A boggart is a creature in British folklore – a household boggart, or a malevolent boggart inhabiting marshland, sharp bends in the road, or residing under bridges. Other names of this group include bug, bogey, bogun, boggle. Derived from (or related to) Old English pucel, Irish puca, and Welsh bwg.
The household form causes mischief and objects disappear, milk will sour, dogs will go lame. It may even sneak into the bedroom at night and squeeze your toes. Although, hanging a horseshoe on the door of your house, and leaving a pile of salt outside your bedroom is said to keep a boggart away.
The boggarts inhabiting marshes or holes in the ground are often attributed more serious evil doing, such as the abduction of children and leading unsuspecting travellers to their deaths.
As to their appearance and size, many are described as relatively human-like in form, though usually uncouth, ugly and with bestial attributes. In my native county of Ayrshire, the Boggart is referenced as a type of Hobgoblin. Boggarts in Cumbria and Lancashire sometimes take the form of various animals, though they appear to favour the form of a farm animal, although their ‘true’ form is more goblin-like. One tale is of Owd Hob, who had the form of an archetypical devil – horns, cloven hooves and a tail.
When Dobby (or Dobbie) is used in Cumbrian Boggart folklore it is rather confusing, as a Dobby is a malevolent ghost, spirit, or poltergeist.
A young wife was left alone in a farm in the Miterdale Valley, the husband had business elsewhere. At dusk a strange old woman, short of stature, head wrapped in a shawl asked for lodging, and was made welcome. The stranger sat down at the fire side to get warm, as this old woman fell asleep, the shawl slipped, revealing not a woman, but a coarse featured man carrying a fearsome knife. The wife, terrified, lifted a heavy pan from the fire, and struck her assailant on the head. Early the next day the farmer returned to find his distraught wife, and a ghastly corpse. They buried the body. The valley has ever since been haunted.
Boggart of Graythwaite
A goblin inhabits the area around Graythwaite, and is known to terrify those walking the area late at night.
The Natland Boggarts
There is said to be a number of Boggarts chained to the foundations of the bridge at Natland. If you place your ear to the stone in the centre of the bridge, you can hear their chains rattling, or if especially lucky, you can hear one swearing.
Nether Bolton Boggarts
“The most interesting places are rarely written about” was the reply from a local historian whilst researching this Boggart tale. All that remains of Nether Bolton is a large stone wall on the path from Bridge End to Hawes. This wall was built by Furness Abbey to secure their grazing sheep from wolves. The Nether Bolton Boggarts are rarely seen during the day, but they are always up to mischief.
On the north end of Esthwaite Water was a shape-shifting spirit that appeared in a number of forms – a man in light blue, a white fox, a white calf, or a curious cow-donkey hybrid – animals and farm livestock were known to panic if they strayed into this area. One moonlit winter’s night, the local vicar was walking along the road, and caught up with an old lady wearing a bonnet, beneath which he saw a “death-like face, with goggle eyes”. This old lady disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared, and as the vicar looked back along the road, there was only one set of footprints in the snow, his own.
This creature dressed in white, who made “strange waffling sounds”, would terrorise passing travellers by jumping onto carts that were journeying from Fearing Brow to Newby Bridge.
The Boggart of Leece
On the outskirts of the village of Leece, under the bridge there lived a Boggart. Perhaps linked to the tale of the White Dobbie (see below). The road and surrounding farmland was haunted by this spirit. Livestock dared not to venture too close to the bridge, and a number of sightings of strange animals, including a large black cat/dog common place. The farmer demolished the bridge, although a ‘presence’ remains around the area at night.
Lancashire Boggart Tale: Grizlehurst Boggart
Published in 1861; the author, Edwin Waugh had a conversation with an elderly couple one evening about their local boggart. They maintained that the boggart was buried at a nearby bend in the road under an ash tree, along with a cockerel with a stake driven through it. Despite being buried, the boggart was still able to create trouble. A farmer’s wife, the old couple claimed, just two weeks earlier had heard doors banging in her farmhouse at night, then loud laughter, she looked out to see three candles casting blue light and a creature with red burning eyes leaping about. The following morning many marks of cloven hooves were seen outside the house. The couple claimed that the boggart had unhitched their own horse and overturned their cart on occasion. “Never name it [the boggart]” the old man repeated, and stated that he would never dig near its grave.
So, how do we protect ourselves from a Boggart or Dobby? There is a tradition in Cumbria to wear Dobby Stones (Hag Stones). These are stones with naturally occurring holes in them. They can be worn around the neck as protection.
There is also the custom of them being worn around the necks of farm livestock to guard against interference by spirits and witches. Rowan, witch-wood and purple clover can be planted nearby to deter malevolence.
Heywood History. Edwin Waugh and the Grizlehurst Boggart
Lancashire Folk. The Clegg Hall Boggart, 2016
Norgate, M. and J. The tale of the Beckside Boggle, 2016
Westwood, J. and Simpson, J. Haunted England, 2010. Penguin Books
Bowker, J. 1878 Goblin Tales of Lancashire