Willy Howe, The Haunted Fairy Mound of East Yorkshire

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Willy Howe, an ancient mount in East Yorkshire, gives off an equal sense of unease and wonder, says MARK HOPPER

Willy Howe in 2021
Willy Howe in 2021

Willy Howe is a huge mound in East Yorkshire, built in Neolithic times (C. 4000- 2500 BC) and of unknown purpose. Various attempts have been made over the ages to uncover its secrets, but no burials or artefacts have ever been found buried within, which has led some to speculate that it was raised to commemorate some great event or personage.

The History of William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh (1136-1198) was an Augustinian canon from Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

In his history, he tells the tale of “a certain rustic”, who was passing the mound on his way to see a friend in a neighbouring hamlet late at night.

Willy Howe looking from the north-side of the mound
Willy Howe looking from the north-side of the mound

He heard the sounds of singing and revelling from within the ancient hillock, which William tells us “I have often seen”, and perceived in the side of the hill an open door. He approached, and looking inside he saw a spacious and well lit banquet hall filled with revellers.

An attendant approached him and offered him a cup. William tells us that the man wisely forbore to drink, poured out the contents, stole the cup and fled on his fleet horse, pursued by the guests of the banquet.

The cup was of “an unknown material, unusual colour, and strange form”, and was presented as a gift to King Henry I of England, who in turn handed it to the Queens brother, King David of Scotland.

According to William, the cup was “deposited for many years among the treasures of his Kingdom; and a few years since, as we have learnt from authentic relation, was given up by William King of the Scots, to Henry the Second, on his desiring to see it”.

The crater-like appearance of Willy Howe is due to excavations during Victoria times
The crater-like appearance of Willy Howe is due to excavations during Victoria times

Other Fairy Lore of Willy Howe

In The Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, 1923, the reverend William Smith gives a further tale of fairy lore attached to Willy Howe. A lady fairy became attached to a local man, who she told if he would go to the top of the Howe each morning he would find a guinea, but that he must keep it a secret. The man kept this promise for a while, but eventually divulged the secret to a friend. After this, the guinea ceased to appear and he was also “severely punished by the whole band of fairies”.

Some people have told me they have felt a definite sense of unease at Willy Howe. But on a visit on a windswept day, it evokes in me a real sense of wonder and connection to both our prehistoric past and the folklore of our ancestors.

Willy Howe can be found just West of the village of Burton Fleming in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

MARK HOPPER is a member of The Ghost Club with an interest in folklore, ghostlore and history, especially of his home town of Kingston Upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.


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