Though the discovery of this unique and splendid corselet took place some years ago, viz. A.D. 1833, yet, as no very satisfactory conjectures relative to the distinguished wearer were then offered, it is presented once more to the notice of the public [..]
We shall preface our account with a "ghost story," which is as singular as it is true. A considerable time previous to the discovery, an old woman, on her return from Mold late one night, saw an apparition "of unusual size, and clothed in a coat of gold, which shone like the sun," crossing her road to the identical spot where the treasure was afterwards found*, and which was commonly known by the name of "Bryn yr Ellyllon," or the Goblins' Hill. We stop not to enquire into the probable nature of this spectre, whether it was really an emigrant from the unseen world, or merely the effect of imagination, or some other optical illusion; it is sufficient for us that the old woman herself was convinced of its personality. And no less curious is it, that she should have mentioned the circumstance on the following morning, amongst others, to the very person whose workmen dug out the breast-plate!
*This circumstance is mentioned by the Rev. C.B. Clough, Vicar of Mold (and now Archdeacon of St. Asaph,) in a letter communicated by him to John Gage, Esq., Director of the Society of Antiquaries, where he moreover adds: "Her having related this story is an undoubted fact."
And finally, here, and certainly best of all, is a letter from John Gage, and he quotes the Rev. Clough (The old woman had been to collect her husband from the pub. But I'm sure she wouldn't have drank anything before she saw the ghost :) http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=R1pEAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA424
It's in v26 of Archaeologia (1836).
It includes a lovely drawing of the design on the cape.
Richard Holland's 1989 book 'Supernatural Clwyd' gives these details of the folklore. These stories "supposedly" predate the discovery of the cape.
It seems that Bryn-yr-Ellyllon was the name given to the hill approaching Pentre. In 1830 a farmer's wife was returning up it from Mold market when her horse began to get jumpy. She saw lights in the woods to her right and wondered if a fire had started in them. Suddenly a huge figure wearing golden armour strode out of the woods - he was shining with the weird golden light. He crossed in front of her and straight into the barrow on the opposite side of the road. Immediately the golden light disappeared.
The farmer's wife pulled herself together and rode to the Rev. Charles Butler Clough's vicarage. He took her statement and got two people to witness it. (He printed it in the 1861 book 'Scenes and Stories Little Known.') He did some more research and found that the barrow itself was known as Tomen yr Ellyllon, and that it was regarded as haunted and a place people avoided. An old man who lived nearby told him of Brenin yr Allt, the King of the Hillside. The field in which the mound lay was supposedly called Cae'r Yspryd (Field of the Ghost).
He also discovered there had been sightings in the previous century (look, this is a man of the cloth we're talking about - would he lie for a good story?). A girl called Nancy had seen the spectre standing on the mound twice, and another woman who'd seen it had apparently gone mad for seven years. It was, she said 'All glittering and shining in gold'. The story at icNorth Wales here mentions that Nancy was rather relieved when the gold cape was found, because it collaborated her story (and no doubt reassured her that she wasn't totally bonkers). She felt that the ghost wouldn't be seen again - which it wasn't.
Various stories surround what happened after the barrow was broken into. It's known that many of the amber beads found their way home in people's pockets. One woman who took some home for her young daughter heard stamping feet at her cottage that night, and an invisible hand knocked on the doors and windows. Reluctantly she took the beads back and threw them on the remains of the barrow.
It is also said that many of the wedding rings handed down in Mold are made from melted gold from Bryn yr Ellyllon, though no associations with bad luck were mentioned with these.
One of the slabs from the tomb is said to be the first of the steps up the Bailey Hill in the centre of Mold.
Holland includes a photo of the house which was built on the site. A plaque is cemented into its garden wall commemorating the barrow and its find. It claims that the tomb was the burial place of the giant prince Benlli Gawr... but that's a different story.
(However, there are discrepancies in Holland's tale - he claims the book mentioned was written by the Reverend himself, but it was actually his wife.. so who knows what other aspects are factually a bit suspect. Still, it's all folklore isn't it - including the way new retellings get incorporated with the old ones. Nothing should come in the way of a good story).
The beautiful and unique Bronze Age Mold gold cape was discovered by labourers breaking stone for road building, in 1833. They were digging a mound in a field known as 'Bryn Yr Ellyllon' - Hill of the Elves, and it was found crushed and in pieces in a stone-lined grave at the mound's centre. They also found some amber beads with the skeleton. The pieces were originally thought to be an chest ornament for a horse, but eventually it was reassembled into a strange collar that would have restricted the wearer's arms.
There's a copy of the cape in the Mold Library - but hopefully, after many years of campaigns, perhaps the *real* cape will be returned to the town.
By the way, if you go to the British Museum to see it, if you stand in front of the case and squint a bit, you can see your reflection and the cape at the same time, and it looks like you're wearing the thing. Spooky.
It seems that the vultures descended as soon as it was unearthed and bits spread far and wide. But this page in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London (v 3, 1856) speaks hopefuly of how a fragment had been retrieved, and how it held useful information about the 'corselet's original appearance.
"Scenes and Stories Little Known - Chiefly in North Wales" is now available to read online. It seems that it wasn't written by the vicar, but his wife(?), Margaret Butler Clough. What's more, the stories are in verse. The profits went to the Repairing Fund for Bistre church, you'll be pleased to hear. The relevant chapter is called "The Field of the Golden Corselet" in which she describes "A mist-robed form stood with imperial mien" of which none saw the face, and "sometimes low sweet music stole around."
Interestingly, in the notes to the poem, she says:
An old man, commonly called "old Hugh of the Pentre," used to tell children so about 25 years ago. He called the appearance "Brenhin yr Allt," literally the Ancient King.
- this adds weight to the idea that the story existed before the discovery of the cape? Though the sightings in the verses do not actually mention a gold cape, the hay field was "ever called the Field of Gold" (according to the poem, at least).
The bones found were said to be "those of a man of great stature, and the skull of gigantic proportions; but they crumbled almost immediately to dust." MBC connects this with stories of "Benlli Gawr, or the Giant, [who] lived at Mold, then called Wydd Grug, in the 5th century. He was lord of an extensive district around, and had a camp or fortress on Moel Benlli."