Written by Luke Greensmith Originally published on November 18th, 2020 This episode is part of a local roundup of the places I’ve lived in the UK, being a first and probably not last look at the English county of Lancashire. We’ve dabbled very lightly here before in the Stay Away From The Water episode with Jenny Greenteeth, but there’s plenty more strangeness to unearth in my birth County.
Speaking of birth county, I was born and raised in Ormskirk, so let’s start with a story from there. Ormskirk is a small Market Town that has continued growing in recent times thanks to a transition into a University town, and like basically everywhere in Britain it has more than its fair share of small pubs. One of which right near the Parish Church is The Plough. The Plough suffered quite badly from reports of poltergeist activity back in 2018. A spinning charity box, bottles moving around on their own up to and including straight up being launched across the room. All of this supposedly with plenty of witnesses, and the owner believes they know why. They suspect this is a former landlady Nancy Balshaw that lived and died in the pub back when it was called The Tavern in the mid 19th century, who is buried over the road. The current owners believe they know what caused the sudden activity too: All of this began after a car crashed into the Grade II listed building, rather drastically disturbing the spirit. Nancy is doing nothing to deter customers, not that an actual portal to hell could drive most regulars away from their local pub. The regulars instead just ask staff what Nancy has been up to lately, and the riled up poltergeist is now just a quaint feature of The Plough.
A very famous feature of Paranormal Lancashire has got to be the Pendle Witches. Pendle has well and truly embraced this piece of heritage, with the Pendle Witch Trail being a well signposted tourist walkabout.
Now, I’ve been to Pendle Hill ghost hunting. I’m still sat on a pile of footage from a few years back, and an enthusiastic editor is now bugging me for all the materials so that should finally see the light of day at some poin. Mostly? It was beautiful. It was just too damn pretty to feel creeped out by, even chilling in a graveyard. VERY hill though. The sheer inclines are were the terror comes from there, it was like a rollercoaster. British roads can be WEIRD.
The culture of witches preceding King James I getting a righteous murderboner was an interesting one. Village healers who practiced herbcraft were basically assumed to be witches, and this rarely stopped people actually using them in between hysterical mass murder waves. It could be good money too! Britain is sporadically pagan, especially if you head somewhere on the feral side such as into Wales and Scotland. Witchcraft wasn’t even a capital crime in Britain until 1563 and it took a big push from King James I with a very early propaganda campaign in his book Daemonologie to really get these hedge witches as dead as the church wanted them. Assorted Popes had been thrillkilling women for centuries before this but in Britain up to the 16th century? Got a headache, and this cut smells funny, I’m off to see the village witch. Roll over into the 1600s? Burn the witch while you have a headache and a septic cut, very likely getting an ironic death to go with your self righteous execution since you just set your local healer on fire for a laugh.
Now, back to how much money a witch could make… Not every accused witch was a healer, plenty were just slightly odd women, but others were slightly odd women making a living. What it looks like in Pendle is that two rival families laid into each other, playing with fire and getting burned. Only metaphorically here, since Lancashire County hung witches to death. The Demdike family and the Chattox family, headed by impoverished widows Old Demdike and Mother Chattox, seemed to have been competing for business and thought to take advantage of the anti-witch fetish of the King. Unfortunately both families had the same idea and mutually assured destruction, with a smattering of collateral damage, followed.
The graveyard I was hanging around on in Pendle for the ghost hunt has an interesting history. St Mary’s Church, Newchurch, has something of an unusual reputation. The Nutter family, a name I promise you is hilarious to the British but probably means something both innocent and practical, bury all their family members here. This becomes a problem with Alice Nutter, one of the witches executed as part of the fallout from the Demdike/Chattox feud. According to accounts of the trial Alice truly believed in her powers, and met her end with the hangman after confessing in some detail. By some accounts from there being chopped up after her death. Where this becomes a problem for the surviving family is that witches are not allowed to be interred on holy grounds. The Nutter family were having none of this, and sneaked the assorted bits of Alice into the graveyard at random so she could rest in pieces among the rest of her family. The church itself now has a unique marking: There’s an eye carved into the brick. This is either The Evil Eye, or the All Seeing Eye of God, depending on who you talk to. Whichever it truly is, it was placed there to be a ward against evil influences.
As with basically everywhere in Britain, Lancashire has Black Dog stories. Kind of plural… Lancashire is pretty Black Dog dense. How Black Dog dense, exactly, depends on your name count. Gytrash and Trash are very likely the same Black Dog with name variants. Same for Skriker and Striker. When you see something called ‘Grim’, that’s probably a shorthand for a Church Grim which isn’t quite the same thing. Barguist and Shag seem to be variations of generic Black Dog terms. Shag being another take on Shaggy Dog descriptions, while once again being a hilarious name for British residents with “a shag” being slang for sex, and Barguist being the Lanky Twang for Barghest or Barguest. I’ve also seen mention of Padfoot in Lancashire, which will make Yorkshire furious, and the city of York itself is throwing some shade by saying the Barguist is their Black Dog in places despite being on the other side of the country.
Slight aside here, separated by the Pennines (a series of angry hills threatening to become mountains at times), Lancashire and Yorkshire HATE each other. Especially along the Pennines themselves, where by accent and culture there’s basically no difference between the residents of the two counties, which makes them loathe each other all the more. Padfoot is Yorkshire’s Black Dog and a personal favourite of mine for how weird they are, they very likely roam over to the Lancashire side as they go about their business, almost certainly causing even more strife as the two Shires argue over whose Black Dog it is.
For more Padfoot, go check out my Black Dogs episode. Honestly, this may seem like a lot of info, but it’s a surface level reading of Black Dogs. They’re a huge field within British, and global for that matter, Folklore.
I found a neat exert online that I’m having trouble fully attributing called The Legend of The Black Dog, which is either written by or shared by Sandy Phillips on shorebread.com. I think it’s pretty damn neat, so here it is in its entirety:
I was alone on a dark path one warm fall night, I saw a flash of lightening up ahead and suddenly there was a huge black dog with gleaming red eyes. The dog was larger than any I had ever seen and I was struck with fear. There was another flash of light and again his eyes shown a red glow. His coat was shaggy yet his stance powerful. I was overwhelmed by the scene, somehow knowing the dog was not of this world, yet I felt truly no mean-spiritedness in the dog’s demeanor. Slowly the image faded into the darkness and I continued on my way…
For a Lancashire specific demon puppy, Gytrash is pretty interesting. Referred to as a ghost or spirit all over the place, this entity has fairy red flags all over the place. A duality of nature where they’re as likely to help lost travellers as they are to lead them further astray, this Black dog also has a knack for shapeshifting. As well as the iconic gigantic hellhound look Guytrash can also play possum as a less hell looking hound, it can masquerade as mules or horses that are never ridden, it can be a crane bird (because why the hell not when you’re some prankster fae), and it also has another distinctive and terrifying form it can take. I quote now directly from Joseph Wright’s The English Dialect Dictionary: Guytrash can take on the form of "an evil cow whose appearance was formerly believed in as a sign of death." You’re probably laughing now, but if when you’re travelling alone at night across the lonely roads of rural Lancashire, you look up… And there, silhouetted in the starlight, is a giant cow black as pitch and with the blazing orange eyes of a Black Dog… You’ll probably laugh again. But you shouldn’t! You should be kissing your ass goodbye. That, and I quote again, “EVIL COW”, is a death omen. You’re in for a Final Destination style bad time. Bring a spare friend and hope it gets them instead.
Black Dogs get a lot of attention from me, and I do love me some hell puppies, but I’ve got a great cat story from Lancashire to mix things up a little.
This is the Spectral Cat of Leyland.
Waaaaay back in the 12th century, the Church of Leyland was set to be built in earnest. A church of some form had been present before this, but this is the laying of the foundations of what went on to become the church Leyland has now.
Or, at least, the attempted laying of the foundations.
They kept being moved in the night.
Workmen would set up one day to begin work the next, and come back the next to an irate farmer who had stones dumped on their land.
So the priest enlists some local men to watch for the culprit.
Local men who promptly get drunk and fall asleep.
When the priest comes to check up on them, and rouses them from a drunken slumber, after a little arguing they realise something strange is happening.
A great black cat with unearthly eyes and a barb on the end of its tail was picking up a stone like it was nothing and taking it to the field just over the way to spit it out. They all watched this strange spectacle for a while in shock. This giant clearly otherworldy kitty moving the stones the mason’s need for whatever bizarre cat logic reason.
Now, one of the priest’s companions decides to leap into action here. They muster their bravery, raise their club, and charge in to beat this ethereal cat into submission. To smite the feline spectre with righteous fury!
Anyone who knows regular cats want to place their bets on how well this goes for him?
The cat proved to be two things. Immune to physical damage, and an angry giant cat.
It leapt onto its attacker, ripped his throat out with its teeth, and run off in a huff not to return.
So, yay church foundations stop being moved! Leyland church as it is known today first got built. But Spectral Cat 1, slightly drunk guys with clubs 0.
Probably could have done with a church grim to chase away this kitty. Certainly shouldn’t have run over and tried to hit it, a regular cat would come up fighting let alone a giant demonic spectral one.
Ending an episode with a monstrous cat tearing someone’s throat out is clearly ending it on a high note, so that’s going to be all for this episode. We’ve had where I live now and where I was born, but we have one more significant location in Britain for me yet… I’ll get to it soon but leave you in suspense for now.
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