Black Annis, Leicestershire
The Leicestershire legend of Black Annis is one of those delightful tales once used by (otherwise?) loving parents to scare the life out of their children: Peg Powler in the North East is another; Bobby Bannister in Northants a third; and Jenny Greenteeth in Shropshire among other places a fourth.
For once a specific spot is, or was, identifiable with the legend: in the Dane Hills to the west of Leicester there used to be a small cave that apparently had been carved out of the rock, or at least enlarged. The cave was filled in by the Victorians and the land built-over after WWI .
The legend goes that Black Annis was a monstrous hag who dwelt in the cave she had dug from the rock with her razor-sharp iron-strong claws. She would sit in the stubby oak before the cave waiting to pounce on stray sheep and other animals: but her favoured flesh was human, preferably from nice tender children. Her victims were eviscerated with those killer-claws, the remaining blood supped before the meat was enjoyed. Not content with that she even dried the skins and made her skirts with them tied around her waist.
Folklorists link the tale to actual characters – an anchorite nun Agnes Scott among them – and to pagan times when it is supposed children were sacrificed to a goddess hungry for their blood; or that such a tale goes back further into mankind’s history, echoed in Cretan myths. But the origin matters less than the telling: sleep tight children.
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