Tag Archives: Folk Tales

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Bringing tales of folklore back to life

Article from: http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/features/bringing-tales-of-folklore-back-to-life-1-5852902

St Mary's Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan's folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

St Mary’s Church, Orlingbury is mentioned in one of Kevan’s folklore tales from around Northamptonshir.e

Have you heard the story about the last witches killed in England? Or the one about the man who bravely fought down a wolf to protect his Northamptonshire village and was buried at 
Orlingbury Church?

To those who have been born and bred in Northamptonshire, there is a chance the answer to these questions might be ‘yes’, as these – and many other – tales have been woven into the folk history of this county.

Describing stories to willing audiences may be a pastime commonly connected with centuries gone by, before the age of computers and TV, but it seems to be having a resurgence, with increasing numbers of storytelling events cropping up in Northamptonshire.

Northampton-born Kevan Manwaring is a professional writer, teacher and storyteller, who also teaches creative writing for the Open University and Skyros Writers’ Lab.

His most recent book, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, has seen him draw together, repeat and sometimes embellish the stories which have been told as folklore in Northamptonshire. Some will be familiar and some less so. Some have seen gaps filled in with imagination and others rely on records of eye witness accounts still in existence.

Kevan, who now lives in Gloucestershire, said: “I was born and grew up in Northampton, in the Delapre area, and I would go for a walk there once or twice a day with my dad and the dogs. He used to tell me about the grey lady of Delapre and that is the first story in the book.

“I used to go on lots of walks and that is when I would daydream and have lots of little adventures. I used to like reading comics and that got the juices flowing. This is something that started from an early age so I have been gathering stories all my life.

“I moved to Bath 20 years ago, but grew up researching this book. As a storyteller rather than a historian, my remit is to tell stories that are worth telling. There are plenty of fragments of folklore, but not all of them make for narrative.

“It is a combination of folklore, local history, archaeology and personal anecdotes. There had to be something there that people find intriguing.

“In all folk tales, the common factor is that they are attached to a strong location; does the story evoke the spirit of the place?

“Because it is attached to a particular place, there is usually a grain of truth which started it all off in the first place.”

Although stories used to be spread through oral tradition alone, social media like Facebook has replaced some of the ways in which people share narratives with one another, Kevan explained.

He said: “Oral tradition was broken up by two world wars but with modern technology it carried on in many different forms, even Facebook has multiple narratives.”

He continued: “I have noticed a real resurgence in storytelling. It has been over the last 20 or 30 years. There has been a revival in this county as story circles have started up. There are hundreds of them around the country. It is a great thing to do; it is very liberating and it builds your confidence up in speaking in public. I encourage people to give it a try.

“Storytelling is a massive reaction to our overly-digitised lives. We spend so much time at a computer or with some kind of device, it is lovely to experience something low tech.

“It is a good thing to have in terms of our mental wellbeing. Stories give you a holiday from your life for a while and it is quite entertaining.”

Kevan’s research has seen him visiting locations mentioned in the book and delving into existing records, for example eye-witness accounts of certain dramatic events.

He explained: “Whenever I have gone to a place I have tried to talk to local people and asked them if they know a local story. They used to say things like ‘that is where the castle used to be’; these things do linger in the consciousness of the area.

“Sometimes in local stories it is not always possible to get continuity, but I find that new stories develop. If people don’t know the history they fill in the gaps.

“With the Great Fire of Northampton, there were eye-witness accounts that I could draw on from the Local History section of the Central Library, but you can’t always get eye-witness accounts or you have to take them with a pinch of salt.

“It was the same with the Last Witches story, there were eye witness accounts of that too.

“The last witches were burned and it was a nasty way to go. Reading the accounts about those poor women, it is really terrible, you get the impression they were forced to sign these confessions, coming up with stuff to feed this appetite for details.

“I got the impression the two women we talk about were pretty feisty.

“Hopefully the story captures the spirit of these women and the rabid nature of the time.”

Extract from Northamptonshire Folk Tales: The Last Witches:

The last two women executed as witches in England are believed to have been Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips, from Oundle. The pair are said to have been burned alive on the corner of The Racecourse in Northampton.

Kevan described: “It was Saturday, March 17, 1705. Two women in chains were carted to meet their fate at Gallows’ Corner. There was a wildness in the air, whipping the still bare branches into life, reflecting the mood of the crowd which converged the fateful corner, a humming mass, greedy for spectacle, driven by fear and bloodlust…

“Mary Shaw and Elinor Phillips were taken in a cart to their final destination. The crowds were desperate to catch a glimpse of them, at the same time as crossing themselves in fear.

“The doomed pair should have made a pitiful sight – shaven heads, threadbare and filthy smocks, sunken cheeked and hollow-eyed from who knows what unspeakable cruelty, and yet they stood defiantly, holding each other, fending off the scraps and insults thrown at them with dignity.

“Some said they appeared so calm because they had boasted that their master would not suffer them to be executed…”

The work is available in bookshops priced £9.99.

Or direct from The History Press here

Kevan hosts the Stroud Story Supper, last Friday of the month, 7-9pm, Black Book Cafe, Silver Rooms, Nelson St, Stroud. Free. All welcome. Have a go (10 mins or less, without text) or sit back and be entertained.

The Treasure on our Doorstep

Bardic Banquet  Northampton 18 Dec 2013

Bardic Banquet
Northampton 18 Dec 2013

Sometimes we have to travel far before we discover the treasure on our doorstep, before we appreciate the riches beneath our feet. Many of us over the festive period have been travelling home these last few days to spend time with family, and open presents by that symbolic axis mundi – the Christmas tree, marking the centre of our world, for a while. In the week leading up to Christmas I journeyed back to my birth-town, Northampton, to perform in the Bardic Banquet on Wednesday (a merry knees-up organised by my old friends Justin and Jimtom on 18 Dec at the Labour Club). I performed stories from my new collection, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, which I had researched over the last two summers – travelling the county on my Triumph Legend motorbike, folk tale goggles firmly in place (Google Glass eat your heart out – I have the best apps possible: imagination and curiosity). While in town I popped into WH Smiths and Waterstones, to sign copies of my book – signatures have never been more satisfying (on Tuesday, under the whole of the moon, I went to see my long-time faves The Waterboys in Bristol, at the Colston Hall, and got Mike Scott to sign his autobiography, Adventures of a Waterboy – now I was signing my own books)!

Mike Scott stands behind

A happy fan – and personal hero, Mike Scott stands behind – a real gent

 

Mike Scott and me - backstage after The Waterboys awesome show, Bristol 17 Dec 2013

Later in the week, back in Stroud, I hosted the Story Supper on Solstice Eve (20 Dec) at Black Book Cafe; and then a Winter Solstice Soiree at mine (21 Dec), where my friends gathered to light a wheel of light, making wishes and offering prayers to our loved ones and a better world; before sharing stories, songs and poems around the hearth over a mead-horn (Wassail!). Truly, the real magic of Christmas is found in such heart-warming hearth-gatherings.

A Winter Solstice wheel of light 21 December 2013

A Winter Solstice wheel of light 21 December 2013

Here are a couple of stories from my recent collection which relates how someone discovered the treasure on his doorstep…One is printed below, the other can be viewed via the Youtube link…

http://youtu.be/AeQkRksXEzU

029. Angel and the Cross

The Angel and the Cross

Do you know where the centre of England is? This has been a matter of debate and dispute for centuries, but the matter was finally settled by divine intervention.

It began far from England, in the heat and dust of the Holy Land.

The weary pilgrim placed down his staff and sat down by the side of the rubble-strewn road and rubbed his sore feet. His shoes, made by his own fair hands – like father, like son, he had carried on his family’s trade – had served him well, carrying him across Europe and into the Middle East, along long perilous trails – braving wildwood, bandit, war, tricksters and peddlers of false grails.
Taking off his hat, sporting the scallop-shell of the pilgrim, he fanned himself with it – it was so hot here, so bright. Coming from a softer, damper land, he had still not got used to it. Squinting, he looked up at the city before him – the various temples and spires competing for dominance. Bells rang out over the hustle and bustle of thousands of people coming and going through its gates. It was the 8th Century of Our Lord, and he had made it to Jerusalem. His soul was surely saved by this pious act. And he needed salvation. His soul was in a poorer condition than his poor old feet.

He acted the penniless and penitent pilgrim here, but back home he was a man of power, of influence. He had been cruel, yes, and vain. He had acquired wealth for himself in countless dubious ways. His coffers were full but his heart was empty. All of those glittering coins and trinkets had left him unfulfilled.

There had to be something more.

And that is when, one day, walking amid the noisome stalls of Sheep Street, he had an idea. He would go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to purge himself of his sins.

The pilgrim lined up and entered through one of the gates, under the stern eyes of the guards. And then he was in! Jerusalem, in all its glory, opened up before him. He stopped and stared, only to be elbowed out of the way, making him step in the gutter. Yet, he was so euphoric from the ardours of his journey, he didn’t care. He had made it. He looked around, grinning like a moon-touched loon. The narrow streets were full of noise and colour – the cries of trinket sellers, icon hawkers, fortune tellers, farmers with their produce arrayed before them – such exotic wares the likes of which he had never seen before. With the last of his coins, he purchased a large, succulent looking fruit and held it to his nose, savouring its smell. It was enough to make him salivate. The pilgrim imagined its cool juice, running down his throat, assuaging his burning thirst.

But, just before he sank his teeth into it, a passerby bumped into him, making him drop it. The pilgrim cursed under his breath, casting the stranger an evil stare – but it was too late, the perpetrator was lost in the crowd, and his fruit was rolling away from him.

Quickly, he pursued it as it rolled down the alleyways, away from the main crowds. Soon he was lost in a maze of passageways – perfect for thieves – but he could only think about his fruit.

He would not let it go!

He had come so far, endured such adversity – he would not let such a simple thing thwart him.

The fruit occasionally caught the odd dusty beam of light which penetrated the maze.

Nearly … within … reach.

The pilgrim lunged, just as the fruit rolled down a gap between two tumble-down buildings.

Cursing he knelt down and peered in. Luck! The object of his desire had got stuck against something blocking the narrow gap. The place smelt foetid, but he had to get that fruit. Gingerly, he stuck in his arm and, straining, reached for it. Something scuttled over his naked arm. A large black rat darted out of the gap and along the edge of the buildings! He quickly pulled out his arm, rubbed it vigorously. Then, composing himself, he tried again. Nearly … nearly … there! He had his hand around it – and triumphantly pulled it out. He rubbed it free of filfth and sank his teeth into it with a satisfied sigh. For a while he was lost in the pleasure of the taste – sharp but refreshing. Then, wiping his mouth, he peered into the gap out of curiosity. What was it that had blocked it?

There, he could see it now. An old stone cross – wedged inbetween the buildings. How odd. Perhaps it might be worth something.

Maybe his fortune had changed.

Laughing, he reached in and strained and strained until his fingernails scraped the stone. Slowly, painfully, he worked it towards his grasp – there, he had it! Making sure no one was around, he carefully pulled it out and, dusting it free of cobwebs, he inspected it.

It felt old, very old. Solid and heavy.

As he ran his fingers over it, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He felt he was being watched.

A strange light filled the darkened alleyway, and a benign warmth.

The pilgrim slowly turned and beheld before him a dazzling figure, glowing in rainbow colours – overlapping planes of light like a stained glass window in a cathedral.

The being spoke to him – directly, into his heart – in a voice warm and enfolding.

‘Who are you…?’

‘Take this cross and bury it – in the very heart of your homeland.’

‘Where…?

‘The precise centre… Do so, and all will be well.’

The vision faded, and the pilgrim was left shaking. What had he seen? Perhaps there had been something wrong with that fruit. Afeared, he threw the pulpy core away. The stone cross was solid enough in his hand. That felt real.

Heart pounding, he got up.

Wrapping it in a rag, he placed the stone cross in his satchel and made his way quickly along the alleyway – walking with increasing purpose.

The pilgrim beheld his old home town with a sigh of relief. The journey back had been hard. Many a time he had come close to losing his sacred relic, but he had held onto it for dear life – amid the stormy crossings and dark nights. And now he was finally and he wept at the sight of Hamtun. Humble as it was, it was his home … and he was overcome with emotion at seeing it again. There was times when it looked as though he never would. But something had driven him. The words of an angel – yes, that is what it was. He knew that now. He had not told a soul – he did not want to risk the magic leaking away in the cold light of day. This had happened to him for a reason. It was his sacred duty.

He went to St Peters to pray in gratitude for his safe return. As he knelt there, the Holy Spirit descended and told him precisely where he must bury the cross.

A man on fire, he set about his task with a fervour.

In the middle of the night, when not a soul was in sight, he took his spade and dug. The spirit guided him – here, here was the very centre of England.

Who would have thought it? The bottom of Gold Street, at the crossroads with Horsemarket Street. This was the heart of the land. Every day, countless folk cross it unknowing that they tread on sacred soil. The cross was buried deep, the hole filled in, the soil patted down, so that not a mark, not a trace would reveal its whereabouts.

Yet he knew.

The hidden cross in the soil … marking the very centre of England by divine revelation!

Notes: with thanks to my fellow Northamptonian, the now London-based actor Robert Goodman – who first told me about this over a cup of tea in London.

From Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, published by The History Press, 2013

Creating a spoken word performance to promote a new book

I began performing at the same time I began writing in earnest – back in 1991 – and so it is second nature to me to create a spoken word show based upon my latest publication, Northamptonshire Folk Tales (The History Press, 2013). When I started out I quickly learnt getting folk to read your poetry was like asking them to do your Tax Return (and my early efforts were probably as excruciating), and so I realised that to ‘get my work out there’, I literally had to step up to the mark (or the mic). I started performing at ‘open mic’ events in my old home town, Northampton – badly to begin with, making all the classic beginner mistakes (reading from a text; speaking too low or too fast; avoiding eye contact with the audience; apologising, etc). In a live performance you quickly ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Instant feedback is visceral (clapping, tears, laughter), useful, but nerve-wracking. I learnt (the hard way) that the more effort you put into a ‘reading’, the more the audience appreciate it. Take the effort to learn it by heart, and the audience will generally give you the time of day. Suddenly, your performance has gone up several notches: there’s no paper-barrier between you and the audience; you can make eye-contact; you can use both hands for gesture… All you have to do is remember it!

Fast forward several years – I became Bard of Bath after winning the local eisteddfod in that city back in 1998. I started trying my hand at storytelling – even more terrifying, it seemed, as there’s no ‘script’, no safety net. The storyteller performers extempoire, or completely improvises. I became a professional storyteller in 2000 when I went freelance, getting bookings in schools, libraries, art centres, museums, and so on. I have since performed across Britain, live on BBC TV, and abroad.

After moving to Stroud in late 2010 I worked on a commission for The History Press – a collection of folk tales, as part of their county-by-county series. I opted for Oxfordshire – the ‘bridging’ county between my East Midlands roots and West Country home. For that I collected (and rewrote in my own words) 40 tales – the idea is that each has to be ‘performable’, that is not a verbatim performance script, but written with a sense of orality and aurality. This is where my experience as a spoken word performer cross-fertilised with that of my writing practice. To ‘test’ the material I performed it, whenever possible, to a live audience, before committing it to paper. After the book came out I toured it in venues across Oxfordshire to diverse audiences (Woodstock Bookshop; Alice Day, Guildhall Oxford; Beatnik Albion Bookshop; Oxford Folk Weekend).

Encouraged by the success of Oxfordshire Folk Tales, I wrote a second collection, drawing upon tales from my old home county of Northamptonshire. This was published in October 2013. I am now gearing up for performances based upon this latest book, but I also wanted to offer something different. Looking at my two books I decided I wanted to create a show based upon both. What could link them, beyond the folk tale genre? Earlier this year I took part in a project for Bath Literature Festival – based upon the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Roud; Bishop 2012), local storytellers were asked to re-interpret them as narratives. The show I performed in was entitled rather memorably as ‘Tales of Lust, Infidelity and Bad Living’. Inspired by this, and by the many theme-based shows I have helped co-create with my Bath-and-Stroud-based storytelling group, Fire Springs, over the years, I decided to find a thematic link for the show, and thus was born ‘The Rose and the Snake’, partly inspired by the flowers associated with the respective counties, but also by the sexual politics which run throughout the material (as symbolised by my leitmotifs). Some stories are based on what are called Murder Ballads – and so love, death, revenge, and bizarre magical shenanigans are common tropes. This new show would be a collaboration with folksinger Chantelle Smith, who would complement my stories with ballads, thereby providing sonic texture, i.e. different registers of voice. Previously, when performing solo, I have achieved this by switching from story to poetry (I am no singer, but I am an experienced performance poet). Working with a musician widens out the appeal of the show tremendously. It is hard work, even for a word-junkie like me, to sit through a whole evening of poetry; or long stories, without variation. At sixty minutes, our show is intentionally lean and mean. With over 80 stories and countless ballads to choose from, the different configurations of material are vast – thus offering the possibility of numerous ‘sets’, differentiated according to the time of year, venue, and nature of the event. The Rose and The Snake is now available for ‘weddings, barmitzvahs and christenings’!

originally posted on http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/WritingTutors/

Kevan is performing at the Bardic Banquet, Northampton, Wed 18 December 2013

Oxfordshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring Northamptonshire Folk TalesAvailable from The History Press

 

The Automobile Murder

The Automobile Murder

The Automobile Murder, illustration by Kevan Manwaring

The Automobile Murder,
illustration by Kevan Manwaring

Alfred Rouse was a respectable looking chap, with his smart suit and tie, neat, brilliantined hair and short moustache, and that Irish gleam in his eye that the women found strangely alluring. The circumstances which led to his conviction of the murder of an unknown man are curious, and chilling.

In the early hours of November 6th 1930, two young men returning from Northampton town to their home in the nearby village of Hardingstone saw a fire in the distance. A man approaching them from the direction of the fire observed that ‘somebody must be lighting a bonfire’. As it had just been Bonfire Night this was not unusual in itself, but the hour was. Curious, the two men went to investigate and discovered the fire was coming from a motor vehicle that was ablaze – and it looked like there was somebody inside.

In the morning, when the fire had burnt itself out, they returned to discover, amid the blackened shell of the automobile, a body charred beyond recognition.

The authorities were notified, and soon Police Constables were on the scene, taking statements from the witnesses, and holding back the gathering crowd of onlookers. In the days that followed there was endless local speculation about what the disturbing incident had involved. The local newspaper reported on the event, stating that the licence plate identified the car as belonging to an Alfred Arthur Rouse, a travelling salesman from North London.

Yet, an astonishing turn of events followed.

Rouse had appeared in London a day later, a slight limp in his left knee. He had not come back from the grave, but from Wales, where he had fled the scene of the crime to one of his girlfriends (more details of which were to be revealed). He handed himself in.

He was arrested and confessed to the murder.

Sitting on a hard chair in a cold room, looking unshaven and dishevelled in a crumpled suit, Rouse made his statement.

A First World War veteran, convalescing from serious injuries to his head and leg, Rouse received a war pension, until an examiner cut his hard-won entitlement significantly. By this time, in the early Twenties, he had already found work. He became a salesman, and would prove to be an amazingly good one up until the last few months before his crime. At a time when the jobless queued for soup and went on hunger marches, Rouse managed to make enough money for a house with his legal wife, (whom he had married just before going off to training, in 1915), as well as owning a car – his pride and joy it was: a 1929 Morris Minor. He had done exceptionally well for himself – tootling along the lanes of England, singing in his baritone voice, checking his hair and tie in the rear-view mirror, practising his winning smile. An observant person might notice a tell-tale scar on his left temple. He never could wear a hat – it irritated him, and, when annoyed, his hand reached up involuntarily to the old war wound, which sometimes gave him headaches, sometimes even bad dreams.

Because of his war injury, he explained, he suffered from poor memory … but slowly, the ‘facts’ emerged.

Calmly, Rouse explained that the man in the car was responsible for the explosion that killed him. ‘He was to blame – a bloody nobody he was. While look at me, a successful salesman with my harem.’ He laughed loudly.

The person writing the statement, raised an eyebrow at this, briefly pausing. The investigators cast each other a wry smile, and encouraged him to explain.

‘Well, between you and me then…’ Rouse carried on, unaware that everything he said would be reported in the Press. Because he was on the road so much Rouse had plenty of time to go out and meet and entertain various women – ‘his harem?’ Yes. At least two would get pregnant from the experience of knowing him. Rouse had already had a child support order imposed on him (‘I don’t fire blanks!’). He also knew of a second coming up. Also there was another woman expecting him to marry her (they were “engaged”, he laughed, as though the investigators would get the joke). They didn’t smile back.

Rouse ran a finger along the inside of his collar, gulping. He asked for some water.

A glass was placed in front of him. With a shaking hand, he took a sip.

‘Buns in the oven, left right and centre. Harridans baying for my blood. Things were getting a bit too hot for my liking. Don’t you see? I had to disappear.’

Rouse mumbled something about a spy novel he’d read, The “W” Plan or something – a clever little plot involving substituting a corpse in a burning car. Guy Fawkes’ Night seemed like the ideal time. ‘Ingenius, hey? Bloody mastermind, me. One more pyre wouldn’t be noticed. The plan couldn’t go wrong.’ He laughed hard. ‘All a needed was my Guy…’

Rouse had picked up the victim during a ride to Leicester. ‘Some bum, thumbing a lift. A scrounger, expecting handouts from life. Look at me, I said to him. I’m no skiver. I’ve earnt every penny. This car. This suit. A man women like to know. A self-made man, I am. While, you – I thought to myself – you are just somebody who nobody would miss.’

The journey passed amicably enough, Rouse explained. The man was absurdly grateful for a lift. He’d heard about some work. A cousin or some such. But some people are born unlucky, aren’t they? You could see ‘loser’ written all over him.

‘I pulled up in a backlane of Hardingstone. Checked the oil. Said I needed to go for a shit, ‘scuse my French. The cheeky git asked for a ciggie. Sure, I said. Help yourself. I tossed him the packet. And here’s some matches. And off I went. I walked away from the car. Suddenly, there was a flash of light – lit the whole bloody sky up like a night-flare. I turned to see my beloved Morris Minor burst into flame.’

Rouse stood trial in Northampton in January 1931, and was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

An expert on automobiles who studied the remains of the Morris Minor, and found somebody had forcefully turned a nut and screw to allow petrol to flow into the motor.

On Tuesday, March 10th 1931, Rouse was hanged in Bedford Gaol. He confessed to the crime shortly before the execution, the first automobile murder in Great Britain.

Notes: Hardingstone was the village at the edge of my world, when growing up in Far Cotton. It was over the other side of the ‘spinney’ – the woods that lined the southern edge of the Delapré estate. I recall them carving out the Nene Valley Way, the dual carriageway, between Delapré and Hardingstone – the landscape was severed, and joined – for the pedestrian by only a narrow footbridge. Hardingstone itself is charming, picturesque village – set back from the noisy traffic which streams by it, night and day. In May 2012, it was reported that the family of a long-lost Williams Briggs were seeking to determine if he was Rouse’s victim. Briggs disappeared without a trace in 1930 after leaving his home in London for a doctor’s appointment

Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2013

***Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, The History Press, published October 2013***

Northamptonshire Folk Tales

Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Talesis a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!

Published: 2013-10-01

ISBN: 9780752467887

£9.99  Order from The History Press

Strange Skies

Earlier this year I completed Northamptonshire Folk Tales – originally it had 40 stories in it, folk tales which I had researched and retold in my own words. The editor took out a couple, saying they weren’t ‘folk tales’…. I have included them here (one below and one in next posting) to let you decide. What do you think?

STRANGE SKIES

The truth is out there, in the skies above Northamptonshire! According the many eye-witness accounts (and who is more reliable than a Northamptonian, the very salt of the earth?) ranging across centuries (although mostly late Twentieth for some reason), there are UFOs, UAVs and ETs swarming about the county’s airspace. Having travelled millions of light-years, or hopped-skipped-and-jumped through the dimensions, the alien invasion fleet has singled out the Rose of the Shires for its masterplan, like so episode of Doctor Who (luckily the eleventh/ incarnation hails from the area).

The truth is out there... above Northamptonshire skies - by author

The truth is out there…
above Northamptonshire skies – by author

The county’s skies have been busy for sometime. The first recorded sighting dates back to 1387, when it was recorded: ‘there was a fire in the sky like a burning wheel, emitting fire from above in the shape of fiery beams’. Yet, we must flit through the centuries to the early Eighties to get the fullest account of ‘first contact’ – and a not very pleasant one at that.

It was near Corby in September 1982. A couple were driving to visit a friend, in good spirits – listening to a new local band called Bauhaus on the cassette player – when a sudden light engulfed their car. Everything began to shake and the song was drowned out by a deep vibrating hum. Something was above them. Alarmed, to say the least, they looked out of the window to see a ‘flying object’ suddenly appear out of thin air, cruising parallel to them – as though a Klingon bird of prey had turned off its cloaking device. What this UFO looked like, they did not recall, but the next thing they knew – the engine had died. The car coasted onto the verge. Then, they blacked out.

They found themselves in their friends’ house – somewhat disorientated. Their friend had grown concerned. Where had they got to? Shaken, they were led inside and made cups of strong, sweet tea – the Englishman’s recourse for all emergencies. They were three hours’ late. What had happened…?

They went home, and slept deeply. It was only weeks later that fragments of the memory came back to them – often in vivid, disturbing dreams. The woman recalled being in unfamiliar surroundings and being confronted by two strange creatures ‘three and a half feet tall, hairless, with large, almond-shaped eyes. They had slits for mouths, their skin was greyish colour, and they had no ears – only two little holes for nostrils.’ The woman had found herself lain on a table while a taller entity – this one was seven feet tall – ‘prodded me with a sinister looking surgical implement, and took samples!’ From its mechanism their extended a long needle. She remembered screaming and struggling as it was inserted into her belly. She couldn’t recall anything else – and probably just as well. On reflection, she speculated that the aliens had taken her ovaries for some sinister experiment. Had she been used to breed alien-human guinea pigs? Are they amongst us, even as we speak?

Another remarkable occurrence took place on the July 22nd 2003 in Daventry – a rum town close to Borough Hill, which bristles with aerials like something from the Quatermass Experiment.

It was ten o’clock in the evening, on a warm summer’s night, and a father and son were standing in the backyard. ‘Look at those birds,’ the man commented, pointing at what appeared, at first, to be two odd-looking birds in the sky. They watched as they drew closer until they were almost above their house – they appeared to be two brown jelly-fish like objects ‘about the size of a coin held at arm’s length’. The extraordinary thing was they swam through the sky, pulsating as they went – as though they were swimming – making a ‘swishing’ noise as they did so.

Jelly-fish from outerspace!

This remarkable sighting was reported in that bastion of provincial journalism – the Daventry Express.

At this point, the sceptical amongst you might scoff – where’s the evidence? Well, about an hour earlier a BBC cameraman in Worcestershire filmed footage of similar objects in the sky – what has happened to this film, nobody knows.

Notes: Robert Goodman, in his article ‘UFOs and visitors from outer space’ observed that: ‘UFO sightings are a regular occurrence in Northampton.’ Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2005 27 credible account of unidentifiable airborne objects have been seen in the county since 1998. As a teenager, in the mid-Eighties I remember spotting a mysterious object floating above Delapr Abbey. It turns out so did many other people – also observing something resembling a giant ‘Chinese lantern’ with different colour lights on its edges had been witnessed swooping very low in the sky as though it were losing altitude, emitting sparks and flashes. Peter Hill, in Mysterious Northamptonshire, commenting on the many sightings reflects: ‘it is clear that UFOs are a form of new folklore.’ Of the famous ‘abduction’ of 1982, he said: ‘in many respects these encounters mirror the fairy abductions of bygone eras.’ Accounts of contact or sightings of dragons or fairies, become spaceships and aliens in the twentieth century. It is clear we frame things with the particular paradigmic goggles of our era. Sightings of ‘flying saucers’ were prevalent from the Fifties onwards – gaining frequency in the Eighties and Nineties, when films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and The X-Files, were hugely popular. Now, such techno-scientific sightings have gone off the radar. Who knows how they will manifest next? Maybe alien visitors simply use Google Earth these days?

(c) Kevan Manwaring 2013

***Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, The History Press, published October 2013***

Northamptonshire Folk Tales

Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Talesis a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!

Published: 2013-10-01

ISBN: 9780752467887
£9.99  Order from The History Press

Dragon Lines

6-13 April

Over the Easter break Jenni and I spent a week staying in a yurt on an organic smallholding on the Roseland Peninsula, South Cornwall. Cotna, just down from the sleepy village of Gorran Churchtown, is nestled in an L-shaped valley which gave it its original name ‘Crookcorner’. Dave and Sara, the owners, moved in five years ago and have transformed the 14 acres – which now boast a wind-turbine, polytunnels full of leafy veg, free-range chickens, woodland, solar panels, compost loos and a rather lovely straw-bale house. We were first visitors to stay in their yurt, sitting in its own field – separated by its twin by a stream and a line of recently planted willow. With a log burner and lots of homely touches, it was cosy in the evenings. We ate outside alot and enjoyed sunsets, a vast field of stars, a full moon, dawn choruses, and deep peace. At night, the only disturbance was the conversation of owls and the odd visit from Ziggy – the dribbling long-haired cat.

In the daytime we enjoyed some excellent coastal walks (the coastal path could be reached along a charming winding path – 2 miles to Porthmellon). Amid the pasties, pints and piskies, one of the highlights was a walk around the headlands of St Antony and Dodman Point – the latter possibly deriving its name from an old word for dowser or geomancer (a ‘dodman’ was a country name for a snail – it’s horns like the siting poles of the surveyor – perhaps glimpsed in the staves of the Long Man of Wilmington).  In the late Eighties, local ‘dodmen’ Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller discover the Michael and Mary Line – a substantial energy ‘pathway’ running up the southwest peninsula diagonally across England – the two alternating streams weaving in and out like a vast landscape caduceus… or the Rainbow Serpent of Albion. They recorded their findings in their New Age classic, The Sun and the Serpent – which even spawned a TV show, so media-trendy all that stuff was at the time. The fickle gaze of fashion moves on – and last year’s ‘cat’s pyjamas’ are sloughed like snake skin.

Yet the old leys and ways remain – just below the surface – waiting for the curious seeker to stumble upon them, like an ancient sword half-buried in a peat-bog. In Cornwall, this ancient magic feels close to the surface still. I’ve felt it every time I’ve visited – and books like The Little Country, an enchanting novel by the bardically-inclined Canadian author Charles de Lint – conjure it up for me from afar.

I dowse these ‘dragon lines’ in my own way, with the dowsing rod of my pen and my imagination – tuning into the genius loci wherever I visit and letting the awen come through me. In 2004 I was commissioned to write a poem for a dance piece by artist Beth Townley – this became my epic praise-song to Albion, Dragon Dance. I have been performing this in situ at locations around the country – north, south, east and west – as my way of giving thanks back to the land that has born and nurtured me. On the last day of our trip (an auspicious Friday 13th) we stopped off at the Hurlers stone circle on a suitably mist-erious Bodmin Moor – here I recited the Cornwall section of the poem: quite a challenge in lashing, freezing rain! We endured this in good humour, before returning gratefully to the shelter of the car.

Here it is…

Kernow

In the heat of the day,
in the eye of light,
in the land of noon,
where the sea is night.

A land of glittering granite,
sun beat-beating down,
a blacksmith’s hammer on anvil,
melting us with furnace heat.

The silent longevity of fogou and quoit
marking time. Neolithic sundials –
follow their shadow over moor and shore…
Tintagel to Men-an-Tol,
rag-tree temple, Madron’s well.
St Michael’s Mount to St Nectan’s Glen
Zennor to Lamorna, this narrow peninsula –

Twrch Trwyth’s road,
where legend disappeared beneath the waves,
comb and scissors gleaming between bristles,
like church pew mermaid with comb and mirror.
Ageless Mabon snatching success
from the ears of defeat,
before vanishing too … like Arthur …  into the mist.

The dying sun journeying beyond, to the sunken land.
Lyonesse of the endless waves, the Fortunate Isles,
of beacon towers,  inkdust sand, the semaphor of sails.
Deadly Sillina, adorned with the riches of shipwrecks,
the prayers of fishermen, the tears of fishwives.

Passion fire, soul flame yearning,
in the cauldron love is burning.
The spark on the kindling,
the flint and the tinder,
fire friend, stolen power,
seize the spear of the sun,
Long as the day, shadowbright,
give us your light,
give us your light.
give us your light,
so we may do what is right.

Between the earth and the air,
between the fire and the water,
the spirit waits at the centre,
the spirit waits at the centre.

Dance the dragon,
let the dragon dance me.
Biting the tail of infinity.

from Dragon Dance – Kevan Manwaring, Awen 2004

On Monday, 23rd April – which is of course St George’s Day (as well as The Bard’s birth-and-death day) – I’ll be performing in a show with my fellow members of Fire Springs entitled ‘Spirits of Place’ at the enchanting Hawkwood College (which has its own share of genius loci) on the outskirts of Stroud. We’ll be sharing a selection of stories from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire – taken from our new collections published by The History Press. Mine isn’t due out until the end of the year, but while in Cornwall I was editing the manuscript and rehearsing the tales – so it felt like I had a little bit of the county with me. It has it’s fair share of dragon tales…

Whatever you think of St George (England’s patron saint – all the way from Cappadocia, Turkey…) why not raise a glass to the dragons of Albion on Monday – may they continue to live on, in legend at least.