The Anthology of English Folk Tales

The Anthology of English Folk Tales

by Various


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Carefully selected stories from the celebrated Folk Tales series have been gathered here for this special volume. Herein lies a treasure trove of tales from a wealth of talented storytellers performing in England today. From hidden chapels and murderous vicars to traveling fiddlers and magical shape-shifters, this book celebrates the distinct character of England’s different customs, beliefs and dialects, and is a treat for all who enjoy a good yarn.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750970433
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/01/2017
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,233,005
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

The various authors are all professional storytellers active in their respective areas, and each has previously published a volume of Folk Tales for The History Press. Some notable contributors include Taffy Thomas, who was the first storytelling laureate, and Hugh Lupton, who has long been an important name in this field. Each author is well versed in performance and experienced in book signings and launch events.

Read an Excerpt

The Anthology of English Folk Tales

By Nicola Guy

The History Press

Copyright © 2016 The Authors
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-7894-1



Tom the Tinner

Mike O'Connor

Mike O'Connor is an expert on Cornish folklore. A bard of the Cornish Gorsedh, he holds the Henwood Medal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall and his tale 'Return to Lyonesse' won a British Award for Storytelling Excellence. His research on travelling storytellers in Cornwall is put to great use in Cornish Folk Tales.

Tom the Tinner is a classic. As 'Jowan Chy an Hor' it is the only folk tale recorded in the Cornish language, noted by Nicholas Boson of Newlyn around 1667, or perhaps even earlier according to Lhuyd in Archæologia Britannica. Also found in the wartime notebook of Edith Marks, storyteller and holocaust survivor, it shows the resilience and cross-cultural significance of folk tales, even in the darkest hours. Enjoy this great story.

Tom Tresidder the tinner lived at Chy an Horth, the House of the Ram, near St Levan. Now Tom was a tin streamer, for in those days you still could sluice the black tin sand from the streambeds. But eventually all the tin had gone. Tom and his family fell on hard times. Tom had his wife to support and his daughter; sixteen years old she was, and the very image of her mother. So reluctantly Tom said a fond farewell to them both and set out to find work.

He had heard there was work to be had over in the east. So he walked for a day and he walked for another day, and close to sunset he reached a farm near Praze an Beeble. There the farmer and his wife were kindly people, so Tom asked to be taken on as a farmhand. He agreed to work for a year for two gold pieces. For a year he worked hard and he worked well. After twelve months the farmer said to him, 'Here is your pay, but it's been a hard year. If you give it back to me I will give you something worth more than silver and gold.' Tom thought, 'If it's worth more than silver and gold I'd best be having it.' So Tom agreed, but what the farmer gave him was a piece of advice; 'a point of wisdom' he called it, and the advice he got was this: 'Never lodge in a house where an old man is married to a young wife.'

Then Tom thought, 'I still have nothing to take back to my wife and daughter.' So he agreed to work for another year for two more gold pieces. For another year he worked hard and he worked well. After twelve months the farmer said, 'Here is your pay, but it's been a hard year. If you give it back I will give you something worth more than strength.' Tom thought, 'If it really is worth more than strength then I'd best be having it.' So Tom again agreed, but again what the farmer gave him was a 'point of wisdom', and the advice he got was this: 'Never forsake the old road for the new.'

Then Tom thought, 'I still have nothing to take back to my wife and daughter.' So he agreed to work for yet another year for two more gold pieces. For that year he worked hard and he worked well. After twelve months the farmer said, 'Here is your pay, but it's been a hard year. If you give it back I will give you something worth more than gold and silver and strength.' So once again Tom agreed, but once again what St Levan the farmer gave him was a piece of advice. The farmer said it was the best 'point of wisdom' of all, and the advice he gave to Tom was this: 'Never swear to anything seen through glass.'

Then Tom decided that although he had nothing to show for three years' work he would return to his wife and daughter. The farmer's wife gave him a fine slab of heavy cake to take with him.

On the road, Tom soon met some fellow travellers. They were merchants and they drove pack horses laden with wool from Helston Fair. They were going to Treen, not far from where Tom lived, so he was delighted to have some company on the road.

That night they reached an inn. As the door was opened, Tom saw the landlord was an old man, but the landlady was a young woman. He remembered the first advice, 'Never lodge in a house where an old man is married to a young wife.' So he asked to sleep in the stable. That night as he lay there he heard voices. Looking through a knothole he saw the young landlady talking to a monk, discussing how they had murdered the old landlord. But the monk stood close to the knothole and Tom was able to secretly cut a fragment of fabric from the monk's gown with his penknife.

Next day Tom woke to find a gallows outside, for his friends the merchants had already been found guilty of the landlord's murder. But Tom produced the fragment of cloth and told what he had heard, so the merchants were set free and again they set off on the road, with many promises of rewards for Tom when their trading was over.

After a while they came to a fork in the road where a new shortcut had been made. 'Come with us on the new road,' said the merchants, but Tom remembered the second piece of advice, 'Never forsake the old road for the new.' So alone he took the old road. He'd only gone a few yards when he heard a hue and cry from over the hill. He ran across and found his new friends were being attacked by robbers. 'One and all!' cried Tom as he struck out with his walking stick and soon they sent the robbers flying. Then the merchants continued in safety with many thanks and more promises of reward.

So after two days walking Tom got home. Looking in the window, he thought he saw his wife kissing a young man. His grip tightened on his stick and he was about to burst in when he remembered the third advice, 'Never swear to anything seen through glass.' So he put his stick back in his belt and he gently went inside to find it was his daughter, now a young woman and still the very image of her mother, saying goodnight to her fiancée, Jan the cobbler.

Of course they were all delighted at being together again. But then Tom had to explain to his wife that for three years' work he had earned only cake and wisdom, to which his wife replied it seemed that he had earned nothing but cake. She was so vexed that she picked up the cake and threw it at Tom with all her might. Tom ducked and the flying cake missed him and smashed against the wall. As it did so it broke into pieces. Out fell not two or four or six, but fifteen gold pieces, all wrapped in a piece of paper. On the paper was written, 'The reward of an honest man'.



William and the Bull

Tim Laycock

Tim Laycock lives and works in Dorset. He is a folk musician, storyteller and actor, and has been interested and involved in the oral history and traditions of his native county since a boy. He particularly enjoys performing the works of William Barnes and Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy was fascinated with stories connected to fiddle playing, and included them in many of his poems and novels. A short literary version of this comic account of the soothing power of music can be found in his novel Tess of the D' Urbevilles.

William was the best fiddler in the area, known all around as the man for the job when it came to dances and celebrations where music was required. So when Timothy Thomas got married to Sarah Rose, it was the most natural thing in the world to ask old William to play. Now this all happened one glorious summer's day at the end of June, just after midsummer. But to understand what happened after, I must just make sure that you know of the old West Country belief that at midnight on Christmas Eve, if you go into a stable or a barn, or anywhere where beasts are kept, you will see them on their knees, in honour of the birth of Jesus. Down in Somerset they also say that at that special time, midnight on Christmas Eve, beasts can talk; but that may be due to the scrumpy they drink in those parts ...

Anyway, on the day of the wedding all the folks went to church, and there was old William sat in the gallery playing sacred music on the violin; and whenever the vicar called for a hymn or psalm, old William led them all in the singing most appropriately. The service being over and the couple wed, the bride and groom linked arms in the traditional way and led the congregation out of the church and down towards the tithe barn, with old William in front, playing the 'Caledonian March' or 'Bonaparte's Retreat'.

When they got to the barn, it looked beautiful. Walls freshly whitewashed, floor swept, greenery around the windows and doors, great long tables down the middle all groaning with eatables and drinkables. They all sat down and the feasting began – all except for old William, who was perched on a barrel over to one side, playing lively song tunes and ditties to keep 'em all humming while they ate. But they didn't forget him, oh no. Because in Dorset, folk are very hospitable towards musicians; you only have to hear the string of a fiddle or the toot of a flute, and you can't help yourself. You have to dip your hand in your pocket and give them a few pence, or something to eat, or maybe a drink; so as William played, someone gave him some beef, someone else gave him some cake; someone else gave him some beer and someone else gave him some cider – so he was fed and watered as he played.

After two or three hours the food was all gone, so they cleared away the tables, pushed the benches to the walls and began to dance. They did the longways dances and the circle dances, the right-hand stars and the do-si-dos, and there was old William sawing away on the fiddle, playing 'Up the Sides and Down the Middle', and all the jigs and reels and hornpipes popular in that neighbourhood at the time. As he played someone gave him some gin, someone else gave him some whisky, someone else gave him some rum, and someone else (who should have known better) gave him a glass of brandy. So consequently, when the bride and groom had gone off on honeymoon, and all the guests had gone home, the only person left in the barn was old William, absolutely exhausted – well he'd been playing all day – and, to tell you the truth, not completely sober. So he made a mistake, which, had he been in his usual state of mind, he never would have made – he took a short cut across Long Meadow.

Now, anyone in the village would have told you that this was where the farmer kept his bull. But William had forgotten this; at least, he forgot it until he was as far as he could possibly be from any of the four hedges. And then, in the darkness, he heard a pounding of hooves and the sound of heavy snorting; and looking round, he saw Farmer Chick's prize bull Captain, charging towards him in the moonlight, horns a-glinting.

Well, William was far too tired to run for it, so in the circumstances he did the only sensible thing; he took up his fiddle and began to play. Well, it was very lucky for William that Captain was musical; as soon as he heard the music he stopped, listened, and a contented smile came over his face; and as long as William kept playing, all was well. As soon as he stopped to think of another tune, down went the bull's head, and his hooves began pawing the ground – so William had to keep playing.

He played all his jigs and reels and hornpipes; he played them all again; then he even played a waltz or two. The night wore on, until at last, William had one of those dreadful moments that all musicians experience, when you know that you know more tunes, but you can't remember what they are. And down went Captain's head, and his hooves were pawing on the ground ... and then William had a flash of inspiration. Even though it was the middle of June, he very slowly and reverently began to play the old Nativity hymn, 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night'.

Well, it was very lucky for William that not only was Captain musical, he was also religious. He thought it must be Christmas Eve, so down he went on his great knees, and down went his head until his horns were touching the ground. William took his chance, took to his heels and was over the hedge before the bull could get up again. And as he said afterwards, he'd often seen people look stupid, but he'd never seen a bull look stupid before; and that's the story of William and the Bull. The violin or fiddle was the pre-eminent instrument for village music in Dorset until the arrival of melodeons and concertinas in the middle of the nineteenth century. Thomas Hardy played the violin and loved country dancing; his father, uncle and grandfather all played string instruments, and formed the nucleus of the church band in Stinsford parish church just outside Dorchester. Their collection of dance tunes, handwritten in the back of their carol books, has long formed the basis of the repertoire of local céilí bands. Hardy was fascinated with stories connected to fiddles and fiddle playing, and included them in many of his poems and novels; a short version of William and the Bull is told by dairyman Crick in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The dialect poems of William Barnes, based largely on childhood memories of north Dorset and the Blackmore Vale, contain many references to fiddle music at local celebrations. Recently, the music manuscript of Benjamin Rose, a farmer, alehouse keeper and fiddle player from Belchalwell, has emerged. It is dated 1820, and contains 133 country dance tunes of the sort that old William would have played to Captain.



The Secret of the Gaunts' Chapel

Anthony Nanson

Anthony Nanson has performed internationally as a storyteller and co-produced, with storytelling company Fire Springs, such ecobardic epics as Arthur's Dream, Robin of the Wildwood, Return to Arcadia, and Dark Age Deeds of the Celtic Saints'. His books include Gloucestershire Folk Tales, Exotic Excursions, Words of Reenchantment, Storytelling for a Greener World (co-editor), Gloucestershire Ghost Tales (co-author), and Deep Time.

My source for this story is Joseph Leech's Brief Romances from Bristol History (1884). When I visited the Gaunts' Chapel, latterly the Lord Mayor's Chapel, I discovered that the story has survived in local knowledge, for the verger knew about it and showed me the alcoves in the chantry chapel where Mary makes her confession.

King Henry VII enjoyed his stays at the manor of Acton Court, whose peaceful gardens and fields were much preferable to the noisy smelly city of Bristol, where on occasion he had business with the merchants. Sir Robert Poyntz had reason to be hospitable, having been knighted by Henry after the Battle of Bosworth Field that won him the Crown, but the King's visit was quite an imposition, with his train of many courtiers, servants and soldiers.

In this entourage was a young courtier called John Coleman. Amidst the hustle and bustle, no one noticed how this young man caught the eye of Sir Robert's raven-haired young daughter, Mary. Discreetly they slipped away to walk together among the tall clipped hedges. John was not yet twenty, Mary a few years younger. In just two days they'd fallen in love. In a shadowy green lane between two yew hedges, they held hands and gazed in each other's eyes and pledged their undying love.

Unfortunately they were not as alone as they'd thought. Sir Robert had noticed his daughter's absence and learnt from a gardener that she'd headed to this secluded part of the grounds. From behind the hedge he heard their fevered words and their vigorous teenage kissing. Out he leapt, furious as the Devil.

'Keep away from my daughter, you villain, or you'll feel for sure the weight of the clenched fist!'

By 'clenched fist' he referred to the Poyntz rebus: 'poign' being a pun on the family name. From the look on Sir Robert's face John could believe he meant the threat more literally.

'As for you, my young trollop, away with you to your room! Let's see if a diet of bread and water won't cool your blood!'

In tears of anguish Mary fled to the house. Sobbing in her room, she pulled from her hair – what her father hadn't seen – the gold bodkin John had slotted there as a token of his eternal love. She trusted his pledge with all her heart, that he'd find a way to come for her. All she had to do was wait.

Meanwhile, Sir Robert complained to the King: 'With the greatest respect, sire, it is a trespass to our hospitality that one of Your Majesty's young fellows should make advances to my daughter of such tender years.'

Cunning King Henry valued Sir Robert's friendship. He dismissed John Coleman at once from his service and sent him packing back to London.

John loved Mary Poyntz with all his heart, but he hadn't a hope of marrying her unless he first distinguished himself in some way. He had neither money nor rank. He was no warrior. He decided his best bet was to become a scholar, so thereby to become of use to the King and be taken back into his service.

To Padua he went. He studied with all the vigour of his yearning to make himself worthy of Mary. He heard no word from her, but he trusted her, that she would be faithful to their pledge. He didn't dare write, for fear her father would intercept the letters.

Skill in scholarship, the learning of languages, takes time. The years pass by quicker than you ever expect they will. John was a man past thirty when at last his friends at court secured from the new King, Henry VIII, his appointment to a diplomatic post in which his linguistic skills could be put to use in reaping intelligence for the Crown.


Excerpted from The Anthology of English Folk Tales by Nicola Guy. Copyright © 2016 The Authors. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Cornwall: Tom the Tinner by Mike O'Connor
Dorset: William and the Bull by Tim Laycock
Gloucestershire: The Secret of the Gaunts’ Chapel by Anthony Nanson
Wiltshire: The Moonrakers by Kirsty Hartsiotis
Hampshire: The Wherwell Cockatrice by Michael O'Leary
Berkshire: The Cheviot Shepherd’s Charm by David England and Tina Bilbé
Oxfordshire: The White Hare by Kevin Manwaring
Sussex: The Lyminster Knucker by Michael O'Leary
Surrey: Mathew Trigg and the Pharisees by Janet Dowling
London: Wonderful Wife by Helen East
Herefordshire: The Little Tailor of Yarpole by David Phelps
Worcestershire: The Murderous Vicar of Broughton Hackett by David Phelps
Shropshire: Humphrey Kynaston by Amy Douglas
Staffordshire: The Giants of Staffordshire by The Journey Man
Bedfordshire: The Silent Sentinels by Jen Foley
Essex: The King of Colchester’s Daughter by Jan Williams
Norfolk: The Potter Heigham Drummer by Hugh Lupton
Suffolk: The Green Children by Kirsty Hartsiotis
Northamptonshire: The Far-Travelled Fiddler by Kevin Manwaring
Leicestershire & Rutland: The Monk of Leicester by Leicestershire Guild of Storytelling
Nottinghamshire: The Gypsy Boy by Pete Castle
Cheshire: Ingimund’s Saga by The Journey Man
Cumbria: Hunchback and the Swan by Taffy Thomas MBE
Lancashire: The Devil in the Fireplace by Jennie Bailey and David England
South Yorkshire: Cat and Man by Simon Heywood
South Yorkshire: The Woodsman and the Hatchet by Damien Barker
East Yorkshire: The Three Roses by Ingrid Barton
North Yorkshire: The Giant of Pen Hill by Ingrid Barton
West Yorkshire: All’s Well That Ends Well by John Billingsley

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