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Hebden Bridge Local History Society

A Yorkshire Year: 366 days of folklore, customs and traditions

Speaker: Catherine Warr

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Catherine Warr, a young historian who runs the successful You Tube channel 'Yorkshire's Hidden History' ventured into the live world of the members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society to challenge ideas about customs and traditions.

Perhaps we all have a built-in bias towards seeing folklore and its associated rituals as something quaint or archaic – what Catherine dismissed as 'tweeism'. A wider definition which sees customs as a meaningful activity carried out on a regular basis allows us to see much more modern rituals, such as the informal actions which a rugby team might use to prepare for a match, as just as much customs as the Easter gathering of the Pace Egg Plays. Our sense that customs have to have a long pedigree is likely to lead us to see the dancing of the Longsword or Morris men as more of a tradition than the Leeds Carnival. The Oxenhope Straw Race, for which participants don extravagant fancy dress while running with the heavy bales, is just as meaningful and traditional to participants and spectators.

Another challenge Catherine made was to our interpretation of folklore, especially of fairy legends. Changelings left by the fairies who stole your baby might bring a chilling sense of danger, but the fancy could also be used to stigmatise people with disabilities at a time of far less understanding. The Fairy Hole near Grassington was reputed to be the home of a deformed woman who took refuge to live in a cave. Her true story of course goes untold.

Stories of strange events could spread with a kind of community hysteria, for instance in Sheffield when tales of the appearance of a ghostly figure in white led to gatherings of 'rough' young men. The mix of rumour and the reality of an unruly gathering together were the ingredients of long held beliefs that something odd had happened. Fakes themselves become folklore.

Finally Catherine questioned our condescension towards people of the past who we perhaps think were simple or stupid for believing such tales. Stories might be widespread, but there was not necessarily widespread belief in the supernatural explanations – sometimes stories are just good stories.

Catherine will soon have a book published entitled A Yorkshire Year: 366 days of folklore, customs and traditions.

The next meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society will be at 7.30 on Wednesday 12th October at Hebden Royd Methodist Church. June Turner will re-examine the history of The Fielden Brothers of Todmorden, focusing on their links with slavery. All welcome, visitors £4.

Details of the History Society talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on the History website and you can also follow History Society Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report