A mischievious brownie was once said to live in the kitchen at Hylton Castle. He took joy in throwing pots and pans around during the night, after the servants had taken great care in tidying it before retiring to bed. However, if the servants had left the kitchen in a state of disarray then he would carefully tidy it and spend the night cleaning up the mess. According to 'Folk Tales of the North Country' by Grice (1944), the Cauld Lad's mishievious tricks included overturning chairs, rolling up mats, emptying the linen from the cupboards, pilling all the pans in the middle of the floor, and throwing water over the wood pile. He was often heard singing:
"Wae's me, wae's me
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree
That's to grow the wood
That's to make the candle
That's to rock the bairn
That's to grow a man
That's to lay me."
The servants had enough of his mischief and decided to banish him away. Luckily, they knew the best way to banish a Brownie was to give him new clothing, as a smartly dressed Brownie considers himself far too well dressed for housework. The servants made a small green cloak of silk and a red velvet hood, and laid them infront of the fire. At midnight, the Cauld Lad appeared and tried the clothing on in delight, then danced around the kitchen, singing:
"Here's a cloak and here's a hood,
The Cauld Lad O'Hilton will do no more good."
He disappeared, never to be seen again in the Hylton Castle kitchens. However, according to some sources he was later spotted rowing people across the Wear in a ferry boat, kept tethered near the castle. He would row people half way across the wear, then disappear or give them a terrible fright, returning later to row them back to the castle.
Some versions of the legend refer to the Cauld Lad O'Hilton as being a ghost, sometimes that of a young stable boy called Roger Skelton, who was killed in the 16th century by a baron of Hilton. Other versions of the tale can be found here and here.
Once a year, as part of Heritage Open days, the castle is opened to the public. I went along with my partner and trusty navigator, and we had a good wander around the castle. No strange goings on or Cauld Lad sightings, but a beautiful castle and well worth a visit.
We also ventured along to the ferry crossing in the river where the Cauld Lad is said to row to the castle, but it seems someone has put an end to his pranks and stuck a rather large rock in his boat!
Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book, vol 3, Richardson
The Fairy Mythology, Keightley
Folklore of the Northern Counties, Henderson
Denham Tracts Vol 1, Denham
Folk Tales of the North Country, Grice