A correspondent of the London "Daily Mail" gives some particulars of a mysterious East Riding stream which comes and goes like a will-o'-the-wisp and the appearance of which superstitious folk regard as the harbinger of evil, and which is just now almost the sole topic of conversation in the villages and hamlets among the wolds and dales of North-East Yorkshire.Excellent, it turns out the Gypsey Race is a republican.
To solve the mystery of the "Gypsey Race," as the strange waters are called, has been the ambition of many modern scientists. Little, however, has yet been discovered to account for its eccentricities. Almost as suddenly as they came, some six weeks ago, the waters will shortly disappear, and may not be seen again for years. Only five or six times during the last twenty-one years has this brook run its eerie course. Its source of origin is a hidden mystery. The strange workings of Nature, however, appeal to the curiosity and imagination of the Yorkshire wold-dweller.
Day by day young and old watch the stream running its twenty-mile course of hide and seek among the chalk to the sea at Bridlington. Astonishment is often mingled with awe, for according to tradition dire disasters follow in the wake of the brook, and which in consequence bears the sinister title of "The waters of woe." Superstitions die hard, and in these out-of-the-way wolds people are still to be found whom it is difficult to dissuade that the running of a stream fed by an intermittent spring is not in some way associated with the supernatural.
I have tried hard, however, to find someone who can give personal testimony in support of the theory that the appearance of the mysterious waters is a prognostication of trouble. With the exception of some heavy floods in the winter of 1860 and a great storm at sea in 1880, no one can remember that the coming of the stream has been attended by any particular local woe. The legend seems to be founded on incidents belonging to a very distant past.
The "gipsey," it is said, appeared just before the great plague, before the restoration of Charles II., and a few weeks prior to the landing of the Prince of Orange. Its appearance in 1795 is also reported to have synchronised with the descent of a huge meteorite in the village of Wold Newton.
The mysterious stream meanders through this quaint little village, some of the inhabitants of which have not yet ceased to talk of the "bolt from the sky" and its supposed affinity with the "woe-waters" of the wold. Originating from an intermittent spring which bursts through the chalk strata to the east of the village of Wharram-le-street the gipsey stream performs at times so many queer pranks that its vagaries may have given rise to some of the superstitions associated with its appearance.
For instance, the waters may be running strangely at one end of a field and the other end of the bed of the stream be quite dry. On one occasion the stream literally passed through some cottages at Kirby Grindalythe, the water forcing its way through the ground floors and only being released by artificial means. At times trout have been seen in the mystic brook.
Some authorities declare that the stream derives its origin from the Greek word Gupos (chalk), while others aver that it means the same as the ordinary gipsey wanderer. Only once during the last fourteen years have the limpid waters of this strange rivulet run as strongly as they have during the last few days. There are already indications, however, that the waters are about to ebb. Soon the stream will have entirely disappeared and children will again play in its dry and erstwhile channel. The waters, however, will not be forgotten, and not a few old folk will quietly, but anxiously, wait to see whether the gipsy's warning of 1910 of "battle, plague, and famine" come true or not. - Y.H. April 5th, 1910.
This piece from the Yorkshire Herald is collected in County Folklore v6, the East Riding of Yorkshire, edited by Mrs Gutch (1912).
Posted by Rhiannon
2nd November 2011ce