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More Tales of the Ridings   By: (1872-1919)

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More Tales of the Ridings


F.W.Moorman, 1872 1919

Late Professor of English Language, Leeds University.

Editor of " Yorkshire Dialect Poems "

London, Elkin Mathews, Cork Street 1920


Melsh Dick Two Letters A Miracle Tales of a grandmother I. The Tree of Knowledge II. Janet's Cove The Potato and the Pig Coals of Fire

Melsh Dick

Melsh Dick is the last survivor of our woodland divinities. His pedigree reaches back to the satyrs and dryads of Greek mythology; he claims kinship with the fauns that haunted the groves of leafy Tibur, and he lorded it in the green woods of merry England when

The woodweele sang and wold not cease, Sitting upon the spraye, Soe lowde he wakened Robin Hood In the greenwood where he lay.

But he has long since fallen upon evil days, and it is only in the most secluded regions of the Pennines, where vestiges of primeval forest still remain and where modern civilisation has scarcely penetrated, that he is to be met with to day. Melsh is a dialect word for unripe, and the popular belief is that Melsh Dick keeps guard over unripe nuts; while "Melsh Dick'll catch thee, lad" was formerly a threat used to frighten children when they went a nutting in the hazel shaws. But we may, perhaps, take a somewhat wider view of this woodland deity and look upon him as the tutelary genius of all the young life of the forest the callow broods of birds, the litters of foxes and squirrels, and the sapling oaks, hazels, and birches. There was a time when he was looked upon as a genial fairy, who would bring Yule logs to the farmers on Christmas Eve and direct the woodmen in their tasks of planting and felling; latterly, however, he is said to have grown churlish and malignant. The reckless felling of young trees for fencing and pit props is supposed to have roused his ill will, and sinister stories have been told of children who have gone into the woods for acorns or hazel nuts and have never been seen again.

It was in the Bowland Forest district, which is watered by the Ribble and its tributary becks, that I heard the fullest account of Melsh Dick; and the following story was communicated to me by an old peasant whose forefathers had for generations been woodmen in Bowland Forest. The region where he lived is rich in legend, and not far away is the old market town of Gisburn, where Guy of that ilk fought with Robin Hood, and where, until the middle of the nineteenth century, a herd of the wild cattle of England roamed through the park.

"Fowks tell a mak o' tales about witches, barguests, an' sike like," Owd Dont began, "but I tak no count o' all their clash; I reckon nowt o' tales without they belang my awn family. But what I's gannin to tell you is what I've heerd my mother say, aye scores o' times; so you'll know it's true. A gradely lass were my mother, an' noan gien to leein', like some fowks I could name. There's owd lasses nowadays, gie 'em a sup o' chatter watter an' a butter shive, an' they'll tell you tales that would fotch t' devil out o' his den to hark tul 'em."

After this attack upon the licence of the tea table, Owd Dont needed a long draught of March ale to regain his composure. I knew that it was worse than useless to attempt to hurry him in his narrative. Leisurely at the start, the pace of his stories quickened considerably as he warmed to his work, and it was not without reason that he had acquired a reputation of being the best story teller on the long settle of the Ring o' Bells.

"'Twere back end o' t' yeer," he continued at last, "an' t' lads had gone into t' woods to gether hesel nuts an' accorns. There were a two three big lads amang 'em, but most on 'em were lile uns, an' yan were lame i' t' leg. They called him Doed o' Billy's o' Claypit Lane. Well, t' lads had gotten a seet o' nuts, an' then they set off home as fast as they could gan, for 'twere gettin' a bit dosky i' t' wood... Continue reading book >>

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