Shropshire

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Shropshire has more than its share of myths and legends. Some of these are probably based on fact but many others are down to superstition or too many drinks! Just about every large expanse of water, for instance, has its own myth and many of these are very similar. Such stories were passed down the generations and were often embellished to make them more interesting. The art is in determining whether they were based on a real incident. Shropshire also has its fair share of ghosts and there is a separate webpage for these.

 

http://shropshirehistory.com/index_files/image033.jpg Gazetteer of Myths & Legends

 

Location

Grid Reference

Details

Bagbury

 

SO322931

A bull with glaring red eyes was terrorising the villagers of Bagbury and its bellowing was so loud that buildings were damaged. The villagers went to Hyssington Church and prayed for help.  A group of clergymen lured it in to the church, where it was exorcised. The bull shrunk in size so it could be squeezed inside a boot, which was then buried under the doorway of the church. A number of locals, however, believed it was only relocated to Bagbury Bridge and they always walked their horses across in fear of waking the spirit up.

 

Baschurch

 

SJ429234

Legend has it that a church was once going to be built on top of the old hillfort. A mysterious presence threw the bells for it into the Berth Pool. Horses were brought up and fastened to them but were quite powerless to draw them out. Then oxen were tried with better success but, just as the bells were coming to the surface of the water, one of the men employed in the work let slip an oath. At this, they fell back crying, “No never” and they lie at the bottom of the pool to this day. It is said that the Berth Pool is so deep that 3 cart-ropes will not reach the bottom.

 

Bayston Hill

 

SJ499080

There are several legends about Bomere Pool.

 

One legend claims that, many years ago, a godless city stood at Bomere (it is not far from the Roman city of Viroconium so it may have been based on that). A young Roman soldier who was a Christian came to the city and vowed to convert them. As try as he might, he could not persuade anyone apart from the beautiful daughter of the governor and gradually the two fell in love. While he was away on the evening of Easter, Caer Caradoc split open and volcanic lava engulfed the city. A huge wave rolled up the River Severn and across the buildings, dowsing the flames but drowning everyone within it. The Roman soldier arrived too late to save his sweetheart and died of his grief. His ghost is occasionally seen at Bomere Pool as a grey figure rowing a boat or walking in the woods. It is said to looking for the love he lost so long ago.

 

A similar legend says that many years ago, a village stood in the hollow which is now filled up by the pool. The inhabitants were a wicked race who worshipped Thor and Woden. The local priest warned them that God would punish such wickedness by some sudden judgment but they laughed at him. They fastened fish-bones to the skirt of his cassock and the children pelted him with mud and stones. The rains fell that December in immense quantities. The pool was swollen beyond its usual limits and one day, when the old priest was on the hillside gathering fuel, he noticed that the dam of earth which prevented the mere from flowing into the valley was giving way. He hurried down to the village and asked the men to come up and cut a channel to divert the water but they refused. The priest was holding a midnight mass in a chapel next to the pool when a roar was heard. Water flooded into the chapel and the building was washed away. The pool, which had burst its dam, now occupied the hollow in which the village had stood. Legend says that if you sail over the mere on Christmas Eve, just after midnight, you may hear the bell tolling.

 

A party of gentlemen, including the Squire of Condover, were supposedly fishing in the pool when an enormous fish was captured and hauled into the boat. Some discussion arose as to the girth of the fish and a bet was made that he was bigger round than the squire and that the sword- belt of the latter would not reach his waist. To decide the bet, the squire unbuckled his belt and with some difficulty fastened it round the body of the fish. The fish began struggling and escaped back into the water, still carrying the squire's sword. It was said that the monster fish could never be caught since, when it was once nearly netted, it drew the sword and cut itself free. The fisherman then made a net of iron links and caught the fish. When it was brought to land, however, it soon freed itself with the wonderful sword and slid back into the water. The people were so terrified by the sight that they never tried to catch it again, though it was seen in the shallows of the pool with the sword girded around it. It is said that it will one day give the sword up but not until the true heir of Condover Hall comes to take it, for it is none other than Wild Edric's sword which was entrusted to its keeping and can only be restored to his heir. According to the story, Wild Edric was born at Condover Hall and it ought to belong to his descendants but his children were defrauded of their inheritance and the place is unlucky.

 

Childs Ercall

SJ666251

 

Two men were going to work one morning and, as they passed the pool at Child’s Ercall, they saw a mermaid in the water. They were very frightened but the mermaid spoke to them and her voice was so sweet and pleasant that they fell in love with her. She told them that there was a treasure hidden at the bottom of the pond and she would give them as much as they liked if they would come to her in the water and take it out of her hands. So they went in, although it was almost up to their chins, and she dived into the water and brought up a lump of gold almost as big as a man s head. As the men were just going to take it, one of them swore and said “If this isn't a bit of luck”. At once, the mermaid gave a scream and dived down into the pond. They never saw her or the gold again.

 

Chirbury

SO261985

Those who walk twelve times around the church at midnight on 31st October (Halloween) shall hear the names of the villagers due to die within the following twelve months. In the 18th century, two men who were the worse for a night’s drinking, dared each other to make the fateful circuit. As they strained to hear the mumbled register of the damned, the name of one of their friends rang clear. Quickly, they ran to warn him. He scoffed but was dead before the next Halloween. It’s said that a soul does not rest in the church until it has told the living of an impending death.

 

Cockshutt

 

SJ431305

 

A chapel formerly stood on the banks of the Crose Mere and, whenever the water is ruffled by the wind, the chapel bells can be heard ringing beneath the surface.

 

Colemere

SJ433332

 

A monastery once stood on the ground occupied by the pool but a spring burst out of the ground and the water quickly covered the monastery, forming Colemere. The bells may still be heard ringing on windy nights when the moon is full. Another tale says that the old church at Colemere was pulled down by Oliver Cromwell and the bells thrown into the mere. An attempt was made to get them up and chains were fastened to them, with 20 oxen pulling. They had nearly been pulled out when a man who had been helping said, “In spite of God and the devil we have done it”.  At these words, the chains snapped and the bells rolled back into the water. Nothing has ever been seen or heard of them since.

 

Earls Hill

SJ409048

 

There were once two Saxon kings who fought a battle to acquire the hill fort that is on top of Earls Hill. One of them shot a golden arrow but it got lost. Anyone finding the golden arrow will be assured of good luck and fortune. This legend was the inspiration for Mary Webb’s book “Golden Arrow”.

 

Ellesmere

SJ406350

 

The Mere has several legends attached to it.

 

The first is that where Ellesmere stands was once meadow land and in the middle of it was a well of beautiful water, from which everyone in the neighbourhood used to fetch as much as they pleased. There was a change of tenant and the new owner stopped people going to the well and only allowed his own family to draw water. One morning, the farmer's wife went to the well for water but instead of the well she found that the whole field was one great pool and so it has remained ever since. The owner, however, was still obliged to pay the same rent as before in punishment for such bad conduct. In another version of the tale, the new owner of the well started charging a halfpenny for every bucketful that was drawn but the result as the same. Yet another version was put to verse by the Rev Oswald Feilden, vicar of Frankton:

 

I've heard it said, where now so clear
The water of that silver mere,
It once was all dry ground;
And on a gentle eminence,
A cottage with a garden fence,
Which hedged it all around.

And there resided all alone,
So runs the tale, an aged crone,
A witch, as some folks thought.
And to her home a well was near,
Whose waters were so bright and clear,
By many it was sought.

But greatly it displeased the dame
To see how all her neighbours came
Her clear cool spring to use,
And often was she heard to say,
That if they came another day,
She would the well refuse.

Upon this little hill, said she,
My house I built for privacy,
Which now I seek in vain:
For day by day your people come
Thronging in crowds around my home,
This water to obtain.

But when folks laughed at what she said,
Her countenance with passion red,
She uttered this dread curse:
Ye neighbours one and all beware!
If here to come again you dare
For you 'twill be the worse!

Of these her words they took no heed,
And when of water they had need
Next day, they came again.
The dame, they found, was not at home,
The well was locked: so they had come
Their journey all in vain.

The well was safely locked. But though
You might with bolts and bars, you know,
Prevent the water going,
One thing, forsooth, could not be done,
I mean forbid the spring to run,
And stop it overflowing.

And all that day, as none could draw,
The water rose full two feet more
Than ever had been known.
And when the evening shadows fell,
Beneath the cover of the well
A stream was running down,

It flowed on gently all next day,
And soon around the well there lay
A pond of water clear;
And as it ever gathered strength,
It deeper grew, until at length
The pond became a mere.

To some, alas! the flood brought death;
Full many a cottage lies beneath
The waters of the lake;
And those who dwelt on either side
Were driven by the running tide
Their homesteads to forsake.

And as they fled, that parting word
Which they so heedlessly had heard,
They now recalled, I ween
The dame was gone; but where once stood
Her cottage, still above the flood
An island may be seen.

 

The second legend is that an old woman called Mrs Ellis had a pump in her yard and she would not sell or give any water to her neighbours. One night the well overflowed and the next morning nothing was to be seen of her or the pump, only the large mere.

 

The third legend is that concealed under floating pond weeds, Jenny Greenteeth waits for unsuspecting children that she can drag down into the deep waters.

 

Under the water of the mere is a mysterious paved causeway called the Lady's Walk. It runs far into the mere and its purpose is unknown. It wasn’t discovered until 1879 when some divers, searching for the body of a drowned man, came upon it.

 

Hawkstone

 

SJ572298

 

The Holy Grail is said to have been brought to Viroconium in the 5th Century when Rome was being attacked by the Vandals. Legend contends that the city was ruled by King Arthur and that his descendants were the Peveril family, of whom one was Sir Fulk FitzWaryn. Sir Fulk is supposed to have kept the Grail in his private chapel at Whittington Castle, from where it was removed to Alberbury Priory on his death.  A further descendant called Robert Vernon recovered it in the late 16th Century, when the priory was closed by King Henry VIII, and it was eventually hidden in a statue of St John erected at Hawkstone Park in the 1850s. In 1920, the statue was damaged while being moved by Walter Langham and a small onyx jar was found hidden in the base. It was identified as a 1st Century Roman scent jar and is believed to be the vessel mentioned above. Although popular legend claims that the Grail was a cup, it is now believed to have been much smaller and known as the Marian Chalice. The latter was used to collect a small amount of Jesus' blood as he was dying on the cross and later to hold ointments for his body during his internment in the tomb. The onyx jar could very easily be this receptacle. It is now in the possession of the descendants of Walter Langham. 

 

Hawkstone

 

SJ578209

 

Reynard the fox was old, his speed had slowed and his stamina was failing. He was very aware that it was only a matter of time before the hunt would catch him. He could, of course, try to avoid the chase, but he knew they would be back again and again until they ran him down and stole his brush. That day, as he heard the yapping hounds and the wailing horns, he knew his time had come. He lured them on, and then ran, and as he ran he felt young again. He led those hounds a merry dance over rolling hill and down dank valley. He was tiring when he saw Hawkstone ahead and quickly decided what his future should be. He ran straight as a dart for the hill top, slowing to allow the hounds to snap at his heels. Right to the edge of the cliff he ran and onward. The huntsmen would have no pleasure from this kill. Falling, falling he looked around to see he had taken some of his pursuers on their last journey too. Alas, poor Reynard lay dead at the bottom of the red cliff and the place where he fell is now called Fox’s Knob.

 

Ippikin’s Rock

SO569965

See here.

 

Jackfield

SJ692026

 

The Devil once paid a visit to the Boat Inn and tempted several of the locals into a game of cards. Before the hand was over, one sharp eyed witness noticed Old Nick’s cloven foot. The Devil quickly vanished, leaving only a strong wind in his wake.

 

Lea

SO347890

 

The Lea Stone was created when the Devil was sitting in his chair on the Stiperstones and discovered a rock in his hoof. He picked it out and threw it away in disgust, causing it to land where it is today. It is reputed that the stones turns itself around every time the clock strikes thirteen.

 

Lith Hill

SJ471068

 

There used to be a gnome living under Lith Hill but one day he came to surface and spoke with a shepherd. The shepherd invited him to stay with him and the gnome replied that he would stay for 7 days and then decide whether he would stay on the surface or return underground. Now the shepherd had a beautiful sister and the gnome fell in love with her. After 7 days he told the shepherd that he would only stay if he could marry his sister. The gnome was kind and gentle but also old and ugly, yet the sister agreed to marry him. The gnome returned home to collect some of his things and returned loaded down with gold and jewels. They all live happily ever after but still under Lith Hill is the gnome’s home with treasure that the gnome could not carry away.

 

Llanymynech Ogof

SJ267222

 

This is actually an ancient copper mine but locals say that the hill contains a doorway into the fairy realm.

 

Llynclys

SJ285244

 

It is said that when the water of Llynclys Pool is clear enough, the towers of a palace can be seen at the bottom. Legend further says that a German called Altisiodorensis preached there against the Pelagian heresy and caused the palace and all his household to be swallowed up by the pool.

 

Ludlow

SO511745

After local bee keeper Margaret Bell died in 1994, a swarm of hundreds of bees massed on the corner of Bell Lane, opposite where Mrs Bell had lived. Some traditional stories say that bees will mourn the loss of their keeper.

 

Ludlow

SO511747

 

Years ago, Robin Hood visited Ludlow as he had a score to settle with the local clergy. He climbed to the top branch of a tree at Bromfield and shot an arrow at Ludlow church. He was aiming at the weathercock on the steeple but the wind blew a sudden gust and the arrow fell short. He said he'd not miss a second time but, when he went to fetch his arrow, it had stuck fast. After that day, Robin Hood never came back to Ludlow but on the church roof is a reminder that he sometimes missed.

 

Minsterley

SJ3805

In Minsterley, a Christmas Eve party was in full swing. The high-living host had poured his guests after-dinner port when their conversation was interrupted by an evil whistling through the avenue of trees outside. A piercing scream cut the air and one of them shouted “Fiends from Hell” as the guests scrambled for the door. In the confusion, however, the host disappeared. Only one man was brave enough to return to search the house and the sight which met him chilled his bones. The host lay dead under an upturned table. His face, clothes and the surrounding furniture were shredded by the rake of a giant claw. The Devil’s Talon.

 

Mitchell’s Fold

SO304983

 

During a long drought, a magic cow suddenly appeared at the stone circle and was able to provide limitless milk for the local population. A local witch called Mitchell became angry with the cow for providing milk to end the local hardship when her own spells had failed. Late one night while everyone slept, Mitchell took an old bucket full of holes and sat down to milk the cow.  The milk gushed out into the bucket but ran away through the holes so never got filled. Eventually the cow got mad and ran away over the hills. Luckily the people of Priest Weston had been wise and had made cheese and butter from the milk of the cow, which lasted them until it rained again. They cursed the witch, who turned into the stone that stands there today.

 

Newton

SJ418340

 

A gentleman was riding down the lane which skirts Blake Mere and Kettle Mere and said to a boy whom he met: “My lad, can you tell me the name of this water?” pointing towards Kettlemere. “Oh, aye, sir, it's Kettlemere”. “How deep is it?” “Oh, it's got no bottom to it and the other's deeper still”.

 

Newton

 

SJ425342

 

If a person sails over Newton Mere and calls out “Proud Haveringe-mere”, a storm arises at once and swamps his boat.

 

Oswestry

SJ284293

 

For St Oswald’s Well see under Holy Wells.

Oswestry

SJ296296

 

During a heavy rainfall in 1912, dozens of frogs fell from the sky. They had vanished within two hours after the rains had stopped.

 

Oswestry

SJ296310

 

It is claimed that King Arthur was actually a king of the local Votadini tribe and that his wife Guinevere was born in the old hillfort at Oswestry. It is also believed to have been the site for the final battle of the Powys King Cynddylan, the last descendant of King Arthur to rule in Shropshire. See separate webpage for more on King Arthur’s links to Shropshire.

 

Plaish

SO530965

 

A group of clergymen met one night at Plaish Hall to play cards. The devil appeared and all but one man ran away. His friends later found a man-sized blood stain on the floor that could never be washed away.

 

Pontesbury

SJ409051

 

There is supposed to be a haunted yew tree on top of the hill. Traditionally, young people from Pontesbury used to pick a branch from this tree on Palm Sunday and race down the hill to be the first person to dip the fourth finger of their left hand into the brook. If they were the first person, apparently the next person they met of the opposite sex would be their future spouse. Another legend is that the adjacent Pontesford Hill and Earls Hill are actually a sleeping dragon. Yet another legend says that the king of Mercia lost a golden arrow here in the seventh century and it can only be found by a seventh daughter of a seventh son.

 

Pulverbatch

 

Sj433019

A family called Ambler occupied a farm at Wilderley and, in a little cottage in a neighbouring dale, lived an old woman called "Betty Chidley from the bottom of Betchcot". She was in the habit of begging at the farmhouse and generally got what she asked for. One day, Betty came as usual and found the farmer's wife mixing some "supping" for the calves. She watched the good meal and milk stirred together over the fire, took a fancy to it, and begged for a share. Mrs Ambler, rather vexed, spoke sharply, and refused to give her any. Betty said in a meaning tone "The calves wenna eat the suppin' now." Little notice was taken of her speech at the time but, when the maid carried out the pail of carefully-prepared "suppin" to the calves, they utterly refused to touch it. Three times the attempt was made to give it them but in vain. Then Betty's ominous words were called to mind so she was sent for and asked to bless the calves. "Me bless your calves?" she said; "what have I to do with your calves?". At last she yielded to their entreaties and said: "My God bless the calves". But the creatures still refused to eat. Then Mrs Ambler begged her to leave out the word "my." After much pressure, she gave way and consented to repeat the simple words: "God bless the calves." Mrs. Ambler then herself took the "suppin'" to the hungry calves and to her delight they came to meet her and ate their food with hearty appetite. The story has been handed down in the family ever since.

 

Shifnal

SJ747045

 

In the grave yard in Shifnal there is the grave of a young girl who died tragically. Place a candle on the stone and walk anti-clockwise three times around the stone. At this point it is said, the stone slab slides open and the young girl appears in all her beauty to tell the name of the person you will marry before she returns to her grave with a contented knowing smile.

 

Shrewsbury

SJ488124

 

In the 16th century, lightning struck the spire of St Alkmunds Church. This did considerable damage and left the mark of the Devil’s claw on the bell. After that time, the Devil likes to sit on the spire and gave at his chair on the Stiperstones. If he sees anyone sitting in it, he sends a storm to chase them away.

 

Shrewsbury

 

SJ494124

 

At the Nag’s Head pub, there is a room on the top floor and in the room is a cupboard. Inside the cupboard is a painting of an old prophet and it is said that anyone looking at the painting will be driven mad. Three persons who have stayed in the room have committed suicide for no reason. One was a man who had just been promoted, one was a girl about to get married and the last was a First World War soldier who had just returned home. These days the cupboard is kept locked so nobody can see the painting.

 

Snailbeach

SJ365003

 

Lead miners at Snailbeach Mine, together with miners at other metal mines in Shropshire and the UK, believed that a rave of little people called knockers lived underground. As the miners were working, they claimed to have heard the sound of distant knocking noises. The legend was that, if they followed the sound of the knocking, they would discover a rich vein of lead to make them rich. Conversely, the knockers hated whistling and anyone doing this risked having the roof fall on them. Around 5pm on New Year’s Eve, the miners lit candles in their working area and left food for the knockers so they would have good luck in the new year. Their wives just claimed it was an excuse to start drinking early! Miners also believed that it was bad luck to cross the path of a woman on the way to work. If they saw one coming the other way, they would walk off to the side so as not to pass them on the path.

 

Stiperstones

SO368991

 

Many years ago the vaulted roof of Hell collapsed, exposing it to England. This enraged the Devil so much that he stomped and screamed and bellowed. He vowed to repair this hole and searched high and low for suitable building material. He finally decided upon the causeway that Scottish and Irish giants had built between their lands. The Devil ripped up the Giants Causeway and gathered the boulders up in his leather apron to carry back to repair the hole.  He stopped on the top of the Stiperstones for a rest but his apron broke and the stones tumbled out to leave the rock piles that are there today. One of these piles is shaped like an armchair and is called the Devil’s Chair. When it is hidden by mist, the Devil is said to have come down to sit in it and anyone who goes near it will be dragged down into hell. It is also said that the ghosts of witches perform ritual dances by the Devil's Chair on the longest night of the year. Another tale is that all of the ghosts in Shropshire gather here at the midwinter solstice on December 21st.

 

The Seven Whistlers are seven birds that fly around the area by night and make a noise like many larks singing. Six of them fly together looking for the seventh. If they ever find it then the world will end.

 

The Stiperstones are a favourite haunt of Wild Edric, covered here. 

 

Stoke St Milburgh

 

SO567823

 

For St Milburga’s Well see under Holy Wells. There is also a St Milburga’s Well in Much Wenlock (SO624999) but this is not the one referred to in the legends.

 

Stokesay

SO435816

 

Long ago there lived two rich giants who were brothers and they shared a huge oak chest full of treasure. One brother lived on top of the hill at Norton Camp, the other at Stokesay Castle. Their treasure was kept hidden beneath Stokesay Castle so none of the little people nearby could steal it. There was only one golden key and if a brother wished to count the gold coins he would bellow across the valley and the other would throw the key over the River Onny. One day the throw was short and the key fell into Stokesay Castle moat. The newts caught sight of the golden key and claimed it as their own, hiding it away in the muddy depths where only newts could go. No matter how the two giants searched, they could not find the key in the murky waters. There treasure is still there but the giants vowed that if they weren't to have it, no-one else would. They put their pets, giant black ravens with sharp beaks, to guard it.

 

The Wrekin

 

SJ628080

A Welsh giant called Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr had a grudge against the people of Shrewsbury and, deciding to do away with them, he dug a large shovelful of earth and set out to dump it in the River Severn. He hoped that this would cause the river to flood the town and drown all the inhabitants. Not far from Shrewsbury, he met a cobbler travelling towards him on the same road. The cobbler was carrying a large bag of worn shoes that he had collected in Shrewsbury and was taking home for repair. The giant asked the cobbler how far it was to Shrewsbury and the cobbler asked the giant why he was going to Shrewsbury. The giant told the cobbler that he planned to kill all the inhabitants of Shrewsbury so the cobbler pointed to the bag of worn shoes that he was carrying. "See those," he said "they were all good when I left Shrewsbury but I have travelled so far that I have worn them all out." The giant decided that Shrewsbury sounded too far away and so he dumped the earth where he stood. He thus created the hill now known as The Wrekin and the scrapings from his boots became The Ercall.

 

Another slant on the story is that two giants set themselves a task of building a hill to live on and in a very short time they had piled up the Wrekin.  The Giants quarreled, however, and one of them struck the other with a spade.  While they were fighting a raven came and pecked at the eye of the one who was brandishing the spade.  The pain made him shed a tear which hollowed out a little basin in the rock which is always full of water to this day.  It is called Raven’s Bowl or the Cuckoo’s Cup and contains water in the hottest weather.

 

The other Giant won the battle, so he built Ercall Hill and imprisoned the defeated Giant within it.   There The Giant remains to this day and at night you may sometimes hear him groan.  While the victorious Giant was hurling his spade at the other, he dropped it and it split the surrounding rock, making a narrow cleft which is called the Needle’s Eye.  All True Salopians have climbed through the Needle’s Eye and any girl who looked back when going through the Needle’s Eye would never be married.

 

Whittington

 

SJ326311

 

The village is claimed to be the birthplace of Dick Whittington, the poor boy who made his fortune in London and became Lord Mayor. However, the connection is tenuous and only based on the similar name. Since there are 5 other places called Whittington in England, most of which also claim he was born there, it is really wishful thinking on behalf of the Shropshire village.

 

There are many similarities between Robin Hood and the life of Fulk FitzWaryn from Whittington Castle near Oswestry. He was a medieval gentleman and, according to legend, he was sent to the court of King Henry II when he was a young boy, where he grew up with the future King John. John became his enemy after a childhood quarrel and, when he became king, he confiscated Fulk’s land and caused him to take to the woods as an outlaw.

 

Little is known about an impressive wooden chest that was found in Whittington Castle. However, it is supposed to have a death curse on anyone who dares to open it. It is 5ft x 3ft x 3ft and weighs about 10cwt. The key is apparently in the moat.