Alderman and Alphin

This is adapted from “Saddleworth Superstitions and Folk Customs” by Ammon Wrigley, so around the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashire, but historically it was West Yorkshire!

In Greenfield, on either sides of the valley, lived two giants called Alderman and Alphin. Nearby in a hollow of the moors, near Holme Moss, there lived a beautiful shepherdess called Rimmon. She was fair, tall, and most lovable. She had no extravagent tastes and cared little for fine clothes, often even going about quite naked, with nothing but a bit of heather in her hair.

In Rimmon Clough, which runs down to Sail Bark, there is a pool where she used to bathe on summer mornings, before walking through the long grass and bracken while she dried before getting dressed once more.

The sight of her shapely figure walking naked across the moor drove Alphin and Alderman to fall madly in love with her.

Rimmon flirted with both, enjoying the attention, before making her mind up to smile and blow kisses at Alphin, giving Alderman the cold shoulder. The two giants at once fell out with each other over the shepherdess, arguing and insulting one another.

One morning, through the mist, he caught Alphin embracing and kissing the lady Rimmon. Alderman flew into a jealous rage, damning them both in the ripest language, but the lovers laughed at him and embraced again.

Alderman stormed off to his hill side, rolled up his sleeves, and hurled a great mass of rock at Alphin. These were returned with interest, with Rimmon encouraging her lover, from a safe distance, to fling several tons of stone back at him. Huge rocks and boulder were flung back and forth, until one huge rock knocked the life out of poor Alphin.

Alderman came straight to woo Rimmon, despite just killing her lover. He called her nice names, praising her beauty, her eyes, her waist, her ankles, and more… He promised her all manners of gifts and asked her to sit on his knee.

Rimmon was understandably furious and not at all open to his advances. She spat in his face, called him “too ill to brun”, and all the names under the sun. As her initial anger was spent, her grief took over and she began to weep and wail over her dead Alphin. In despair and grief, she threw herself down a precipice, ending her life.

Alderman returned to his his hillside and to this day glowers at his dead rival on the other side of the valley, as they both slowly petrified to stone over the passing years.

Wadda of Mulgrave, and Bell, his wife

Large standing stone in the centre of a field, trees in background

I always appreciate the “proof” you often find in stories about the devil or about giants.., just look for the stones mentioned for proof of Wadda’s existence 🙂

In the distance past, before the Norman invasion of these lands, a castle stood a few miles North West of Whitby, near Lythe, called Mulgrave Castle.

It stood on a hill side, but on a higher, craggier hill nearby, now stands a pile of stones known as Wadda’s grave. The local people say that this is the grave of a giant, who built Mulgrave Castle.

Wadda and his wife, Bell, between them built both the old Mulgrave castle and Pickering Castle too, some twenty or so miles apart.

Wadda was said to be one of the plotters involved in the murder of Ethelred, the King of Northumberland, and needed to build himself a stronger castle. Unfortunately, Bell had already started building Pickering Castle, and they only had one hammer between them.

Rather than work on one and then the other, they each worked alone, throwing the hammer the twenty or more miles between them. They did this with ease, just shouting beforehand, so the other was ready to catch it!

The Roman road, too, which crosses this part of the country, is named Wadde’s Causeway, and was formed by the same couple for the convenience of Bell crossing the moor to milk her cow.

Wadda did the paving while his wife brought the stones in her apron. Her apron occasionally slipped, with the stones falling to the ground. Evidence of this can still be found in the area, with large heaps of stones still visible nearby.

This worthy couple had a son, also called Wadda, whose strength was equally as marvellous as that of his parents. One day, when still little more than an infant, being impatient for his mother’s breast, while she was away milking her cow near Swart Hole, he seized an enormous stone, and, in a most impatient and rude manner, hurled it at her across the valley, and knocked her to the ground. She was barely hurt, yet so great was the violence with which she was struck that a considerable dent was made in the stone!

This stone remained until recent years, showing proof again of the family’s great strength, though it was broken up to mend the highways not long ago.

If anyone should need further proof of the existence of these giants, look at the hill by Leland, near the site of the old castle of Mulgrave, and you will see where Wadda and Bell were buried. Two upright stones stand some twelve feet apart, marking the head and foot of the giants’ grave.

The Giant of Dalton Mill

A story about Jack and a giant… but not *that* one! This one used to have proof it was real in and old mill!

At Dalton, in the parish of Topcliffe, there was formerly an old cornmill, with the miller’s house attached. In front of the miller’s house there was a long ridge, or mound, known as the ‘Giant’s Grave,’ and in the mill was preserved a long, straight instrument, like a large sword, or straightened scythe-blade, believed to have been the giant’s knife.

While the mill stood, these mementoes were visible for all to see the truth of the story of the Giant of Dalton Mill.

This giant had the same taste for bread made of human bones as had the one, in a more familiar story, who is accused of declaring:


‘Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread’


One day the giant of Dalton captured a youth, on the adjoining wilds of Pilmoor, whom he led home, and kept secluded in the mill, working as the giant’s servant, but always denied freedom or time off.

Jack, the lad mentioned, was determined to have a holiday at the approaching Topcliffe fair. The fair day came, on one of the hot days of July, and, after a hearty meal, the giant lay down in the mill for his afternoon nap, still holding the knife with which he had been cutting his loaf of bone flour bread.

As sleep overpowered him, his fingers relaxed their hold of the weapon. Jack gently drew the knife from his grasp, and then, firmly raising it with both hands, drove the blade into the single eye of the monster. He awoke with a fearful howl, but with presence of mind to close the mill door, and so prevent the escape of his assailant. Jack was fairly trapped, but his native ingenuity came to his aid.

Being blinded, the giant could only grope for him. Jack, looking desperately for escape before the giant grabbed him, slayed the giant’s dog, which was just rousing itself from sleep as the giant shouted. It took him but a few minutes to do this, and hurriedly take off its skin. This skin he then threw around himself, and, running on all fours and barking like the dog, he passed between the giant’s legs, got to the door, and, unbarring it quickly, escaped.

The giant, mortally wounded, didn’t last long after Jack’s escape. Death claimed him shortly, but the grave and the knife survived in the mill to prove the story for years to come.

The Golden Ball

A golden coloured ball
Photo by Peter de Vink from Pexels

From Yorkshire Folklore, VOL I (1888), pages 94-96. This was in a Yorkshire dialect, so have tinkered with the language but not the structure. Though I really like one of the early lines “He’d gold on his cap, an’ gold on his finger, gold on his neck, an’ a red gold watch-chain – eh! but he had some brass“…

There was once two sisters, who after walking home through the fair, saw a handsome young man stood between them and their house. They’d never seen such a bonny lad before, and he was dripping in gold. He’d gold on his cap, wore golden rings on each finger, gold around his neck, and a thick gold watch-chain disappearing into his waistcoat pocket. Held out towards the lasses, in each hand, there was a golden ball. He gave one to each of them, but warned them that if they ever lost their ball, then they’d be hanged.

The youngest of the sisters, while playing catch by herself near a park wall, lost her ball over the wall. She ran to follow it, but as she rounded the wall, saw it roll across the last of grass and into the house. She couldn’t get in to follow it, and no-one answered the door, before men came to drag her away to answer for losing the ball. Her sweetheart promised he’d recover the ball before she could be hanged, and went to search for it himself. He found the gate locked, so started to climb over the wall. When he was right on top, an old woman came and stood in front of him and told him there was only one way to get the ball – he must spend three days in the house.

The lad agreed, and found the door to the house unlocked when he got there. He searched the house from top to bottom, but there was no sign of the golden ball anywhere. As night closed in, he heard movement outside in the courtyard. Looking out through the window, the yard was as full of spirits as rotten meat is full of maggots. He heard steps coming upstairs next, so hid behind the door, keeping as still as a mouse. A giant came into the room where he was hiding, five times as tall as the lad, he was, but luckily the giant didn’t see him. Instead, he leant down to the window and looked out to the spirits outside in the yard, and as he leant on his elbows, the lad jumped out on him from behind and chopped him in half with his sword. The top of the giant fell down to the yard, and the bottom half stayed at the window, as though still looking outside. There was a great cry from the spirits outside when they saw half their master come tumbling down, and they called out “The comes half our master, give us t’other half.”

So the lad said, “It’s no use o’thee, a pair of legs standing alone, so go join your brother”, and he threw the bottom half of the giant out of the window. As soon as the legs hit the yard, the spirits went quiet.

The next night, the lad stopped at the house again, and a second giant came in at the door. The lad was expecting this, and it entered, he swung his sword, chopping the second giant in half. This took the giant so much by surprise that the legs carried on walking across the room and up the chimney.  “Get thee after they legs”, said the lad, and threw the head up the chimney too.

The third night, no giant appeared, so the lad got into one of the beds. As he started to drop to sleep, he heard the spirits moving underneath the bed, rolling the ball back and forth between them. He quietly lifted his sword and knelt up, and when one of the spirits moved his leg out from under the bed, he quickly chopped it off. Another spirit stuck its arm out from the other side of the bed, and he cut that off too. As the spirits squirmed under the bed, trying to keep away from the sword, they pushed each other into his reach, so the lad maimed them one by one, until they plucked up enough courage to flee together, wailing and wailing as one. This left him free to pick up the golden ball they had left under the bed, and go off to seek his true love.

The lass had been taken to York to be hanged, and as she was brought out to the scaffold she cried out:

“Stop, stop; I think I see my mother coming.

Oh mother, have you got my golden ball,

And are you coming to set me free?”

“I’ve neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set you free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallow tree.”

The hangman told her to say her prayers and be ready to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. But in return she said:

“Stop, stop: I think I see my father coming.

Oh father, have you got my golden ball,

And are you coming to set me free?”

“I’ve neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set you free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallow tree.”

So the hangman told her to hurry with her prayers so he could get on with it, and to get her neck in the noose. But again, she said to stop, excusing herself as she saw her brother, her sister, her uncle and aunt, even her cousin coming to save her. The hangman had had enough, thinking she was just playing games to delay the inevitable and told her that her time was up. Just then, she spotted her sweetheart coming through the crowd, holding the golden ball above his head, she she cried out one last time:

“Stop, stop: I see my sweetheart coming.

Sweetheart, have you brought my golden ball,

And come to set me free?”

“Aye, I’ve brought thy golden ball,

And come to set you free,

I have not come to see thee hung,

Upon the gallow tree.”

Needless to say, she was allowed down from the scaffold and took better care of the golden ball from then on.








The Wicked Giant of Penhill

This does feel very Norse like to me! Quite a dark story you can imagine the viking settlers telling…

Penhill Beacon
Large cairn near Penhill Beacon by Roger Templeman (cc-by-sa licence)

When the Norsemen settled in Yorkshire in the old days, they brought some of their gods too, and more importantly to this tale, some of the descendants of their gods stayed on.

Near where Bolton Castle still stands today, and terrorising the countryside all around, lived a giant who was a descendant of Thor, the god of storms and thunder. All he cared about was his vast herd of pigs, and Wolfhead the boarhound that he kept to help him with them. He lived in the time before the Normans came to these shores, and all were scared of him.

Every day the giant drove his swineherd through the gate of his castle on Penhill. He’d count them out and feel proud of how fat and valuable they were.

One day, walking out with his loyal Wolfhead, he saw a small flock of sheep on the hillside. ‘Look at those stupid sheep’, he said to Wolfhead. ‘They are nothing compared to our great pigs, go and have some fun with them.’

So his hound pounced on the first sheep and tore it apart. ‘Another one!’ laughed the giant. So Wolfhead slaughtered one after another of the defenceless sheep, while the wicked giant laughed his socks off.

A beautiful young girl, Gunda, rushed up to him and flung herself at his feet and begged him to make his hound stop. ‘Please Sir’, she implored, ‘this is my father’s flock and all that he has, please call off your beast’.

This only made the giant laugh even more, delighting in the fear she showed as another sheep was ripped to pieces in front of them. ‘Perhaps I will stop him, if you make it worth my while’, he leered at her, then grabbed her and tried to tear her clothes from her body.

She squirmed, and wriggled, and slipped from his grasp, leaving him with nothing but a small piece of cloth torn from her jacket. This made him furious, and he roared with anger while she ran away as fast as she could.

The giant, with his great heavy boots, couldn’t keep up, and sent Wolfhead to catch her. She couldn’t run faster than the hound, and tripped and fell in her rush to get away. As the dog jumped onto her to pin her to the ground for his master, she grabbed a rock and slammed it into the hound’s nose. It howled in pain and jumped away, whining for its master. This made the giant even angrier, so he raised his club and killed the poor shepherdess on the spot.

The wicked giant had done so many evil deeds, and so terrified the locals, that he thought nothing of this terrible assault and murder, but simply returned to his castle with Wolfhead.

A few weeks later, bringing the swine out on the morning, he noticed he was missing a young boar. He kicked his only friend, the hound Wolfhead, and ordered him to go and find the missing boar. ‘Go on, you lazy old hound. Find that boar or I will whip you senseless with Thor’s own belt I still wear, and leave you in the woods for the wild wolves to kill.

The hound wasn’t happy at this treatment, and growled as followed his nose on the boar’s trail. He soon found the missing boar, dead with an arrow through its heart.

The giant swore to take the hand of whoever had dared to kill his boar, and ordered his steward to make everyone within the dale who could draw a bow, come to the top of Penhill. Any man not waiting at the top of the cliff by sunset in a week’s time would be thrown into the castle dungeons to rot.

In the meantime, Wolfhead had not returned. Remembering the kick and the giant’s words, he stayed in the forest away from his master. The giant had his men search for him, and even though they found him, he would not return when called. The giant’s temper got the better of him again, and he took out his bow, and killed the only creature that had ever been his friend.

The following day, the local men were lined up waiting for him on Penhill. The giant was still angry after killing Wolfhead, and in no mood to deal gently with anyone. He demanded they told him who had shot the boar. None of them could meet his eye, and none spoke up, as they didn’t know who had shot the arrow.

‘You dare defy me!’, the giant roared so loudly that the stones on the ground shook. ‘Then out of my sight! I swear by my ancestor Thor, that I will make you speak. Tomorrow at sunset, every father shall stand here with his youngest child in his arms, and if you defy me again, I will show you what I am really capable of doing.’

As the men ran away, the giant was amazed to hear a quiet voice. One old man had stayed, leaning on his staff for support, and looking straight at the giant without showing a hint of fear.  ‘What will happen tomorrow, when the men don’t give you the answer you seek?’, asked the old man.

‘I have the power of life and death over these men’, the giant laughed, ‘and you had better remember that and speak to me with respect’.

‘Is that your answer? If so, take heed of my words. Tomorrow is Thor’s day, and if you spill one drop of blood, or cause one of the children to cry out in pain or fear, you will not enter your castle again, dead or alive’, the old man warned the giant.

The wicked giant was too amazed by the actions of the old man to do much more than laugh again. ‘You’re just an old hermit, and you think to speak to me like that! Get back to your cave and you’ll see tomorrow what I do to the likes of you’.

As the sun dipped low in the sky the following day, the local men all returned to the hillside. Slowly and sadly, they climbed the slope, each with a young child in their arms. As they got close to the top, the old hermit met them, reassuring each of them that the giant would not harm any child.

The giant watched the local men from a window in his castle, in a better mood than he’d been in for a long time. He couldn’t wait to make them suffer and get a confession for the killing of his boar. A servant interrupted him as he watched, and tried to warn him of a dream he had last night, and how the ravens and crows circling the castle that day were a bad omen. The giant didn’t let him finish. Angry his pleasant fantasies of torturing the locals had been interrupted, he kicked the servant across the room and left him for dead.

This was the last straw for the long suffering servant, and struggling to his feet, he dragged basket after basket of straw, wood, and peat into the main hall and set them alight.

The giant, striding out to men the local men and their children, was shocked to see nine dead boars across his path. Another nine steps and he found nine more. Every nine steps towards the meeting place this was repeated, and the giant was incandescent with rage.

As he rounded the last corner, with the peasants stood in front of him, shouted ‘By the great god Thor, not only your babies, but the blood of every living soul here shall stain the hillside red tonight and the ravens shall feast themselves fat on your flesh’.

Then he noticed the old hermit smiling at him and demanded he come and kneel in front of him immediately.

‘I’m no servant of yours, if you want to speak with me, you come here. You are a braggart. Look behind you, and you shall see that I speak the truth’ replied the old man.

The giant turned and saw his castle alight, with a vast cloud of smoke rising from it. He stood transfixed for a few moments, then raised his club and strode towards the hermit. Before he could strike him, however, he stopped once more, the club dropping from his hands, the colour draining from his face, and his body shook with fear.

Behind the hermit stood Gunda, the shepherdess, and Wolfhead, the hound, held back by her on a long rope. The giant stepped back further, getting close to the edge of Penhill cliff. Gunda looked at the giant, then released Wolfhead, who sprang straight at the giant’s throat, the two toppling over the edge of the cliff, never to return.