Upleatham Old Church, once referred to as “the smallest church in England”, a superlative that is usually disputed — but which has, as far as I know, never been refuted.
However it is not this quaint little church which concerns me in this post but a small hill just over mile to the north east, slap bank in the middle of Saltburn Golf Course — Hob Hill.
There are folk tales about hobs, those little impish creatures, in many remote dales of the North York Moors. Not so many though in the Tees valley.
In several of these folk tales, the hob, initially helping a poor overworked farmer, takes offence and begins to cause trouble. The farmer and his family resolve to flit (or move), and the hob declares his determination of going with them to their new abode. But in this story from Upleatham, the hob is driven away, and it is this departure which gives a witch a chance for revenge against the farmer. Richard Blakeborough recounted the story in the ‘Northern Weekly Gazette‘, 19021BLAKEBOROUGH, R. ‘HOBMEN or BROWNIES.’ | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 29 November 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19021129/142/0015> [accessed 17 November 2022]:
At one time there lived a Hobman in Hob Hill, near Upleatham, who seems to have been a blessing to a farmer named Oughtred. It was no uncommon thing for this man to have his corn thrashed and winnowed during the night by the Hob, and when things were a bit hard pushed, unseen by anyone, the Hob turned to with a will, attending to and completing all manner of odd jobs—such as bringing the kie2Cows to be milked, gathering eldin3Fuel esp. peat, turfs, sticks, brushwood, etc. together, etc., etc. But, unfortunately, one of the farm lads, when leaving the barn, forgot to bring away his jacket, which he had tossed over a cart end, so that when the Hobman entered, intending to do a few good turns for the farmer, his eye fell upon the jacket; and, no doubt, thinking that Oughtred had left it there as a present for him, took instant offence, for nothing so offended the Hobs as to have wearing apparel of any kind offered to them. Nay, it would seem as though they objected to presents or bribes at any time. So hurt was the Hobman on finding the jacket, that he went away there and then, and was never heard of again.
I want the reader to carefully keep in mind this last quotation. No sooner was the Hobman thus driven away than a witch, living at Marske-by-Sea, one Peggy Flaunders, or Flinders, seized the opportunity of paying off an old score which she had, or fancied she had, against the Oughtreds. Evidence of her ill will was soon forthcoming. Very shortly after the departure of the Hobman there came one night towards bedtime a knock at the kitchen door. The maid, on opening it, stood dumbfounded and flabbergasted; trembling, she stood with her eyes almost out of her head with fear, but for the moment speechless. And well she might be, and so would the bravest of us had we beheld standing within a foot of us a fearful apparition, a creature fearful to behold, the like of which she had never seen before, and which she afterwards declared to be “T’ maist like a blazing pig ov owt.”
At last the girl gave one wild shriek, and rushed into the room in which her master and mistress were seated. The moment they really understood from the affrighted maid what had happened, they at once begged her to calm herself, and say whether she had closed the house door before rushing into their presence?
“Neea, mistress,” hysterically sobbed the lass. “Ah shut now’t. Ah war ti skart ti ho’d my wits. Ah did now’t bud skrike cot an’ tak my skite. Ah shut now’t, neea marry nut Ah.”
When the Oughtreds heard that the back door had been thus deserted and left open, they shook their heads, and, overcome with the ill news, they both sank back upon the settle4A long wooden bench with back and arms. filled with fear, well knowing that the evil spirit would not fail to seize such an opportunity of entering and so gaining a lodgment in their house. Sure enough such was the case; from that night ill luck fell upon all their endeavours. Crops were ruined, stock died, their crockery was thrown upon the floor, until at last things got into such a parlous state that they decided upon leaving the place and seeking pastures new.
The night preceding the day upon which they were to remove their belongings, a friend looked in.
“Whya whah them, thoo’s riddy fer off, is ta?” questioned the caller. But before Oughtred could make reply a queer little head, with pointed ears, popped in sight from above the press, and a little, squeaking voice made answer:
“Ay, we’re gahin’ ti flit ti morn at morn.”
On hearing this Oughtred, in a tone fairly wrung with despair, said, “Oha, if that be t’case it’s ti neea use flitting at all. If thoo’s gahin’ an’ all wa mud just ez weel bide wheear wa be.” And the story says that they did not shift.
Oughtred, it seems, sought out some wise man, and by him was told to pierce with pins and roast alive a live cock bird at dead of night, with closed doors, windows and every key hole and cranny carefully fastened and stopped up. This having been successfully carried out in every detail, Peggy’s evil spell was broken, and the evil spirit for over banished.
So, if you happen to be playing on Saltburn Golf Course and mess up a shot, you will now have the perfect excuse.
- 1BLAKEBOROUGH, R. ‘HOBMEN or BROWNIES.’ | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 29 November 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19021129/142/0015> [accessed 17 November 2022]
- 3Fuel esp. peat, turfs, sticks, brushwood, etc.
- 4A long wooden bench with back and arms.
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