Scooby Doo, Shag and the Bleachworks July 5, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
This is a weird little story from a nineteenth-century Lancashire history. You remember the Scooby Doo formula: kids turn up, find that their local fun park is haunted by a ghost, who keeps tripping on the white sheet, and then, finally, they unmask the janitor? Well, this is a Bury equivalent. The story dates to 1803, about seventy years before the book was published in which this passage is printed.
It was at the bleachworks… several pieces had, at times, been missed from the ‘dry house,’ and the thief could not be discovered, at least no thief in a human form, for many were the stories afloat of a hideous monster having been seen, by different persons, in the dead of the night, prowling around the place. The descriptions of the form were various, but all agreed it was an evil spirit in the form of a beast. That it was no real beast, was, in their opinion, sufficiently proved by the unearthly artifices wherewith it eluded their nearer approach, though, no doubt, its escape was as often to be attributed to cowardice of the watchers as to any other cause. Many were of the opinion that it was the famous Radcliffe ‘shag’, which after a rest, was come to revisit once more the scene of some former exploit.
Here we call intermission: the shag – though Beach has never come across the Radcliffe shag – was a phantom dog. The relation to shuck is evident, though God help you if you put ‘radcliffe shag’ in a search engine. Lots of very tedious stuff about the Harry Potter star comes out. Anyway, back to twilight at the bleachworks…
… after some consultation, a strong, robust man, a returned soldier, who declared he feared neither man nor devil, was appointed in the room of the former watchman. He took his station behind a pile of pieces, in a corner of the drying house, which was easily entered. It was a fine, frosty night, and any sound around the place was distinctly audible. A little after twelve o’clock the barking of a dog was heard, which gradually approached nearer. This was interpreted as a contrivance to ascertain if any dogs had been placed upon the premises, as in that case they would reply with an answering bark. After awhile shuffling movements were heard outside, as if some awkward animal prowling around in search of an entrance; and shortly, some fastenings were removed, and, as the night was clear and bright, sufficient light was admitted through the wooden bars forming the walls of the drying house, for the sentinel distinguished an animal of large size moving on all-fours about the floor. But when the same animal proceeded to select a number of pieces, and fasten them into a bundle, preparatory to carrying them away, the watchman was no longer in doubt as to the spirituality of the intruder.
Just a thought: why did the ‘animal’ continue on all fours if he was inside? Or are we expecting too much from a story of a story of a story here? In any case, we arrive at the moment when Daphne unmasks the cunning criminal. The guard jumped on the animal, winded him and demanded his surrender.
On examination, the disguise was found to consist of the skin of a sheep and a bull’s hide, the horns and tail of the latter being retained to assist in striking fear into the hearts of beholders. It was thought the idea of stealing the pieces originated from first wearing the disguise in a frolic to frighten the country folks; for the delinquent proved to be a poor, weakly, ill-fed weaver, in the neighbourhood.
The weaver, his children and his wife were all hung the following Saturday and… No actually he was let off because of his ‘harmless mode of life’. Who said the nineteenth century was heartless? Beach is coming across more and more of these fakers – in the spring heeled jack mould, though this is the first case where a faker puts on a costume for criminal ends. Any others? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
6 July 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books, ‘And where to start with cock-and-bull burglars? There was a spate of this in the US in the mid-1860s. Theo Paijmans is your man for this category, beginning with this star article’ Chris continues ‘ I’ll be covering the sequel in my forthcoming The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past. Here are a couple more tales: One night last week a man was aroused by an unusual noise in his yard, and went out and found that some one had broken open his meat house and was making off with his meat. He hailed the supposed thief, but found to his astonishment that he had waked up the most unearthly looking four-legged customer he ever beheld. At first he was tempted to leave the field to the intruder; but not liking to loose [sic] his meat, he concluded to make at him. He was met by a most ferocious growl. He at once ran to the house, got his gun and blazed away at the monster. The shot had about the same impression on it as would be produced by shooting green peas against a brick wall. The devil uttered an infernal growl, shook his chains, spit sparks of fire from his mouth, and filled the air with the smell of brimstone. The unearthly manifestations of [the] demon made the hair stand on the man’s head; but he could not bear to lose his bacon. He then, nothing daunted, determined to have another fire at the devil, and took the precaution to put a Minnie ball in his gun. The shot took effect directly in the eye of the monster, and he rolled upon the ground a lifeless corpse. Upon examination, it was found to be a negro man, wrapped in a mule-skin, which he had padded and fixed up, to render it impervious to shot, and the fire and brimstone was but an artifice intended to frighten away intruders, while he committed the robbery. Flake’s Bulletin [Galveston, TX] 22 March 1866: p. 1 The town of Maple Grove, Wis., is excited over a recent Sunday occurrence there. The people were mostly at church, and in one house a twelve-year old boy was the only occupant. During the absence of the family a man came to the house completely enveloped in a beef hide, with horns, tail, and all complete, and so fitted that nothing else could be seen. It was known in the neighborhood that the occupants of this house had money, and there was there at the time about $200. The object disguised in the hide told the boy that he was the devil, and that he had come after his money and he must give it to him. The boy answered that he could not have the money. The devil then told the boy that he would have him and kill him if he did not bring out the money. The boy then stepped into the house as if he was about to comply, but instead of bringing the money he brought a gun and shot the man dead in his tracks. The boy then ran to the nearest neighbor, and, finding only a woman there, told her he had shot the devil at his house. The woman went with the boy, and found that the devil whom the boy had shot was her husband. Galveston [TX] Weekly News 11 June 1877: p. 3 There is much similarity among the accounts in this category. Does that suggest that it’s likely they are just jocular tales? From a practical point of view, it seems to me that a sneak-thief would call more attention to himself with horns and sparks and sulphur than they would by, well, sneaking, not to mention the lack of mobility and sight while gamboling around in a hide. Here’s another, although this one has less sulphur and probably more truth. A SURPRISED ROBBER How He Was Captured By An Express Messenger. Deadwood, S.D., Jan. 28 A train robber named John Dalton was captured by one of the Northwestern express messengers today. Dalton had himself expressed on the inside of a stuffed buffalo, but his game was spoiled by his removing one of the animal’s glass eyes, through the socket of which he stuck a six shooter, covering the messenger. The latter, however, escaped from its deadly range, and leaped upon the back of the stuffed animal. The back caved in and he dropped on the robber inside and sat on him until the next station was reached, when he was turned over to the authorities. The safe contained $50,000. Evidently Dalton had confederates who were to act at his signal. They have not yet been apprehended. San Diego [CA] Union 29 January 1894: p. 1 More details are given in an article from the Omaha [NE] World Herald 28 January 1894: p. 1 in which he is called Joe Dalton and adds, “The fact that the man who shipped himself from Omaha to the Black Hills about two months ago as a corpse, to save half the fare required of a live uncoffined man, has not been heard of, leads to the belief that he and Dalton are one and the same.” And, finally, a bull’s form was used for a different kind of imposture in “The Shape-Shifting Ghost of Bloody Run.” Then, the Count: ‘Regarding your fake ghost, the dreaded “Radcliffe Shag”, I was immediately put in mind of Black Shuck, also sometimes referred to as the Shug-Monkey, of which this clearly a variant. However, I was also reminded of a curious case in which a similar imposture had fatal consequences. After a little difficulty because I got it mixed up with the much better-known Cock Lane Ghost aka “Scratching Fanny” (another potentially NSFW combination of search-terms!), I remembered that what I was after was a case you might like to write about if you haven’t already – the Hammersmith Ghost. I hope this helps – Esoteric Otto.’ Then Jameson, ‘Beach, first you forgot one of your better efforts then let me quote from Karl Bell: ‘Yet not all hoaxes were merely mischevious pranks, for some supernatural tales were supposedly perpetuated for illicity commercial gain. In Norwhich smugglers were believed to have exploited local tales of the phantom horseman’s association with Hassett’s Manor House at Thorpe for their own benefit. The house was associated with strange sights and sounds and it was said that there were doors within the building that could never be opened. These accounts kept people away from the smugglers’ hiding place, the house a useful depot for conveying their contraband to their contacts and fences in Norwich. This suggests how new hoaxes were linked back into existing genuine accounts for authoritative resonance, reversing the idea that legends tend to filter down through time in one direction. With smuggling in Hampshire at its height between 1780 and 1840, local historians have similarly indicated that many oft eh county’s nineteenth-century ghost stories derived from smugglers seeking to frighten people away from their activities, 68-69. Thanks to Jameson, Count and Chris!
7 July 2013: And here is a contribution that I picked up this morning: ‘The old days of coaching had many an adventure on St;iiidedge Hills, but none of this terrible character. Bed Brook, famous as a starting point for trail hunts at the time when these things ran high in Saddleworth, had many little scrimmages. It is a lovely spot on the moors, lying due south from the Great Western Hotel, approached from Huddersfield in the old days by the Moorcock Inn, just beyond which was a toll bar, and it was said that the keeper of this gate was in league with the footpads who pestered the road by waylaying such us were not strongly protected — sometimes extracting money by threats and at other times by fears. An old stager told the writer, when out on a friendly hunt, that one of the modes was for one of these men to dress in a white sheet to represent a ghost, and in this manner become a terror to all the travellers on the mad, but his time came at last at the hands of a rough wagoner, who had begged a pair of besom shafts at the Moorcock Inn. When this sturdy fellow came to the fatal Red Brook, out came the ghost in due form to tax and frighten; hut this Jehu had faced these hills too often to be fright- ened, neither was he soft enough to pay ransom. Seizing the stronger of these two shafts he belaboured this chap so unmercifully that in penitence and exhaustion he prayed for mercy, which was duly granted on an abject promise that he would never do so any more. As a mark of surety he was tied beyond the wagon and taken on to the next public-houses to be shown what a poor despicable thing the boggart of Red Brook was. He was never seen again, and his condign punishment was just sufficient to deter any other from following what proved to be such an inglorious ending. John Sugden, Slaithwaite notes of the past and present (Manchester: Heywood 1905), 214-215’