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Customs _
and Tales




by Fletcher Moss



The Old Parsonage



Didsbury



LIBRARV I

rAllHlHNiA I

SANOJEGO J



/



CS'



FOLK-LORE

Old Customs and Tales of my
Neighbours




IN IIIK OI.I) PARSONAGE GARDEN.



Frontispiece.



FOLK-LORE

Old Customs and Tales of my
Neighbours

By

FLETCHER MOSS

Of The Old Parsonage
Didsbury

Author of "A History of Didsbury," " Didisburyc in the '41;
and "The Chronicles of Cheadle."

Also Vicc-Chairman of the Withington Urban District Council,
and Member of the Manchester City Council.



"^ quaint mid curious volume oj forgotten lore^^



Published by the Author from his home The Old

Parsonage^ Didsbury; and from his room in 'I he

Spread Eagle Hotels Hanging Ditch^ Manchester.

March 1898



All rivhts rescvutd



Printed by Bai.lantyne, Hanson &^ Co.
At llie Ballantyne Tress



To

The good old folk,
whose lore with love I learnt,
and tales I heard with joy,
this book I fondly dedicate





<k/



Preface




HE greater part of the contents of this
book consists of a series of articles
that originally appeared in The Man-
chester City Neivs, which were in-
spired by a pamphlet sent from the
Committee of the British Association for the Ad-
vancement of Science, appointed to organise an Eth-
nographical Survey of the United Kingdc^n, to the
Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, with a
request for information and answers to several ques-
tions. Having some knowledge of the subject, with
unusual advantages for acquiring more, and a fondness
for the work, it was left with me to take up the sub-
ject, which I readily did, getting more and more
interested in it as it grew upon me. The articles
in the press, which I hoped would elicit information
as well as orive it, caused a much wider interest in
the matter than I expected, though they did not
bring much information. That was mainly derived
from two sources — my father's kindred, especially the
branch still li\ing at Standon 1 lall. the well-rcnicm-
bered tales of childhood, and m\' father's chiKlhood.



vlii I'RI'l-ACK

and ilu; cxtraorclinary local knowledge of Thomas
liailcy of (iatlcy, who told mc so many things re-
lating to the history of Gatley and its neighbourhood.
His knowledge was mainly derived from his grand-
filher, who must have been well acquainted with the
tales and customs which were dying out from sixty
to seventy years since in the district of Gatley, the
extreme northern part of Cheshire. The halls of
Mees, Walford, and Standon, where my father's
ancestors lived, are in Staffordshire, near to the
borders of Shropsliire and Cheshire. Therefore the
district of the following tales and folk-lore may be
said to be that which has Didsbury on the Lancashire
border for its extreme north, extending forty miles
due south ; or, approximately, the county of Cheshire.

It is not nearly so easy to get authentic informa-
tion as many people suppose. The great difficulty,
as in so many other affairs, is to get at the truth.
There are few who say they believe in ghosts, but
we must needs beware how we write of haunted
houses. A gentleman who gave me permission to
write what I liked of his house, which was reputed
to be haunted, sent a man-servant down in haste with
a note, saying his wife would not allow such a thing
to be mentioned on any account.

The two simple-looking questions, "When does
the new year popularly begin ? " and " What is the
first food oriven to a new-born babe?" brou^jht forth
extraordinary answers. With regard to the latter I
found that very few indeed were even the fathers of
families who knew, and the mothers often objected
to the question, or did not tell the truth. The doctors



PREFACE ix

did not always know, for they were deceived or mis-
led in their turn, and the information I obtained and
published has been often commented upon, and has
been of use to Boards of Guardians and others.

The first seven chapters are much more discon-
nected and rambling than the others, for they are
composed of bits published separately, and replies
to querists or correspondents, which I have tried to
weave together.

To learn a tale it is often necessary to tell a tale.
People will tell things to those who have their con-
fidence, which they will flatly deny to any one wdio
seems to them to be inquisitive, or to be a superior
person trying to get something from them.

The dialect should, on the whole, be considered
as the dialect of Cheshire. It may differ slightly
and be somewhat confused in my own mind if it
come from the Standon district, or the Gatley and
Didsbury district ; but these places, if not actually in
Cheshire, are adjoining it, and have approximately
the same dialect and pronunciation. The natives of
Uidsbury used to have Stockport in Cheshire for
their market town and court town, they knew little
or nothing of Manchester ; now the old natives are
scarce, and Didsbury is a large suburb of Manchester.
The dialect of the old natives of the latter place and
Lancashire generally always seemed to me to be
much harder and harsher than that of the slower
and broader speech I had been accustomed to as a
child, with the farm - labourers, gamekeepers, and
country folk of Standon and Didsbury.

The tales of my neighbours in the latter j)art of



X I'kl'l'ACK

tlic l)()(ik iiicliidc some ('Xpcricnccs of modern clec-
lioixcriiiL;, l"i' lli<: man who goes canvassing falls
among lliicxcs and good Samaritans, and has them
all for neighbours, as if he lived between Jerusalem
and |eri(h(». In the rural rides, or pilgrimages to
j)lares of historic interest, we see our neighbours
under other guise. It has been a deep, unfeigned
pleasure to see our beautiful country, and to hear
tlu; quaint talcs and lore of our country folk. If
others may here share it, and this book be a memento
ol it, I am cont(Mit.

FLETCHER MOSS.



Thk Om) Parsonage
Dn)sr.URV.




Contents



BIRTHS



CHAPTER I



PAGE
I



WEDDINGS



CHAPTER II



BURIALS



CHAPTER III



CHAPTER IV



FESTIVALS—

The New Year
SiMNEL Sunday
Easter
May Day .
Whitsuntide
The Wakes
Harvest Home

SOULING

Christmastide



35

38

41

46
48

51
60

63



CHAPTER V
THE WEA'IHICR AND FLOWERS



69



CHAPTER VI



ANIMALS



78



xii CON ri'NTS



CIIAI^TKR VII

l-AGE

()i)i)ii'ii:s 109



CHAPTER VIII

GHOSTS '29

COMliKRMERE AhBEY 1 3^

CHEADI.li BULKELEY HaLL 145

The Old Parsonage, Didsbury . . • '5'



CHAPTER IX
LAWYERS, DOCrORS, AND PARSONS . .162

CHAPTER X
SCHOOLMASTERS 172

CHAPTER XI
CHURCHWARDENS 180

CHAPTER XII
FAMH-Y LEGENDS 194

CHAPTER XIII
CHESHIRE CHEESE 212

CHAPTER XIV
GATLEY FOLK 218



CONTENTS



Xlll



CHAPTER XV
CYCLING CROSS CHESHIRE



PAGE



CHAPTER XVI




PILGRIMAGES—




Hawarden


242


The Royal Oak ....


248


Blore Heaih


263


Beeston and Peckforton Castles .


. 268


Barthomlev


• 271



CHAPTER XVII



VOTERS .



279



CHAPTER XVIII
THE LOCAL BOARD OF DIDDLETON



'95



CHAPTER XIX
RELICS OF THE TUDORS .



299



CHAPTER XX
COUNTRY SPORTS



310



CHAPTER XXI

CRITICS AND QUERISTS .



323



List of Illustrations



FULL-PA GE ILLUS TRA TIONS

The Illustrations are mostly Jrom photographs by the Author, reproduced
by A. Brothers & Co., Ltd., of Manchester.



IN THE OLD PARSONAGE GARDEN .

DIDSBURY CHURCH FROM THE OLD PAR
SONAGE

GOING A-MILKING

STANDON HALL FROM THE FOLD .

STANDON HALL

BETTY AND HER DOZEN PORKERS .

COMBERMERE ABBEY . . . . '

THE OLD PARSONAGE GATEWAY

THE OLD PARSONAGE, DIDSBURY .

STANDON CHURCH

STANDON HALL FROM THE SOU'l 1 1-IOAS

FOURSCORE YEARS AND THE GOLDEN
WEDDING

THl': WISE MAN Ol'" GATLEY . . . .

LITTLE MORETON HALL



Front!


spicce




PAGE


To face


20


J) ))


52


11 »


54


)) j>


58


)) 1)


11


11 11


140


11 1,


152


„ „


156


11 11


19O


11 11


200



209



X V 1



li.LUS'rRA'lMONS



ma1':k cin'Kcii

150SCf)I'.i:L HOUSE

Illl'; ROVAF. OAK A'l" I5()SC01JEL .

mucklkstonp: church tower

llll': BATTLE CROSS, liLORE HEATH
THE KARHLY RAT-CATCHER





PAGE


To face


230




254




255




264




266




316



ILLUSTRATIONS IN TEXT



TALES OF EIGHTY YEARS .
OFF TO THE WEDDING
IN THE CARRS, DIDSBURY .
STANDON HALL FROM THE SOUTH
HAY HARVEST, DIDSBURY .
THE OLD PARSONAGE GARDEN .
GAMECOCK CROWING .
REAL OLD DERBY GAME



COMER'S DAUGHTER MEG, THE DAM OF TARTAR
AND TOSSPOT

THOROUGHBRED ....

A HEN WITH CHICKENS, GUINEA CHICKS, SEVEN
YOUNG TURKEYS, AND A DUCKLING

GOMER

GUINEA-FOWLS

THE CHURCH WITH ADJOINING COTTAGE AS THEY
WERE BEFORE THE "RESTORATION"

CHURCHWARDENS



10

17
29

59
68

77
79
81

99
103

128
161
171

179
193



ILLUSTRATIONS



XVI 1



A GABLE AT THE BACK OF MEES HALL

MEES HALL

MEES HALL FROM THE LITTLE RIVER MEES OR
SOW

AN OLD-FASHIONED DAIRYMAID, WITH CHESPIT .

GATLEY

HAYFIELD

MARTON CHURCH

WYBUNBURY CHURCH

CHEESE-ROOM, SHOWING THE HOLE IN THE FLOOR
IN WHICH THE KING HID ....

STANDON POST-OFFICE

TW^O GOOD SERVANTS

EXERCISE

LONG-EARED OWLS AT THE OLD PARSONAGE



PAGE
20 I

203



226
228
241

258
278
320
322
329




CHAPTER I




BIRTH

" Oh, Jesus bless us ! he is born lu'ith teeth"

— 3 Henry VI.

H AT is the first food given to a baby ?
Let us beo^in at the beo-innino- of
separate existence and inquire what is
this most important first food with
which we begin our Hfe. \^ery few
people know, and those who do know
will not always tell, or tell the truth. Bachelors, in
their bashful and blissful ignorance, and simple-minded
persons of both sexes, would suppose that the natural
food is the first food, but that is very seldom a fact.
Doctors do not always know, for that important per-
sonage the monthly nurse, who rules the roost when
an interesting event comes off, has what she calls
thoughts of her own, and says, " Drat them doctors,
what does men know ? "

Leaving out of consideration the niiserable things
that are brought up "by a bottle," it appears to be a
fact that even in the best regulated families the natural
food is not generally available at first, and something
else is substituted. What, then, is this important
article, our first food ^ The commonest answer is,



2 FOLK-LORE

" Butter and sugar," and very similar answers are,
"Sweetened cream," and " Butter and honey."

In fact these three answers may be taken as one,
for if we consider that sugar was formerly unknown or
very much dearer than it is now, and that honey was
cheaper, it is evident that sugar is only a makeshift for
the honey. In country places honey was formerly an
ordinary article of food, used to sweeten things, and
eaten with bread instead of toasted cheese and ale, the
common supper of our grandfathers. A well-known
passage in Isaiah says, " Butter and honey shall He
eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose
the good," and it also shows the great antiquity of
some of our common customs, customs that are passed
by unnoticed and unheeded even by those who observe
them. Other answers are, " Skimmed milk and water,"
evidently the answer of a "skinny scrat," or, in more
fashionable phrase, an ultra-economist. " Castor-
oil " ! ! ! What horrible stuff to begin life on, surely
this is doctoring gone crazy. " Some warm water
with just a leetle drop of gin, and happen a lump o'
sugar." Oh yes ! we know who wants the gin ; but
there is no harm in asking innocent questions. " What
do we give 'em gin for ? why, to wicken 'em, to be
sure ; it takes th' 'umours out of their little in'ards, an'
mak's 'em as wick as wick. They soon gets to like a
drop o' gin ; only just a drop, mind you." " Wouldn't
milk do better.^ not it, indeed; such stuff, it 'ud turn
to crud on its little stomach an' happen kill it, ask any
doctor."

Certainly many doctors have a great antipathy to
milk, for every doctor who has ever spoken to me on
the subject has told me that my practice of having a
basin of new milk every night and morning is exceed-
ingly bad for me ; fortunately I never heeded them,



BIRTH 3

and I have stuck to the new milk for more than fifty
years. Some of them say milk should never be taken
without whisky "to kill it," and one of our medical
men of high standing took the trouble to explain to
me, and give as his professional opinion, that if I took
a basin of new milk at night it would form a compact
mass of curd, a small cheese in fact, and keep me
awake all niofht and be there next mornino-. To
which I replied, " Then first thing in the morning I
should have another, that would be cheese number
two, and a third the next night, and so on." The
subject was not discussed much further. I mention
this to show that ignorant women, with their horror
of milk and their fondness for gin, are backed by
authority, and the majority of people neglect the best
food on earth, or spoil it with stimulants. It used to
be said that jockeys were reared on gin to make them
little and sharp, and give them a short life and a
merry one.

Here are the words of a oreat-crrandmother, still
hale and hearty, who likes her toasted cheese and
swig for supper. " Well, old Betty Trickett was the
most famous midift in these parts. She brought all
mine into the world, and the first thing she did was
to bind their little heads with linen banda^res as tisfht
as she could bind them, with a bit of flannel on the
top, and these bandages were kept on for six weeks ;
then she gave them rue tea. She was a grand midiff
was Betty, but she's been dead fifty years. She died
on her hands and knees on her cottage floor, poor
old body, thrashing out her leaze corn that she had
gleaned on Stawne flats." She evidently preferred
the "straitened forehead of the fool" to the expansion
of the intellect ; and rue tea ! rue, the bitterest herb
in the garden, the type and emblem of sorrow, remorse,



4 FOLK-LORE

and regret. She literally made the poor little beggars
" rue the day they were born" ; and yet the rue tea
cannot have been injurious, like gin or castor-oil, for
another aunt of mine, who has had some experience,
says that she had Betty Trickett and her rue tea to
the first seven of her children. Then as Betty became
older and somewhat drunken, she had another nurse,
who gave castor-oil, and the next three children died
very soon, so she made no account of the castor-oil
and went back to the rue tea for the remainder of her
family, and the net result showed ten children reared
w4io were started on rue, and three killed with castor-
oil. Her mother also reared twelve out of thirteen
on rue tea, and as they mostly lived to old age, and
none of them, male or female, were under five feet six
in height, the rue tea could not have given them a
bad start. It was said they all would have lived if
one had not been called Anne, for no Anne or
Hannah Moss had ever lived many days after being
christened (but that is a tale for another chapter).

It is very natural that when any child first appears
on the scene of life any little peculiarity about it should
cause those who are interested in it to see omens, and
from their wisdom and knowledge of mystical lore to
form conclusions, and to make guesses or prophecies
as to its future life.

I find there is a very unanimous belief that if a
child is born with teeth it will be "a hard-bitten one,"
one that "will have hold somehow," and probably be
unlucky ; or, if apparently prosperous, its selfish and
grasping life will end disastrously. That is the belief
of the common folk about us to-day, and it coincides
exactly with the beliefs of the kings and queens of
England four or five hundred years ago, for remem-
bering that Shakspere wrote of King Richard the



BIRTH 5

Third as "the dog who had his teeth before his eyes,"
and "who munched a crust at two hours old," I again
read his noted tragedy, and found it to be full of
allusions to what is now called folk-lore — the birds
of ill-omen are continually croaking and chattering,
"the chattering pies in dismal discords sung," the
bewitched arm, the dead body of a murdered man
bleeding afresh on the approach of the murderer, the
haunting ghosts, and in the last scene of " King
Henry the Sixth " the reader will find another bit
of old folk-lore that is still believed in. It is just
before the following lines : —

" The midwife wondered, and the women cried,
'Oh, Jesus bless us ! he is born with teeth.'
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog."

Our people have only known one man " from start
to finish " who was born with teeth, and he certainly
was unlucky, for he died a bachelor. There are
others living, but on the principle of calling no man
happy till he's dead, it is better to say nothing about
them.

The popular opinion respecting any one who should
happen to be born with a caul is very favourable. It
is even said there is a distinct money value in a dried
caul, for sailors will give several pounds for them, as
they are believed to be an infallible safeguard from
drowning, and therefore most valuable in shipwreck.
Sir John Ofiley, one of the ancestors and endowers
of the Lords Crewe of Crewe, left the caul in which
he was born to his heirs male, with the pretty little
village of Madeley, near Crewe, strictly enjoining that
it should never be hidden or concealed.

The beliefs and omens about birth marks, mothers'



6 FOLK-LORE

or lonoino- marks, moles, and warts, are more nume-
rous than it is well to express. It must suffice to say
that there is a firm belief, apparently backed by an
abundance of testimony, that children are marked and
influenced by some act or desire of their mothers
before they are born. This has given rise to a
common saying, "We must not have the child
marked." I will give one instance only, there being
many others more or less similar, and in some cases
a remark was made at the time (that is, before the
birth, not after it) that the child would be marked, and
it was marked. My father was born in the month of
June, when no one would think of partridge shooting,
and he had a very distinct mark of a partridge behind
his ear. The tale, well noticed at the time, is, that
some time before his birth his father was going out
with his gun, and his mother begged of him to shoot
her a partridge. This was not done, and the mother
in an irritated manner scratched behind her ear and
marked the child.

When I was writing some of these articles and
studying folk-lore, a curious popular superstition was
forced on my notice, and the truth of it in that case,
at least, was demonstrated. A man-servant who had
been with me some years, and whose wife was in the
family way, became strange in his conduct. He would
groom the horses and do his work before any one was
up in the morning, and then absent himself He
went steadily worse, until the work was not done at
all, and I was gravely told that it was because he was
"breeding"; his wife was going to have a child. He
had two little girls, and had not been affected before ;
but this time, I was told, it was different— the child
would be a boy. Shrewd, sensible men told me so,
and I watched the case. At the same time we had



BIRTH 7

an old cow that was behindhand with her calving,
and knowing the farmers' experiences with cattle, I
expected, and went so far as to offer to make a small
wager with some neighbours, that when the cow
calved the calf would be a bull, and also probably of
a dark-red colour. The man went worse, until he
was quite off his mind, and his wife had to have him
taken care of. At last she got her trouble over — a
boy who weighed eleven pounds — and the man re-
turned to his work all right the next day. I watched
the whole case most closely, and was much struck
with it. The cow also did as I expected, bringing a
big, rough, red bull calf

Another curious fact regarding this man is, that
his name is Crispin, and his occupation was a horse-
soldier or trooper ; he was born in barracks (and so
was his wife), and his father's name and occupation
were as his. When I was reading Freeman's "His-
tory of the Norman Conquest," I read that a certain
mounted soldier named Crispin came over at the
Conquest, and had lands granted him at Exeter and
Daventry. I at once went to the stable to ask Crispin
where his family- came from ; and after some little
hesitation, saying they were always soldiers in the
Fifth Dragoon Guards, he said the family came from
Exeter, and he never saw the name but there and at
Daventry or Oxford.

One of the questions asked by the folk-lorists is,
" Does the father's position alter immediately after the
birth of a son .-^ " Judging from the answers I re-
ceived from my friends who are fathers, to the simple
question, "What is the first food given to a baby?"
I should say their position does alter very consider-
ably, for they know very little indeed about what is
being done in their house at that time. They are



8 FOLK-LORE

more or less politely informexl that they must find
some money, and then go about their business, and
not bother.

There is also a curious piece of folk-lore — that it
is very unlucky to weigh babies. They are gifts from
the Lord, and are not to be weighed or measured,
though it is permissible to count them when they are
numerous, or they may get mixed with other people's.
Remembering that David got into trouble for number-
ing Israel, I have searched the Scriptures to find if
there was any reason given as to why it was wrong to
take a census. The old book merely says that the
Lord moved him to do so, and then punished him for
doing it ; which seems rather hard on David. In
another place it says Satan provoked him to do it ;
and as the accounts are rather contradictory, I had
better leave them to professors and divines learned
in inspiration and infallibility. Utterly reckless of all
consequences, the women weighed a baby that my
man-servant above-mentioned had born to him, and
it weighed eleven pounds. So, when they are proud
of something, they chance the future. It is said to be
very bad to rock an empty cradle. I asked if this
were true ; the aunt mentioned above, who had reared
ten children, who were started in life with rue tea, and
lost the others, whose first food had been castor-oil,
said she always kept her cradle full, and lazy folk
ought to be unlucky. The answer is worthy of being-
put on record. An old notion was that it was every
one's duty to rear soldiers for the king. We are
getting past that nowadays.

There appears to be an old custom with some
people to take a child upstairs (if possible) to the top
of the house before it is taken downstairs, this being
symbolical of its going to heaven. We were all taken.



BIRTH 9

dressed in our best bib and tucker, with bells and
coral at our girdle, for our first visit to some one who
was known to be "a g-ood sort." The o-ood Samaritan
gave us bread and salt and silver. Sometimes an egg
was added, and the whole was given in a small oval
basket for good hansel. The silver might be any-
thing from a bent sixpence or old coin to a silver
mug, and the giver was henceforth supposed to be
interested in the little darling who unconsciously re-
ceived the gift. In my case, I was taken to a Mrs.
Fielden, of the Todmorden family, who gave me a
silver "bank token," marked "XXX Pence Irish,"
which token I still have.

There should always be butter and honey, or rum
and honey, or rum in the tea, at a christening feast, or
for the first callers. I should think this custom had
its origin in every one being supposed to taste the
butter and honey given to the child, and then rum
would be provided for those who preferred it. The
tea must be a modern invention.

Here is an old rhyme that should be comforting to
some folks : —

" If there's a mole above your chin,
You need never be beholden
To any of your kin."

There are plenty of rhyming proverbs taught to
children about trivial matters that are scarcely worth
remembering. For instance, if a mark appears on a nail

on the hand —

" A gift on the thumb
Is sure to come ;
A gift on the finger
Is likely to linger."

For small ailments children were bathed in water
from a holy well or celebrated spring, of whicli there



lo FOLK-LORE

were some in most districts, and it was often the last
thorough washing they ever got, even though they
lived to be old. A native of Didsbury told me that
he had not washed all over for more than sixty years,
"never sin he wur a chilt," and that he had done as


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