East Yorkshire has known invaders and raiders, smugglers and preachers. The earliest inhabitants of Britain chose to live in the high open lands of the Wolds, leaving behind them mysterious mounds and tales of fairy gold. This collection of stories from around the county is a tribute to their narrative vitality, and commemorates places and people who have left their mark on their communities. Here you will find tales of saints and dragon-slayers, thieves, and boggarts, giants, and gypsies; characters as rugged and powerful as the landscape they stride. These engaging stories, brought to life with over 30 illustrations, will be enjoyed by readers time and again.
About the Author
Ingrid Barton is an experienced oral storyteller and former director of the Society for Storytelling. She is the author of North Yorkshire Folk Tales.
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East Yorkshire: Folk Tales
By Ingrid Barton
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Ingrid Barton
All rights reserved.
How Filey Got Its Brig
The seaside town of Filey once straddled the boundaries of the East and North Ridings. They joined at the edge of a small ravine. The church at the top of the north side was in the North Riding and the town to the south in the East Riding. (It was a local joke to say that someone had moved to the North Riding when they had, in fact, died.) It must have been in this very gully that the dragon in the following story lived.
Once there was a dragon who lived in a deep ravine in Filey. Few people cared to live anywhere near him except an old woman, Mrs Greenaway, who inhabited a cottage in the woods above. She was what people called a 'gifted' woman – a white witch – so the dragon didn't bother her, even though he was becoming hungrier and hungrier all the time because the local farmers had moved their sheep a long way back from the sea coast so that he couldn't get them.
On the other side of the ravine lived Billy Biter. He was a travelling tailor. When his mother had been alive, his little cottage had been the most welcoming in the area, with a kettle on the boil over a good fire, old Tom Puss washing himself in the chimney corner, and a warm welcome for anyone who cared to drop in for a gossip. In those days folk would fetch water and chop logs for Mrs Biter when Billy was away on his tailoring work, and Mrs Greenaway kept an eye on her as well.
But when Mrs Biter died everything changed for the worse.
Poor old Billy! He didn't have time to cook or keep house for himself – even if his mother had bothered teaching him. He was run off his little legs with work, travelling to farms and big houses making clothes for weddings or funerals. Coming home to the cold dark cottage made him miserable; he missed his mum more and more.
In those days there was only one sure solution recommended for improving this state of affairs: marriage. Encouraged by his neighbours, Billy, whose knowledge of women was decidedly limited, jumped into the matrimonial state with both feet, and his eyes shut. He married the first woman who would have him: Hepzibah. She was six foot if she was an inch, broad in the beam as a Filey coble and the village drunk to boot. She was a mean, slovenly, bullying sort of woman; a slattern who always carried a huge tarred leather mug called a blackjack, which could be used for hitting people as well as holding gin or beer or whatever she could get. If Billy had expected her to turn magically into his mother, one week of living with her must have taught him his mistake. No food, no fire, just a great lump of a wife sprawled out drunk over the threshold.
Folk were sorry, of course, because Billy was well liked. 'I reckon Hepzibah married 'im because his cottage is only half a mile from t'pub,' they said, shaking their heads. Too late to warn him now and anyway none of them was up for interfering: they feared the blackjack!
Every day Hepzibah would stagger down the hill to the pub, and every evening Billy would came home to a cold and cheerless house. He would then have to chop firewood and light the fire to boil water. He'd have a bit of a sweep around while old Tom Puss had a few minutes warm in the chimney corner and then he'd fetch the wheelbarrow and go to look for his wife. He'd find her somewhere on the path, asleep on the ground with the blackjack empty next to her. She was a big weight for a tired little man to push back up the hill, but it was just as bad if she actually made it home because she would fall asleep in Billy's mother's old chair, skirt up round her knees, drool coming out of her mouth, and Billy would have to tiptoe around trying not to wake her. He and Tom Puss, who also kept a watchful eye on her, knew that if she woke up she'd most likely be after them both with the broom, and she could run – even when drunk – much faster than Billy with his weak little tailor's legs. On those nights they'd be out of the door and up on the roof faster than you could say 'misery' as soon as they saw her stirring.
One cold windy night, old Mrs Greenaway was in her little house in the wood, looking out of her window, when she saw Billy and Tom Puss up on the roof, huddling around the chimney pot for warmth. She shook her head. (Down in the gully the dragon gave a great groan of hunger, though he didn't stir out.)
The next night was the same. Hepzibah was sprawled over the threshold this time, so, rather than risk stepping over her, Billy and Tom Puss went up on to the roof and sat there in the rain. Mrs Greenaway frowned. (The dragon groaned again, louder this time; a great groan that shook the ground.)
On the third night – it was a cold foggy one – the folk at the farm where Billy was making clothes gave him a good Yorkshire tea and he put a bit in his pocket for Puss. The farmer's wife, seeing him with a face as long as a fiddle, felt sorry for him because he'd always been such a merry little soul who sang at his work, laughed often and danced well, so she made him up a nice pack of food to take home. The famer bound a dry faggot of wood on top to save him work when he got home.
'If Hepzibah can't be bothered to cook, tha'll have to find time to do it thasen,' said the farmer. 'So think on, lad. Now, the pack's a bit heavy, but still it's lighter than the wheelbarrow, eh?'
Billy thanked them and, with the pack on his back, trudged off into the fog, wondering with dread what sort of mood Hepzibah would be in. Her kind moments were just as alarming as her angry ones. She would take him on her knee and bounce him like a baby, saying that he was her darling little man, and giving him beery kisses.
Billy was thinking about this when he smelt the most delicious smell wafting through the trees (he was walking through Mrs Greenaway's wood at the time). The smell was so rich and sweet that he found himself drawn out of his way, right up to her door.
'Come in! Come in! Billy Biter,' she said, 'you and your pack. Hepzibah wouldn't be wanting them. Hand them over.'
This was a bit of a surprise, but she'd been kind to his mother and she was old herself, so he handed over the pack, thinking with regret of the food in it. Mrs Greenaway didn't open it though, she just shook something like flour over it and put it down on the floor of the kitchen.
'I've been baking. Can you smell my parkin? I'll give you a mouthful to warm your way home.' She cut a huge slice from the big square parkin on the hearth (Oh! That smell!) and gave it to him. Down in the gully the dragon smelt it too, and roared.
'Now here's a bit for Tom Puss as well. Look, I'll wrap it up in clean leaves. And this bit HERE – this bit is for Hepzibah – only Hepzibah, mind you, no one else. I'll put it in your pack. Now off you go and sleep well tonight.'
Billy went off, full of good food, with his own slice of parkin warming his hands. He fell into a happy dream, imagining that Hepzibah might have decided to cook a hot meal for once. This pleasant fantasy so occupied his mind that he mistook his way in the fog and stepped right over the edge of the dragon's gully. Down he fell arsey-versey, almost down the dragon's throat. He landed on his pack, which was just as well because the ground was red-hot where the dragon had been grumbling and roaring. When he looked up there was a big round red light next to him. It blinked.
'THAT'S MY EYE YOU'RE POKING YOUR WOOD INTO!' said the dragon. 'LET'S HAVE A LOOK AT YOU. I ALWAYS LIKE TO SEE WHAT I'M EATING!' The dragon squirmed around, sniffing poor Billy, who dropped his slice of parkin and put up his hands to ward him off.
'WHAT'S THAT?' Out of the dragon's mouth came a huge, long, hot, red tongue and gallolloped up the parkin. It stuck delightfully to his teeth, and the taste made his scales rattle with pleasure.
'EEAH!' said the dragon, dropping sticky saliva all over Billy. 'WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?
'P-p-parkin!' Billy was still lying on his back like a big beetle. He could smell the wood of the faggot beginning to char.
'P-P-PARKIN? GET ME MORE! I MUST HAVE MORE!' At that very moment a crumb of parkin tickled the dragon's nose and he sneezed so hard that he blew Billy clean out of the ravine and right on to the top of his own roof, giving Tom Puss a nasty shock. Billy grabbed the chimney pot for balance, but as he did so the charred rope that held his pack broke. Down the chimney tumbled all the food and the faggot as well, landing on the dying ashes of the fire. It narrowly missed the head of Hepzibah who was snoring on the hearth, her shoelaces undone, her greasy skirts all anyhow and her great blackjack still clutched in her hand. The smell of the parkin floated delightfully through the house. It floated up the nose of Hepzibah and her red-rimmed eyes opened. What was that? She hauled herself up and looked around. Stuff had fallen down the chimney. There lay a great big slice of parkin, the one Mrs Greenaway had said was specially for her, its leaf wrappings gaping temptingly open! She grabbed it and stuffed it into her mouth. How delicious it was!
The faggot in the ashes began to crackle and burn up brightly. In its light Hepzibah saw the parcel of food and hauled it out. She stared blankly at it. Where had it come from? Then the penny dropped and she shouted up the flue 'You come down here, Billy! I know you're up there! What do you mean by throwing cake at your poor wife? – What sort of cake is it, anyway?'
Billy came down from the roof carefully, but not Tom Puss: he knew when he was well off.
'It's p-parkin. Mrs Greenaway made it.'
'Parkin!' screamed Hepzibah. 'You let another woman cook you parkin! I'll give you parkin, you limp little excuse for a man! What does that old witch know about making parkin? Make parkin for my husband, will she? I'll show her! Get out the pig trough!'
Billy dragged the old pig trough into the house, terrified of what might happen next. However, after his accidental trip to the dragon's gully he was so dazed that he did all Hepzibah demanded in a sort of dream. She took a big bag of oatmeal from the storeroom and emptied it all into the trough. Then she rummaged around, knocking things hither and thither, trying to collect together ingredients for a parkin. They didn't have most of them but she didn't care, flinging all sorts of stuff into the pig trough. Then she threw off her old muddy shoes, jumped up into the trough and began to knead the dough with her grimy feet.
Billy looked on with his mouth open, and even Tom Puss up on the chimney stared down the flue with his fur all on end. They had seen Hepzibah in a rage before but never such a strange one. She jumped and thumped and paddled and stamped, shouting rude things about Mrs Greenaway all the while, until the dough was well mixed. Then she leapt from the trough and, dragging a huge baking sheet to the fire, she tipped the whole mess of dough out on to it, where it flopped into a sort of round cake as big as a cartwheel.
'Parkins is allus square,' Billy muttered, but he took care not to be heard.
Almost immediately something began to happen, something strange. The lump of dough began to rise just as if it had been properly made. It also began to cook at an amazing rate. In five minutes it was completely done and there it lay, big, round and brown, smelling rich and strange.
Hepzibah hauled it off the fire, not a single burn on it, and rolled the enormous thing across the room and pushed it out of the door.
'I'll show Mrs Greenaway how to make parkin, the old hag!' screamed Hepzibah, the light of madness in her eyes. 'And then I'll take the broomstick to you, my lad!'
As she crossed the threshold she tripped on one of her discarded shoes and lost her grip on the parkin. It began to roll down the hill.
'No!' shrieked Hepzibah, 'Come back here!' She picked herself up and ran after it. Her cries brought all the villagers out of their houses to see what was happening. There was the parkin bowling along down towards the ravine with Hepzibah staggering behind. At the edge of the ravine the parkin's mad career was halted for a moment as it hit a bush, but Hepzibah ran straight on clear over the edge and right into the hopeful dragon's mouth. GULP!
'THAT WASN'T VERY TASTY!' remarked the dragon with a cough, but just then the parkin dislodged itself from the bush and rolled into the gully right at the dragon's feet. 'COR!' he said and chomped at it with his big white teeth. Unfortunately they immediately became so stuck fast in it that he couldn't open his mouth.
Now when the villagers saw that, they thought it was a golden opportunity to get rid of the dragon once and for all. They all ran home and got their knives and axes and scythes and pitchforks and anything else they could lay their hands on. Then they ran back and tried to get down into the dragon's ravine. It was full of the fire that spurted through the dragon's teeth as he wrestled with the parkin. Even the rocks were too hot to climb on. But just then the dragon saved them the trouble by deciding to wash the parkin off in the sea. Spreading his wings he suddenly launched himself out of the ravine and kep-plopped himself down into the water. The villagers ran after him and, as soon as his head was underwater, they hit him again and again until he breathed in water and drowned.
When the victorious villagers marched back from the shore singing and rejoicing, they found the door to Billy's house open, everything clean and bright; a fine fire was burning on the hearth with a nice square parkin baking in front of it. Old Tom Puss was washing himself in the chimney corner and sitting at a scrubbed table with good food in front of him, was Billy. Mrs Greenaway was sitting placidly knitting in old Mrs Biter's chair by the fire. She nodded at them, but said nothing. From that day on she looked after Billy herself.
Out in the sea the dragon's body slowly hardened into stone. Folk nowadays call it Filey Brig.
The Witch Hare
Bad times throw up witches as rotten meat breeds flies. They are everywhere, friends, not kindly nature worshippers but malevolent haters of everything good. Harvests, animals, children, all are vulnerable to the witches' spite and demonic power. Who are the witches? It is often hard to be certain, but keep an eye on the outsiders, the ones who do not conform, the strange, the deformed, the sharp-tongued. Who else would wish us such harm? Who else would try to destroy so wantonly the wonderful world God has created for us? Watch your neighbours carefully, friends, and you will see the signs, catch the evil glance that brings murrain down on your cattle, hear the muttered spell as you pass.
Above all watch for the familiar spirits who appear in the form of animals: Mother Jenkins has a cat cleverer than any right cat should be; old Toby talks to crows; the hunchback who lives near the wood has a pet toad.
But that is not the worst of it, for witches themselves can turn into animals.
There was once a new plantation in Eskdale that was being destroyed by hares, a great quantity of hares, who nibbled off the tops of the little trees. The owner organised shooting parties to get rid of them, but there was always one that got away and it seemed to the hunters that each time it was the same hare.
The owner laid snares and sat up night after night trying to catch that last one, but without success. She set off the snares unharmed and even dodged bullets. It was clear to him that she must be a witch.
He discussed it with his friends and they all came to the conclusion that they should consult the Wise Man (a holy person, untainted by witchcraft, most thought him, though others felt that he pried too much into God's secrets).
They took him a present of honey and begged him to help them with a witch hare. He stroked his long white beard. 'The matter is easy,' he said. 'Give me a silver coin.'
He broke the coin into pieces. 'Load these pieces into your gun and shoot the hare with them. Silver bullets are a sovereign remedy for witches of all sorts.'
The following evening was warm and pleasant as the owner and his friends set off for the plantation with the gun. As they clattered down the main street of the village they passed a tiny cottage at the very end where an ugly old woman sat in her doorway, enjoying the late sun and carding wool. She greeted them and they muttered a reply, not daring to look at her directly, for everyone knows that old women can put the evil eye on you.
'How goes your plantation?' she asked the owner.
'Well enough,' he replied, walking briskly away. She spat on his shadow as it passed.
'Courtesy costs nowt!' she shouted after him.
The men reached the plantation and hid in the bushes to await the hare's appearance. The moon slowly rose and filled the valley with light. It grew cold, but the men sat patiently, still and silent. It was past midnight when they saw a movement among the little trees. A big grey hare was there, stretching up to nibble the juicy top of one of them.
Excerpted from East Yorkshire: Folk Tales by Ingrid Barton. Copyright © 2015 Ingrid Barton. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
2 The Sea,
3 Holy Folk,
5 The Other Side,
About the Author,