. Obviously, whatever the Beast was, “dog” could pretty well be crossed off the list.
And just as was the case in distant Gévaudan, there were the hard luck stories. William Jackson who lived in the middle of wild and lonely mountains at Swinside, had his musket loaded and ready, as he left his wild and lonely farm. Here it is, as it looks today:
The Beast was watching him, just thirty yards away. William took careful aim, pulled the trigger and the fifty years old relic of a rifle failed to fire. The Beast, of course, made his escape easily.
On another occasion, a group of men, armed to the teeth, along with their pack of hounds, had the Beast surrounded in a small wood and totally at their mercy. It charged out and the weakest link in the human chain duly lost his nerve, dived out of the way and the chance was lost.
Interestingly enough, an incident very similar to this happened with the Beast of Gévaudan and with at least one of the other French creatures. The Beast of Ennerdale, though, continued onwards and knocked over an old chap called Jack Wilson. Jack was collecting wood for his fire but was completely unaware of the Beast’s presence, because he was totally deaf.
The guilty nerve loser was probably Will Rothery who is actually named in another very similar version of the tale. Will explained that he failed to take his easy shot at the animal because he was so surprised by its huge size and unexpected appearance. I would expect Mr Rothery’s fellow hunters might have had something to say about that. Later, Will Rothery was to testify that he thought the animal was some kind of lion.
Meanwhile, in Cumberland, the slayings continued. Sheep continued to die in large numbers:
Great was the disappointment, therefore, when, one fine morning in July, an enormous army of more than 200 armed men, with their hounds, found themselves scouring Kinniside Fell after the Beast had been seen moving away towards Hopehead. The contour lines show how steep the sides of the valley were. Look for the orange arrow:
The huge pursuit went on, along the tops of the mountains between Wasdale and Ennerdale. And then it was the wild slopes of Stockdale Moor and then, finally, a cornfield near Calder Bridge.
But the enormous, and prolonged hunt was in vain. After they had waited for hours, not a single Beast was found hiding in the corn. Somehow, it had slipped away.
And then there was another wasted, breathless chase through Drigg and out to Seascale, right on the coast of the Irish Sea itself. Overall, the Beast took its admirers on many tourist trips around the fringes of the Lake District. Kinniside. Lamplugh. Through the icy waters of the Marron. Out to Little Clifton and then to sunny Workington. Or perhaps they would have preferred Seaton or the Fitz Mill at Cockermouth. Maybe Irton or Dent Hill or Egremont or even St. Bees. Here is the wonderfully named Cockermouth. The orange arrow indicates the Fitz Mill :
And still nobody knew what the Beast was. Hundreds of people, noblemen, farmworkers and professional hunters had all seen it. And it remained an enormous puzzle. Meanwhile the death toll mounted. And still they were haunted by the worry that it might one day change from drinking sheep’s blood to killing children.
The longer it went on, the more gloom and despondency the locals felt. As autumn approached, they all made the conscious decision to accept the losses of sheep temporarily, but above all to make sure that the harvest was gathered in. All the hunts were abandoned for the moment, as gathering in the harvest continued apace:
By September, the hunters were back, combing the hillsides and fields for the Beast. Now the writing was on the wall. No animal, however secretive and cunning, could continue for ever to elude so many hundreds of pursuers:
A significant chance event occurred on September 12th, when the Beast was seen by Jonathan Patrickson to go into a cornfield. The tale is told by William Dickinson in his “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life”. It starts with some traditional Lake District Gibberish:
Jonathan quietly said, ” Aa’l let ta lig theer a bit, me lad, but aa’l want to see tha just noo.”
Away went the old man, and, without the usual noise, soon raised men enough to surround the field. As some in their haste came unprovided with guns, a halt was whispered round to wait until more guns were brought and the hounds collected. When a good muster of guns and men with dogs were got together, the wild dog was disturbed out of the corn ; and only the old man who had seen him go into the field was lucky enough to get a shot at him, and to wound him in the hind quarters:
This took a little off his speed, and enabled the hounds to keep well up to him, but none dared or did engage him. And, though partly disabled, he kept long on his legs and was often headed and turned by the numerous parties of pursuers, several of whom met him in his circuitous route from the upper side of Kinniside, by Eskat, Arlecdon, and Asby, by Rowrah and Stockhow Hall, to the river Ehen. Here is Arlecdon and Rowrah, indicated by the orange arrow:
Each of these parties he fled from, and turned in a new direction till he got wearied. He was quietly taking a cold bath in the river, with the exhausted hounds as quietly looking on, when John Steel came up with his gun laden with small bullets, but dared not shoot, lest he should injure some of the hounds. When the dog caught sight of him it made off to Eskat Woods, with the hounds and John on its track, and after a few turnings in the wood, amid the greatest excitement of dogs and men, a fair chance was offered, and the fatal discharge was made by John Steel:
The destroyer fell to rise no more, and the marksman received his well-earned reward of ten pounds, with the hearty congratulations of all assembled.
After many a kick at the dead brute, the carcase was carried in triumph to the inns at Ennerdale Bridge; and the cheering and rejoicing there were so great that it was many days before the shepherd inhabitants of the vale settled to their usual pursuits.”
What was left of the mystery animal was taken triumphantly then to the various public houses at Ennerdale Bridge. On the map, the orange arrow indicates “PH” which means public house:
The locals, thirsty from the rejoicing and the cheering, clearly made serious attempts to drink the place dry:
Not cans, though. They were not invented until 1935. Stick to bottled beer. Foreign, if they stock it:
The people who were still sober enough then weighed the animal (eight stone or 51 kilos: a big wolf is 100 kilos). They put it on a cart and paraded it around. It finished up in Hutton’s Museum, at Keswick where the resident taxidermist stuffed what remained of the animal after the Special Forces hunting dogs had all had a free bite each. It was given a collar round its neck, stating that the wearer had been the destroyer of nearly three hundred sheep and lambs in the five months of his Ennerdale campaign.
When the Museum closed in 1876, the Beast, though, was lost, and that was that. Another tale says that the curator of the Museum just decided one day that it was too tatty and too moth-eaten to be kept and the strange stripey Beast was simply thrown in the dustbin:
Whatever the truth, the Beast was still unidentified. So what was it? Just a dog?
Well…have a think, and I’ll tell you the extremely cunning theory in my next article.
Meanwhile, let’s finish with the Official Song of the Beast of Ennerdale. Unfortunately, perhaps, it has many, many verses, but this is the catchy chorus, sung to the tune of “D’Ye Ken John Peel”:
It was big,
It was strong,
It was eight feet long.
It could leap,
It could bound,
It could outrun any hound.
It had stripes and a tail, and it gave out such a wail,
And you’d find dead sheep in the morning.