A boggart is a creature/ spirit 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, dobby (Cumbria/ north Lancashire). 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. One tale is of Owd Hob, who had the form of an archetypical devil – horns, cloven hooves and a tail.
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.
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.
Boggart Bridge, 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.
White Dobbie of Furness
The lonely road from Bardsea to Rampside was haunted by a wearied, odd-looking fellow with haunting eyes. Villagers would shriek “Heaven save us, tis th White Dobby”. His companion was a white hare, thin to the bone, with gleaming red eyes. As the pair neared a village, the often barking dogs would fall silent, indeed tremble in fear. It was believed that the hare was the spirit of a murdered friend, and perhaps the Dobby was the murderer, now cursed with lifelong wandering.
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.
Clegg Hall Boggart
This boggart was said to be the ghost of an ancient member of the Clegg family who, some time in the 14th century, murdered his two young orphaned nephews in order to gain Clegg Hall for himself. It is said that he threw them over a balcony and into the moat, where they drowned. The room where the murders were committed was, of course haunted and few people ever slept in that room. Eventually a priest was called upon to exorcise the boggart. The boggart agreed to leave but only on the condition that a sacrifice was made of a body and a soul. The priest substituted the body of a cock and the sole of a shoe. The boggart though tricked, departed.
This spirit delighted in cutting the rope traces or “soams” by which the assistant putters were yoked to the coal-tubs. Such an incident took place at Callington Pit, which henceforth became known as Cutty Soams Colliery. Some miners regarded Cutty Soams as the ghost of a miner who had been killed in the pit.
Active near Pelton, County Durham, this spirit would appear in the form of an ass/ donkey and lure travellers into marshland and boggy ground, to drown them.
“The Boggart of Leece” is a filmmaking and folklore collaboration with Bardsea-Green Films
So, how do we protect ourselves from Boggarts? There is a tradition in Cumbria to wear “Dobby Stones”. These are stones with naturally occurring holes in them. They can be worn around the neck as protection against Dobbys/ Boggarts. There is also the custom of them being worn around the necks of farm livestock to guard against interference by this spirit. Rowan, witch-wood and purple clover can be planted in the garden 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