–ефераты. Water World as Another Home for the English Nation Reflected in the English Folklore

Water World as Another Home for the English Nation Reflected in the English Folklore

The British are a most curious nation in many aspects. When a tourist

from whatever continent comes to visit Britain the first conclusion he

arrives at is how bizarre the people living there are. The main reason to

their uniqueness will certainly lie on the surface: Great Britain is an

island that had to grow up and all the long way of its history alone being

separated from the rest of the world by great amounts of water. This very

characteristics turned them into not only a curious nation, but also an

interesting and special one, whose history and culture one of the richest

in the world. And the water surrounding the island played not a minor part

in its forming. So the British people respect and cherish their УwateryФ

neighbour who from the earliest stages of their history up to now gave them

food, drink, work, power, respect of other nations, wealth and after all

entertainment. It inspired a huge number of stries, tales, poems ,

superstitions and prejudicies and it has always been worshipped by the


The field of the countryТs economy connected with water was always a

great concern for those who ruled it for they naturally attached much

importance to it. From the times when the English society was being born

and only beginning to take shape kings already would interest themselves in

the conditions of trading across the sea. In the eleventh century Cnut on a

pilgrimage to Rome took the opportunity of obtaining from the Emperor and

other rulers he met there greater security and reduction of talls for his

subjects, traders and others, travelling in their lands. Already in the

eighth century an English merchant called Botta was settled at Marceilles,

perhaps as an agent for collecting goods to be sold in England. The Viking

rades of the late eighth and ninth centuries disrupted trade on the

Continent, but Englishmen may well have taken part in the Baltic trade

opened up by this time. At least, there is no reason to deny English

nationality to a certain Wulfstan who described to King Alfred a journey

taken to the Frisches Haff; he has an English name.

On the other hand, we hear of foreign traders in England from early

times. Bede speaks of London as the Уmart of many nations, resorting to it

by sea and landФ, and mentions the purchase of a captive by a Frisian

merchant in London. But the strongest evidence for the amount of sea

traffic in Frisian hands is the assumption of an Anglo-Saxon poet that a

seaman is likely to have a Frisian wife:

Dear is the welcome guest to the Frisian woman when the ship

comes to land. His ship is come and her husband, her own bread Ц

winner, is at home, and she invites him in, washes his stained

raiment and gives him new clothes, grants him on land what his love


Men from other lands came also. At the end of the tenth century a

document dealing with trade in London speaks of men from Rouen, Flanders,

Ponthieu, Normandy, France; from about the same date comes a description of

York as the resort of merchants from all quarters, especially Danes.

The merchants and seamen plied an honoured trade. The poets speak with

appreciation of the seaman Уwho can boldly drive the ship across the salt

seaФ or Уcan steer the stem on the dark wave, knows the currents, (being)

the pilot of the company over the wide oceanФ, and it was at least a

current opinion in the early eleventh century that the merchant who had

crossed the sea three times at his own cost should be entitled to a thaneТs

rank. The merchant in AelfricТs УColloquyФ stresses the dangers of his lot:

I go on board my ship with my freight and row over the regions

of the sea, and sell my goods and buy precious things which are not

produced in this land, and I bring it hither to you with great danger

over the sea, and sometimes I suffer shipwreck with the loss of all

my goods, barely escaping with my life.

As we see people working in the sea or over the seas gained much

respect in the society and were loved by others. But so much for the

economical aspect. The water, as we already mentioned earlier, was one of

the greatest attractions as a source of entertainment.

Fishing, like hunting, was highly popular in England, but these were

pleasures reserved for the nobility. In the twelfth century, when the kings

had normally been so strong, they had claimed such oppressive fishing Ц

rights that all the classes had united in protest. One of the demands of

the rebels in 1381 was that hunting and fishing should be common to all;

not only was this refused, but in 1390 Parliament enacted a penalty for one

yearТs imprisonment for everyone who should presume to keep hunting Ц dogs

or use ferrets or snares to catch deer, rabbits, or any other game. Fishing

and hunting, said the statute, was the sport for gentlefolk.

So this is a scetch or an outline of reasons explaining why our

ancestors valued so much the rivers, lakes, seas of their land Ц and it is

worth mentioning that their land abounds in all that Ц and why they

respected the work of sailors, merchants or travellers. All this is

important for the understanding of how it was becoming an unseparable part

of their culture and how it is reflected in their culture. In this work we

would like to pay close attention to just one aspect of the whole rich

cultural inheritance, and that is folklore.


What is folklore? Funk and WagnallТs УStandard Dictionary of

Folklore, Mythology and LegendФ (1972) offers a staggering 22 definitions,

running to half a dozen pages. In recent years definitions have tended to

be all Ц embracing in their simplicity: folklore is made up of Уthe

traditional stories, customs and habits of a particular community or

nationФ says the УCollins Cobuild DictionaryФ of 1987.

More specific definitions also abound; perhaps, folklore should be

identified as the communityТs commitment to maintaining stories, customs

and habits purely for their own sake. ( A perfect example of this would be

the famous horse race at Siena in Italy: the p a l i o attracts many

thousands of tourists, yet if not a single outsider attend, the people of

the community would still support the event year after year).

But what about those events or beliefs which have been recently

initiated or which are sustained for reasons of commercial gain or tourism?

Many customs are not as ancient as their participants may claim but it

would be foolish to dismiss them as irrelevant. Some apparently ancient

customs are, in fact, relatively modern, but does this mean they cannot be

termed as folklore? The spectacular fire festival at Allendale, for

instance, feels utterly authentic despite the fact that there is no record

of the event prior to 1853. There are many other cases of new events or

stories which have rapidly assumed organic growth and therefore deserve the

status of being recognised as folklore.

Any work covering the question of folklore must be selective, but here

we shall attempt to explore and celebrate the variety and vigour of

BritainТs folklore concerning УwaterworldФ traditions, beliefs and

superstitions. A wide geographical area is covered: England, Scotland and

Wales with some reference to Ireland and other territories.

Entire books Ц indeed, whole libraries of books Ц have been written on

every aspect of folklore: on epitaphs and weather lore, folk medicine and

calendar customs, traditional drama and sports and pastimes, superstitions,

ghosts and witchcraft, fairs, sea monsters and many others. While trying to

cram much into little work I have avoided generalisation. Precise details

such as names, dates and localities are given wherever possible and there

are some references to features that still can be seen - a mountain, a

bridge, a standing stone or a carving in a church.

Classic folklore belongs within the country to the basic unit of the

parish. Most parishes could produce at least a booklet and in some cases a

substantial volume on their own folklore, past and present . It would be a

mistake, however, to think that rural customs, dance and tale were the

whole picture, because there is a rich picture of urban and industrial

folklore as well Ц from the office girlТs prewedding ceremonies to urban

tales of phantom hitchhickers and stolen corpses.

In this age of fragmentation, speed and stress, people often seem to

thirst for something in which they can take an active part. There is a need

to rediscover something which is more permanent and part of a continuing

tradition. By tapping into our heritage of song and story, ritual and

celebration, our lives are given shape and meaning.

In some cases all we have to do is join in with an activity which is

already happening; in others it will perhaps mean reviving a dance or a

traditional play. But however we choose to participate, as long as we

continue to use, adapt and develop the elements of our folklore heritage it

will survive.

So this work may be regarded as an attempt to encourage us all to seek

out the stories and customs of country, county, town, village, to

understand and enjoy them and to pass them on.


Not a single town or village in England is situated more than a

hundred miles from the sea, except for a few places in the Midlands, and

most of those in Wales and Scotland are nearer still. The coastline lies

for thousands of miles, with a host of off-shore islands ranging from

Scilly to Shetland and Wight to Lewis. It is hardly surprising then that

our long and eventful maritime history is complemented by a rich heritage

of nautical stories and superstitions, beliefs and customs, many of which

continue to affect our daily lives Ц even oil rigs, very much a twentieth Ц

century phenomenon, have tales of their own. Inland water, too, are the

subjects of stories which echoes the folklore of the coasts and seas.


Many tales are told of submerged lands, and of church bells ringing

ominously from beneath the waves. Between LandТs End and the Scilly Islands

lies a group of rocks called The Seven Stones, known to fishermen as УThe

CityФ and near to which the land of Lyoness is believed to lie, lost under

the sea. There is a rhyme which proclaims:

Between LandТs End and Scilly


Sunk lies a town that ocean


Lyoness was said to have had 140 churches. These and most of its

people were reputed to have been engulfed during the great storrn of 11

November 1099. One man called Trevilian foresaw the deluge, and moved his

family and stock inland Ц he was making a last journey when the waters

rose, but managed to outrun the advancing waves thanks to the fleetness of

his horse. Since then the arms of the grateful Trevilian have carried the

likeness of a horse issuing from the sea. A second man who avoided the

catastrophe erected a chapel in thanksgiving which stood for centuries near

Sennen Cove.

Another area lost under water is CantreТr Gwaelod, which lies in

Cardigan Bay somewhere between the river Teifi and Bardsey Island. Sixteen

towns and most of their inhabitants were apparently overwhelmed by the sea

when the sluice gates in the protective dyke were left open. There are two

versions of the story as to who was responsible: in one it is a drunken

watchman called Seithenin; in another, Seithenin was a king who preferred

to spend his revenue in dissipation rather than in paying for the upkeep of

the coastal defences.

A moral of one kind or another will often be the basis of tales about

inland settlements lost beneath water. For example Bomere Lake in

Shropshire Ц now visited as a beauty spot was created one Easter Eve when

the town which stood there was submerged as a punishment for reverting to

paganism. One Roman soldier was spared because he had attempted to bring

the people backto Christianity, but he then lost his life while trying to

save the woman he loved. It is said that his ghost can sometimes be seen

rowing across the lake at Easter, and that the town,s bells can be heard

ringing. There is another version of the same story in the same place, but

set in Saxon times: the people turn to Thor and Woden at a time when the

priest is warning that the barrier which holds back the meter needs

strengthening. He is ignored, but as the townsfolk are carousing at

Yuletide the water bursts in and destroys them.

There is a cautionary tale told of Semerwater, another lake with a

lost village in its depth. Semerwater lies in north Yorkshire not far from

Askrigg, which is perhaps better known as the centre of УHerriot countryФ,

from the veterinary stories of James Herriot. The story goes that a

traveller Ц variously given as an angel, St Paul, Joseph of Arimathea, a

witch, and Christ in the guise of a poor old man Ц visited house after

house seeking food and drink , but at each one was turned away, until he

reached a QuakerТs home, just beyond the village: htis was the only

building spared in the avenging flood that followed.

One lost land off the Kent coast can be partially seen at high tide:

originally, the Goodwin Sands were in fact an island, the island of Lomea

which according to one version disappeared under the waves in the eleventh

century when funds for its sea defences were diverted to pay for the

building of a church tower at Tenterden. The blame for that is laid at the

door of a n abbot of St AugustineТs at Canterbury who was both owner of

Lomea and rector of Tenterden. However, sceptics say that Tenterden had no

tower before the sixteenth century, nor can archeologists find any trace of

habitation or cultivation of the sands. Even so, the tales continue to be

told; one of these blame Earl Godwin, father of King Harold, for the loss

of the island. He earl promised to build a steeple at Tenterden in return

for safe delivery from a battle, but having survived the battle, he forgot

the vow and in retribution Lomea, which he owned, was flooded during a

great storm. The Sands still bear his name.

Yet worse was to follow, for scores of ships and the lives of some 50

000 sea farers have been lost on the Goodwins, and ill-fortune seems to dog

the area. For example, in 1748 the УLady LovibondФ was deliberatly steered

to her destruction on the Sands by the mate of the vessel, John Rivers.

Rivers was insanely jealeous because his intended bride, Anetta, had

foresaken him to marry his captain, Simon Reed. The entire wedding party

perished with the ship in the midst of the celebrations, but the remarkable

thing is that the scene made a phantom reappearance once every fifty years

Ц until 1948, when the УLady LovibondФ at last failed to re-enact the


Another fifty - year reappearance concerns the Nothumberland; she

was lost on the Goodwind sands in 1703 in a storm, along with twelve other

men Ц of - war, but in 1753 seen again by the crew of an East Indiaman Ц

sailors were leaping in to the water from the stricken vessel though their

shouts and screams could not be heard.

The Nothumberland was under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, to

whom is attached a further tale. Three years afterwards, the admiralТs

flagship, the Association, was wrecked on the Gilstone Rock near the Scilly

Isles. The fleet was homeward bound after a triumphant campaign against the

French and some maintain that the crews were drunk. But the story which

Scillonians believe to this day is that a sailor aboard the flagship warned

that the fleet was dangerously near the islands, and that for this he was

hanged at the yardarm for unsubordination, on the admiralТs orders. The man

was granted a last request to read from the Bible, and turned to the 109

psalm: У Let his days be few and another take his place. Let his children

be fatherless and his wife a widowФ. As he read the ship began to strike

the rocks.

The admiral was a very stout man and his buoyancy was sufficient to

carry him ashore alive, though very weak. However, official searches found

him dead, stripped off his clothing and valuables, including a fine emerald

ring. The body was taken to Westminster Abbey for interment, and his widow

appealed in vain for the return of the ring. Many years later a St MaryТs

islander confessed on the deathbed that she had found Sir Cloudesley and

had Уsqueezed the life out of himФ before taking his belongongs. The hue

and cry had forced her to abandon the idea of selling the emerald, but she

had felt unable to die in peace before revealing her crime.

A commemorative stone marks the place where the admiralТs body was

temporarily buried in the shingle of Porth Hellick, on St MaryТs Island. No

grass grows over the grave.


Many hundreds of shipwrecks have their own songs and stories. Although

the Ramilies, for example, was wrecked well over 200 years ago, tradition

perpetuates the event as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. In

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