Pagan Blackpool: Holy Wells and Fires in the Hills. Halloween Teanlowe and Samhain.

It’s a bit off topic this but the persistence of customs fascinates me. Blackpool and the Fylde were  the least developed parts of England and until the 18th  Century there was almost a subsistence enconomy.  The population was low and new arrivals  few.  We know when the first house was built with bricks and when the first house had a carpet.  The Fylde was a place where traditional beliefs persisted. “Beliefs” is over-stating the case.  Often the same person will believe two or many  different things.  A medieval knight might listen to a priest and be humble and pious and then ride into battle killing as many people as possible because different beliefs are operating at different times.  Custom and belief are connected.  Maybe we are programmed to believe. Any road up my point is customs associated with beliefs are sometimes extraordinarily persistent.  And customs where the belief has been lost are persistent.  Early Christian missionaries sought to  base Christianity on existing Pagan  customs.  Easter is named after Oestra the Goddess of Fertility.  The Easter Egg represents fertility. Many of our seasonal customs such as Father Christmas have no connection with Christianity.  It is said that Mistletoe at Christmas comes from the Druids.  Anything said about Druids is usually followed by something untrue and yet Druids haunt  the English Imagination.  The only thing we know for sure about the Druids is that they did not worship at Stonehenge. A glance at the Internet shows that they meet fortnightly in Blackpool.

Some scholars believe that the cross… the central symbol of Christianity was connected with the Ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol signifying everlasting life and whether that is true or not the Coptic Cross is adopted from the Ankh.  The cross was not used as a symbol by early Christians.

The pre-Roman residents of the Fylde were the Setantii  a sub-tribe of the Briganti who occupied the North with a capital at Catterick. A major festival  for the Brigantes was Samhain.  This was the time between Summer and Winter.  It was a time of uncanny specialness.  It was believed that the dead literally rose up and wondered amongst the living.  On the hills around Blackpool to the East fires  were lit at cairns.  Fires were lit at Staining by the two  Sacred Wells. Quite why the fires were lit we haven’t got the foggiest idea.  To guide the dead back or to prolong the light of summer against the darkness of winter and  to prolong life? When Christian missionaries converted England they began with the tribal leaders.  Many tribes were in a state of semi-Christianity where the younger people were Christians and the older people were Pagans.  Stone carvings would combine Pagan and Christian themes.  The strongest Pagan influences were customs around Samhain.  The Christian feast of All Hallows was  an accomodation between Pagan  and Christian Belief.  All Hallows, or All Saints Day was on November 1st.  It was followed by All Souls Day when the dead are remembered.  All Hallows Eve was the date of Samhain and it was on this date that the fires were lit in the hills and in Staining and Poulton. There was a Holy Well in All Hallows Churchyard.  There were two Holy Wells at Staining.  Stony Hill now near Squires Gate Lane on Lytham Road  took its name from a burial cairn that was cleared in the early 19th Century.  It may originally have been on an island.The custom of burying important  people on an island persisted…  Princess Di was buried on an island.  An island would be considered sacred because earth, water and sky met.  There were two wells near Stony Hill.  All these wells were centres of worship before the coming of Christianity.  Offerings were made at these wells until the 19th  Century.  Except for the one in All Hallows Churchyard.  Protestants correctly saw Holy Wells as Pagan  and sought to destroy them. The association of wells with healing may be connected with the rise of Blackpool because another version involved the health giving qualities of drinking or bathing in sea-water.  In the West of England sea-bathing was a custom amongst ordinary people, and  the custom spread up the social scale until it reached the Prince of Wales. Early histories of Blackpool record poor people making heroic efforts to reach the sea.

The  local name for Halloween was Teanlowe.  There was a Teanlowe field at Poulton where a fire was lit at Halloween and the present day Teanlowe Centre takes its name from this. Bonfire Night is a celebration of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.  Guy Fawkes was not burned, he committed suicide to escape execution.  Protestants aware of the custom of lighting fires at Halloween and disliking the Pagan origins of this custom started a new custom which diverted  the  fires of Halloween into a celebration of a Protestant triumph over Catholics. In this they were imitating the Christian Missionaries who grafted a Christian Festival onto a Pagan Festival. Sensibly most people took  the extra celebration but continued with Halloween which is the third biggest event  of the year by retail turnover. So Halloween or Teanlowe had a special significance in the Fylde.  And the traditions remained strong because there was no urban or strong Protestant influence to dilute it.  The people of Blackpool carried on smuggling and wrecking and celebrating the dead by lighting fires until the nineteenth century. When a church was established at Bispham it was close to the site of a Holy Well.  The Holy Well  existed before the Church, a centre of worship and a social hub.  It would be economic for a new Christian Church to take advantage of a site that was already seen as Sacred. And that Church was called All Hallows. All Hallows is the day after Halloween of Samhain or Teanlowe.  In deference to  the  local tradition of Teanlowe?

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2 comments

  1. Great article! It’s interesting to see how much Celtic belief and culture remained in the Fylde until comparitively recently. I’d even go as far as to say that, to me, growing up in Blackpool I always felt more of an affinity to the Celt rather than the Anglo.

    The whole Samhain/Teanlowe thing is very interesting. I was trying to do a little amateur etymology for the name but – as far as I can make out – Teanlowe simply means “River/Foamy River”, which seems a little mundane a name for one of the most important events in he Pagan festival.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dan I’m always surprised how elements of an older culture remain. I dont think people “believe” them so much as they sit alongside other beliefs such as say Father Christmas. Interested in the etymology… I never thought of that. Best Martin

      Like

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