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31 Days of Hallowe’en Tales: Day 6 – Old Scrat

On day six of spooky season, we find out about Old Scrat, the troublesome impish form of the Devil himself, and his strange connection to a nearby Lancashire village.

When carrying the shopping home or pushing a trolley around a supermarket do you ever feel like the load you’re carrying suddenly feels so much heavier? Making your arms leaden and your knees tremble, waying you down until you find yourself wiped out completely? Well if so, Old Scrat himself may be responsible for causing you a mischief!

Sharing ancestors with the Schrat or Schritel of Germany, the Skrat of Scandinavia and the Skratti of Old Norse, Lancashire’s incarnation is Old Scrat or Old Scratch.

Did your granny ever tell you to “stop scratting!” when you were fidgeting or scratching at yourself with your nails? Well in old Lancashire to scrat meant raking with claws or nails. My family certainly still uses this word today for this very meaning, but it is also the same word given to the Devil when he takes the form of a troublesome imp.

Scrat would have his fun by jumping into the back of carts, his infernal weight would cause the poor horses to strain and sweat, the carter could not drive them on, only sit in dismay whilst their legs buckled and they halted completely. Then just as suddenly as he had appeared, Old Scrat would leap from the cart and the extra weight would vanish! Only the wicked, shrieking laughter of Old Scrat could be heard as he took his leave.

The funeral procession was travelling towards the church when Old Scrat decided he would hitch a ride on top of the coffin.

Horses were known to run themselves ragged, feeling compelled to pull a heavy cartload. Only when finally caught it would be found that the carts were completely empty and Scrat had been up to his old tricks again.

One such carter reported that he experienced similar, his ponies struggled and he suddenly felt the heaviness of hell itself waying his cart down. The animals then reared up alarmingly, their manes standing on end in fright. Looking with concern at his ponies before him, to his shock he spied the imp dancing between their ears!

But Old Scrat was also known to get his kicks in other ways too. In the rural village of Brindle, which is bordered by Preston and Chorley, the imp had a run in with the local vicar when he decided to push his luck.

Interestingly, Brindle village itself is very old, the name has its origin in the earlier Burnhul, the ‘hill by the stream’. It is believed to be the site of the battle of Brunanburh, where in 937 King Athelstan “won undying glory with the edges of swords, against the Norsemen”.

The great Cuerdale treasure hoard was discovered near Brindle in the 19th century and can be found today in the British Museum. Containing over 8,600 pieces, the Cuerdale Hoard is one of the largest Viking silver hoards ever found, four times larger than its nearest rival in Britain or Ireland, second only to the Spillings Hoard found on Gotland, Sweden. Maybe it was this treasure that Old Scrat was looking for when he walked abroad in Brindle village? For in American folklore, their version of Old Scratch is a treasure hoarder, guarding treasure, especially that which has been acquired immorally. I would think a Viking hoard would fit this description!

The village church in Brindle is St James, a nice little old church with the tower its oldest remaining section, built in the 1400’s. In the churchyard can be found a medieval stone coffin and medieval grave slabs, rare survivor’s from over 500 years ago.

One day Old Scrat decided to gatecrash a funeral at Brindle church. The funeral procession was travelling towards the church when Old Scrat decided he would hitch a ride on top of the coffin. The pallbearers struggled against his weight, unable to go on, whilst the onlookers shouted and chucked rocks at Scrat to get him off. He refused to leave, instead he lounged atop the coffin, cackling in glee. It wasn’t until the vicar recited the Lord’s Prayer that Old Scrat finally took his leave.

Old Scrat was never seen in the village again. Brindle Church lychgate still bears the Alpha and Omega signs on its wooden doors today to prevent Old Scrat from returning.

Read our previous Hallowe’en Tales

Day 1 – The Curse of Carleton Crematorium.
Day 2 – The Witch Ducking Stools of Poulton-Le-Fylde.
Day 3 – The Ghost-Seer of Weeton.
Day 4 – Smuggling, Drowned Nuns and Fallen Acrobats at Raikes Hall

Day 5 – The Hauntings at the Old Coach House

Take a look at Zowie Swan’s debut novel, Chingle Hall here.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
  • Zowie Swan is a local writer of fiction and folklaw. Her debut novel, Chingle Hall, is out now with Safety Pin Publishing. She's also bassist for Blackpool band Dischord.

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