Legends of the Carrs

"I tell it as it was told to me, and I have tried to keep to the old woman's words as closely as possible, only changing them where they would certainly not be 'understanded' of the people without an intimate knowledge of the dialect." Marie Clothilde Balfour (1891) Legends of the Carrs in Folk-Lore p.149


Investigating The Legends of the Carrs as published in Folk-Lore in 1891

In 2013 I was awarded a Ph.D. for my research which validated the Legends of the Cars1 a collection of tales submitted to Folklore in 1891 as having been collected in the Carrs of North Lincolnshire from local people. These stories are today used by artists, writers and storytellers, wishing to evoke the flatland and beliefs of the past, and one of them (The Dead Moon) even  formed a core part of Radio 4's On Mardle Fen (Series 5 -2 According to Ditcher) when it was described as "an ancient fenland story." Most recently Tiddy Mun was referred to within the Eastern Angles production of Dark Earth.

Despite the fact that the origins have recently been questioned by F J Norton, Neil Philip and Jeremy Harte, to date they have never been thoroughly investigated.

I have examined the historical, geographical and social context which inspired the Legends and have validated the folkloric content and the dialect as being predominantly from North Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. I have also found that the stories contain a wealth of clues which indicate that they are oral rather than literary tales, such as framing devices, asides to the listener, repetitions, poetic devices and simple, rather than complex sentences.

Marie Clothilde Balfour, who submitted the Legends to Folk-Lore, lived in Redbourne between 1887 and 1889. She was born in Scotland and was a first cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. My thesis argues that as the Legends are so firmly linked to the Lincolnshire Carrs, it is unlikely that Balfour composed them, however they must have been composed by a person or people within the Carrs, at some time between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth century.

By clicking on the links in the categories to the right you can find out about

  • an outline summary of my research
  • a short summary of the sources I have consulted
  • a list of the Legends and the places where they and their adaptations can be found plus links to summaries of each of the Legends (found by clicking on each link in the categories list).
  • current news about the research including a review of Dark Earth
  • you can also read my PhD thesis here


1: The spelling of 'Cars' is as recorded by M.C.Balfour though the modern spelling is 'Carrs.'