The Fiver: “I saw it, mate! It’s real!” Five Uniquely British Myths and Legends

Every culture develops myths and legends. Sometimes they’re used to explain the unexplainable or grow out of a tale that becomes more and more embellished over time. Some of these stories eventually get an explanation, but others remain a mystery. These legends below are ones distinct to Britain, of a kind both well-known and unknown to the wide world. What strange oddities lie in the villages, towns, and cities of the United Kingdom? Well, read on, dear viewers. Read on…

1. Spring-Heeled Jack


The legend of Spring-Heeled Jack began during the 19th century. The legend allegedly started in London as early as 1838. Initially, Jack was relatively harmless, though a man leaping high over people’s heads was a shockingly frightening thing to the average stuffy Victorian. Jack’s actions then grew to include physical contact. As one account remarked, “First a young girl, then a man, felt a hand on their shoulder, and turned to see the infernal one with the glowing face, bidding them a good evening.” Other witness accounts of Jack have him wearing a cloak or referring to him as a “devil”, though many illustrations depict him as looking like a Victorian version of Batman. As the years went on, Jack’s legend spread outside the city to the Midlands where many sightings supposedly occurred. Though accounts vary as much as you expect with an urban legend, in most, Jack does little more than frighten people with his appearance before leaping away.

2. Glastonbury


Now mostly known for the music festivals that occur in Pilton, Somerset, Glastonbury has been tied to myths and the supernatural for centuries. The original mystery associated with the town is that of Joseph of Aramethia, a relative of Jesus Christ. Legend tells that Joseph came to England carrying the Holy Grail and founded the church at Glasonbury by planting his staff into the ground, from which sprang forth a tree known as the Glastonbury Thorn. Joseph and the Grail legend later became part of the legends surrounding King Arthur. In the 20th century, Glastonbury became associated with neopaganism after artist Katherine Maltwood suggested that landscape zodiac could be found in the streams, boundaries, and other natural features in the town. She claimed that this “Temple of the Stars” was founded by the Sumerians around 2700 BC, though scientists decades later discounted this theory by proving some of the features weren’t as old as Maltwood supposed.

3. Robin Hood


Unquestionably a hero of legend, Robin Hood has inspired multiple incarnations in television and film, from a cartoon Fox to Kevin Costner’s poor attempt at being English. No one has been able to prove that Robin existed, but his legend supposedly begins in the 13th century when names such as “Robbehod” and “Robinhood” occurred in the ledgers of various English Justices. The first reference to tales of Robin Hood occurred in William Langland’s “Piers Plowman” which speaks of the “rymes of Robyn Hood”. The popular legend takes places in Nottinghamshire, in which Robin returned from fighting for King Richard I in the Crusades to an England in which Prince John taxed nobles and peasants alike to exorbitant amounts, payment enforced by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. With his band of Merry Men, including Little John, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck, Robin used his archery skills to steal the money back and return it to the people. Printed legends about Robin Hood began in the 15th century and each text seems to publish different accounts, some mentioning certain Merry Men and others excluding them, while only one mentions Sherwood Forest. His appearance in “Ivanhoe” and the later “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” are responsible for the modern image of the character, including his cheerfulness, leading into versions of the character that we know.

4. Black Lady of Bradley Woods


One of England’s thousands of ghost stories, this one takes place in North Lincolnshire. The story is that, during the War of the Roses, a woodsman lived his wife and baby in a small cottage in Bradley Woods. When the war came, the woodsman went off to fight for the Earl of Yarborough. Every day he was gone, his wife would take their son to the edge of the woods to see if her husband had returned. This is where the fun part of the story ends, because one day, cavalry men set upon her, raped her, and stole her baby. She searched constantly for her husband and son but eventually died of a broken heart. Her ghost is said to haunt the woods, still looking for her missing family and the story was used by many parents to make sure their kids were home and in bed before dark. Rumour has it that if you go to the woods on New Year’s night and shout “Black Lady, Black Lady, I’ve stolen your baby!” she will appear to you, though really, do you want to deal with an angry ghost that thinks you’ve stolen her child?

5. The Loch Ness Monster


Good ol’ Nessie. Perhaps one of the most famous mythical creatures of the modern era, many believe that Nessie is from a line of plesiosaurs that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. Loch Ness is the largest body of fresh water in the United Kingdom and contains more water than every other fresh water body in Britain combined. It’s two-and-a-half miles long, from 1-1.5 miles wide, and 754 feet deep with a flat bottom. The first reported sighting of the creature was in the 6th century in “The Life of Saint Columba” written about a century after the sighting supposedly happened.

Columba was a monk who claimed to have seen a “water beast” rise out of the loch to snatch a swimmer. Summoning the Picts to witness what happened next, Columba sent his assistant to swim across the water and when the creature appeared, Columba made the Sign of the Cross and commanded it not to harm the man. Suddenly, the beast reared back and fled in terror. Nessie recaptured the public’s attention in 1933 when George Spicer and his wife reportedly witnessed Nessie walking on dry land. From there, multiple sightings led to Loch Ness becoming a tourist trap for the curious. One famous photo of the beast, taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, turned out to be a toy submarine with a head and neck crafted out of wood. Despite no conclusive evidence of Nessie’s existence, many still claim to have seen, photographed, and filmed the monster, and searches for her (assuming it’s a her) continue to this day.

Which legend is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. avatarTopazaline says

    Nice list. Have liked reading about the Spring-Heeled Jack legend since I heard about it about 5 years ago. I’m in the Midlands, haven’t met him yet;-) This country is great for myths and legends. We had a little ‘myth’ going on at my primary school. It went like this… decades ago (vague i know, the school is about 150 years old) a helicopter or small aeroplane crashed into the roof of the school library. That was supposedly why the whole middle section of the roof was made of a big glass cicle panel, the rest of it being proper brick work. During the helicopter/plane crash a little girl aged 9 or 10, named Wendy was in the library alone. She was killed. It was said that if you went into the library alone, Wendy’s ghost would reveal itself to you. In one version of the story, she’s a nice ghost who just wants to be your friend. In another version, she’s an evil ghost, twisted and vicious to other children, out of jealousy because she died and we were alive. We were never to venture into the library alone. Only in pairs or groups (the more people the better) The legend of the ‘library ghost’ spreads down from the older kids at the school, to the younger ones. And believe me, that library was terrifying! My friends and I never went in there alone in the 7 years I was at the school. About 8 years ago, I decided I had to research this. It turns out there never was a crash involving the library. During the 1970s a helicopter had landed on the playground, the pupils had a special day learning about helicopters or something and a slightly bad landing had wrecked part of the fence around the school. Thats all. Nobody injured. No child has ever died at the school under any circumstances. So we scared ourselves witless going near that library, all for nothing 😀 I’d love to know who first came up with ‘Wendy’ and I wonder if the current pupils are frightened of the library. I sort of hope so:) trouble is now, they’ve only got to google the school and it’ll debunk the myth. No fun in that. Sorry for the giant message!

  2. avatar says

    Glastonbury is definitely worth a visit. Hike up to the Tor. Also, whether you believe the myth or not, a visit to the lovely gardens of the Chalice Well is worth while as well.
    After you;re done in Glastonbury, go to Wells. Such a lovely little town for a fantastic cathedral.