I am lucky enough to live in a country rich with history, culture and good old British eccentricity. I have grown up with dozens of customs, traditions and beliefs, passed down through my family and the generations before. Now that I have my own children, I readily – often subconsciously – pass these things down to them, so that they too now eagerly whisk eggs and flour on Shrove Tuesday, carve pumpkins at Halloween and predict the weather for the next morning based on the colour of the evening sky. It’s bonkers really.
Many customs and beliefs are woven into the tapestry of Englishness – superstitions, proverbs, rituals, that drop into our language and everyday lives without a second thought. Stories and legends that have been repeated and transformed over hundreds of years to the point where people really do believe there was a King Arthur and a Robin Hood. Beliefs from the past are carved into buildings and hidden in place names, there for us modern folk to discover and query. And it is these things that utterly fascinate me.
I have always loved folktales and stories about fairies, boggarts and unearthly beings. Lost villages, haunted highways and standing stones. Ghost stories are my particular favourite; both real life accounts such as the reporting of the ghost of Borley Rectory, and the fiction of the masters of the genre such as M.R. James. Anything gothic, creepy, kooky and spooky – throw it my way!
I studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield, and found myself taking modules at NATCECT (The National Centre for English Cultural Tradition) where I studied everything from traditional ballads to urban legends to conspiracy theories. This really drove my interest in Folklore as something that links directly to history, literature and culture; something that affects and influences our everyday lives. I would have loved to have gone on to study it further at NATCECT, but love and the lure of a job in publishing, led me to move to London after graduating. My interest in folklore wasn’t diminished however, and many happy weekends in London were spent exploring the oddities and curiosities nestled particularly in the City and its buildings.
Nine years ago I moved to the small Georgian market town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, half an hour from the city of Nottingham, a short drive from the towns of Newark-on-Trent and Mansfield. Southwell is a idyll of beautiful houses, boutique shops and quaint pubs, all basking in the glory of the Gothic-style Southwell Minster. We are surrounded by small villages that wind their way prettily around the River Trent and interlink rolling countryside with the remnants of mining villages and towns of industry. We are a stone’s throw from the mystical, magical Peak District; an area I discovered and adored during my student days. We can easily commute to the North and the South in a couple of hours. We really are in the middle of England; the glorious East Midlands!
Wherever you find yourself on mainland Britain, you will be surrounded by a wealth of cities, towns and villages that all hold their own folklore, their own stories and customs that have survived (sometimes thrived) through time.
I plan to revisit the stories, legends and tales that ignited my interest in folklore, and introduce these to a young audience, namely my own children, Matilda and Oscar. With the kids in tow, over the next 12 months, I also plan to explore some of the places I loved in my childhood and some I’ve yet to discover, that will bring British history and folklore to life.
It’s the start of an awfully big adventure…