Fairies, Folklore and Forteana SIMON YOUNG FILES A NEW REPORT FROM THE INTERFACE OF STRANGE PHENOMENA AND FOLK BELIEF
East Anglia used to have one of the poorest reputations for fairy encounters in Great Britain. Francis Young has to some extent corrected this impression with his excellent Suffolk Fairylore (2019). It is to be hoped that John Clark will also make us think more about EA fairies with, sooner or later, a volume on the green children of Woolpit. But it remains a joy to run across any hint of fairylore from this relatively fairy-free part of Britain.
I was, then, particularly excited to trip over a 17thcentury fairy-sounding reference from Suffolk. The writer in question is the Neo-Platonist Henry More (1614-1687), who believed passionately in the existence of an unseen world. In this passage he discourses on great voices at sea and lights over fairy mounds in Ireland (a valuable early reference). Then, he tells us of the killer music from Suffolk…
More had heard of the music at King’s College, Cambridge, from a friend, ‘Mr Samson’. I imagine the two dons dipping their heads in private talk while the others around banged on about King and Parliament, Quakers, Anabaptists and other apparently important issues of the day. “I heard credibly reported,” writes More, “of a whole Family that died one after another in a little time, and ever some while before any of the House fell sick, there was Musick heard to go from the House (though nothing seen) playing all along.”
Now it is true that music is, in fortean terms, by no means associated with fairies alone. Many ghost accounts include noise and some include music. The Virgin has, it can occasionally seem, her own attendant orchestra, and I am reliably told that there are cases where alien visitations are associated with melodies. However, the fact that the family in question was knocked off one by one reminds me of the fey taking their revenge on a local landowner who has broken one of their incomprehensible rules. There is a horrid inevitability to it. First, the cattle, then the children start dying off, then finally the fairies turn their sharpened nails on the miscreant himself. I was also intrigued, thinking of fairies, by the origins of the music, which did not come from the house but from the surrounding countryside. “[S]everal People out of curiosity would follow [the music], who observed it to pass through the Field till it came to a wood, and there they left it or lost it.”
It is a great pity that we do not know where in Suffolk this deadly music came from. Perhaps in the west, not that far from Cambridge where Mr Samson reported it?
“I HEARD CREDIBLY REPORTED OF A WHOLE FAMILY THAT DIED ONE AFTER ANOTHER IN A LITTLE TIME”