Published December 2021
“Beware o’ Peg Powler! Don’t tha go near to t’river bank!”
That’s what generations of Teesdale parents have told their children. But it’s not just children that should take heed. Peg will grab anyone who gets too near the water’s edge and will drag them to their death in the river. Some say Peg would eat them! In fact, she had something of a reputation for enjoying human flesh.
So who is this Peg Powler?
Sometimes she’s known as Jenny Greenteeth (evocative name!) or the High Green Ghost. A real hag, she has long green hair, long arms and sharp claws. She’s a Grindylow, a water spirit found throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire – typical of the antipathy between the counties that the only thing they share is something so evil!
The name Grindylow reminds us of Grendel, the antagonist whom Beowulf fought and killed (and then had to take on and kill the mother) in the Anglo-Saxon epic. In that poem Grendel’s mother is called “aglæc-wif” or “monster woman.” She was supposed to be a descendant of Cain, the first murderer, the elder son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel. Perhaps Peg Powler’s ancestry stretches all the way back to the Book of Genesis. Wouldn’t that be something?
What we do know is that Peg was first heard of haunting the area called Cow Green in Upper Teesdale (hence the name “The High Green Ghost”). Then rich in lead and the site of lead mines, now Cow Green is a large reservoir completed in 1971, swallowing up a much smaller natural lake called The Weel, which was described in 1833 by the mining engineer Thomas Sopwith as “a sullen lake”.
Now she is said to have moved downstream to Darlington where the foam or froth which is often seen floating on the river is called “Peg Powler’s suds” or “Peg Powler’s cream”.
The singing lady and the monk
Thankfully Peg Powler is not the only haunter of the Tees. Just a little way down the river from Cow Green is the fast moving cascade of Cauldron Snout and there the Singing Lady sits, a Victorian farm girl who drowned herself when her affair with a Cow Green lead miner came to an end.
Further downstream, past Middleton and Mickleton, there’s a bridge which was built in 1450. A chapel was founded at the southern (Yorkshire, for the Tees forms the boundary between Yorkshire and County Durham) end of the bridge by Thomas Newleyne, Rector of Romaldkirk, but it was abandoned after the Reformation and demolished in the 17th Century. Now one of the monks is said to haunt the bridge.
What is he doing there? Is he held there by despair at the loss of the chapel? Or making penance for some sin? Or is he, perhaps, blessing the souls of those devoured by Peg Powler as their remains are carried beneath the bridge towards the sea? Who knows?
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