Discover Worthing’s wonderful folklore

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Dancing fairies, jumping devils and all-female cuckoo clans – Sussex is home to some truly weird and wonderful beliefs, customs and tales.

The historic county’s folklore includes fairies, dragons, ghosts, and the devil, and is often inspired by the hills and forests of the landscape.

Sussex is home to Knuckers, a kind of water dragon which lives in ‘knuckerholes’, and fairies play a significant role in local folklore. Hilaire Belloc, a writer and historian who grew up in Sussex, once recounted the story that the fairies would come out to dance in fairy rings on Halloween, and Rudyard Kipling wrote two stories about Sussex fairies. Sussex has several landscape features named after the devil, including Devil’s Dyke, Devil’s Bog, Devil’s Book, the Devil’s Ditch, the Devil’s Humps, the Devil’s Jumps and the Devil’s Road.

In her 1878 work West Sussex Superstitions, Charlotte Lathan collected a list of the signs that the inhabitants of Sussex put their faith in.

This includes cutting one’s nails on a Monday morning without thinking of a fox’s tale in order to receive a present, looking for a lucky nine peas in the first pod you gather, and listening out for the cuckoo. Every cuckoo in Sussex is said to be female, and will ‘bring good tidings and tell us no lies’.

Worthing is home to some fascinating folklore.

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The legend of the Midsummer tree was first recorded by Charlotte Latham in 1868. The tale goes that on Midsummer’s Eve, skeletons would rise from the oak and dance around it until dawn, before sinking back into the earth. The oak, which stands near Broadwater Green, is said to be around 300 years old.

Another legend surrounds a tunnel while supposedly led from the (now-demolished) medieval Offington Hall to the Iron Age hill fort at Cissbury and the Neolithic flint mines. There is supposed to be treasure sealed at the far end, and those who had tried to find the treasure had been scared away by large snakes guarding the tunnel.

Be careful if you have any plans to go for your evening jog around the churchyard in Broadwater - legend says that if you run around the oldest tomb in the yard, the devil will jump out at you.

John Oliver built his tomb, known as the ‘Miller’s Tomb’, at Highdown Hill while he was still alive. It is said that he wanted to be buried in it upside down so as to be the right way up when the world ends. If you run around the tomb seven times, his ghost will jump out and chase you.

Worthing also has its ghosts. One family, who had recently moved into their new home in Worthing’s Cobden Road in 1931, were terrified by figures of monks, slamming doors and heavy footsteps. Evidence seemed to suggest that the house had been built on the site of former monastic premises.

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