Lancashire Fairies

In Fairy Land (1870) by Richard Doyle

In Bashall Eaves there’s a bridge which is said to have been built in a single night, in order to help a local man escape from witches. At Rowley Hall, by the stream which runs close to the Hall, people have sometimes found pieces of fairy clothes. And in Goosnargh, one night, long ago, a happy band of fairies was seen in a field. They were dressed in full hunting gear, dancing and clapping and having fun. Fairies dressed in green and red were seen dancing at Cat Steps in Grindleton and at Dinkling Green they were often seen on the White Stone.

Calf Hey Well, in the Roggerham Gate area of Briercliffe, was anciently known to be a haunt of fairies. The water from this well had healing properties and came to be regarded as holy; on holy days, a veritable market would gather, selling jugs of well-water and also food and religious mementos.  Sadly, Calf Hey Well was such a sure source of water that it was redirected to a reservoir to serve the town of Burnley. After this upheaval, the fairies who had so often visited the place were never seen again.

Close to Roggerham Gate is a place called Brownside, the name itself thought to come from the many sightings of Brownies (fairies) here. Very early in the 19th century a local woman had cause to travel to Burnley in the middle of the night to fetch a doctor. At the stream, by the ford, she saw a Brownie smoking a pipe.

At Warton, near Carnforth, there’s a Fairy Hole on the east face of Warton Crag. The cave extends far into the rock and tales are told of piles of silver and gold, and sightings of the fairies washing their linen. At Whitewell, in a wooded landscape, a large cave and two smaller ones are known as the Fairy Holes. Stone tools and some bones found here have been dated as Bronze Age. The ambience of these caves is doubtless what led to their picturesque name.  At Mellor Moor, it has long been believed that there is a fairy city, underground, proven by reports from people who have heard bells sounding forth. The fairies have also been seen, at least once. A man was walking near the Roman camp on Mellor Moor when he saw a fairy dressed for hunting. His description was full and detailed; the little man wore a green jacket, a red cap, boots with spurs and he carried a whip.

A farm near the Roggerham Gate Inn, called High Halstead, is the scene of the legend of the ‘Halstead Changeling’. One day the farmer’s wife left her child asleep in its cot whilst she went to fetch some water and came back to find instead an ugly creature, looking like a wrinkled little man. Not knowing what to do, she went to speak with a local wise man, who announced that the thing she had found in the cot was probably a fairy and that she could find out by performing some unusual household tasks.

Back at home, she set an eggshell filled with cold water on the fire and when the water came to the boil, the little creature was so intrigued that it called out, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ She replied, ‘I’m going to make a brew!’ And the creature commented, ‘Well, I’m three score and ten and I’ve never seen that done before!’  That statement, that he was three score and ten, was the proof the woman needed; she picked up the creature and took him down to the stream, intending to leave him there. Nearing the stream, she heard the sound of her own child crying and found him in the arms of a very old woman – the mother of the creature she had found in the cot. The children were exchanged, but no words were spoken, as both mothers were so pleased to have their own children back again.

In Fairy Land (1870) by Richard Doyle
In Fairy Land (1870) by Richard Doyle

Another water-source connected to fairies is a small spring between Hardhorn and Staining, known in old times as Fairies Well. It was well-known for its miraculous healing powers and visited by people from far and near seeking relief of their ailments. One story tells of a Preston woman, a poor widow, who came here one day to collect water to bathe her baby’s eyes, for the water was known for its curative properties and her child was losing its sight. While she was thus engaged she was disturbed by a good-looking little man in green, who gave her some ointment which he said was a sure cure for what ailed her child. The woman may have been poor but she was not stupid, for she first applied the ointment to one of her own eyes to make sure there was no danger. No ill befell her and so she anointed her baby’s eyes and was delighted to find that her baby’s eyes healed and her sight was restored.

Some time later, the woman saw the same little man – this time in Preston Market. There he was, clear as day, helping himself to corn from an open sack. The woman approached him, meaning to thank him for the magical ointment, but the little man was shocked that she could see him at all, as he was a fairy and was certain of being invisible. When he questioned her, she confessed that she had used some of the ointment on herself, just to make sure it was safe. As she spoke, she pointed to the eye she had anointed. The fairy was very angry, for it was the ointment which had allowed the woman to see him. He jumped up and hit her on that eye and the poor woman found she was now half-blind. The woman’s daughter, however, could see the fairies all her life – but she never spoke to them, for fear of what might happen.

Another fairy story, similar to the one at Staining, takes place in a cave in the Hodder Gorge, where one day a midwife was brought from Clitheroe to attend a woman in labour. The woman’s husband said that secrecy was paramount but that she would be rewarded handsomely, so she agreed to wear a blindfold so that she would not see her destination. She was taken into a tidy little cottage at Hodder Gorge where she assisted at the birth of a fine baby.

When the baby was born, an old woman gave the midwife a box of ointment and asked her to anoint the baby all over – but to be careful not to get any of it in her eyes. The midwife did as she was told, until her eye started to itch and she could not avoid rubbing it and a little of the ointment thus made its way into her eye. Then she saw the place differently; the tidy cottage was actually a bare cave and the mother, the husband and the old woman were clearly fairies. The midwife managed to stay calm. She was paid in fairy gold, blindfolded once again and taken home.

Some time later, the midwife was at market one day when she realised that someone was trying to steal apples from her basket. It was none other than the fairy husband! When the midwife shouted at him, the fairy husband looked at her hard. ‘Which eye do you see me with?’ he asked – and when she told him, the fairy touched it and from that time on, the midwife never saw the fairies again.

There’s another story which is ‘owned’ by two Lancashire towns – Hoghton and Barley – it tells of two poachers, who once caught a couple of fairies. The poachers had been caught poaching once too often and their dogs and nets had been taken from them, but one night they went rabbit-hunting again, with only a ferret and a couple of sacks in which to store their booty. It wasn’t long before their ferret had rooted out the inhabitants of a warren and with their sacks over the entrance holes, it was a simple job to catch their quarry. However, they could not see exactly what they had caught. They were walking home, with the sacks over their shoulders, when one of them heard a voice from his sack calling out, ‘Dick, wheer artta?’ At once another voice called out from the other sack; ‘In a sack, on a back, riding up Hoghton Brow!’  (Or Barley Brow, depending on which town is telling the tale.) Shocked, the poachers dropped their sacks and ran away. Next day, they retraced their steps and found their abandoned sacks, neatly folded by the side of the road.

In Fairy Land (1870) by Richard Doyle
In Fairy Land (1870) by Richard Doyle

Another story from Staining tells of an old farmer who was ploughing at the break of day when no-one else was awake, when suddenly he heard a little voice crying. ‘I’ve broken mi speet!’ The farmer turned to see a tiny girl, who was certainly a fairy. In one hand she held a tiny broken spade and in the other some tiny nails and a hammer. She held out the spade and hammer towards the farmer who gently took them from her and mended the tiny spade. When he had finished, the fairy gave him a handful of silver. That was the only time the old farmer ever saw a fairy, but he never tired of telling the story…

And at Thornton there’s another story of fairy silver, which tells how a milkmaid was milking her master’s cow when an invisible hand suddenly placed a jug and a sixpenny piece carefully at her side. It was clear that the sixpence was meant as payment for a full jug of milk, so the milkmaid filled the jug and tucked the sixpence in her pocket, telling no-one. A few days later the invisible hand once again placed a jug and a sixpence at her side. Once again, she filled the jug and kept the sixpence but said nothing to anyone about how she came by it. Over the next few weeks, more jugs and sixpences were brought to her and as it became a regular occurrence, the young milkmaid found it harder and harder to keep it to herself.

Her downfall came when her boyfriend asked her to marry him. She was thrilled and could not help but tell him about the fine nest-egg she had built up from the fairy sixpences. And that was her mistake – for once she had spoken about the friendly fairy and its generous gifts, the fairy never came to buy milk from her again.

By now it’s obvious that those who see fairies should never tell, but there’s a story from Penwortham that comes with a dire warning – be wary of laying eyes on a Fairy Funeral, for such a sighting forecasts your death!

One night, two men were walking down the lane beside St Mary’s Church at the dangerous hour of midnight. One was old and one was young, but neither was happy to hear the church clock chime twelve times. They were even less happy to then hear another bell tolling, a bell which they recognised as the passing-bell. They stopped and counted the number of times the bell rang out, for they knew it would toll once for each year of the life of the poor departed. The poor departed, it turned out, was exactly the same age as the younger man and this saddened them, for he was no great age at all. But as there was nothing to be done at that hour, they set off again on their journey home.

They had not walked far before they saw a tiny man dressed in blue approaching, chanting as he walked. The older man immediately recognised that this was a fairy and guessed he must be leading a fairy funeral. He told the younger man to hide against the hedge with him, for if they were not seen, no harm would come to them. They stood quietly, watching a procession of tiny fairies pass by, bearing with them an open coffin. They caught a glimpse of the coffin as it passed and, to their horror, they saw that the face on the corpse was that of the younger man! The man ran forward, calling to the fairies to tell him how long he had left to live, but he received no answer, for as soon as they heard his voice, they vanished away.

Every day after that the younger man grew more and more morose, expecting that his life would soon end, as indeed it did, about a month later when he fell hard from a haystack. His funeral passed along the same route where the two men had seen the fairy funeral that night, and the older man was one of his pall-bearers.


 Lancashire Folk by Melanie Warren is available from booksellers including online, but also directly from the distributor, Gazelle Books.

Journey through Lancashire, England, to visit 155 places where strange history meets creepy modern times. Arranged alphabetically by town and place, the stories tell of ghosts, witches, fairies, dragons, and altercations with the Devil (who is not as clever as he thinks!) Legends connected to ancient monuments, holy wells, and the locations of Green Man carvings are also included. Sometimes these tales echo history and sometimes they come from a deeper folklore. Sometimes ghost stories are discredited…sometimes they are not. A useful guidebook for tourists and travelers, this book is also an invaluable compendium for serious researchers. Stories are indexed by type and a separate index lists postcodes and Ordnance Survey map references for those who wish to visit the locations for themselves.

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Melanie Warren has collected British folk tales and ghost stories for almost four decades. For many years, she was a paranormal investigator and took part in innumerable ghost-hunts but never saw a ghost, although she did have several experiences she finds hard to explain… She was also BBC Radio Lancashire’s resident “paranormal expert” and co-authored two collections of ghost stories, which were broadcast on BBC local radio stations. Melanie is now concentrating on turning her extensive collection of stories and tales into a series of books, one county at a time. Melanie lives in Lancashire and has done so all her life. Melanie's latest book, The Enchanted Valley: A Guide to the Myths and Legends of the Llanthony Valley, is available here. Her book, Lancashire Folk, is available from booksellers including online, but also directly from the distributor, Gazelle Books. Read more on Melanie’s website.

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