Folk-Lore, 1938

Ethel H. Rudkin (1938), Will o' the Wisp. In "Folk-Lore", 1938-9, Volume 49-50, pp.46-8.

Will o' the Wisp
(Also known as Peggy with a Lantern, Willie Wisp, and Jenny Lantern.)

Willoughton, Lincoln
A. B., my informant, lived for many years up at what is now known as Old Leys Manor, down Old Leys Lane.

The Cliff is a ridge of limestone that runs from Lincoln to the Humber, and Middle Street runs along the high part of it north and south. About two miles east, a little lower in contour, where the land begins to slope gradually towards the Ancholme valley, runs Ermine Street, also north and south. Old Leys Lane runs from Middle Street to Ermine Street and is slightly downhill all the way. Old Leys Manor lies about a quarter of a mile from Ermine Street. When Old Leys Lane crosses Ermine Street it continues east to Atterby and is known as Atterby Stonepit.

Night after night in winter-time the light could be seen; usually between the cross roads on Ermine Street and nearby to the gate leading to Old Leys Manor, always on the road. It looked like a bicycle lamp and was about the same distance from the ground and the same colour. A. B.'s daughter has seen it often between eight and ten o'clock at night when she has been coming home, so also has her son. A man from Atterby used to come courting to Willoughton and he was so scared by this light that he used to go another way, many miles round. One of our policemen was at the cross roads late one night, and saw a bicycle light coming up Atterby Lane. Though it was time to go off his beat he thought that he would stay and see who it was; so he waited until the light got level with him—and then there was nothing! This light does not "dance," it moves in a steady way, three feet or so from the ground. Nowadays there is so much more traffic down Old Leys Lane that it would not be so noticeable.

A. B. has seen Will o' the Wisps down on the law land at Blyton Carrs, but these lights are redder in colour and keep close to the ground; the "dancer" and look like a man walking and carrying a lantern; they also move quickly from one place to another. "If you follow a Will o' the Wisp it'll lead you into a bog."

About five-and-twenty years ago a man in Willoughton was courting a girl at Kirton Lindsey, a small town four miles north, on Middle Street, and as he came home one night "Willie Wisp" appeared. He ran, and the faster he ran the faster went the Wisp, and it followed him all the way to Willoughton. In future he took a pal with him, who sat and drank beer while he did his courting! This "light" was frequently seen at that time, generally near the Sallow Holt at the top of Willoughton hill. The vicar went out night after night and eventually saw it. But this light, too, was some feet from the ground.

G. H., our local carrier, was coming back from Lincoln one bright moonlight night, along Middle Street, when he saw a light (on Cammeringham Top); it went before him bounding up and down near the hedge on the west side of the road. Suddenly it disappeared, so G. H. pulled up and went to the spot and struck match after match, but could see nothing at all. He has been on this road at all hours before and since, but has never seen the light again.

The Cammeringham Light
A Will o' the Wisp used to appear near a certain wood down below the Cliff (hill) at Cammeringham and is known as "the Cammeringham Light." I find an entry in my diary for 17th September, 1931, saying that the light had been seen again towards the end of the summer, the first time for many years. That was a very wet summer.

G. H. used to live at Harpswell, just at the foot of the hill. he says that it used to be a regular thing to look out and see the "light" that used to come across from the Fish Pond (a field further down) right across the grass field to the foot of the hill. Sometimes the "light" would get so far, then break off and go towards the white cottage to the south of the field (where the Serpentine runs, a stream with a glood flow of water).

Ethel H. Rudkin

Old Leys Lane still exists, and had a Googlecount of 4 before I put this article up (on 8th April 2006). Its only useful mention is as part of a cycle route on a page, which allowed me to find it on Google Maps, where the road is even marked with that name. The OS Grid Reference for the middle point of the road is SK 949925. The OS map shows "Old Leys Lane" and "Old Leys". Before putting this article up, "Old Leys Manor" had a Googlecount of 0, but the OS map shows a "Manor Old Leys" (which also had a Googlecount of 0), at Grid Reference SK 954922. Middle Street is still called that, but that section of Ermine Street is now the A15. The sightings would therefore be centered around SK 958925.

Blyton Carrs seems to be a typo for Blyton Carr, a kind of hamlet—or perhaps even just a named area—a little way towards the southwest from the town of Blyton, towards Gainsborough on Laughton Road. The Grid Reference for it is SK 820940. It's not known what the "law lands" refers to, unless it's the name for all the low flat lands to the west of Blyton, Blyton itself being on a hill. "Blyton Carr" appeared 210 times on Google; "Blyton Carrs" not at all.

There are still lots of places around Willoughton called "Cliff", and it's plain to see from the map where the Lincoln Cliff runs, just to the west of Middle Street. According to Wikipedia, the villages that "lie high up on the escarpment" are known collectively as "the 'cliff villages'". The town of Kirton Lindsey is the fairly substantial town of "Kirton in Lindsey" on the map.

Cammeringham is quite far south of Willoughton, between it and Lincoln. Middle Road runs right by it. There is a place to the east of Cammeringham and Middle Road called "Cammeringham Top Covert", at SK 968818, which may be the Cammeringham Top referenced in the piece. The certain wood below the Cliff may be the one right next to Cammeringham Grange, at SK 955819.

Harpswell is right on the Cliff, with Middle Road running just to the east of it along the ridge of the Cliff, so the hill referenced in the piece must be that—Harpswell Hill is a marked piece of the Cliff on the OS map, at SK 936900. Perhaps the Fish Pond field is that next to Hall Farm, at SK 931897. The village is between Willoughton and Cammeringham, slightly closer to the former than the latter.

Sean B. Palmer