Fairy Folklore

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Fairy Lore is a broad subject in Folklore. Ostensibly a relic of an animistic worldview long passed, it has been heavily influenced by peoples ideas of cause and effect in nature, in which most of us once lived. Now most of us live in cities, regimented by different forces, the need for fairies to help us explain the world in which we are living has gone. But stories still survive, though without much of their immediate meaning.

There is no shortage of such stories in Sussex, but their impetus and effect upon the local population has gone now Sussex has become a suburb of London, and all the countryside most people here see is out of their car window as they head up the A23. Nevertheless, there is the common story of a site in Sussex being the last place in England inhabited by fairies before they left. Sussex was also the focus of a romantic revival of interest in fairies, begun in Yorkshire with the Cottingley Fairies, and continued here for the benefit of the middle classes and wistful artists, who had little to do with the farm labourers who were the source of much of the original lore.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing - William Blake 1786
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
(William Blake 1786)

Fairy Names

Fairies are known by many names in Sussex. First of all, there is a variation on the words 'fairies' in local dialect, where the locals had used a double pluralisation, which was then corrupted into the word 'Pharisees' and confused sometimes with the biblical figures (Parish & Hall 1957 p.39,94), to the point that The Bible was used as proof of the existence of fairies (Lower 1954 p.157).

Then we have 'Puck' or 'Pook', which is derived from the Saxon word 'Puca', meaning a Goblin (Smith 1956 p.74). Both modern forms are common in placenames as will be seen later in this article, but also occurs as dialect description of fairies, but not just Goblins, which are seen as mischievous or nasty fairies (Simpson & Roud 2000 p.286). The word puck is also used in a nickname for the nightjar, which is called 'Puck' or 'Puckridge'. Puckridge is also the name of a disease of cattle which is supposedly caused by the nightjar (Parish & Hall 1957 p.98,100).

'Dobbs' or 'Master Dobbs' is a name used for a house fairy that helps with the housework. If someone has been working harder than expected, it was often said of them that 'Master Dobbs has been helping you' (Parish & Hall 1957 p.31).

Fairy Folklore

Many of the stories told about fairies seem to be cautionary tales, showing that they can be very helpful, as long as you stay on the right side of them. Farmers, unsurprisingly, are the beneficiaries of much of this help.

A story recounted by Latham (1878 p.27) is one such example of the fairy folk helping a farmer :

"There is an unromantic fairy-tale told in nurseries the scene of which is laid in West Sussex, how once upon a time, two men stole a pig, and put it in a sack, and laid the sack down upon the ground just over a hole in which dwelt a fairy, who contrived to step into the sack in the form and in the place of the real grunter. The men were to take it in turns to carry the sack, and as one of them was toiling with his heavy load up a steep ascent he was startled to see a very little figure running close by his side, and asking, in a melancholy voice, "Dick, Dick, where be you?" and much was his alarm increased when a voice from the sack replied,

"In a sack,
Riding up Beeding Hill"

The frightened men of course threw down the sack and ran away, and the good fairy resumed his own form and returned to his home by the pigsty, rejoicing that he had saved the pig from the thieves, it being the property of a man for whom the fairies had a liking."

Fairies were said to be responsible for putting silver coins in the boots of hard working servants while they slept, much in the same way the tooth fairy rewards children by replacing the tooth put under the pillow with a coin. The mistress of the house would usually be responsible for the upkeep of this piece of folklore (Candlin 1943 p.96).

Fairies are not always found in rural locations. Walcott (1859 p.177) records that a goblin guarded a treasure chest in the 'Drummer's Hall' at Herstmonceux in East Sussex. The well known ghost of the drummer at Herstmonceux was probably an invention of the smugglers, and it may be that the goblin is as well.

Few stories have the fairies with anything but the upper hand, but Lower (1861 p.226) recounts than on a Drove-Way between Kingston (near Lewes) and the marshes near the River Ouse a goblin was damned to spin charcoal incessantly.

Summoning Fairies

There are times when you may wish the assistance of the fairies, or just to see them. There are various means of calling the fairies, the first is a chant to help when churning butter.

"Come, butter, come, Come, butter, come, Peter stands at the gate, Waiting for a buttered cake, Come, butter, come!"

This chant was meant to make witches and bad fairies run away and call the good fairies to the aid of whoever is churning the butter (Latham 1878 p.28).

Running around things was always a good way of summoning things, and is a common way to summon the Devil in Sussex. Candlin (1943 p.96) records that if you run around a fairy ring nine times on the first night of the new moon, you will hear sounds of music and laughter coming up from the underground home of the elves.

A more involved method of raising the fairies was told by a nurse to some children (Stenning 1952 p.430). The story she told goes thus :
"Well, Mrs. Jasper, she said there was only one way to bring 'em. You must do it on a moonlight night just when the pollen was ripe on the catkins. I was always teasing and praying her to show me and at last one night she took me with her into the woods. I never shall forget it. She made me sit on the stump of an old tree in a little clearing where the moonlight came through, and she stood a few steps away with two small branches in her hands. I saw the gold dust flying from the catkins as she waved them gently, and sang a little song over and over in a funny low drawlin' husky voice - just as though she was coaxin' 'em :

Come in the stillness,
Come in the night,
Come soon,
And bring delight.
Beckoning, beckoning,
Left hand and right,
Come now,
Ah, come to-night!

It almost drew me off my stump to hear her, and the dog came creeping to her feet. No, I didn't see anything - nothing but the gold dust fallin' from the catkins, and her fluttering hands. But she said she'd seen 'em, often, but they only came when she was alone, they didn't care about company. They'd come slidin' down a branch to her and laugh and disappear again. The dog, he couldn't abear them. He'd bristle up and growl and slink into the bushes. He knew they weren't canny."

Sweating Fairies

There are many types of fairy, including Master Dobbs, that help humans with their toil, or when they are in need. Nevertheless, they tend to work in secret and can get rather upset if they are disturbed. Such is the case with a common theme in fairy stories, where some fairies are working away, one complains of sweating, at which point they are disturbed by the person they are helping. These are seen by the locals as cautionary tales to explain to people how to treat fairies (Thorpe 1954 p.530). The first story here was recorded by Lower (1854 p.161) :

"An ol' brother of my wife's gurt gran'mother see some Pharisees once, and 'twould a been a power better if so be he hadn't never seen 'em, or lestways never offended 'em. I'll tell ye how it happened. Jeems Meppom - dat was his naum - Jeems was a liddle farmer, and used to thresh his own corn. His barn stood in a very elenge lonesome place, a goodish bit from de house, and de Pharisees used to come dere a nights and thresh out some wheat and wuts for him, so dat de hep o' threshed corn was ginnerly bigger in de mornin dan what he left it overnight. Well, ye see, Mas' Meppom thought dis a liddle odd, and didn't know rightly what to make ant. So bein' an out-and-out bold chep, dat didn't fear man nor devil, as de sayin is, he made up his mind dat he'd goo over some night to see how 'twas managed. Well accordingly he went out rather airly in de evenin', and laid up behind de mow, for a long while, till he got rather tired and sleepy, and thought 'twaunt no use a watchin' no longer. It was gittin' pretty handy to midnight, and he thought how he'd goo home to bed. But jest as he was upon de move he heerd a odd sort of a soun' comin' toe-ards the barn, and so he stopped to see what it was. He looked out of de strah, and what should he catch sight an but a couple of liddle cheps about eighteen inches high or dereaway come into de barn without uppening the doores. Dey pulled off dere jackets and begun to thresh wud two liddle frails as dey had brung wud em at de hem of a rate. Mas' Meppom would a been frougthen if dey had been bigger, but as dey was such tedious liddle fellers, he couldn't hardly help bustin right out a laffin'. Howsonever he pushed a hanful of strah into his mouth and so managed to kip quiet a few minutes a lookin' at um - thump, thump; thump, thump, as riglar as a clock.

At last dey got rather tired and left off to rest derselves, and one an um said in a liddle squeakin' voice, as it might a bin a mouse a talkin' :- 'I say Puck, I tweat; do you tweat?'. At dat Jeems couldn't contain hisself no how, but set up a loud haw-haw; and jumpin' up from de strah hollered out, 'I'll tweat ye, ye liddle rascals; what bisness a you got in my barn?'. Well upon dis, de Pharisees picked up der frails and cut away right by him, and as dey passes by him he felt sich a queer pain in de head as if somebody had gi'en him a lamentable hard thump wud a hammer, dat knocked him down as flat as a flounder. How long he laid dere he never rightly knowed, but it must a bin a goodish bit, for when he come to 'twas gittin dee-light. He couldn't hardly contrive to doddle home, and when he did he looked so tedious bad dat his wife sent for de doctor dirackly. But bless ye, datwaunt no use; and old Jeems Meppom knowed it well enough. De doctor told him to kip up his sperits, beein' 'twas onny a fit he had had from bein' a most smothered wud de handful of strah and kippin his laugh down. But Jeems knowed better. 'Ta-unt no use sir', he says, says he, to de doctor; 'de cuss of de Pharissees is uppan me, and all de stuff in your shop can't do me no good'. And Mas' Meppom was right, for about a year ahtawuds he died, poor man! Sorry enough day he'd ever intafered wud things dat didn't consarn him. Poor ol' feller, he lays buried in de church-aird over yender - leastways so I've heerd my wife's mother say, under de bank jest where de bed of snowdrops grows."

A similar tale by this time relating to horses rather than threshing was recorded by the famous Sussex collector of dialect words, Mr. W.D. Parish (Parish & Hall, 1957 p.39) :

"I've heard my feather say, that when he lived over the hill, there was a carter that worked on the farm along wid him, and no one couldn't think how t'was that this here man's horses looked so much better than what any one else's did. I've heard my feather say that they was that fat that they couldn't scarcely get about; and this here carter he was just as much puzzled as what the rest was, so cardinley he laid hisself i in the staable one night, to see if he could find the meaning an't.

And he hadn't been there very long, before there here liddle farisees they crep in at the sink hole; in they crep; one after another; liddle tiny bits of chaps they was, and each an 'em had a liddle sack of corn on his back as much as ever he could carry. Well! in they crep, on they gets, up they clims and there they was, just as busy feeding these here horses; and prensley one says to t'other, he says, 'Puck', says he, 'I twets, do you twet?', and thereupon, this here carter he jumps up and says, 'Dannel ye', he says, 'I'll make ye twet afore I've done wud ye!' But afore he could get anigh 'em they was all gone, every one an 'em.

And I've heard my feather say, that from that day forard this here carter's horses fell away, till they got that thin and poor that he couldn't bear to be seen along wid 'em, so he took and went away, for he couldn't abear to see hisself no longer; and nobody aint seen him since."

Another similar but shorter tale was recounted by Latham (1878 p.28) where even though the farmer in question wasn't belligerent, he still managed to upset the fairies :

"A farmer at Washington, who had been often surprised, on going into his barn early in the morning, to see large heaps of corn that had been threshed during the night, determined at last to sit up, and discover, if possible, who the kind friends were who worked so hard and well for him whilst he was taking his rest. So creeping to the barn-door, and looking through a ckink in it, he was astonished at seeing two little fairies working away with their fairy flails, and only stopping for an instant, now and then, to say to eachother, "See how I sweat! See how I sweat!" the very consequence of the "lubbar fiend" in Milton. The farmer in his delight forgetting that fairies are offended if a mortal speaks to them, cried out, with a loud laugh, "Well done, my little men" and instantly (the story says) the little men uttered a wild cry and disappeared, and never more were know to resume their work in that barn."

Even leaving presents for these helpful fairies seems to upset them. Candlin (1943 p.96) records that one such fairy who always wore a tattered hat was left a new one by a grateful farmer, but exclaimed : "New hat, new hat, Dobbs will do no more good", and indeed he didn't. One final variation on the sweating fairies story was given by Beckett (1943 p.283) where the fairies are carrying wheat into the farmers barn. One of the fairies say 'How I do sweat!' at which point the farmer says 'If you sweat for an ear what would you do for a sheaf?' at which the fairies disappear in the usual manner.

Dancing And Natural Proof Of Fairies

Dancing, if you believe the artists, seems to be a primary occupation of fairies. This has a basis in folklore however. Sussex fairies liked to dance and of course the famous 'fairy rings' were places where fairies would dance, though the ring of long dark grass is of course caused by a form of fungus which spreads as it consumes the substance in the soil that it lives on. These rings were sometimes known as "hag tracks", referring to their cause as witchcraft (Lower 1854 p.154). One account of the appearance of such rings is given by Lower (1854 p.157), who recounts the words of one 'Fowington' :

"Besides, though I have never seen any of 'em, my grandmother, who was a very truthful woman, has, time and often. They was liddle folks not more than a foot high, and used to be uncommon fond of dancing. They jound hands and formed a circle, and danced upon it till the grass came three times as green there as it was anywheres else. That's how these here rings come upon the hills. Lestways so they say; but I don't know nothing about it, in tye, for I never seen none an 'em. Besides, there's our old song that we always sing at harvest supper, where it comes in - 'We'll drink and dance like Pharisees'. Now I should like to know why it's put like that 'ere in the song, if it a'nt true."

There are further natural features attributed to the fairies besides fairy-rings. Latham (1878 p.27) describes 'red cup-moss' as 'fairies baths', whilst the puff-ball fungus is known as 'Puck's Stool'.

Fairy Haunts

As well as places for dancing, there are of course times. Midsummer night has been linked with fairies in the popular imagination with the help of Shakespeare and Kipling. In Sussex, Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring, Harrow Hill and Tarberry Hill, all Iron-Age hillforts, are haunted by fairies at midnight on Midsummer Eve (Simpson 1973 p.58,Wales 1990 p.12,Evans 1934 p.433).

Latham (1878 p.16,28) records that Pulborough Mount, as well as containing buried treasure, was the site of a fairy funeral. The mound, lying just to the west of Pulborough, is also known as Park Mound and is a Norman Motte and Bailey.

Harrow Hill near Worthing in West Sussex is the site of a small hillfort and some Neolithic flint mines. According to an old woman who lived on Lee farm, the hill was the last home of the fairies in England. They finally left when the archaeologists came to dig on the hill (Evans 1934 p.432).

Shepherds are always a good source of folklore. In his book, 'The Downland Shepherds', Barclay Wills (1989 p.11) records that Falmer is 'where the fairies live'. Unfortunately he says nothing further about them.

Fairies At Burlough Castle

On the edge of the Downs, near Alfriston on the eastern side of the River Cuckmere in East Sussex is a small eminence called 'Burlough Castle'. While it may have been a castle at some point in its history, there are no stones left now, though it is generally thought to be the site of a Norman motte. Lower (1854 p.158) records a story of a meeting between a human and fairies on the hill, which is quoted here in full :

"When I was a liddle boy and lived with my gurt uncle, old Jan Duly, dere was a old place dey used to call Burlow Castle. It wa'nt much ov a castle - onny a fow old walls like - but it had been a famous place in de time when dere was a king in every county. Well whatever it had been afore, at the time I speak an, it was de very hem of a place for Pharisees, and nobody didn't like to goo by it ahter dark for fear an um. One dee as Chols Packham, uncle's grandfather (I've heard uncle tell de story a dunnamany times), was at plough up dere, jest about cojer time, he heerd a queer sort of a noise right down under de groun dat frightened him uncommonly sure-lie. 'Hullow', says Chols to his mate, 'did you hear dat, Harry?' 'Yahs', says Harry, 'what was it' 'I reckon 'twas a Pharisee', says uncle's grandfather. 'No 'twa'nt', says Harry, 'dere a'nt no Pharisees now. Dere was once - at Jerusalem; but dey was full-growed people, and has been dead hunderds o' years'. Well, while dey was a talkin' Chols heerd de noise agin. 'Help! Help! Help!'. Chols was terribly afeard, but he plucked up heart enough to ax what was wanted. 'I've been a bakin', said de liddle voice, 'and have broken my peel' (dat's a sort o' thing dat's used to put loaves into de oven wud), 'and I dunnow what upon de airth to do'. Under de airth, Chols though she ought to a said, but howsonever he didn't say so. And being a tender hearted kind of a chap dat didn't like any body to be in trouble, he made answer without any peramble, 'Put it up, and I'll try and mend it'. No soonder said dan done; dere was a chink in de groun', for de season was dryish, and sure enough, through dat chink dere come up a liddle peel not bigger dan a bren-cheese knife. Chols couldn't hardly help laughin', it was such a monstus liddle peel, not big enough to hold a gingey-bread nut hardly; but howsonever he thought 'twas too seerous a thing to laugh at, for he knowed of old how dahngerous 'twas to offend any of dem liddle customers. So outs wud a tin-tack or two as he happened to have in his waskit pocket, and wud de help ov his cojer knife for a hammer, and his knee for a bench, he soon mended de peel and put down de chink again. Harry was back-turned while dis was a gooin on, and when he come back Chols up and told him all about it; but Harry said 'twas all stuff, and he didn't believe a word consarnin' ant, for Master Pettit, de parish clerk, had told him 'twas all a galusion, and dere wa'nt no Pharisees now-adays."

" But howsonever he proved to be wrong more ways dan one; for de nixt dee at cojer time when Harry was back-turned agin, Chols Packham heerd de voice as afore a comin' up out ov de chink and a sayin', 'Look here!' Well Chols turned roun', not quite so much frightened dis time, and what should he see standin' close agin de chink but a liddle bowl full of summat dat smelt a hem-an-all better dan small beer. 'Hullow!' thinks Chols to his-self, 'dis is worth havin', he thinks. So he tasted it, and at last drunk it all up; and he 'llowed, dat of all de stuff he ever tasted dat was de very best. He was gooin to save de liddle bowl to show Harry that dere certainly was fairies, but whelst he was a thinking about itk all of a sudden de bowl slipped out of his hands and deshed itself into a hunderd pieces; so dat Harry onny laughed at him, and said 'twas naun but a cracked basin. But howsonever Harry got sarved out for bein' to unbelievin', for he fell into a poor way, and coudn't goo to work as usual, and he got so tedious bad, dat he fell away to mere skin and boan, nd no doctors couldn't do him no good, and dat very day twelmont he died, at de very same hour day de Pharisees was fust heerd, and day he spoke agin 'em.

Fairy Place Names

Since the main source of place names in Sussex is the Saxon language, words in this language for fairy should be looked for. The Old English word Puca or Pucel is probably the closest, and means 'goblin' (Smith 1956 p.74). The word stayed in the local dialect and became Puck or Pook. There are a fair few place names in Sussex relating to fairy folklore. Mawer & Stenton (1930 p.562) go as far as to say that "Sussex was goblin-haunted to an extent without parallel elsewhere". There is a bias towards names in East Sussex, much in the same way as Pagan Saxon Place-Names are. This may by due to the existence of the See of Selsey in West Sussex. East Sussex may have been pagan for longer, which would have affected superstitions such as a belief in fairies. The following list of names is uncritical in its choice for inclusion.

  • The earliest such name recorded in Sussex is in an 8th century Saxon Charter, which describes the boundary of Barnhorne Manor, which lies just to the west of Bexhill (Barker 1947 p.92). One of the points on this boundary is a Pucan Wylle, which translates as Goblin Spring. This is one of the earliest pieces of folklore recorded in Sussex and sets the scene for further names, where 'goblins' are linked with other such natural features.
  • In the same parish we have Polegrove. Recorded in 1375 as Poughgroue and derived from puca (goblin) and graf (grove or copse) (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.493).
  • In the parish of Alciston we have a Pookhill. The place was originally known as Poukehale in 1350 then Pokehale in 1457 and Powkehal(l)e in the 16th century. Mawer & Stenton (1930 p.415) give the derivation as puca (goblin) and healh (nook), but it is also possible that the second element is hall. Though this name is no longer on the map in the parish of Alciston, in the neighbouring parish of Selmeston, there is currently a Pookhill Barn (TQ493077) on the Ordnance Survey maps. On the older maps, Pookhill is marked just to the South-East of this barn, in a detached portion of Alciston parish that is now in Selmeston, so the two do appear to be the same, even if they are sometimes discussed as being in separate parishes.
  • Puckscroft in the parish of Rusper is recorded as Powkhill alias Powcrofts in 1614. The goblin hill mentioned has not survived but the croft (enclosed field) has (Mawer & Stenton 1929 p.233).
  • Pucksroad in Cuckfield parish is not actually a road but a stream. Early forms include Puckeride in 1570 and Pookryde in 1689. The name is also recorded as giving rise to a personal name, that of Radulphus Poukerithe in 1327. The Rithe means stream and it is recorded as being 'A small parcel of land, south of Harvest Hill' whilst the stream was crossed by Pookeborne Bridge (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.265).
  • Puckstye Farm in the parish of Hartfield in the East Sussex weald takes its name from Puca (goblin) and stig (path). It is doubtful this fairy path bears much relation to those found in Ireland, as this is a Saxon rather than a Celtic area. The earliest form of the name is recorded in 1287 as Pukestie followed by Powkestie in 1327, Poukstretes-gate in 1337 and Puckstie alias Puckerstie in 1613 (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.368,Various 1933 p.214).
  • Puxty Wood in the parish of Wadhurst, East Sussex has the same derivation as Puckstye Farm above. This goblin path has given its name to a wood on the side of a hill. Early forms are Puxstye in 1442, Pukstye in 1469, Puxisti in 1499 and Pukkisty in 1500 (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.387).
  • Poppets in the parish of Harting, West Sussex started out as Poukeput in 1350 and derives from puca (goblin) and pytt (pit,hollow). Further forms include Pokeputte (1386) and two field names from 1405, My Lordespokeputt and Townmannespokeputte (Mawer & Stenton 1929 p.37).
  • Purchase Wood in the parish of Brightling has been linked to a much earlier form (Pucelancyrcan) in an Anglo-Saxon charter (BCS no. 887), making it one of the oldest such names and has survived to this day, unlike the Pucan Wylle in the Bexhill Charter. Mawer & Stenton (1930 p.472) give the derivation as from puccel (little goblin) and ersc (ploughed field). Later forms include Pokeleserse in 1176, Poclesherse and Pochelesesse in 1180 and Pokelesherse circa 1200.
  • Pokerlee Farm in Henfield parish, West Sussex, has been suggested as being derived from the Scandinavian 'poker', meaning hobgoblin or bugbear, though names from such sources are rare in Sussex, so this may be another derivation of 'puca' or even the word 'poke', meaning a bag. The second element they give as 'ersc', meaning a ploughed field. Early forms include Pokerle in 1327 and Pokerlye in 1332 (Mawer & Stenton 1929 p.218).
  • Pochlers is a name near Selsey. Mawer & Stenton (1930 p.472) mention the name in relation to Purchase Wood as they believe it to have the same derivation (puccel-ersc,little goblin field). The name given here, the only form, is as recorded in 1561.

Less well described are names such as Pook Pit in the parish of Wadhurst (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.387), Pucks Church Parlour near Seaford (Becket 1943 p.284). A contributor to the Sussex County Magazine gives the name of a lane leading to Angmering church as Pook's Hill (Smail 1940 p.369) whilst another reader believes that there is a Pook's Hill visible from Kipling's house near Burwash (Donne 1946 p.224), though the author of this page can find no other references to the name. The Ordnance Survey record a linear earthwork (TQ445052) on their modern maps which they call Pook's Dyke. It forms part of the parish boundary between Beddingham and Tarring Neville, and though this boundary is shown on the old 6" maps, the name is not. The earthwork is close to the Bronze-Age settlement on Itford Hill and is probably Bronze-Age itself. The Reverend Evans (1940 p.314) gives us a Puccella's Hurst near Netherfield without any further explanation and also lists a Pook Lane near Chichester, which he say was changed to 'World's End'. Another Pook Lane is listed in Sussex Notes & Queries leading from Little Tottingworth Farm to Cade Street. This is presumably the farm track just east of Heathfield at TQ604215 (Macleod 1926 p.103).

A third and final Pook Lane was also given by Evans (1939 p.39) with the interesting aside given by a little girl, that "Father says that this lane has fairies in it". This is the only instance of a placename and folklore going together in Sussex. Another placename connected with a possible sighting is Pookchurch Wood (TQ270295) just east of Handcross. I was sent an image showing someones picture being taken in Pookchurch Wood, with what looks like a very small female figure wearing dark clothes standing in the background. Unfortunately the picture is not that clear, but the person involved is sure that the object in question cannot be explained by 'normal' means. Regarding the name itself, it appears on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps (1879), but the author knows of no other reference. On the north side of the wood is an outcrop of sandstone, and it is this which may possibly give the wood its name. There is a large block of sandstone set apart from the rest of the outcrop, which has a small hole at the base, which is most likely the result of water erosion. My theory is that the local peasants saw this great edifice with an entrance only big enough for a pixie and thought, 'that must be where them fair folk go to pray'. Unfortunately, this theory is backed up by nothing but the placename.

The 'Pookchurch'? The 'entrance'

Additionally, Mawer & Stenton (1930 p.562) discuss the element 'puca' in relation to 'field and other minor names'. They give dates but unfortunately no indication of their location of these goblin haunted places. The list is Pokerithe (1457,goblin stream), Puklane (1455,goblin lane), Poukestrete (1400,goblin street), Pukehole (1327,goblin hollow), Poukehale (1379,goblin nook), Pookehill (1648,goblin hill), Poukham (1418,goblin enclosure), Pukewisse (13th c.,goblin meadow), Pokeryde (1484,goblin stream), Powkeland (1399,goblin land), Powkehagh (1428,goblin clearing) and Poghemill (1324,goblin mill).

Those that can be dismissed are the ever popular Faygate (Mawer & Stenton 1929 p.233,Pooks Farm (Mawer & Stenton 1929 p.214), Pooks Wood (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.460) and Pookreed (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.407).

Modern Literature And Accounts

Traditionally the preserve of the farmers and labourers who lived in the Sussex countryside, fairy folklore was picked up by artists and the romantic middle classes who preserved what they could and invented more besides.

One of the earliest was William Blake who moved from London to the village of Felpham, West Sussex, in 1800, 14 years after he had painted 'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing'. Having a mystical mind and these ideas already in his head, Blake told a friend about a fairy funeral he had seen at the bottom of his garden : "The fairy creatures were the size and colour of green and grey grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared" (Wales 1990 p.13). Despite this, Blake only stayed in Sussex for 3 years due to an altercation with a trespasser.

A writer next, Rudyard Kipling lived first in Rottingdean in East Sussex, but when that area got too populous, he moved to a house called Batemans near Burwash in the East Sussex Weald. It was here that he wrote two books, 'Puck of Pooks Hill' and 'Rewards and Fairies'. In these two books, two Sussex children, living near Pooks Hill (near Batemans?) perform Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' in a fairy ring on Midsummer Eve, causing a fairy named Puck to appear, who introduces to the children many characters from England's history, but removing their memory of the event afterwards.

A popular resurgence of interest in fairies was in part brought about by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was involved with the Cottingley Fairy incident. He was buried at his home, a house called Windlesham near Crowborough. Nearby is Ashdown Forest where it is said that he found the fairy people (Beckett 1930 p.629).

Arthur Beckett, the editor of the "Sussex County Magazine" early in the 20th took up the torch of fairy champion in Sussex in his magazine and his books (Beckett 1943 p.280,1924 p.183), even though he never claimed to have seen them. This was very much a part of the Romantic middle-class revival which was happening at the time. His interest, and that of the Reverend Evans, encouraged people to write in to his magazine with accounts. One interesting article by some Romantic middle-class people tells of an encounter near a chalk pit at Steyning (Russell 1928 p.165) :

Anyway, there were four of us, and we were sitting in the warmth and stillness wishing with all our hearts that we could see a fairy. Absurd wasn't it? and yet - perhaps we believed very firmly, perhaps our imaginations played us tricks. But we all saw him - "a little brown pointy-eared person" though he wasn't as big as Puck. He lay under the shadow of a gorse-bush, not ten feet away. His chin was propped on his hands, his legs were kicking behind him, and he was grinning from ear to ear under the shadow of a tall pointed greeny-brown cap. We stared open-eyed with wonder for quite a minute, then with one accord we crept slowly towards him. Of course he went - how, I don't know. He was there one minute, gone the next. He may have flown, he may just have faded; it is my firm belief that he jumped. However, though extremely disappointed we continued to crawl, and - this for the incredulous - in view of the caustic remarks of grown-ups, we carefully searched that gorse-bush for a leaf, a stone, a twig, anything that might have looked like an elusive, high-capped brown elf. There was literally nothing that could have resembled him in the least, though we went back to where we had been when we saw him first, and stared solemnly through five minutes of mousey-stillness, which to a child is an age.

Another account, this time a WW2 refugee living in Horsham who was out setting rabbit traps (Bord 1997 p.42) :

I decided to sit still and watch, being young I thought the rabbits would come out and I could see them being trapped. As I sat still and waited I suddenly realise that a small hairy man had stepped out from a blackberry bush. He was no more than eighteen inches high and covered in hair. His face was bare but had a leathery look. The nose seemed sharp. I noticed it when it turned away in profile. It definitely had hands. Its arms seemed longer than a human being's. I did not notice his feet. It was definitely substantial, real. It did not notice me, or if it did it did not show it. It turned and disappeared back into the blackberry bush. When I told the couple I was staying with they laughed at me.

More accounts at unidentified locations in West Sussex comes from a book by Conan Doyle himself (1922 p.133,147). The comments regarding the soul probably stem from a later Christian influence on fairy foklore, the religion granting souls to none but human beings.

A lady with whom I have corresponded, Mrs. H., who is engaged in organizing work of the most responsible kind, has had an experience which resembles that of Mrs. Tweedale. "My only sight of a fairy," she says, "was in a large wood in West Sussex, about nine years ago. He was a little creature about half a foot high, dressed in leaves. The remarkable thing about his face was that no soul looked through his eyes. He was playing about in long grass and flowers in an open space." Once again summer is indicated. The length and colour of the creature correspond with Mrs. Tweedale's account, while the lack of soul in the eyes may be compared with the "hard" eyes described by young Baring-Gould.

I have particulars of a case in West Sussex which is analogous, and which I have been able to trace to the very lady to whom it happened. This lady desired to make a rock-garden, and for this purpose got some large boulders from a field hard by, which had always been known as the pixie stones, and built them into her new rockery. One summer evening this lady saw a tiny grey woman sitting on one of the boulders. The little creature slipped away when she knew that she had been observed. Several times she appeared upon the stones. Later the people in the village asked if the stones might be moved back to the field, "as," they said, "they are the pixie stones, and if they are removed from their place, misfortunes will happen to the village." The stones were restored.

Occultists And Elementals

The term elemental is a broad one, originating in Graeco-Roman ideas concerning nature spirits, and while it can be linked specifically to the four traditional elements of earth, air, fire and water, it can also apply to nature spirits and fairies in general, allowing serious occultists to talk about fairies without being laughed at.

It is little known that one of the most famous occultists of our time, Aleister Crowley, spent some of his youth in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where he attempted to summon the Undines (water elementals) near the bandstand! One of Crowley's students, Victor Neuberg, also lived in Sussex and was quite familiar with the countryside. In a book of his poems (Neuberg 1921), Victor gives us Naiads (also water elementals) at Rottingdean, sprites at Coombes and elementals making their way along an old green track near the River Ouse.

A similar event to that noted for Mr. Crowley is recorded by Doreen Valiente (Valinente 1962 p.92) who tells us of a groups of witches summoning water elementals on a Sussex beach. Valiente's work was much influenced by that of Crowley and the summoning ritual contains several elements more familiar to the ceremonial magician.

Resources Resources
  Puck of Pooks Hill at Gutenberg
Rewards and Fairies at Gutenberg
William Blake Archive

Bibliography Bibliography
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Beckett, A. : The Spirit of the Downs, Methuen (6th ed) 1943
Bord, J. : Fairies: Real Encounters With Little People, London: Michael O'Mara 1997
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Conan Doyle, A : The Coming Of The Fairies, 1922
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Evans, A.A. : A Countryman's Diary, SCM Vol. 8, No. 7 1934
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Smith, A.H. : English Place-Name Elements, Vol. 2 Cam. U.P. 1956
Stenning, I.M. : When We Were Children, SCM Vol. 26, No. 9 1952
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Valiente, D. : Where Witchcraft Lives, Aquarian Press 1962
Various : The Place-Names of Sussex: Corrigenda and Addenda, SNQ Vol.4, No.7 1933
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