The Piper of Shacklow, the fiddler fin,
The old woman of Demon’s Dell calls them all in
Where the river Wye meanders just past Monsel Head, a hill called Fin Cop stands prominent in the skyline. The place holds many ancient secrets and stories, including that of the giant Hulac Warren, the fiddler of Fin, who lived in a cave in the hillside called Hobs Hurst. Hulac fell in love with a shepherds daughter, but his confession of love for her ended in great tragedy.
I first came across the story of Hulac Warren, when a friend told me about the excavation of a hill fort on Fin Cop, formally known as Great Finn. The Longstone Local History Group with a team of local volunteers, assisted by Archaelogical Research Services Ltd, and with help from the heritage lottery fund, began work on the site in 2009. They originally set out to discover how the hill fort was built, but during their first three week dig in 2009, they were also surprised to discover a prehistoric skeleton buried in a ditch outside the ramparts. This work was soon grabbing headlines and being acknowledge for its archaeological importance. Additional funding was secured for a further dig in 2010, and the remains of seven women and children were unearthed in the forts ditch.
As part of the original project, the Longstone Local History Youth Group made the following video, 'Unearthing the Story of Fin Cop' in February 2010, and it was really this video that inspired me to look into the folklore of the Fiddler of Fin.
The verses regarding Hulac Warren used in that video are from a poem called 'Monsel Dale', written by local poet John Howe, who lived from 1777 to 1838. I found it in the Wirksworth Parish Records, which records a passage from the Reliquary dated April 1865 entitled 'A Brief Sketch of the Life of John Howe, an Ashworth Worthy', by Thomas Brushfield. In it, Brushfield writes;
The following lines, from the poem called Monsal Dale, in his "Trifles Light as Air," I here Introduce, because it contains the story on which I have founded the following Legend of Demon's Dale -
Beneath the Hough, where transverse valleys meet,
Is Demon's Dale, a dreary lone retreat--
Need I relate (what neighbouring peasants say),
How Hulac Warren here concealed lay,
Surprised and carried to his horrid den,
The fairest daughter of the sons of men;
An humble shepherdess - her father's flocks
She kept amid these mountains, from whose rocks
Her tuneful voice oft echoed through the woods,
And mingled with the murmur of the floods;
Hulac had eyed the virgin from afar,
Conceived her beauteous as the morning star,
Fixed in his purpose, often would he trace
Each secret winding with intention base.
Chance led Hedessa through the verdant grove,
To spend the evening in the cool alcove,
Where from the thicket springing on his prize,
His yell triumphant rumbles through the skies
Dread imprecations through each cavern roars,
She from the Fates and Gods relief implores.
With grief o'erpowered she instantly expires
The tears dissolved beneath the hill retires
Hence rose the Hedess spring.
Hulac blasphemed the Gods, and to atone
The heinous crime was turned to Warren Stone;
The ponderous mass has many a tempest braved,
Through many an age the Wye its sides have lav'd,
On the huge bulk the trembling oziers grow,
Sigh in the wind - expressive of his woe.
Brushfield goes on to tell another tale of Hedessa:
HEDESSA, A LEGEND OF THE PEAK.
YE mountains, how lovely ye are! The day-gods' rays fall lightly on your summits, and ye shine in beauty! Ye valleys besprinkled with flowers, rich in green verdure, the sighing wind passes over you, gathers your perfume, and breathes sweetness! Ye stately rocks, rearing your majestic fronts as if fixed on settled and eternal foundations! And thou, fair pellucid streamlet, laving the feet of the everlasting hills, hurrying on over thy rocky pebbled bed, as if in haste to reach some far-off ocean of calmness and quiet! I greet ye all. Your echoes seem to mock my lamentations, and to be indifferent to my sorrow .but oh! ye do sweetly discourse to me of the past, and give comfort to a heart now, alas! sad, childless, widowed ! Ye - dear, loved, cherished scenes - bore witness to my bereavement, to the cause of my grief; within this dell which ye encircle, my child, my Hedessa, poured out her soul! on your lap of flowers, may yet be traced her footprints; the melodious tones of her sweet voice still lingers in your caves and ravines; her pure spirit yet haunts your woods and solitary places! the murmur among your trees, the gurgles of the passing river, the evening's silence., and the morning's dawn, all breathe out salutations once dear to the heart of my loved, my lost one! Shall I repeat the tale of my complaining, the cause of my sorrow and my tears? yes! majestic, dearly-cherished, but silent companions, I will! Listen! oh listen to my wail of sadness! The hunter's horn sounded loudly into our chambers, still nearing our dwelling-place. Surprised, we looked around for the cause of the disturbance - Hedessa ran to yon peak to witness the approach of the hunters - she was seen by them, alas! for her fate! Hector Warren, their leader, saw her face! she was very beautiful! oh, treacherous beauty! from that moment he used every device to possess her - a fatal opportunity soon presented itself, and seizing her fair hand, He poured forth his request, high in pretences, rich in promises! With tears and entreaties Hedessa pleaded a settled love! she pleaded in vain! Hector Warren persisted in his unholy suit! Hedessa yielded not! firm to her first made vows she remained true and unsubdued, spurning his entreaties, promises, and pretensions. Enraged at her unflinching fidelity, promises and pretensions failing, Hector attempted to secure her by force. He seized her gentle form - stifling her cries, he bore her away. and in his arms carried her to the peak of yon cavernous Tors. Standing on that overhanging ledge, where the honey-flower and the wild rose twine in undisturbed possession, the frenzy of despair came to the soul of Hedessa. A power superhuman was bestowed upon her by the Gods, and with one desperate bound she freed herself from the arm that encircled her! but, oh! sad to tell! her life was the penalty of the struggle, for she fell from that fearful height. After long and anxious searching, we found her mangled body at the foot of that rock. There her spirit pure and untainted left her! Yes! there my child, my loved one, breathed her last sigh, but ere it passed away she related the story of her seizure and her escape. Above yon rocky prominence, covered over with the branches of hazel and the leaves of the oak, on a bed of the sacred plant, in her last resting-place, lie the remains of my Hedessa. The wall of grief, in loud and hallowed lays, long resounded its outpouring of sadness in the valley, and on the appearance of each new moon - fair goddess of the night! until this heart break, and this bosom ceases to heave, the solemn dirge and wail shall be repeated. Fragments of the rock from which my Hedessa fell, form the circle round the spot on which the body lies, securing the inclosure (now sacred ground) from the intrusion of whatever is impure. Near the place where my loved one fell, a stream of water, pure as her own soul, yea! pure as innocence itself, gushed forth into being; and while these mountains, and these woods and valleys remain, the spirit of my Hedessa will visit the scenes, and bless with its presence the flowing water of the Hedess Spring. But of Hulac Warren? The dye of guilt glared in his eyes! Baffled in his unholy attempt on my child, a deadly destroying rage burned its fires into his heart. He wandered about these beautiful places, unconscious of their loveliness. Abandoned and avoided, a stranger to repose, condemned and uncared-for, his days and nights were filled with bitter moanings and savage denunciations - no moment's quiet cheered him, no word of sympathy or pity fell on his ear. At last reason forsook him! he became a maddened maniac, a ferocious monster. The wild cat and the he-wolf fled at his approach. At the foot of the dale, washed by the water of the river, lies a huge stone! that stone bears his name, and there will remain, as the only record to all future generations of the fate of the unblest and wicked Demon - HULAC WARREN!
In 'Peak Scenery, or The Derbyshire Tourist' of 1824, Eberneezer Rhodes writes:
On the steep side of Great Finn, an insulated rock that is split and rent into parts rises like the ruins of a castle from out the thick underwood with which the hill is covered: this shapeless mass is called Hob's House, and tradition states, that it was inhabited by a being of a gigantic stature, who was possessed of great and mysterious powers, and who was known by the name of Hob. This extraordinary personage never appeared by day; but when the inhabitants were asleep in their beds, he traversed the vales, entered their houses, thrashed their corn, and in one single night did the work of ten day-labourers, unseen and unheard, for which service he was recompensed with a bowl of cream, that was duly placed upon the hearth, to be quaffed on the completion of the task he had voluntarily imposed upon himself. This is a tradition by no means confined to the neighbourhood of Monsal-Dale; a similar one prevails in many parts of the kingdom, and particularly in the northern districts...
I have discovered many references to a giant doing work for local farmers in exchange for cream, and I have heard that coins used to be left outside Hob's House for agricultural luck. This giant is referred to by many names; Hulac Warren, Hector Warren, Fin, and most famously Hob, which is a name in folklore that can refer to a goblin, or a spirit, or supernatural being. But when presented with characters that are 'supernatural' I often try to look for an everyday reason for the thing that has become legend. In my song, I have used the idea that Hulac's reason for living out in the cave in Fin Cop is that he is unusual, deformed, a giant, and is therefore outcast from his community.
The final verse in my telling of Fin Cop, is a local traditional rhyme found mainly in Ashford-in-the-water:
The piper of Shacklow
The fiddler of Fin
The old woman of Demon's Dale
Calls them all in.
By Bella Hardy
Down Monsel Dale, by the winding stream
Fin Cop meets the heavens high
And in the lea of this orphan hill
A lonely man abides
Oh Hulac Warren to this cave outcast,
For giant bone and stretch skin
He plays a tune sad as earth and stone
The fiddler fin
But by there comes a Shepherds girl
Soft she sings her sheep along
And that sweet sound pierced the cold spring ground
And filled his heart with song
Behind the girl, quiet the giant crept,
Tapped her tiny shoulder
But as she turned horror filled her mind
Still Hulac held her
First she has fought, then she has fled
And she’s flown with tear filled eyes
But she has fallen, fallen down the dell
and in the river lies
Oh curse the gods, who made me so
For this world was I so wrong?
And curse you for the death of her
Who filled my heart with song.
Well the gods did hear, and they heard full sore
And they made their wrath soon shown
For in the water where Hulac stood
He’s turned to Warren Stone
The Piper of Shacklow
The fiddle of fin
The old woman of Demon’s Dell
Call’s them all in.