Reading an account of a classic - if suspiciously migratory - poltergeist tale attached to Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley, I traced it back through Edwin Waugh to Roby's Traditions of Lancashire, from which all later accounts derive. His much-reprinted volumes were a product of the 1830s and 40s but he is these days regarded as having compiled them rather than written them himself.
It is Thomas Crofton Croker who is usually credited with the cheeky poltergeist of the Clough. Like Gef, this mischievious spirit had a favourite place - under the stairs in this case. From here he would make cheeky observations about the family. They got so fed up with him that they used to stick a shoe-horn in the hole to block his view. This provided the opportunity for the Boggart, as it was called, to forcibly eject the obstruction. It all leads up to the famous scene in which the family decamps with all their possessions. A neighbour spots them and hears the sorry tale. "Aye, we're flitting!" comes the voice of the Boggart from inside a saddle-bag. At which they give up all hope of escaping their guest.
Now Crofton Croker was an Irishman and his books on fairy-lore have a distinct flavour. His account of the Boggart is filled with lively detail which cannot be traced to any other earlier account. He was a good spinner of yarns and the "We're flitting!" tale is also attributed to a Yorkshire poltergeist, several less certain locations and it has analogues worldwide. As a writer, he was happy, I think to supply the banker Roby with tales by the yard.
Anyone reading the tale of the Boggart will be reminded of Gef. I doubt if that establishes his literary origin so much as a shared oral tradition with the Isle of Man close to Ireland in every respect. His mongoose shape was exotic enough but his personality seems steeped in Irish Boggartry to me.
I love Gef, and James' Blackley Boggart is intriguing! But I will admit, something about this type of poltergeist gives me the absolute, creeping horrors!!
A "normal" polt would be enough to send me around the bend, with the throwing stuff and stacking furniture in weird ways. But the thought of some creepy conscious entity, with apporting abilities, that knows stuff, and seems to be watching you all the time...Brrrrrr!!!
Just to add to the horrors, Waugh has another boggart tale from a spot a mile or so north of Heywood*. The Gristlehurst Boggart is a very atmospheric yarn. This boggart was supposedly dead and buried with a stake through its heart, which gives it an unusual physicality, though it did not appear to stop its work.
I love and frequently visit the Isle of Man and I'm quite interested about Gef the Talking Mongoose and would buy the book, but if they publish it with that drawing on the cover, a picture of it would go straight to that website : http://www.goodshowsir.co.uk/
However, I've seen the site of the publisher, Strange Attractor, and they seem to get books out with less artistically shocking covers.
I did exactly that this afternoon and my prediction was predictably predictable. Never mind. Gristlehurst Lane is helpfully signposted as a public bridle-path and continues as tarmac for a while. There are more dwellings than appeared on my A to Z. It was a mild, grey afternoon and there was only the odd sound of cows shoulder-to-shoulder beyond the hedgerows to disturb the silence. They shifted without the need to emit a single vocal note.
On the map, the route looks square but it is more irregular on the ground. Beyond the half-way mark, the signpost changed from Bridle Path to Footpath. I was beyond the reach of Range Rovers, at least. In fact the way ahead resembled a muddy stream between two grassy banks. Soon I could hear the traffic on the Bury-Rochdale road and the route widened to take the wheels of motor vehicles from the gated farms. All too soon I was back.
I think the whole walk took about twenty minutes and I was back at the car by five-o-clock. A bit of turmeric-coloured shit on my shoe was quickly remedied. Had I learned anything of the Boggart?
Only that the land around there falls away at intervals into sudden dells, some seeming to have been scooped out of the landscape with a giant cup. We might imagine things buried there. I think we would listen in vain for any rich dialect; the region is gentrified with the pubs turned to expensive bistros. I encountered no one to ask but a weird stranger thinking of boggarts would probably be deemed a menace here; perhaps I was the boggart in that landscape now?
The book will be ready for this London event in June...
Gef the Talking Mongoose
London Fortean Society
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
On the eve of his 165th birthday (“I was born June 7th 1852, near Delhi, India…”), the London Fortean Society at Conway Hall present for your delectation the strange story of Gef the Talking Mongoose.
In the early 1930s and for several years thereafter, an isolated farm in the rural south west of the Isle of Man became the focus of international media attention. Psychic investigators, spiritualists, psychoanalysts and reporters were all drawn to the lonely farm of Doarlish Cashen, whose inhabitants, the Irving family, steadfastly maintained that they were being ‘haunted’ by a super-intelligent weasel or mongoose by the name of Gef.
This mysterious entity was allegedly able to speak English and other languages, sing popular songs and hymns of the period, and would engage the family in nightly conversations about religion, the supernatural, and the afterlife.
Numerous people claimed to have heard the strange, high-pitched voice of Gef; a few even claimed to have seen him. Despite the absence of definitive proof, the case still remains an enigmatic one today.
Throughout the remainder of their lives, the Irvings - James, Margaret and daughter Voirrey - all insisted that the story had not been a hoax, and was true in all respects.
Christopher Josiffe, author of the definitive and official biography of Gef, will be giving an overview of this case, unique in the annals of paranormal research. He will also be examining some lesser-known aspects of the story - the parents, James and Margaret, not native to the Isle of Man, claimed to have previously enjoyed a more prosperous life in the city of Liverpool prior to their ill-fated ‘Good Life’ move to Man just after WW1. Is this true? And why were they forced to relocate?
In addition to Chris’s presentation and readings from his Gef! the Strange Tale of an Extra-Special Talking Mongoose book, writer and musician Chris Hill will be reading extracts from James Irving’s unpublished letters and diaries, giving an unparalleled insight into the family’s daily life with their extraordinary house-guest.
Copies of Chris's biography of Gef, published by Strange Attractor Press, will be available on the night.
By Christopher Josiffe
HB Signed Special / Standard Paperback (with flaps!)
£25.00 / £15.99
Black and white illustrations throughout
210 x 148mm, 416pp
“I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!”
During the mid-1930s, British and overseas newspapers were full of incredible stories about Gef, a ‘talking mongoose’ or ‘man-weasel’ who had allegedly appeared in the home of the Irvings, a farming family in a remote district of the Isle of Man.
Gef! the Strange Tale of an Extra-Special Talking Mongoose book launch
TUESDAY 19:00, May 23, 2017
Lo & Behold Gallery
2B Swanfield St
Gef-related music and readings, drink, potato pie and dead rabbits will be available on the night; hardback and paperback editions of the book will be available for purchase (signatures/dedications if desired)
Christopher Josiffe will be speaking at Treadwells bookshop (33 Store Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7BS) on Friday 26 May at 7:30pm.
Lore and Belief in the Case of the Talking Mongoose will seek to place the Gef mystery in the context of Manx fairy lore, and examine contemporary Spiritualist responses to the case.
Tickets are £8.
020 7419 8507 [email protected]
On Tuesday 6th June, Josiffe will be delivering a lecture for the London Fortean Society at Conway Hall (25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL) at 7:30pm. He will give an overview of the Gef the Talking Mongoose case, and will be highlighting some of its less well known aspects. Writer and musician Chris Hill will be reading from James Irving's unpublished diaries and letters.
The man known as the Mongoose was a Nazi spy who was active during World War II. He earned his name for having a trained mongoose that would attack on command. In December 1943, he was stationed in a town in North Africa. There he operated out of a taxidermist shop. He was assigned to steal secret plans from members of the Women's Auxiliary Army that were stationed in the area, which included Betty Ross among their numbers. His agents' first attempt to steal the plans was foiled by Steve Rogers and James Barnes (secretly Captain America and Bucky).