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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Cursed Cauldron

Deep in the cellar of a North Lincolnshire farmhouse there is an old iron cooking pot said to carry a curse as deadly as any wrought by the ancient Pharaohs.

(Above) Manor Farm. East Halton 

  It was once common practice, particularly in rural communities, to conceal lucky charms in the fabric of newly constructed houses. Over the years, as many old building have been demolished or modernised, objects such as leather shoes, pins and old tobacco-pipe heads have been found in walls, under thresholds and inside chimneystacks.

  Occasionally more unsavoury items are found, such as mummified cats (see older post) and bottles containing a foul concoction of animal hearts and urine, believed to have been put there for the purpose of protecting the house and its occupants from witchcraft and all manor of evil spirits.

Few relics pertaining to this practice have inspired more fear and superstition upon discovery than a plain old iron cooking pot that, for nearly four decades, has been bricked up in the cellar of  the historic Manor Farm in the small North Lincolnshire village of East Halton.

The story goes that sometime during the latter part of the 19th Century, the farm was so badly haunted that the owners exorcised the ghost by trapping it in an iron cooking pot- which they filled with pins and earth- and locking it away in a small, disused cellar.
It was said that if the pot were removed from the cellar, the ghost would be free to resume its haunting.

In the late 1800's, a woman who lived at Manor Farm when she was a girl, told Lincolnshire folklorist Mabel Peacock that she believed the house to be haunted by a "Hobthrust", a household goblin similar to the Scottish Brownie and the Yorkshire Robin-Round Cap. she added that the cauldron contained sand and "children`s thumb bones", and that if the bones and sand were stirred at midnight, the Hobthrust would appear.

"Hobthrust" a mischievous household goblin

 The cauldron soon acquired an even more sinister reputation, for it was said to carry a curse of violent death to whoever disturbed it. Indeed, at least three people are said to have died because of the curse. The first victim, a young boy, took the cauldron from the cellar and threw it into the village pond. Within an hour he was dead.... run over and killed by a hay wagon. Sometime later, the cauldron was retrieved from the pond by an unknown man and returned to the cellar. Within hours he too died in mysterious circumstances.

The most recent supposed victim of  the curse was six year old Charles Atkins, whose family lived at Manor Farm in the 1930`s.
Oddly, he was also killed by a hay wagon, like the first victim, just hours after touching the pot. In 1975, Charles' older brother, the late John Atkins, spoke of the incident in a local news paper:

" I remember our father always telling us never to go near the cooking pot. But we were playing in cellar one day and Charles bumped into it. The next day we were out in the fields near the {river} Humber and Charles was playing around one of the wagons when it went right over him. "I was always a bit scared of the pot. There was a lot of superstition in the village about it and we were told that it contained the ashes of a dwarf who was killed at Thornton Abbey. There was a story that there was a tunnel between the Abbey and the cellar and that after the dwarf was killed, he was brought through the tunnel by the monks and remains were disposed of in secret."

Thornton Abbey: Acording to legend a tunnel leads from Manor Farm to this magnificent old building.

Mr Atkins concluded by saying; "Another family lived in the house before us, and I seem to remember they moved after a baby died in the house."
 After the death of Charles Atkins, the cellar containing the cursed cauldron was bricked up, and there it remained in its dark, dank prison for 35 years.

In 1974, local business man John Morton bought the property and began extensive renovations, which included breaking into the old cellar. However, after hearing the legend, the workmen refused to go anywhere near the corner of the cellar where the the battered old pot had lain undisturbed for so long. At length, local minister Rev Bob Kenyon, a firm believer in the curse, offered to remove it, convinced that being a priest he would be immune from its evil influence. He said:

 " I have come across things like this before. It is very easy to scoff but there is far more in something like this than we care to think about."
However, Mr. Morton decided to put an end to the matter once and for all by having the pot placed in a steel cage and buried in the cellar. The man charged with this unenviable task, local builder Alfred Darwood, said:

"No one really believed the legend but no one would touch it either. We put the steel plates in without moving the pot. If it had really been in the way, I suppose we would have had to have moved it. However, I wouldn't like to have been the one to do it."

Last seen: A 1970`s photograph of the cauldron taken before it was sealed up in an iron cage in the bricked up cellar

So, some 37 years on, is one of the most reputedly evil relics in British folklore still buried deep in the cellar of a North Lincolnshire farm house? This is the question I asked the current owners, Jason and Louise Wilks, when I paid an impromptu visit to the house on a stormy day in July 2010.

"We have only been here a few months," Said Mr. Wilks, "but  we heard all about the legend from the previous owners and from people in the village. We assume the pot is still here but we couldn't`t go looking for it even if we wanted to. The old cellar has been bricked up and there is no access to it now."

So far they have experienced nothing strange or ghostly in the house. Except on one occasion:
"I went into the living room one morning to find all the family photographs had been turned against the wall." Said Mrs Wilks.
"It gave me quite a turn, but our son said that he had done it for a joke to try and scare me!"

 Site of the bricked up cellar. Resting place for one of the most evil objects in British folklore.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Church Legends, Folklore, And Superstitions

 Visit Lincolnshire's churches at the right time and you will allegedly see strange blue lights,ghostly revelers and even the Devil playing marbles.

I have always been fascinated by the sheer number of legends attached to many of our ancient churches and ecclesiastical buildings.
Every ruined abbey and nunnery it would seem, has a spectral monk and ghostly nun originating no doubt from the turbulent days of the dissolution of the monasteries. In many pre-reformation churches, there are carvings of strange demoniacal figures that serve as fascinating reminders of the conflict between the early Christian church and belief in the old pagan gods.

When Christianity was first introduced to Britain in the sixth century, many churches were built on the site of existing pagan temples. This practice was instigated by pope Gregory, who in a letter to Abbot Mellitus in AD 601, writes: "I have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols in England should not on any account be destroyed. Augustine must smash the idols, but the temples themselves should be sprinkled with holy water and altars set up in them in which relics are to be enclosed."

This was done in the hope that people would continue to frequent their traditional places of worship and gradually convert to the new Christianity. Of course, this did not happen overnight, the process took many centuries, but the church by adopting and Christianising many of the pagan festivals and traditions eventually won the battle for hearts and minds. Problems arose, however, when priests attempted to build new churches away from old places of worship. This often resulted in the foundation stones of the new church laid during the day being destroyed or moved at night by persons unknown to a traditional place of worship.

In Lincolnshire the best example of a church moved by night is St. James & St. John`s, Dorrington. The story goes that a Saxon named Totchi tried to build a church near  the playgarth, (the village green) using the stones from an existing pagan temple which stood on a hill about half a mile away from the village. However, during the night all the stones the builders had laid that day were mysteriously moved back to the hill top. Undaunted, the builders moved the stones back to the village only to find that the next morning the stones had again been moved back to the hill. And so it was again on the third day. And that is why, according to the legend,  Dorrington church stands on an isolated hill top so far from the village.
 An inhabitant of Dorrington told the late Lincolnshire folklorist, Ethel H Rudkin that there was a "glacial erratic similar to Drake Stone at Anwick (which is situated outside the south gateway of Anwick Churchyard) close by and it is likely that the ancient stone is incorporated into the foundations of Dorrington church. Evidently the influence of the old religion was strong in the locality, as the name "Dorrington" means "Daronwy town" Daron being the pagan god of thunder. The Playgarth in pre Christian times was the place for ritual dances of which the dance round the Maypole was the last to survive into modern times. 
The location of Dorrington church made it an important meeting place for witches and warlocks. One notable witch,  " Mrs H" was often said to be seen running around the graveyard in the shape of a hare, and a curious legend says that if you look through the keyhole of Dorrington church at midnight on St. Thomas eve, you will see the Devil playing marbles.
 (Above) a sculptured frieze depicting the Last Judgement. above the east window of Dorrington church.

  Another church built on a place of former pagan worship is All Hallows church, Horsington, (now gone) where it used to be said that on All Hallows Eve, 31 October, at midnight,  twelve blue lights rise from a mound where the old church used to stand, and divide themselves into groups of three.
Three went to Bucknall, three to Stixwould and Waddingworth and three to a barn at the back of the old rectory at Horsington which served as a church until a new one was erected in the village.
The legend possibly derives from a folk memory of the November 1st fires lit on the site of All Hallows Church in pre-Christian times to mark the beginning of the new year. In many cultures 1st of November had an altogether darker significance, as this was when the spirits of those who had died in the year moved on to their appointed place.

  At Glentham Church there is an old superstition that says if you drop a pin in the keyhole of the church door, then run seven times around the church without stopping, you will meet the Devil.

 There are numerous variations on this particular legend. For example in the church yard of St. Thomas a Becket, Digby, can be found the tomb of Robert Cooke, a wealthy Eighteenth century squire locally renowned for his generosity and wild parties. Indeed such was Cooke's reputation for revelry that when he died at the age of seventy two, it was said that he continued to party beyond the grave.
To hear the ghostly squire all you have to do is to run backwards twelve times around his table shaped tomb and if a party is in full swing you can hear the chink of glasses and the sound of merrymaking. It's worth pointing out however, that there are two Robert Cooke's buried side by side, so for the benefit of those wishing to eavesdrop on the old squires spectral party, listen at the tomb of the older Robert Cook.

 The tomb of Squire Robert Cooke in Digby Churchyard

The tiny medieval church of St. Peter's Markby, near Alford, is the only surviving thatched church in Lincolnshire. Legend says, though I do not advise putting it to the test, that if you run around the church three times at midnight, then hammer a nail in the door, a ghost will appear, and with it hundreds of nails previously hammered into the door, each nail signifying failed attempts to exorcise the ghost.
Lincolnshire's best known legend, that of the Lincoln Imp, the tiny grinning stone gargoyle situated in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral is so well known that I hardly need to repeat it here. Less well known is the following legend recorded in "County Folklore V" (1908); Attached to the two magnificent rose window in Lincoln cathedrals known as "The Eyes of the Church":
"A native of the city of Lincoln has just mentioned to me that two of the circular windows,
 the "Dean's Eye" to the north and the "Bishops Eye" to the south, in the cathedral have the legend of the master mason and the apprentice attached to them. The elder man designed and built a window of great beauty but his subordinates work. the "Bishops Eye" proved to be so much finer in conception and execution that besides himself with jealousy, the master flung himself from the scaffold on which he was standing and perished on the floor below. Certain dark stains are still pointed out as the traces of his blood. On being cross questioned the person narrating the story adds that she is not quite clear as to its tragic conclusion, the master either committed suicide or murdered the apprentice in his rage. Either way there was death by violence, and the marks of a man's life blood, which will never wash out are visible, although it is said they "look a good deal more like furniture polish than real blood."

(Left) "The Bishops Eye" A magnificent stained glass window to the south of
Lincoln cathedral 

The legend of the master mason and the apprentice is also attached to an elaborately carved font in St James, Frieston, near Boston, and the skilfully carved Prentice pillar in the Fifteenth century chapel at Rosslyn, West Lothian, Scotland.

The recurrence of themes, as the reader will have no doubt observed is typical of numerous tales associated with many religious buildings countrywide. For example, the winds blowing round Boston Stump said to have been raised by the Devil after a fight with St Botolph, echo a similar tradition attached to Lincoln cathedral and other churches on the continent.

In all probability, legends such as these originated from itinerant peddlers and tradesmen, who spread their stories by word of mouth. It seems that in certain locations, some of these tales have taken root with subtle alterations for local character and colour.