The Farndale Hob
There once was a farmer called Jonathan Grey and he lived with his wife Margery in Farndale. Now one night he was woken in the early hours by a noise coming from the barn.
Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump!
At first he thought he must be dreaming but then his Margery woke up and within a few minutes the whole household were awake. They gathered in the kitchen.
What can that noise be?
There’s someone or something threshing in the barn.
Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump!
Aye, that’s what it is, there’s someone threshing in the barn.
But not one of them was brave enough to go and look. They all went back to bed, and to tell the truth they didn’t sleep very well that night. The steady thump of the flail continued till first light and then it stopped. Jonathan and his men crept cautiously to the barn door and looked inside. They couldn’t believe their eyes, more corn had been threshed than any one of them could have done in a whole day.
And the next night the unseen thresher was at work again. And by the time all of the corn had been threshed they’d got used to the noise and slept though it. But by then the unseen helper had become a regular hand on the farm.
In the spring he brought in the hay, in the summer he mowed and in the autumn he sowed. But at sheep shearing time he excelled himself dealing with whole flocks in a single night. There was no doubt about it good luck had come to the farm.
Now most folks believed that the work was being done by one of those small, brown, hairy folk all Yorkshire call hobs. Now these hobs are mostly friendly to humans provided they’re not deliberately annoyed. And the one sure way of annoying a hob is to suggest that they should cover up, because hobs cannot stand clothes. But generally they’re helpful, especially if they have a skill, like the one at Runswick Bay. Now that one lives in a cave called the Hob Hole and he can cure the hiccups when no one else can. All you have to do is to take the unfortunate child to the mouth of the cave and call out:
Hob Hole Hob, Hob Hole Hob, my poor bairn’s gotten t’kin cough. So tak’t off, tak’t off.
And as sure as eggs is eggs within a few days the cough will be gone.
Now Jonathan Grey was well satisfied with his hob and he discussed with his wife how they could reward the hob. Margery suggested that she put out a bowl of her best cream every night in the barn. Well they tried it out and sure enough the following morning the bowl was empty.
The hob stayed on doing the work of two for the wages of a bowl of cream. In the course of time Jonathan and Margery became quite well to do. But everyone’s luck runs out eventually and Margery in the prime of life sickened and died.
Jonathan was grief stricken and it was only then that he discovered that Margery had done almost as much work as the hob. When the worst of his grief had passed Jonathan decided he should take another wife.
Now Jonathan’s second wife was jealous and shrewish and above all she was of a saving disposition. She resented every mouthful the farm lads and lassies ate and above all she grudged the bowl of cream put out for the hob every night.
Yon hob fed on the best of cream while the rest of us is well satisfied with butter milk and ya canna be sure tis the hob that drinks the cream likely as not it’s cats or rats that leaves the bowl clean in the morning. Husband, we’re likely to be ruined by your feckless ways.
Jonathan took no notice, as long as he was master the hob would have his reward. But one night while Jonathan was out working late his wife put out the bowl as usual but it contained nothing but skimmed milk.
That night for the first time in years the hob was quiet. No corn was threshed, no harness mended, no wool carded and no spinning done.
Spring came but there was no help from the hob with the haymaking, nor with the sheep shearing in the summer. The harvest came and went but the hob did no mowing, tying or carrying. This was bad news and the farm was suffering but worse was to follow.
Churn as she might the wife’s butter wouldn’t come. The cream only rolled itself into tiny balls all farmers’ wives call pins and needles. Her cheeses went black with mould, her hams and bacons went rotten. Foxes stole the geese she was fattening for the Christmas market and the cows went dry. Sheep got foot rot and pigs swine fever. For every piece of good luck in the past there now seemed to be three calamities.
The house became haunted, it sounded as if a host of demons were throwing things around in the kitchen. There were blood-curdling screams though nothing was ever seen. Unseen hands snatched off the bedclothes while candles snuffed themselves out. Furniture moved of its own accord, doors locked and barred themselves while farmyard gates opened allowing the animals to wander off onto the trackless moor.
No servants or labourers would stay on the farm. Jonathan was at his wits end. He’d long suspected that his wife must have offended the hob in some way and although at first she denied it eventually she confessed that one night she’d put out skimmed milk instead of cream. Jonathan was in despair, he knew what revenge an offended hob could take. He tried his best to make amends but it was all to no avail. At last he decided to leave the farm and try his luck elsewhere.
All of their goods fitted easily onto one farm cart and the last thing to come out was their old feather bed. Jonathan placed it on top of all their other broken bits and pieces and the old churn from the dairy was upturned at the back of the cart. The grudging wife climbed up and sat on the feather bed. Jonathan took his seat and picked up the reins.
The horse moved off. They’d just gone round the first bend when Jonathan came face-to-face with one of his neighbours.
Ado Jonathan lad, you can’t have come to this surely?
Aye, we’ve come to this, we’re flitting.
And then there was a strange voice.
Aye, we’ve flitting.
Sat there cross-legged on the upturned churn was the oldest, ugliest, hairiest little man you’ve ever seen. His eyes bulged with malicious glee.
He he, he he, he…
Jonathan knew he was beaten and he started to pull on the reins to turn the cart round.
Aye, we’re flitting but if you’re flitting with us we may as well flit back. For I see now that for us there is no hope.
And sad to say so it was.
So if you’re lucky enough to have a hob working about the house make sure that he receives his just reward and whatever you do don’t annoy him. For if you do, like Jonathan Grey you will rue the day.
The Farndale Hob
She left skim-milk in the jug – Now that was over hasty – And I was used to clotted cream. That’s when I turned nasty. I came the day when poor Ralph died, Who used to shear and mow: They found him on the open moor Beneath a drift of snow, And that same night I set to work To thresh the harvest corn, And year on year, no one dared To laugh my work to scorn. I drove the oxen in a team, Sheared sheep and hauled the hay For a daily jug of cream – And generations passed away. She claimed that cream was luxury And times were getting hard: I took one taste and spat it out, And screaming through the yard, I turned the milk-churns over, I made the butter spatter, I filled the early hours with A grim unholy clatter, I banged the copper kettle, I haunted all her dreams; I ripped off her bedclothes With heart-rending screams. She thinks she can escape from me By moving down the street, But I will patter after her On little hobnailed feet: She left skim-milk in the jug – Now that was over hasty – And I was used to clotted cream. That’s when I turned nasty.
Lyric by Giles Watson, 2013. Based on a story recorded by H.L. Gee, Folk Tales of Yorkshire, London, 1952, pp. 17-22.
HOBTHRUSH / HOBTHRUST: A GOOD NATURED GOBLIN, WHO ASSISTS SERVANT MAIDS IN THEIR EARLY MORNING WORK, BUT IN A STATE OF NUDITY….” GLOSSARY OF WORDS, ENGLISH DIALECT SOCIETY 1877
The Hobthrush was believed to have been a small little man who helped a household around the hearth and kitchen. Throughout Yorkshire there are place names, traditions and tales about the naked goblins, there is no doubt there is an influence from Scandinavia in the tales. So who or what was a Hob?
To begin we must look at the Nisse and tomte – these were similar entities Denmark and Sweden. The “nisse” would sweep the floor and clean the house for the family it attached itself to. In Sweden a being called “tomte” and in Holland, Kaboutermannekin did similar jobs. So now let us delve into the Hob’s history.
In Otia Imperialia, Gervase de Tilbury writes that hobs are called “portuni” in England and “neptuni” in France. This suggests a possible link with water and water demons. “Portuni” were also said to join a horseman invisibly and lead him into a ditch, laughing.
In the thirteenth century Master Rypon of Durham, mentions “Thrus” – (a certain demon) who would grind corn until the householder gave him a new tunic one day. He refused to grind corn saying in English – “Suld syche a proude grome grynd corn?” This line echoes the Swedish tomte:
“The young spark is fine, He dusts himself! Nevermore will he sift.”
Robin Goodfellow appears in a tale comparable to the Hart Hall Hob of Glaisdale (Yorkshire) in The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow (1628).
“Robin Goodfellow often would in the night visit farmers houses and helpe maydes breake hempe, to bowlt, to dresse flaxe, to spin and do other workes, for hee was excellent in everything. One night hee comes to a farmers house, where there was a goode handsome mayde; this mayde having much work to do. Robin one night did helpe her, and is sixe houres did bowlt more than she could have done I twelve houres. The mayde wondred the next day how her worke came, and to know the doer, she watched the next night that did follow. About twelve of the clocke, in came Robin, and fell braking of hempe and for to delight himself he sung his mad song.
The mayde, seeing him bare in clothes, pittied him, and against the next night provided him a wast – coate. Robin comming the next night to worke, as he did before, espied the wast – coate, where at he started and said:-
“Because thou lay’st me himpen, hampen, I will neither bolt nor stampen: ‘Tis not your garments new or old, That Robin loves: I feele no cold. Had you left me milke or creame, You should have a pleasing dreame. Because you left no drop or crum, Robin never more will come.” So went hee away laughing, ho, hoh!
Himpen, Hampen was also known in an earlier couplet as Hemton Hamtom but should be clearly read as hardin hemp, as in the Hart Hall Hob tale. “Hardin” means hessian, while “hemp” was a rough working shirt.
What is a Hob or Hobthrush
The name for a hob in the south was as mentioned earlier, “Robin Goodfellow”. In Northern England and the North Midlands the term commonly known for hobs was Hobthrus, -thrust, thrush. In Lincolnshire there is a Jacob Thrust and in Cheshire, Hob – dross.
“Hob like Rob and Robin, Dob and Dobbin is a diminutive of Robert. Thus Robert the Bruce was contemptuously styled King Hob,” writes Dr Bruce Dickins in Yorkshire Folklore (1947) “Yet Robert was a well known man’s name, and the unsavoury records of witch trials show that the demon was given a Christian name.”
So could this have lead to the beginnings of Hob used for a goblin? Dickins later states that Robert applied to a demon was hard to come by in Medieval records and that Hobthrus was shortened to hob as in Robin Redbreast to Robin.
When trying to track down Hobs, the best evidence is in the place names and folklore of Northern England.
In Spaldington, a well that contains a helpful yet mischievous Hob is called Robin Redcap’s Well, Robin was cast there after the prayers of three clergymen.
Hob is also common in many South Yorkshire place names –
Nearby Sheffield is the village of Dore, and a Hobthrush story very similar to Grimms “The Elves and the Shoemaker” come this here. The story tells how a poor shoemaker found a piece of leather he had cut made into a pair of shoes. He sold them and bought enough to make two pairs and so on. He stayed up one night and saw Hobthrust making shoes faster than the shoemaker could fling them out of the window.
Hence the Sheffield saying when a man is heard to boast about his output of knives etc, the rejoiner is “Ah, tha can mak ‘em faster than Hobthrust can throw shoes out o’ t’window!”
North Yorkshire Hobs
North Yorkshire has possibly more hobs and hob related place names than the whole of England. This may be due to the large amount of Viking settlements in the moors, and where the Hob tales bloomed. Often locations and farms hold related names such as, Hob Cross, Hob Hill, Hob Green, Hob Thrush Grange, Hobdale, Hob Holes, Hobgarth, Hob’s Cave etc.
In 1905, the “Evolution of a Yorkshire Town” by George Calvert, contains a list of known Hobs just in the Pickering district in 1823: Lealham Hob, Hob o’ thrush, T’ Hob o’ Hobgarth, Cross Hob o’ Lastingham, Farndale Hob of High Farndale, T’Hob o’ Stockdale, Scugdale Hob, Hedge Hob o’ Bransdale, Woot Howe Hob, T’Hob o’ Brakken Howe etc.
Hob of Hob Hill
The Hob from Hob Hill, Upleatham, who assisted the Oughtred family as late as 1820 was the normal type of Hob, he assisted in herding, turned hay, and tailed turnips etc.
They did nothing to annoy him but one day a man left his coat on the winnowing machine overnight. The Hob turned into a poltergeist and caused so much trouble they decided to flit.
The day the Oughtreds were
moving a friend came by and visited them. He asked Oughtred
if he was moving when the Hob replied “Aye getting ti flit ti morn.” Oughtred then decided to stay and kept the Hob under
control by magic.
He attached himself to a farm belonging to Jonathan Gray. The Hob worked very hard all the time, but only asked for two things. Firstly, no-one should see him work. Secondly, he should be left a jug of cream nightly.
Unfortunately Jonathan’s wife died and later he re-married. The new wife was mean with money and swapped the jug of cream for skimmed milk.
The Hob stopped work and instead of leaving he became mischievous and things started to go wrong about the farm. Soon no-one would work for Jonathan so he was resolved to move from the farm.
A friend who had been away saw Jonathan in his cart moving home.
“Noo, then Jonathan, what’s gahin on?” he asked.
Jonathan exclaimed his problems and added “So you see, we’re flitting.”
And to his horror, the lid of a milk churn raised and a small, brown and wizened face peered out.
“Aye,” said the Hob, “We’re flitting.” (*Also see The Boggart in The Fairy Mythology, Keighley.)
More Hob Tales
The Hob at Hobgarth in Glaisdale collected sheep and repaired fences that had been broken down by a vindictive neighbour. (c.1760) He was described as a little old fellow, with very long hair, large feet, hands, eyes and mouth stooping much as he walked and carrying a long holly stick.
At Hob Hole, Runswick Bay, lived a Hob in a cave that was destroyed many years ago by jet diggers but the legend persists. The Hob could cure children of Kink cough now known as Whooping Cough. When a child was suffering from whooping cough, the mother would carry the patient down to the beach and walk along to the mouth of the Hob Hole. There she would call out:
“Hob Hole Hob,
They would beat them with an old fashioned implement known as a “battledore.”
The bogles would for one night a week do their washing and
the noise of them would fill the night air of neighbouring town, Kettleness.
The Over Silton Hobthrush lived in Hobthrush Hall, in a cave running under the Scarrs, cliffs which rise a little north west of the village. He served the tenant of the farm on which he lived, churning cream put out for him overnight. One evening the customary reward of bread and butter was forgotten and in disgust Hobthrush left the neighbourhood forever.
Another Hob lived in Hob’s Cave, Mulgrave Woods. If you wished to beckon him, you should call out.
Hobthrush Hob! Where is thou!
Ah’s tying on mab left – fuit shoe,
The Hobs enrich Yorkshire folklore with their strange behaviour, nudity and off the cuff remarks. During the Victorian age it was believed that the Hobs were remnants of folklore brought to these shores by the Angles and Scandinavians. Ancient burial grounds, barrows or prehistoric settlement sites (Pre – English) were often named after Hobs. (Example; Hob Hole in Baysdale is a prehistoric settlement) Fairies are thought to have been the original “English” people who were driven in to the hills by the visiting marauders such as the Romans and Angles. This very theory can be attached to Hob folklore, could Hobs have been the final remnants of the “true English”? As with fairies and giants, Hobs are now a distant memory and quaint belief which even a hundred and fifty years ago was still believed to be true. According to J.Phillips in Mountains and Sea coast of Yorkshire (1853):- “These beliefs persisted till well on into the nineteenth century. How many of them survive today?”