Category Archives: Cryptozoology

The Flannan Isle disappearances (1)

On February 17th 2021, I published a blog post about one of my Dad’s favourite poems, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, which was written in 1912. The poem concerned the mysterious disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers in December 1900. This strange incident has never been explained once and for all, and I was asked for my own ideas by a number of different people. Unfortunately, the subject proved so complex that I was unable to do it justice in fewer than four blog posts, although, on the other hand, I would argue that all four are as interesting as any that I have ever written.

So here we go……..

At midnight on December 15th, the steamship Archtor, nearing the end of its voyage from Philadelphia to Leith, passed the Flannan Isle lighthouse which was not showing a light. Instead of two quick bursts of light every 30 seconds, there was just darkness. Captain Holman, however, was unable to report this fact to the Northern Lighthouse Board, because the Archtor continued its voyage, but ran aground in the Firth of Forth. The NLB, therefore,  were unaware of the situation until their own supply ship, the Hesperus, made its usual regular visit to the lighthouse on December 26th.  The Master of the Hesperus, Captain Harvie, at the first opportunity, sent a telegram to the NLB. The significant elements can be read below:

“The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

The “occasional” was a temporary replacement for a full time lighthouseman who was ill. His name was Donald McArthur. Donald was due to be replaced by Joseph Moore, the third Assistant Lighthouseman allocated to Flannan Isle, now recovered from his illness. Joseph was on board the Hesperus and Captain Harvie sent him ashore to search the island. Captain Harvie then reported to the NLB the two key things that Joseph found during his search of the lighthouse and the island….

“…. The clocks were all stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

Here’s Joseph Moore:

 

Joseph Moore also wrote his own letter to the NLB though, about what he had seen during his search of the island:

“On coming to the entrance gate I found it closed. I made for the entrance door leading to the kitchen and store room, found it also closed and the door inside that, but the kitchen door itself was open………..

On entering the kitchen I looked at the fireplace and saw that the fire was not lighted for some days. I then entered the rooms in succession, found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning.”

And………

“Mr McCormack and myself proceeded to the lightroom where everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc.”

The island is so small that it could be searched in a very short time…..

“We traversed the Island from end to end but still nothing to be seen to convince us how it happened. Nothing appears touched at East Landing to show that they were taken from there. Ropes are all in their respective places in the shelter, just as they were left after the relief on the 7th.”

Both sides of the island were not the same though….

“On the West side it is somewhat different. We had an old box halfway up the railway for holding West Landing mooring ropes and tackle, and it has gone. Some of the ropes, it appears, got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks near the crane. The crane itself is safe.

The iron railings along the passage connecting the railway with the footpath to the landing and started from their foundation and broken in several places (sic), also railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast for boat, is entirely carried away.”

Joseph Moore could also work out how the men were dressed…….

“Now there is nothing to give us an indication that it was there the poor men lost their lives, only that Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves. He never used any other coat on previous occasions, only the one I am referring to.”

Some of the evidence above is important. To end this blog post, I will write out some of the things discovered by the NLB and perhaps you can have a think about what they prove, or, indeed, disprove……..

The clocks were stopped

The entrance gate I found …..closed

The entrance door ….. found it closed and the door inside (as well)

The kitchen door itself was open

The fire was not lighted for some days

I found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning

In the lightroom everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc

Nothing appears touched at East Landing

Ropes are all in their places

And then there is that huge contrast:

On the West side……… old box halfway up the railway ….has gone……the ropes…… got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks.

The iron railings …….with the footpath to the landing …….started from their foundation and broken in several places…..railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast……. entirely carried away.”

Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves.

Next time, I will show you the conclusions of the NLB Superintendent who also visited the island. He, like Joseph Moore, was well aware that the box constructed to keep all the ropes and other equipment safe was 110 feet above the sea.

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (5)

When I was a little boy, my Dad, Fred, used to be a teacher at Hastings Road School in Gresley. Unfortunately excessive mining operations underneath the school led to its premature collapse.  My Dad is at the right hand end of the back row:

My Dad had to move to the Woodville Church of England Junior School, the school I attended, where, after a number of years, I finished up in his class, which was possibly Class 4. This is the school now.

One afternoon,  I can recall being one of the many children who were all so very frightened when my Dad read out to the fifty of us the narrative poem, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, written in 1912. Here’s the author:

The Flannan Isles incidentally are pretty much as remote as you can get in Britain. The orange arrow is 553 miles from London, in a straight line, slightly less than London-Berlin:

On an unknown date in December 1900, the lighthouse on Flannan Isle suddenly failed to shine. A few days later, when a group of lighthouse men came to investigate, they found that the whole island was completely deserted. The three lighthouse keepers had completely disappeared.

Fred used to recite this poem regularly to his classes, and I can still recall how intriguing many of us found this true story, and how animatedly and at what great length we discussed all the possible reasons for the disappearance of those three unfortunate lighthouse keepers only sixty years previously. We were all convinced that the men had been magically transformed into seabirds,  an absolutely horrific idea for nine year olds in that more innocent age of the early 1960s. Anyway, here’s the first section:

“THOUGH three men dwell on Flannan Isle
To keep the lamp alight,
As we steered under the lee, we caught
No glimmer through the night.” A passing ship at dawn had brought
The news; and quickly we set sail,
To find out what strange thing might ail
The keepers of the deep-sea light.
The Winter day broke blue and bright,
With glancing sun and glancing spray,
As o’er the swell our boat made way,
As gallant as a gull in flight. But, as we neared the lonely Isle;
And looked up at the naked height;
And saw the lighthouse towering white,
With blinded lantern, that all night
Had never shot a spark
Of comfort through the dark,
So ghostly in the cold sunlight
It seemed, that we were struck the while
With wonder all too dread for words.
That sets the scene, although, initially, when I came back to this poem after 60 odd years, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the poetry. Gibson seems so often to add an extra phrase or an extra couple of words, when the poem would actually read better without them.
Anyway, a possible solution is hinted at by the description below of the three strange seabirds:
And, as into the tiny creek
We stole beneath the hanging crag,
We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—
Too big, by far, in my belief,
For guillemot or shag—
Like seamen sitting bolt-upright
Upon a half-tide reef:
But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,
Without a sound, or spurt of white.

Those three birds, guillemots or shags, were the very things that would go on to terrify a bunch of 9-year olds.

And still to ‘mazed to speak,
We landed; and made fast the boat;
And climbed the track in single file,
Each wishing he was safe afloat,
On any sea, however far,
So it be far from Flannan Isle:
And still we seemed to climb, and climb,
As though we’d lost all count of time,
And so must climb for evermore.
Yet, all too soon, we reached the door—
The black, sun-blistered lighthouse-door,
That gaped for us ajar.

 

As, on the threshold, for a spell,
We paused, we seemed to breathe the smell
Of limewash and of tar,
Familiar as our daily breath,
As though ‘t were some strange scent of death:
And so, yet wondering, side by side,
We stood a moment, still tongue-tied:
And each with black foreboding eyed
The door, ere we should fling it wide,
To leave the sunlight for the gloom:
Till, plucking courage up, at last,
Hard on each other’s heels we passed,
Into the living-room.
Actually, at this point, I might well retract what I said before. The further I went into the poem, the more I realised, that it is clearly meant to be slowly and deliberately declaimed out loud. Have a go. You’ll see what I mean. And sincere apologies, Wilf !
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table, spread
For dinner, meat and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no one there:
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come; and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat:
For at the table-head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor. We listened; but we only heard
The feeble cheeping of a bird
That starved upon its perch:
And, listening still, without a word,
We set about our hopeless search.
We hunted high, we hunted low;
And soon ransacked the empty house;
Then o’er the Island, to and fro,
We ranged, to listen and to look
In every cranny, cleft or nook
That might have hid a bird or mouse:
But, though we searched from shore to shore,
We found no sign in any place:
And soon again stood face to face
Before the gaping door:
And stole into the room once more
As frightened children steal.
Aye: though we hunted high and low,
And hunted everywhere,
Of the three men’s fate we found no trace
Of any kind in any place,
But a door ajar, and an untouched meal,
And an overtoppled chair.
And, as we listened in the gloom
Of that forsaken living-room—
A chill clutch on our breath—
We thought how ill-chance came to all
Who kept the Flannan Light:
And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we’d all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
And long we thought
On the three we sought,
And of what might yet befall.
Like curs, a glance has brought to heel,
We listened, flinching there:
And looked, and looked, on the untouched meal,
And the overtoppled chair.
We seemed to stand for an endless while,
Though still no word was said,
Three men alive on Flannan Isle,
Who thought, on three men dead.
Hopefully, you made it this far. It is definitely a great poem to be declaimed out loud. But you’ve got to take it slowly and deliberately. If you stumble at the words, go back and give it another go.
And here’s the three birds that we children all thought the lighthouse keepers had been transformed into:

In the future, I hope to produce some blog posts looking at the possible reasons that the three men disappeared.

Portrait of Gibson borrowed from poeticous

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The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (10)

Jenny has given birth to a beautiful baby. She decides to leave her baby at home and to go to the village Harvest Festival. When she returns, the baby is missing. Eventually she finds the infant, and takes it to bed with her. In the months which follow, the baby becomes increasingly strange. Many of the neighbours say that they fear that the fairies have played a trick on her and have replaced her baby by a changeling.

They told her:

“You can do nothing better than to bathe your child in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of the whole series visible on hill tops across the whole of England.

The story continues:

“Jenny dutifully bathed her baby in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea. She had nearly passed around the top of the huge hill and was coming to some large rocks near the open moor when she heard a shrill voice, seemingly from above her head, call out “Thy wife and children greet you well”. Jenny was surprised to hear the shrill voice with nobody in sight.”

“Jenny returned to her home and stayed there until morning. Being fatigued and worried she overslept, for it was nearly daybreak when she awoke and hurried away, full of both hope and fear, to the fence around the field. And there, sure enough, she found her own dear child sleeping on some dry straw. The infant was as clean from head to foot as soap and water could make it, and wrapped up in a piece of old bright flowery chintz, which Fairies often covet and steal from washing lines when it is placed there in the sun to dry.”

“Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care but there was always something strange about him as there always is with one who has been in the fairies’ power, if only for a few days. He was constantly complaining, and as soon as he was able to toddle, he would wander far away to all sorts of out of the way places. The rich lady of Brea came to see him and brought him many nice things that his mother couldn’t afford to buy. When he was about nine years of age Squire Ellis took the changeling (as he was always called) into his service, but he was found to be such a poor simple innocent that he could never be trusted to work in the fields alone, much less with cattle. As the fancy would take him, every now and then, he would leave his work and wander away over hills and moors for days at a time.

Yet he was found useful for attending to rearing cattle and sheep. He was so careful of his master’s flock at lambing time that there was seldom any lost. He often talked to himself and many believed that he was then holding a conversation with some of the fairy tribe visible only to him . They were trying to entice him to ramble among the rocky outcrops, hills and moors, their usual haunts.

When he was about thirty years of age he was missing for several days. His flock had been noticed staying longer than usual in the same place, on a moor between the Chapel Hill and Bartinney. He was found, surrounded by his sheep, lying on a quantity of rushes which he had pulled up and collected for making sheep pens. He lay with his arm under his head, apparently in sweet sleep, but the poor changeling of Chapel Carn Brea was dead.”

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The Fairies of Cornwall (9)

This is a old Cornish story about a pretty young girl called Jenny who has given birth to a beautiful baby son three or four days previously. She decides to leave her baby for a few hours to go to the Harvest Festival in the village. In the world of Cornish fairies, this is a NO-NO in capital letters a thousand feet tall. It can only end in total catastrophe.

“Jenny, thinking about her baby left all alone at home, didn’t stop for the drinking after the harvest festival, but had one good drink of beer, got some cakes to take home and then she hurried away. When she opened her door, she saw, by the moonlight, that the cradle was overturned. Straw and rags were on the floor, but no child was in sight”:

“In searching all the holes and corners, she came to the corner where the wood was kept and there, among the heaps of dried grasses, ferns, and gorse, she found the child fast asleep. Being very tired, she took up the child and went to bed”.

“The next morning, when she looked at the baby by daylight, it seemed to her that there was somehow something strange about him. She didn’t know what, but he seemed to be different somehow from when she went off to the Harvest Festival. The baby was healthy enough but he seemed never satisfied unless he was all the time breastfeeding or eating. He would roar like a bull if he didn’t get his own way. He always wanted to be in her arms or eating. She began to wonder what on earth was going on”.

 

“Poor Jenny couldn’t do her household chores and had no rest at all in her life with the squalling hungry brat. Yet despite all his breastfeeding and eating, the baby always seemed to be wasting away to skin and bone. And so it continued through the entire winter. The more he ate the thinner he became. Many of the neighbours shook their heads when they saw the child and said that they feared the fairies had played a trick on her that afternoon when she went to the harvest festival.”

“They believed that the fairies had left a changeling which, according to local belief:

“….was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.”

Nobody knew why the fairies did this. Every culture across Western Europe seems to have had its own ideas. On that basis, there is no reason to exclude immediately that this was not an attempt by superior beings to harvest human DNA, and then to manipulate it, although the ease with which a changeling was identified hints at the many problems they were having with this.

Jenny’s neighbours told her:

“You can do nothing better with the child than to bathe him in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the civil parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of an entire network on the hill tops of England. In this way important messages can be passed such as “Spanish Armada in sight” (1588) or “Battle of Trafalgar won” (1805):

As far as I know, the last time the beacons were used was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The next episode in this cute little fairy story will appear soon.

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (8)

This post is a continuation  from Episode No 7…..

Mr Noy has wandered into the Land of the Fairies, where he meets Grace Hutchens who was his fiancée for several years. One day she was found dead on the moor. She thinks that she had a fit, and that when she was buried, her coffin contained merely a changeling, sent by the fairies.

A changeling, incidentally, is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy.

While this was going on, the real Grace Hutchens had inadvertently wandered into the Land of the Fairies on the moor. While she was there, she bit into a plum and was therefore forced to remain with the Fairies as a  servant girl to tidy up, bake cakes and brew beer, clean their houses and nurse the changeling children. Grace says to her erstwhile fiancé….

“People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had a fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body.”

Mr Noy wanted to know much more about these strange beings, and was about to inquire, when the fairies again called “Grace, Grace, why are you so long. Bring some drink quickly.” She hastily entered the house and at that moment it came into his head that he too would have some drink, disperse the small tribe of fairies and save Grace.

Knowing that any garment turned inside out and cast among the fairies would make them flee, and happening to put his hand into his coat pocket, he felt for the gloves that he had worn in the afternoon.

As quickly as he could, he turned one inside-out, put into it a small stone and threw it among them.

In an instant they all vanished with the house, Grace, and all the furniture. He just had time to glance around and saw nothing but bushes and the roofless walls of an old cottage:

Suddenly, Mr Noy received a blow on his forehead that knocked him down. He soon fell asleep and dozed away an hour or two…… or so he thought.

Those to whom Mr Noy related his story, said that he had learnt nothing new from Grace, for local people had always believed of the fairies such things as she had told him, and that none of the fairies liked to be seen by daylight because they then looked aged and grim. It was said too, that the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants.

Mr Noy, now fully recovered from his adventure, further informed his neighbours that he had noticed, among the fairies, many who bore a sort of family likeness to people he knew, and he had no doubt that some of them were changelings of recent date. Other familiar faces were their forefathers who died in days of yore, when they were not good enough to be admitted into heaven, nor yet so wicked as to be doomed to the “worst of all places”.

The worst of all places was not, in fact, a football stadium, but Hell:

According to Mr Noy, the fairies pass the winter, for the most part, in underground habitations, entered from the huge granite outcrops on the moors. And it is held that many persons who appear to have died entranced are not really dead, but have been changed into fairies.

This is Carn Kenidjack near St Just. It is a completely natural rock formation, but the connection between granite outcrops and fairies is extended by many people, even nowadays, to include the numerous megalithic sites of western Cornwall. I have certainly met one farmer at a little village near Constantine who believed that if you went at dawn’s early light down from the farmhouse to the megalithic tomb, you would see the fairies dancing in the form of little tiny lights:

This is Pixie’s Hall Fogou near Bosahan Farm. A fogou is a kind of underground chamber whose purpose, after around four thousand years of thinking about it, we have not yet ascertained.

In similar fashion, the capstone of Chûn Quoit frequently plays host to the same kind of lights:

One footnote, incidentally, is that “the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants”. The Cornish people have their own special name for ants which is “Muryans”. It comes from the Breton “merien” and Welsh “myrion”.

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (7)

Last time, in Part 6, we were discussing the apparent abduction of Mr Noy, and his being found five or six days later, very close to his own farm, although he did not recognise where he was. There is an alternative version of the story which tells the abduction story from Mr Noy’s point of view:

“Mr Noy told his neighbours that when he had reached the village of Ludgvan, the night being clear, he thought he would take a shortcut across the moor and save nearly a mile, instead of going all the way round by the stony path.”

Here’s a map where the orange arrow indicates “Ludgvan” and down in the south west is St. Buryan, generally recognised nowadays as Cornwall’s capital of witchcraft:

Mr Noyes’ horse, however, which was used to finding his own way when his rider was drunk, preferred the usual route by the stony path, and Mr Noy was forced to pull him towards the opposite side of the common.

He then found himself in an area that was unknown to him, although he had been, or so he thought, over every single inch of the common both in winter and summer. Alarmed at the strange appearance of everything around him, he tried in vain to retrace his steps. Not knowing what to do, he let the horse take its own course. Yet instead of proceeding homeward, the horse took Mr Noy to a strange land so crowded with trees that he had to dismount and lead his horse. He wandered  for miles and miles, sometimes riding but more often on foot, never seeing any habitation at all.  It was a strange, unknown place, which he believed must be outside his own parish, but in which other parish he couldn’t tell. At last he heard lively music and saw lights glimmering through the trees.

People were moving about, which made him hope that he had arrived at some farm where they were having a harvest festival and the farm labourers, after supper, were dancing in the town square.

The dogs hung back, and the horse didn’t want to go on, so he tied it to a tree, and walked through an orchard towards the lights. He came to a meadow where he saw hundreds of people.

Some were seated at table, eating and drinking. Others were dancing to the music of a tambourine. This was played by a young lady dressed all in white who was standing only a few feet from him.

He looked at her closely and was surprised to see that the young lady was none other than Grace Hutchens, a farmer’s daughter. She had been his sweetheart for a long time, but she had died four years ago. At least he had mourned her as dead and she had been buried in the local churchyard.

She turned closely towards him and said, “Thank the stars, dear William! I have come to stop you being changed into the fairy state that I am in. Woe is me!”

He tried to kiss her. “Beware”, she exclaimed, “Embrace me not. Touch not the flowers nor the fruit. Eating a plum from this enchanted orchard was my undoing.

You may think it’s strange, but it was because of my love for you that I came to this.

People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had an epileptic  fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body. It was not me for I feel much the same now as when I was alive.”

Grace then told the story of how she herself had been ensnared.

“One evening, I was out on the moor looking for stray sheep, when I heard what I thought was you whistling to your dogs, so I went towards the sound to try to meet you. I got lost, though, under ferns higher than my head. I wandered on for hours among pools and bogs without knowing where I was going.”

After rambling many miles, as it seemed to her, Grace waded a stream and entered an orchard. Then she heard music and walked towards it. She passed into a beautiful garden with roses and beautiful flowers that she had never seen before. Apples and other tempting fruits dropped onto the paths or hung overhead.

This garden was so surrounded with trees and water that, like one led by the fairies, all her efforts to find a way out were in vain. The music too seemed very close at times but she could see nobody.

Weary and thirsty, she picked a plum, that looked golden in the starlight. Her lips no sooner closed on the fruit than it dissolved to bitter water which made her faint. Then she fell to the ground in a fit and became unconscious. She didn’t how long it was before she woke up to find herself surrounded by hundreds of fairies who made great efforts to get her to remain among them. They had very much wanted a servant girl to tidy up, someone who could bake and brew, one would clean their houses and nurse the changeling children who were never as strong as they used to be, for want of beef and good malt liquor, so they said.

Grace told Mr Noy how at first she was sickened by the fairies’ bland food of honey and berries. Her stomach had felt so watery and she often longed for some salt fish.

The only good thing was goats’ milk,

“For you know,” she said, “that goats are often seen on moors among the rock outcrops and in other wild places miles from houses. They are lured away by the fairies to feed the babies and changelings. There are sometimes twenty goats here. A cunning billy goat often comes among the farm goats but then disappears with the best milkers. He is a decoy, just a fairy in goat form.”

A “changeling” is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy. Bottrell does not offer any explanation of why they do this. I suspect he had none.

I do suspect, though, that, if tales were told of changelings nowadays, we would soon begin to suggest that they were cases of alien abduction, carried out to extract sufficient genetic material to create perfect doubles, whose purpose is, at the moment, completely unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (6)

The story of Mr Noy which you read in Part 5 of “The Fairies of Cornwall”, has a good many parallels with quite a number of various themes. Those of you who have ever read the books of David Paulides about the huge numbers of people who have disappeared in the National Parks of the USA will feel almost uncanny connections with the prolonged search for Mr Noy. There is a further connection with those strange cases narrated by Paulides when:

“in the grey of the morning, a horse was heard to neigh and dogs were heard barking among a dense group of trees and bushes”

almost as if they were making a noise in a different dimension. This strange phenomenon occurs in one of Paulides’ books, when a lost woman’s voice is heard by several witnesses apparently inside the rock of a cliff in the desert. She was never found.

This incident with poor Mr Noy could well be an alien abduction of medieval times expressed in terms that an agricultural worker in, say, 1400 or 1500, could understand. Mr Noy is taken away into that thicket and kept separate from the world for several days. Anything could be happening to him, and, as in all the best sci-fi films, his memory has been wiped clean at the very end.

A further parallel with alien abduction comes with the idea of Mr Noy’s sleep and of his waking up days later although he thinks it is just the next morning. This is another very strong reminder of Rip van Winkle, a fictional story by Washington Irving but one which is closely connected to two folk tales, set nearly four thousand miles apart.

Washington Irving’s father lived in the Orkneys, islands to the north east of Scotland. He could not have avoided knowing the story of the drunken fiddler who hears music coming from the burial mound of Salt Knowe near to the Ring of Brodgar. He goes inside and finds a group of trolls having a party. He stays there for two hours but then discovers that fifty years have passed outside the mound. Here’s the Ring of Brodgar:

And here’s the nearby burial mound of Salt Knowe:

We have already seen how the plot of Rip van Winkle is very like the story of the Iroquois hunter in the twelfth century.  It is very similar also to an upstate New York legend told by the Seneca tribe. A young squirrel hunter encounters “The Little People”, and spends the night with them. When he goes back to his village, it is completely overgrown and his entire tribe has moved on. For them, a year has passed.

Most of the world’s religions have a very similar tale which usually takes place in a cave, or at least somewhere reminiscent of a cave. There is the story of the legendary sage Epimenides of Knossos who spent fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave. Here he is:

“The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” spent three hundred years inside a cave near Ephesus and in Judaism, there is the story of Honi ha-M’agel. Here’s his tomb:

All of these widely scattered stories could conceivably be explained by superior beings who have mastered the manipulation of time.

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What’s the School Play this year? (5)

The last year before the war, 1938, saw a marvellous School Play in “Knock ou la Triomphe de la Médecine”. The following year, though, saw, arguably, the greatest play ever in the long and distinguished history of the School Play. It should have been called “Androclès ou la Triomphe de la Zoologie”. Instead, George Bernard Shaw stuck with the tried and trusted “Androcles and the Lion”. Here’s the Great Man in his bathing suit, standing next to one of the great female impersonators of the era, Hermann Goering:

In 1938, the star of the show had been:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates, which very nearly stole the performance.” Not to mention those high heels:

That car had been constructed by Mr James Harold Norris, a builder, of 6 Hillside, Derby Road, TN 75331. Hillside is off Derby Road just before the junction with the Ring Road, and roughly opposite the end of Wollaton Hall Drive. The star of our show, of course, as always, is that debonair man about town, the Orange Arrow:

James Harold Norris was perhaps the third generation of this building and contracting firm. Before James, it was presumably his father or perhaps uncle, Mr William Thomas Norris, who was operating at either 3 or 333 Lenton Boulevard, TN 75423, as early as 1904. Before that, there was a William Norris at 60 Willoughby Street, New Lenton in 1891-1899 at least.

This year, then, 1938, the School Play was by George Bernard Shaw. It was called “Androcles and the Lion” and had first been performed in 1912. One peculiarity is that when it was published, Shaw’s preface was longer than his play.

“Knock” had given Mr Norris the Builder the opportunity to build “The car that nearly stole the show”, but “Androcles and the Lion” was way beyond the wildest dreams of the wildest optimist in the Dramatic Society. It was just wonderful. A creation, a creature, years ahead of its time.

Interestingly, the lion was played, or perhaps “operated” would be a better word, by Mr Norris’ fourteen year old son, James Harold Norris. I wonder if a deal was cut. Did Mr Norris and James come in one day and demonstrate what they had made:

“Yes, it is marvellous, isn’t it? Would you like to borrow our lion for your play? You would? Who did you have in mind to play the part of the lion? Billy Smith? Oh, dear.”

Well, that’s a pity because the lion is already booked for three birthday parties on those three evenings. How unfortunate.”

“What? Billy Smith is going to be ill on all of those three days? My son is his replacement? Why, that’s excellent news! For James, certainly, but most of all for the play. Now you won’t have to use that old army blanket and the papier-mâché head of a donkey from that other play years back.”

At this point, I cannot resist quoting one of the reviews in the School Magazine:

“What acting talents were shown by James Harold Norris, the fourteen year old son of a builder from 6 Hillside, off Derby Road. James made a remarkable lion, a lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. What mattered a tail whose length varied from one night to another in a lion whose eyes could wink either separately or together at will? A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.”

And here he is. The only thing we have left of “The Lion”. A Photoshopped photograph. Unless, of course, he still roams the grassy savannahs of Ebay, waiting for somebody to recognise him and scoop him up for £15.13.

Here is that photograph in its entirety. Lots of Roman soldiers and, on the extreme right, the boy who had already played Madame Knock in the play about her husband, seventeen year old Eric Richard Gale:

In “Androcles and the Lion”, as Lavinia, though, Eric now had the biggest female part in the play. He was generally judged as “excellent” throughout, even though now, he did not have the benefit of those extremely elegant high heels of yesteryear. The Nottinghamian said:

“ER Gale was an extremely convincing lady in voice, manner and appearance; one of the best “ladies” the school has ever produced.”

Here is my best effort at a picture:

The programme for this production is still in the School Archives and, a very nice gesture, it actually lists the eleven members of the School’s Hobbies Club who made all of the: “armour, helmets, swords and other stage properties”. That doesn’t happen for every School Play. Indeed, I would take a wild bet that it doesn’t happen for any of them.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (5)

After a short respite (or perhaps, time off for good behaviour), this is another story about the man-sized evil fairies of Cornwall. We met them for the first time quite a while ago.

This is another typical Droll Teller’s tale . It concerns the behaviour of the fairies towards a Mr Noy,  a farmer who is travelling from his distant home to a particular village, on the night before the village’s Harvest Festival. There’s an especially fine crop of biscuits this year:

Mr Noy goes down to the pub, sinks a few pints, and then, cue Droll Teller….

“……. eventually, Mr Noy, with his dogs, left the public house to go home, but he didn’t arrive there that night or the next. It was thought at first that he must have enjoyed himself at the inn until late, and only then have gone home. Mr Noy had no wife or anybody else to be much alarmed about him, as he was an elderly bachelor.

The next day people from the village of Pendrea along with scores of neighbours from other farms came to attend the feast at the Harvest Festival, but none of them had heard or seen Mr Noy from the time he left the inn. They became somewhat uneasy. Yet they still supposed that Mr Noy might have gone to some merry-making down near the village of St Buryan. (about eight-ten miles away, look for the orange arrow)…

In the meantime, a local woman, Dame Pendar, sent messengers to all the places where she thought Mr Noy might have gone, but they returned, just as the Harvest Festival feast was coming to an end, without any news of him. At this everyone became anxious, and they all volunteered to search everywhere they could think of, before going to bed. So away they went, some on horseback and some on foot, to examine pools, streams, cliffs and other dangerous places, both near and far away. They returned at night, but nobody had seen or heard of the missing gentleman.

The next day, horsemen were despatched to other districts, and, as Mr Noy was well known and well liked, there was a good general turn out to hunt for him. But this day too was passed in a fruitless search.

On the third day, in the grey of the morning and very close to Mr Noy’s own farm, a horse was heard neighing and dogs were heard barking, among a dense group of trees and bushes on a dry piece of ground almost surrounded with bogs and pools on the side of Selena Moor (which is between Penzance and St Buryan):

Nobody had even considered looking for Mr Noy so close to his own home, but when a score or so of men discovered a path onto this island in the bogs, they saw Mr Noy’s horse and hounds. The horse had found plenty of grass, but the dogs were half starved. Both the horse and the dogs were excited and they led the men through thorns and brambles that might have been growing there for hundreds of years. Eventually they came to some large trees and the ruins of an old sheep fold that nobody knew was there. In winter, hunters never attempted to cross the boggy ground that almost surrounded this island of dry land, and in summer nobody was curious enough to penetrate this wilderness of bushes which was swarming with poisonous snakes:

The horse stopped at an old doorway and whinnied. The dogs, with several people, pushed through the brambles that choked the entrance, and inside they found Mr Noy lying on the ground fast asleep. It was a difficult matter to wake him up. At last he awoke, stretched himself, rubbed his eyes and said, “Why, you are all from the village of Pendea! Why have you all come here? Today is the Harvest Festival and I am miles and miles away from home. What district is this? How could you have found me? Have my dogs been home and brought you here? Mr Noy seemed like one dazed and numb, so without staying to answer his questions, they gave him some brandy, lifted him onto the back of his horse, and then left the animal to pick its way out, which it did without hesitation and even discovered a shorter way out than Mr Noy’s rescuers had.

Though he was on his own land and less than half a mile from his farm, Mr Noy was unable to recognise the countryside, until he crossed the running water that divides the farms. “I am glad,” said Mr Noy, “however it came about, to have got back in time for the Harvest Festival”. When they told him how the Festival had taken place three days previously, he said they were joking, and wouldn’t believe it until he had seen all the mown hay in the barn, and all the harvest tools put away until next year.”

Another fairy abduction, then. For what reason we do not know, but Mr Noy had been absent for several days. He was then found right next to his own home, although he didn’t recognise any of the landmarks he could see. Only crossing running water restores normality. Vampires then, are not the only supernatural beings who can be thwarted by water.

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