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1827 (ca.): Billy and the Bargest

Sometime around 1827, previous to the publication of William Hone's Table Book, Hone was told a strange tale by a friend of his from Grassington, a market town in North Yorkshire, England. Hone identified the teller of this account as Billy B----y, and he then printed the narrative in Billy's own words... which are hard to follow due to both his accent and the difference in grammar between 1827 and now, thus I will sum up his account, then give his original below.

        Billy B---y had been late at Grassington with work (and a casual drink or two), and had started off for home at around 11pm that night. It was a nice nice, with a bright moon that lit up the countryside plain as day. As Billy was walking on the mill lane, he heard something pass by him -- a sort of brushing sound, accompanied by the sound of chains -- but he saw nothing to account for the noise. He stood still and looked carefully around; he had a stone wall on each side of the lane for as far as he could see... and the noise had stopped when he did. Then the sound started again, the brushing noise with the sound of chains. Convinced that what he was hearing was a legendary creature called a Bargest, which cannot cross running water, Billy decided to hurry down the road to the wood bridge he knew was a little ahead, hoping to lose his strange companion by crossing it. But as soon as he crossed, he heard the same brush and chain noise. By now he was starting to be less frightened, and decided to try to see what the noisemaker was. Billy headed up the Geat Bank towards Linton, listening for the noise, and when he heard it again, he turned to look in the direction he heard it from... but saw nothing, as the noise stopped again.

        This time Billy headed for home, but heard the noise again as he reached his door. The sound was headed away towards another house, so he followed the sound; and this time he could see a tail in the moonlight. Figuring he could now at least say he'd seen the beast, Billy turned back towards his home... but when he got to his house he found a great thing, wooly like a sheep but much larger, lying in front of the door of his house. He tried to order it out of the way, but the creature would not move. Billy got a stick to strike it with; before he could strike though, the creature looked up at him with eyes as large as saucers, with red, blue, and white rings in them that grew ever smaller till all that was visible in the middle of the eyes were dots! Despite its strange appearance, Billy continued to order it away and it continued to ignore him... but his wife heard the commotion and soon opened the door to see what was the matter. Upon her opening the door, the beast stood and walked away. She said herself that it was the Bargest; and Billy was impressed that it was apparently more afraid of his wife than him!

What is a Bargest?

        Hone explained that the Bargest was a spectral hound, though he also admits that the name 'bargest' (and Billy's report) seem more related to bears; and while bears may have lived in the area of Grassington at one time or another, this does not seem to be what was described by Billy B---y. As with any account this old, it's up to the reader to decide if its a genuine event or just a good story.

        What is notable about this account in regard to English folklore is that Hone's tale above is very likely the first description of a phantom animal with "saucer-like" eyes, a description that was soon attached to descriptions of phantom Black Dogs in general. In addition, Hone also seems to be the earliest person to state that "the appearance of the spectre hound is said to precede a death," which also soon became an accepted part of Black Dog lore -- though modern encounter reports appear to strongly disprove this thought.

Good Luck Reading This...

        For those of you who like a challenge, here's Billy B---y's account in his own words as he described the matter to William Hone back in 1827:

"You see, sir, as how I'd been a clockdressing at Gurston [Grassington], and I'd staid rather lat, and may be gitten a lile sup o' spirit, but I war far from being drunk, and knowed every thing that passed. It war about 11 o'clock when I left, and it war at back end o't' year, and a most admirable [beautiful] neet it war. The moon war varra breet, and I nivver seed Rylstone-fell plainer in a' my life. Now, you see, sir, I war passin down t' mill loine, and I heerd summut come past me—brush, brush, brush, wi' chains rattling a' the while; but I seed nothing; and thowt I to mysel, now this is a most mortal queer thing. And I then stuid still, and luik'd about me, but I seed nothing at aw, nobbut the two stane wa's on each side o't' mill loine. Then I heerd again this brush, brush, brush, wi' the chains; for you see, sir, when I stuid still it stopped; and then, thowt I, this mun be a Bargest, that sae much is said about: and I hurried on towards t' wood brig, for they say as how this Bargest cannot cross a waller; but lord, sir, when I gat o'er t' brig, I heerd this same thing again; so it mud either hev crossed t' watter, or gone round by t' spring heed! [About thirty miles!] And then I becam a valliant man, for I war a bit freeten'd afore; and thinks I, I'll turn and hev a peep at this thing; so I went up Greet Bank towards Linton, and heerd this brush, brush, brush, wi' the chains a' the way, but I seed nothing; then it ceased all of a sudden. So I turned back to go hame, but I'd hardly reach'd t' door, when I heerd again this brush, brush, brush, and the chains going down towards t' Holin House, and I followed it, and the moon there shone varra breet, and I seed its tail! Then, thowt I, thou owd thing! I can say Ise seen thee now, so I'll away hame. When I gat to t' door, there war a girt thing like a sheep, but it war larger, ligging across t'threshold of t' door, and it war woolly like; and says I, 'git up,' and it wouldnt git up—then says I, 'stir thysel,' and it wouldn't stir itsel! And I grew valliant, and I rais'd t' stick to baste it wi', and then it luik'd at me, and sich oies! [eyes] they did glower, and war as big as saucers, and like a cruelled ball; first there war a red ring, then a blue one, then a white one; and these rings grew less and less till they cam to a dot! Now I war nane feer'd on it, tho' it girn'd at me fearfully, and I kept on saying 'git up,' and 'stir thysel,' and t' wife heerd as how I war at t' door, and she cam to oppen it; and then this thing gat up and walked off, for it war mare feer'd o t' wife than it war o' me!and I told t' wife, and she said it war Bargest; but I nivver seed it since, and that's a true story!"