Buried treasure is a favourite theme in popular lore; many, if not most, ancient earthworks, barrows, standing stones, and similar sites are alleged to contain it (Grinsell, 1976), as are old churches and mansions, ruined castles, crossroads, and the ubiquitous secret *tunnels. Sometimes it is linked to historical persons and events; thus, in Hertfordshire there are tales of a lost Roman 'treasure city', the hidden gold of the Knights Templar, the 'plate and monys' of St Albans Abbey, and the loot of Wicked Lady Ferrers, who lived by highway robbery (Jones-Baker, 1977: 31-45). Legends such as these could be duplicated from every county. Sometimes this wealth takes on fantastic forms - a man buried in gold or silver armour, gold or silver coffins, silver gates, even the Golden Calf of the Bible.
   However, it was not thought easy to find the treasure, or to keep it, for spirits were likely to be guarding it. In Lancashire, ghostly black hens, cocks, horses, and dogs are mentioned, and also *boggarts and *bogles. In Sussex, legends tell of two huge snakes preventing access to a pot of gold in a tunnel; the *Devil deterring treasure-seekers with thunder-claps and/or shifting the Golden Calf underground as soon as they approach it; a ghostly calf with fiery eyes; and an evil spirit in the form of a black hen (Simpson, 1973: 23-5). In Cheshire, it is said that demons guard Richard II's gold in a well at Beeston Castle, and ensure that anyone trying to reach it will go mad or be stricken dumb with horror (Hole, 1937: 67). In other tales, seekers fail at the last minute by breaking a *taboo on speaking before the work is complete; they may compound their mistake by boasting, swearing, or blaspheming, as at *Willy Howe. In real life, magical books gave instructions for making 'Mosaical rods' to help in the search, and for invoking other spirits to defeat the guardians; magicians at all levels, from village fortune-tellers to Dr *Dee, claimed the ability to find treasure, and many accounts of such attempts are on record (Thomas, 1971: 236-8).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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