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Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Wild Man of Stainfield. Fact or Fiction?

Over the years, I have researched many little known legends from around the county. One of the most fascinating tells of a ferocious
 "wild man" who once dwelt in the woods near the remote hamlet of Stainfield, situated some 10 miles east of Lincoln.
The creature is described in various accounts as "naked", "semi-human", "covered with hair" and armed with a "great club" which he used to kill animals and even people. The wild man of the forest features prominently in the folklore of Europe, but unlike other notable wild men in British folklore, such as the Wild Man of Orford, Suffolk and the Wild Man of Salisbury, Wiltshire, Lincolnshire's wild man appears to have been overlooked in the wider studies of folklore and is little known outside of the county.
Did the wild man of Stainfield really exist? Many people believe that because so many stories about him still persist, there must be a grain of truth in them. Although strangely, none of the stories can agree on his identity or indeed the date when he was supposed to have lived.

Above: The wild man of Stainfield as percieved by myself in the style of a medieval woodcut.

The best known version of the tale first appeared, to my knowledge , in "Folklore Round Horncastle" (1915) by the Rev James Alpas Penny, who writes:

"In Stainfield church, near Bardney, are to be seen the helmet of one of the Tywhitts of Stainfield, with the family crest of a wild man, with a dagger hanging underneath it on the wall."

He believed the legend grew up around the crest and dagger in Stainfield church and dates from somewhere between 1700 and 1850. He then goes on to relate the story of one Francis Tyrwhitt- Drake who was promised all the lands of Stainfield, including its 280 acres of woodland and the land of neighbouring Lissinglea, if he would kill the wild man who had long terrorised the district.
As the wild man  lay asleep on a bank by a pit, his presence disturbed a peewits' nest and the twittering of the angry birds attracted Drakes attention. Seizing his chance, Drake ran the wild man through with his sword. Mortally wounded, the monster jumped up streaming with blood and chased Drake for a mile through the fields before he fell dead. According to some versions of the story, the wild man's blood staining the fields gave rise to the name of the hamlet, but in truth Stainfield, mentioned in Domesday, derives its name from the Scandinavian "stony feld (field) and ford".

Another variant of the legend, identifies the wild man as a Stainfield nobleman who had been away fighting in the crusades for so long that when he returned he found he had been dispossessed of his estates. When he failed to reclaim his lands, he went to live in Stainfield woods, where he became so dangerous that Drake-Tyrwhitt was forced to kill him.

This legend goes on to say that Drake was rewarded with the aforementioned lands and was permitted to have three peewits on the family crest to commemorate his valour. "Tyrwhitt" is an old name for peewit (which is also known as a lapwing).

However, the English Baronetage Vol 1, 1741, gives a very different account of the origins of the Tyrwhitt crest. It quotes:

"There is a tradition in the family which has been handed from Father to Son, that the first of the Tyrwhitts, valiantly defending a bridge (tho the time not mentioned) was after the action was over, sought after  by the general and found sleeping amongst some bushes and was discovered by the cries and beating of the lapwings from whence he was called Tyrwhitt, and afterwards he had three lapwings assigned him for his coat of arms."

History records that the Tyrwhitts came to Stainfield from Kettleby after they were  granted Stainfield priory by Henry V111 during the Dissolution of the Monastareies. Sir Robert Tyrwhitt (1482 -1548) built a spacious mansion on or near the site. On the death of  Sir John de la Fountain Tyrwhitt (1706-1760) who was unmarried and the last of the line, the estates passed to his mother's family, the Drake's, descendants of Sir Francis Drake, who assumed the name Tyrwhitt with the estates. However, the  Tyrwhitt-Drake's never lived at Stainfield and they took no part in local affairs. The manor house having fallen into a state of decay at the time of their possession, with the exception of the south front was demolished.

(Above) The signboard of the 16th century Tyrwhitt Arms at Short Ferry shows the family crest with elements of the legend, the wild man himself and three peewits or lapwings

It has been suggested that the story of the wild man was simply an invention to explain the funerary armour, chiefly the aforementioned dagger, gloves and helmet, with a wild man for a crest which were said to have belonged to the knight who killed him. Curious to see the relics associated with this gory local legend, I  contacted the caretaker of  St. Andrew's who informed me that regrettably the armour had been stolen from the church in 1995 and now only a small wooden figurine of the wild man that surmounted the helmet remains.


The tiny figurine of the wild man in St. Andrew`s parish church 


The "Savage Man" or "Wodewose" that forms the supporter of the Tyrwhitt crest is a heraldic symbol representing strength, honour and fertility, it was a popular choice of supporter with baronets in ancient warlike days. As a matter of interest, the crest can still be seen on the signboard of the 16th century Tyrwhitt Arms public house at Short Ferry, near the neighbouring village of Fiskerton.

The pub passed from the Tyrwhitt-Drakes in 1943 and was often referred to locally as the "The Wild Man".

A further variant of the tale states that The Wild Man was killed not by a bold knight, but by a group of local farmers known as "The Hardy Gang". Having had enough of The Wild Man killing and eating their livestock, they hunted him down and killed him after a fierce combat in a wood between Langton and Stainfield still known  as "Hardy Gang wood".

Another informant relates a whimsical version of the wild man's demise: "I always understood that Mr Tyrwhitt poured a barrel of rum in the pond where he knew the wild man drank, and he drank the water and got drunk and that is how they killed him." 

Above: Hardy Gang Woods,where according to one version of the story the wild man was captured and killed by local farmers

Above: A Nineteenth century illustration depicts a wild man carrying off his next victim

Yet another version claims The Wild Man was killed in nearby Fiskerton wood, where it is said an unusual black stone marks the spot (his blood having blackened the stone). I can only speculate that this remarkable stone is the historic Fiskerton Stone, a glacial boulder mentioned in Domesday which has been moved to various locations in and around the village over the years (it was once even rescued from a rubbish tip). Local tradition once had it that whenever there was a thunderstorm or a hanging at Lincoln Prison the stone would roll over of its own accord.

Further research into the wild man saga led me to a series of letters published in local news papers. In a letter headed "Refuge from the Armada", a reader from Essex offers the theory that the wild man could have been a surviving Spaniard from one of the many ships of the great Armada that was wrecked by storms in the North Sea, He writes; " The theory is that a survivor of one wreck, evading capture, escaped inland and lived in the woods around Stainfield. of strange garb and countenance, speaking a strange tongue and depending on what food he could steal, it is not surprising he terrified the local inhabitants who regarded him as a wild man. Certainly the clothes I saw in Stainfield Church many years ago, a helmet,gloves, and remnants of a leather jerkin, are not inconsistent with such a theory."

Above: A photo from a 1960`s press cutting shows the artifacts before they were removed. Below: The interior of St. Andrew`s Church, showing the poles from which the "wild man`s clothes" formerly depended

A former resident of the nearby village of Wragby remembered his Father telling him that the wild man killed sheep to live on, and had nails six-inches long. He (the wild man) was eventually shot dead and his clothes hung in Stainfield Church.

The clothing, believed by many to be the wild man's apparel, is in fact the remains of three tattered battle standards and funerary clothing belonging to the Tyrwhitts that once hung in above the vicar's stall in St. Andrew's Church. The relics are thought to have been removed sometime in the late 1970's and despite my on-going efforts to locate them, their current whereabouts remains a mystery.

In a letter dated 1974, a former resident of Stainfield adds another twist to the saga. She was told that Squire Turner went to the woods one day with his gun and shot the wild man as he lay asleep in the bracken, then buried the body under a stone just outside Stainfield Church.

 Above: Centre of the mystery: St. Andrew's church, Stainfield

Now, it would appear the wild man had achieved immortality, surviving successive attempts to kill him over the centuries, for the correspondent writes that she had "heard her friend's Mother talk about the wild man who was still alive when she was a girl!"

In conclusion, there can be little doubt that colourful stories of a club-wielding savage living in the dense woodland around Stainfield and Fiskerton  are just fanciful tales inspired by the unusual supporter on the Tyrwhitt coat of arms, and the relics once housed in St. Andrew's Church. However, it is likely that over the years, a mass of hearsay concerning one or more harmless vagrants living rough in the woods around Stainfield has perpetuated the wild man myth. 

One such notable eccentric was the hermit of nearby Sudbrook Park, a magnificent 120-acre estate, once dominated by the elegant Sudbrook Holme Manor, which burned down in mysterious circumstances in 1921. The park was redeveloped in the 1970's but many years before, the hermit lived out his solitary existence amidst the forgotten weed chocked gardens and wood groves of the estate.

When he died in the late 1950's, in his hut was found a huge pile of letters dating back some 50 years including his call-up papers for the First World War. Most intriguing of all, at the very bottom of the pile was his personal invitation to ride with the local hunt.

Evidently this latter-day wild man had once held a position of social standing. Why he chose to live out his last days in the forgotten ruins of a once important estate remains a mystery, just one of a chain of intriguing details attached to a fascinating local myth.


  1. im a researcher interested in the british wildman, if you have had an encounter or think you have seen strange creatures in the woods and forests contact me

  2. Hi Debbie.I have never encountered a wildman, but I did see a big cat (a black puma) in the woods near my parents place about 10 years ago.

    1. im sorry i missed your reply. i have only just seen it. i have so many cat sightings in the uk it seems impossible the govt still deny them