You can pre-order a copy of The Liminal Shore here (books will be available by the end of the month).
Tuesday, 4 January 2022
Saturday, 20 November 2021
Folk Custom and Culture in Creed Parish
 Cornish Place-Names and Language by Craig Weatherhill, p 114
 Grampound and Creed: A Guide to the Churches by Mary Oliver (privately published church guide).
 Pagan Origins of Fairs by T. F. G. Dexter. New Knowledge Press, Perranporth, 1930
 Grampound and Creed: A Guide to the Churches by Mary Oliver (privately published church guide).
Monday, 15 November 2021
Thursday, 4 November 2021
My latest book, The Liminal Shore: Witchcraft, Mystery and Folklore of the Essex Coast is now available for pre order on the publishers website: www.troybooks.co.uk/the-liminal-shore
The Liminal Shore is a brand-new work, seeking the spookiness of the isolated salt marsh and the hidden lore of the urban shore. Detailing and cataloguing some of the captivating cultural legends, myths, and folklore from the fascinating coastline of Essex and its eerie and brooding borderland. The author explores many remarkable old folk-narratives and traditional tales of marsh-wizardry, cunning magic, and sea-witchery, alongside some of the region’s most enigmatic spine-chilling ghost-lore. The peculiar calendar-customs and eccentric festivals are also investigated, bringing to life many of the old and often forgotten rituals of this interesting and enchanted coast. Discover such characters as Hoppin’ Tom, Mother Redcap, Cunning Murrell, Rollicking Bill and Jop Summers, who among many others form part of a rich and diverse folkloric history of this deliciously atmospheric, strange, and often unexpected coastline.
The three hardback editions (two of which are very limited print runs) are shown below, and are available to pre order on Troy Books website now. The paperback edition (above) will be to follow.
The book features illustrations by Paul Atlas-Saunders, and a foreword by David Southwell.
Sunday, 19 September 2021
Lying on the dramatic north coast, midway between St Ives and Newquay, the coastal village of Porthtowan nestles amongst one of Cornwall’s most iconic and historic mining landscapes, now part of the UNESCO world heritage site. Perhaps less well known is the hidden history and folklore of the area, where ghosts, legends and dark mysteries abound. Robert Hunt, the eminent collector of Cornish folktales and narrative had this to say about Porthtowan Beach:
The Voice from the Sea
A fisherman or a pilot was walking one night on the sands at Porth-Towan, when all was still save the monotonous fall of the light waves upon the sand. He distinctly heard a voice from the sea exclaiming,— “The hour is come, but not the man.” This was repeated three times when a black figure, like that of a man, appeared on the top of the hill. It paused for a moment, then rushed impetuously down the steep incline, over the sands, and was lost in the sea. (1)
This paragraph is fascinating, and from the description it is easy to stand on the beach today and visualise the order of ghostly events. Having lived in Porthtowan and stood by the tide line after dark many times, it is clear that the fisherman or pilot was walking along the beach heading towards the east cliff. For this dramatic cliff rises steeply from the cove and has a distinct and steep pathway which adjoins the sand at its base. It is amazingly easy to imagine this dark figure standing on the clifftop, briefly silhouetted against the night sky, then heading down the precarious path and onto the sandy beach, before running into the pounding waves.
At some point in time, an extra piece of the tale has been added, possibly through a village droll teller, where the dark figure heads into the waves towards a ghost-ship, which mysteriously appears from a sea-mist on the ocean’s horizon. Many ships have been wrecked nearby and again, Robert Hunt recorded that where a ship was wrecked the souls of the drowned sailors will haunt the shore and call out to the dead. (2)
As the tide recedes, other adjacent coves become accessible, and Lushington is a rocky cove immediately to the west of the main beach, guarded by the famous Tobban Horse rock. This beach always seems to have a cold feel about it, even on warm sunny days, and many folk wont hang around here for too long.
It was on the clifftop above, at RAF Portreath where some of the deadliest chemical weaponry was developed during the 1950s in a secret government installation known as Nancekuke Base. The facility closed in 1980, and many of the buildings and some equipment were buried on the site.(3) However, rumours quickly spread that the remaining chemicals were disposed of by pumping them into the sea through the vast network of old mine shafts on Nancekuke common. Today it is a military radar station, and during the mid-1980s many of the radar technicians witnessed a man dressed in a pilot’s uniform walk through a closed hangar door. It is believed that he is the restless spirit of a 2nd world war pilot who crashed nearby. (4)
|Wheal Coates, on the coast between Porthtowan and St Agnes. |
Ghost lights have been reported here. Watercolour by Paul Atlas-Saunders
 https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/2000/jan/18/nancekuke-base Haunted Places of Cornwall by Sheila Bird, p 59
 Myths and Legends of Cornwall by Craig Weatherhill and Paul Devereux, p 61 Ghosts of Cornwall by Peter Underwood, pp 68, 69
Thursday, 2 September 2021
|Last sheaf is cut, Rillaton|
Cornish Harvest Traditions
The old Cornish harvest festival of Guldize was, and still is celebrated across Cornwall with “Crying the Neck” ceremonies and communal feasts, music and dance. Most are held by the many local branches of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, and were revived in 1928, though evidence shows that this tradition is far older, dating back to the eighteenth century and maybe to the distant past. Each year a different farm would be chosen and after the grain harvest was complete, the ceremony would be held in the last field that was harvested, where a small amount of corn would be left standing, as it was believed that the spirit of the crop would reside in these last stalks. The last standing grain would then be cut with a scythe, tied together and was held aloft to the east, south and west with the cry “I have’n! I have’n! I have’n!”, to which the assembly responds “What ‘ave ee? What ‘ave ee? What ‘ave ee?” and the cutter replies “A Neck! A Neck! A Neck!” and then everybody shouts “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!”
The ceremony is concluded by prayers from the local clergy. The neck was then paraded to the local church or chapel, often accompanied by the local silver band, where a harvest service was taken. Then all would attend a harvest supper, where food was shared and stories told, harvest songs were sung and much dancing took place.
|Rillaton harvest roundel, dated to 1599. Illustration: Paul Atlas-Saunders|
Around the edge of Bodmin Moor, this tradition appears to have a much older pedigree. On the ceiling of an old 16th century cottage at Rillaton is a plaster roundel depicting a sheaf of wheat all garlanded ready for the ceremony, along with farm tools and surrounded by a circle made from wheat ears. The motif was carved in situ in 1599, when the house was built and the building was originally the Dower House for the Manor of Rillaton, which was one of the original seventeen manors belonging to the Earldom of Cornwall. This unique piece of craftsmanship has been authenticated by English Heritage and is a real testament to the history and folklore of Crying the Neck in this area of Cornwall. The annual Rillaton ‘Cry’ is still held each year in the traditional manner, pretty much unchanged for centuries, as the old plaster roundel will attest.
|The Rillaton Neck|
The ‘Neck’ ceremony at nearby St Cleer once included placing a witch’s hat and broom on the fire as a charm to keep evil at bay. The Neck was often called The Craw or The Crow in some parts of mid and east Cornwall and the following ‘Craw sheaf ceremony’ was recorded at St Wenn in the 1930s by Stanley Opie –
The following ceremony is remembered at the putting in of the craw or crow sheaf, in the building of the rick. This would be well raised on poles (6 or 7 lengthways with cross poles) laid across the tops of the stone ‘keps and posses’ (caps and posts). The ‘Mow stead’, or rick, was built up sheaf by sheaf and when it came to the putting in of the top corner sheaf, the following verse would be proclaimed so that it could be heard almost all over the parish ‘The Crow sheaf is in, ‘tis time to begin, to drink strong beer, and we’ve got it ‘ere.’ while one of them would lift the beer jar.
On the eastern side of Bodmin Moor at North Hill during the 1930s, Goldhys was celebrated with a broom dance to the tune of ‘So Early in the Morning’. This was recorded in Old Cornwall magazine in 1931, where the writer, E. Thompson says:
“…I must not forget to mention the dance over the Broomstick. This is most interesting especially if someone is present with a concertina. The Dance, I think it is to the tune of So Early in The Morning. It’s fine when you hear the heavy boots beating a tattoo on the stone floors, as the dancers first lift one leg then the other, to pass the broomstick from hand to hand, as if they were weaving. What a wonderful time too. As the dance proceeds, the musician plays faster and faster and the dancers have to dance faster. It is a marvel how these men, some big and well built, can jump so nimbly as they do in this dance.”
|Harvest at Tredethy, North Cornwall|
Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Thursday, 5 August 2021
|Illustration taken from the 1922 Line to Legend Land series|
Folklore of St Allen
The parish of St Allen lies within an area of green rolling hills north of Truro, with the River Allen rising at Ventoneage north of St Allen Churchtown, flowing south towards Truro, where it joins the River Kenwyn to form the Truro River. The river name in Cornish Dowr Alen means shining river and shares its name with another Cornish river in the Camel Valley. Nothing is known about the patron saint, but it is thought he may have arrived from Brittany in the 6th or 7th century. He has been linked to 6th century Breton Bishop Alain of Quimper, who was originally from Wales. Traditionally his feast was held on 22 February, but also at Rogation (25 April). The church was built around 1190 and was recorded as Eglossalen in 1235.
There are three early medieval wayside crosses in the churchyard, two of which were discovered buried close to the church, the third was brought from Trefronick Farm, during 1911, where it was discovered being used as a doorstep.
|Trefronic Farm wayside cross|
The hamlet of Trefronick is the site of some interesting and unusual piskie folklore, collected from a St Allen resident by Robert Hunt in 1835, and expanded upon by George Basil Barham, writing under the pen name of ‘Lyonesse’ in the GWR Legend Land series, which was published in 1922. It concerns the temporary loss of a child to the land of the piskies. The version below is my interpretation of the folktale.
One sunny afternoon, a small child was playing on the woodland edge, close to his family home by Trefronick Farm, St Allen. He was always interested in the natural world, and his father had taught him all about the wildflowers that grew in the vicinity, and the names of the songbirds that frequented the farm and woodland. The boy had found a particularly interesting patch of wild and herby flowers growing on the edge of the wood and was fully immersed in remembering their names. Soon after he heard a joyful tune emerging from the woodland, and at first wondered what bird could be producing such music. Though he quickly realised that this was no birdsong and began to wonder who was playing such sweet melodies from the woodland. He began to lose interest in the herbs and flowers he had been studying and began to move closer to the woodland edge. As he did so, the music became louder and more pronounced and he started to walk faster toward to source of the melodious sound.
Before long he found himself in a beautiful green grove, full of mature and majestic trees. The music had stopped, but he felt so comfortable and welcome in this spot, he continued his journey into the heart of the wood. As he went deeper into the forest, the thickly laid briars and bracken seemed to be laid flat before him as to make a pathway to an unknown destination. Soon the boy came to a shimmering, sparkling lake, and he sat down and stared into the waters. As he did so, the sky darkened and the sky became filled with starry constellations, of which he did not recognise. He quickly became weary and found a soft mound of moss and ferns where he quietly drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke, he found himself in a beautiful building, with glorious arches that soared up to the sky and which were encrusted with shining crystals of every colour. Standing beside him was a lady, who proceeded to guide the boy through the rooms of the ethereal palace, along with a procession of piskies who sang strange fascinating songs whilst they marched along behind the lady.
|"Soaring arches and shining crystals of every colour" captured in the parish church|
The piskies were very kind to the boy and treated him to a feast of the most wonderful tasting food, and when he became tired, they made him a bed from the softest moss and foliage they could muster.
Meanwhile the boy’s parents had been searching for their son, and three days had passed where he just could not be found. Then on the morning of the third day, he just reappeared sleeping on a bed of ferns at the edge of the wood by the flowers he had been studying.
As Robert Hunt states in his recollection –
There was no reason given by the narrator why the boy was "spirited away" in the first instance, or why he was returned. Her impression was, that some sprites, pleased with the child's innocence and beauty, had entranced him. That when asleep he had been carried through the waters to the fairy abodes beneath them; and she felt assured that a child so treated would be kept under the especial guardianship of the sprites for ever afterwards. Of this, however, tradition leaves us in ignorance.
George Basil Barham’s account of the tale ends with this:
And so it was; the boy lived to a ripe old age and prospered amazingly. He never knew illness or misfortune and died at last in his sleep; and those that were near him say that as he breathed his last a strange music filled the room.
Thursday, 22 July 2021
An old tale, re-imagined by Alex Langstone.
Saturday, 10 July 2021
|"...fair as the sea...."|
St Morwenna and Reverend Hawker
|Holy well of St Morwenna|
Hawker has become part of the folklore of Morwenstow, and indeed he completely championed St Morwenna as patron of his parish. Sabine Baring Gould once called to question the reality of the story of Morwenna, and Hawker replied:
“What! Morwenna not lie in the holy place at Morwenstow! Of that you will never persuade me, -- no, never. I know that she lies there. I have seen her, and she has told me as much; and at her feet ere long I hope to lay my old bones.”
|St Morwenna's church, Morwenstow|
|Rev. Hawker's vicarage|
He also used to communicate with St Morwenna, and regularly saw her inside the church, around the graveyard and on the cliff-top at Morwenstow. Hawker also had a vision of an angel in the church, by the rood screen door, whilst conducting a baptism. After some delay, Hawker announced that the angel had communicated that he was now the guardian angel of the child he had just baptised.
|Hawker's hut on the cliffs at Morwenstow|
In his younger days, Hawker is said to have dressed as a mermaid and sat on the rocks at Bude, he continued this practice until a local man threatened to go out and shoot the mermaid dead.
With all these tales in mind, it is easy to walk the ancient pathways around Morwenstow church and still feel the mighty presence of the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, and I for one am glad, as he was an eccentric visionary and a man of the people he served, who was always willing to help the poor and needy of the parish and beyond.
|Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker|
Wednesday, 7 July 2021
The wild and remote sheet of water that lies at the centre of the rugged granite heights of Bodmin Moor is an enchantingly eerie place. The only natural lake on the moor, its origins can be traced to glacial activity. However, as with many watery places in spectacular landscapes, Dozmary Pool has gathered some odd tales and fanciful folklore to its lonely shores.
The ghostly wild hunt is said to sometimes gather on the reedy shores of the lake, and Dozmary’s version of this iconic and often repeated piece of folklore goes like this.
The epic lore of the wild hunt is linked to one of the most notorious characters of Cornish folklore – Jan Tregeagle. In this tale, Tregeagle had witnessed a loan of a huge sum of money from one man to another, shortly before his death. When the lender came to collect payment, the debtor denied all knowledge of the agreement, and the case was taken to court in Bodmin. Tregeagle had died by this time, and as he was the only witness, the moneylender cried out
“If Tregeagle ever saw it, I wish to God he would come and declare it!”
In a flash of lightning Tregeagle’s ghost appeared and said
“It will not be such an easy task to get rid of me as it has been to call me!”
The debtor soon realised that his life was being haunted by Tregeagle’s evil spirit, so he called in a ghost-laying priest to banish him, and eventually the priest managed to bind Tregeagle to the task of emptying Dozmary Pool with a leaky limpet shell. In legend, Dozmary Pool was regarded as bottomless, and has been haunted by Tregeagle ever since, as he tries to empty the pool with a leaky limpet shell, with a pack of demon hounds watching over him. When storms are brewing over the moor, it is said that Tregeagle and his pack of hounds fly across Bodmin Moor, imitating the ancient spectacle of the wild hunt.
The most famous legend associated with Dozmary Pool is that of Sir Bedevere casting Excalibur into the lake, where the Lady of the Lake receives Arthur’s sword for safe keeping. Maybe the Storm Woman Mermaid and the Lady of the Lake are one and the same? The pool is also the legendary source of the Fowey River, though the actual source is at Fenton Fowi on the slopes of Brown Willy a few miles to the north, and a moorland folk-tale suggests that if anything is sucked into the vortex of Dozmary, it will resurface in Fowey Harbour.
The River Fowey, from its folkloric source at Dozmary Pool, wends its way southwards, across boggy mires and through deep moorland ravines until reaching the southern coast at the ancient sea port of old Fowey Town. The most famous ravine associated with the river is at Golitha Falls, where the river tumbles noisily and sometimes ferociously, away from the moorland heights to the lower levels, where the quiet water meadows gradually give way to the salty creeks and the broad deep estuary, once the scene for nefarious pirate activities of the Fowey Gallants.
The gorge at Golitha offers fantastic walks by the river. The woodland here is mainly of Beech, and gives us a clue to the rivers name and meaning. Fowey, from the Cornish Fowi meaning the ‘beech tree river’. The waterfall and surrounding woods are reputedly haunted by King Doniert (Donyarth) who died in 875 AD and was the last Cornish king. He is said to have drowned in the lower falls. His stone memorial can be viewed nearby at St Cleer.
The ghostly figure of a white lady has been seen on the road running through the Draynes Valley, close to Golitha. Most often seen by motorists travelling after dark, she looms up out of a mist in the middle of the road, and it is rumoured that she appears to warn drivers of the dangers of driving on this road at night. ‘White ladies’ are renowned folktale manifestations at waterfalls, and it is possible that this particular ‘white lady’ may be connected to the nearby falls. The woods and waterfall are also haunted by the ghostly tapping of copper miners, who are often heard working the lodes of the historic Wheal Victoria Copper Mine, and strange whispers, cries and moans have been heard close to the falls after dark, maybe it’s the secretive chatter of the Pobel Vean, the little people or piskies, who are said to dwell within the hidden parts of the landscape; in the rock crevices, holy wells, caves, remote valleys, rugged hilltops and the old mines of the moor and coast.
Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Friday, 14 May 2021
I am very much looking forward to presenting a Zoom talk at the beginning of July, featuring some of the locations featured in my Cornish folklore book 'From Granite to Sea'
Please see relevant links below and see you there!
The event is organised by The Viktor Wynd Museum & The Last Tuesday Society. The Last Tuesday Society is a 'pataphysical organisation founded by William James at Harvard in the 1870s, currently headquartered at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History in London. For the last twenty years they have put on Lectures, Balls, Workshops, Masterclasses, Seances, Expeditions to Papua New Guinea & West Africa, all from their East London Museum and it's infamous cocktail bar.
Monday, 5 April 2021
The legend of Tom Hickathrift
The Devil in March
Jack O' Lanterns
The Isle of Ely
At the west end of the Cathedral you will find the shrine to St Etheldreda. Her remains were lost during the reformation, but her left hand did re-surface in 1810 on the Duke of Norfolk's Arundel estate in Sussex. it was found in a reliquary hidden behind a wall in a priests hole inside Arundel castle. It was returned to Ely and is now housed in a shrine in St Etheldreda's catholic church in the town. Her hand is said to haunt the town's historic Kings School,