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5 Incredible (& slightly bizarre) Stories & Legends from British Folklore

From a ghostly washer woman with breasts so long she has to throw them over her shoulders, to the legend of the disembodied hairy hands that terrorise drivers around the roads of Dartmoor to this day, here are 5 incredible (and bizarre) stories from British folklore.

#1 Spring-Heeled Jack

Spring-heeled Jack is an urban legend mainly associated with London and its surrounding villages during the Victorian era.

First sighted in London in 1837, Spring-heeled Jack was described as a terrifying figure, with a cloak and clawed hands (a la Freddy Krueger) who would jump out at people, attacking women by ripping off their clothes with his metallic claws, before leaping away across the rooftops, making extraordinary leaps as he went, hence his name Spring-heeled Jack.

Some say he was of a supernatural appearance, with eyes that resembled red balls of fire, and with blue and white flame coming from his mouth. Others described Jack as having a more down to earth gentlemanly appearance, being tall and thin, and wearing a large cloak.


His first victim was in the month of October in 1837, when a servant girl named Mary Stevens was walking to her place of work at Lavender Hill (London). She had been visiting her parents in Battersea and was walking through Clapham Common when suddenly a strange figure leapt out at her from within a dark alley. He held her in his grip and started kissing her around the face whilst ripping her clothes off and touching her flesh with his claws, which she described as "cold and clammy as those of a corpse". She started screaming which caused Jack to eventually flee before any harm came to her. It was reported that the very next day the same strange character jumped out at a passing horse and carriage, which caused the coachman to lose control and crash, seriously injuring him in the process. Witnesses claimed that the strange character then jumped over a 9 ft wall to make his escape, whilst at the same time letting out a high-pitched cackling laughter before he vanished into the night.

Several other attacks happened over the years, with sightings of him all over the UK, including the Midlands and as far north as Scotland, with the final sightings being in Liverpool in 1888 and again in 1904, after which he was never seen again.


Spring-heeled Jack was never caught, though there were a few suspects at the time...

In 1838, after an attack on Jane Alsop, a man named Thomas Millbank had boasted to people in the Morgan's Arms pub that he was Spring-Heeled Jack. There was some evidence found to suggest that the attack on Jane Alsop was indeed Millbank, however, he escaped conviction because Jane Alsop insisted that her attacker had breathed fire, which Millbank admitted he could not.

Another suspect was Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, who had a bad reputation at the time for drunken brawling, vandalism and was said to do anything for a bet. He also had contempt for women and the law. The author E. Cobham Brewer named the Marquess as the perpetrator, saying that the Marquess "used to amuse himself by springing on travellers unawares, to frighten them, and from time to time others have followed his silly example."

Whoever Spring-heeled Jack was, no one really knows for sure, but he was certainly one of the most popular characters of Victorian Britain, with his exploits being the focus of many a newspaper up and down Britain, and he also became the subject of several penny dreadfuls (mass-produced popular literature aimed at the young) and theatre productions.

#2 Ben Nighe

Bean Nighe means “washer woman” in Scottish Gaelic, and is pronounced Ben-neeya.

It is a female spirit from Scottish folklore who sometimes can be seen at the edge of a desolate lake or stream, washing the bloody clothes of those who are about to die.

It is believed that these spirits are of women who died whilst giving birth, and are doomed to keep performing their tasks until the day that they normally would have died. They are sometimes described as having webbed feet, a protruding front tooth and having just one nostril. They sometimes like to sing too.

What to do if you encounter a Ben-Nighe

Apparently if you approach one with caution, and grab her before she flees, she may reveal who is about to die, allowing you to save them or let them die, and she may even grant you a wish or three.

Unfortunately though, if you happen to live on the Isles of Mull or Tiree, things are a little bit more awkward, for the Bean-Nighe in those parts are said to have unusually long breasts that get in the way as they’re washing, causing her to throw them over each shoulder out of the way, leaving them to hang down her bony back.

And it gets worse, for unfortunately if you want your three wishes or the knowledge of who is about to part ways with this world (you can save them by interrupting the washing) then here is what you have to do..

Very carefully and quietly sneak up on her until you are right behind her, then take hold of one of those long dangly breasts, put it in your mouth and tell her that you are her foster child. How you are meant to talk I do not know but apparently she will then impart the knowledge on you, allowing you to either save a friend, or let her continue washing should the clothes belong to an enemy. The choice would be yours, and let’s face it, you’d have earned it!

And for those living on the Isle of Skye, if you get seen be her first, you’ll unfortunately lose the use of all your limbs, so tread very carefully indeed.

#3 The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor

Nothing could be scarier than driving along the dark deserted narrow roads of Dartmoor and to suddenly look down and see a pair of disembodied hairy hands grabbing at your steering wheel in an attempt to run you off the road, but that is apparently what’s been happening to a few unfortunate drivers over the years in a particular part of Dartmoor.

It all started in June 1921 when a Dr Helby from Princetown was riding along on his motorcycle when it was suddenly forced off the road and crashed, killing the poor doctor. The two girl passengers in the motorcycles sidecar were thrown clear and received only minor injuries. The crash was put down to mechanical failure of the spokes and axle.

However, not long after this incident, an army officer was too riding a motorcycle in the same area and he too was suddenly forced off the road, but the incident was not fatal, and the story he told became headline news, as he described a pair of muscular hairy hands clamping over his and forcing him off the road and into the verge.

It wasn’t just motorcyclists either, as more and more incidents involving the ghostly hairy hands were reported over the years, including a charabanc full of tourists being forced off the road by the hairy hands, and a lady who was approached by the hairy hands whilst sleeping in her caravan.

Other incidents followed, including one with another motorcycle and sidecar in September of 1947, when a young couple were travelling home to Exeter from Princetown, and were approaching Cherrybrook bridge when the motorcycle started to wobble, and the young man lost control. His girlfriend was flung out of the sidecar onto the grass verge but the young lad hit the bridge and died. No hairy hands were spotted but it was a similar accident in the same area.

The hands were however spotted again in 1962 when a lady driver stopped her vehicle to look at her map when suddenly a huge pair of hairy hands pressed up against her windscreen. In her own words she said she tried to scream but was frozen in fear.

And as recently as 2008, another motorist was driving along when he reported seeing what he described as a huge pair of what looked like hairy paws grabbing his steering wheel, trying to force him off the road.

Theories as to who or what

Some believe that the hairy hands once belonged to a worker at a local gunpowder factory, who was known for his massive hairy hands, but unfortunately during an accident caused by a spark from his own hobnail boots, the worker got blown to smithereens, and all that was left were his big hairy hands still gripping his tools.

Another, and much more plausible theory is that magnetic rocks in the area have been interfering with the vehicles, such as the handle bars of any motor bike, which could have acted as conductors and the electric shock might then have explained the feeling of ghostly hands placed over the drivers own hands.

Whether supernatural or not, we certainly advice any drivers in that area of Dartmoor (along the B3212) to drive a bit more carefully, keeping a firm grip of that steering wheel or those handlebars.

#4 Angelystor (the “Recording Angel”)

In the churchyard of St. Digain's Church in Llangernyw village, Wales, stands possibly the oldest living thing in Britain, the Llangernyw Yew, which is thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old, dating it back to the Bronze age, before Christianity arrived in Britain.

Attached to the church next to this incredible tree, is the legend of Angelystor, which in welsh means "Recording Angel" which in this case is a spirit that appears inside the medieval church twice a year, firstly on the night of 31st July, and then again on Halloween night, and on these two nights from within the church it will announce in Welsh the names of local parish members who will shortly meet their demise.

According to the story, one Halloween night long ago,  a disbelieving local tailor called Siôn Ap Rhobert scoffed at the legend in his local pub, to which his fellow drinkers challenged him to visit the church to check out if the legend were true. Well, he finished his drink and headed straight to the churchyard. It was then as he arrived on his own at the church that he heard a deep ghoulish voice coming from inside it, and as he got closer to the door and listened, he could hear that the voice was reciting the names of local people soon to die, with the very first name he recognised being his own. He died before the next Halloween.

#5 Red Cap (Murderous Goblin from Border Folklore)

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you may have heard of Red Caps before as they are mentioned in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, described as

“nasty little goblin-like creatures that lurk wherever there has been bloodshed, in the dungeons of castles and the potholes of deserted battlefields, waiting to bludgeon those who have got lost."

However, they are not a modern invention, but have been part of British folklore for centuries, and were thought to inhabit the ruins of castles and towers along the Anglo-Scottish border, where historic battles were fought and lost and much blood was shed.

Often described as murderous and evil, Red Caps are said to wear iron boots and carry an iron pike, and were notoriously fast too, so legging it from one wasn’t an option and they would usually kill a tired and weary traveller by throwing huge stones at them once the traveller had sought shelter in the Red Caps lair.

"Beware the wicked Redcap, he'd love to see you dead - he'll take all of your blood, and wear it on his head."

Once a kill was made, the murderous goblin would soak its own cap in the blood of its victim, which is where they get their name from. It was believed that they needed to keep their caps drenched in fresh blood so that it would not dry out, for if it did, they would lose their power and die.

The Story of Robin Redcap & Sir William de Soulis

The image above is Hermitage Castle in the Border regions of Scotland, and a place associated with the most famous Redcap of all - Robin Redcap.

Some time in the 1300's, the lord of Hermitage Castle Sir William de Soulis, the Lord of Liddesdale and Butler of Scotland, is said to have been a cruel and evil man who practised black magic and was encouraged to do so by a Redcap named Robin. Many evil deeds took place at the castle during this period, including rape, torture and murder, until the locals decided enough was enough, and along with the King of Scotland's army, marched upon the castle to rid it of its evil Lord and his minion.

However, the Redcap had granted his master safety so that he could not be harmed by lance or arrow, sword or knife, and could not be bound by any rope either. But despite this special power to protect him, de Soulis was captured, and instead of bound with rope was rolled up in a sheet of lead, then melted in a huge cauldron, and the Redcap disappeared.

It is believed that Robin Redcap still inhabits the Hermitage Castle to this day, in spirit form, and many of the old border castles have a Redcap of their own, perhaps laying in wait for a chance to soak their cap once more..

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