The Hart Hall Hob

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From fairies the old lady got on to recollections of what clearly was a survival of dwarf folklore. For she told me of certain small people who used to dwell in the houes (grave-mounds) that years ago were to be found in the Roxby and Mickleby direction, but which had been dug into and after-wards ploughed over, so that the former denizens had clearly been evicted and forced to retire. But it was only imperfect recollections of what she had heard in her own young days that my informant was dealing with now ; and the lack of feature and detail consequent on her lack of personal interest in the subject was quite evident. But it was quite different when I began to ask her if in her youth she had had any knowledge of the Hart Hall ‘Hob.’ On this topic she was herself again. ‘Why, when she was a bit of a lass, everybody knew about Hart Hall in Glaisdale, and t’ Hob there, and the work that he did, and how he came to leave, and all about it.’ Had she ever seen him, or any of the work he had done? ‘Seen him’, saidst ’ee. Neea, naebody had ever seen him, leastwise, mair nor yance. And that was how he coomed to flit,’— ‘How was that?’ I asked. ‘Wheea, everybody kenned at sikan a mak’ o’ creatur as yon never tholed being spied efter.’ ‘And did they spy upon him?’ I inquired, ‘Ay, marry, that did they. Yah moonleeght neeght, when they beared his swipple (the striking part of the flail) gannan’ wiv a strange quick bat (stroke) o’ t’ lathe fleear (on the barn floor) — ye ken he wad dee mair i’ yah neeght than a’ t’ men o’ t’ farm cou’d dee iv a deea — yan o’ t’ lads gat hissel’ croppen oop close anenst lathe-deear, an’ leeak’d in thruff’ a lahtle hole i’ t’ boards, an’ he seen a lahtle brown man, a’ covered wi’ hair, spangin’ about wiv fleeal lahk yan wud (striking around with the flail as if he was beside himself). He’d getten a haill dess o’ shaffs (a whole layer of sheaves) doon o’ t’ fleear, and my wo’d! ommost afore ye cou’d tell ten, he had tonned (turned) oot t’ strae, an’ sided away t’ coorn, and was rife for another dess. He had nae claes on to speak of, and t’ lad, he cou’d na see at he had any mak’ or mander o’ duds by an au’d ragg’d soort ov a sark.’ And she went on to tell how the lad crept away as quietly as he had gone on his expedition of espial, and on getting indoors, undiscovered by the unconscious Hob, had related what he had seen, and described the marvellous energy of ‘t’ lahtle hairy man, amaist as nakt as when he wur boom.’ But the winter nights were cold, and the Hart Hall folks thought he must get strange and warm working ‘sikan a bat as yon, an’ it wad be sair an’ cau’d for him, gannan’ oot iv lathe wiv nobbut thae au’d rags. Seear, they’d mak’ him something to hap hissel’ wiv.’ And so they did. They made it as near like what the boy had described him as wearing — a sort of a coarse sark, or shirt, with a belt or girdle to confine it round his middle. And when it was done, it was taken before nightfall and laid in the barn, ‘gay and handy for t’ lahtle chap to notish’ when next he came to resume his nocturnal labours. In due course he came, espied the garment, turned it round and round, and — contrary to the usual termination of such legends, which represents the uncanny, albeit efficient, worker as displeased at the espionage practised upon him — Hart Hall Hob, more mercenary than punctilious as to considerations of privacy, broke out with the following couplet —

Gin Hob miin hae nowght but a bardin’ hamp,

He’ll coom nae mair, nowther to berry nor stamp.

I pause a moment in my narrative here to remark that this old jingle or rhyme is one of no ordinary or trifling interest. It seems almost superfluous to suggest that up to half a century ago, and even later, there was hardly a place in all Her Majesty’s English dominions better qualified to be conservative of the old words of the ordinary folk-speech, as well as of the old notions, legends, usages, beliefs, such as constitute its folklore, than this particular part of the district of Cleveland. The simple fact that its Glossary comprises near upon four thousand words, and that still the supply is not fully exhausted, speaks volumes on that head. And yet this couplet preserves three words, all of which had become obsolete forty years ago, and two of which had no actual meaning to the old dame who repeated the rhyme to me. These two are ‘berry’ and ‘hamp.’ ‘Stamp’ was the verb used to express the action of knocking off the awns of the barley previously to threshing it, according to the old practice. But ‘berry,’ meaning to thresh, I had been looking and inquiring for, for years, and looking and inquiring in vain; and as to ‘hamp,’ I never had reason to suppose that it had once been a constituent part of the current Cleveland folk-speech. But this is not all. The meaning of the word, and no less the description given of the vestment in question, in the legend itself, throws back the origin, at least the form-taking, of the story, and its accompaniments, to an indefinite, and yet dimly definable period. There was a time when the hamp was the English peasant’s only garment; at all events, mainly or generally so. For it might sometimes be worn over some underclothing. But that was not the rule. The hamp was a smock rock-like article of raiment, gathered in somewhat about the middle, and coming some little way below the knee. The mention in Pier the Plowman of the ‘hatere’ worn by the labouring man in his day serves to give a fairly vivid idea of the attire of the working-man of that time, and that attire was the ‘hamp’ of our northern parts. For the word seems to be clearly Old Danish in form and origin. But although the form and fashion and accessories of our old lady’s stories were of so distinctly an old-world character, it was impossible to doubt for a moment her perfect good faith. She told all with the most utter simplicity, and the most evident conviction that what she was telling was matter of faith, and not at all the flimsy structure of fancy or of fable. (Atkinson, Forty, 54-57)

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