Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 **** The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Black Cattle of Barrowcross, Northmoor Track, Barrowcross

Most outsiders to Barrowcross and Hookland tend to snigger when they see a picture or catch wild glimpse of the moor’s Black Cattle as they are in fact white-coated and red-eared. Kinder Hooklanders, able to tolerate the one-sided laughter of humour long lost in repetition, may explain that it is more than just the county’s noted sense of irony behind the name. Many etymologists believe the Black derives from the Anglo-Saxon blac – meaning pale or white. An angular, primitive breed with a pronounced sloping rump, the Black Cattle of Barrowcross are one of the rarest and oldest breeds extant in England. Semi-feral, the animals are similar to other small herds scattered across the country known as White Park cattle, which experts speculate hold resemblance to and share heritage with extinct aurochs. In recent years, the distinctive porcelain colouring of the Black as well as their graceful, upward curving horns shared by both males and females, have made them a favourite subject of postcards from south-western end of the county.

Bos taurus and shade

To allow tourists to observe the animals without causing disruption to their habitat or placing travellers at undue risk, the Barrowcross National Park Authority have created a number of lay-bys off of the Northmoor Track road which cuts across the northern top of the moor. These viewing areas themselves have become much photographed themselves thank to the somewhat unusual signage placed at them. Alongside the expected reiteration of Park rules, prohibitions against feeding and other interactions with the cattle as well as some history on the breed and its place in local folklore, the signs also proclaim: ‘The cattle are under the protection of the Faerie Court. The National Park Authority is not responsible for any curses you may incur due to aggravating the noble animals and their unseen guardians.’ When the author of the Guide rang Elizabeth Wadsworth, the Public Relations Manager for the Nation Park, to ask about the curious wording on the sign, they were told: ‘It is obvious you are not from around here. It means what it means. The faeries look after their own. You can put it down to whimsical humour if you wish, but there’s no explanation needed and we won’t comment further.’ There is no doubting that the Black Cattle have a niche not only in the unusual ecology of Barrowcross, but in the crowded fields of Hookland folklore. Also known as the Old King’s cows and faery-rides, it is said that the red colouring of their ears comes from being gripped by invisible sprites who are carried on them at night. Their entwinement with the Otherfolk is longstanding, with claims made that the current herd originates from a pair of the beasts given to the Grimp family in pre-Norman antiquity by the Queen of the Summer Court. In ale establishments close to the Northmoor Track, it is still possible to catch some suggestion among the oldest of pub uncles that Alfred Grimp released his draught oxen and milking cattle into the wild care of Barrowcross in 1913 after ‘consulting with the faeries’.

David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages. However, these days, he mostly writes about place.

Twitter:      Hookland     Repton

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 *** The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Thanks To The French King, Ashcourt

As anyone reading more than a few pages of this guide will be able to tell, Hookland has a surfeit of odd drinking establishments. Some hint at their history in paint cracking across the swell and contraction of wooden sign. Others tell a tale just by their location, for even in this peculiar county there is still some surprise in finding a pub in a church, necropolis or lighthouse. There is also a third way for a tavern to signal its strangeness and that is in its name. It is to this later category that Thanks To The French King falls.

Located within the docklands of Ashcourt that wear dirt and the roughness of constant industry upon its streets, Thanks To The French King is an obvious architectural reminder of an earlier period of the port’s history. Behind a high brick wall lies a stone courtyard and a much rejigged, three-storey building that has fooled some pseudo-historians into believing it must have once been a galleried coaching inn or an inn-yard theatre. However, the structure was originally part of a French embassy established in Ashcourt during the 15th century. Considered sovereign soil with all the rights that traditionally go with it, the status of the embassy ran into a labyrinth of legality during the French Revolution. It was accepted as being both the property of the dead Louis XVI and retaining its position as French territory, but not under the control of the French authorities. When the courts of the county did not recognise the claim of the Capetian dynasty’s claim to it in 1814, permission was granted to the Ashcourt Port Authority to manage the estate until a valid claimant to the French throne was established. They then rented it out to William Wren who cannily turned it into a tavern and took full advantage of its status as foreign territory. Wren quickly asserted that as sovereign soil, no revenue officer nor other official of justice could enter his establishment or its courtyard without permission. Overnight this made his tavern popular with all manner of roguery.

Through a decade-spanning series of legal actions, Wren further upheld the rights to disavow a number of laws usually constricting any landlord. Those early 19th century tussles have echoed into the now and confirmed a range of legal loopholes which are still fully exploited. Thanks To The French King is the only pub in England that has ignored all licensing laws and been able to remain open for 24-hours for at least 150 years, even during both World Wars. The official recognition that there are a several feet of France in county still causes much cheer for dockers finishing a shift at 4am and seeking out a celebratory pint or two. The inability for the police to enter it without permission, which in practice is almost always granted, but usually not instantly, meant it was known during wartime as the ‘Kingdom of Spivs’. Its extra-legal status making it a perfect base for them to operate from. The establishment also has a long history of being frequented by some of more colourful magic users of the county, as being foreign territory, it was considered neutral ground by cunning folk.

The anomaly that current patrons and landlord have most reason to give thanks for is the exemption from excise on all ale resold in the premises. The name of the pub itself not only celebrates all these benefits, but is taken from a twice daily ritual observed by those drinking there. At noon and 10:30pm – the traditional times of pub opening and closing under the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act – when all patrons are called upon by a ringing bell to stand and raise a toast of thanks to the French king. The enthusiasm for this practice has never been eroded since it was initiated in 1916. Those wishing to visit it should note the pub enjoys a lively, diverse clientele and as such is an unsuitable place to bring young children into.

David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages. However, these days, he mostly writes about place.

Twitter:      Hookland     Repton