Superstition In The Black Country

Posted: October 12, 2009 in Other Ripper Research
For some months past Mr. Thomas Pinnock has been contributing to the Leisure Hour an admirable series of articles on the Black Country, that much-talked-of but little known and still less understood wedge of South Staffordshire which extends roughly from Wolverhampton to Birmingham. This month, Mr. Pinnock’s theme is the superstitions of the Black Country, and there is no corner of England in which the people are more superstitious or more retentive of olden habits and usages. It is still the land of charms, fortune-telling and all manner of weird beliefs. The people have a firm belief in the Pythagorean doctrine of a previous existence. If a child (says Mr. Pinnock) is quaint, or, as they generally describe it, "old-fashioned," in features, movements, or sayings, the gossips will say admiringly, "I wished I knowed all as is in that yed, young as it looks;" or, "That un’s yed has been knockin’ about the courtyard this many a year, I’ll be bound."
As to fortune-telling, the Black Country (Mr. Pinnock goes on to tell us) has for at least half a century been a happy hunting-ground for the black-tressed and dark-eyed sibyls who disguise their real calling from all but likely customers by the pretence of hawking hand-cut clothes pegs, skewers, &c. And more audacious still, in several towns are resident magicians, who rule planets and reveal secrets for a consideration. And when a woman misses an ornament or other valuable, she hies to a wizard, or else to a "wise woman, to learn who is the thief. One of these star students was so successful in unravelling hidden secrets that his skill was attributed to his dealings with the evil one, and, as he had a more than local reputation, he was known far and wide as "the Dudley Devil."
Toads and newts are credited with power to "spit fire" of a peculiar baleful kind to even considerable distances. And though this superstition, instead of ensuring for the reptiles an immunity from cruelty, obtains for them, on the contrary, a very short shrift, it is nevertheless a very common thing to see a little mob of boys running away from the toad they were stoning to death, and merely because the exhausted creature had faced round on them, and they, seeing his jaws moving in the way peculiar to the reptile, concluded he was preparing to spit fire.
Source: Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XII, Issue 1167, 19 July 1893, Page 4
Note: I can’t help but wonder to whom the author is referring as the "Dudley Devil".

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