The ancient stories about the fairies were collected together in Cornwall by William Bottrell (1816–1881) when he realised that the county was changing so rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, that the old tales would all soon be lost if he didn’t record them during his lifetime. Fairy tales had never previously been written down, but were declaimed to an audience by “droll tellers”, men who would spend one night here, two nights there, as they wandered from farm to farm, being fed and making money as the hat was passed around. This was all in exchange for entertaining the people with their traditional accounts of what mischief the fairies had got up to. They still exist nowadays to some extent:
In those days, the agricultural population would often live in groups either in, or around, a large farm, providing the farmer with his workforce and the droll teller with his audience. Presumably, the droll teller might well change the details of his tale slightly to fit the lives of the people in the particular farm where he was telling his tale. Many tales mention specific people and specific places, and the tale might be changed to take account of this. Even today, a droll teller can attract a large crowd:
The three books by William Bottrell which I have are : “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-First Series (1870)”
“Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-Second Series (1873)”
“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall-Third Series (1880)”
And here’s the cover:
Personally, I would say that the “droll tales” were already centuries old when Bottrell collected them. Some of them apparently include particular individuals from the 1600s and I would not be surprised if the tales had their origins as far back as the years before William the Conqueror. A few certainly mention the red hair of the vikings:
Fairies back then were beings who would interfere frequently in the lives of ordinary people. They had such powers that they could do whatever they wished. Physically, they were the size of humans and people were frequently deceived by strangers that they did not realise were fairies. More about such evil-doing next time…….