English folklore

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

English folklore is the folk tradition which has developed in England over a number of centuries. Some stories can be traced back to their roots, while the origin of others is uncertain or disputed. England abounds with folklore, in all forms, from such obvious manifestations as the traditional Robin Hood tales, the Brythonic-inspired Arthurian legend, to contemporary urban legends and facets of cryptozoology such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Morris dance and related practices such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance preserve old English folk traditions, as do Mummers Plays. Pub names may preserve folk traditions.

English folklore is largely drawn from Germanic, Celtic and Christian sources.

Whereas some traditions were once believed across the whole of England, most belong to specific regions:

Folklore found throughout much of England

Soldiers in England's most widely recognised traditional costume parade to traditional English tunes in Trooping the Colour.
  • Black dog - The black dog is essentially a nocturnal apparition, 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.
  • Corn dolly - Corn dollies are a form of straw work made as part of harvest customs of Europe before mechanization. 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Flibbertigibbet
  • 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.
  • Havelock the Dane
  • 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


Folklore of London and the South East


Folklore of the Midlands


Folklore of Yorkshire and the North East


Folklore of the North West


Folklore of the South West


Folklore in song

Remnants of paganism in English Folklore

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 are 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.

English folklore in other media

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

See also

Reference Books

  • 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

External links








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