Monday, 10 April 2017

The Crier of Claife revisited

crier map
The only ghost to appear on an Ordnance Survey map: The Crier of Claife

The Crier of Claife is one of Cumbria's most famous ghosts, haunting the shores of Windermere. It also crops up in pub quizzes as the only ghost to appear on an Ordnance Survey map. But it's a story told and retold so often in 'Haunted Lake District' books that it has become rather confused. One of the clearest re-tellings and examinations of the ghost appears on Esmeralda's blog but in brief...

The old Windermere ferry. Photograph by J.W.Brunskill, photographer with a studio at Bowness, Windermere between 1860-1900. This simple rowed ferry preceded the much larger mechanised ferries. Picture by Picture Esk.

In olden times when the ferry between Ferry Nab and Sawrey was manned by men in rowing boats, you could 'call' the ferry over to collect you by shouting out. One night the ferryman heard someone crying out and rowed over to collect his passenger. But the oarsman returned a gibbering wreck and died a few days later from his madness. The other ferrymen concluded it must have been a ghost he encountered which had driven him mad so refused to row across any more in darkness. Eventually it was decided to 'lay' the ghost and they called upon monks from Furness Abbey. They agreed to hold a ceremony on Chapel Island in Barrow Bay and the villagers made their way to this desolate spot on Christmas Day for the exorcism. Although the 'Nab flay' was suitably dispensed with, his cry can still be heard - and woe betide anyone who rows across to try and collect the spectral passenger.

The Crier of Claife is indeed marked on OS maps (see above) but as to whether the name followed the ghost or the ghost arose from the name is impossible to tell. It is an eminence on the side of the lake and also a disused quarry. But is it the only ghost on a map? I'm not sure but can quickly think of Dobbie Lane at Cark which is named after its ghost. Let me know if you are aware of any others.

On re-reading this story on Esmeralda's blog, she identified Harriet Martineau's account of the story in A Complete Guide to the English Lakes (1855) as the earliest account and I wondered if - with the continuing digitisation of archives - it might be possible now to trace any earlier accounts. The British Newspaper Archive is slowly scanning and digitising old newspapers and a search on there did indeed reveal an earlier account. It was published in The Kendal Mercury on 25th December 1852 and is headlined: The Crier of Claife - A Christmas Ghost Story For Country Firesides. It is written by 'Snow Drop'. Not an auspicious start for those seeking a 'real' ghost but bear with me. The article is a detailed and colourful account of the Crier of Claife and one suspects it was Martineau's source for her story. It's a long article (I'm happy to email the full article to those who want it) but the crucial section is here:

"It was a wild stormy night about Martinmas, somewhere about 330 years ago, when a shout from the Nab called the Ferry boatman from amongst a lot of roystering travellers that had taken up their quarters at the then humble alehouse, from the inclemency of the weather and furious storm that raged out of doors. There was something particularly wild and awful about the night. Nothing could be more spectral; great flashes of lightning now and then made the hills look like giant phantoms, while the intervening hail showers had clothed them in a shroud, and they stared at the boatman with a still white face, the trees along the water edge, stood like huge skeletons, lifting their bleached arms towards the trooping clouds that hurried swiftly across the sky, like witches flocking to a ghostly feast. When sufficient time had elapsed for the boatman to return, the half-drunken guests staggered to the landing, to see who the newcomer might be, for in those days travellers were few, but the boatman had returned alone, a sober, silent man, with terror marked in every feature of his face. he was with difficulty got to bed, and awoke next morning in a violent fever, that carried him off in a few days, but he never could be prevailed upon to say a word of what had befallen him at the Nab. For weeks after, when the weather was boisterous, there were eager and violent shoutings and cries at the Nab, but the story of the apparition had got noised abroad, so that no boatman could be found that dared to venture across the lake after dark. These times were the days of Abbeys and Convents, and the Cistercian Monks held sway and ruled Furness Fells from the Abbey of Saint Mary in Furness, and a monk or friar used to attend the little convent on Chapel Island, half a mile north of Bowness Bay, to ease the inhabitants of the district of their sins and money. To him was application made about the much dreaded Nab affair. These monasteries founded at first as the abodes of piety and letters and refuges for the desolate and penitent, had become the haunts of idleness and superstition, and ready, very ready were the monks to comply with the request of the neighbourhood to remove the ghost, on condition that a certain amount of money was forthcoming when the incantation was completed, for in those days, as in our own times, amongst the Roman Catholics, there was "no penny, no paternoster". As to the exact year in which the ceremony was performed, all is left in doubt and dimmest twilight, but there is every certainty that it was Christmas day when the monks and their attendants met the zealous inhabitants of the thinly-populated district on Chapel Island.
"In the sacerdotal performance there was much rhapsody and little sober reason or religion, very much that was calculated to inflame the inexperienced imagination, but little that could direct the erring judgement. It was a sad spectacle for half a dozen cowled monks to persuade as many hundred people they possessed power over supernatural things. But it was an age of faith, and the whole multitude left the island firmly believing that henceforth and forever the 'Nab flay' must take up its location at the Crier. Since then centuries have passed away, and not a name exists of any individual that took part in the solemn service. The district is still busy, far busier than in those days; the hum of business and the notes of pleasure are still going on, but the simple inhabitants of the township then are far, far away, the veteran souls of many centuries. We might tell how that in times past, the fox-hounds, when in full chase, often came to a stand at the place that had become the dwelling place of ghosts, without any one being able to assign the reason; and of a schoolmaster from Colthouse, who, within the present generation, left home one evening to go past the spot, but was never seen or heard of more, and many other strange mysterious tales of people being mightily terrified, but time and space will not permit. Some will be ready to exclaim that these old prejudices are swept away, and such notions are discarded; that we have shaken off the trammels of ancient delusion, and folks do not believe in the imps of darkness now, but really the writer never knew an individual who visited the place in twilight without confessing to a heart clutching fear of unearthly company."

The question, of course, is whether this was complete fiction or if it was based on a known legend. I have certainly come across this style of newspaper article before where a legend is taken and enriched. The Whitehaven News in 1924 included an article by Joseph wear re-telling the story of the fairies who lived at Saltom Rock, near Whitehaven, but the legend is written about in a pamphlet published in 1850 so is clearly a piece of purple prose but based on a known story. And there's hope that the same is true of the Crier of Claife.

The legend was written about in 1873 by John Pagen White in his book, Lays & Legends of the English Lake District. This book takes local legends and re-tells them in verse form. What is interest to us is a footnote to the Crier of Claife re-telling which mentions a sighting of the ghost by White's fellow antiquarian, Alexander Craig Gibson. White says:

"Mr Craig Gibson, in one of his graphic sketches of the Lake country, says that he is qualified to speak to this, for he himself has heard him. "At least," says he, "I have heard what I was solemnly assured by an old lady at Cunsey must have been the Crier of Claife. Riding down the woods a little south of the Ferry, on a wild January evening, I was strongly impressed by a sound made by the wind as, after gathering behind the hill called Gummershow for short periods of comparative calm, it came rushing up and across the lake with a sound startlingly suggestive of the cry of a human being in extremity, wailing for succour. This sound lasted till the squall it always preceded struck the western shore, when it was lost in the louder rush of the wind through the leafless woods. I am induced to relate this," he continues, "by the belief I entertain that the phenomenon described thus briefly and imperfectly, may account for much of the legend, and that the origin of many similar traditional superstitions may be found something equally simple."

I haven't yet found Gibson's original 'sketch' but he wrote a number of articles and pamphlets so I'm hopeful it will one day be found. However it appears Gibson lived in the south Lakes up until 1850 (then moving to Liverpool) so it is perhaps safe to assume for now that he saw the ghost prior to 1850 - ie before the article in the Kendal Mercury. This would confirm the Mercury's 'Christmas ghost story' was at least based in part on a known folk tale. Gibson's account would also be remarkable as a first-hand witness of the ghost. And although Gibson dismisses it as a story associated with a particular type of wind that is very interesting it itself. Britain has only one 'named' wind: The Helm Wind - also in Cumbria*. So at the very least we now have a second named wind: The Crier of Claife. Worthy of a quiz question if nothing else!

* I have actually come across another named wind: The Back Wind (I jest not!) on Derwentwater, Keswick which bounces off the surrounding fells but this does not appear to be a name still used.

No comments:

Post a Comment