Gloucestershire Folk Tales by Anthony Nanson

This is the first book from the History Press’s series on British Folk Tales that I have read – and I was not disappointed!

This is the first book from the History Press’s series on British Folk Tales that I have read – and I was not disappointed! Anthony Nanson, a storyteller based in Gloucestershire, has chosen an eclectic selection of tales from all over the county, having had great difficulties in making the final selection from the many local legends and stories that abound. Included are stories of ghostly inns, fabulous creatures, King Arthur, and the strange tale from Bisley that Queen Elizabeth I may have been a boy...

In his introduction , he writes that he visited the places and locations – or near enough – from where the stories originated, so “...that my retellings will convey a sense of place.” For me this was particularly enjoyable because of my familiarity with certain places in the county such as Painswick and Newent. In one of my favourite stories, “The Old Men of Painswick”, a pilgrim meets six generations of the same family, each claiming to be father-son-father-son of each other. The pilgrim is disturbed that each generation of old men seems oblivious to this improbability and, when invited to stay, declines, realising that he must continue on his journey because there is no death in this village – only the reality of living forever in a melancholic state of limbo.

Some stories are different versions of instantly recognisable folktales. In one such story, “The Seventh Bride”, I was reminded of the stories of Mr Fox, Bluebeard and The Robber Bridegroom. The mysterious and murderous lover, Sir John, is undone by the sweet yet resourceful Polly who does away with him and survives – unlike her six deceased predecessors who all lie, drowned, in an underground cave. This was an enjoyable yet uneasy tale that simmered with sexual tension until the truth was revealed and Polly moved from passivity to action to save herself.

Nanson does not shy away from urban myths. In “The Beast of Dean”, Norman heads out in search of a Big Cat that has been reported in Newent Woods. Instead, he encounters a mysterious woman, and makes a connection with the area’s ancient past.
Altogether, this was a very enjoyable book. At times, when reading some of the stories, I sensed Nanson “speaking” to me directly in his storyteller’s voice. His presentation of the stories varies as, he admits, some he “retold in my own words” while others he had “reshaped and elaborated”.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who loves folktales and the county of Gloucestershire. You will be spoilt for choice.