Celtic Origins of the Grimshaw Surname near Pendle Hill
James McKay1, in a historical study of the Pendle Hill area based in large part on place-name analysis, associates the Grimshaw name with Grimsargh and Grindleton, which are located west of Pendle Hill near the Ribble River. For all three names, McKay makes the case that their associated locations were the sites of sun worship by Celtic Druids. The names were given to the Celtic locations by the Angles and Saxons who invaded the area after the Romans withdrew in the early 400s A.D.
According to McKay, the terms grim and grin are forms of the one root word (that) signify the sun, when the term is used for that celestial luminary as a divinity, or as the object or symbol referred to in divine worship (p. 101-102). McKay asserted that the names were given by the Angles and Saxons when they occupied lowlands that they had seized from the Celts (Segantii). The uplands (including the sites where the Druidic worship took place) were still held by the fierce Celts and could not be taken.
Grimsargh and Grindleton, as well as other similar Celtic places referenced by McKay Goosnargh and Tootall (Tootle) Heights are still in existence today west and south of Pendle Hill. The original location of Grimshaw near Pendle Hill, however, may be lost to antiquity.
An alternate hypothesis on the Grimshaw surname attributes it to Viking origins, as described on a companion webpage.
Thanks go to Mavis Long for providing the information that has made this webpage possible.
Chapter 5 of McKay’s “History of Pendle Hill” contains the most relevant sections for the origins of Grimshaw near Pendle Hill. These sections are cited below, with the reference to “Grimshaw” shown in bold. The entirety of Chapter 5 is provided further down on this webpage.
Grim is only another form of Grin, and Gryn, and of Gryan as it is in the Irish, whence comes the Irish proper name of Ryan. All these forms of the one root-word admittedly signify the sun, when the term is used for that celestial luminary as a divinity, or as the object or symbol referred to in divine worship. The same with the Apollo Grynoeus of classical mythology. It is a curious fact, but a fact nevertheless, that wherever Grim or Grin enters into the composition of a place name, with hardly an exception, some local tradition about the freaks of the devil still lingers in the popular memory. The scene of the exploit commemorated in the legend of “The Dule upo’ Dun” is in close proximity to Grindleton. On the top of Parlick Pike, which overshadows Grimsargh, the devil is popularly reputed to have left his mark behind, and to have travelled thence at an easy single stride to Cockerham. At the other extremity of the kingdom Wan’s Dyke is supposed, by scholars, to mark the ancient boundary in those parts between the Belgae and the Britons; that is, between the two tides of Celtic immigration. In some parts it is called Grim’s Dyke, and as a matter of notoriety the country people of Wiltshire are frequently heard to speak of it as “The Devil’s Dyke.” This brings out clearly the probabilities of the etymology of the case. If the aboriginal pagan inhabitants called this Grim’s Dyke, or the Ditch of the Sun, as a title of sanctity, their Christian successors would assuredly call it the Dyke or Ditch of the Idol, or of the Devil; and if this origin of both words grim and grin be admitted, several other corroborative explanations will follow. Thus “Grimshaw” – not an uncommon name around Pendle Hill – since “shaw” signifies a wood or grove, becomes readily “the Wood or Grove of the Sun.” What Odin or Woden was to the later Saxon, Grim, or Grin, or Gryncoeus was to the Celtic races – for while to the Britons the sun was the central symbol of their worship, to their subsequent conquerors a gleam of sunshine was the smile of Odin,” and so designated by them with all the truth of poetry. Grimsargh, then, was the boundary on one side, as Pendle Hill was on the other, of the region of the sun or devil worshippers. Of course it was the Saxons gave it this name, in recognition of a fact which they found existing when they penetrated to these parts. The usual lazy and thoughtless fashion is for writers to say that Grindleton means simply the settlement of some chieftain called Grim, and Waddington of some other chief called Wadda, and Worston of still another tribal chief called Wor, and so on. If there is history in words, these surmises are all grounded on error. We take it that the occurrence of the prefix Grin is an acknowledgment on the part of the earliest Saxon conquerors of the adjoining country that the British settlement on the fell below Pendle was given up to the worship of the sun. Nor does it follow beyond question that the last syllable of the name is Saxon, although it is true that to the Saxon any settlement, however small, if naturally or artificially defended, was a ton. It is far more likely that the ton in Grindleton and Pendleton and Waddington is a slight variation from tan than what it is conventionally assumed to be. The homestead or ton of Grin, and of Pendle and of Wadda, means nothing outside the veriest commonplace. But Grindle-tan and Wodin-tan are full and graphic pictures of old-world history and religion on the sides of Pendle Hill. Tan is described as the great object of worship among the earliest British Celts, and there seems reason to believe that all the “Saint Anne’s Hills” in England, of which there are many, are so called from some dialectic corruption, instead of Tan Hills, or Tan’s Hills, in which latter form, however, the sound approaches so nearly to that of St. Anne’s Hill that the change may have been quite unintentional. It is an unquestioned fact that until a generation or two ago Bel-tein fires – a forgotten relic of Druid worship – were annually kindled on various spots around Pendle. Thus explained, Grindleton, situated on its well-defined fell, becomes at once etymologically “the scene of the sacred fires kindled in worship of idols or the devil.” The practice of dedicating hills, either natural or artificial, to the uses of worship, and of celebrating religious rites upon their summits, has been universal among mankind, and to these practices are almost certainly due the name of Grindleton, given in hate, and scorn, and contempt by the neighbouring Saxon tribes settled within sight of Pendle Hill, and envious of the retention by the Britons of the natural fastnesses afforded by the flanks of the mountain. It must ever be borne in mind that for generations in succession it was only the lower lands along the river banks which were settled by the Saxon invaders. The loftier hills, as their names everywhere show, except between Pendle and Whernside, still remained in British hands long after the vales and the lower eminences had been wrested from them. And, when the Britons were defeated, while the native princes were expelled, the original inhabitants long remained. The Briton not only kept his Pendle, but disputed with the invaders the possession of the valley below. When opportunity served, or deer or cattle grew scarce on the hills, a British band would make a foray upon the herds of an Anglian theyn in the vales lower down the river, and then hurry back with their booty to the fastnesses of Grindleton Fell and Pendle Hill. The arrogance of the Saxons and Angles towards the Britons, whom they ceaselessly laboured to dispossess, is amusingly shown in the term by which they designated the children of the soil. Not satisfied with having deprived them of their land, the intruders called them Wall-eys;” that is, strangers. The word, do not let us forget, certainly survives in Wales,” the name of a little village on the borderland of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, as well as the term Welsh,” which expresses an historical truth. The Briton did become a stranger in his native land, but the term came with a bad grace from the strangers who had disinherited him. Whalley, too, as we have already urged, is far more probably a form of Wales,” as Wallace is – so indicating a long – continued British district – than anything else which etymologists have guessed. Grindleton, and Grimsargh, and Whalley, therefore, all apparently indicate places in which the Britons lingered longest, not only defying their Saxon enemies, but maintaining their sun worship, or Druid rites, which led the Saxon settlers in bitter scorn and ridicule to call these British fastnesses, under the shadow of Pendle, the country of the idol, or devil worshippers. The transition from the idea of idols among the Saxon Christians to the idea of devils was easy, and a blending of Christian and pagan theology soon made the popular idea of the devil everything that was dark, and grimy, and dreadful, and evil, and forbidding. And the conviction that the Britons worshipped a creature so represented would add fuel to the hate between the invaders and invaded. All this, and more, is suggested by the very names of Grindleton and Grimsargh.
The cover of McKay’s book, and the title page and a lithograph image of Pendle Hill, are shown below.
Britain’s Ordnance Survey makes available excellent maps of the entire country at a webpage called “Get-a-map”. Maps of four of the most important locations associated by McKay with “Grimshaw” — Grimsargh, Grindleton, Goosnargh, and Tottall (Tootle) Heights — are shown below. Four maps are shown for each location, starting with a smaller scale map and ending with a larger scale map. Because the four locations are in relatively close proximity west of Pendle Hill, some of the maps show more than one location, which allows one to determine their location to one another.
Goosnargh (in preparation)
Tootall (Tootle) Heights (near Longridge)
|Additional Information on Grimsargh by David Hindle|
The full text of Chapter 5 of McKay’s book, which contains the references to the Celtic origins of Grimshaw, Grimsargh, and Goosnargh, is provided below with an image of the graphic and title at the beginning of the chapter.
PENDLE THE HILL OF IDOLS – THE FORCE OF CELTIC PLACE NAMES – WADDINGTON, GRINDLETON, AND GRIMSARGH – SUGGESTIONS OF PAGAN RITES – MOON WORSHIP ON THE RIBBLE – TOOTALL HEIGHTS – TUTANES THE CELTIC DEITY – ROMAN ALTARS AND ORACLES AT RIBCHESTER – BALDERSTONE AND THORSDEN – PRIMEVAL HERO WORSHIP – GOOSNARGH – GOOSNARGH CAKES – DEMON WORSHIP – BOYD DAWKINS ON THE CAVE MEN.
The very truth and very word are one;
But truth of story, which I glanced at, girl,
Is like a word that comes from olden days,
And passes through the peoples: every tongue
Alters it passing, till it spells and speaks
Quite other than at first.
Tennyson (Queen Mary).
If the site of Apronful Hall ever were the scene of a Celtic settlement, and if the Britons who lived on and around it remained unconquered during Roman and Saxon times, is either of these facts of the slightest consequence to us in the present day? That is a question some hard-headed practical Pendle Forester, as we find them now, may ask us. The British Association, the scientific Parliament of England, would answer in the affirmative, and with good reason. At the present day, since the investigations of Darwin, Galton, Spencer, and others have shown us the paramount importance of the hereditary element in determining character and intelligence, few abstract questions can possess greater natural interest for any well-defined locality than the question of what original stocks it is a compound or loose agglomeration. We know now that racial characteristics persist for long periods of time unaltered. Mr. Darwin has shown that even abnormalities, such as an extra toe or finger, and the power of contracting the skin of the head, remain as heirlooms for considerable periods of time in particular families. Still more do racial peculiarities persist in the body of every great group, and survive all mere results of social accidents, such as language, law, and the sense of national distinctness or unity. One tribe of people may conquer the members of another, impose upon them their own tongue, manners, and name, and live together with them till all memory of the original diversity is lost; but the small bodily characteristics of race will still be perpetuated in the two groups, probably assuming the guise of distinctly aristocratic and plebian features, and the ethnologist will be able to recognise, by the shape of the skull, the colour of the hair and eyes, the stature, the build, the length of bone, and so forth, the particular race to which each person in the resulting compound nation mainly belongs. Sitting on the terrace of Pendle Hill, denominated by the Government surveyors Apronful Hall, there is a peculiar fascination in taking up, at the instance of Mr. Dawkins, the history of our race on that shadowy border land where geology aids and chronicles have not yet begun; and where, in the absence of written records, the historian is left to deductions framed on the presence or absence of the more or less rude works of early man. In an enchanting work of his, Professor Boyd Dawkins arrays from every available source all that is known of the earliest race on which Pendle Hill an have ever looked, and carefully collates and analyses the facts touching the physical condition of this island in each of these far off epochs, and describes with accuracy the traces of human workmanship as they appear, and states what, in his experienced judgment, these remains indicate. Professor Boyd Dawkins, who stands in the foremost rank of living authorities on the special branch of knowledge with which we are just now concerned, tells us that when we come to analyse the elements summed up in “Celtic” as the designation of a race, we find that the aboriginal inhabitants of this island consisted of a human stream half Celtic and half Iberian, and that the latter was the oldest stock of the two. He has pictured for us, with the genius of a gifted master, what manner of people these Celts and Iberians who haunted our hill-tops in prehistoric times were – how they lived and fought and died, and the kind of civilisation they possessed. From the remains found in various caves the Professor is able to say without doubt that these prehistoric Britons were short in stature, the average height being about five feet four inches, with long beards and delicate features, and large foreheads. They have their modern counterpart, so far at least as physique goes, in the population of the northern parts of Spain and the southern parts of France. We have not the slightest means of saying when this Iberian migration into our island home took place, but it was for certain far outside the utmost bounds of history. And yet, although it is so very long since all this happened, there are still to be seen in some of the dark flashing eyes we admire so much, and in some of those raven locks which also enthral us, reminiscences of the faces of our Iberian forefathers, the cave dwellers of Craven. They brought with them the domestic animals on which we still depend for our food and comfort; the only change that is to be detected in them being that the creatures have been successfully improved in one age after another since the days of the Celtic civilisation by the application of the arts of the breeder. And the arts of these earliest dwellers in our native land formed the rudiments, the germs, which have since developed into the marvellous arts, into the enjoyment of which, as “the heirs of all the ages,” we have entered, so much to our own advantage. The history of civilization all over the earth is divided into four groups. We find the very oldest of these groups represented and typified by what is known as the age of rude and rough unpolished stone. After that, we find a period when the people who lived in the world arrived at the art – and although it appears to us to be a simple art, yet to them it was a most important one – of polishing stone. They were altogether ignorant of metals. In the long course of ages, however, another element of civilisation came in, for the use of bronze was discovered, and from that circumstance the new epoch has been called the age of bronze. When the Romans came to Britain they found a later, or fourth stage of civilisation, the age of iron, in full swing. In the second of these interesting periods – the age of polished stone – of which traces have been found in various spots within the range of vision from the summit of Pendle, the people were hunters and fishermen. They had axes, swords, hammers, and saws of stone and bone; they had implements for grinding corn, bone needles – rough, but still needles – and they adorned themselves with earrings and amulets of bone. Evidences have been discovered in Welsh caverns of these people having buried their dead; and from the fact that close to the skulls found in these caves were discovered swords and axes of better workmanship and quite new, lying close to the bodies, it is evident they believed in a future life; and their belief in a god is demonstrated by the remains of temples, indisputably belonging to them, which have been brought to light. All this is very wonderful. Be it our business now to see if we can gather any hint as to what were the form or forms taken by the worship of the Britons whom the Romans found on Pendle Hill and around it.
The usual theory is that Pendle literally rendered means hill hill only that and nothing more. Dr. Whitaker, the classical historian of Whalley parish, invented the explanation, and every subsequent writer has accepted his dictum without question. There is, however, neither rhyme nor reason about it. To those like ourselves, who believe that the ancient Britons, wherever they inhabited, were the most poetical of nations in the naming of mountain, stream, and flood, it must seem, when any attention is given to the subject, a simple absurdity to imagine that the Segantii called the eminence which was the most conspicuous physical feature of their territory the Pen – that is, the hill, and nothing more. Before we can consent to the possibility of such a supposition, we must be content to believe that the knowledge of the Segantii of our island home was poor, even miserably limited. The means of communication were scant, we know; but it is very far indeed from impossible that the Segantii had some acquaintance, more or less direct, with the mountainous character of what we call Wales. If they ever made their way to the Haven of the Segantii during spring, summer, or autumn, they must, in the gloaming, have caught glimpses of Snowdonia, or of the Cumbrian Hills, and even of the heights of Mona, which would have utterly disabused their mind of a notion so stupid as that the great hill, of which they were probably even prouder than we are, was worthy to be regarded as The Hill above all others. The Celts never were a stupid people. In all times and places they have been quick to perceive the characteristic differences of things. It is beyond all reasonable inference, therefore, to everyone that the Segantii simply called this hill “Pen,” and nothing else. Pen is everywhere the part of the name given to mountain masses by the Celts, but it always precedes some descriptive term. Pen-gwern (the hill of alders), Penrhoys (the hill in the wood), Penmaenmawr (the hill of the great rocks), are cases in point, which could easily be extended by hundreds. Pendle must, therefore, as it stands, have a meaning not hitherto suspected, or its ancient Celtic name must have been forgotten. Our conviction is that the possession of Pendle was stubbornly maintained by the Britons until long after the advent of the Saxons, and in that case the Celtic name could not possibly have been forgotten. But if we concede the view of those who follow Dr. Whitaker, we must believe that neither man, woman, nor child of the British stock was spared by the Roman and Saxon invaders; for the testimony of the history of humanity all the world over, in all ages, is that while a woman lives she teaches her little ones the names she learned in youth. It is simply beyond question that everywhere else in England both Romans, Saxons, and Danes intermarried with British women, though they may have put their male relatives to the sword. If the same thing happened round Pendle, how is it possible, as Dr. Whitaker suggests, that the adjectival part of the name can have been forgotten? Still less could it have been possible for the Saxons, when they came here, to remain unaware, as Dr. Whitaker again suggests they did, that “Pen itself meant a hill, and that in their ignorance they called the commanding eminence Penhill, or Penhull; that is, hill-hill. The theory becomes altogether too ridiculous for belief after a very brief examination.
There is no satisfaction, however, in breaking down other people’s explanations if there is no adequate suggestion to offer in their stead. Our suggestion is that Pendle is, in fact, a truer approach, phonetically, to the Celtic name of the mountain than the Pen-hill, or the Pen-hull which Dr. Whitaker found in some old charters. When this much is granted, we have still to offer some solution of the name. Once we wrote to Dr. Charles Mackay, who has devoted his latter years to Gaelic researches, and asked him to what he traced the “dle” in Pendle. As we expected, he conjectured it has some connection with “dale;” but when we pointed out to him that this was a contradiction in terms, as the name has reference to a hill and not to a valley, Dr. Mackay ventured the surmise that “dilu” in the Celtic tongue means a flood or deluge. If we could imagine that the phenomenon of “Pendle brasting itself ” had been a matter of common occurrence in Celtic times, we should have thought this etymological surmise a highly probable one. But the phenomenon cannot have been so common since this part of the earth was peopled, although beyond all doubt of frequent occurrence in geological times, as to justify the imposition of the name by the Britons. We have consulted Mr. O’Hara, a very learned Irish antiquarian, but he can give no Irish word likely to be corrupted into dle,” except one meaning lamentation. That is not likely to be in any sense applicable. Very pleasant was our correspondence throughout with the Rev. Robert Munro, the author of some intensely interesting articles on Traces of the Druid Religion in Nomenclature. In one of his earliest letters this gentleman said: “‘Pen’ is not the same as our Gaelic, ‘Ben,’ as Dr Mackay would have it; the Gaelic equivalent is ceann – head, extremity, top. Pen-dal would, therefore, mean the head or end of the dale. It might, no doubt, mean hill of the dale. That is a common enough Celtic way of designating mountains. We have got Ben Nevis, hill of the clouds; and Ben Venue, the hill of the moor or the morass.” That is all very well, but with the deepest respect for Mr. Munro, Pendle is not the head or the extremity even of Ribblesdale, nor, much as we like it, shou!d we feel justified in calling it the hill of the dale, remembering, as we must, the claims of Penigant and Ingleborough. Having by this process exhausted the authorities most easily approachable without much profit, we felt at liberty to pursue our own inquiries in illustration of our own view as to the origin of the name of Pendle.
We quite satisfied ourselves, by steps which it is not necessary to describe at length, that dle in the topographical term under discussion is no mere inflection, as in handle, fondle, rindle, and in place names of entirely Saxon origin. That it is no mere inflection is proved by its recurrence in the name of Dilworth. Having satisfied. ourselves so far, we pursued our own examination of dil, the nearest phonetic approach in the Celtic tongues to the last syllable of Pendle. Dil, among the British, undoubtedly meant an idol. It means the same thing in Welsh today. If reference is made to a Welsh Bible, in the words “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,” the Welsh version renders the last term ddelw; and the image which forms the subject of the story of Micah’s theft of silver from his mother, appears in the Welsh sacred narrative as delw; and we are told the pronunciation is the same as in the last syllable of Pendle. Then again, in literary Gaelic, Deildre is a term used alike for idols; and for Druids, dwl itself, being a lath, a rod, the Druid’s wand. Dolbh, in Gaelic, which in speech has some affinity to the final portion of the name of Pendle, is the term for sorcery. Now it is too much to say that all these are mere coincidences, and that it is a further coincidence that not a living soul could tell the Saxons, when they made their way into these parts, that pen meant a hill; and that it is merely a still further coincidence that when the Saxons themselves called our favourite height Pen-hill, as Dr. Whitaker and his followers will have us believe, the common people, contrary to the practice everywhere else, corrupted Pen-hill into Pendle. Phonetically, such a thing could not have happened without violence to the Saxon tongue, which we have no warrant to assume. There is no difficulty in understanding why Pendle should have been called the “hill of idols or images” by the Christianised Britons who gradually succeeded to the aboriginal heathens. The level country along the Ribble and its tributaries would be first Christianised. Paganism would die hard in the hill country of Pendle. It by no means followed that because the Britons of the Pendle country became Christians they ceased to be patriots or to fight obstinately for the lands and freedom of their fathers.
There are some words, both in Celtic and Norse, regarding which some doubt may exist as to whether they are cognate words or whether the one language borrowed them from the other. Among these is the English word dale – Pen-dal, some say, is the true meaning of Pendle. In Gaelic it is dale or dail, and in Iceland dali. The essential meaning of the root, in both tongues, is division or separation. In Ireland, dal, a portion, is found in the place name Dalriada; that is, °’ Riada’s portion.” But dal enters into the names of places all over Great Britain, where the Norsemen never were. Scores of such names are undoubtedly Celtic. On the other hand, all along the territory occupied by the Norsemen, every level place, or strath, is a dale, and the people occupying these low-lying levels are called dalesmen. But there is absolutely no evidence that the Danes ever reached, in any considerable numbers, the country round Pendle to make it their homes. Beside, dal was a division, because it divided hills from each other; that is, separated the British tribes who dwelt on hills, not by the water side like the Danes. Pendle, moreover, it is to be borne in mind, is a hill, not a dale, and never could have been called what it is called because of its relation to the valley. In short, once accept Pendle as a wholly Celtic name, surviving in phonetic form, and the probabilities are great that it means the hill of the idols, the hill of the Druids. Dilworth, between Grimsargh and Pendle, might easily, in this sense, have been a home of sorcery.
At the foot of Pendle Hill, on its western slope, but at the same time on a fell or eminence to which it gives its own name, is the little village of Grindleton. Some few miles further off, also in a hill country, which in British times must have been a natural, and, indeed, almost an impenetrable fastness, is the parish of Grimsargh. The notably peculiar ending of the latter name is unmistakably Celtic, and there is no uncertainty about its meaning. It occurs, to repeat an observation already made, in Argyle, and there it means a boundary, or territory, or jurisdiction – in other words, the country, or area, or limitation of the Gaels. Grimsargh, then, is a district, or locality, or, at any rate, the boundary in that direction of a district or locality which in Celtic or British times had well-defined characteristics of its own. History is utterly silent as to what its distinguishing features were. Tradition also is dumb. But, depend upon it, it is a great deal more than a coincidence that these two names of Grimsargh and Grindleton, and that of Tootall Height, survive as the designations of places in the Ribble Valley, where it enters by a deep gorge from Yorkshire into Lancashire, and flows on under the shadow of Pendle Hill to the sea. Angle-zargh, away over yonder by Rivington Fell, was, as we have seen, manifestly and palpably the boundary – the hill limit – of the Angles’ country southwards, as Argyle was the boundary of the Gaels on the Firth of Clyde. The name of the river, which also doubtless formed part of the Angles’ boundary, outward from Pendle Hill, that is, the Douglas, we have also seen is purely Celtic It surely needs no further argument that within these limits the Ancient Britons once dwelt securely.
Grim is only another form of Grin, and Gryn, and of Gryan as it is in the Irish, whence comes the Irish proper name of Ryan. All these forms of the one root-word admittedly signify the sun, when the term is used for that celestial luminary as a divinity, or as the object or symbol referred to in divine worship. The same with the Apollo Grynoeus of classical mythology. It is a curious fact, but a fact nevertheless, that wherever Grim or Grin enters into the composition of a place name, with hardly an exception, some local tradition about the freaks of the devil still lingers in the popular memory. The scene of the exploit commemorated in the legend of “The Dule upo’ Dun” is in close proximity to Grindleton. On the top of Parlick Pike, which overshadows Grimsargh, the devil is popularly reputed to have left his mark behind, and to have travelled thence at an easy single stride to Cockerham. At the other extremity of the kingdom Wan’s Dyke is supposed, by scholars, to mark the ancient boundary in those parts between the Belgae and the Britons; that is, between the two tides of Celtic immigration. In some parts it is called Grim’s Dyke, and as a matter of notoriety the country people of Wiltshire are frequently heard to speak of it as “The Devil’s Dyke.” This brings out clearly the probabilities of the etymology of the case. If the aboriginal pagan inhabitants called this Grim’s Dyke, or the Ditch of the Sun, as a title of sanctity, their Christian successors would assuredly call it the Dyke or Ditch of the Idol, or of the Devil; and if this origin of both words grim and grin be admitted, several other corroborative explanations will follow. Thus “Grimshaw” – not an uncommon name around Pendle Hill – since “shaw” signifies a wood or grove, becomes readily” the Wood or Grove of the Sun.” What Odin or Woden was to the later Saxon, Grim, or Grin, or Gryncoeus was to the Celtic races – for while to the Britons the sun was the central symbol of their worship, to their subsequent conquerors a gleam of sunshine was the smile of Odin,” and so designated by them with all the truth of poetry. Grimsargh, then, was the boundary on one side, as Pendle Hill was on the other, of the region of the sun or devil worshippers. Of course it was the Saxons gave it this name, in recognition of a fact which they found existing when they penetrated to these parts. The usual lazy and thoughtless fashion is for writers to say that Grindleton means simply the settlement of some chieftain called Grim, and Waddington of some other chief called Wadda, and Worston of still another tribal chief called Wor, and so on. If there is history in words, these surmises are all grounded on error. We take it that the occurrence of the prefix Grin is an acknowledgment on the part of the earliest Saxon conquerors of the adjoining country that the British settlement on the fell below Pendle was given up to the worship of the sun. Nor does it follow beyond question that the last syllable of the name is Saxon, although it is true that to the Saxon any settlement, however small, if naturally or artificially defended, was a ton. It is far more likely that the ton in Grindleton and Pendleton and Waddington is a slight variation from tan than what it is conventionally assumed to be. The homestead or ton of Grin, and of Pendle and of Wadda, means nothing outside the veriest commonplace. But Grindle-tan and Wodin-tan are full and graphic pictures of old-world history and religion on the sides of Pendle Hill. Tan is described as the great object of worship among the earliest British Celts, and there seems reason to believe that all the “Saint Anne’s Hills” in England, of which there are many, are so called from some dialectic corruption, instead of Tan Hills, or Tan’s Hills, in which latter form, however, the sound approaches so nearly to that of St. Anne’s Hill that the change may have been quite unintentional. It is an unquestioned fact that until a generation or two ago Bel-tein fires – a forgotten relic of Druid worship – were annually kindled on various spots around Pendle. Thus explained, Grindleton, situated on its well-defined fell, becomes at once etymologically “the scene of the sacred fires kindled in worship of idols or the devil.” The practice of dedicating hills, either natural or artificial, to the uses of worship, and of celebrating religious rites upon their summits, has been universal among mankind, and to these practices are almost certainly due the name of Grindleton, given in hate, and scorn, and contempt by the neighbouring Saxon tribes settled within sight of Pendle Hill, and envious of the retention by the Britons of the natural fastnesses afforded by the flanks of the mountain. It must ever be borne in mind that for generations in succession it was only the lower lands along the river banks which were settled by the Saxon invaders. The loftier hills, as their names everywhere show, except between Pendle and Whernside, still remained in British hands long after the vales and the lower eminences had been wrested from them. And, when the Britons were defeated, while the native princes were expelled, the original inhabitants long remained. The Briton not only kept his Pendle, but disputed with the invaders the possession of the valley below. When opportunity served, or deer or cattle grew scarce on the hills, a British band would make a foray upon the herds of an Anglian theyn in the vales lower down the river, and then hurry back with their booty to the fastnesses of Grindleton Fell and Pendle Hill. The arrogance of the Saxons and Angles towards the Britons, whom they ceaselessly laboured to dispossess, is amusingly shown in the term by which they designated the children of the soil. Not satisfied with having deprived them of their land, the intruders called them Wall-eys;” that is, strangers. The word, do not let us forget, certainly survives in Wales,” the name of a little village on the borderland of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, as well as the term Welsh,” which expresses an historical truth. The Briton did become a stranger in his native land, but the term came with a bad grace from the strangers who had disinherited him. Whalley, too, as we have already urged, is far more probably a form of Wales,” as Wallace is – so indicating a long – continued British district – than anything else which etymologists have guessed. Grindleton, and Grimsargh, and Whalley, therefore, all apparently indicate places in which the Britons lingered longest, not only defying their Saxon enemies, but maintaining their sun worship, or Druid rites, which led the Saxon settlers in bitter scorn and ridicule to call these British fastnesses, under the shadow of Pendle, the country of the idol, or devil worshippers. The transition from the idea of idols among the Saxon Christians to the idea of devils was easy, and a blending of Christian and pagan theology soon made the popular idea of the devil everything that was dark, and grimy, and dreadful, and evil, and forbidding. And the conviction that the Britons worshipped a creature so represented would add fuel to the hate between the invaders and invaded. All this, and more, is suggested by the very names of Grindleton and Grimsargh.
If Grindleton and Grimsargh were so named from a primitive Saxon chief, as is commonly alleged, that prince must have been ubiquitous, or as prolific of offspring as the founder of the family of Smith. Not to mention more illustrations, which would only be wearisome, the Codex Diplomaticus aevi Saxonici shows that (there is, as already stated, a Grim’s Ditch in Wiltshire, a Grimstone in Norfolk, and a Grimley, a Grimanhill, and a Grimsett in Worcestershire. The German Professor, Heinrich Leo, of Halle, referring in his famous Treatise on the Local Nomenclature of the Anglo-Saxons to the group of names of which Grimsargh is a type, says the names of fierce, fabulous creatures are coupled with wild, dismal, inaccessible places. Here we have evidently a lingering trace of the popular superstitions born of the religious animosity which led the Saxon invaders of the Pendle country to style the scenes of the British Druid worship Grindleton and Grimsargh, the country of the sun or devil worship. Elsewhere Professor Leo says the word Grim denotes a mask – which simply shows the rising of a later belief among the Saxons that the devil in his rambles can assume as many different shapes, or disguises, or appearances as he chooses. We thus see how that same Grim, which in early Anglo-Saxon mythology was a most notable personage, being no other than the Evil One himself, under a different name, became mixed up with the fairy lore of mediaeval England. Grim thus describes himself in Halliwell’s Fairy Mythology [pp, 152 and 153] I walke with the owle, and make many to cry as loud as she doth hollow. Sometimes I do affrighte many simple people, for which some have termed me the Black Dog of Newgate,” &c. “‘Tis I that doe, like a skritch owle, cry at sick men’s windows, which make the hearers so fearfull, that they say that the sick man cannot live.”
When candles burns both blue and dim,
Old folkes will say, “Here’s Fairy Grim.”
Within living memory the common people who dwelt on either side of Pendle Hill were fully persuaded that they sometimes either saw or heard a token when a person was going to die. It is a very curious fact that the superstitions which grew out of the Saxon Christian representation of the worship offered to the sun by the British dwellers under the shadow of Pendle, from Grindleton to Grimsargh, should have lingered practically down to the present day. The associations conjured up by the names of Grindleton and Grimsargh, as we have explained them, and the further associations recalled by the yearly practice of kindling fires on the sides of Pendle Hill, which survived until times well within living memory, are of intense interest. The popular festival known as Beltein Day, being interpreted, is none other than “the day of the sacred fires of Baal.” The Perthshire mountain called Tillee Beltein, on which this custom still prevails, means in the Gaelic tongue, the high place of the fire of Baal.” And Billington and Billinge are far more probably indebted for their names to Saxon references to Beil or Baal, and tan, a sacred fire, than to the meaningless assumption, usually followed, that they are so called after another chief named Billing. If the latter explanation were established as true, it would follow that the Saxon soldiers must have been pretty nearly all chiefs.
In the course of a charming article on Goosnargh and its Martyrs, just recently published, which everyone who reads must enjoy because of its style, and admire because of its veneration for those who were faithful unto death for the faith which to them was the only true one, its author, the Very Rev. Monsignor Gradwell, tells us: “We do not come upon the form of Goosnargh until we find it in the Domesday Book under the name of Gussenargh.” We agree, of course, with the learned and very reverend writer, that “it is worth while to examine the structure of this word, for it supplies a missing link in the history of the township. Gussand, the Rev. J. C. Atkinson, the learned author of the Cleveland Dialect, tells us, means in Danish a divine image or idol; and argh is the equivalent of horg, an old Norse word, meaning an altar of stone erected on high ground, or a sacrificial cairn, upon which the blood of the victims was poured; so that Goosnargh means god’s altar.” This passage recalls so very many associations that it is difficult to know where to begin. We trust we are incapable of such an impertinence as to question the opinion of such an authority as Mr. Atkinsan, especially when it is endorsed by a critic so capable as Monsignor Gradwell. Still we may be excused for pointing out some coincidences, illustrating, by a different process, the same truth which these gentlemen say lies enshrined in the very name of Goosnargh. Goosnargh adjoins Grimsargh. Within the range of vision from Pendle Hill, and on the banks of the Ribble, there is a venerable village called Rathmell, which in itself shows the Danes once had a settlement there. The Danes got possession of parts of Ireland too; and as evidence of their conquest at Tara and other place they made the word rath a part of their nomenclature. That only shows the connection of the Danes with Ireland far more than with the country around Pendle. But what we want to exemplify is that gos, variously inflected, used to mean, in the Scandinavian tongue, something brought about by miraculous power. Thus Dr. O’Connor, in his account of the Irish MSS. at Stowe, says that the Stone of Destiny, or Lia Fail, was at a remote period removed from the royal rath, or mound, at Tara, and taken to the kings at Cruachan, in Connaught, and that because of that it ceased to emit its usual Gas, which signifies a spell or charm.” Here, then, we have a trace of the first element in the name of Gussenargh, but the second syllable is no less teeming with strange associations. Son, in Icelandic, means a heathen sacrifice. About two centuries ale the people of .Lewis offered up annually a cup of a16 to a sea-god, Shony, in the hope that he would send them plenty of sea-weed for manure; and Captain Thomas has shown that this practice was a survival from Norse pagan days. Putting these two elements of the name of Goosnargh together, we get a hint of the charm or spell that came from a sacrifice; but from a sacrifice to what? There is still the termination arg to be questioned. Mr. Atkinson, quoting from Vigfusson’s Icelandic Dictionary, says “Distinction is to be made between hof, equivalent to temple, and horg; the hof was a house of timber, whereas the horg was an altar of stone erected on high places, or a sacrificial cairn built in the open air, and without images, for the horg itself was to be stained with the blood of the sacrifices. The worship in horgs seems to be older than that in temples.” On his own account the Rev. J. C. Atkinson observes that the termination in argh, or erche, is in reality of no little interest.” That is, indeed, very true. A reference to, for instance, O’Reilly’s Irish Dictionary, will show that this erche, or argh, in its oldest meaning, has only to do with the “sun,” and with “heaven.” Analysed thus at length, Goosnargh, or Gussenargh, in its primary signification was the place of enchantment from sacrifices offered to the sun. One feature of the old Beltein gatherings, or sun festivals, was a repast of eggs and milk. In Chambers’ Book of Days some interesting memorials will be found about god-cakes at Coventry, and idol-cakes of a still earlier era. How long have the famous Goosnargh cakes been an institution of the district, and are they not in reality a survival of the heathen ritual once practiced on the hillsides of the parish? In Harland and Wilkinson’s Lancashire Legends and Traditions, it is stated in the preface, what we know of our own knowledge to be still the actual fact, that in many upland nooks and corners in the country round Pendle stories still survive of bargains made with the devil by human beings, and always sealed with the blood of his victims. Burnley and Brindle churches have respectively associations with demons and with the devil. How did all these strange fancies come to be in the beginning? All these remarkable notions which still refuse to be quite rooted out of the popular mind in the country round Pendle, and watered by the Ribble and its tributaries, mean that in remote times the foundations of every house, of every bridge, of every castle, even of every church, were laid in blood. In heathen times a sacrifice was offered to the god under whose protection the building was placed; in Christian times the sacrifice continued, but was given another signification. It was said that no edifice would stand firmly unless the foundations were laid in blood. Usually some animal was placed under the corner stone, a dog, a sow, a wolf, a black cock, a goat, sometimes the body of a malefactor who had been executed for his crimes. These are the sources of the alleged goblin apparitions with which the building of Burnley Parish Church on its present site is indelibly associated. A huge black dog, with eyes like saucers, is a prominent figure in Ribblesdale stories of ghosts and demons; and the belief in this hairy goblin lingered until quite recent years at Weeton, which many signs go to show was itself a British town. All these beliefs in the agency of demons and devils have a connection with the idol worship of Goosnargh in pagan times. What were the exact proportions in which Celts and Danes were responsible for creating this popular belief in the office of the demons, and goblins, and ghosts it is impossible to say, but having often heard with our own ears venerable farmers discoursing on “the laying of boggarts,” we know how earnestly this faith in supernatural agencies was held by the grandfathers of the present generation, not only in Goosnargh and Grimsargh, but on the other side of Pendle. Goosnargh, however, as its name tells us, is the very place of enchantment effected by sacrifices offered to the devil, as the enemies of the Druidic Britons said, to the sun, as they themselves would have put it. As for the Danes, who afterwards made Goosnargh their home, we know that the herdsmen of their rugged native land and the sailors of their dangerous seas, until late in time believed that the dreadful storm which washed away their sheep, which dashed their boats upon the rocks, and which ruined house and fold, was due to a sudden exertion among the demons of the air, forbidden by the mandate of heaven to rest on earth, and who are therefore perpetually working to effect havoc upon it. They are further described as capricious, vindictive, and easily irritated. The Danes were incessant in their efforts to assuage the anger of these demons and sprites. The name of Goosnargh most likely is but the Danish way of expressing a state of things which the Danes found existing when they got there, and not indicative at all of a system created by them. Will anybody venture to say that old customs and old names cannot reasonably be supposed to linger so long? Why, Monsignor Gradwell says, and we believe him correct, that Claughton is only another form of the Highland clachan,” as demonstrated by a by-way in the locality still called Clekkan-lane.” Now just see what this means! “The clachan yills had made me canty,” says Burns, and there clachan, as it generally does, means a village; but look! It used to be said that the three requisites of a hamlet were an inn, a smithy, and a church. In Gaelic song and in common speech a clachan is used quite frequently for the church. Are you going to the clachan,” means are you going to the church, as well as “Are you going to the village.” According to Mr. Skene the beehive cells of the anchorities were of old called clachans, but so were the stepping stones over rivers.
When the ancient Britons who dwelt around Pendle and along the Ribble were summoned to Grindleton or Grimsargh on May Day or Midsummer’s Day, or the eve of St. John, as we call it, the – spectacle which met their eyes on the kindling of the Baal-fires must have been magnificent. The fertile banks of the noble river must have been splendidly illuminated, and as the sun sank out of sight, from pyre after pyre along the terraced heights that rise above both its banks, bright flames would burst forth, and ere long the more distant moorlands would be dotted with innumerable beacons. Such a sight must have been intensely imposing. The Druids of old, twenty or thirty centuries since, could have wished no better temple for their Nature Worship than the hallowed clearing made by them at some point hard by that bright and noble river, which they declared sacred to the Queen of Heaven, with dense impenetrable woods reaching on either bank far up on Pendle and its companion hills, thick set with high places, and rude cairns, and sacred enclosures. The ancient Britons, however, offered worship not only to the sun, which shines by day, but to the stars, which shine by night. They had much reason to do so, for most of their travelling was done by night, and except between one or two principal points there was not even a trackway to be followed. They were bound to trust to the stars for guidance; and realising in time that the rising and setting of particular stars were contemporaneous with the appearance of certain fruits and herbs, and with the change of the seasons, it was not very strange that they soon came to regard them as divine as well as beautiful. If only one star,” says Emerson, were to appear in the course of a thousand years, how all men would fear and worship it.” Those who worshipped on Tootall Heights over against Pendle in the remote ages of antiquity, pagans though they were, had reverence enough to recognise that the Creator of light, whether of the light that shines by day or by night, was worthy of worship. To them light was always holy and always solemn, and always the inspirer of reverence. By the centurions and soldiery of the cohorts which lay in Roman Ribchester, Mercury, the same divinity that was called Hermes by the Greeks, was regarded as the patron of travellers and the presiding genius of commerce. They represented Mercury with a winged cap, winged sandals, and a short sword – with, in fact, the shoes of swiftness and the sword of sharpness,” of mediaeval legends. Bearing all this in mind, it is most remarkable that Caesar, in his remarks upon the religion of Britain, observes that Mercury was the chief object of veneration; that there were many images of him, and that he stood as a guide over the hills and trackways. Not that the Roman Mercury was actually worshipped by that name before Caesar’s arrival in Britain; but stones being sacred to Mercury among the Greeks and Romans, and Caesar perceiving that artificial mounds, surmounted by a stone or simulacrum, were particularly venerated, he hence concluded that Mercury was the god held in peculiar esteem, and he would be the more confirmed in this opinion when he learned that the worship offered on these artificial mounds was addressed to the stars, in the hope of securing safe guidance over pathless hills and through thick-set forests, which the Romans regarded as the peculiar office of Mercury to grant. Now Mr. Bowles, and subsequently to him many another eminent authority, has told us that the Egyptian Thoth, Thot, or Tot; the Phoenician Tautus or Taute; the Grecian Hermes; the Roman Mercury, and the Teutates of the Celts, are universally admitted to be the same. Professor Rhys, in his recent Hibberd Lectures on Celtic Mythology, takes the same view, and holds that this Toot, Tot, or Teutate, was the essence of the Celtic divinity.
What makes this matter of special interest to us while considering the character and extent of the Paganism which once prevailed on Pendle Hill and around it is the amply admitted surmise that when used in the names and places in England, indicative of some tumulus or conical hill, the term “Toot” is indicative of a spot dedicated to the great Celtic god Taute, or Mercury, the Universal Parent who watched and guided his people from amid the immensity in which the stars are set. These holy mounds, or Toot Hills, are always found by the sides of ancient roads. The Tootall Heights, which form a portion of the far-stretching Longridge Fell over against Pendle, were undoubtedly a meeting point of many trackways of the Segantii. Indeed, it is most probable that the great main route from the Haven of the Segantii on the Wyre to York, was in existence before the Romans settled at Roman Ribchester, and that in making their own road between those points they followed very closely the line of communication they found existing. The name given to that road, from the Roman times until this present, and most likely long before the Romans ever made their way within hundreds of miles of Pendle, was Watling-street. What is too curious to overlook is that a very eminent French writer on Celtic life and customs, M. Cambreys, tells us that this name of Watling-street is itself a purely Celtic phrase, and that it literally means the road leading to the sacred wattled enclosure! These are no new conjectures made to suit the purpose of names existing around Pendle Hill, for it is most probable that not one of the authorities from whom we have quoted, ever so much as heard of Pendle or of the associations connected with it. Here, however, is Tootall Height, on a track-way, with a name which itself bespeaks the passage to a sacred spot, and on a point overlooking both Goosnargh, and Grimsargh, and Grindleton, with their own suggestions of Druid worship Bryant derives the names of all-round eminences such as this, and which are called Toots, or Tootalls, from Tith, because round towers, situated on eminences, were so called by all the early races who inhabited the cradle of the human race, and such eminences, which were generally artificial, were sacred to the deities of light – were sacred, that is, to the stars by night, as well as to the sun by day. Although the Anglo-Saxons may have used mounds like the well-known Tootall Heights above the village of Longridge as look-out stations,” which some Anglo-Saxon etymologists believe to be the meaning of the word, still many of them must be of British origin and derivation; and the fact that places so called almost always lie either directly on or close by what it is clear were British trackways, appears to strongly favour the opinion that they were sacred, while the ancient Britons were still masters of their own country, to the Celtic Teutates, who was the guide over the hills and trackways. But how was his guidance shown; what was the expression of his care, except the shining of the stars by night, which enabled journeys then to be best performed? Without revelation of any kind, the rude pagan dwellers of the Pendle country, if what we are inferring from the name of Tootall Heights be correct, paid divine adoration to the stars; and what wonder? The greatest minds in Christian ages have found the impossibility of contemplating the stars without becoming awe-struck. Can we forget what Young says?
One sun by day, by night ten thousand shine,
And light us deep into the Deity.
O how loud
They call devotion, general growth, of night!
Devotion, daughter of astronomy.
An undevout astronomer is mad.
The immense expanse by which we are surrounded in every direction oppresses our powers of contemplation; the mind, soaring from visible systems to systems invisible, becomes lost in the immensity of heavenly regions, drops again, fatigued, into itself, and returns for repose to the circle of its domestic ideas. Can we forget Milton’s glorious outburst-
These are Thy glorious works, Parent of Good!
Almighty! Thine this universal frame,
Thus wondrous fair; Thyself how wondrous then!
Unspeakable! who sits above the heavens,
To us invisible, or dimly seen
In these Thy lowest works; yet these declare
Thy goodness beyond thought and power divine.
What Nature worshippers the Celts were! Their temples were not made with hands. They had no roof but the blue arch of heaven, with the sun for its glory by day, and the moon and the stars for its glory by night. Its boundary walls were the trees of the forest, instinct with life in the spring, magnificent with greenerie in summer, fiery red in autumn, dull and dead in winter; but even then most eloquent of immortality, for “when winter comes can spring be far behind?” Is it certain, in spite of all our colleges and schools, that we are as wise as the Druids? The people who can trace any poetry in the heavens by night, or in the “ten thousand matchless miracles of beauty” that gem the woods and fields by day, are far between – it would be better for England’s future were they more.
None of us are ever much in danger of forgetting that Palestine has its sacred river in the Jordan, and Egypt its sacred river in the Nile, and India its sacred river in the Ganges. What very few have realised is that while the Segantii continued to enjoy their primitive freedom, and to exercise their primitive religion throughout their territory westward of Pendle, the noble stream that runs at the foot of that eminence was the sacred river of what we now call Lancashire. Mr. Thornber, who we find a pleasure in repeating, was one of the most delightful writers on Lancashire History the county ever produced, says that the Romans paid divine honours to the Ribble under the title of “Minerva Belisama.” Like Dr. Whitaker, in his History of Whalley, without reiterating reasons for restoring to the Ribble its ancient name of Belisama, we shall assume that point as proved, at least with the degree of evidence which such investigations admit of, though we shall not insist that the temple at Ribchester was dedicated to the goddess Minerva Belisama. Though Leigh, the author of that strange conglomeration of superstition, nonsense, and research which he called “The Natural History of Lancashire, and Cheshire, and the Peak of Derbyshire,” indulged in some extraordinary flights of fanciful conjecture at times, he was probably not very far from the truth when he said that the Brigantes and their allies, the Segantii – that the people, in fact, who lived all round Pendle in prehistoric times – were a mixed people, composed of Britons, Phoenicians, and Armenians. There is a great deal of probability, too, that Leigh was correct when he surmised that Belisama in the Phoenician language signifies the moon, the goddess of heaven,” and that Ribel, now the name of the same river, in the Armenian tongue signifies heaven.” Now if there is one thing more evident than another from a comparison of Celtic tongues it is that in that language Rhi, Reigh, Ray, and Rey always indicates a stream, as in Rhyader, the falls of the Wye, and the well-known Warwickshire river, the Rea. Ribble, therefore, is manifestly not the head river” – the chief river – as some have argued, for that pretension could never have had any foundation in fact, but the river of Bel.” There is no need to ask who was Bel, when we remember the survival, until very recent times, of the yearly Bel-tein fires kindled on the slopes of Pendle Hill. Before the Romans ever set foot in Britain the Ribble was a river sacred to Baal. If Belisama is the merely Latinised form of the Celtic name, and its literal meaning is correctly rendered “Queen of Heaven,” it would almost seem that while the wooded hills in the Pendle country were sacred to the King of Heaven, the noblest of the running waters er its shadow was dedicated to Heaven’s Queen – the moon, association of ideas always creates in us a fondness for the imagined name of the deity supposed to have been worshipped at Roman Ribchester as Minerva Belisama. If the presumption is not true it should be, for wisdom and contemplation by moonlight have always had connecting links, and these are well combined in Minerva Belisama.
In Harland and Wilkinson’s Lancashire Folk-Lore we are told: The ancients performed certain rites and ceremonies at the changes of the moon; and hence that luminary has added some curious items to the popular creed. Old Mother Bunch’s Garland is an authority on these matters, and amongst many other things it teaches expectant females who desire to pry into futurity to cross their hands on the appearance of the new moon and exclaim-
All hail! new Moon; all hail to thee!
I pray thee, good Moon, declare to me
This night who my true love shall be.
It is accounted unlucky in East Lancashire for anyone to see the new moon for the first time through a window.” The two gentlemen might have easily collected a good deal more curious old Lancashire folk-lore with reference to the moon. Who shall say that these superstitions of the Pendle country, which still lurk in lonely farm houses, did not owe their origin in part, if not altogether, to the Moon Worship once practised beneath Pendle on the banks of the Ribble? Among the Celts all kinds of wholesome and far-reaching influences were ascribed to the moon; but not by the Celts alone, for that beautiful bright globe of the night had worshippers in olden times all over the then known world. To its bright image “Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs.” The moon was, in fact, not only an object of worship along the margin of the Ribble, dedicated in its honour, but an object of reverent veneration to all the peoples of antiquity. Amongst the Hebrews it was more regarded than the sun, and they were more inclined to worship the lamp of night than the orb of day as a deity.
If the Britons of the Pendle country erred, then, in hallowing the most beautiful of the streams that watered their country to the worship of the moon, and if the sacred honours paid to that river were so marked that even the Roman conquerors of the district commemorated its association with the Queen of Heaven in Belisama – the Latin name they gave it – they erred as Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Greeks had erred before them. Who can wonder that a race like the Segantii, fired by the characteristically poetic temperament of the Celts, should feel their thoughts raised to superior beings by contemplation of the moon, tranquilly watching over nature in its deepest repose, and reflecting the promise of a sweet hereafter in the serenity of its face. That a celestial object, so beneficial and so interesting, should attract the reverential notice of the remote Celtic dwellers round Pendle and along the banks of the Ribble, was not more wonderful than the notice which it has attracted from the poets of all ancient countries in all parts of the world. To us the Ribble seems all the nobler since the inference is so clear, from its British and Roman names, that the Segantii held it worthy to be dedicated to the worship of the moon – the moon which was not alone an object of glorious and chastened beauty and an inspirer of high and awful thoughts, but probably esteemed by the Pendle Britons, as it certainly was alike by Greeks and Romans, an influential arbiter of fortune, and the presiding genius of love and childbirth.
It will not be forgotten that the inscription on the temple at Roman Ribchester set forth that it had been either built or restored in answer to the decree of an oracle. The word “oracle” denotes either a pretended answer of the gods to the questions of men, or the place where those answers were given. Oracles were consulted, not only in every important matter, but even in the affairs of private life. Those persons who are apt to picture to themselves the Romans as having attained to all but the perfection of civilisation, do not trouble to remember that in respect to belief in divination, as in many other particulars, they were certainly not better than the Celts. They imagined they saw in every unusual occurrence a sign of the will of heaven; but the power of interpreting these signs was thought to depend upon a peculiar talent iconferred upon favoured mortals at their birth, and only fully developed by a peculiar’ discipline. An election of king, consul, dictator, praetor, priest, pontifex, augur, vestal, or flamen, was void if made when the auspices were unfavourable.. So large a part did the birds play in their divinations, that aui, equivalent to avi – the root of the word avis, the Latin for bird – is the chief element in augur, as it is also in the word auspex (avispex), which means literally a looker at, or watcher of the birds. A general could not cross the frontier of a State, or even a river, without the sanction of his birds, and to engage an enemy under such circumstance was to court defeat; and hence it is little matter of wonder that public lands could not be assigned without the authority of the augurs, who were feasted and paid from the State treasury. Cicero said that two augurs could not look at each other without laughing. The great orator must have known whereof he spoke, for he himself had been an augur. The people did not laugh at the oracles. They accepted their predictions as judgments from heaven, and woe to the one who tried to undeceive them. While consulting the oracles in the temple at Roman Ribchester, the augur held in his hand his litnus, a long stick, but in the form of a crozier. He was attired in a long red dress, and turning gravely to the east pointed with his stick to a certain part of the sky. That part of the sky was called the templum, and there the augur looked to see what birds made their appearance, and towards what part of the sky they flew. If they flew to the right it was a lucky sign; if to the left it was unlucky. The public consultation of the oracles must have been a solemn proceeding at Roman Ribchester, as everywhere else in the Roman Empire, and more impressive than that just described. On a stormy day, when Jupiter thundered in the clouds, the augur, dressed in a long scarlet robe, with a pointed hat on his head, and his augural stick in his hand, climbed to the very top of a mountain, whence he could see all parts of the horizon. Crowds of people followed him religiously. Having arrived at the very summit he offered a sacrifice to the gods, addressed a prayer to them, in which the spectators joined, then turning towards the east showed with his stick the point of the heavens which he wished to observe; then if lightning gleamed and thunder roared, the oracle had answered, perhaps favourably, perhaps unfavourably, according to the direction from which the thunder and lightning came. Hope and fear filled all hearts, as if the elements obeyed the diviner’s stick, and as if Jupiter were able to inspire them. There can be little doubt that before the Romans were long in Britain, the mythology of the Britons and the mythology of the Celts acted and reacted upon each other. The old Druid worship of Teutates assumed something of the Roman wOrship of Mercury. Among the altars found at Roman Ribchester was one dedicated to Mercury Maponis, a Celtic character of a Roman deity. We know that the divining stick, and that the appearance of birds as signs of good and bad luck, have still their isolated believers in the country round Pendle Hill.
A time came when the Saxons became the masters of the country round Pendle, but it was not till after they were Christianised that they approached to that hill itself. The nearest points at which we have any survival of a name indicating the practice of the heathen worship of the Norsemen are Thorsden, on the moorlands above Burnley, where the Romans made their subsidiary camps; and Balderstone, on the opposite bank of the Ribble from Grimsargh. These names bespeak, as plainly as words can, the worship once offered at those places to the Saxon hero-divinities – Thor and Balder. Even the name of Hell Clough, in the same locality as Thorsden, reminds us that, according to the popular belief of the peasants of the northern countries, Hela spreads plague and pestilence, and diffuses all evil, while she rides by night on the three-footed horse of hell. It was the Hellaquin, the race of Hela, whom Richard Fearnought, Duke of Normandy, the son of Robert the Devil, encountered hunting or revelling in the forest. Thor himself was the eldest son of Odin, the father of the gods, and the strongest and most intrepid of the deities. According to some he launched the thunder of Odin, and was principally consulted in heaven relative to the award of victory. He bore about with him a hammer, which he grasped with gauntlets of iron, and which as often as it was discharged returned immediately to his hand. He was also possessed of a girdle, which had the virtue of renewing his strength as occasion might require. He gave his name to Thursday, the fifth day of the week. And who was this Balder whom we are supposing the Saxons commemorated at Balderstone? He, also, was a hero-divinity of the Norsemen. In truth, the story contains “beautiful traits of pity too – an honest pity,says Carlyle. “Balder, the white god,’ dies; the beautiful, benignant; he is the sun-god. They try all Nature for a remedy; but he is dead. Friga, his mother, sends Hermoder to seek or see him. Nine days and nine nights he rides through gloomy deep valleys, a labyrinth of gloom; arrives at the bridge, with its golden roof. The keeper says, ‘ Yes, Balder did pass here; but the Kingdom of the Dead is down yonder, far towards the North.’ Hermoder rides on; leaps Hell gate, Hela’s gate; does see Balder, and speak with him. Balder cannot be delivered. Inexorable! Hela will not for Odin, or any god, give him up. The beautiful and gentle has to remain there. His wife had volunteered to go with him, to die with him. They shall for ever remain there. He sends his ring to Odin. Nanna, his wife, sends her thimble to Friga as a remembrance. Ah me! For, indeed, Valour is the fountain of Pity too – of Truth and all that is great and good in man.” This passage, we need hardly say, is also from Carlyle’s famous lecture “On Heroes.” Others besides Carlyle have, however, been charmed with the hero of the worship that gave its name to Balderstone. “Balder Dead” is the title of the principal poem in one of the volumes of Matthew Arnold. Here for a while Mr. Arnold escaped from Grecian nomenclature, though not from Grecian influence, and introduced us to the Scandinavian gods and heroes in the halls of the Valhalla. The epic simplicity of the poem is charming; and some of the descriptions are written in Mr. Arnold’s happiest style. Take, for instance, the description of Balder’s funeral:-
But when the Gods and Heroes heard, they brought
The wood to Balder’s ship, and built a pile,
Full the deck’s breadth, and lofty; then the corpse
Of Balder on the highest top they laid,
With Nanna on his right, and on his left
Hoder, his brother, whom his own hand slew.
And they set jars of wine and oil to lean
Against the bodies, and stuck torches near,
Splinters of pine-wood, soak’d with turpentine;
And brought his arms and gold, and all his stuff,
And slew the dogs which at his table fed,
And his horse, Balder’s horse, whom most he lov’d,
And threw them on the pyre; and Odin threw
A last choice gift thereon, his golden ring.
They fixed the mast, and hoisted up the sails,
Then they put fire to the wood; and Thor
Set his stout shoulder hard against the stern
To push the ship through the thick sand: sparks flew
From the deep trench she plough’d – so strong a god
Furrow’d it – and the water gurgled in.
And the ship floated on the waves, and rock’d;
But in the hills a strong east wind arose,
And came down moaning to the sea; first, squalls
Ran black o’er the sea’s face, then steady rush’d
The breeze, and fill’d the sails, and blew the fire;
And wreath’d in smoke, the ship stood out to sea.
Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,
And the pile crackled; and between the logs
Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt,
Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d
The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,
And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship
Drove on, ablaze, above her hull, with fire.
And the gods stood upon the beach, and gaz’d;
And while they gaz’d, the sun went lurid down
Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on;
Then the wind fell, with night, and there was calm.
But through the dark they watch’d the burning ship
Still carried o’er the distant waters on
Farther, and farther, like an eye of fire.
Another explanation of the origin of the Grimshaw name attributes it to Viking origins (later than the Celtic origins hypothesis advanced on this webpage) as described on a companion webpage.
1McKay, James, 1888, Pendle Hill in History and Literature: Preston, Lancashire, England, Henry Davies & Co., 538 p.
2Hindle, David, 2002, Grimsargh – the Story of a Lancashire Village: Lancaster, Lancashire, Carnegie Publishing Ltd., 291 p.
Webpage initiated May 2006. Completed (except for section by Hindle) June 2006. Banner replaced April 2011.