Weird Suffolk: Have you seen the Stowmarket fairies?
PUBLISHED: 19:26 09 February 2018
In folklore there are the gossamer-winged folk who live at the bottom of the garden and create magical rings of mushrooms with a touch of fairy dust.
But in Stowmarket, some of the fairy tales passed down through generations are actually scary tales: fairies swapping babies and leaving heartbroken parents with changelings, while others tell of mysterious gatherings of doll-like creatures dancing hand-in-hand, silently under the moonlight.
In the Reverend Arthur Hollingsworth’s famous book about the history of Stowmarket, published in 1844, there are tales of Suffolk’s famous ferishers or feriers which lived in an area “remarkable for fairy stories, ghost adventures and other marvellous legends”.
Tavern Street in the town was frequented by fairies in mid-1700s: “They never appeared s long as anyone was about. People used to lie hid to see them and some have seen them. Once in particular by a wood-stack up near the brick-yard there was a large company of them dancing, singing and playing music together,” wrote Rev Hollingsworth.
“They were very small people, quite little creatures and very merry. But as soon as they say anybody, they all vanished away. In the houses, after they had fled, on going upstairs, sparks of fire as bright as stars used to appear under the feet of the persons who disturbed them.”
Another of Hollingsworth’s informants used to live at one of the cottages in the Hop Ground on Bury Road and recalled an incident which happened in 1822.
“Not far from three ashen trees, in very bright moonlight, I saw the fairies,” the man said.
“There might be a dozen of them, the biggest about three feet high and small ones, like dolls. Their dresses sparkled as if with spangles, like the girls at shows at Stow Fair. They were moving round hand-in-hand, no noise came from them. They seemed light and shadowy, not like solid bodies. I passed on saying ‘the Lord have mercy on me, but them must be the fairies’. I looked after then when I got over the style and there they were, just same.
“I ran home and called three women to come back with me and see them, but when we got to the place, they were all gone. I was quite sober at the time…”
Stowmarket, it seems, is quite the place for fairy sightings: another tale was recorded by a lady in her late 70s whose father had been a maker of leather breeches in the town. She recounted a tale that had been passed down to her about the time that either she, or her sister, had almost been spirited away by fairy folk.
Her mother had been asleep in bed with her father and the child by her side. She woke in night and in the half-light, saw that the child was missing.
Instantly panicked that her baby had been stolen by malevolent forces, she jumped out of bed and saw something quite extraordinary.
“A number of little sandy things had got the baby at the foot of the bed and were undressing it. They fled away through a hole in the floor, laughing as if they shrieked, and – snatching up her child, on examination she found that they had laid all the pins head to head as they took them out of the dress,” the woman said, recounting the tale.
“For months afterwards she always slept with the child between herself and her husband and used carefully to pin it by its bed clothes to the pillow and sheets that it might not be snatched hastily away.” The woman explained that her mother had always been frightened of fairies, having been told herself of a story of a child swapped for a fairy child who was sickly.
Every morning, the woman who had received the changeling found money in her pocket as recompense for caring for a child which was not her own.