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Black Annis


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Until recently, there was a cave called Black Annis's Bower in the Dane Hills on the outskirts of Leicester, a local beauty spot and the scene, from 1668 till 1842, of an Easter Monday fair with sports and drag-hunting. It was said that long ago a skin-clad, blue-faced ogress with ‘vast talons, foul with human flesh’ had lurked there, preying on sheep and children. A light-hearted poem of the late 18th century mentions her, in a way which implies that the story was well known; other writers give the more likely names ‘Anna’ or ‘Anny’. Correspondents in the Leicester Chronicle in 1874 describe how adults used her as a bogey to alarm their children:Little children, who went to run on the Dane Hills, were assured that she lay in wait there, to snatch them away to her ‘bower’; and that many like themselves she had ‘scratched to death with her claws, sucked their blood, and hung up their skins to dry’.Black Anna was said to be in the habit of crouching among the branches of an old pollard oak which grew in the cleft of the rock over her cave or ‘bower’, ever ready to spring like a wild beast on any stray children passing below. The cave she was traditionally said to have dug out of the solid rock with her finger nails.

Little children, who went to run on the Dane Hills, were assured that she lay in wait there, to snatch them away to her ‘bower’; and that many like themselves she had ‘scratched to death with her claws, sucked their blood, and hung up their skins to dry’.

Black Anna was said to be in the habit of crouching among the branches of an old pollard oak which grew in the cleft of the rock over her cave or ‘bower’, ever ready to spring like a wild beast on any stray children passing below. The cave she was traditionally said to have dug out of the solid rock with her finger nails.

In the 1890s working-class girls in Leicester still spoke of her, calling her ‘Cat Anna’ and saying she lived in an underground tunnel running from the cellars of Leicester Castle to the Dane Hills. Other children thought she was ‘a witch who lived in a tree’.

Billson, 1895: 4–9, 76–7;Palmer, 1985: 218–19.


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