Mike Covell investigates Sweet Fanny Adams and other tall tales about Hull

The abduction of Fanny Adams, as depicted by the Illustrated Police News.

A few years ago, I was taking a party on a ghost walk around Hull when they asked me about a number of stories that I had never heard of.

Intrigued, I discovered that a so-called “psychic” was responsible for these tales and had told them to a lot of people.

I decided to look into the stories to discover whether there was any truth behind them.

Hull has more than its fair share of myths and tall tales. It is a city full of weird and wonderful stories that are, nevertheless, nonsense, historically speaking at least.

So join me for a quick-fire tour of murders that didn’t happen, headless people who didn’t exactly lose their heads, lipless ladies, and the story of a polar bear being buried under a Hull road. Continue reading “Mike Covell investigates Sweet Fanny Adams and other tall tales about Hull”

The 1801 Hull UFO revisited – with a Wokingham link

Moon occluded by clouds over San Diego, California (Picture: Rufustelestrat via Wikimedia Commons)

What was the strange, unexplained phenomenon seen above Hull in 1801: a rare weather event, or perhaps a UFO?

The supernatural sighting was described in newspapers of the time as resembling an “immense moon with a black bar across”, which then split into seven “globes of fire”. During the time it was visible, a faint blue light fell on the surrounding area.

Mike Covell, local historian and expert in all things strange and unexplained, discovered the obscure reference a few years ago and, during a former life at the Hull Daily Mail, I was lucky enough to collaborate with him on an article about it.

Our report, published in November 2015, soon went viral and was picked up by several national newspapers, which branded it, with admirable hyperbole, “Britain’s first UFO sighting”.

Unfortunately, our original is no longer online (the HDM lost much of its archive when it moved to a new website last year) but I recently came across a copy on archive.org and was as intrigued as ever. Continue reading “The 1801 Hull UFO revisited – with a Wokingham link”

The meaning of From Hell, Hull and Halifax and why you would have feared all three

Jack Sparrow is sentenced to hang in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In Hull, the harsh treatment handed out to felons was legendary.

From Hell, Hull and Halifax, May The Good Lord Deliver Us.

The famous line originates in the Beggars’ Litany, an old saying popular in the 17th century.

It is best-known from a poem by John Taylor, who visited Hull in 1622 and wrote a description of the town in verse. However, it may already have been well known in Taylor’s time.

James Joseph Sheahan, in his history of Hull (1864), suggested the line was of “ancient date”.

He wrote: “In it he (Taylor) alludes to the well known line in the beggar and vagrants’ litany – ‘From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, good Lord deliver us;” and also to the “Hull cheese … the mightiest ale in England.”

The proverb had taken its origin “from the severe measures adopted by the magistrates of Hull and Halifax, at various times, to suppress vice,” Sheahan said. Continue reading “The meaning of From Hell, Hull and Halifax and why you would have feared all three”

Witches and black magic died hard in superstitious East Yorkshire

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins in the 1968 film, Witchfinder General.

Some time in the middle years of the 19th century, an East Yorkshireman had grown sick and his horse had died. One night, when the afflicted fellow and his wife were sat by the fire, the kitchen clock began to moan.

Terrified, and convinced they had been bewitched, they called a wise man, ‘J.S.’, who was brought to the house by a coachman.

At midnight, J.S. began a ritual to defeat the witch; he read the Lord’s Prayer backwards, tore the heart from a still-living black hen, punctured it with pins and buried it. Then, as he chanted to evil spirits, he performed a conjuring trick with some “fizzing stuff” that made water boil furiously, an effect so impressive that when he offered to summon the prince of darkness himself, the coachman begged him to stop.

It may read like a scene from a Hammer Horror film, but there is reason to believe the tale is at least partly true. The events, which happened in the ancient village of Kirkburn, were recorded a few years later by a Dr Wood, of Driffield, who had heard it from the coachman. The mysterious ‘J.S.’, from Haisthorpe, was renowned as a faith healer with magical powers. On one occasion he “healed” a woman at Speeton who had been bedridden for years. The grateful woman, gripped by a religious frenzy, led her friends singing and dancing through Bridlington. Continue reading “Witches and black magic died hard in superstitious East Yorkshire”

A cannibal werewolf ‘lived on Read’s Island in the River Humber’

Le Werwolf, by Félicien Rops.

Look out Old Stinker: an obscure legend suggests Hull’s infamous werewolf may have a rival.

The story goes that, many moons ago, a vagabond set up home on lonely Read’s Island, in the Humber Estuary, and scraped a living as a ferryman.

At that time, scores of people from the district went missing in mysterious circumstances.

The vagabond came under suspicion and, acting on information from his passengers, the authorities raided his pitiful shack and discovered piles of skeletons and bones.

He was arrested and accused of cannibalism, but at his trial he transformed into a howling werewolf. Continue reading “A cannibal werewolf ‘lived on Read’s Island in the River Humber’”