Dancing fairies, jumping devils and all-female cuckoo clans – Sussex is home to some truly weird and wonderful beliefs, customs and tales.
The historic county’s folklore includes fairies, dragons, ghosts, and the devil, and is often inspired by the hills and forests of the landscape.
Sussex is home to Knuckers, a kind of water dragon which lives in ‘knuckerholes’, and fairies play a significant role in local folklore. Hilaire Belloc, a writer and historian who grew up in Sussex, once recounted the story that the fairies would come out to dance in fairy rings on Halloween, and Rudyard Kipling wrote two stories about Sussex fairies. Sussex has several landscape features named after the devil, including Devil’s Dyke, Devil’s Bog, Devil’s Book, the Devil’s Ditch, the Devil’s Humps, the Devil’s Jumps and the Devil’s Road.
In her 1878 work West Sussex Superstitions, Charlotte Lathan collected a list of the signs that the inhabitants of Sussex put their faith in.
This includes cutting one’s nails on a Monday morning without thinking of a fox’s tale in order to receive a present, looking for a lucky nine peas in the first pod you gather, and listening out for the cuckoo. Every cuckoo in Sussex is said to be female, and will ‘bring good tidings and tell us no lies’.
Chichester is home to some fascinating folklore.
A heron which lands on the Chichester Cathedral’s spire warns of the Bishop’s impending death, and a Roman centurion haunts the Chichester Inn.
To celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1, Chichester’s shops would sell small white-iced cakes representing the saints’ white robes in Heaven. On December 31, people would dance around the Market Cross to see the New Year in.
Around the area from Bosham to Fishbourne, it is said that Bevis the Giant used to wash his dogs here on the way to Arundel from Southampton, and would give the church his staff. Maybe this was how the village maypole was restored?
At Washington, there is a story of the Pharisees (or Sussex fairies) who were congratulated for their work by the farmer, which greatly offended them. They never helped him again.
At Selsey Bill, the bells of the sunken cathdral of St Wilfred are said to still ring underwater.
The King’s Graves, or Devil’s Humps, at Kingley Vale are said to be the timbs of Viking leaders, who were buried in 894. The battlefield site is marked by yews, and the woods are said to be haunted byVikings or druids. Some say that the tree themselves come to life, and move around.
The Buttery cafe on South Street is said to be home to a naughty spook who pinches the waitresses’ bottoms, and reports of a ghostly lady dressed in black with long hair have been made at Willow Cottage on Fishbourne Road West.
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