Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Legend of Kilgrimol: Part One

Another two parter (well, we don’t want to bore our readers senseless all in one go).

Ask any resident of Lytham St. Anne’s about the ‘Legend of Kilgrimol’ (well, any resident who takes an interest in local folklore at any rate) and no doubt they’ll tell you of the lonely village that once stood amongst the sand dunes; a hamlet destroyed one night by such a violent storm that its ghostly inhabitants haunt the sea to this day, on moonless nights the doleful sound of the church’s bells still echoing hauntingly from beneath the waves.
Sounds like the plot for a cheap novel, doesn’t it? Hardly surprising really, as the tale, in one form or another, can be found throughout romantic literature (including Terry Pratchett), various locations along the British coast laying exclusive claim to its origin.
In Kilgrimol’s case, however, there might actually be a modicum of historical fact behind the story, if we peel back the layers and take a more scientific look.
For a start, the original legend didn’t actually involve a storm. We’re informed by William Thornber in his ‘History of Blackpool and its Neighbourhood’ that: “Tradition affirms, that an earthquake swallowed up the church of Kilgrimol.”
This too, however, seems highly unlikely, violent earthquakes not exactly being common around Lytham.
So where shall we start our investigation? Well how about a dissection of Kilgrimol’s name, originally recorded in monastic charters as ‘Kilgrimhow’?
The ‘kil’, as anybody who’s been following our previous articles will already know, refers to a ‘keeill’. (For those who haven’t, keeills were part Pagan/part Christian Celtic/Norse churches, named after the upturned boats (keels) from which they were constructed. They were run by missionaries known as culdees, more often than not the christianised descendants of druids. Saint Patrick was more than happy to meld Paganism with Christianity in this fashion as apparently the two religions had so much in common.)
The ‘Grim’ part of Kilgrimol is, quite simply, a personal name; and a Norse one at that, which is what you’d expect.
The ‘how’ is local dialect for ‘hough’, again a Norse word referring to a ‘burial mound’, which also makes perfect sense because keeills were, nine times out of ten, built on pagan burial sites.
So, in summary, Kilgrimol refers to the keeill belonging to a Norseman called Grim that stood on the site of an ancestral burial mound.
Once again, legend steps in to back up this claim. According to Reverend Bulpit’s ‘Notes on the Fylde’ (1879): “In the days before the missionaries came there were evil spirits in the water marshes around Marton Mere, who were propitiated by the Britons. When Grim, the priest from Kilgrimol, came teaching the people, he cast the chief spirit into the mere and it took the form of a great worm or conga eel.”
We’ve illustrated Marton Mere below for no other reason than we’re a bit short on photographs this week.

There are some obvious metaphors to be drawn from this folktale, no doubt concocted during the mediaeval period by the more fundamentalist Saxon and Norman Christians. The evil spirits represent paganism, being banished into the water by the introduction of Grim and his Christianity. Being a Culdee, however, he didn’t quite complete the job, the legend continuing: “In the bad days of the Danes the eel was loose and came out to the dwellings of those who took refuge on the shore, and ate sheep and even children. Their priest could not lay the spirit, and so he went to Cross Slack, where Grim’s oratory had stood, and hoped Grim would aid him by a vision. Lying there in the darkness, Grim’s little bell rang for Prime, and then a voice told the priest to make an oatmeal cake marked with a cross, but the cross was to be covered with a freshly cooked scallop of bacon. The eel, in his nocturnal visit, smelled the dainty bait and bolted the morsel. The cross cake stuck in his throat and caused agonies of suffocation. He could not leave the mere, and even yet, on a moonlit night, a swell on the water marks where he rolls in agony.”
And so we see the beginnings of the modern legend. Just to clarify the unsubtle meaning behind this folktale, however, for the Danes read the ‘Norse’ and their semi-Christian, semi-Pagan beliefs. For the ‘oatmeal cake’ (common fodder around the Fylde) read the mediaeval peasant equivalent of the modern day communion wafer. For the total banishment of the serpent, read the Saxon Christian doctrine triumphing once and for all over the Pagan religion, Grim himself being dragged back into the story, in spirit at least, to give the act his blessing for those too old and stubborn to renounce the ancient Celtic/Norse lore.
Which, we’re sure you’ll agree, is all very interesting, but it doesn’t exactly bring us any closer to what actually happened to Kilgrimol. For that we need to know where the hamlet (and it’s chapel) originally stood.

Only, because we’ve run out of space, that’ll have to wait until week now.


John said...

Wow! This post has it all... lost city, ghostly bells, ancient evils, and real history to make it all the more real. I can just imagine the waves crashing upon dark shores, and somewhere in the sound of roiling surf the gong of a church bell... but no church!

Can't wait for next week!

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Next week we explode the myth, explain exactly where the remains of Kilgrimol lie (not quite as romatic as the legend claims actually, but it should cause a few angry comments by sports enthusiasts if any treasure hunters follow our directions) and generally wrap this lot...possibly once and for all.

Stay tuned...Harry Potter's got nothing on this one.

Bwca said...

re "we need to know where the hamlet (and it’s chapel) originally stood."

because I am doing a Masters degree (Guugle University)
I just guugled
"where is that dam chapel",
as one does,
to find via the results,
that some dumb git wrote his thesis at Oxford on it claiming that Kilgromel means
"Cell of Grimulf" and that it is "next to the wood".
Maybe his 'Oxford' is the pub and not the skool.

and maybe the chapel is next to the wood.
another Norse thought:
making chapels out of viking ships was clearly the inspiration for IKEA flatpacks.

Ann O'Dyne said...

At the end of
The Legend Of Prior Oswald
there is a description of the priory being covered over by the growth of forest trees.
I liked Prior Oswald - he looked after all the little furry animals.

Brian Hughes said...


I suspect that our Oxford don also mispelt the word 'thesis' as a slight correction in that department would better summarise what I think about this theories.


Kilgrimol isn't covered by trees (as I shall be revealing next week) but is, in a manner of speaking, covered by woods. (And, believe me, it isn't worth waiting until next Friday to uncover the lack of wit behind that enigmatic pun).

quarrygreen said...

Call me old fashioned but where is part two? Would help you know! :)

Brian Hughes said...


Part two is here:

Apologies for that. It's the way that Blogger archives stuff.

David Cookson said...

In the 1970s I was friends with Anne & Len Smith (of Church Road, St Annes) & their daughters Jane & Gill. Anne was later Mayor of Fylde. The reason I write is that I remember they had a dog (a Jack Russell? - maybe) whose name I don't remember, but whose Kennel Club name was 'Kilgrimol Bellringer'. What odd things one recalls!

Martin O'Callaghan said...

Very interesting seem to recall that one of the earliest map well mappy kind of things had a mere called I think the Cursed Mere nearer to Lytham than Marton Mere could this have been the Mere of legend?