Archive – October 1989: Cumbrian Customs – and Hawkshead Hauntings!

Cumbrian Customs – and Hawkshead Hauntings!

The old Westmorland dalesmen were considered less gullible than most. However, they do not appear to have been less superstitious, judging by this selection of tales from one area in Cumbria

The exterior of The Thornhill Arms, located in Yorkshire's Calverley

IN 1896, miscellaneous papers were unearthed in a farmhouse at Skelwith Fold by a greatly respected local historian. They appeared to be of the period between 1736 and 1750. Translated into modern English they read as follows:

To stop bleeding in man or beast, at any distance.
First, you must have some drops of the blood on a linen rag. Wrap a little Roman vitriol (sulphuric acid) on this rag. Put it under your armpit and say these words to yourself.

“There was a man born in Bethlem of Judea whose name was called Christ. Baptised in the river Jordan in the water of the Flood , this child was meek and good as the water stood.

“So I ask thee that this blood of ….. . to stay in (his/her/their) body in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” The blue powder on the rag will turn to blood as the bleeding stops.

ANOTHER recipe from the same source was a cure for burns or scalds. Briefly the instructions run:- Blow the inflamation three times and repeat each time:- “Coutha clay under the clay trembling Is there any here that would learn of the dead to cure the sores of burning. In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.” ~

His appetite whetted, the owner of the house who had found these papers decided to question his neighbours on the subject of local superstitions. He harvested a goodly store of information and anecdotage.

His own farmhouse stood on the road from Skelwith Bridge to Hawkshead via the Drunken Duck Inn.

He was told that nearer Hawkshead at the head of Esthwaite Lake a gibbet once stood where, I quote, “the road crosses the beck between Hawkshead and Colthouse.”

The gentleman went to investigate and found there the rotting stump still in evidence. Pieces of this stump applied to the affected part, he was told, was an efficacious cure for toothache.

The lady owner of Fieldhead House was encouraged to confess with a certain & mount of embarrassment that she had used the “Bible and Key” charm to discover the identity of a neighbour who was perpetrating various acts of vandalism on her property.

The method, the good lady explained, was to open the Bible at the book of Ruth and find the words:- “Wither thou goest I will go.”

The key was then placed on these words aml the Bible tied up with string. The book was then suspended by the handle of the key which was held by the balls of the little finger pressed tightly against each other. While the Bible was gently swung the names of various suspects were recited. Not until the book fell was the guilty person proved.

In extenuation the lady explained that a servant at the neighbouring house, Hollow Oak, had practised it successfully some eighty years earlier.

Fire was considered to be a sacred life giver symbolising fertility. I well remember my father remarking to me that his mother in Ambleside never allowed the kitchen fire to go out. The dowsing of it with damp turves was performed each evening with great care. At the time I assumed it was to save labour and matches, my grandmother being notoriously parsimonious.

The hamlet of Outgate seemed to have more than its quota of supernatural happenings, as well as superstitions. Outgate had a notorious witch whose “goings on”, particularly in the realm of shape changing, were still vividly remembered at the turn of the century.

Perhaps she was a relative of the witch who lived on the shores of Esthwaite Lake in the sixteenth century. This daughter of Beelzebub grew uneasy as old age came upon her. She did not wish to be left in the clutches of her fiendish master.

Very conveniently for her, a monk of Furness Abbey was enjoying solitary retreat in a hermitage on the opposite shore at Bank Ground. She visited him and was absolved of her sins on condition she performed a lengthy penance.

She went away but after a short time she returned to him. “My penance is so 472 long and arduous, death may come upon me before it is completed,” she cried.

“In that case,” the monk replied, “when a devil appears to carry you away, take to the fells via Y ewdale Beck, and call out loudly for St. Herbert’s aid.”

Sooner than she anticipated, the Devil arrived for her. Following the monk’s instructions, she rushed from the house screaming on St. Herbert. At Bannockstone Bridge she turned to see the pursuing demon’s cloven hoof had sunk into the stone of the bridge. The story goes that the imprint of the hoof remained for centuries for anyone to see until the stone bridge was replaced by a wooden one, according to our 1896 investigator.

For some obscure reason, flayans and and lobbies abound around Esthwaite, a particular instance being the “beckside boggle” at Esthwaite Lodge. This goggleeyed lady appears on the road gleaming like glass, though rather prosaically she can on occasions appear as a white calf and disappear with a great rattle and splash.

Near Esthwaite Lodge a young man was murdered by his rival as he stepped from his boat, and his assailant’s body was found, not at the scene of the crime, but several hundred yards away on the road.

The parish registers tell of more than one suicide and, traditionally, cattle and horses were said to shy at Waterside Cottage which was a notorious suicide spot.

On the opposite side of the lake at Howe Farm it is said that a female miser called Nellie, who was murdered for her guineas, accosts the timid night traveller.

If a tall woman in white is your choice of spectre, your best opportunity to catch a glimpse is at Bellmount, a residence between Hawkshead and Ambleside, built by the parish priest of Hawkshead in the eighteenth century. She can be seen in a variety of guises, in the house, on the drive, or on the roadway. She also has an accompaniment of fearful noises of doors opening and closing, and psychedelic flashing lights from unoccupied rooms.

So, happy boggle hunting!



Back to all features