A "boggart" is a historical term, predominantly used in Northern England, for an often malevolent or mischievous supernatural spirit which was associated with a specific geographic location. Whilst the etymology is uncertain, it is believed to derive from "bugge" (goblin) or "bog" (marshy ground), and so shares a common etymology with "bogey", "boggle" and "bugbear"[1]. Variant spellings include "buggart" and "boggard" (the latter also being a slang term for a privy or latrine).

In some folklore, the terms "boggart" and "hob" (i.e. hobgoblin) were interchangable, although the latter was more common in the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire. Traditionally, hobs were more benevolent and would perform household chores or labour in return for a saucer of milk.[2]

When visible, boggarts usually took a squat and hairy human-like appearance (similar to a goblin) or the form of a fearsome beast. In the latter category, the "Boggart of Longar Hede" from Yorkshire was "the size of a calf, with long shaggy hair and eyes like saucers [...] it trailed a long chain after itself, which made a noise like the baying of hounds" whilst the "Boggart of Hackensall Hall" in Lancashire had the "appearance of a huge horse".[3] More locally, the "Horbury Boggart" was said to resemble a "great hairy beast with big red eyes and smelling of dead meat".[4]

The term was also used locally to mean something which brought bad luck or caused annoyance. For example, at a meeting of the Slaithwaite Local Board in April 1864, during a discussion about the widening of Castle Lane, Mr. Garside wished the work would be "completed as it had been a 'boggard' to the [Local] Board long enough."[5]

In his Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present, John Sugden recounted a tale of the Boggart (or Bogey) of Red Brook, who accosted lonely travellers on the Wakefield and Austerlands Turnpike to the west of Marsden. This was in fact, according a Sugden, a local man dressed in a "white sheet to represent a ghost" who would try to scare travellers into giving him money. His comeuppance came "at the hands of a rough wagoner" who seized the supposed ghost, tied him to his wagon and dragged him "on to the next public-houses" in order to show "what a poor despicable thing the boggart of Red Brook was".

The Ghost of Seed Hill — in reality a young Irish servant girl named Catherine Hayley — was also referred to as the "Seed Hill Boggard".[6]

In February 1860, the Huddersfield Chronicle carried a report of the "Camblesforth Boggard" who plagued an elderly farmer and his wife in a village near Selby. The antics, which would perhaps nowadays be attributed to a poltergeist, included fire irons dancing as if "to a jig at an Irish wedding" and a heavy kitchen fender "jumping" across the floor from one room to another![7]

Household Boggarts

A household boggart would often be blamed for otherwise unexplained incidents or misfortunes, such as milk turning sour overnight or items being broken. Boggarts were also associated with the demonic presence described by sufferers of sleep paralysis — almost all cultures have a variant of this demonic presence which is sometimes called the old hag, night hag, mare[8], succubus or incubus.

According to some, household boggarts were extremely had to get rid of. One oft-repeated story has a family who were plagued by a boggart sneaking out of their house at an early hour and quietly loading their possessions onto a handcart, in the hope of leaving the spirit behind. As they passed by, a neighbour asked them what they were doing and the disembodied voice of the boggart answered back, "why, we're flittin'!"[9]

Country Boggarts

Boggarts associated with a rural location were often linked to areas where accidents had occurred, such as marshland, holes in the ground, and dangerous roads, or with steep-sided valleys, caves or bridges.[10] People or animals drowned in a marsh would be described as having been "taken by the boggart", a skittish or out-of-control horse had "boggled", "took boggarts" or "seen boggarts", whilst children would be warned to stay away from Boggart Holes lest they be lured in by the boggart who dwelt within. The adjective "boggarty" was used to describe such places.

Linking an area or location to a boggart may therefore have served the practical purpose of reminding people to take care.

Place Names

In his article "What is a Boggart Hole?", Simon Young identified fourteen locations in Lancashire and Yorkshire with names similar to Boggart Hole, along with an appendix of 108 "boggart place-names".[11]

The following in the Huddersfield area and beyond include those identified by Young:

  • Boggard Close, Netherthong[12]
  • Boggard Lane, Penistone
  • Boggard Lane, Shelley Lane End (only marked on the 1850s O.S. map)
  • Boggard Wood, Dodsworth
  • Boggarding, Park Lane, Almondbury (also known as Boggard Ing Farm)
  • Boggart Lane, Emley (only marked on the 1850s O.S. map)
  • Boggart Lane, Skelmanthorpe
  • Boggart Stones, Saddleworth

In The Legends and Traditions of Huddersfield and Its District, Philip Ahier describes the "Bogard Stone" (presumably the one at Saddleworth) as being "a huge boulder 36 feet long by 18 feet wide and up to 12 feet at its highest".

Dives House in Dalton was reportedly once known as "The Old Bogard".


Oxford Reference:[13]

In the dialects of northern counties, "boggart" was a general term for any supernatural being which frightened people, whether indoors or out, without specifying whether it is ghost, malicious fairy, or minor demon. An outdoor boggart might haunt any pit or well or lonely lane; an indoor boggart's behaviour was like a poltergeist's — he would knock, throw stones, break dishes, and so on. "Nearly every old house had its boggart which played ill-natured tricks on the inhabitants. Singly or in packs they haunted streets and roads, and the arch-boggarts held revels at every three-road-end" (Harland and Wilkinson, 1867: 49). The word is still used for a mischievous ghost.

Notes and References

  1. Boggle and bugbear both meaning to take fright or terror, sometimes given as "to take bog".
  2. Several stories have the naked hobs taking umbrage at being presented with clothes to cover their nakedness and vanishing forever. J.K. Rowling appears to have appropriated this for the House Elves in the "Harry Potter" books. Wikipedia: Hob.
  3. Wikipedia: Boggart.
  4. "Beware the town boggart" in Wakefield Express (05/Sep/2003).
  5. "Slaithwaite" in Huddersfield Chronicle (09/Apr/1864).
  6. "The Model Lodging House and a Benighted Son of Bachhus" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Apr/1855).
  7. "The Camblesforth Boggard" in Huddersfield Chronicle (25/Feb/1860).
  8. From the same etymology as "nightmare".
  9. Similar stories appear in European folklore as well.
  10. The latter being similar to folklore surrounding trolls in Scandinavia.
  11. Nomina volume 37 (2014).
  12. Also named in A History of English Field Names (2014) by John Field.


This page was last modified on 4 December 2018 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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