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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Legends and Folklore of the Wolds

The chalk uplands of the Lincolnshire Wolds is an area comprised of low hills and steep valleys, stretching forty-five miles from north to south and some fifteen miles in width. Its picturesque landscape has been declared a designated area of natural beauty, and the tiny hamlets nestling in its vales and hollows are steeped in legend and folklore.

Above: The brooding Sky's of the Lincolnshire Wolds

A prime example is the hamlet of Maidenwell situated some 6 miles (10 km) south from the market town of Louth. Legend has it that the hamlet got its name when a Roundhead solider threw an unfortunate girl down a well. Although this sounds darkly amusing it is unlikely to be true as there are references to the name dating back to the 13th century. 

Maidenwell Hall, an impressively large country house, was once said to have been a hiding place for Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as the young pretender, or Bonnie Prince Charlie. The story goes that in 1747, after landing at Theddlethorpe, the fugitive Prince was taken by a fisherman named Grimes to Maidenwell Hall, then owned by a family who were supporters of the Jacobite cause. However, the prince insisted on travelling to Lincoln to attend a masked ball despite the concerns of his hosts that he would be recognised. It is thought that those attending the ball guessed his true identity when he refused to remove his mask, but no one reported him to the authorities. However, fearing capture, the prince made haste to Saltfleet where he set sail for the continent. On arriving safely in France he told his confederates of his near capture in Lincoln, but he was not believed, until he mentioned that a chandelier at the ball had been broken. Later correspondence with persons who had attended the ball confirmed this to be true.

 Bonnie Prince Charlie, the young pretender to the thrones of Britain, Scotland and France. 

On a visit to Maidenwell Hall some 17 years ago, I made the acquaintance of the then owner, Mrs Clarke, a grand lady in her 90s who had lived in the house for most of her life.  She told me the following amusing story that concerned two local farm workers who encountered a terrified boy on the road one evening. The boy told them to stay clear of a nearby ford, on account of a headless phantom he had just seen walking its misty banks. The men laughed at the boy’s ridicules’ claim, but seeing that he had been genuinely terrified, by something, they decided to investigate. The swift dusk of autumn closed in as the group descended the narrow track leading to the ford. What they saw there killed their laughter stone dead: An ill-defined figure was making its way through the mist towards them. It was the shape of a man, or most of one, for the friends could not discern that most crucial part of the anatomy-the head: The dreadful apparition acknowledged their presence with a wave of its hand and moved purposely towards the men, who in their panic slipped on the muddy bank and fell into the water in an attempt to escape the clutches of the fiend. Imagine the surprise of the less than intrepid ghost hunters when the phantom gave an all too human laugh and said “Orl right boys, you look like you sin a ghoast”  The figure emerged from the gloom revelling itself to be a local farmer.  Years earlier the man had met with a near fatal accident. While pitching hay from the top of a cart he had lost his footing and fell headlong to the ground breaking his neck. Obviously he survived the ordeal but as a consequence his neck had been horribly twisted, causing his head to rest on his shoulders at an unnatural angle. The man`s unfortunate deformity coupled with the mist and fading light had from a distance created the illusion that he was headless. The two men of course were the butt of many a joke after that. 

Mrs Clarke went on to mention the hamlets resident ghost-a spectral coach and four driven by a coachman whose head rests on a box besides his spectral body.  She knew of only one person who had claimed to have seen it. However, the person in question was known to imbibe regularly and was often seen wandering the lanes rather worse for wear.

Ostlers Lane, Maidenwell. Said to be haunted by a headless coachman

The nearby hamlet of Ruckland has one of Lincolnshire`s smallest churches, dedicated to St Olave (Olaf) who was credited as being the first Christian king of Norway. Legend has it that Deepdale Furze, a mile north-east from the village, is haunted by a ghost called the “shag boy” or “hog boy” This is undoubtedly a corruption of the Norse "haugh bui" the tenant of the haugh, how, or tomb-that is a ghost, or goblin. A similar story is attached to “Orgarth Hill” a few miles south of Louth. Here a cloaked figure on a shaggy horse would appear without warning to other riders and so terrify their horses that they would bolt down the hill.

Above: The ghostly rider of Orgarth Hill

The tiny church of St Olave, Ruckland

In the late 1920`s, Farforth House in the parish of Maidenwell, was the scene of a mysterious haunting. It was here that the then occupants, a Mrs Johnson and her daughter saw on a number of occasions a lady dressed in grey “with a big white collar, like that of a Quaker, gliding past the east window and then round past two larger south-facing windows and enter through the front door.” The daughter was once brave enough to follow the ghost into the cellar of the house where she saw it disappear, but she was not frightened by the apparition and felt only sympathy for it, not fear.

The bedroom above the east window where the ghost was seen had a large stain on the floor “as of blood” that no amount of scrubbing could remove. This may have been connected to a former owner who after the death of his wife in 1855, became deeply depressed and shut himself away in one of the rooms where he drank excessively.

One night, whilst heavily intoxicated he dreamt that he was in Hell, where he saw his wife sitting in a strange looking arm chair, next to a group of devils who were busy fashioning another one just like it. The devils told him that the chair was for him and when it was finished they would come back for him. He was so unnerved by this dreadful vision that he gave up strong drink and left the house vowing never to return, He died in London soon afterwards and his body was brought back to Farforth in a carriage pulled by six black horse for burial. When I last visited Farforth House, I spoke to the present owners who were previously unaware of their home`s strange history. They assured me that they had experienced nothing untoward in the house during their time there.  

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