“Hobthrust: a good natured goblin, who assists servant maids in their early morning work, but in a state of nudity….” Glossary of Words, English Dialect Society 1877
The Hob was believed to have been a small little man who helped a household around the hearth and kitchen. Throughout Yorkshire there are place names, traditions and tales about the naked goblins, there is no doubt there is an influence from Scandinavia in the tales. So who or what was a Hob?
To begin we must look at the Nisse and tomte – these were similar entities Denmark and Sweden. The “nisse” would sweep the floor and clean the house for the family it attached itself to. In Sweden a being called “tomte” and in Holland, Kaboutermannekin did similar jobs. So now let us delve into the Hob’s history.
In Otia Imperialia, Gervase de Tilbury writes that hobs are called “portuni” in England and “neptuni” in France. This suggests a possible link with water and water demons. “Portuni” were also said to join a horseman invisibly and lead him into a ditch, laughing.
In the thirteenth century Master Rypon of Durham, mentions “Thrus” – (a certain demon) who would grind corn until the householder gave him a new tunic one day. He refused to grind corn saying in English – “Suld syche a proude grome grynd corn?” This line echoes the Swedish tomte:
“The young spark is fine, He dusts himself! Nevermore will he sift.”
Robin Goodfellow appears in a tale comparable to the Hart Hall Hob of Glaisdale (Yorkshire) in The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow (1628).
“Robin Goodfellow often would in the night visit farmers houses and helpe maydes breake hempe, to bowlt, to dresse flaxe, to spin and do other workes, for hee was excellent in everything. One night hee comes to a farmers house, where there was a goode handsome mayde; this mayde having much work to do. Robin one night did helpe her, and is sixe houres did bowlt more than she could have done I twelve houres. The mayde wondred the next day how her worke came, and to know the doer, she watched the next night that did follow. About twelve of the clocke, in came Robin, and fell braking of hempe and for to delight himself he sung his mad song.
The mayde, seeing him bare in clothes, pittied him, and against the next night provided him a wast – coate. Robin comming the next night to worke, as he did before, espied the wast – coate, where at he started and said:-
“Because thou lay’st me himpen, hampen, I will neither bolt nor stampen: ‘Tis not your garments new or old, That Robin loves: I feele no cold. Had you left me milke or creame, You should have a pleasing dreame. Because you left no drop or crum, Robin never more will come.” So went hee away laughing, ho, hoh!
Himpen, Hampen was also known in an earlier couplet as Hemton Hamtom but should be clearly read as hardin hemp, as in the Hart Hall Hob tale. “Hardin” means hessian, while “hemp” was a rough working shirt.
What’s in a name?
The name for a hob in the south was as mentioned earlier, “Robin Goodfellow”. In Northern England and the North Midlands the term commonly known for hobs was Hobthrus, -thrust, thrush. In Lincolnshire there is a Jacob Thrust and in Cheshire, Hob – dross.
“Hob like Rob and Robin, Dob and Dobbin is a diminutive of Robert. Thus Robert the Bruce was contemptuously styled King Hob,” writes Dr Bruce Dickins in Yorkshire Folklore (1947) “Yet Robert was a well known man’s name, and the unsavoury records of witch trials show that the demon was given a Christian name.”
So could this have lead to the beginnings of Hob used for a goblin? Dickins later states that Robert applied to a demon was hard to come by in Medieval records and that Hobthrus was shortened to hob as in Robin Redbreast to Robin.
When trying to track down Hobs, the best evidence is in the place names and folklore of Northern England.
In Spaldington, a well that contains a helpful yet mischievous Hob is called Robin Redcap’s Well, Robin was cast there after the prayers of three clergymen.
Hob is also common in many South Yorkshire place names –
Hob Beck, Ilkley.
Hobcroft Road, Sheffield, Later Changed to Dobcroft, although Hobcroft is a surname in South Yorks
Hobcross Hill, Doncaster.
Hob Lane, Huddersfield
Hobb Stones Wood
Hob’s Hurst House, Chatsworth
Nearby Sheffield is the village of Dore, and a Hobthrush story very similar to Grimms “The Elves and the Shoemaker” come this here. The story tells how a poor shoemaker found a piece of leather he had cut made into a pair of shoes. He sold them and bought enough to make two pairs and so on. He stayed up one night and saw Hobthrust making shoes faster than the shoemaker could fling them out of the window.
Hence the Sheffield saying when a man is heard to boast about his output of knives etc, the rejoiner is “Ah, tha can mak ‘em faster than Hobthrust can throw shoes out o’ t’window!”
North Yorkshire Hobs
North Yorkshire has possibly more hobs and hob related place names than the whole of England. This may be due to the large amount of Viking settlements in the moors, and where the Hob tales bloomed. Often locations and farms hold related names such as, Hob Cross, Hob Hill, Hob Green, Hob Thrush Grange, Hobdale, Hob Holes, Hobgarth, Hob’s Cave etc.
In 1905, the “Evolution of a Yorkshire Town” by George Calvert, contains a list of known Hobs just in the Pickering district in 1823: Lealham Hob, Hob o’ thrush, T’ Hob o’ Hobgarth, Cross Hob o’ Lastingham, Farndale Hob of High Farndale, T’Hob o’ Stockdale, Scugdale Hob, Hedge Hob o’ Bransdale, Woot Howe Hob, T’Hob o’ Brakken Howe etc.
Hob of Hob Hill
The Hob from Hob Hill, Upleatham, who assisted the Oughtred family as late as 1820 was the normal type of Hob, he assisted in herding, turned hay, and tailed turnips etc.
They did nothing to annoy him but one day a man left his coat on the winnowing machine overnight. The Hob turned into a poltergeist and caused so much trouble they decided to flit.
The day the Oughtreds were moving a friend came by and visited them. He asked Oughtred if he was moving when the Hob replied “Aye getting ti flit ti morn.” Oughtred then decided to stay and kept the Hob under control by magic.
This story compares to the Farndale Hob, who was also a elf like fellow with long shaggy hair.
He attached himself to a farm belonging to Jonathan Gray. The Hob worked very hard all the time, but only asked for two things. Firstly, no-one should see him work. Secondly, he should be left a jug of cream nightly.
Unfortunately Jonathan’s wife died and later he re-married. The new wife was mean with money and swapped the jug of cream for skimmed milk.
The Hob stopped work and instead of leaving he became mischievous and things started to go wrong about the farm. Soon no-one would work for Jonathan so he was resolved to move from the farm.
A friend who had been away saw Jonathan in his cart moving home.
“Noo, then Jonathan, what’s gahin on?” he asked.
Jonathan exclaimed his problems and added “So you see, we’re flitting.”
And to his horror, the lid of a milk churn raised and a small, brown and wizened face peered out.
“Aye,” said the Hob, “We’re flitting.” (*Also see The Boggart in The Fairy Mythology, Keighley.)
More Hob Tales
The Hob at Hobgarth in Glaisdale collected sheep and repaired fences that had been broken down by a vindictive neighbour. (c.1760) He was described as a little old fellow, with very long hair, large feet, hands, eyes and mouth stooping much as he walked and carrying a long holly stick.
At Hob Hole, Runswick Bay, lived a Hob in a cave that was destroyed many years ago by jet diggers but the legend persists. The Hob could cure children of Kink cough now known as Whooping Cough. When a child was suffering from whooping cough, the mother would carry the patient down to the beach and walk along to the mouth of the Hob Hole. There she would call out:
“Hob Hole Hob,
My bairn’s gotten t’kink cough,
Tak it off,
Tak it off.”
There is no mention in records whether any payment or gift for his services and there is no notes if it was successful or not.
What may be a coincidence is that a few yards away from the Hob’s Hole is the Claymore Well Bogles. The bogles lived at Claymore Well and could be heard washing and beaching their clothes.
They would beat them with an old fashioned implement known as a “battledore.”
The bogles would for one night a week do their washing and the noise of them would fill the night air of neighbouring town, Kettleness.
Again the records don’t state what the bogles looked like or if anyone ventured down the well.
The Over Silton Hobthrush lived in Hobthrush Hall, in a cave running under the Scarrs, cliffs which rise a little north west of the village. He served the tenant of the farm on which he lived, churning cream put out for him overnight. One evening the customary reward of bread and butter was forgotten and in disgust Hobthrush left the neighbourhood forever.
Another Hob lived in Hob’s Cave, Mulgrave Woods. If you wished to beckon him, you should call out.
Hobthrush Hob! Where is thou!
and the reply:
Ah’s tying on mab left – fuit shoe,
An ah’ll be wiv thee – Noo!
The Hobs enrich Yorkshire folklore with their strange behaviour, nudity and off the cuff remarks. During the Victorian age it was believed that the Hobs were remnants of folklore brought to these shores by the Angles and Scandinavians. Ancient burial grounds, barrows or prehistoric settlement sites (Pre – English) were often named after Hobs. (Example; Hob Hole in Baysdale is a prehistoric settlement) Fairies are thought to have been the original “English” people who were driven in to the hills by the visiting marauders such as the Romans and Angles. This very theory can be attached to Hob folklore, could Hobs have been the final remnants of the “true English”? As with fairies and giants, Hobs are now a distant memory and quaint belief which even a hundred and fifty years ago was still believed to be true. According to J.Phillips in Mountains and Sea coast of Yorkshire (1853):- “These beliefs persisted till well on into the nineteenth century. How many of them survive today?”
Yorkshire Hobs – article by Bruce Dickins, Yorkshire Dialect Society 1947
Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England – GR Oswt 1933
County Folklore – Folklore Society 1882 – 1914
Folk Tales from the North Yorks Moors – Peter Walker 1990
The Dalesman March 1978