Hob-Thross

Hob-Thross

Millom's bold lords and knights of old
Quaff'd their mead from cups of gold.
A lordly life was theirs, and free,
With revel and joust and minstrelsy.
Their fields were full, and their waters flow'd;
On a hundred steeds their warriors rode:
And glorious still as their line began,
It broaden'd out as it onward ran.

Millom's proud courts had page and groom,
To serve in hall, to wait in room;
Maid and squire in fair array:
But better than these, at close of day—
Better than groom or page in hall,
Than maid and squire, that came at a call,
Was the Goblin Fiend, that shunn'd their sight,
And wrought for the lords of Millom by night.

When sleepy maidens left their fires,
Hob-Thross forth from barns and byres
Came tumbling in, and stretching his form
Out over the hearthstone bright and warm,
He folded his stunted thumbs, to dream
For an idle hour ere he sipp'd his cream;
Or smoothed his wrinkled visage to gaze
On his hairy length at the kindly blaze.

His snipp'd brown bowl of creamy store
Set nightly—nothing Hob wanted more.
He scoured, and delved, and groom'd, and churned;
But favour or hire he scorned and spurned.
Leave him alone to will and to do,
Never were hand and heart so true.
Tempt him with gift, or lay out his hire—
Farewell Hob to farm and fire.

Blest the manor, and blest the lord,
That had Hob to work by field and board!
Blest the field, and blest the farm,
That Hob would keep from waste and harm!
Or ever a wish was fairly thought,
Hob was ready, and all was wrought;
Was grain to be cut, or housed the corn,
All was finish'd 'twixt night and morn.

Millom's great lords rode round their land
With courteous speech and bounteous hand.
Hob-Thross too went forth to roam;
Made every hearth in Millom his home.
He thresh'd the oats, he churn'd the cream,
He comb'd the manes of the stabled team,
And fodder'd them well with corn and hay,
When the lads were laggards at peep of day.

Millom's good lord said—"Nights are cool;
Weave Hob a coat of the finest wool.
Service long he has tender'd free:
Of the finest wool his hood shall be."—
For his service good, in that ancient hold,
To them and to theirs for ages told,
They wove him a coat of the finest wool,
And a hood to wrap him when nights were cool.

It broke his peace, and he could not stay.
Hob took the clothes and went his way.
He wrapp'd him round and he felt him warm:
But his life at Millom lost all its charm.
Night and day there was heard a wail
In his ancient haunts, through wind and hail,—
"Hob has got a new coat and new hood,
And Hob no more will do any good."

Blight and change pass'd over the place.
Came to end that ancient race.
Millom's great lords were found alone
Stretch'd in chancels, carved in stone.
Gone to dust was all their power;
Spiders wove in my lady's bower.
While Hob in his coat and hood of green
Went wooing by night the Elfin Queen.

Call him to field, or wish him in stall,
Hob-Thross answers no one's call.
The snipp'd brown bowls of cream in vain
On the hearths he loved are placed again.
The old and glorious days are flown.
Hob is too proud or lazy grown;
Or he goes in his coat and his hood of green
By night a-wooing the Elfin Queen.

Notes to "Hob-Thross."

The lords of Millom are connected with an ancient legend of Egremont Castle, which is given elsewhere, and which especially alludes to the horn and hatterell which they bore on their helmets. This crest is said to have been assumed in the time of Henry I., on the occasion of the grant of this seignory by the Lord of Egremont to Godard de Boyvill or Boisville, whose descendants retained possession of the greater part of it for about one hundred years when it became vested by marriage in Sir John Hudleston, whose pedigree is alleged to be traceable for five generations before the Conquest. In this family it remained for about five hundred years, when, for failure of male issue it was sold to Sir James Lowther, nearly a century ago. The names of the first possessors are now almost forgotten in their own lands. The castle is of great antiquity. It is uncertain at what date it was originally built; but it was fortified and embattled by Sir John Hudleston, in 1335. In ancient times it was surrounded by a fine park, of which there are some scanty remains on a ridge to the north. The great square tower is still habitable, though its old battlements are gone. The castle was invested during the parliamentary war, and the old vicarage house was pulled down at the same time, "lest the rebels should take refuge there." There are traces of the ancient moat still visible. Between the broken pillars of an old gateway, an avenue leads to the front of the ruin, which, though not of great extent, presents a fine specimen of the decayed pomp of early times. The walls of the court yard are all weather-stained and worn; and, here and there, delicate beds of moss have crept over them, year after year, so long, that the moist old stones are now matted with hues of great beauty. The front of the castle is roofless, and some parts of the massive walls are thickly clothed with ivy. A fine flight of worn steps leads up through the archway, to the great tower, in the inner court. Above the archway a stone shield bears the decayed heraldries of the Hudleston family; and these arms appear, also, on a slab in the garden wall, and in other parts of the buildings. The front entrance of the great tower, from the inner court, when open, shews within a fine old carved staircase, which leads one to suppose that the interior may retain many of its ancient characteristics.

The church is a venerable building, with its quaint little turret, containing two bells. The edifice consists of a nave and chancel, a south aisle, and a modern porch on the same side. The aisle was the burial place of the Hudlestons. Here is an altar-tomb, ornamented with Gothic tracery and figures bearing shields of arms, on which recline the figures of a knight and his lady, in alabaster, very much mutilated. The knight is in plate armour, his head resting on a helmet, and having a collar of S.S.; the lady is dressed in a long gown and mantle, with a veil. They appear to have originally been painted and gilt, but the greater part of the colouring has been rubbed off. Near the altar-tomb are the very mutilated remains of a knight, carved in wood, apparently of the fourteenth century. A few years ago there was a lion at his feet. A mural marble tablet to the memory of the Hudleston family is on the wall of the aisle.

The lordship of Millom is the largest seignory within the barony of Egremont; its ancient boundaries being described as the river Duddon on the east, the islands of Walney and Piel de Foudray on the south, the Irish Sea on the west, and the river Esk and the mountains Hardknot and Wrynose on the north. It anciently enjoyed great privileges: it was a special jurisdiction into which the sheriff of the county could not enter: its lords had the power of life and death, and enjoyed jura regalia  in the six parishes forming their seignory, namely, Millom, Bootle, Whicham, Whitbeck, Corney, and Waberthwaite. Mr. Denton, writing in 1688, says that the gallows stood on a hill near the Castle, on which criminals had been executed within the memory of persons then living. To commemorate the power anciently possessed by the lords of this seignory, a stone has recently been erected with this inscription—"Here the Lords of Millom exercised Jura Regalia."

This lordship still retains its own coroner.

A small nunnery of Benedictines formerly existed within this seignory, at Lekely in Seaton, which lies westward from Bootle, near the sea. The precise date of its foundation cannot be ascertained: but it appears to have taken place on or before the time of Henry Boyvill, the fourth lord of Millom, who lived about the commencement of the thirteenth century; and who "gave lands in Leakley, now called Seaton, to the nuns;" and who in the deed of feofment of the manor of Leakley made by the said Henry to Goynhild, his daughter, on her marriage with Henry Fitz-William, excepts "the land in Leakley which I gave to the holy nuns serving God and Saint Mary in Leakley."

The nunnery was dedicated to St. Leonard; and was so poor that it could not sufficiently maintain the prioress and nuns. Wherefore the Duke of Lancaster, afterwards Henry IV., by his charter, in 1357, granted to them in aid the hospital of St. Leonard, at Lancaster, with power to appoint the chantry priest to officiate in the said hospital. At the dissolution the possessions of the priory were only of the annual value of £12 12s. 6d. according to Dugdale, or £13 17s. 4d. by Speed's valuation.

When at the suppression of Abbeys it came to the crown, Henry VIII. gave the site and lands at Seaton to his servant Sir Hugh Askew, and his heirs. This Knight was descended from Thurston de Bosco, who lived in the days of King John at a place then called the Aikskeugh, or Oakwood, near Millom, and afterwards at Graymains, near Muncaster; and from a poor estate was raised to great honour and preferment, by his service to King Henry VIII. in his house and in the field. Anne Askew, whose name stands so eminent in the annals of martyrology, was one of his descendants.

There are few remains of the convent now left: some part of the priory-chapel is still standing, particularly a fine window with lancets, in the style of the thirteenth century. Seton-Hall, formerly a part of the conventual buildings, and subsequently the residence of Sir Hugh Askew, is now occupied as a farm house.

Of Seton and Sir Hugh Askew, we have the following quaint story in Sandford's M.S. account of Cumberland:—

"Ffour miles southward stands Seaton, an estate of £500 per annum, sometimes a religious house, got by one Sir Hugo Askew, yeoman of the sellar to Queen Catherine in Henry Eight's time, and born in this contry. And when that Queen was divorced from her husband, this yeoman was destitute. And he applied for help to (the) Lo. Chamberlain for some place or other in the King's service. The Lord Steward knew him well, because he had helpt to a cup (of) wine ther before, but told him he had no place for him but a charcoal carrier. 'Well' quoth this monsir Askew, 'help me in with one foot, and let me gett in the other as I can.' And upon a great holiday, the king looking out at some sports, Askew got a courtier, a friend of his, to stand before the king; and Askew gott on his velvet cassock and his gold chine, and basket of chercole on his back, and marched in the king's sight with it. 'O,' saith the king, 'now I like yonder fellow well, that disdains not to do his dirty office in his dainty clothes: what is he?' Says his friend that stood by on purpose, 'It is Mr Askew, that was yeoman of the sellar to the late Queen's M tie , and now glad of this poor place to keep him in your ma tie's  service, which he will not forsake for all the world.' The king says, 'I had the best wine when he was i'th cellar. He is a gallant wine-taster: let him have his place againe;' and after knighted him; and he sold his place, and married the daughter of Sir John Hudleston; (and purchased[1] this religious place of Seaton, nye wher he was borne, of an ancient freehold family,) and settled this Seaton upon her, and she afterwards married monsir Penengton, Lo: of Muncaster, and had Mr. Joseph and a younger son with Penington, and gave him this Seaton."

A brass plate on the south wall of the chancel of Bootle Church, bears the effigies of a knight in armour, with the following inscription in old English characters, indicating his tomb. "Here lieth Sir Hughe Askew, knyght. late of the seller to Kynge Edward the VI. which Sir Hughe was made knyght, at Musselborough felde, in ye yeare of our Lord, 1547, and died the second day of Marche, in the yere of our Lord God, 1562."

Among the local spirits of Cumberland, whose existence is believed in by the vulgar, is one named Hob-Thross, whom the old gossips report to have been frequently seen in the shape of a "Body aw ower rough," lying by the fire side at midnight. He was one of the class of creatures called Brownies, and according to popular superstition, had especially attached himself to the family at Millom Castle. He was a solitary being, meagre, flat-nosed, shaggy and wild in his appearance, and resembled the "lubbar fiend," so admirably described by Milton in L'Allegro. Gervase of Tilbury speaks of him as one of the "dæmones, senile vultu, facie corrugata, statura pusilli, dimidium pollicis non habentes." In the day time he lurked in remote recesses of the old houses which he delighted to haunt; and, in the night, sedulously employed himself in discharging any laborious task which he thought might be acceptable to the family, to whose service he had devoted himself. He loved to stretch himself by the kitchen fire when the menials had taken their departure. Before the glimpse of morn he would execute more work than could be done by a man in ten days. He did not drudge from the hope of recompense: on the contrary, so delicate was his attachment, that the offer of reward, but particularly of food, infallibly would occasion his disappearance for ever. He would receive, however, if placed for him in a snipped pot, a quart of cream, or a mess of milk-porridge. He had his regular range of farm houses; and seems to have been a kind spirit, and willing to do any thing he was required to do. The servant girls would frequently put the cream in the churn, and say, "I wish Hob would churn that," and they always found it done. Hob's readiness to fulfil the wishes of his friends was sometimes productive of ludicrous incidents. One evening there was every prospect of rain next day, and a farmer had all his grain out. "I wish," said he, "I had that grain housed." Next morning Hob had housed every sheaf, but a fine stag which had helped him was lying dead at the barn door. The day however became extremely fine, and the farmer thought his grain would have been better in the field: "I wish," said he, "that Hob-Thross was in the mill-dam;" next morning all the farmer's grain was in the mill-dam. Such were the tales which were constantly told of the Millom Brownie, and as constantly believed. He left the country at last, through the mistaken kindness of some one, who made him a coat and hood to keep him warm during the winter. He was heard at night singing at his favourite haunts for a while about his apparel, and "occupation gone," and at length left the country.

The Cumberland tradition affirms that those persons who on Fasting's-Even, as Shrove Tuesday is vulgarly called in the North of England, do not eat heartily, are crammed with barley chaff by Hob-Thross: and so careful are the villagers to set the goblin at defiance, that scarcely a single hind retires to rest without previously partaking of a hot supper.

Sir Walter Scott tells us that the last Brownie known in Ettrick Forest, resided in Bodsbeck, a wild and solitary spot, near the head of Moffat Water, where he exercised his functions undisturbed, till the scrupulous devotion of an old lady induced her to hire him away, as it was termed, by placing in his haunt a porringer of milk and a piece of money. After receiving this hint to depart, he was heard the whole night to howl and cry, "Farewell to bonnie Bodsbeck!" which he was compelled to abandon for ever.

[1]Qu. Had a grant of?