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Lancashire Folklore | Folklore Thursday

Many folkloric traditions and folktales in Lancashire have their origins in Nordic customs and beliefs. Lancashire is littered with Nordic place-names, especially along its coastline; Heysham is just one place where clues can clearly be seen in a 900 year old church, a hogback stone and a cluster of graves cut into the rock on a cliff-edge. Modern Lancastrians are often blissfully unaware of this ancient history – oblivious to the fact that the Teanlowe Shopping Centre in Poulton is named for the nearby field where the annual Teanlowe or Beltane fires were lit, or that Hackensall was named for Haakon, the Danish invader who chose to settle there.

It’s likely that the many tales of the Devil in Lancashire originate in those ancient times. Most of them tell of a common man or woman tricking the Devil, the innate intelligence of the village school-teacher or the humble tailor winning out against all the Devil’s evil thought and action. These stories make it abundantly clear that the Devil is not as clever as he thinks – and also that he is remarkably clumsy, considering he is a supernatural being.

Then there are tales of witchcraft; of course, Lancashire has more than enough reason to tell witchcraft stories, as it saw the execution of many so-called witches in the 17th century. However, there are also many folk-tales of elderly Mothers who suddenly become apprised of miraculous powers which they use to trick the unwary. In most cases the unwary deserve to be tricked, because they are guilty of infidelity or cruelty to those beneath them.

As for Lancashire’s ghost stories, many of them are so old they are folk-tales in themselves, passed down the ages by word of mouth and doubtless elaborated in the process. But where there is smoke there is fire and often the historical event responsible for the folktale is, in itself, just as interesting. For instance, many of Lancashire’s most romantic and tragic stories have their origins in the 16th century, when the Reformation led to the persecution and deaths of many Catholic priests and recusant civilians who refused to give up their Popish ways. The stories have been embroidered but they have their basis, at least, in fact. Even very modern stories quickly become embroidered and it can easily be seen how they might become the folktales of the future.

It seems there is hardly a town or a village in Lancashire that does not have a tale or two of a haunted house, a sad spirit grieving for a lost love or a boggart causing trouble. Locations vary from houses and farms to great halls and manors, from ancient castles to modern-day shops – some ghostly experiences even take place out of doors. Some are repeated down generations, some are reported quite factually in newspapers, even if the author of the piece cannot resist adding a line of two of ridicule. Sometimes a natural explanation is discovered; the White Lady was a scrap of white curtain left in the empty ‘haunted’ house, the sound of music simply the wind through a broken window pane – but that will not prevent the stories from entering into local folklore.

Image from Gidzy on Flickr… License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

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