Monthly Archives: March 2012

As mist settled over Pendle,
And clocks chimed the midnight hour,
Came a rush of broomsticks heading
For desolate Malkin Tower.

Alice Nutter leading her brood,
Chattox and the other crones,
While all the good folk round about
Felt a chill strike to their bones.

Vipers’ venom, tongues torn from larks,
Dank water drawn from a mire,
Devilish brewing, foul doings,
Their cauldron set on a fire.

Round and around those witches danced
Widdershins, wildly shrieking,
Knarled and naked, faces twisted,
Their billowing breath reeking.

As Malkin Tower shook and shuddered
With all those wild hags inside,
Invoking spells and vile curses,
The door was thrown open wide.

Satanic revels ceased at once,
Witches cowering cold and grey;
The High Sheriff of Lancashire
Stood framed in Malkin’s doorway.

At his back a hundred troopers,
In his hands a legal writ,
“Damned we are!” thought all the witches,
“Drawn to where the judges sit.”

“Spare us,” they cried, “Rack and thumbscrews,
Confessions we freely make.
We repent, so don’t condemn us
To the scaffold or the stake.”

“Beowulf faced Grendle, “ he replied,
“And the mother of Grendle.
Now it falls to my duty to
Face the Witches of Pendle.

“But, do not fret or harbour fear,
You’ll be neither burned nor hung,
For business folk of Lancashire
Wish to have your praises sung.

“Art works, part works, witchy-start works,
Model witches astride brooms,
From Roughlee, Barley and beyond,
The trade in witchcraft booms.

“You have managed to conjure up
A vibrant business bounty
For authors, artists, shopkeepers
And trade throughout the county.

“So, from Chambers of Commerce and
The Lancashire Tourist Board,
I’ve come here to present to you
Our Gold Enterprise Award.”


Through the great gorge of Cliviger,
That cold, abrasive winds scour,
In a ravine beneath Eagles’ Crag
Stood the ancient Bearnshaw Tower.

Stood Bearnshaw Tower for centuries
Tucked in the lea of a hill,
And within those venerable walls
There lived the Lady Sybil.

The Lady Sybil was renowned
For being beautiful and bright,
Throughout that dismal valley her
Wit was a radiant light.

A radiant light attracted
Suitors like moths to a flame;
While their ardour amused her she
Rejected them all the same.

Rejected them without favour
And yet there persisted one
Who was utterly entranced by her:
Poor Lord William of Hapton.

Poor Lord William had been usurped
By her love for wild moorland,
She’d climb up to the Eagles’ Crag
And there, in solitude, stand.

Stand there upon the Eagles’ Crag
Looking towards Pendle Hill,
Knowing the land around her was
Subject to her cunning will.

Subject to her will when she danced,
Barefoot in the full moon’s glow,
Over the moor then she pranced in
The form of a milk white doe.

As a milk white doe she chased and ran,
Possessed by wonderful power,
In the moonlight, over the hills
Above ancient Bearnshaw Tower.

Though Bearnshaw Tower was remote
And though her magic was strong,
There is neither spell nor distance
Can still a gossip’s tongue.

Gossips’ tongues wagged beyond Burnley,
Then Lord William came to hear,
“If she is not a witch, “ he said,
“Then she is bewitched, I fear.”

Bewitched or not, he would find out,
And followimg her one night:
He was dumbfounded to witness
Her frolics in the moonlight.

Her frolics in the moonlight as
Widdershins round she cantered:
An owl screeched, a fox cried, while she
Strange incantations chanted.

Strange incantations that confirmed
His love was doomed and gone.
Unless a witch undid a witch:
He’d see Old Mother Helston.

Old Mother Helston lived alone
In her cottage dark and foul,
A knarled, well-withered woman who
Possessed a bitter scowl.

Her bitter scowl she turned on him,
“Let me alone and be gone!
If your fine Lady would be a witch,
Why should I stop her being one?”

“Pray stop her being a witch,” he said,
“Show me how to break the spell
And rescue her from the Devil’s work,
Then I’ll gladly pay you well.”

“The Devil’s work,” sneered Mother Helston,
“Brings many pleasures in life.
But, the craft takes our very souls:
She’d be safer as your wife.

“She’ll be safe come Valentine’s Eve
If you ride out with your hounds
Over the moor in full cry till
A white doe before you bounds.

“Such a chase that white doe will lead,
Graceful, devious and fast,
She’ll try so hard to escape, but
You’ll catch up with her at last.

“A silken cord thrown round her neck
Will subdue her with its power.
Gently, ever so gently then
Lead her back to Hapton Tower.

“At Hapton Tower make her secure
And then you must take your leave
So I can be free to do my work
Upon Saint Valentine’s Eve.”

On Saint Valentine’s Eve he rode
And started a milk-white doe
Which set back her ears, then took off,
But his hounds were all too slow.

All too slow except one old bitch
Running hard on the doe’s heels,
Over the moor and down the moor
And across hoar-frosted fields.

Across hoar-frosted fields they chased
Led on by the strange bitch-hound
Looking too old and grizzled grey,
Yet so fleet over the ground.

Over the ground to Eagles’ Crag,
But, that was the doe’s last mile,
For once the old hound brought her down
A silk cord made her docile.

Lord William led the docile white doe
Towards Hapton Tower, but then
He sought the hound that brought her down,
But never saw it again.

And never would he see her tethered,
As if some burdensome beast.
He fetched the doe to his sitting room
Where she’d have comfort at least.

Comfort in a room with tapestries
And clear windows set with lead,
Persian rugs and quilted chairs where
He left her, and went to bed.

To bed exhausted and soon asleep,
But, quickly, he was awake
When ornaments started to fly
And the tower began to shake.

An earthquake shaking Lancashire?
The world was all aquiver,
Chairs tumbled and doors swung open,
Thick-set walls seemed to shiver.

Might Hapton’s thick-set walls tumble
As a gale began to blow?
And then Lord William remembered
The room with his milk-white doe.

Down to his milk-white doe he dashed
And ran into the room where
The doe was gone, and Lady Sybil
Sat calmly combing her hair.

Calmly, she promised to marry him,
Put behind her the Old Way,
Leaving the craft and Bearnshaw Tower
That Valentine’s to decay.

Yet, some say, come Valentine’s Eve,
With a full moon sailing slow,
There’s a chance, out by Eagles’ Crag,
To glimpse a young milk-white doe.

Prince-Bishop ordered his masons to build
A new church for Saint Mary the Virgin,
The very best builders within their gild
Who, with hammer and chisel and whin-gin,
Would sharp raise walls as true as a plumb-line
On the King’s Meadow, an isle in the Tyne.

By the first day’s sunset the footings were laid
And two courses of stone set into place;
A keel brought them to the camp where they stayed,
Sleeping soundly that night, covered with grace.
But, next day, when to the isle the boat steered
They found all their good work had disappeared.

They stood dumbfounded, aghast and confused:
Who could possibly have cleared the whole site?
It looked like the land had never been used,
The whole work of a day undone by night.
Where had it all gone? No one knew, until
Shocking news came from Quykham on the hill.

That morning the innocent village awoke
To find fresh footings where none were before,
With stacks of dressed stone and beams of best oak:
Surely the work of angels, or devils, or
Fairy folk. Then someone said, “You know,
There’s a church being built on the King’s Meadow.”

Every stone and truss was carted back down
And the builders undid what was undone.
Masons grumbled, their foreman wore a frown,
Especially at the setting of the sun.
A priest spoke up, “We must conquer our fears:
I require watchmen, two stout volunteers.”

A couple of men settled for the night
As dismal shadows gathered dark and deep.
They drank strong ale by the warm campfire’s light
And, despite their resolve, they fell asleep.
Both were awakened by the new dawn’s chill
To find all was gone, once more, up the hill.

The good folk of Quykham again returned
All the stones and beams back down to the isle.
Yet, what the cause was had still not been learned;
The priest thought it must be his sacred trial.
Angels? Devils? Or some troublesome elf?
He decided he would keep watch himself.
When a day’s work was done for the third time
And builders retired to their camp once more,
The prelate remained to frustrate the crime,
With bible and club to even the score.
Moon reached its zenith in star-littered skies
When a fantastic scene assailed his eyes.

Over foundations, by newly laid stones,
Around oak beams and the idle whin-gins
Shaking scaffolding like fragile old bones,
A cunning Green Man dancing widdershins.
As he cavorted and led his wild chase,
A smile! A scowl! Then anger twisted his face.

Quaking, the priest stepped out from the shadows,
Confronting the Green Man, who sneered with disdain.
Angered, the prelate delivered two blows
With his club, splitting the Green Man in twain.
Quite what had happened was beyond his ken,
For he found himself facing two Green Men.

He brandished before him the sacred Good Book
And unto the highest angels he spoke.
Out from the clear sky a lightning bolt struck
And the two Green Men became wreathed in smoke.
When the smoke cleared from the vicinity
There weren’t two Green Men, but a trinity.

One with a wicked smile! One with a scowl!
And one with anger gnarling its features.
Defeated, the priest pulled forward his cowl,
Then surrendered to the whim of those creatures.
As they danced widdershins around him there
The blocks and beams spiralled into the air.

Next morning Quykham woke to find once more
Footings for a new church they had not planned,
And at the centre, its progenitor,
The priest, bewildered, making one demand,
“The spirit moves in a mysterious way,
So, where the church now stands, there let it stay.”

In Quykham, for Mary, a church did grow
And for long generations it has stood,
Overlooking the Tyne flowing below,
Serving the good and the not so good.
On its north wall to mark how it began
Are ranged the three faces of the Green man.