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Thursday 18 December 2014

Dreaming of a Fortune at London Bridge

Whilst scanning through a children’s book entitled Secrets of the Unknown a familiar bell began to ring as the story seemed to be quite familiar. Although no source is given, the following is how the tale is related:

Dreaming of the Future

In the church of Saints Peter and Paul at Swaffham in Norfolk there are wooden statuettes of John Chapman, his wife and dog. They are there because John Chapman put up the money to build the north aisle of the great church. Nothing mysterious in that you may think, but John Chapman was a simple pedlar. How did this simple tradesman come by enough money to finance the building of the aisle? The answer lies in a dream.
            One night the pedlar had a strange dream that told him to make his way to London. It he stood on London Bridge he would meet a man who would bring him a great deal of good fortune. The dream was so compelling that John had to go to London to find out if the dream was true. ‘You must be crazy!’ shouted his wife as he started off on his long walk. ‘Taking that much notice of a silly dream!’
            After a walk of almost a hundred miles, John eventually arrived in London and made his way to London Bridge. But there was no man there. The people of London were hurrying about their own business and paid no attention to the tired untidy man. For the next three days and throughout the next three nights John kept his vigil. But still no-one approached him. ‘My wife was right,’ he said to himself. ‘Fancy a grown man walking all the way to London just because of a dream!’ He was about to set off back home when a man approached him.
            ‘Excuse me,’ said the stranger, ‘But I keep a shop here on the bridge and I have noticed you standing here for the past three days. I am curious to know why.’ So John told the shopkeeper of the dream he had and how he now expected to be scolded by his wife when he returned home. ‘I’m not surprised,’ laughed the man. ‘Why, if I took notice of dreams, I would be in the Norfolk town of Swaffham now, for I dreamt that a man there called John Chapman has a tree in his garden at the base of which is buried a pot of gold!’
            When John Chapman returned to Swaffham he decided to dig at the place mentioned in the shopkeeper’s dream. Sure enough, there beneath the tree in his garden he found the gold!

The very same tale with light variations was recorded and transcribed shortly afterwards by Calum Maclean on the 23rd of March 1951 from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber:

Taigh-òsda le Droch-ainm

Bha taigh-òsta anns an àite seo agus bha droch-ainm aige: iad a bhith ri meirle agus ri goid airgid. Agus chaidh an glacadh agus chaidh an toirt air falbh. Agus nuair a dh’aithnich iad gun robh iad gu bhith air an glacadh, chuir iad an t-airgead falach fo leachd aig stairsneach an doraist. Thàinig cuideachd eile dhan taigh agus cha robh iad a’ creic deoch san àite seo leis an droch-ainm a fhuair a taigh. Chum iad bhuaith a bhith a’ creic deoch. Ach, co dhiù, bha e oidhcheannan ann an sin san taigh. Cha robh e fada ann dar a thàinig bruadar ga ionnsaigh gun robh fhortan aig Drochaid Lunnainn. Cha robh e a’ gabhail mòran feairt. Bhruadair e trì oidhche an deaghaidh a chèile, ach air an oidhche mu dheireadh thàinig an rud gu math garg, crosda air agus:
“Feuma’ tu a dhol a Lunnainn,” thuirt e, “Tha t’ fhortan aig Lunnainn. Agus chì mi an sin thu.”
Dh’ innis e seo dhan bhean. Dh’fhalbh e a Lunnainn a h-uile ceum agus ràinig e am beul an anmoich. Chunnaic e duineachan an sin cho truagh is a chunnaic e riamh aig Drochaid Lunnainn:
“O,” thuirt e ris fhèin, “gu dè tha mi a’ dol a dh’ fhaotainn air cabhsair lom Lunnainn. Chan eil fortan na rud eile ann,” is e a’ coimhead mun cuairt, dar a thàinig am bodachan a bha seo thar an robh e.
“Thàine tu,” thuirt e.
“Ma-tà,” thuirt e, “Cha d’fhuair mise de chumhachd a dhol cho fada ris an taigh sa bheil thu a’ fuireach. Agus cha robh agam ach fios a chuir ort an seo. Agus thèid thu air ais chun an taigh as a bheil thu a’ fuireach. Gheibh thu geimhleag agus cuire’ tu car dhen chlach aig stairsneach an doraist, agus tha t’ fhortan fon a’ chloich.
Thill e dhachaigh is cha do ghabh e dad air gun fhios nach ann a bha e air a mhealladh. Cha do dh’innis e dhan mhnaoi nitheann. Ach fhuair e geimhleag agus chuir e car den chlach. Agus ma chuir bha fortan a-staigh fon chlach a chum gu math e cho fhad ’s a bha e beò.

And the translation goes something like the following:

The Inn of Ill Repute

There was an inn in these parts which had a bad reputation: they used to thieve and steal money. And they were caught and taken away. And when they recognised that they were about to be caught, they hid the money at the door’s threshold. Others took over the inn but they did not sell drink due to the bad reputation that the place had gained. They kept off from selling drink. But, in any case, he spent many nights in the inn. It was not long before a dream came to him that there was fortune to found at London Bridge. He did not give it much heed. He dreamt of this three nights in a row, but by the last night the dream came vividly and impressionably upon him:
“You must go to London,” he said, “Your fortune awaits you in London and I shall see you there.”
He told this to his wife. He set off to London by foot and he reached it at dusk. He saw a small man as poorly off as any he had ever seen at London Bridge.
“Oh,” he thought to himself, “whatever am I going to get on the bare streets of London. There’s no fortune or anything else,” as he looked around and then the little old man came to where he was.
“You’re here,” he said.
“I am.”
“Well, he said, “I’ve not the strength to go as far as the house in which you stay. And, besides, I’ve only got to tell you something. You’ll go back to the house in which you stay. You’ll get a crowbar and you’ll give the stone at the door’s threshold a turn and you’ll find your fortune underneath the stone.
He returned home and he pretended that nothing happened in case he had been duped. He didn’t tell his wife anything. But he got a crowbar and he turned the stone. And if he did he found his fortune beneath the stone which kept him well off for the rest of his days.

As can readily be seen the above stories are a variation upon and theme and, as might be guessed are, in fact, an international tale (ATU 1645, The Treasure at Home) known throughout Europe and beyond. The summary may be given as follows:

A man dreams that he finds a treasure on a bridge in a distant city. He goes to find it but is unsuccessful. While he is there, he tells his dream to a man (beggar), who in turn relates a similar dream in which he found a treasure in the house of the first man. When the first man returns home, he finds the treasure there.

In some variations, as in the above Gaelic version, details would have been added to give a local colouring. The very same has also occurred in the version from Norfolk and, even more intriguingly, physical evidence – in this case the statuettes situated in the church – attempt to give at least some credence to the truth of the tale. It appears that the English version of the tale known as the ‘Pedlar of Swaffham.’ According to the authors of The Types of International Folktales, the earliest literary versions of this particular tale are in Persian and go as far back as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Perhaps its most famous rendition appears as ‘The man who became rich thourgh a dream’ in The One Thousand and One Nights.

Gordon Hill, Secrets of the Unknown (London: Knight Books, 1979), pp. 84–88
SSS NB 6, pp. 488–90 

Detail of Old London Bridge on the 1632 oil painting “View of London Bridge” by Claude de Jongh

Friday 12 December 2014

Playing Cards with the Devil

A popular story once told throughout the Highlands and Islands concerns a group of men playing cards when a stranger enters who happens to be the Devil in disguise. It is a migratory legend – type ML 3015 as classified by the Norwegian folklorist Reidar Th. Christiansen – and the tale was well known throughout Europe and beyond.
The following version of this tale was recorded and then transcribed by Calum Maclean, on the 16th of May 1951, from the recitation of Archibald MacInnes (1881–c. 1953) from Achluachrach, Brae Lochaber:

Feadhainn a’ cluich chairtean

Anns na timeannan a chaidh seachad bhiodh iad daonnan a’ cluichd chairtean, mar a tha iad an-diugh. Ach ’s e daonnan ’s e Catch the Ten a bhiodh aca, beireachd air an deich agus an Ass agus Bachelor. Ach bha iad an trip seo a’ cluich ann an croit ann an Taigh an Droma. Thàinig fear caol, dubh a-staigh an sin is fhuair e a shuidhe a chluich nan cairtean còmh’ ri càch. O! an taobh air an robh e bha iad a’ cosnadh a h-uile geam. Thuit cairt fon bhòrd. Tha seans gun tug bean an taigh sùil air le coinneal na le teaghamh pios de bhior às an teine a choimhead dè bh’ ann. Agus thug i an aire do chasan eich air an fhear a bha seo. Dh’fhuirich i car sàmhach. Chaidh i gu ceann eile an taighe is thug i botal uisge coisrigte a-nuas. Thilg e orra e is gu h-àraid air-san. Chaidh e na shradagan a-mach ron uinneag. Is chan eil forfhais gum facas riamh tuillidh e.

And the translation goes as follows:

A few who were playing cards

In the olden days they always used to play cards as they do to this day. A favourite game they always used to play was Catch the Ten in which they would catch the ten and the Ass and Bachelor. One time they were playing in a croft at Tyndrum. A tall, dark man came in and he sat down to play cards with the others. Oh, the side he played on won every single game. A card fell under the table and the goodwife of the house went to look for it either with a candle or a piece of wood from the fire and she saw that the man had horse’s hooves for feet. She stayed quite silent. She went to the other end of the house and took down a bottle of holy water. She threw this over them and especially over him. He disappeared in sparks through the window. No one knows if he was ever seen again.

Compared to other versions of the tale the above comes across as a summary but it may well be the case that MacInnes could only recollect the bare bones of a longer version that would include more detail and perhaps even dialogue. The Rev. John Gregorson Campbell briefly mentions card-playing:

A party of young people were playing cards; a stranger joined them and took a hand. A card fell below the table, and the youth who stooped to lift it observed the stranger to have a horse’s hoof. The devil, on being thus detected, went up the chimney in smoke. The story is universal over the Highlands. Cards are notoriously known as the devil’s cards. When boys play them, the fiend had been known to come down the chimney feet foremost, the horse’s or pig’s foot appearing first. When going away he disappears in smoke, and neighs horribly in the chimney.

For the sake of comparison, here are two examples of this tale, both of which stem from the Isle of Skye, the first in Uig:

As a finely dressed gentleman he is said to have joined a party playing cards in Uig Inn one Saturday night. The party continued well into Sunday morning, when one of the cards happening to drop on the floor, the party who lifted it was horrified to find he was playing with the cloven-footed gentleman; and on raising the alarm his satanic majesty disappeared through the roof amidst flames of fire.

And the next version of the tale is placed in Snizort on the other side of the island:

On a Saturday night, a company of rough men were playing cards in the village inn of Snizort, Skye. Quarrelling and swearing over trifles were going on, when a distinguished stranger entered without knocking or bidding. He challenged any of those present to a game with him, and he defeated them singly and collectively. They then began to get curious as to his name and business. A card happened to slip off the table, and one of the players bent down to pick it up, when, horror! he noticed that the stranger had horses’ feet on him. Concealing his knowledge from the rest of the company for fear the visitor might also know and get “unpleasant,” he went to the hostess. She recognised the gravity of the case, seized a Bible, entered the room, and shook it in the stranger’s face, when lo! he disappeared as a blaze of fire up the chimney. Needless to say, the company soon broke up without more card-playing.
As can be readily seen all the above versions are but a variation on a theme. Considering that cards were known as the ‘Devil’s Bible’ then perhaps such stories contained a moral tone to put off anyone contemplating such an enjoyable pastime.

John G. Campbell, The Gaelic Otherworld, ed. by Ronald Black (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd., 2005), pp. 160–61
Alexander MacBain, ‘Highland Superstition’, The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. XIV (1887–88), pp. 237–38
Norman Matheson, ‘The Ghosts and Apparitions of the Isle of Skye’, The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. XVIII (1891–92),pp. 8–16
Éilís Ní Anluain, ‘The Cardplayers and the Devil (ML 3015)', Béaloideas, vol. 59 (1991), pp. 45–54
Martin, Puhvel, ‘The Legend of the Devil-Haunted Card Players in Northern Europe’, Folk-Lore, vol. 76 (1965), pp. 33–38
SSS NB 8, p. 740

Devil playing cards