folklore, Pagham-verse, The Crows

Folklore of Pagham-on-Sea: Jennet, Jenny and Pinnie-Pen

A folktale from Pagham-on-Sea, recorded by Rev. J. D. Allardyce (1904).

There’s a tale told of Barrow Field though no folk believe on it now, of the time Old Joss Hunderby went widdershins around the largest of the barrows there after a lamb, and before he knew what was what a door opened in the side and out of it he heard a strange sound like singing.

Old Joss he crossed hisself and said a prayer and peeped in at the door to see what it was all about, but before he could do any more it all went dark inside and a voice calls out,

Come horse, come cow, come small brown hen,
Come Jennet, Jenny and Pinnie-Pen!

Well, Old Joss wondered what this was and thought it was the farisees and their little tricks, but he couldn’t move from the spot, it were like his legs were stuck together. He tried and tried and tried again but he couldn’t go back, and he couldn’t go left, and he couldn’t go right, but he could take a step further into the barrow. ‘If I can’t go back, and I can’t go left, and I can’t go right, I might as well go forwards,’ Old Joss thought, and he took a step inside the door.

There in the barrow Old Joss saw three figures, all strange-fashioned in the gloom, two with large heads, one with small, and all bundled up in old travelling clothes. He scratched his head and thought to sneak out another way, but the door closed and he was there with no way out, all in the dark tomb of stone with the grass growing tall over it. Well, Old Joss was afeared and he clutched at his smock, but it was no good now for what’s done is done and there’s no going back from it.

Then he heard the voice again, coming from one of the figures.

“Well Jennet,” said the one, “I heard the batfowlers last night in the woods, a-catching fowl. The fowl say beware the false feathers.”

“Well Jenny,” said another, “I heard the flittermouse last night in the fields, a-catching moths. The moths say beware the false lights.”

“Well Pinnie-Pen,” said the third, “I heard the kime last night in the hedgerow a-catching meese. The meese say beware the false smiles.”

Old Joss could take it no more: “And I heard the mawkin last night in the fields a-catching cold!” He burst out, “And I’ll not be a-listening to you no longer!” And with that he groped around the stones until he found the door again, and the three figures took down their hoods and stared at him behind their mummers’ masks, one with a horse-head, one with a cow-head, and one with the head of a small brown hen.

Well, Old Joss lay bethered after that, and for three long weeks he never stirred, until one night his son came in to say he had seen the strangest sight: marching down from the long barrow in Barrow Field at sunset was a troop of little men all scarce four inches high, and all wore fern-fronds in their caps that bobbed like feathers, and they made their way merrily down the road in procession, the lad following them at a distance to see where they might go, until they came to the grounds of the big house, and there they danced around the well in the garden. And the lad hid in the bushes and watched the little men dance, and as they danced strange lights like small dandelion puffs rose out of the well and danced with them, glowing like tiny pearls. And the lad watched and watched until one of the little men stopped dancing and called out, “I twets, do you twet?” and the lad couldn’t help but laugh – but laughing gave him away and the little men all scattered.

“You must beware the little men with their false feathers, false lights and false smiles,” Old Joss told his son, remembering the words he’d heard in the barrow. But the lad was curious and although he promised his father, he went back to the big house to hide in the bushes the following night to see if the little men would return.

Well, this time, the little men came back and danced with the lights around the well – and this time as before one stopped dancing, all out of breath, and cried out, “Puck! I twets, do you twet?” And as before the lad couldn’t help but laugh and give himself away.

But this time the leader of the little men came to the lad with a smile as long as a staff, and invited him to dance with them. “You little fluttergrub, hiding there in the dirt,” the little man said, “Come away with us, and we will fill your pockets with riches.”

Well, the lad was sorely tempted, and although he had promised his father, he soon found himself dancing with the little men, around and around and around the well, and then when he could dance no more they caught him up, some on his right leg, some on his left, and lifted him like he weighed no more than a sparrow, and they took him off down the road and back to the barrow where they came from, and the lad was heard of no more.

Old Joss got hisself out of bed to find his son, and went widdershins about the barrow again – but no little men did he find, only the darkness of the tomb and the stones, and the three misshapen figures, all dressed up to go travelling. And again he heard that voice saying,

Come horse, come cow, come small brown hen,
Come Jennet, Jenny and Pinnie-Pen!

“I’ll give ye Jennet, Jenny and Pinnie-Pen!” Old Joss roared, and set about them with his cane, beside himself for the loss of his boy. “Give to me my child, you little devils!” And he set about to pull at the heads of the figures to see who was playing tricks. But as he pulled at them they fell all in a heap; for what he took to be mummers’ masks were no masks at all, and his fingers found the blood-stiff yarn stitches that sewed the heads to their necks.

And they found Old Joss fitting in Barrow Field and he died that same day, and they never found the boy, not ever, and they say there’s still lights in the well of the big house from time to time, and singing too, if you listen; but no one believes on such fancies nowadays and the Hunderbys sold off the field years back, and the long barrows lie asleep under grass and sun, and are filled with stone and silence and nothing more.

widdershins: anti-clockwise
farisees: Sussex dialect for fairies
batfowlers: bird-catchers with nets who go out at night
flittermouse: bat
kime: weasels
meese: mice
mawkin: scarecrow
bethered: bedridden
twets/twet: to sweat
fluttergrub: a man who takes a delight in working about in the dirt, and getting into every possible mess

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