Thursday 19 November 2020

Searching for Janet, Queen of the Fairies

 This essay first appeared in issue 19 of Gramarye, Winter 2019

The little village of Malham in the Yorkshire Dales is set in a landscape of stunning natural beauty close to the great curved cliff of Malham Cove and the dramatic gorge of Gordale Scar. Romantic painters flocked to it. Turner painted the Cove (see above), and the engraver William Westall published a set of views of the area that inspired Wordworth to write sonnets on the Cove and the Scar, though he never personally set eyes on either of them. ‘Pensive votary!’ he exclaimed in 1818,

… let thy feet repair
To Gordale chasm, terrific as the lair
Where the young lions couch; for so, by leave
Of the propitious hour, thou mayst perceive
The local deity, with oozy hair
And mineral crown, beside his jagged urn
Recumbent: him thou mayst behold, who hides
His lineaments by day, yet there presides,
Teaching the docile waters how to turn…


These efforts earned the dry comment from the author of an 1850 guide to the area: ‘Had they been written on the spot, instead of suggested by the engravings of Westall, they might have been of interest.’ Romantic visions of the kind Wordsworth encouraged may well have shaped a local legend, however, as we shall see.

            You can walk to the Scar along the road from the village, but it’s prettier to take the path by the side of Gordale Beck. (A gore or geir is an ancient name for an angular or triangular piece of land: an appropriate term for the ever-narrowing valley into the gorge.) The streamside path runs through sloping pastures into a wooded limestone ravine called Little Gordale. In springtime it’s full of the starry white flowers of wild garlic, the beck rushing ever down over stones at your right hand. Before you reach Gordale Scar itself, at about the half-way point in fact, the winding up-and-down path brings you to the brink of a deep pool at the foot of a small and beautiful waterfall – Janet’s Foss. On the far side of the pool is a shallow cave tucked under a ledge of rock which can be reached by crossing the natural stepping stones that dam the pool. If you’re feeling adventurous though, and the water isn’t roaring down too hard, you can clamber up the rock-face to the right of the waterfall and wriggle your way into a much smaller cave that’s actually hidden behind the fall itself. It’s pretty damp. Never mind: it is the home of Janet, the local fairy queen.  


 Everyone in Malham knows this, but though I lived in the village for years and my parents lived there for decades I was never able to find out any more about Janet the fairy queen. No-one local knew any stories about her. And I began to wonder… well, is she a genuine piece of folklore? Or was she invented relatively recently, as a tourist attraction perhaps? My starting point was a brief paragraph in Arthur Raistrick’s classic book about the dale: Malham and Malham Moor (1947):

 Foss is the old Norse name for a waterfall, and Janet was believed to be the queen of the local fairies … The fall is not high, but is remarkable for the beautiful tufa[1]screen over which it falls. … Across the stream there is a beautiful little curved fold in the limestone under which there is a cave. … Janet is said to inhabit the smaller cave behind the tufa apron of the fall.[2]

That was it. He had nothing more to add. Could Janet be traced further back in time? I decided to find out. 

My first discovery came in Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, written by one Harry Speight under the pseudonym ‘Johnnie Gray’, published in 1891.  Detailing a number of  walks around Malhamdale, he provides both a factual and a fanciful description of ‘Janet’s Cave’:

 About a quarter of a mile above the last houses on the Gordale road a step-stile on the right (opposite a row of thorns) leads down fields towards a barn, near which a foot-bridge crosses the Gordale beck… By keeping this side of the stream, a walk of little more than half a mile conducts through the wooded ravine of Little Gordale to Janet’s Cave, a charming sylvan retreat of which, in the words of Milton, we may justly exclaim,       

                                    In shadier bower

            More sacred and sequestered, though but feigned,

            Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor Nymph

            Nor Faunus haunted.

A small cascade set within a living framework of moss and foliage; in Autumn the scarlet berries of the rowan or witch-tree contrasting beautifully with the white foam, renders the scene exceedingly attractive. And what more fit and abiding place for Queen Janet and her airy little people, whose humble dwelling, guarded by the oft-swollen stream, we see in the rock above! Imagination alone is left to picture the lone witching hour when the moon-silvered waterfall pours forth its music to the dance of the fairies! [3]


It’s striking that this late Victorian writer turns what is really a set of walking instructions (‘take the right-hand stile opposite the row of thorn-bushes’) into something far more picturesque. Gray wants to remind us that a rowan is a ‘witch-tree’; he brings in classical nymphs and fauns; ‘airy little’ fairies dance in the silver moonlight of the ‘witching hour’ – before the prosaic conclusion:

Emerging from this cool and shady recess the visitor descends a field path to a small gate, whence the return to Malham may be made l. by the high-road; or r. to Gordale Scar.

Flowery as it is, this account shows that a tradition of a fairy queen named Janet was already associated with the spot by 1895 although her name was attached to the cave rather than to the ‘foss’ or waterfall itself.

            Ten years earlier however, a party from the Blackburn Teacher’s Association visiting Malham for a day out in June 1885, received a rather different account of Janet. They lunched at the Buck Hotel, walked to the Cove and Gordale Scar where they viewed the waterfall, and then visited:

‘Janet’s Cave, where the legend runs that the witch Janet and her followers used to assemble at the cave’[4].  

Not a fairy but a witch! – a much darker proposition. Tourists were being given different explanations of who and what ‘Janet’ was, but there’s never any story. She’s just there. Sometimes with followers, sometimes alone: but there.

Another visitor came away with yet another tale. J.C. Prince visited Malham in the summer of 1870, and after a delicious meal of ‘mutton chops, finely-flavoured coffee and tea and other etceteras’ consumed perhaps at the Buck – ‘a repast that the gods might envy’ – he made a guided visit to ‘Gennet’s Cave’.

After breakfast our guide led us to a low-browed but rather spacious cave, close to the edge of the Wharf. It is called ‘Gennet’s Cave’ and is said to have been the resort and refuge of a noted robber and his band.[5]

Possibly Mr Prince was more interested in food than scenery, for he is a careless reporter who doesn’t seem to know even which dale he’s in: the stream and waterfall of Gordale Beck – not the Wharfe – forms the Aire, not the Wharfe! – when it joins Malham Beck a mile or so downstream at Airehead Springs. His apparently odd association of the name ‘Gennet’ with a robber rather than a fairy will be cleared up later.

Travelling back a further seventeen years, the 1853 Ordnance Survey map of the area (six inches to the mile) has ‘Jennet’s Cave’ marked on the spot, and three years earlier still William Howson (he of the snarky comment on Wordsworth’s sonnet) wrote in his guide to the area:

 The bridge over the river at Malham must be crossed and the road to the N.E. taken, and after a walk of a mile, a gate on the right, at the foot of a steep hill will be found, from which a short path leads to the glen sometimes called LITTLE GORDALE. … Across the stream, and through the tangled brushwood, ‘a little moonlit room’ will be found in the rock; it is called JANET’S CAVE, and tradition makes it the ancient abode of the fairies. Fancy may well believe the spot to have been either the haunt of ‘this small sort of airy people’, or the dwelling of some ‘world-wearied anchorite’. [6]

Howson’s  phrase, ‘small sort of airy people’ seems echoed in 1890 by Johnnie  Gray’s ‘Queen Janet and her airy little people’. Gray may have read Howson’s book, but Howson himself is quoting from an account of a fairy visitation published in 1696 by bookseller and printer Moses Pitt in the form of a letter to Dr Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester:

An account of one Ann Jefferies, now living in the county of Cornwall, who was fed for six months by a small sort of airy people call'd fairies. And of the strange and wonderful cures she performed with salves and medicines she received from them, for which she never took one penny of her patients.[7]

 These fairies first appeared to Ann in 1645 as she sat knitting stockings in the garden: “there came over the Garden-hedg of a sudden six small People, all in green Clothes, which put me into such a Fright and Consternation that was the Cause of this my great Sickness”[8]. It is Moses Pitt rather than Ann who describes them as ‘airy’, an epithet which tends to prettify them and reduce their emotional impact.

            Returning to Malham and continuing back in time, we come to 3rd October 1844, when an unnamed contributor to The Bradford Observer wrote, in a piece entitled ‘Rough Notes of an Excursion to Malham Cove’:

The first point of attraction was ‘Jennet’s Cave’, so called from the Queen of a numerous tribe of fairies, which, according to tradition, anciently frequented this place. Even yet the ghost of the departed Queen is wont to pay an occasional nocturnal visit, and those who have been favoured with a sight of her on such occasions, concur in ascribing to this ‘airy nothing’ great personal attractions.

            ‘’Tis said she is a lady fair

            In silken robes superbly dressed,

            With large black eyes that wildly glare

            While clotted locks of long black hair

            Drop in confusion o’er her breast.’

 The cave is situated a few yards from the road, in a very pleasant recess, which the visitor enters on the right by a gradual descent. Before him is a precipitous bank surmounted with trees, and at its base the redoubtable cave itself, overgrown with ivy and other evergreens: above is a beautiful waterfall.

‘Great personal attractions’? Even if, in this account, the fairy queen Jennet is an almost imaginary ‘airy nothing’, she is still far from the daintily dancing fairy of later versions. The poem the contributor has chosen to quote from is The Haunted Lake by Thomas Miller (1830), which tells how a murdered woman’s ghost haunts the black and secret lake which is her ‘liquid tomb’. As reproduced in the The Bradford Observer, the verse is slightly different from the original which appeared in a journal called The Parterre. Here it is, with the one that follows.

They say, she is a lady fair,

In silken robes superbly dressed;

With large bright eyes that wildly glare,

While clotted locks of long black hair

Fall o’er the infant at her breast.


She speaks not, but her white hand raises,

And to the lake with pointed finger

Beckons the step of him who gazes;

Then shrieking seeks the leafy mazes,

Leaving a lurid light to linger. [9]


For all his talk of her ‘personal attractions’, in the imagination of The Bradford Observer’s correspondent, the Queen of ‘Jennet’s Cave’ is more frightening revenant than lively elf. 


In 1839 Robert Story of Gargrave, a village about eight miles from Malham, published a remarkable play in Shakespearian blank verse. He dedicated it to ‘Miss Currer of Eshton Hall’. She was an accomplished woman who collected historical manuscripts and rare printed works, and Eshton Hall was one of the most important houses around, situated in parkland a mile outside Gargrave on the Malham road.

Story, born in Northumberland in 1795 and whose father was a farmhand, worked as a shepherd and gardener before discovering a love of poetry. He moved to Gargrave in 1820, where he gained a reputation as ‘the Craven poet’. His play – unlikely ever to have been performed – is The Outlaw[10], an extravagant, fast-moving melodrama set in and around Malham and Gordale, and most particularly in the mysterious ‘Gennet’s Cave’, renowned habitation of the fairy queen.

Knowing the local area as well as she must have done, I can see how much pleasure the play must have given Miss Currer, especially since in his letter of dedication, Story explains that his heroine Lady Margaret Percy is based upon herself. Henry the Outlaw (a disguised nobleman, of course!) leads a band of merry robbers in the style of Robin Hood, and we first meet him carousing on the Abbot of Sawley’s stolen ale at a friendly inn under Kilnsey Crag, and singing a defiant song:

At Malham there is flowing beer

But few to drink it but the elves,

And those prefer the gelid wave

That from the Fall leads out its line,

But when we sit in Gennet’s Cave,

Our choice is still the Abbot’s wine.[11]


So little Malham is the home of elves who love cold water, and Gennet’s Cave is the hideout of an outlaw band! Of course it never happened, but it must certainly be the source for J.C. Prince’s claim forty years later, that ‘Gennet’s Cave’ had once been the den of a well-known robber. (Can his guide really have told him this? I suspect he wasn’t listening properly.) In point of fact you would be hard put to cram more than a couple of outlaws into either of the caves at Janet’s Foss, still less roast as we are told, ‘savoury haunches’ of venison there on open fires. There’s not much room even in the larger cave, and the smaller one is barely more than a crawl space. But, poetic licence. Anyway. We do not meet any actual fairies in this play, but they are frequently referenced as Henry, disguised as a monk, escorts beautiful Lady Margaret through the wild landscape while his ‘secret enemy’ Norton, another outlaw, plots against him. And there's the obligatory ‘cottage girl’, Fanny Ashton from nearby Kirkby Malham, who is in love with Henry herself and runs mad when Norton tells her Henry is in love with Margaret. (True to form, her madness takes the form of hanging around graveyards singing songs about flowers, lost love, and moonlight.)  



            The scheming Norton disguises himself as Henry disguised as a monk – impersonating him in order to frame him, if you follow me – and sets up an ambush for Lady Margaret at Gordale Scar where she has come to view the chasm: here Robert Story lets himself go with some vivid Romantic scene painting:


All gaze in silence


Your silence moves no wonder. Gordale hath,

In its first burst of unexpected grandeur

A spell to awe the soul and chain the tongue.

How great its Maker then!


… it might seem a tower

Whose architects were giants, did yon stream

Mar not the fancy.


Or a cavern hewn

From out the solid rock by genii!

            LADY EMMA

Or fairy palace, by enchantment raised

To hold the elfin court in!

            LADY MARGARET

‘Tis a scene

Too stern and gloomy for those gentle beings,

That love the green dell and the moonlight ring.

I like my first impression. [12]


Gordale Scar is certainly not the sort of place you would associate with skipping fairies, but each and every one of the characters is determined to apply some fanciful simile to the landscape. The play may be set in the time of Henry VIII but the characters are so unashamedly Romantic that Lady Margaret can’t tear herself away from Gordale even as a thunderstorm looms. ‘It were a sin ‘gainst taste,’ she cries, ‘So soon/To quit this scene of wild sublimity’! Oh that word ‘taste’, so redolent of early 19th century aesthetics when the appreciation of sublime landscapes became a fashionable and almost a spiritual duty! I can’t resist quoting the remainder of Lady Margaret’s speech, since it really does conjure up the impression the Scar makes on visitors:

 The shadows deepen, as the clouds o’ersweep

The almost-meeting crags above our head,

Until the cataract, that whitely falls

As if from heaven, becomes its only light –

Seeming, indeed, a gush of moonlight poured

Through a rent cloud, when all besides is gloom.[13]


Like Lady Margaret, people visiting the Lakes or the Dales – not yet an easy journey in the early 1800s – were determined to get their money’s worth out of the experience. Writing at the more hard-headed end of the century, Johnnie Gray points out that some early accounts almost double the true heights of certain hills, representing Whernside and Pen-y-ghent as mountains well over 5000 feet high, for instance. This tendency to exaggerate and romanticize local attractions means we cannot assume, when the lovelorn Fanny talks about the Fairy Queen Gennet, that her words are based on genuine folklore.

This is the Fairy’s cave. Hast seen her, Norton? 

But she ne’er shows herself, except to eyes

That soon must close in death.[14]


Just possibly this may be a remnant of a once-held belief that to meet the fairy Gennet was an omen of death. Or it may be Robert Story’s invention, since poor Fanny is about to be stabbed in the heart and die (after breathing twenty-two lines of farewell) in Henry’s arms. There’s no way to know.

            Not every visitor was prepared to rhapsodise about fairies and elves. In 1837, amateur botanist Samuel King of Halifax was touring the Dales with an eye to rare plants, and set out from Malham to visit ‘Jenny’s Cave’. But he never got there: having left the excursion too late in the day he turned back as it grew dark, sensibly avoiding the risk of a sprained ankle or a tumble into the beck. And he did not mention any fairies; perhaps as a man of science he took no interest. All the same, they were there. For now we come to the earliest reference that I have been able to find.

Thomas Hurtley was the village schoolmaster and a native of Malham: in 1786 he published a book about Malhamdale called A Concise Account of some Natural Curiosities, in the Environs of Malham, in Craven, Yorkshire. His intention was to praise the ‘beauties and Topography’ of his own region:


Born in the midst of these romantic Mountains, where his Ancestors once enjoyed a happy independence;–  his mind naturally impressed with admiration of the magnificent works of the Supreme Architect;– remote from the hurry of business, and partly secluded from any knowledge of the world except what he has collected from a few books, the Author of the following sheets entertains a hope that his talents may not have been uselessly employed in endeavouring to describe a Country, which seems in his (perhaps partial) estimation to have been hitherto unaccountably neglected.[15]


He really does his utmost. Gordale for example, becomes a ‘stupendous Pavilion of sable Rock apparently rent asunder by some dreadful although inscrutable elementary Convulsion’; it is ‘tremendous and umbrageous’, a ‘gloomy Cavern’. He’s more restrained on the beauties of  ‘GENNET’S CAVE’, which is:


…so called from the Queen or Governess of a numerous Tribe of Fairies which a still prevalent tradition assures us anciently infested it. 

It is a spacious and not inelegant Cavern, having a dry tessellated Floor, arched over with solid Rock resembling an Umbrella, surrounded and encircled with a verdant Arbour.

            Whether any of these imaginary Beings ever frequented this Ivy-circled Mansion is needless to dispute, but in later times it has been occupied by a much more profitable tenantry;– the Smelters of a valuable Mine of Copper from Pikedaw in the Manor of West-Malham, then belonging to the Lambert Family… To this day there is the evident Ruins of a Smelt Mill.[16]


The 1844 contributor to The Bradford Observer must have owned Hurtley’s book, for he uses the identical phrase, ‘a numerous tribe of fairies’ even though it hardly fits with his comparison of Jennet to a murdered woman’s dripping ghost. Since Thomas Hurtley lived and worked in Malham, his words, ‘a still prevalent tradition’ may be trusted, and suggest that some kind of folk-belief in a fairy ‘infestation’ (gorgeous word!) at Janet’s Foss was old, though perhaps fading, by 1786. And here history fails us. I have found no earlier record. But I would like to speculate a little.

            Why ‘Janet’? Janet – or Jennet, Jenny, Gennet, however you spell it – variants of the name appear in all accounts spanning 230 years. It’s not as though someone invented a name for the fairy queen in the middle of the record. One or other of the two caves by the waterfall has been Jennet’s home as far back as she can be traced.

            It so happens that across the north-west of England, particularly in Lancashire but also in Yorkshire, there are folk tales about a malevolent water spirit or nixie by the name of Jenny, or Ginnie, or Jeannie Greenteeth: her character and many variants are fascinatingly explored by Simon Young in this issue [see Gramarye 19]. John Higson, writing in 1870 to the journal ‘Notes and Queries’, remembered from his childhood a flooded marl-pit near Gorton: a dangerous yet attractive place for children, so that anxious mothers would warn ‘solemnly (as we then thought) that Jenny Greenteeth was artfully lurking in the water below.’ He adds that other pits in the same area were supposedly haunted by the same spirit, and quotes his own words from ‘The Gorton Historical Recorder’:

 To restrain their children from venturing too near the numerous pits and pools which were found in every fold and field, a demoness or guardian was stated to crouch at the bottom. She was known as ‘Jenny Greenteeth’, and was reported to prey upon children...[17]


Similar stories were told at Walton-le-Dale, at Warrington, and at Fairfield near Buxton in Derbyshire as well as Manchester, where in about 1800 a stream called ‘Shooter’s Brook’ passed in a culvert under the aqueduct which carried the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyme canal over Store Street, near the London Road Station (now Manchester Piccadilly):

 At that period there existed an opening or break left in the culvert forming a dangerous spot for children to play beside, and yet they often selected it. Their mothers tried to destroy the fascination by stating that Jenny Greenteeth laid in wait at the bottom to ‘nab’ children playing there.[18]

 Higson did not know any Yorkshire examples of the story, but near Flamborough in East Yorkshire there was a hole ‘like a dry pond’ in which a girl committed suicide (presumably by drowning before the pond dried) and became a dangerous spirit:

 It is believed that any one bold enough to run nine times around this place will see Jenny’s spirit come out, dressed in white; but no one has yet been bold enough to venture more than eight times, for then Jenny’s spirit called out,

‘Ah’ll tee on me bonnet,

An’ put on me shoe,

An if thoo’s nut off,

Ah’ll seean catch you!’

A farmer, some years ago, galloped around it on horseback, and Jenny did come out, to the great terror of the farmer, he put spurs to his horse and galloped off as fast as he could, the spirit after him. Just on entering the village, the spirit, for reasons unknown, declined to proceed further, but bit a piece clean out of the horse’s flank, and the old mare had a white patch there to her dying day.[19]


The pool and waterfall at Janet’s Foss might well be considered a dangerous place for children to play, especially when the beck runs high after rain, and with those tempting caves to scramble up and explore. It’s true that Jennet was supposed to live in the small cave behind the fall, rather than in the pool itself[20]: but the Stockport manifestation of Jenny Greenteeth perches in the tops of trees![21] Given this, and the 1885 account of an excursion to the cave of ‘Janet the witch’, and the comparison drawn by The Bradford Observer between the Jennet of Jennet’s Cave and a drowned ghost – and given the chance, however slight, that Robert Story is repeating a genuine piece of folklore when he suggests that people see the fairy of Gennet’s Cave only when they are at the brink of death, I put forward the suggestion that she may originally have been the same sort of creature as Jenny Greenteeth.

When the gentrified classes began visiting the Dales in the late 1700s and asked the locals about ‘Jennet’ of Jennet’s Cave, they could and did come up with different answers, but the simplest was probably to shrug and say ‘a fairy’. And the fairies which visitors could most easily and pleasantly imagine were the romantic, tiny, dancing-by-moonlight kind. Not a lurking monster with ‘sinewy arms’, as Higson describes her, waiting to drag children to their deaths. 


            And was Jenny Greenteeth once more than a nursery tale? Responding to John Higson’s piece in ‘Notes and Queries’, a correspondent named James Bowker claimed that ‘the water spirits of the Gothic mythology, although in other respects endowed with marvellous and seductive beauty, had green teeth…’ He provides no reference, but Jacob Grimm, in his ‘Teutonic Mythology’ (1835) says that the Danish water spirit, the nøkke, wears a green hat and that ‘when he grins you see his green teeth’[22]. Grimm adds that ‘there runs through the stories of water-sprites a vein of cruelty and bloodthirstiness which is not easily found among daemons of mountains, woods and homes. …To this day, when people are drowned in a river, it is common to say: “The river-sprite demands his yearly victim,” which is usually an innocent child.’ Thomas Keightley in his Fairy Mythology  describes the German Nix as ‘like any other man, only he has green teeth’[23]. Green was a colour associated with the dangerous fairy otherworld (it’s still considered unlucky to wear green at your wedding, a liminal day on which you change from one status to another), and is a natural colour to associate with water and the weed that covers the tops of stagnant pools. Robert Chamber’s Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1841) includes a chilling dialect story from Annandale told by an old nurse:

 A’body [everybody] kens there’s fairies, but they’re no sae common now as they were langsyne. I never saw ane mysel’, but my mother saw them twice – ance [once] they had nearly drooned her, when she fell asleep by the waterside: she wakened with them ruggin [tugging] at her hair, and saw something howd [bob] down the water like a green bunch of potato shaws [the leaves and stalks].[24]

 Monica Kropej describes the Slavic povodna vila, the water-maid who lives in the mill dam and may pull you under, and the rusalke who live at the bottom of clear rivers. Dressed in green, with green shoes, green coat and green hair, they take young men and keep them for their lovers, forever young.[25] Which of course means dead. Could Janet of Janet’s Foss once have been a member of this sinister sisterhood? I will never know for sure.

But I’d like to think so.

[1] Tufa is a gradual deposition of calcite over moss growing on the edge of the fall: petrified moss.

[2] Raistrick, Arthur, Malham and Malham Moor, Dalesman Books, 1983, 70

[3] Gray, Johnnie, Through Airedale from Goole to Malham, Walker & Laycock, 1891 p288

[4]Trip to Malham’, Preston Herald, Wednesday 24th June 1885; my thanks to Simon Young for this and the other newspaper references

[5] Prince, J.C. A Midsummer Ramble’, The Ashton Weekly Reporter and Stalybridge and Dunkinfield Chronicle, Saturday 24 September 1870

[6] Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, London, Whittaker & Co, 1850, 41

[7] Pitt, Moses, An Account of one Ann Jefferies, Now Alive in the County of Cornwall…, London, Richard Cumberland at the Angel at St Paul’s Churchyard, 1696, 7

[8] Ibid, 15

[9] Miller, Thomas, ‘The Haunted Lake’, The Parterre of Fiction, Poetry, History, and General Literature, 1836, 49

[10] In its review of The Outlaw, 27th April 1839 The Leeds Intelligencer suggested a little unkindly that Story should stick to poetry: ‘the dramatic steep,’ it noted, ‘is a dangerous one for young authors.’

[11] Story, Robert, The Outlaw, Simpkin, Marshall & Co, 1839 10

[12][12] ibid, 117

[13] Ibid 118

[14] Ibid 136

[15] Hurtley, Thomas, A Concise Account of some Natural Curiosities in the Environs of Malham, in Craven, Yorkshire, London 1786 , 24

[16] Ibid, 65

[17]Higson, John, The Gorton Historical Recorder, (Droylsden, privately printed, 1852?) 12 

[18] ibid

[19] Nicholson, John: Folklore of East Yorkshire 1890, reprint EP Publishing 1973, 81

[20] It was from about 1890; prior to that, her ‘fairy’ cave seems to have been the larger and more obvious one at the side of the pool.

[21] Higson, John, Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, Vol 5, Jan-June 1870, 157

[22] Grimm, Jacob, Teutonic Mythology, Vol II, tr. Stallybrass, Dover Editions, 491

[23] Keightley, Thomas, The Fairy Mythology, Bohn’s Antiquarian Library, 1850, 258; h   e may simply be referencing Grimm.

[24] Chambers, Robert, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, W & R Chambers, 1841, 70


[25] Kropej, Monica, Supernatural Beings from Slovenian Myth and Folktales, Studia Mythologica Slavica, 2012, 156,157



Picture Credits:

Malham Cove by Turner, Tate Britain
Janet's Foss, Gordale, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The Fairy's Lake by Jon Anster Fitzgerald 1866, Tate
Nøkken, Theodor Kittelsen, 1904, National Musem of Norway
Näcken (Water Spirit) by Ernst Josephsen, National Museum of Sweden
Gordale Scar, James Ward, Tate Britain.


  1. Great article! Thank you for posting this. I'd never heard of this character before.

  2. I'm blown away! The thoroughness of your research gripped me from beginning to end. I'll be visiting Janet's Foss/Cave soon, and I wanted to find as much as I could about the legend of Janet and her origins. I couldn't have asked for more than everything you have compiled here. From one Katherine to another, thank you!

  3. Thankyou - enjoy that visit (but don't be lured in)!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful site! I’ve been reading posts all day

  5. Thankyou! I'm glad you've found it!