Miners are a superstitious lot. At least they used to be. There was a time when a man would be found dead with strange marks on his throat, or simply disappear, he would get no sympathy from his colleagues. Everyone knew that to work alone in the lower mines was to invite trouble from those who roamed the empty rooms... Here then is a short list of some of the more prominent figures in mining tradition.

  • Knockers.
  • Also known as Bucas, Bucca, the Old Men, Wild Edric's followers. Believed to be a race of goblins or sprites that live in the deeper subterranean caverns. Unusually, for goblins, they are often helpful. They knock on walls where there are rich seams, guiding miners towards them, or somewhat confusingly, to warn of impending danger like a roof collapse. Like all such creatures they are fickle, and can turn on the miners. Their taps will lead them down into the mines far away from the other miners, which, as stated above, was very dangerous. For this reason it was customary for the miners to leave a few crumbs of their food, if eating underground, to appease the Knockers. They say that if you stand at the opening of a mine, even today you can hear them tapping away.

They have been described in a variety of ways, most often as tiny old men, with grey hair, "No bigger than a six penny doll, with the look of hearty old tinners." They have also been described as yellow, spindly creatures with large chattering teeth and large black eyes. It is interesting that tales of Knockers appear only in Tin mines and Lead mines, not coal mines. This suggests that belief in them had died out by the time of the industrial revolution.

  • White Hare.
  • The Hare is a prominent figure in much of English folklore, always a symbol of ill fortune. In the mines it had a horrible reputation. It would stare at miners whilst they ate, entrancing them and leading them off into the darkness (Alice in Wonderland anyone?)... Legend has it that the hare is the reason Cornish pasties have a large crust, when you had finished the pasty the crust would be left over, and you could give it to the hare as appeasement. That or throw it at him.

    The Hare was once thought to be the spirit of a Jew who could not rest for his part in the death of Christ.

  • Piskies.
  • Not associated purely with the mines, Cornish Piskies would certainly cause problems for the miners. Moving tools, throwing rocks, and being generally irritating. Their name is probably the root of the modern "pesky."

  • Whistling.
  • Just like in theatres and onboard ships, whistling is likely to invoke bad luck in the mines. It is regarded as at least unwise in any number of professions, as it draws the attention of evil spirits.

  • Trolls.
  • Everyone's favourite bogey. Only found in the lead mines of Yorkshire, taken from Norse traditions. They were large, ugly, smelly creatures, prone to violent behaviour. They were the miner's main deterrent against going off alone, they would kill lone victims by throttling them. Bodies would be found lying in empty rooms with their throat coved in bruises. It is possible that the miners were actually choking on pockets of gas, the marks came from them clawing at their own throat as they struggled to breathe.

    Throughout time caves have been regarded as passages into the underworld, or fairyland. Mines are genuinely eerie places, dark, damp, with the continual drip of water. Going into one it is perfectly possible to imagine tiny hammers tapping on the walls far bellow. It seems that Mother earth did not want her treasures plundered. Not only did the miner's have to contend with the real physical dangers, but also with fear and superstition.


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