Charnwood Grove organised and ran a number of creative writing sessions via zoom during the Covid lockdown period, each session chose a specific subject and using some key inspirational words, the participants crafted these magnificent creations.
Session 5- Scary tales of Leicestershire
The nine o’clock ‘osses
In the 19th Century, naughty Leicester children were often warned that the ”nine o’clock ‘osses will get you!” We know when this flourished, since everything suddenly changed around 1890. The horrible smell of open drains and the daily sight of ‘ordure’ vanished, while the death rate plummeted. Filthy outdoor privvies in shared courtyards and at the bottom of gardens were no longer emptied by whole class of ‘untouchables’ who arrived every evening without fail, with their horses and carts.
All of this was down to municipal glories like Abbey Pumping Station, which took away the sewerage, the gut-wrenching stench and lethal disease of daily life.
Yet for many years to come, visions of galloping, spittle-flecked and nostril-flaring stallions still tormented small children. They would come clattering for you, warm-fleshed, shiny coated and soaked in sweat. There was nothing you could do but wait- squeeze shut your eyes and pull your eiderdown over your head.
The nine o’clock ‘osses
Long, long ago, when I was just a small boy, my Grandma would tell me of her long-lost sister who had been taken by the nine o’clock horses. They roam the streets, she explained, and any child still awake after nine o’clock, would be taken away to the workhouse.
Being an inquisitive child I wanted to see these horses for myself, as I had imagined fiery eyed black stallions, breathing heavily through their flared nostrils, clip clopping through the streets, looking down every dark alleyway, listening intently for the heaving chest of any child caught outside and hiding in the shadows.
One summers evening I was leaning on my bedroom window sill, staring outside wondering if they would come down from the sky like Santa, or up through the ground from the underworld and as the light grew dim with the night drawing in, my hearing became clearer as the world went to sleep and my eyes were of no more use. I thought to myself, if only I could hear their hooves on the cobbles, I would have a chance to see them.
I sat back on my knees, laid my head on the windowsill and closed my eyes to fully concentrate on all the sounds of the night. Then all of a sudden, I heard them, Clip Clop, Clip Clop and I dare not move a muscle. I held my breath as long as I could, Clip Clop Clip Clop, the sound was neither growing nearer or further away but they were there, looking in every direction, searching for naughty children who should have been sound asleep by then. Clip Clop Clip Clop, the nine o’clock horses were coming, Clip Clop Clip Clop, make yourself scarce, don’t let them find you, Tick Tock Tick Tock, the alarm rang, and it was time for breakfast.
Gelert and the nine o’clock ‘osses
You’ll have heard of the great hound Gelert? He who saved the baby from the jaws of the great Wolf who would have stolen and killed it? Such a faithful dog, and such a blessing thathis true courage was discovered and the accusation against him seen for the false tale that it was.
Well, Gelert grew old, as we all do. His coat, once black and bristling from head to toe, save for the bright collar of gold he wore, turned grey as mist. His body, so strong and proud, shuffled and dragged when he moved. But his eyes, those sharp bright hound eyes, stayed as alert and swift as ever, shifting here and there, as his clever nose smelled trouble and peace alike as each came and went through their home.
And the baby had grown too… no longer mawling and squealing, rolling in the dust, she was now a fine young woman, a runner, a jumper, a climber of trees, an explorer of the far horizons. Gelert would look after her with regret when she left in the morning, wishing again for his youth, so he too could roam and explore and find what there was to be found out there in the big wide world.
Only one night she didn’t return. They waited until after dark, and then a little longer. Shortly before the midnight bell, her people went out into the night, calling and searching. They could hear the fox bark, the wind shift the trees, but nothing more. Back they went, and taking Gelert they told him, ‘Use that fine nose of yours, those sharp eyes. Follow where she went, find her, bring her home, old as you are you are all that we have now!’
Gelert went willingly. This was the same baby he had protected all his life. Even though his joints hurt, even though his tired body wanted nothing more than to curl up in his spot by the fire, he roused himself and off he set into the deep darkness of the night.
First he smelled nothing. Then – a faint, but familiar scent. Then he saw hoofprints, too many of them, clustered together. And another smell – and not a good one. Whining, he turned to the people, and led them forward.
And what a chase that was! Through the bogland and gassy marsh, so all of them stank of rank mud. Up the hill to where the wind near blew them all away. Pushing and shoving through the bramble patch and rocky gorse thorns. But still he followed the scent, the signs of the horses passing, carrying his baby girl.
And there, just as the first light of the sun marked out the dim grey shadow of the far hill, they saw a settlement. A farm, was it? But not much of a farm, a raggedy taggedy collection of huts, half collapsed, where a few grey figures shuffled. Carts, horses, broken looking things. And the smell!
Gelert pulled on all his last strength, and moved from a shuffle to a walk, from a walk to a run. He tore down that hill, and in that dim dawn light you might have thought he was the great proud hound of his youth. Into the settlement he charged, howling to wake them all. And there she was, sat in the shadow of one of the hovels, her hands tied behind her. And all around her the 9 o’clock Osses, those trafficers of the small and forgotten kidnapped children taken from their homes to work among the shit and the piss and the bad things of the world by the men driving broken horses and rickety carts.
Gelert flung himself on her, tearing at the ropes which bound her, bathed by the tears which flooded her face, and I tell you if dogs could cry tears they would have been his. Neither of them saw the knife which came flashing out of the dark, ending his life right there in her arms. And then when her people came and the terrible fight first started, then stopped, with carnage around them both, she had eyes for none of it, only for the body of the great hound, lying there in her lap.
They buried him with all honour. His story is remembered. But this story, of an old dog, a lame dog, who summoned all that he had once been to save the baby he loved more than any other – this story isn’t always told, it’s not always remembered. So I share it here with you!
When I was a child – that was in the year dot,
I sat at my grandmother’s knee.
She was old as the hills and, when she was a tot,
She said “Heed now what happened to me.
I lived in the forest of Charnwood.” She’d drone,
“And my grandmother always told me:
You must never go into that Forest alone
In case Old Black Annis gets thee.
Black Annis she lives in a cave, not a tower,
As some people think, in Dane Hills.
A dank, dirty cave is Black Annis’s Bower,
A place of black magic and ills.
They say she eats babies and, strung on a wire
Hang the skins of the kiddies she’s cooked
In her cauldron of iron, on a big blazing fire.
I know this because I have looked.
Her own skin is of a peculiar hue
And it’s said that her blood it is green.
But she’s tattooed so much that her skin has turned blue.
She’s the strangest sight I’ve ever seen.
She has fangs in her mouth that are yellow and black
And as long as the tusks of a boar.
She sneaks around silently, on the attack,
And she chases you right to your door.
Now being a most disobedient brat
I chose to ignore Gran’s advice
I crept to the cave, where I saw a black cat
Pouncing hither and thither on mice.
Its claws were of iron and they sparked as it leapt
And came down on the stony cave floor.
At catching those mice it was really adept
And it shortly had three and then four.
I tried to distract this malevolent sprite
By throwing some stones at its thighs.
It swiftly turned round and fixed me in its sight,
With its amber and red flashing eyes.
It crouched as it watched, making ready to spring
And its tail lashed the ground like a whip.
I turned and I fled from that terrible thing
‘Til a fallen branch caused me to trip.
Imagine the terror that went through my mind
Expecting the creature to pounce.
I groped in my pockets and what did I find
But a coin, weighing less than an ounce.
Now silver has power against witches and fey
Like that creature of Hell chasing me.
So I turned and I shied it the whole of the way
‘Til it struck the cat. Then I pulled free.
The cat screamed aloud, with a most human sound,
And its fur split from nose down to tail.
As its body uncurled, like a package unbound,
It was I who now let out a wail.
For who should be standing there, in the cat’s stead,
But Black Annis a-holding her crown
With my silver sixpence stuck in her forehead
And green blood a-trickling down.
She cursed and she cussed and looked daggers at me.
Then she turned and limped off to her cave.
As soon as she’d gone, well I soon wriggled free.
I was feeling most terribly brave.
I should have turned tail and run home nice and quick,
But I lingered to spy on the auld one,
And then I ran over and gave her a kick
That landed her right in her cauldron.
She screamed once again and I didn’t hang on
To find out if I’d killed her or not.
I turned on my heel. In a flash I was gone,
Leaving her on the fire, in her pot.
She may be alive but I think she is dead,
And this I can tell you is true
With my silver sixpence stuck deep in her head
She’ll never be chasing of you.
Many thanks go to the membership of Charnwood Grove for allowing this content to be published.
All work remains the property of the original author. Charnwood Grove claims no rights.