LAY OF THE LAND

The Nafferton Fairy Stone (site of) – Driffield

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Nafferton Slack (east side)

  The Nafferton Fairy Stone originally stood alongside the road between Nafferton village and Driffield in East Yorkshire.

 In his book ‘East Yorkshire Folklore’, John Nicholson records …

About half way down the hill forming the eastern slope of Nafferton Slack, by the road-side, to prevent waggons leaving the roadway, stood a large stone, which was believed to have wonderful powers. At night, at certain seasons, it glowed like fire, sometimes it seemed but the portal of a well-lighted hall ; and one old stone-breaker declared he had heard wonderful music issuing therefrom, the like of which he had never heard before ; while on one occasion he had seen troops of gaily-dressed elfins repairing thither, some on foot and some in carriages, and they all went into this mysterious hall. The old man is dead, the stone is gone, and the fairies have departed.” (Nicholson, 1890).

  Nicholson was writing in the late 1800’s, and received information about the Fairy Stone from an old road mender, so his account relates to a time earlier in that century. The Fairy Stone is not marked on the first edition OS map of 1850, which might suggest that it had already disappeared before that date.

  Nafferton Slack is a north-south running stream which forms the parish boundary between Nafferton village to the east and Driffield town to the west. The land rises gently either side of the stream, with the modern road dropping down into this dip before crossing the stream and continuing on towards Driffield. The modern tarmac road is smooth and level, but in the 1800’s it would have been a narrower uneven dirt track, and with the slope of the land, the Fairy Stone most likely stood on its south side – if it was there to prevent wagons running off the track. It is stated as being a ‘large stone’, and if it could deflect a loaded wagon, this suggests a sizeable rock of some length and height embedded into the verge.

  From Nicholson’s description it is possible to suggest the approximate location of the Fairy Stone by the road today – somewhere near the two trees on the hill slope. Interestingly one of these is a Hawthorn – the tree most associated with the fairy folk.

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Suggested location of the Fairy Stone by the trees

  The old man’s story of the stone glowing brightly at certain times of the year, and the fairy folk entering the rock, ties in with wider fairy beliefs. In the past it was believed that on May Eve and Halloween the fairy folk moved between their summer and winter residencies. These were often rounded hills, burial mounds, ancient earthworks, and caves etc. The choice seems to have been for places above ground where a doorway (normally invisible to humans) would lead into the earth and the fairy Otherworld. Sometimes these doorways were left open, so any passing human might see the fairy folk coming and going, or witness them feasting with music and dance.

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The Fairy Hill by Beatrice Glenavy

  As with other boundary locations, Nafferton Slack seems to have been a focus for supernatural activity. As well as a fairy dwelling place, the devil and a witch also put in an appearance. In the early 1800’s Driffield was home to a wise woman called Susannah Gore, who practised divination to locate stolen property as well as telling fortunes, advising on money matters and affairs of the heart. Although she helped people, she was also feared, and some called her the ‘Barrow Witch’, saying that she had received her powers from the devil in exchange for her soul. One story relates how she met the devil in a cottage at Nafferton Slack where they began to fight so violently that the cottage collapsed, and she was later seen flying back to Driffield with her broomstick on fire.

Looking towards Driffield

  How these stories of glowing stones, fairies, witches and the Devil came to be connected with Nafferton Slack is unclear, but in the past this was probably quite a spooky location for anyone travelling the road late at night between Nafferton and Driffield. Passing the isolated large stone standing by the road side, and a tumbled down cottage nearby, both on a lonely stretch of road. The dip in the road would only add to this seclusion, with Nafferton and Driffield no longer visible in the distance (See the Bosky Dike Bargheust for a similar isolated spot).

After Thoughts
  The Barrow Witch name is of interest because Susannah Gore was apparently widely known across the East Yorkshire region by this name. The assumption seems to have been that although she was from Driffield she must have lived in Barrow at some time. However an alternative explanation for the name could be that her divination practices involved visiting ancient burial mounds or ‘barrows’. This was an old divination technique used by Viking wise women, and was called Utiseti or ‘Sitting out’, They would sit out or sleep on a burial mound over night, and the ancestor spirits provided answers to them in their dreams. (See the Nanny Howe post for more about Utiseti).

  This possible burial mound connection might go some way to explaining the Nafferton Slack folklore. The OS map shows several ancient burial mounds still exist around Driffield – one called Cheesecake Hill is located 800m to the south of The Fairy Stone site, and an area to the north of the stone is known as Howedale. Was this the real reason why Susannah Gore – the ‘Barrow Witch’, was at Nafferton Slack, and met the ‘devil’ there?
Given the record of burial mounds in this area, and that fairy folk were also connected with burial mounds, there is a possibility that the Fairy Stone was originally part of a burial mound that was cut through by the road, and later ploughed out in the adjacent field. The passage of time has seen many burial mounds totally disappear in this area, along with the Fairy Stone and the cottage.

As Nicholson wrote …. “The old man is dead, the stone is gone, and the fairies have departed.”
–  i don’t blame them!


 Reference
Nicholson, J. (1890) Folklore of East Yorkshire.

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