Sunday, 26 January 2014

Fairies of Cauldon Lowe

Belief in Fairies was common enough for people in the  past although in more recent times such opinions are considered idiosyncratic. In country areas however belief in them and in other fey entities such as elves, goblins and boggarts persisted well into the 19th century.

Some months ago I was having a chat with an elderly former quarry worker from Cauldon Lowe who was telling me entertaining stories about his childhood including encounters with gypsies he called “ roadsters”. I touched on a legend I had heard of the area “The Fairies of Caldon Lowe”  well enough known story to have a 19th century writer Mary Howitt produce a poem on the subject in the 1840s. (She was the first English translator of the children stories of Hans Christian Andersen) The old man told me that he had heard accounts of fairy’s dancing on an ancient burial mound on certain nights of the year.

The Leek priest and folklorist of the 1950s WP Wincutt researched a number of other places in the Moorlands that fairy traditions attached to them including Long Low close to Castern Hill where pixies danced inside a hill on Christmas Eve. Wincutt believed that a common denominator in most of these local stories was that incidents happened at sites of great antiquity.

 In another account a writer in 1901 described at Longnor a flickering light “seen moving as one moves . . . it has given rise to many tales of belated travellers having been beguiled by it and led into the swamp, where their bodies remain, and from whence their “boggarts” arise at night to caper and dance all over the countryside, to the terror of the inhabitants.”

Fairy lore has a tradition of thousands of years going back to before pre Christian times. Mischievous fairies have been said to abduct human babies and substituting them with their own children or “changelings”. They are accused of inflicting amnesia on their victims, drugging their victims and taking them to other worldly places filled with light. Medieval tales are full of encounters between humans and fairies where people when wandering back home find that life has radically changed.

One example from the Welsh border refers to a King called Herla who is invited by an Elf King to attend a feast. He and his entourage are let into a magnificent hall under a cliff where they are wined and dined until the meal ends and they fall asleep. On returning to the surface find that they have been gone 300 years and all has changed.

If we could remove the mythological aspect from fairy abductions and dress them a little differently, these folklore reports would be virtually indistinguishable from present UFO abduction reports which is an interesting conclusion to arrive at. 

The ability of fairies to cause mischief even into the 20th century is illustrated by the fooling of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle who was taken in by two young girls in 1920s Yorkshire photographed posing with fairies. Many years later Elsie and Frances confessed that they had faked the pictures with paper cut outs.