Myths & Legends

by Jackie Huck

Chairman, Bernard Thornborrow welcomed everyone to the April Meeting, of Orton and Tebay Local History Society, held at the Market Hall Orton.

 Heather Ballentyne, introduced Alan Cleaver, who narrated the stories, and Leslie Park, who read poems and newspaper artcles, spoke on ‘Local Myths and Legends’. They have been keen collectors of stories about witches, wizards, ghosts, stone circles, holy wells etc. for many years, and have produced a number of detailed booklets on the subject which are available as a collection called "Stange Cumbria" or as individual booklets

 They said that Orton and Tebay was an interesting centre for unusual stories, including that of Mary Baines, the Tebay Witch.(See our Legends Page). Mary was born in 1721, lived in old Tebay, and remained a spinster to her death in 1811. She was reputed to have been extremely ugly, and was feared by the community. She is said to have had magical powers, being able to cast spells, turn herself into a hare, and foresee the future. Mary famously said that ‘horseless carriages would come over Loupsfell’ which predicted the coming of the railway. On another occasion a man who killed Mary’s cat, was blinded soon after in a farming accident, she was obviously not a lady to cross.

 Another fascinating character from the past, was Dr. Fairer of Redgill,(See Our Articles Page), whose tomb can still be found in Orton Church Yard. Known as a wizard, or wise man he wrote a number of books on magic, including the Book of Black Art, about astronomy. Unlike Mary, Dr. Fairer was known as an anti-conjurer, and was well liked. Many years after his death his legend grew, and he was said to have been able to cast love spells, find lost cattle and cleanse bewitched houses.
 The final legend they spoke about was the famous Orton Dobbie. The strange happenings began on 20th April 1849, at Cowpers Farm, Gaisgill. It happened on the 5th anniversary of the drowning of a family member, and included a cradle being moved, furniture dancing around and a milk churn moving. Even the neighbours came round to see the unexplained incidents, which were believed to be the work of the devil. As word spread it became a national sensation, and people flocked from all over the country to the farm.
 Then the maid-servant Ann Linsay confessed to the police that it was a hoax, perpetrated by herself and her mistress, but only a week later this story was retracted, the girl saying she had been threatened with prison if she had not made the statement, so the mystery remained unsolved.

 Bernard thanked Alan and Leslie for a very enjoyable talk, and the meeting finished with refreshments