Folk Stories from South Holland, Lincolnshire

The Holbeach Gamesters 

This is a story from the seventeenth century. Due to the rise of religious puritanism, the story was probably used to warn against blasphemy and excessive drunkenness.

There were once three gamesters in the town of Holbeach: Abraham Tegerdine, Mr Slater, Dr Jonathan Watson and Farmer Guymer. They met at the Chequers Inn and gambled and drank until one day the farmer died, and put an end to things.

One night at the Chequers, the three gamesters lamented the death of their friend Guymer and so decided to go to the church where he was interred before his burial and play cards with him. They ordered more beer from the landlord, took a lamp, and staggered to All Saints Church. With true drunkards’ courage they forced the door and, proceeding to the altar, used Guymer’s coffin lid as a card table. After a while, Abraham joked that the corpse would make a good dummy, so the others opened the coffin and helped Guymer to play with them even in death. The corpse was congratulated for playing so well, indeed much better than when alive and kicking!

Suddenly the dead man turned his head and summoned three demons to spirit away the three gamesters. It is said that for many years after, four men could be seen standing by the church, beckoning all drunkards to their fate.

Old Mother Nightshade 

This is a story that is supposed to date back to the Middle Ages where there was a popular belief in lycanthropy, which is the power to turn oneself into an animal at will.

Old Mother Nightshade was a supposed lycanthropic witch who was believed to live at Gendey Dyke. She lived in a hovel away from the village which nobody went near as, when the full moon shone, the villagers could hear strange barking even though she kept no animals. All the villagers feared Old Mother Nightshade except for a simple youth named John Culpepper who loved a girl called Rose in the village. Rose spurned his love so John went to the witch to see if she could punish Rose for him. The witch welcomed the youth and told him to give a box of sweetmeats to Rose at the day of the full moon and then report back to her. 

He did as the witch told him, and returned under the moonlight to the witch’s hovel. However once there, he was fastened to a chair and watched as the old woman turned into a snarling, dribbling, monstrous animal, all covered in thick brown hair. A group of men, hearing cries from the hovel in the night, ventured forth to the house at dawn but found nothing except a pile of clothes and bones thrown into a corner. The boy was never seen again, but Rose flourished, with never a thought of the young boy who once loved her. 

The villagers burned down the hovel, but the villagers of Gedney Dyke still hear to this day, a strange barking at the full moon.