Secret passages

IN the 19th century, it was said that an underground pasage ran from the remains of the 12th century Gisborough Priory, immediately south of Guisborough parish church, to a field that lay in the parish of Tocketts.

Halfway along was said to be a chest of gold guarded by a raven or crow.

William Henderson, in Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties (1866), writes:

Mr J M Tweddell writes to me, respecting Cleveland, that every old castle and ruined monastery there has its legend of a subterranean passage leading therefrom, which someone has penetrated to a certain distance, and has seen an iron chest, supposed to be full of gold, on which was perched a raven. This raven points out, he considers, the Scandinavian origin of the legend.

It was perhaps natural that, in an area formerly part of the Danelaw, any raven would be connected with the Vikings, more particularly the well-known ravens of Odin and the raven banner Landeye (Land waster). There was another treasure-guarding raven in a subterranean passage at Gainsborough priory, Lincolnshire.

However, it must be said that treasure guardians in the form of birds are also found outside areas of Scandinavian settlement and perhaps more importantly are not necessarily corvids; they range from golden eagles to black cocks, as at Kirkstall Abbey, and even hens, as at Maiden Castle, Grinton, and Stony Raise Cairn.

Taken from The Lore Of The Land, a Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-Heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys, by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson. Published by Puffin.

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