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The demon bull of Hyssington.
The main action of our next story takes place in the village of Hyssington which is just over the border in Wales, but the close proximity of Mitchell’s Fold, as the crow flies, and the fact that both legends involve spectral cattle and a witch, mean that they deserve to be looked at together.
The people of Hyssington claim that theirs is the best ghost story in their Borderlands, and it tells how once there was an evil squire of Bagbury, who acted so wickedly toward everyone, his workmen and neighbours alike, that eventually they could stand it no more and went to ask the local witch to put a curse upon their tormentor.
This she agreed to do, for a fee, but even after her incantations over a noisome brew in an ancient cauldron nothing happened. The squire carried on just as before making everyone’s life a misery. And so it continued till the day the squire died.
When his funeral was over the people thought they would, at last, be able to relax.
But they had reckoned without the witch’s spell which now took full effect and made things a hundred, a thousand, times worse than they had been before. Too late they remembered never to trust the word of a wicked witch.
Dead and buried the wicked squire may have been, but his spirit was unable to rest in any kind of peace. Instead, tortured and restless he was cursed to haunt the village of Hyssington in the form of a gigantic flayed bull with horns that burned with hellfire and eyes which glowed red with the dread reflections of the Pit. Each and every night this fearsome and unearthly bull rampaged around bellowing so loudly that window shutters clattered back and forth and the shingles fell from house roofs.
Soon the villagers were reduced to walking round in a sleepless daze, unable to work, almost unable to live, because of the nightly predations of the demon bull.
Then someone decided that they should go to see the priest of the newly built church in the village and ask his advice. He agreed to do what he could and, gathering another eleven priests to assist him, the bull, who seems to have been rather less fearsome during daylight hours, was forced into the church where they proceeded to ‘read him down’.
At first, all went well. As the ancient texts were chanted by the assembled priests the demon bull began to shrink in size. Firstly he became the size of normal cattle, then as big as a calf, and eventually to the size of a small dog. The long job was all but completed when the shadows of night crept over the little church. To enable the task to be completed the priest took flint and steel and made to light a candle.
But he had reckoned without the bull who may have lost his size but was still possessed of deep cunning. With a mighty snort he blew out the candle and, as the darkness rushed from every corner to engulf the church he, of an instant, grew back to monstrous size, bigger indeed than ever before, and so large that he was trapped inside the building.
Clearly nothing more could be done that night and so the clergy retired until the next day. The following morning they returned to find the gigantic bull had caused cracks to appear in the west wall of the church.
The reading down began again and, as the priests chanted so the bull once again diminished until at last it was again about the size of a small dog. But history repeats itself as they say and the shadows of night returned before the process could be completed. Again the priest of Hyssington lit a candle, and again the wily demon blew it out. This time however an old blind parson had lit another candle sheltered behind his boot.
The reading down continued apace and soon the demonic bovine was only the size of a tiny mouse so that the priest of Hyssington was able to scoop it up and place it inside his snuffbox.
What happened next depends upon which version of the story you accept. One account says the snuffbox was cast into the Red Sea. Another maintains it was buried under the Wernddu lane bridge over the Camlad in Churchstoke. Yet another tells how it was left under a flat stone in the marsh at Pennerley near where the road forks for Shelve. But the favoured resting place for the snuff box containing the Demon Bull of Bagbury is inside a tightly laced boot laid beneath the doorstep of Hyssington church.
If you visit St Etheldreda’s church at Hyssington you will see that this doorstep bears some rather odd markings on its surface. Curiously, when a rubbing was taken of these marks some years ago it did seem to contain a likeness of a bull rather in the style of those found in prehistoric cave paintings.
Coincidence? Probably, but interesting nevertheless. Oh, and whatever happens, do not disturb the Bull, for if he is allowed to rise and escape he can never, ever, says the old story, be laid again.