Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Aysgill Force — The Butterset Boggles

A brief stroll up Sleddale a side valley off Wensleydale, tracing the course of Gayle Beck, led us to the delightful Aysgill Force. En route, we passed through Gayle, a village woven into one of folklorist Richard Blakeborough’s yarns. It kicks off with a birth prophecy, throws in unrequited love, a spurned admirer, a murderous vendetta, and the Buttersett Boggles make an appearance1‘BUTTERSET BOGGLES. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 23 November 1901 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19011123/100/0012> [accessed 1 October 2022].


About year 1800, an individual anonymous, writing of the many worthies of the dales in an about Hawes, mentions the name of a certain damsel, the wonderful symmetry of whose form he challenged the whole of Wensleydale to match This lovely damsel was known as “Annie of Gayle.” It must not, however, be implied that the story now told was in any way connected with that young lady.

On the day of Annie’s birth, two neighbours offered to stay near the young wife until the happy event should be safely over.

These two young wives, each with a baby boy lying in their laps, were sitting by the kitchen fire, chatting over the latest bit of gossip, when a knock was heard at the door. It turned out to be quite an old lady, who, in a feeble voice begged a morsel of food and a drink of water.

The young mother who bad answered her knock, not being the mistress of the house, hardly felt at liberty to dispense hospitality, but, without making any enquiries or putting herself to the least trouble, in even so much as offering the aged wayfarer a drink of water she somewhat unkindly bade the old dame begone, as she had nothing to spare, adding “I don’t know what you have come bothering just now for” a little bit of unkindly behaviour for which there was not any need, nor yet any excuse.

Presently there came a second knock. This time the other neighbour opened the door, and on beholding the same old body, she said with some ill temper “Get away with you, haven’t you just been told we have nothing to spare?” banging the door in the supplicant’s face as she ended her unkind speech.

But hardly were they both comfortably seated, when there came a third knock. Greatly annoyed at these persistent interruptions, they both sprang to their feet, and together lifted the sneck, and there stood the same old dame, resting upon her staff. So irate was Mrs Alladay, the young wife who had first opened the door, that she seized a pail of water and threw the contents over the determined old thing. This she did as Mrs Purtis, her companion, pushed the dame off the step with such force that she stumbled and fell just as the water flew all over her.

Banging the door in her face, they again seated themselves by the fireside. And to their credit be it said, when a few moments afterwards they began to meditate upon their treatment of the old lady, they both felt heartily ashamed of themselves.

A moment or two later the wife called from the bed, “Was that a beggar at the door? If so, I trust you gave her something, as I never turn any away empty handed.

The two replied with a shy look at each other. “Yes, it was a beggar, and we both gave her something.

More than she expected,” added Mrs Alladay. Hardly were the words uttered, when a downfall of soot spread itself over ash-grate and hearthstone, even right up to their very feet. Each instantly made the sign of the cross over their precious charges. Each cast a glance full of alarm, which instantly became one of terror, when from the smouldering turves there shot a fire flaught. A brilliant arc it formed sailing right over poker and ash-rake, right beyond that black pall. Instantly each mother clasping her bairn to her breast, dropped upon her knees, both knowing with all their might in their fruitless endeavours to win the bright spark to burst into flames. But it was not to be, “it dull’d and died out.” Kneeling upon the mended floor, each breathed a silent prayer that their thoughtless cruelty of a few moments previous might not be held in judgment against them. And the answer came through the latch slit —

The’re telling lees, missus, tha soused ma wi’ watter and drave ma fra yer dour, bud tell ’em ta hearken ti mah wo’ds.” Pausing for a moment she shouted. “Ya’ve baith com’d wi’ joy tive the lying in of a bairn, which in years ti come s’all gi’e ya beith geeting an’ dowly deed at tweea layings out “—meaning. “You have both come with joy to attend the birth of a child, who in years to come will cause you both sorrow at the laying of your own dead.”

On hearing dreadful prophecy both women rushed to door, intending to humbly crave pardon for their ill-treatment of the old dame. Nay, they meant to beseech her to come in and dry her wet garments, and to set before her the best they could find. But it was too late. The dame was nowhere to be seen, and nothing disturbed the stillness of the night save the hoot of an unseen owl, which only added another evil omen to those others which during the last few moments had seemed to crowd about them.

Back to their seats they returned, too frightened at the present happenings, too fearful of the future and what it held in store for them. Each well know the down-come of soot which had spread a black pall to their very feet in meant disgrace. Well each knew that the dulling without ever a brightening of the fire flaught meant death, and the consant hooting of that owl, which never showed itself, meant there was something or someone to fear, some deceit, some dishonour, hanging over one or both of them.

Then other matters for their attention and occupied their thoughts. The baby was born, and in time was christened Annie.

When Annie was about eight years of age, her mother’s mother came on a visit to her daughter, and when she returned home, she took her little grandchild Annie back with her to somewhere in Swaledale, and from that we hear nothing more of the damsel until the death of her grandmother, which happened some ten years afterwards. Then back to Gayle she returned to live with her parents, just eighteen, and as blooming a young damsel as one could find throughout the dale, and that is saying a good deal. Beautiful she unquestionably was, and as modest as beautiful. Many a young swain began to sigh and whisper soft nothings in Annie’s ear, but one and all were given to understand that if they would only leave her alone, they would please her best by so doing. No secret did she make of the fact, that she had left her heart in the keeping of a Swaledale youth.

There were, however, two young fellows and they were the whilom babies, new grown up young men were being nursed by their mothers in the kitchen when Annie was born, these two had grown up fast friends. They had hitherto been inseparable. But of late dating from the day on which Annie had returned home, a feeling of suspicion and distrust, which really jealousy, had sprung up, and, like some evil weed had grown apace in their hearts. It will be remembered their names were Purkis and Alladay.

At last the former determined to have a fair understanding both with his old companion and with Annie herself. Meeting Alladay one evening, said :—” Look here, George, why should you and me fight shy of one another. Annie can only wed one of us, if she ever weds either, which I very much doubt. I’ll toss you which asks her first, and I am willing to abide by the answer she then gives. Are you agreeable to carry out this plan? Come, don’t look glum. If it is a fact, as I hear she has declared it to be, that she has given her heart to some chap in Swaledale, then we are neither of us in the running. What say your?

I say,” Alladay, surily answered, ” that neither you nor any chap in Swaledale shall ever call Annie his bride if I can stop him.” Having so declared his determination, with a scowl upon his face and an evil glitter in his eyes, which booded no good, he turned upon his heel and left Parkis without another word.

That same afternoon Purkis meeting with Annie in a somewhat secluded part, seized the opportunity of pleading his cause, which he did in a straightforward, honest, manly way. Annie assured him that she had been quite serious when she had declared her own true love was living in Swaledale.

Accepting his fate with the best grace be could, for he truly loved the lass, Purkis, took her hand and begged her to believe that what he was going to say came right from his heart, said he —

I wish you well, Annie; I do, indeed I am sorry if can’t be I had hoped, but from to-day, from leaving this spot, I promise to cause you no further trouble, for the sake of the true love which I have for you in my heart, I beg of you before we part, you will let me tak’ one kiss, as sign of true friendship.

Ay, that I will,” said Annie, “for I believe you are an honest chap, Tom.

And so the kiss was taken, and then a bright and happy laugh, Annie bent forward and lightly laid her lips against Tom’s cheek.

That’s to bind a bond of true friendship atween us!” said she, turning to run many, but he caught her skirt.

“Annie!” said he, “wait just a moment, I don’t like saying anything unkind of an old companion, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go to your granny’s alone any more, It is a lonely walk, and honestly I believe that George Alladay means you no good. There now, get away home; think over what I have said and God bless you!”

For the rest of her life Annie felt how fortunate it had been, and how glad she was, that she and Tom Purkis had parted with such a kindly understanding. She never saw him again, as he did not return home that evening, and as nothing was to heard of him the following morning, and as one seemed to know anything of his whereabouts. The only information was that he had gone on to the moor with his gun, Annie told how she had seen and spoken with him, and that was all.

Two hours later he was discovered lying dead upon the moor, his discharged gun lying by his side. The verdict was “accidentally shot,” but right away down in Annie’s heart, there was a great fear lurking, which she never allowed to pass her lips, but it saddened her life, and the good neighbours observed the change, but they never learnt the cause. No, to one and all concerned Tom Purkie had accidentally shot himself. That was the belief held by all, and would have been so held until the end of all time, had it not been that a strange, but not unheard of occurrence which happened within a fortnight.

A chapman, who travelled the dales. stopped at Gayle, it being one of his places of call, and a wonderful story he had to tell. He declared that whilst crossing the moor; he had seen with his own eyes, hovering over a certain spot, the “Butterset Boggles.

lt may here be mentioned, that save the name, the writer has been able to gather little else concerning these same warlocks. The old lady from whom he gained all the information herein contained, knew little about them. She did, however, remember to have heard it said when she was a girl, that the said “Boggles,” never showed themselves except in cases of foul play, and with this information we must rest satisfied.

This chapman had not heard of Tom Purkis’ sad accident before speaking with the Gayle folk, indeed, not until after they had listened to the story he was so full of, and so eager to unburden himself of.

Then it was discovered that the Boggles in question had been hovering over the very spot on which the body had been found.

Again were they observed in the same place, this time by a woman, who thought there would be quite a score of them, who declared they looked very angry and excited. She could say nothing further, because she had fled from the spot, sore affrighted.

Then it was that a suspicion of foul play on the part of someone unknown, began to grow apace in the breasts of all those listened to these stories. Then there came a day, and that too whilst the good folk still stood in knots and discussed the sad affair, when the whole district was terrified by the sudden appearance in their midst of mad Martha, the seer of Muker. All unexpected she swooped upon them, with dishevelled hair, fantastically clothed, wild of action and speech, crying aloud as she danced through the village.

Ther’s shedden blood on yonder moor,
T’ warlocks a’e aw’ smelt it;
Black blood dries on yonder moor,
Tha lang ti hunt whae spelt it.

So saying or rather screeching, each line, the wild-looking creature gave a final yell, leaping from the ground as she did so, instantly hurrying away to chant her verse o’er hill and dale.

This coming of Mad Martha gave rise to new suspicions, and again set tongues awagging, which for want of new matter had ceased to interest them. All this time George Alladay never let poor Annie have a moment’s peace. In the end so very objectionable did his manner become towards her that she despatched a message by a friend going into Swaledale, begging of her own true love to come to her help.

Her lover at once hastened to her rescue. He saw Mrs George Alladay, and explained to that young gentleman the conditions on which he could save himself from being the recipient of a certain horsewhipping, did he during the next two months cause the maiden in question one single moment’s annoyance.

Finding that no fair means remained open to him of winning the fair Annie, the scoundrel determined to do so by foul.

To throw Annie quite off her guard he took the first opportunity of begging her pardon, and so humbly did he crave forgiveness for everything which he had done in the past to her discomfort and annoyance, that Annie, believing him to be sincere in his protestations, gave him her hand, saying she hoped they might always be good friends.

Two days after his confession of sorrow and regret he lay in wait for the unsuspecting girl, as she returned alone from a visit to her paternal Granny.

What passed between them need not be mentioned. It was whilst struggling to free herself from the hateful clasp of his arm, that a terrible shriek, nay shrieks, burst overhead. And she knew, they both knew that the Butterset Boggles were upon them.

In an instant she was released, but before really realising that she was free, because she was so weak and bewildered, but while she stood thus dazed, she saw with wondering eyes the pistol which he grasped, and with which he had threatened to blew her brains out only a moment before, fly from his hand and instantly explode full in his face. So dreadful did he look, so mutilated and disfigured, that wild with fear fled from such a fearful sight.

A crowd of villagers were soon upon the spot. He was not dead; indeed, he lived long enough to confess that having seen Purkis kiss Annie, he had fancied that Tom had won her affection, and followed him across the moor and shot him.

He had there discharged Tom’s gun, and laid on the ground by his side. He further declared that the Boggles had snatched his pistol from his hand, thereby freeing Annie from all suspicion of having committed the deed.

It is interesting to note that the old lady added at the conclusion of her story, the following:— ” My mother used to say that it was not a pistol, but a knife with which the Boggles stabbed George Alladay—in fact that the whole affair happened long before guns had come to be in common hands.” But she was inclined to believe, that to make the “tale have a better sound,” they had said guns and pistols.

This little bit of information is worthy of consideration, as showing in what way country folk occasionally alter and dovetail new matter into their stories, which in truth belong to times long after the events happened, mentioned in the narrative.

That Mad Martha o’ Muker was a real personage, and living either in a cave or a hole in the hill side near to Butter Tubs Force may be expected as a fact. My informant distinctly remembered her grandmother telling many curious stories in connection with this said wild woman, who was alive about 1760. It is well that her name should be preserved, though little else is known concerning Mad Martha beyond the fact that she was a harmless, weak-minded female, who in her day was much feared as a seer, and greatly sought after as a fortune-teller.

The writer would add that with the exception of the old lady who gave him the story, and an old Wesleyan minister who many years ago officiated in the Hawes circuit, he never met with any other person who had even heard of the Butterset Boggles.






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