Following on from his last blog, The Limer’s Girl and the Queen of the Well, artist in residence David Chatton Barker highlights his research into the hill’s more recent, colourful history through a folktale which tells of a vengeful shape shifting water spirit, named The Queen of the Well, who inhabits the well on the hill’s summit.
Fairy tales are enjoyed by people of all ages, despite the common assumption that these stories are only for children. A story that animates an aspect of the landscape can be an important way to understand and appreciate further where we live, for adults and children alike. With this project David discovered a legend local to Whitworth, The Queen of the Well, that captured his imagination and cried out to be brought to life through sound and imagery. The original legend was collected by Rev. G. R. Oakley in his book In Olden Days – Legends of Rochdale and its Neighbourhood, Edwards & Bryning, 1923. The tale, originally known as The Legend of Brown Wardle has been re-imagined here by the artist, in a simpler and shorter form, distilling the tale into a few short chapters. This project was conceived with the idea of appealing to both young and old alike (preferably by fireside or bedside).
The legend is based on a shape-shifting Naiad (female water spirit or nymph), who haunts the waters of a well found on the top of Brown Wardle Hill, on the rugged and windy South Pennine moors. The story is set in medieval times, when the practice of hawking was a regular sport, and when names such as Hilda or Gertrude were more commonplace. All the audio was recorded in the valley of Whitworth and woven together in the shadow of Brown Wardle Hill at an eighteenth century farmhouse, which some say was actually built on an ancient well. The audio brings together locally collected field recordings from the hill and moors. Three scores were played by the Whitworth Vale & Healey Brass Band alongside the main theme song performed by the children’s choir at St Anselm’s School. The Lancashire dialect poet Michael Higgins narrates the tale and local musician Alison Cooper’s ethereal voice and music brings character to the naiad water spirit. The recording involves many associated musicians of Folklore Tapes and feature handmade instruments whose sound perfectly evokes a magical landscape.
(Why not have a listen here or scroll further down to read the full extract)
The Queen of the Well is published through Folklore Tapes on cassette and vinyl (due March 2019) and with an illustrated booklet by Rachael Barker. A live production is due to take place spring 2019.
Chapter I – Brown Wardle Hill
There is a hill to be found within the vale and sloping moors of deep Lancashire. Found in the midst of timelessness.
A hill full of elemental mystery.
This hill is older than time itself, Its summit reads the lay of the land all around, from moor to dell. Through Its soft and stony body runs veins of waters that connect to a well.
Green moss soft, springy damp and brown dry, rushes and grass stirred by breeze waving hello and goodbye.
Some say the hill is a giant locked in eternal sleeping sigh…
A hill which blows rich with the tales of bogarts, fairies, dwarves and witches
This is the majestic and magical Brown Wardle Hill!
Its moors abound with hoof, paw and beak…not to mention things lurking deep.
——- – – – – –
The air is filled with jubilant choruses of feathered songsters in mystic flight…kestral, raven, blackbird, lark, swallow and twite…
The bleating and giddy play of lambs, the slow sway of cows and the hum of bees dense in the air. The speedy hare darts everywhere! Badger emerges for nighttime air. Fox waits and stares.
The deer’s grace with no sound…listen…some horses approach overground!
Chapter II – Birds of Prey
At the base of Brown Wardle Hill.
By the trickling of the rill
Three horses canter to trot
Three friends dismount from their horses,
All have on their arms a bird of prey.
Nicholas de Werdhyll had a Peregrine Falcon.
His sister, the young lady Hilda De Werdhyll had on her small wrist a Merlin.
The Monk known as Bartholomew was carrying a Goshawk.
They ascended the hill under vast swirling skies, through imaginations widest eyes.
Each bird took flight and soared out of sight.
They hadn’t noticed a heron flying nearby and suddenly it was struck by the Merlin!
Falling to the ground the Heron in anguish.
Hlida found herself alone without her companions and rushed after the injured bird on all fours, attempting she might capture and treat the fallen Heron.
Meanwhile Nicholas De Werddhyll had been hastily summoned by a breathless squire to attend some urgent duties in the nearby town of Rachedall and had soon departed on his horse. The Monk made his way to the other side of Wardle to where he supposed Hilda was.
Chapter III – Metamorphoses
As Hilda reached out for the bird…
The Heron evaded her and sprang into the well
As it touched the mirror like water, a strange mist arose concealing the bird from view, and as Hilda gazed in amazement, the mist gradually assumed human form…
And the most beautiful maiden that mortal eye ever saw met the young lady’s astonished gaze.
Her golden hair, dressed with the soft moss often found in wells, streamed, sparkling with dew-like ornaments, upon her shining, whitened shoulders.
Her eyes of liquid blue shone out from a face of mingled beauty, intelligence and mischief; her green robe of rushes with a shimmering lustre descended to the surface of the still mirrored water, beneath which her dainty feet (on the ankle of which glittered a golden ring) could clearly be seen.
Her left hand held a bulrush sceptre, whilst her right extended towards Hilda with a reproachful quiver…
(This lady of the well is a Naiad, a type of female spirit presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of fresh water)
Chapter IV – The Naiad
“Welcome, O Lady” said the Naiad
“Welcome to the abode of one who loves thee well.
Often in the past has thee with other maidens come hither to bathe thine eyes on a fair May morning, that childlike ye might learn whom ye should wed.
Now hast thee learnt yet greater knowledge, for thy Falcon has stricken…
The Queen of the Well!
Stricken only once in all time before”
And she made a slight motion towards the golden ring.
“Didst ever hear of fair Gertrude de Burgh?”
Hilda trembled violently. Getrude de Burgh, one of her mothers friends had disappeared mysteriously on Brown Wardle Hill some twenty years before.
The Naiad laughed.
“Thou trembles! Aye, Gertrude de Burgh did as thou has done.
Her falcon struck me and I led her hither here to my slivery mirrored home.
Come, thou too shalt see it.”
And before the shivering girl could offer up any resistance, the water-fay seized her by the wrist and drew her into the water out of sight.
Chapter V – Moonlight over the hill
The moon was casting a flood of radiance over Brown Wardle Hill when the Monk reached the old well, but no sign of Hilda could he see. He made a hasty circuit peering everywhere, and then retuned to the well and pondered deeply.
“How can this be?”
As he spoke the words a mist rose from the water before him and the Naiad appeared. Her eyes were shining with a malicious and mischievous triumph.
“I come o monk” she cried “Hilda De Werdhyll has elected to stay in my silver home. Nay, I gave her choice. I bade her return as she will, but in that event her father would suffer during his expedition over the Atlantic Ocean. And she must suffer for the blow her fiendish hawk did give me. So, as she has willed to remain, her father will remain safe – otherwise he had not been so an hour. So bid your farewell at once, this hill and well are forever mine!
As she spoke her features became indistinct, and the monk became conscious of a heaviness like that of sleep falling upon him. He strove to raise his hands, strove to utter some words of protest, but a power beyond his own held him in control, and just as consciousness finally left him he seemed to see the form of Hilda De Werdhyll bending over him, and to hear her telling of how it had chanced upon her that day.
When he again came to, he was lying near the well, the sun shining brightly above in the sky. He remembered distinctly all that he had seen and heard, even Hilda’s account of her own disappearance and, as he gazed at the now murky water of the well, he saw lying in it the dead body of Hilda De Werdhyll’s falcon.
Nothing more was heard of the hapless maiden Hilda, it was the monk alone who kept hidden the burden of knowing that she was strangled by magic in the well that day.
But tradition tells that sometimes before the sun rises on the first of May, when the dew is at its most magical, three figures may be seen wandering hand in hand over the slope of Brown Wardle Hill. All have golden moss-drenched hair, and eyes of shining blue, all have robes of shimmering green, sparkling with dewy pearls; but the face of one in the midst is merry, and those of the others is sad, and one of them casts longing eyes towards, the spot where Wardle Hall once stood proud.
Then, folk say, as the sun casts its first bright beams over the hill, the trio wend their way to the old churn well. And the mist which sometimes floats near by, marks the fading away into their silver mirrored home of the Queen of the Well and her captives, Gertrude de Burgh and Hilda De Werdhyll.
Song of the well
Some folk say
On’top of Wardle Hill
As the Sun Rises up
On the first day of May
Three figures in shimmering robes
wend their way
To the edge of the churn well
For, It is here that they dwell