Staffordshire, is no different to anywhere else when it comes to ancient beliefs, it could be said, it has a bit more. There are plenty of legends as well, enough to fill several books, but my time is limited, so here, briefly, are just a few snippets. There are a number of illustrations to be seen, in the Gallery Album, " Images from the Forum's. Except the one below, which refers to " Spring Heeled Jack ", which can you can read about below.
It has been said, that in days of old, Giants roamed the earth. The story goes that a Giant and his wife lived at Holy Austin Rock, and another, nearby, in Enville. The giant of the rock, had to fetch water from a stream on Kinver Edge, and taking advantage of his absence, the giant from Enville, went to see the others wife. They were discovered, and the giant fled back home, followed by a huge lump of spear shaped rock hurled after him. Embedded in the ground, this rock became known as the " Bolt Stone " to the locals, but sadly, it's no longer there. This story parallels the tale of the Giant of Clent, and the Giant of Rowley Hills. Tired of hurling Insults, the Clent Giant hurled a few rocks instead, hence the group of stones known as the " Hailstones ". They are now long gone as well.
No folklore stories should be without it's Fairies, and we have a few as well. It was told, that when the Church at Walsall was being built, no one asked the fairies for permission, as it was quite near their meeting place, which most of the locals knew about. To show their displeasure, one night, the fairies moved the foundations to a hill nearby, and the builders, fearing further trouble, completed Saint Matthews on the hill where it now is. There were good fairies, and bad fairies in the tales, fairies that could change shape, fairies that bought luck, fairies that played tricks, and the really bad fairies, that took away human babies, and sustituted them for their own. Changlings. It was this fear, that made many a Blackcountry family, have their children christened as early as possible. If you think that leaving offerings for dear old Santa, is fairly modern, it isn't. It was originally done to placate the fairies, who would then, it was believed, look after, and bring good luck to them. Even the Miners had fairies, they were called " knockers ", and if upset, they would hide the tools, steal the candles, jump out from behind pillars of coal, and generally cause a nuisance. As if mining wasn't hard enough already, superstition added just that extra edge.
The region also has it's share of Witchcraft stories as well, going back into the very dark past. It was commonly believed that all witches met in a sort of ' Parliament ', on midsummer eve, when areas associated with the practice, would be given a wide berth. They were credited with being able to change into a variety of creatures. There was such a woman in Hell Lane, Sedgley, who, it was claimed, turned into a white rabbit, to prowl about the neighbours house's. The Witches reputation for casting spells, mixing up potions, and the fact that most of them were old, meant they were blamed for all manner of things. There were many ways to ward off, the evil of witches, and several ways to detect them. Making what were called ' Sun Wheels ', straw wrapped around a frame, and sending then burning down a hill, was a typical village tactic. Just as long as you carried a burning torch going home. The wearing of a " witch brooche " , specially designed, and blessed with occult power, the use of Saint Johns Wort, rubbed into various parts, were just two of the many charms available. Less popular, was the obtaining of some thigh, or leg bones from the Churchyard, which were put at the end of the bed at night, crossed. Shades of George Smith, the Rowley hangman in this next charm, a piece of rope used to hang a murderer. Not everyone was convinced though, even as early as 1491, in Burton upon Trent, the Baronial Court dismissed a claim by a surgeon, that his Mother-in-law was a witch. I thought they all were.
Every area had at least a Wise man or Woman. These folk were also known as witches, but this time, of the good variety. Most of them claimed to be able to locate lost, or stolen articles, at a price of course. They used many methods in this work, spells, incantations, crystals, and numorous charms. Devil Dunn, who lived in Netherton, near Dudley, had customers from around the Country, and was better known than his rivals, Modges, and Old Nicholls, both from Hell Lane, in Sedgley. Old Nicholls though suffered a set back, when consulted by some local miners, who were disturbed by all the candles that vanished down the mine. He blamed it on the Devil, gave them some rather elaborate instructions, and asked for payment in advance. The culprits, it turned out, were the Pits rats, and his reputation suffered as a result.
There is a tale. of an old woman who lived in Powke Hillock, Rowley Regis, bing a witch. Her name, so the story goes, was "Old Mollie Mogg ". It was believed, that she was in league with the Devil, and that when she died, she would return as a Black Cat, within one week of her death. To this end, she was reputed to have offered the local Doctor a very valuable ring, on condition he have her dug up, and the coffin opened. So potent was her reputation, that when she died, the congregation of Saint Giles would not allow the burial in their churchyard. She was supposedly then interred at the cross roads, at the bottom of Powke Hillock, in an old Murderers' graveyard. Given the period, and money being scarce, it's not surprising that an attempt was made to " reclaim " the ring, giving rise to gruesome tales of Body snatching. It's said, that when caught in the act, the men were in a state of shock, the coffin being empty, and no sign of Old Mollie's corpse. Now you havn't, by any chance, seen a large Black Cat about have you? Speaking of which, another story about old Becky Swan, who was said to come from Kidderminster, tells of her being able to find trapped miners with a liquid filled bottle. She would walk above the mine, and when the contents of the bottle changed colour, thats where the miners would be. She was reported to have died in mysterious circumstances. When found, all that remained were a few well chewed bones, and a cat that fled up the chimney, never to be seen again.
Now, from the records, such as they are, Hells Lane in Bilston was a hot bed of the art of Witchcraft.There were Kat Rhodes, a male, who was also known as " White Rabbit ", Nell Nicholls, and a Joan Coxe,or Cocks, who had the distinction of being credited with the be-witching of a young lad. West Bromwich, not to be outdone, had it's own wizard, one " Witch Dashfield ", although it's not clear if this person was male or female. Down in Blue Ball Lane, Cradley Worcestershire, there was a woman known as " Ode Magic ". She had a strange, but possibly lucrative way of selling spells. She would, so it goes, stand on a large stone, and offer her wares to people passing by. The Curse's were reserved for those who didn't buy, or ignored her. Legend has it, that in 1849, after some workers at a local Ironworks made some ribald remarks, she swore she would cause the Boiler to explode, and promptly laid a curse on it. Superstition, being what it was at the time, fearful of what might happen, non of them went to work for a week, closing down the ironmaking. The Owner may have been hoping mad, but " Ode Magic " had insured that she would never have been short of a few bob in future. The Devil left his mark on the region as well, there was the Devils mark on Old Hill's cross, the Devils Hole, in Coombes Valley, the Devils Mouth Cave, at Wrens Nest, and the Devils Elbow, on the Canal at Wednesfield. I have no doubt that there are many more examples, and once again, it's a matter of personel choice if you believe any of it. It remains though, very much part of Staffordshire and the Black Country's History and Heritage, which is why I have included it. Another area, renowned for it's witches, was Tipton. There's a story about one, Abigail Whitehouse, whose dicription fits the perception everyone has, aged, and with a hooked nose. Reputed locally to be able to change shape, one evening in a beerhouse, someone threw a pot at the owners Monkey, because it had drank his beer. The pot struck the animal on the leg, and Abigail immediatly cried out in pain, and next day, was seen to walk with a limp. Superstition is a powerful thing, and the episode ensured, that not only did Abigails fame spread, she was able to increase the price of her spells and potions. Crafty lot in Tipton.
The standard accepted way of dealing with Witches though, was burning at the stake. ( Never a popular choice in England, where most Witches were Hanged ) The last woman condemned in an English Court, was Jane Wenham, in 1712, although she was later reprieved from the death sentence. Scotland was a bit slow in following this trend, and in 1727, burned at the stake, Janet Horne. Witchcraft, ceased to be a capital offence in Scotland in 1736. This repeal of the Law, bought in by James 1 in 1604, came too late to save poor Janet. Old customs though, have a way of surviving long periods of time, and while it may have been no longer possible to hang a Witch, some still believed they should be. Or in the case of the next true story, just the burning. Hall End Colliery, West Bromwich, ( situated roughly where Cardigan Close, joins Sussex Avenue ) was the unlikely setting for a murder with superstitious overtones. In 1871, the Pit employed a nightwatchman, Joseph Marshall, who due to a previous mining accident, walked with a peculier sideways gait. He was also cross-eyed, which gave him a rather sinister look. Also working at the Pit, was one John Higginson, who,although a big strong man, was a bit feeble minded. They made strange drinking companions, the big man, seeming a little awed, by his smaller friend. After a quarrel between the two, Higginson got it into his head, that old Joe had cast " the evil eye " on him. So much did this trouble him, that he was reported to have consulted the, the " Sedgley Wizard ". The advice he allegedly gave, was that to lift a curse, the Witch had to be burnt to a cinder. ( Shades here, of the 17th century ) On Sunday 25 June, about five thirty in the morning, Isaac Blocksidge, the pits engine-tender, went to raise old Joe to help stoke the boiler. He was greeted by a horrible sight. Joseph Marshall was on the ground, being slowly burnt, by a pile of coals which had been taken from the fire, and piled on his body. He had, mercifully, been terrible beaten about the head causing horrific injuries. It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to work out who the culprit was, for John Higginson was covered in blood splatters, and was swiftly arrested. At his trial, the charge of ' Wilful Murder ', was reduced to manslaughter, and instead of facing the hangman, Higginson was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Judge obvious thought there was a touch of insanity in this murder, and he was right. It wasn't long before John Higginson found himself transported to the same place as another Blackcountry murderer, the Lunatic Asylum at Powick, in Worcestershire.
Magic Charms and potions were also in demand for all kinds of illness and afflictions. Toothache for instance, would require the Charm to be written down and chanted, either forwards or backwards. These had to be paid for. Another remedy was to crush a Ladybird and rub it on the Gums. It was only effective while wearing the Tooth of a dead man. If you wern't feeling sqeamish, you could cut of the paws off a live Mole, and wear them until the poor Mole was dead, and your ache had gone away. Whooping cough, a common complaint, was treated by passing the Child nine times under a bramble bush, that had both ends in the ground. The same treatment that killed the Mole, could be visited upon a Toad, it's forefeet being put into a bag, and slung around the neck. Warts were a particular nuisance, and the most widely held belief, was that they could be cured by a Hanged mans hand, rubbing the wart several times. Similary, a piece of Beef could be rubbed on the Wart, buried, and as it decayed, so would the wart. Rheumatism, could be combated, by putting a Potatoe in your pocket, or better still, a magnet. Another childhood affliction, Mumps, had a remedy sworn to work, blindfold the child, and send it three times around a stream of water. A case of kill or cure I think. Finally, the pain of childbirth. There are many and varied charms for this age old problem, some good, some not so good. Take a stone from an Eagles nest, if you dared, and keep it by you until the child is born. Stones with this so called ' magic ', were hired out by a few crafty individuals, by the hourly rate. This clearly demonstrates that a few of our ancesters were a lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for.
There are a few stories concerning shoes as well. It was concidered very bad luck, to put a pair of new shoes on the table. This stems, possibly, from the practice of mine owners, who, when a man was killed in their pit, purchased a new suit of clothes and shoes, so as to give the poor wretch a decent sendoff. The miners took this as a bad omen, as to their own future safety. The older women, always burnt a shoe at the start of a long journey. This was supposed to ensure good luck on the way, and a safe return coming back. My Mother, who went on many hop-picking holidays, watched her own mother do this. It was also to ward off Witches and evil spirits, that sometimes, shoes would be buried under door steps, or hidden in chimneys. A custom still carried on in one form today, that of shoes tied on the back of a wedding car, is to bring luck to the couples future happiness. The curse of the Ladder, was something I learned early on in life. Never walk under one, we were told, very bad luck. The cure was to walk backwards, retracing your steps. Another way of lifting the curse, was to keep your fingers crossed, until you came across a four legged creature. Then, and I kid you not, you were supposed to turn to the right, and from over your shoulder, spit on the poor thing. Nasty habit spitting, I always waited until I got home, and then threw some salt over the same shoulder.
Childrens games, simple as they seem, also stem from old folk tales and witch craft. Most of them were practised around the superstitious time of Halloween. Taken from the witches, was a way of predicting who a young girl would wed. It envolved taking a lighted candle, into a darkened bedroom, and see if your intendeds image, was reflected in the mirror. This would have been a cheap replacement for the old crystal ball. Another method required the woman to peel an apple, taking care, to keep the peeled skin, as long as possible. This would then be thrown over the shoulder, left on the floor until it dried and curled, when it would reputedly show the lucky mans initials. Also associated with a bit of witch craft, was the placing of Hazel nuts on a hot grate, and reciting a ryhme. " If you love me pop and fly, If you hate me burn and die. " Halloween, is the time of course for lanterns, but it goes a lot farther back in time. It used to be, that every villager, after hollowing out a swede, or pumpkin, would put a candle in it and visit all the homes, " blessing them with light ". If the candle went out, they would have bad luck, but if it remained lit, throughout the long ceremony, they would be free of witchcraft for the rest of the year. It dates back to the middle ages, when it was called " Lating the Witches ". Another game, Jack-upon-the-Mopstick, was an old way of stopping witches from flying. Several villagers where required to sit up a tree, and then jump onto the witch, as she passed on her broomstick. It was also the custom, for one of them to carry a Badger. Now why anyone would concider a badger to be lucky, I don't know, as in my experience, they can be very nasty little devils. I wonder how many witches they managed to stop in flight, and how many got bitten by a rather irate badger. I liked the game though, provided I wasn't part of the mopstick.
Common practice, going back centuries, to ward off evil spirits, and to guard against bad luck, was to bury certain objects. When studying folklore, we need to understand, that most of the population we concider to be nailers, chainmakers, or colliers, came from, and retained, many of the rural communities superstitious beliefs. Some of them were so old, that they predated Christianity. They were of course added to by the new found superstitions, of the industrial revolution. One example of this, is the old tradition, of nailing a horseshoe over the main door. Not only was it inteded to keep out evil, the open top of the shoe, was supposed to hold luck. ( never worked for me though ) Farm tools and implements were buried in a set pattern, beneath the door, in an effort to prevent witches from getting in. The records suggest, that the tools would have been old at the time of burial, no point in getting rid of a perfectly usable scythe. Other items buried would have not been so pleasent. An animals heart, freshly gathered, would have pins, or more likely sharp thorns stuck into it. It then went up the chimney as far as you could get it. A sure cure I'm told, to prevent a witch from entering the house that way. Don't forget, it was believed witches could fly. What was mostly not recorded, was the act of sacifice. The Stone Masons, were reputed to put such human offerings, under the foundations of the East wall. Who knows, it may very well be true, as a number of recent digs have indeed found a burial, either very close to, or under foundations, as discribed. Later on you will be pleased to note, the practice seems to have reverted to just animal bones. I wonder what they put under the new Cathedral in Coventry? No doubt due to pressure from the Church, the practice of putting into a building a shoe, or pair of shoes, began in the 15th Century. They are found today, in walls, chimneys, over doors, and under floors. Other items are sometimes found with the shoes, a candle, a ruler, or other little items of a personal nature. Nearly all such shoes found, tend to be very worn, and sometimes, slashed in the form of a cross. A lucky charm maybe, or to prove to the spirits just who owned the house. Perhaps the cross was, again, to ward off the witches. Should you be concidering knocking down an old house, and rebuilding on the site, if you find a shoe, make sure you put it back in one of your new walls. Don't want to bring bad luck, do we? Recently, while refurbishment of an old cottage was going on, a hearth stone was uncovered that bore the sign of a large circle. Another ancient piece of folklore to keep out the witches. There must have been an awful lot about in the 1600s. You could also use spells and curse's, written down, sealed with wax, and pushed into chimney cracks. One of the most fearsome weapons that witches could use though, was the curse of " The Evil Eye " . So powerful was this curse, that it would, so it was alleged, curdle milk, send eggs instantly bad, and cause many forms of sickness amongst farm animals. Many people used Rowen Wood, made the sign of the cross, or just crossed their fingers to combat the evil eye. No wonder they hung so many poor old women. Sadly it seems to have died out, this art of casting the evil eye, if a cow gets sick today, they blame it all on the poor old Badger. Mind you, now I come to think about it, the last time I looked into a badgers eye, he bit me.
Now I think it should be well established by now, that Staffordshire is full of Legends and oddities. No more so than this next bit, which just goes to prove, that given a plausable story, and a bit of trickery, anything is possible. If anyone has been to Tutbury, they will tell you it's a lovely little Town, roughly midway between Burton-upon-Trent, and Uttoxeter, in the Valley of the River Dove. An unlikely place, you might think, to find one of the biggest fraudster's of the early 1800s, yet such was the case though, about the same time as Joanna Southcott. Just like her, Ann Moore claimed to have religious revelations, but sadly, not with the same degree of financial success. So, from her small house in Ludgate Street, in 1812, she announced to the world, that she had not eaten for the last 5 years, or partaken of any liquids for the last 4. Now only a complete fool would have believed that, and this she knew well, so, in order to back up the " claim ", she had already permitted certain of the local "worthies," to witness the facts, over a period of 16 days. As the story spread, and people began to arrive in droves, so the sceptics amongst the locals, became increasingly suspicious. In the end, Doctor Henderson, the local medical man, called in some help, in the form of Mr Lawrence, a Surgeon at the famous Saint Bartholomews Hospital, in London. An apointment was made, for August 3rd, 1812, and they both trooped round to the 50 odd year old Ann Moor's dwelling. They reported later, that she appeared to be rather on the the thin side, although not as thin as others in the Town. Her pulse was strong, but she claimed to be paralytic and wasted, in her lower parts. She had no trouble speaking, and didn't seem to be deficient in saliva. ( She would have cause later on, to spit and curse the 2 medical men ) There's no doubt she spun a sorrowful tale, how she had lost all interest in food and water, hadn't wee'd in 3 years, nor graced the outside privy with her presence, in the last 5 years. Yet the room reeked with the unmistakable stale smell of Urine. ( Clearly, Mrs Moor was trying to extract the very substance she claimed not to possess ) A further claim was that she had also, not slept for over 3 years, nor indeed, lain down, had occasional fits, and her only form of relief was a weekly face wash. ( She was very specific. in pointing out, that not a spot of this water passed her lips.) It soon came to light, that her previous attempt at becoming a " Celeb ", had ended in her being exposed as a fraud. The good Doctors were about to perform the same service for Ann Moor, bringing her attention seeking habits to an abrupt end. They did what any decent sceptic would have done, arranged for another, but more observant watch. No mistakes this time, the room was cleared, a new bed was bought in, and, in a stroke of genius for the time, placed on a weighing machine. Next, they placed a barrier around the bed, and restricted access, so non of her friends could come near. ( If what she said was true, why would they want to anyway ) This time the watch only lasted 9 days. Her friends, unable to sneak to her the apples and tea, that had sustained her on the previous watch, could only look on, as the dishonest hypocrisy unfolded before them. She gave up, and was forced to make a very public confession, long before any financial gain had accrued to her. There are two ends to the story, local folklore says she died sometime later, when she was about 53, but another tale says that some years later, having left Tutbury in somewhat of a hurry, she, and her daughter, appeared in either Knutsford or Macclesfield. They were both reported to be facing fraud charges in Court, I wonder if they tried to pull the same stunt ? If so, it sounds like they failed again, but managed to enter the land of legend and mystery. Well, thats Folklore for you.
Now, just how superstitious are you ? How many of the old tales from the past are still embedded in our minds. Do you throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder after spilling something ?, would you dare to walk under a Ladder ? Take the ladder for instance, why avoid going under it? It stands to reason that something nasty could fall on your head, but thats not the origin of the folklore. We need to go to the old days of hangings for the answer, and the framework, or nearest tree used in the process. The condemned, in order for the noose to be put around the neck, needed to be raised off the ground. What better tool, than a ladder. The executioner then only had to push the poor soul, or remove the ladder, and "hey presto", the job was done. Ladders were therefore concidered unlucky, an invitation towards certain doom. We also get other expression's from this practise, " turned off ", and left " kicking your heels ". So how come they are still well known ? Simple really, passed on in verse at lot of them, learned at grandmothers knee, or in a School playground, just like this one. SUNDAY'S child is full of grace, MONDAY'S child is full of face, TUESDAY'S child is solemn and sad, WEDNESDAY'S child is merry and glad,THURSDAY'S child is inclined to thieving, FRIDAY'S child is free and giving, SATURDAY'S child works hard for a living. Thats one of the more better known one's. How many of us get dark looks when cutting our nails, and not just because of the mess, or how far we can get them to fly. Certain days were always frowned on, the chance you see, of the parings being aquired by Witches, has been around for centuries, and was greatly feared. A man had better never be born, than have his nails on SUNDAY shorn, Cut them on MONDAY, cut them for health, cut them on TUESDAY, cut them for wealth. Cut them on WEDNESDAY, cut them for news, cut them on THURSDAY, a new pair of shoes. Cut them on FRIDAY, cut them for sorrow, cut them on SATURDAY, a new sweetheart tomorrow. A great many beliefs, held by our ancesters, came from Biblical sources, some via mistaken interpretations, which, in Medieaval times, became part of the folklore. Witchcraft, or the fear of it, then made up a large part of everyday life. As most area's were mainly Rural in nature, a great many beliefs had Animals and Birds as a theme. This last one I learned as a child, taught to the class by a Teacher who came from a very rural County. The Robin and the redbreast, The Robin and the Wren, If ye take out of the nest, ye'll never thrive agen, The Robin and the redbreast, The Martin and the Swallow, If ye touch one of their eggs, Bad luck is sure to follow. That short ryme, was enough to stop me me, as a young boy, from birdnesting, and I suspect, others who learnt it. As far as I can recall, I've never walked under a ladder either, and from now on, I will be very careful, on just which day I cut my nails.
Deeply embedded in most regions folklore, is the story of Spring Heeled Jack. This legend, or myth, began in the 1830s in London, and spread throughout the Country. Our region was not spared, superstition already being established from earlier times. This apperition was said to take many forms, half man, half Bat, appearing out of the early evening mist and fog. Another image has it being described as like a giant grass-hopper, leaping around in great bounds and jumps, and making the most horrifying grunting noise's. It was this latter discription which led to the name. Open areas and commons, were the places this fiend seemed to favour, and many a nice young lady was known to faint away at the sight. What were " nice " young ladies doing out in such lonely spots you may ask, especially at night. The first reported witness statement, was from a woman, supposedly alone at home, who answered a knock at her door, only to have her clothes torn off. She was saved, apperently, by the apperance of her " brother ", who was unable to catch the being, as it vaulted over an 8 foot wall. The attacker was described as having the most hideous features, with eyes like the fires of hell, large scaly hands, fingers like a bird of pray, and he was yellow. Later on, he developed a revolting horned helmet, and blue flames sprang out of his mouth, as he made off to the sound of maniacal laughter. This devil incarnate, soon made an appearance in the Midlands, terrifying all and sundry. Various News Papers dubbed him, " A Leaping Lucifer ". and it wasn't long before that famous Black Country character, Jumping Joe Darby was suspected. Now business may have bad in Old Hill, in 1855, for thats where the next round of this prodigous leapers escapades started. It was from the " The Cross Inn " , that reports came, that the regulars had seen a grotesque figure, equiped with both " Cloven Hoofs and Horns ", leap from the pubs roof, straight across the road, and land on the roof of the Butchers shop on the other side. A feat of prowess, that even Jonathon Edwards, past Olympic long jump champion, would have been hard pressed to do, even with a 30 yard run up. Maybe the landlord slipped a bit of something into the beer that night, or more likely cooked up a little money earner, for, in the next few days, he did a roaring trade. Puzzlingly, the Police did find a trail, of what looked like cloven hoof prints on the frost covered roof. For the next week or so, many other sightings were reported, and here's a strange fact, they all came from other pubs in the district. Time to bring in the Clergy now, never ones to miss an opportunity, they made it plain, from their fiery rantings, that the wickedness and insobriety of the population, had bought this terror upon themselves. Satan was on the loose, and only temperance could save them all. Sightings continued, although Spring Heeled Jack seems to have given the pubs a wider berth this time. 1877, saw the calling out of the Dudley Militia, as sightings increased in the Himley area. Traps were set, sentries posted, only for the poor soldiers, to be slapped around the chops before they could fire their guns, the culprit vanishing into the night, with his by now, trade mark mocking laughter. One Farmer managed, so he claimed, to have let fly with both barrels at a huge " Bat like " figure, he saw in his fields. The only result, was a flash of blue sparks, and a burnt area of grass. ( apparently) Then, from Netherton, came news of the arrest of a suspect. It appeared, that an old lady had been found babbling about seeing the elusive jumping Jack, and had been transported to the Police Station. After she had recovered, with the help of a small glass of Brandy, ( I wonder how much she had consumed before that glass ) she said she had seen a figure leaping across the Canal, flames coming from his mouth. Rushing to the scene, they then stealthily sneaked up and pounced on " Spring Heeled Jack ". Jubilation at accomplishing, what forces, up and down the country had failed to do, soon turned to acute embarressment. The man they had overpowered, was non other than " Joesy the jumper Darby ", who, with a colliers helmet and lamp on his head, was practising for his forthcoming competition with W. G Hamilton. So fame and fortune slipped away from Old Hills finest, and the leaping apperition continued his shocking antics until 1904, when he made a last apperance in Liverpool. What though, caused all the reports and sightings in the first place? Drink, over active imagination, hysteria, some lovelorn young lady trying to find an excuse for her torn dress. Once again, as far as folklore goes, your guess is as good as mine. There's another old piece of folklore, that concerns the phase's of the Moon. It's all been around for centuries, including the word " Lunatic ", from when people believed you could be sent mad, when a full moon was visable. When a child was due to finish weaning, the mother had to make sure the moon was in harmony with Venus, otherwise bad luck would be with them for life. The signs also had to be right for planting crops as well. Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Lettuce, should only be set out when the moon was in a " water " sign, i.e. Cancer. Potatoes on the other hand, were only harvested when these signs had passed. The older, and wiser ones, always knew to pick Apples and Pears in the " Old Moon " period, otherwise they would surely rot in storage. The very ancient fertility rites, incidently, nothing to do with any hanky-panky, where always carried out under the bright light of a full moon. The intention being to ensure a bumper harvest for the village. There are many legends surrounding full moons, queer creatures, phantoms of all discriptions, including the " Phantom Huntsmen ", who, together with his pack of hounds from hell, sought out human souls every full moon. The legend doesn't say saint or sinner, so I presume everyone out and about that night was at risk. The moon of course, has also been blamed for provoking violent crimes such as murder, and, it was believed, that a persons character could be read from the position of the moon when they were born. So if anyone in your family starts behaving oddly at times, it might be wise to just check the calendar, you never know.
The finding of many strange footprints and marks, continued for many years, but mostly when the Snow was deep upon the ground. Known by the simple superstitious folk of the region as, " Devil Marks ". This of course bought forth the many Chapel ranters of the time, who lauched into fiery sermons of impending doom. The Rev Daniel Matthews, the fervent and outspoken Baptist minister of Rowley, was quick off the mark, blaming the appearence of the evil on the " Teeming Taverns, smoke belching iron monsters, fiery furnances and multitudinous mines ". He vented his spleen, on The New British Iron Company, in Cradley Heath, and called it " The Citadel of Satan ". To be fair, the Baptists were never in favour of progress, and lord knows what they would have said, when the wheel was invented. Others blamed the mysterious marks on the many coal pits, which littered the area, as a way for the evil one to appear on earth. Hell couldn't have been that far away then, according to them, just the depth of a coal shaft. The superstitous miners stayed at home, afraid of meeting a creature, that could walk up walls, had cloven hooves, and could breathe out smoke and blue sparks. So fiery then, did the ranters become, that alarm was raised throughout the area, and Simeon Bradley, a Coal Master, offered a big reward for the capture of the beast. Squire Beet, gathered together a little committee, Police Inspector Adams, Doctor Thomas Underhill, and Ezekiah Plant, of the Brewing family. to look into the problem. James Hackett, who owned " The Dragon " pub, blamed all the trouble on the Gypsies having put a curse on the area, when they were forced to move on. ( Now that sounds just a tad familier ) He claimed they had a half beast, half man, chained up in cage, and that before they left, they let it go. Nonsense, was the word Doctor Underhill used, he had looked at the tracks, and in his opinion, they were the marks of a large Kangeroo, or similar jumping animal. Elizabeth Brown, another one from the licenced trade, said she had seen the same marks burnt into the rocks at a quarry on the Rowley Hills, and they all led to the Hailstones. We have come full circle it would seem, as this clump of rocks was the subject matter of the first little story in this topic. All manner of stuff was dreged up, including the " fact" that it had been an old Druid worship site and shrine. The large flat stone at the top, folk said, had been used for human sacrifices, and was known as the "Alter stone ". Superstitous tripe was the answer the various witness'es got. It's a strange thing though, many people wanted the pile of rocks blown up, so strong was the belief in the old folklore stories. Many years later it was, but for profit I should add, not because of another outbreak of Devil Marks.
I mentioned the man who came from Netherton in one section. Devil Dunn, whose real name was Theoplius Dunn, who was born in 1791, and lived in what became known as " Bumble Hole ", Netherton. He seems to have been a bit better educated than the rest of the population, and used this knowledge to further a career as a bit of a Mystic. He was both revered, and possibly feared, by the rather supperstitous and ignorant natives. Selling charms, potions, and spells, he seems to have made a fairly reasonable living from it all. He was to be found, at all the local fairs and wakes, calling himself " Seer Shaw ", and operating from a small, but highly decorated tent. Signs and symbols, which the gullible were of course unable to understand, made a good advertisement for his many services, some of which were legally open to question. He sold certain " charms " which would, he claimed, improve the chances of stolen or " missing " goods being returned. Following in the footsteps of the infamous Jonathon Wild, stolen articles would mysteriously turn up at his house, and be collected by the owners. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to work out just what was going on here, does it ? There was never any proof that he took part in the removal of the goods, but he was almost certainly a knowing receiver of stolen property. His predictions weren't all that good either. In conversation with a famous bare-knuckle fighter, at Rowley Wake in 1817, he predicted, or more likely remarked, in conversation, that the boxer, Tom Hickman, would die one day in an accident with a horse and carriage. As Hickman was a heavy drinker, and drove all over the place at breakneck speed, this was a pretty common place thing to say. Mind you, he had to wait 5 years before he could turn the conversation into any kind of prediction, and even then, the facts had to be " adjusted " somewhat. Hickman was killed in 1822, his head coming into collision with a Coal Waggon, when he drunkenly fell off a speeding carriage he was driving. It's said, that he forecast his own death, predicting the day in question, but when the day arrived, " Old Offie ", as he was known in Netherton, found himself still in rude health. So, like a couple of other rather more famous prediction merchants, he took steps to correct the matter. Well not steps really, more a rickerty old chair, which he stood on to secure a rope around a beam in his cottage at Bumble Hole. It would seem then, that he came to believe all the occult rubbish he had been sprouting all those years. I wonder if he was chanting one of his own spells when he stepped off that chair in 1851. It wouldn't have been the one about toothache though, he wouldn't have needed it would he, he'd just found a more permanant cure. He's buried in Netherton Churchyard, as is his son of the same name, one tombstone having a rather fancy Greek inscription on it. It's said that every year, mysteriously, flowers appear on his grave. An old customer maybe.
There is another old custom from around these parts, that if the area be troubled by Ghosts, the thing to do, is wander around the graveyard and find someone who lies " troubled " in their tomb, This alludes to someone with a guilty conscience, and the thing to do is to cut a 4 inch square of turf from the grave, and place it on the Communion Table. Well thats the remedy that was put forward after the ghostly goings on in Lower Gornal in 1881. Following the attempt to kill the Vicar, The Rev James Rooker, in 1879, shadowy figures began to be seen around the Church and Graveyard. Such was the level of superstition, and many swore to seeing ghosts in there dozens at night, that folks would not venture from their homes at night. Men were reported to be guarding the Church, after the Choir, to a man, refused to enter the Church without a Police escort. All this of course reached the Newspapers, and it was only when the Rev Rooker pointed out, that the town was becoming a laughing stock, that it ceased. Needless to say, the turf remained uncut.
There are some bits of Folklore, that most believe came from the area made popular by a lot of horror films; not so. Translyvania does not have the exclusive rights to a creature known as a ' were-wolf ', for they have exsisted, ( well in myth anyway ) in our fairland from at least the 13th century. In a Court of Law in the 16th century, many witness'es swore on oath to the true nature of the beast, and from whence it came, a shape changer, more commonly known as a Witch. One man stated that a witch had tried to put a spell on him, and he had rebuffed her by flinging " Holy Water " at her. Sadly, it only partly worked for she immediately changed into a Wolf. Panic set in and he turned and ran, only to stumble and fall into a ditch. With the Wolf's fangs only inches from his neck, in desperation he made the sign of the cross, and magically, the Wolf vanished.After several more astonishing tales from others, the Jury, gullable to a man, agreed on the Womans guilt, and she was taken away, and hanged. The sprinkling of Holy water was a standard proceedure for warding off Witchs, so was making the sign of the cross, and for the more persistant Witches,special prayers of exorcisms. The early Church of this Country has a great deal to answer for, supporting as they did, all the suppositious nonsense that abounded. For those of little faith,and there were many, they could try and obtain the heart of a dead Rat. Once purchased, it was recommended that it be spit roasted, put into a Red Bag, sealed or stiched up, and hung around the neck so it was over the owners heart. These remedies of course were not wholely confined to Staffordshire, the same, or similier, could be found in the North and South of the land. There was only way though to combat the Witches curse that made animals like cows/pigs/and chickens that stopped laying eggs, well again, and that was to Burn/Hang the accused. Most of the poor victims were old women, one could say an early form of euthenasia, or just perhaps to rid the Parish of the unwanted and unloved.
Some towns in our region, have heaped upon them, nicknames, mostly of a derogertory nature. Take Walsall for example, a Town noted for the prodution of Saddles, harness'es, Bridles, and spurs. Very young children were put to work, doing labour that was far beyond the strength they possessed. This caused them to devolope, bow legs, and croocked elbows, resulting, when they sat down, in the unfortunate individual resmbling an arm chair. So we get the term, " Walsall Armchair ", whenever one of the towns inhabitants announced from whence he came. This very old rhyme sums it all up nicely. Walsall Town for bandy legs, Bilston Town for Bulls, Hampton Town for fancy girls, and Sedgley Town for Trulls. Hampton of course meant Wolverhampton, and Trull is a local term for a Donkey. Mentioned earlier was the Dudley Devil, who manifested himself in many forms, sudden holes in the ground, a lightening strike, sudden death, lax moral behaviour, and in one part of Dudley, they had a little saying. Overwhelmed with outragious goings on, " At Dudley Woodside, the Devil laid down and died." Too much for old nick then. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Sedgley went the other way. The Devil ran through Sedgley, all booted and spurred, With a Scythe o'er his back, As long as a sword. Plenty of work here for Satan, and plenty of souls to stoke the furnaces of Hell. Wednesbury was famous, or I should say, infamous, for the licentious and outragious behaviour at the local fairs and mops. As well as all the drinking, fighting, and open fornication, the population liked nothing better than a day of Cock fighting. From all around the Country, owners of the birds decended on Wednesbury in droves, adding another vile sin to a long list, Gambling. Outsider called the inhabitants Wedgbury Cockins, a play on words, for it was very lewd ballard, the words changing to match the prominent players of the games.The proper term should have been Cockers, but I think that may have sounded even ruder. Hands up those who know the habits of a Cuckoo, no not the egg laying bit, but the fact that it is a really stupid bird, flying round at times in endless circles. The folks of Gornal also aquired this name as well, just to show there was no discrimination in the region. Over in Darlaston, this term, a "Darlaston Cuckoo", was applied to most of the inhabitants, although many of the wives of the town used it to discribe a rather thick husband. The same term also appears in West Bromwich, where it referred to a Jackass, herds of which roamed the area, for they were the motive power that worked the mines, and pulled the carts.Some Towns used the expertise of a trade to put down others. Tipton was well known for the grinding of fine edges to tools, so when anyone showed a tiny spark of intelligence, it was said that he had been " Sharpshined in Tippun ". New fangled gadgets always confused the rather poorly educated folk, so when a hot-air Balloon, for the first time, appeared over Bilston, the townsfolk ran around like little kids, their eyes wide with wonder. Hence forth, " Bilston Ballons " became the discription of the population. The term also became common for the " Fire-worshippers " of the Town, who loved bonfires, and rolling wheels stuffed with pitch covered straw, down the slopes to ward off witches. And caused many to be temporarely homeless. The Bible was also a source of some places aquiring a nickname, Sodom was firm favourite, to discribe a den of inquity, like the area near to Dudley, Coseley. A place full of mean little houses, filthy streets, and dozens of loose women. One place, which also matched this term, was the Parish of Handsworth. Drinking to abandon, moral degradation, fornication, kept the Churchmen on their toes, as did the Cock fighting, and Bull baiting, which took place on a piece of almost flat ground, just off the Turnpike Road. The old name of Ninevah was applied to the Parish, and the cart track that led to the Bull baiting ground and the Cockpits, became known as Ninevah Road. How very apt, and the name stuck, for the Road is still there, and up to 1883, the Bull pens were still there as well. Frederick William Hackwood, the noted Staffordshire author, wrote about most of these in his many books on the subject, having travelled extensivly through the county, He was born In Wednesbury, and was forced to leave when a local mine caught fire, heating up the ground and setting fire to many houses, including his. He moved to Handsworth, 120, Heathfield Road to be precise, where he continued to write and sell his works, at least up to 1910. So not only did he write about the Staffordshire folklore, he was actually a victim of some of it.