The Vale of Lyvennet

Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore

By John Salkeld Bland

 

A  RETROSPECT - OF THE CONDITIONS OF THE COUNTRY UP TO THE TIME OF THE NORMAN CONQUEST.

The northern counties of England have, through all historic record, and in times previous from monumental evidence, been the scenes of constant struggles, sometimes between the different tribes of the inhabitants amongst themselves, or marauders; and at others times united as a people opposing the invasions of foreign aggressors, as the Romans, and after them the Scots, Picts, Angles, Saxons and Danes; each in their turn conquering in whole or part, and so settling as a separate people, or mingling with the previous inhabitants. How remote may have been the influx of our first colonists we have no clue; but ethnologists agree generally that these were the Hiberno-Celts, who came not later than four centuries before our era. These came in from the north, generally following and forming settlements along the hills and valleys. To them is attributed the erection of the stone circles and several of the mounds on our hill-tops. As a natural consequence they were the first to give names to the various natural objects. These, as in every new country, are the hills, streams, valleys, and natural clearings in the forests, which they called by  words synonymous in their language. To them belong such words as knock, (a hill). They, have, however, left but few names, being found more on the east and west fell sides.

The next race were the Cambro-Celts, who have come in from the south. These we trace in the name Pen (a hill) as Penhurrock, and the affix Cum, &c.  Other tribes and people also mingled in the country from various sources, forming what were called at the time of the Roman invasion the Brigantes. During the Roman sway, which in the north was not more than 350 years, little change would take place in the real character of the inhabitants, as the Romans almost never intermixed with the native population. It was probably thinned of its inhabitants – not only from the draughting of young men for foreign service in the army, but more particularly from the fearful visitations of fire and sword on the revolting tribes, which was often the case with the Brigantes. The Roman era, was, however, a period of peace to the north compared with the succeeding 400 years, during which time it was subject to various invasions, first from the Picts and Scots, who ravaged the poor, helpless Britons, after the withdrawal of the Roman legions, for upwards of 150 years. Then came the Angles, who invaded from the east coast along the Roman roads. The Saxons followed, amongst whom there were constant wars. After them came the wildest and most erratic of all – the Danes. Under these Gothic tribes other words were introduced and affixes added to older names; villages and more permanent settlements began to be formed, requiring definite names: thus we have the affixes ton (Angle), ham (Saxon) and by (Danish), meaning a town or settlement. Thus each having a different language or dialect, words belonging to each have been blended into one forming the present Westmorland dialect; and so, as civilization advanced, and names were required, they have been bestowed by each different race and retained to the present day; and, what is a remarkable proof of the addition of names by different races, we often find two or three syllables in one name, each given by a different people, and yet each and all having the same meaning. The names now borne by fields have generally been applied to the same land for ages previous to its enclosure; and are consequently indicative of the existence of some particular race of people; or it may be some event. Others again bear peculiar names which they derive from some remains, even though these have been removed. These are often from mounds, as Affleber, a corruption from Anglebarrow; from earthworks, as Borwans, or from stone circles, as Stannerstones. Another curious fact is that many of these places where earthworks or mounds are or have been are said to be haunted. Such is the case near Reagill Grange, where a gate noiselessly is opened for the midnight passenger, and again as noiselessly closed. At other places a figure suddenly appears, passes by, and vanishes; sometimes a dog, swelling into an enormous size; again a calf or black swine, and not unfrequently a lady in white, whose antics are as various as her observers. This myth of the midnight air has often appeared to belated travellers, who, on daring her, have fallen victims to her fury. Major White of Reagill, one night coming through Blinbeck on horseback, saw something white in a tree, which he supposed to be a howlet.1 Having a gun with him, he fired at it. With this salute it began to swell and grew bigger till it took the form of a lady in white. She jumped on to the horse behind him, and galloped him through hedge, ditch and brake at a terrible speed. At last he landed home, his clothes torn to shreds, and his horse panting and white with foam. Another boggle haunts Langland’s Geayte. This is supposed to be a Barghast from its peculiar wawl or beal. One old man tells the story that he was coming along on horseback with some sacks under him. On hearing the wawl he jumped off, and pulled off his sacks, thinking some one had put a cat in; he found none, but presently cats began to wawl on all sides of him. He then knew it was the Barghast, so mounting his horse he made all speed along the haunted lane. Another man walking in the same lane saw something black in the middle of the road; he, foolhardy, punched at it “an’ wi’ that it gev the awfullest beal. I tewk to my heels than, for I knew ‘twas a Barghast.”2  He told his tale to an old neighbour next morning, who replied “La, man’ it’ll be our cuddy, it niver come heayme yesterday neet,”3 so off they went to see; and the cuddy it certainly had been. These appearances are often in the most lonely places, and in many instances the memory of some deed has in the ghost survived all remembrance of the action. Such is the case at Skellaw Quarry. Here a black man was seen to glide from point to point of the rock, and then mysteriously disappear, invariably at the same spot. It is a curious fact that there, a few years ago, some quarry-men came upon the skeletons of eleven human beings. These had been laid in an open channel or crevice formed in the rock, and then covered up. One of these had been highly jewelled, which bespoke considerable importance, having gold rings and bracelets on his fingers and wrists, and bronze earrings; the latter had discoloured the bones of the skull. The bones were carefully taken up, and devoutly interred in Morland churchyard. We do not know that the divine rites of the church were performed over them, but “The Black Man” has never more been seen. Along with the human bodies were also found the bones of the lower jaw and other parts of a swine, the provisions doubtless of the party who, whether explorers, merchants or hunters, have been fallen upon and murdered by some band of marauders; but at what period there is no means of ascertaining. 

Between Reagill and Reagill Grange is a stone called “The Boggle Steayne;”4 it is haunted by a black swine, which crosses before the seer past the stone,[?] and then vanishes in a deep pool of water. The stone is of immense size, but is half buried in the earth. Upon its upper surface is a natural mark resembling a footprint. This is said to have been left by the boggle. Another was formerly seen on the school, and another on the house between it and the stone; evident traces of some spirit of evil or perhaps of good, and who, like the Brownie of Bledwock

.... though lang sen geayne
The mark o’ his foot’s left on mony a steayne.
5

In following up the history of a people we find that each age had its characteristic superstitions, and supernatural appearances. The remote inhabitants believed in the transmigration of souls, and the return of the spirit to haunt its earthly tomb; these and the later Scandinavian races, imaginative to a high degree, and whose religion gave to every object and event a presiding spirit, have peopled our hills and bye-places with boggles, which for ages have kept in awe the minds of many successive generations. To such means, and the native wild and superstitious feelings descended from our forefathers, may we ascribe the belief in apparitions such as the reappearance of those dead, the lady in white, black swine, wraiths, &c. From the older religions we have the Barghast, the ghost of the tomb, whose unearthly lamentations warn mortals of fell mishaps, the Taisteral, a mischievous spirit of evil; the dobbies, brownies and fairies. In these mysterious spirits of the night do we trace the imaginings of a people long gone, whose works are almost lost; yet tradition has never failed to hand them down and down from father to son, yet each time ebbing weaker and weaker, till now the advance of the nineteenth century has marked the bounds “Thus far shall they go and no further”; now no longer the ingle newk resounds with the dread tales of a grandfather, and by the next generation all this will be forgot.

During the Roman sway Christianity was introduced into Britain, but it is highly probable that it took but little root in the North. The faint gleam of the true faith, if ever it existed, would be completely extinguished by the introduction of the Pagan creed of the Gothic nations, to the deities of which we are indebted for the names of the days of the week, and for several local names throughout the country.  his wild religion, however, eventually gave way before the advance of Christianity, for about the year 630 when Edwin was king of Northumbria, the true light of the cross was first introduced into the north by Paulinus, who is said to have converted the Northumbrians. He probably followed the example of Augustine, who, to bring from the old idolatry and not to offend the feelings of the people, consecrated the heathen temples, and observed the heathen festivals; but dedicated to the observance of Christian saints. The next advance was to erect rallying places of truly Christian origin; these were crosses of wood or stone, which to this day remain in reality or in name in almost every village. One has been erected at Crosby by some devoted to the reformation of the people around, which would assemble the new converts to hear discourses on the blessings and comforts of the new religion. But this was not all straightforward. The country became subject to the incursions of the Danes, who brought back the old religion in its wildest and most erratic form. The infant Christianity fell before them, and Paganism was again in the ascendancy. Such, as its name implies, has been the case at Crosby Ravensworth. The Danes coming, find here a village with the cross planted on the green. They, without respect to rights of property or religion, throw down the cross, and hoist their standard “The Raven” symbolical of the mighty Odin, in its place.*

The village, to its previous name of Crosby, receives the further appellation of Raven’s-warth (the village or place) thus dedicating the valley to the presiding care of the Raven God. This, with Ravengill and Ravencrag in Crosby Gill, and the more direct name of Odin in Odindale, all indicate the ascendancy of that people who in their plundering inroads fought under the banner dedicated and sacred to the Warrior God. Christianity, however, again gleamed forth; the crosses were renewed and others erected. One has existed, erected on Maulds Meaburn green; the pedestal was found when the present school was built, and there is authentic record that it stood there in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. A curious custom at one time existed connected with these crosses. When a funeral procession passed, the corpse was lowered and the people, uncovered, sung a hymn; this custom is still remembered to have been observed in passing Meaburn by old people, though no vestige of the cross remained, neither did anyone know the origin of the observance, - an example of what we often find, a custom existing when its origin and the object of its observance is forgot. Another is also likely to have been on the hill bearing the significant name of Cross Bank, near Reagill Grange. Thus Christianity became firmly established, and wandering priests supported by the voluntary contributions of his hearers went from place to place, preaching the true faith, now holding forth from the steps of some cross, or with his hearers beneath some wooden shed which received the name of a church. A building of this character in all probability answered that purpose at Crosby for many years previous to the erection of the first stone structure. Churches were first built of stone about the end of the seventh century, when Theodore was Archbishop of Canterbury. He reformed the existing state of religion by having stationary priests supported by a fixed salary raised by a tax called “kirk scot” on all cultivated lands.# When the church at Crosby was first built of stone, we have no record. The condition of the people up to the time of the Norman Conquest had made great advance since the first influx of the Saxons. A regular government prevailed, and permanent settlements had been made. Nearly all our villages may be traced back as having been first founded and named in those times, and even many of the single houses betray in the names a similar parentage. Cultivation was begun, and the land divided into hundreds, tithings and hides. The choice of boundaries is rather curious, and in some respects is proof of their antiquity. The first objects chosen, when convenient, are rivers or streams; the next landmarks are the wells and large boulders; of the former we have examples in Gunnerskeld, Rudkeld, Anna’s Keld and Ned’s Well, &c. Of the latter, in a district like this where large granite boulders are so plentiful, they have often been chosen, and in the old boundary rolls are called “Thunder Stones,” the name by which granite boulders are known in the neighbourhood. Some of the more remarkable are the Cross Stone at Kiverriggs, where the parishes of Crosby, Shap and Morland join; the Stooping Stone on Harkeld is by some thought to have been a rocking stone; it is six feet high and lodged on a point of rock. It is mentioned as a boundary in a grant made by Thomas son of Gospatric of the manor of Hardendale to Byland Abbey. Like all similar stones it is said to be haunted, and also has a remarkable propensity of turning once round every time it hears the cock crow!  Another stone near Murber bears the name of “The Dead Man’s Grave;”  it is small and has two cavities in the top end, which gives it the resemblance of a skull.

The next objects chosen are the mounds or ancient burial places, and occasionally the stone circles. These were then regarded with a fear and sacred reverence which we might expect the common people of those times, young in the belief of Christianity, would have for the numerous monuments of their Pagan forefathers‡; and it is quite probable that even then the same mode of burial might be adhered to;  consequently these landmarks were as secure boundaries as either the wells or rivers. Another boundary often adopted in elevated lands in the watershedding line, or, according to the old wording, “where the water falling from Heaven runs both ways.” As a proof of the antiquity of township boundaries it is worthy of remark that the manorial boundaries which were made soon after the Norman Conquest very frequently do not coincide, especially where the older boundaries have not been very definite.

 

* Canon Weston gave as a possible meaning of the puzzling word Ravensworth, “Hill of the Standard of the Raven,” with the reservation that this failed if the Danes did not reach here. Others think the name is corrupted from Ravensthwaite, Raven’s clearing. But far more interesting than the meaning is the pains with which the author traces out the historical steps by which the name, as he understands it, was built up.


# According to Stubbs, the belief that Theodore was the founder of the parochial system is mistaken; but his legislation aided its development.


The authority for this sentence is not clear, as the charter granting Hardendale to Byland Abbey is not forthcoming. Perhaps Mr. Bland has been misinformed by someone who had read the charter of Thomas son of Gospatric granting to Shap Abbey the land on which the abbey stood; here a “great stone” is mentioned, but this is between Raset and the Lowther, quite a different spot. Mr. Bland is certainly not responsible for the confusion.


Prof. Boyd Dawkins relates a remarkable instance of this feeling within living memory  About 1859 a Manx farmer offered up a calf as a burnt sacrifice, to appease the spirits of the tumuli, disturbed by archaeological spade-work!

 

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The Vale of Lyvennet, Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore, By John Salkeld Bland, 1910.
Originally transcribed by Diane Coppard and Kate Burns, and reproduced here with their permission.


Notes

1. Owl.

2. “and with that it gave the awfullest cry. I took to my heels then, for I knew it was a Barghast.”

3. “La, man, it’ll be our pony, it never came home yesterday night,”

4. Boggle stone.

5. "though long since gone, the mark of his foot’s left on many a stone.


19 June 2015.

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