English folklore

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Poor little birdie teased, by the 19th-century English illustrator Richard Doyle depicts an elf as imagined in English folktales.

English folklore consists of the myths and legends of England, including the English region's mythical creatures, traditional recipes, urban legends, and folktales. English folklore encompasses the traditional Robin Hood tales, the Brythonic-inspired Arthurian legend, and the more contemporary urban legends and monsters such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor. English folklore takes a heavy influence from Pagan tradition, with a number of figures, legends, and creatures being adapted from the pre-Christian traditions of the region. This Pagan influence means that English folklore generally differs between regions in the country, however some myths pervade most of the country.

Folklore found throughout much of England[edit]

  • Black dog – Often said to be associated with the Devil, and its appearance was regarded as a portent of death. It is generally supposed to be larger than a normal dog, and often has large, glowing eyes. It is a common feature of British Isles and Northern European folklore.
  • Boggart – A boggart is, depending on local or regional tradition, either a household spirit or a malevolent genius loci inhabiting fields, marshes or other topographical features. The household boggart causes things to disappear, milk to sour, and dogs to go lame. Always malevolent, the boggart will follow its family wherever they flee. In Northern England, at least, there was the belief that the boggart should never be named, for when the boggart was given a name, it would not be reasoned with nor persuaded, but would become uncontrollable and destructive.
  • Brownie – In folklore, a brownie is a type of hob, similar to a hobgoblin. Brownies are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house. However, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts or food. Among food, they especially enjoy porridge and honey. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them. Brownies make their homes in an unused part of the house.
  • Chime hours – According to English folklore, those born at certain hours could see ghosts.
  • Countless stones – Associated with megalithic monuments
  • Corn dolly – Corn dollies are a form of straw work made as part of harvest customs of Europe before mechanisation. Before Christianisation, in traditional pagan European culture it was believed that the spirit of the corn lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless.
  • Crop circles - mysteriously flattened circle or geometric crops whose origin remains unknown [1]
  • Cunning folk – The term "cunning man" or "cunning woman" was most widely used in southern England and the Midlands, as well as in Wales. Such people were also frequently known across England as "wizards", "wise men".
  • Dragons- Giant winged reptiles that breathe fire or poison. There are many dragon legends in England. Somerset and the North East being very rich.
  • Drake's Drum – Shortly before he died, Drake ordered the drum to be taken to Buckland Abbey, where it still is today, and vowed that if England was ever in danger someone was to beat the drum and he would return to defend the country. According to legend it can be heard to beat at times when England is at war or significant national events take place.
  • Dwarfs- a dwarf is a human-shaped entity that dwells in mountains and in the earth, and is variously associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting.
  • Elves
  • Ettin
  • English Country Dance – English Country Dance is a form of folk dance. It is a social dance form, which has earliest documented instances in the late 16th century.
  • Father Time
  • Flibbertigibbet
  • Four Winds – Shown on old maps they are usually shown as faces blowing out wind from their mouths. There are generally 4 of them (North Wind, South Wind, East Wind and West Wind) although in some cases only 2 are shown and in others the whole outside of the map has been surrounded by smaller heads with 4 larger ones.
  • Green Man – A Green Man is a sculpture, drawing, or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves.
  • Hag Stone Hag Stone is a type of stone, usually glassy, with a naturally occurring hole through it. Such stones have been discovered by archaeologists in both Britain and Egypt.
  • Havelok the Dane
  • Johnny Noddy – The dancing light reflected from a mirror or reflective object such as a watch face.
  • King Arthur Legendary king of the Britons, the Once and Future King and True Born King of England.
  • Legend of the Mistletoe Bough – The Legend of the Mistletoe Bough is a ghost story which has been associated with many mansions and stately homes in England.
The tale tells how a new bride, playing a game of hide-and-seek during her wedding breakfast, hid in a chest in an attic and was unable to escape. She was not discovered by her family and friends, and suffocated. The body was allegedly found many years later in the locked chest.

Folklore of East Anglia[edit]

Folklore of London and the South East[edit]

Folklore of the Midlands[edit]

Folklore of Yorkshire and the North East[edit]

Folklore of the North West[edit]

Folklore of the South West[edit]

Folklore and paganism in traditional song[edit]

Thousands upon thousands of folk songs in England have been collected from traditional singers, including the famous Child Ballads which were collected in the 19th century. Some of these provide evidence pertaining to other folk tales including the Arthurian legends and the tales of Robin Hood.

Others contain mystical elements which probably stem from Anglo Saxon paganism or Celtic paganism, such as "The Elfin Knight" (of which "Scarborough Fair" is a variant), "John Barleycorn", "The Wife of Usher's Well", "Thomas the Rhymer", "Tam Lin" and "King Henry".

Some festive songs use imagery that hints at a pagan origin, such as The Holly and the Ivy and certain wassailing songs.

Other remnants of paganism[edit]

Many parts of English and British folklore still contain evidence of Europe’s pre-Christian past. In common with most other regions of Europe, some aspects of past Pagan religions survive in English Folklore.

Examples of this include the Wild Hunt and Herne the Hunter which relate to the Germanic deity Woden. The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance may represent a pre-Christian festival and the practice of Well dressing in the Peak District, which may date back to Anglo-Saxon or even Celtic times. May Day celebrations such as the Maypole survive across much of England and Northern Europe.

Many Christmas traditions appear to have their roots in Paganism, such as decorating trees, the significance of holly, and Christmas carolling itself.

In other media[edit]

English folklore crops up in books, films and comic books and these appearances include:

See also[edit]


  • Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in England, 1999
  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, 1959
  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, (2nd edn) 1997
  • Opie, Iona, and Moira Tatem, A Dictionary of Superstitions, 1989
  • Paynter, William H. and Jason Semmens, The Cornish Witch-finder: William Henry Paynter and the Witcher, Ghosts, Charms and Folklore of Cornwall, 2008
  • Roud, Steve, The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Great Britain and Ireland, 2004
  • Simpson, Jacqueline, and Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, 2000
  • Vickery, Roy, A Dictionary of Plant Lore, 1995
  • Westwood, Jennifer, and Jacqueline Simpson, The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's legends, 2005
  • Wright, Arthur Robinson, English Folklore 1900
  • Fee, Christopher R, Gods, Heroes, & Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain, 2004


  1. ^ Delgado, Pat. (1990) [1989]. Circular evidence : a detailed investigation of the flattened swirled crops phenomenon. Andrews, Colin. (Pbk. ed.). London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-0635-3. OCLC 221059059.

Further reading[edit]

  • Briggs, K. M. "Possible Mythological Motifs in English Folktales." Folklore 83, no. 4 (1972): 265–71. Accessed June 18, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/1259424.

External links[edit]