I have just published my new fairy tale, The Derrick, which is a story aimed primarily at children. Its title character is a traditional fairy from Dorset and Hampshire. In this posting I want to explore a little further this theme of local fairy types.
There is a great variety of fairies in the British Isles; some are found across the country, but many differ regionally or across regions and some can be very local indeed. They seem often to be adapted to a specific environment or social niche. Here are a few examples:
- Derricks- these only occur along the south coast; the Hampshire Derricks are apparently friendlier and more helpful than those of Dorset;
- many brownies and hobs are tied to particular houses, farms or caves, as I have discussed separately;
- orchards of the south-west- various fairy spirits, such as Awd Goggy, exist to guard orchards and the like from thieves and children (see earlier posting);
- the Lincolnshire fens– this unique region is home to the Tiddy Ones, also called the Yarthkins, the Strangers and the Greencoaties. They are rooted in the local soil and act as fertility spirits, helping the growth and ripening of plant life; as such they received tribute or offerings from the local people- the first fruits and the first taste of any meal or drink. If neglected, these beings could be vindictive, affecting harvests, yields and even the birthrate. They have been described as being a span high with thin limbs and over-sized hands, feet and heads. They have long noses, wide mouths and make odd noises. They danced on large flat stones in the moon light. One particular spirit, the Tiddymun, seemed to control the flood waters in the days before the Fens were drained. From time to time, he appeared from pools at night and might drag victims back into them, but generally he was sympathetic to local people. His close ties to the management of water levels emphasise his local nature and function;
- East Anglia- in Norfolk and Suffolk people spoke of the ferishers/ feriers/ frairies/ farisees. These local fairies were known to be very small and very secretive. They lived underground and were seldom seen. This was perhaps fortunate as, above ground, they could be dangerous to humans; certainly, they rode cattle and horses at night;
- spriggans- pixies are well known to be localised in the south-west peninsula; so too are the spriggans. They are described as dour and ugly; their particular role seems to be protecting other fairies from intrusions or insults by humankind (see the stories of The Miser on the Fairy Gump or The Fairies on the Eastern Green, both from Penwith in Cornwall). They were very closely linked to ancient sites, such as hill-forts, where they guarded buried gold. In this the spriggans seem to be linked to the Redshanks or Danes of Somerset (I borrowed this idea for The Derrick). The localisation of spriggans on distinctive sites in the region is especially notable.
If certain fairies have indeed adapted to local conditions and features, it may come as little surprise to learn that a symbiotic relationship with the human denizens of those areas has likewise evolved. Two examples (once again from the south-west) are worthy of mention:
- the Newlyn bucca is given fish by local fishermen in order to get good weather and good shoals;
- knockers in the tin mines were given food in return for help locating the best lodes.
Obviously in these cases the human-fairy relationship had adapted to local conditions. It was, moreover, self-reinforcing- placid seas and a good haul of mackerel ensured further offerings for the bucca.
There is a tendency to generalise on fairy types and characteristics (of which, of course, I can be guilty in this blog) but many fairies were very restricted in their distribution, very individual in their behaviour and very local in their interests and preoccupations.