The Cauld Lad of Hylton

Hylton Castle has long had the reputation of being haunted by a bar-guest or local spirit, of the same genus as used formerly to haunt almost every old feudal residence in the kingdom. The goblin was seldom seen, but was heard nightly by the servants, who got so accustomed to him that they were not the least frightened. If the kitchen had been left in perfect order on their retiring to rest, they would hear him amusing himself by hurling the pewter about in all directions, and throwing everything into confusion. But if, on the contrary, the apartment had been left in disarray (a practice which the maids found it both prudent and convenient to adopt), the indefatigable goblin set about arranging everything with the greatest precision, so that what was “confusion worse confounded” the night before, was in “apple-pie order” on the following morning. But though the Cau’d Lad’s pranks seem to have been at all times perfectly harmless, they at length became wearisome to the servants, who determined to banish him from the castle by the usual means employed in such cases, that is, not by priestly exorcism, but by leaving, for his express use, some article of clothing, or some toothsome delicacy to tempt his palate. The Cau’d Lad somehow got an inkling of their intentions, and was frequently heard to recite, in the dead of the night, in fancied security, the following consolatory stanzas:

Wae’s me, wae’s me,
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree
That’s to grow the wood
That’s to make the cradle
That’s to rock the bairn
That’s to grow a man
That’s to lay me.

However, the goblin reckoned without his host; for the usual means of banishment were provided, viz., a green cloak and a hood, which were laid before the kitchen fire. At the dead hour of midnight the sprite glided gently in, stood by the smouldering embers, and surveyed the garments provided for him very attentively, then tried them on, and appeared delighted with their graceful cut, frisking about the room, and cutting sundry somersaults and gambadoes; until at length, on hearing the first crow of the cock, twitching his green mantle tightly round him, he disappeared with the appropriate valediction of

Here’s a cloak and here’s a hood,

The Cau’d Lad o’ Hilton will do no more good!

But long after this, although he never returned to disarrange the pewter or set the house in order, yet his voice was often heard at midnight singing a melancholy melody:

Here’s a cloak and here’s a hood,

The Cau’d Lad o’ Hylton will do no more good!

The genuine brownie is supposed to be an unembodied spirit, that has never borne the human form; but the Cau’d Lad has, through the common process of myth-development, been identified with the apparition of an unfortunate domestic who was slain by one of the barons of Hylton in a moment of passion or intemperance. This baron, having ordered his horse to be ready on a particular occasion, and it not being brought out in time to soothe his ruffled impatience, proceeded to the stable, where he found the boy fast asleep and the horse unsaddled. Seizing a hay-fork, he struck the lad a blow which proved mortal. Horrified at what he had done, he Covered the body with straw till night, and then threw it into a pond, where, many years afterwards, in the last baron’s time, the skeleton of a boy was discovered, which was held to be a confirmation of the tale. This pond was afterwards drained, and a cottage was built on the site.

Perhaps this story, which was communicated to Robert Surtees, the compiler of the “History of Durham,” by Mr. J. B. Taylor, may have had its origin in the fact recorded of a coroner’s inquest having been held, on the 3rd July, 1609, on the body of Roger Skelton, who was killed with the point of a scythe, accidentally, by Robert Hylton, of Hylton, for which that gentleman obtained a free pardon on the 6th of September following.

The ballad of “The Cau’d Lad o’ Hylton” a quite modern production tells how the murdered lad, Roger Skelton, used to pace o’nights round the castle hall, with his head literally in his hand, singing, “soft and low,” notwithstanding the severance of the larynx from the lungs, the following prophetic words of dread:

Hylton’s line dishonoured falls;
Lay with the dust proud Hylton’s walls.
Murder blots the household sword;
Strip the lands from Hylton’s lord, etc., etc.

If we are to believe Surtees’s informant, however, the Cau’d Lad held full possession of the house several years after the death of the last Baron Hylton, and was not finally exorcised until the beginning of this century by the hospitality of the late Mr. Simon Temple, a wealthy coalowner, from whom Templetown, at the high end of South Shields, takes its name, who for some years occupied the castle, which, but for his interposition, would have been demolished, it having been condemned to be taken down for the sake of the materials.

If the ballad – writer speaks truth, the Cau’d Lad did not confine his pranks wholly to the castle. He tells us in a note that the goblin sometimes took a fancy to row people across the Wear at night, in the ferry boat stationed near. He would take them over half way, and then of a sudden disappear, leaving the passengers, though they might be women and children, to shift for themselves; then, after some time, he would make his reappearance, and after rowing them up and down the river a mile or two, would land them on the same side they started from, always making them, however, pay their fare, though what he could do with the money no man could tell. In pursuing this sort of mischievous amusement, the Cau’d Lad seems to have displayed rather the characteristics of the Scottish kelpie than the brownie, only that he does not seem ever to have gone the length of drowning the passengers he deceived, as the kelpie would at least have tried to do. Another freak of his was to sit astride a beer barrel in the cellar to guard the precious liquor. When John, the butler, went down to tap a cask, he often averred that he had found him there. But this latter circumstance is probably borrowed from similar tales told of the familiar spirits in various parts of Scotland and Ireland.

Another supernatural visitant is reported to have appeared in the castle shortly before the death of the last baron. When that dignitary was one night entertaining a large company, a greyhound, which nobody had previously seen, rushed into the dining-room, and, neglecting those present, fawned upon the baron, who saw round its neck a collar of gold, inscribed with magical characters, which he alone could read, and which were found to purport that his father, who had been dead twenty-five years, had sent the dog to him to announce his approaching death, and also the speedy downfall of the Hylton family, after a series of twenty descents, stretching through five centuries. The dog disappeared before morning as unaccountably as it came; but the event soon proved the truth of the dismal warning.

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