WEIRD SUFFOLK: Why you should dance round a primrose and why they were said not to grow in a Suffolk village
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2016
The pale yellow spring flower that helps you see into fairyland and which – according to legend – refused to grow in a Suffolk village that had endured plague and bloodshed.
According to legend, no primrose could grow in the Suffolk village of Cockfield following a dreadful Viking battle where much blood was spilled.
A great Danish raiding army attacked East Anglia in 869, overrunning the kingdom and killing those who stood in their way - buildings were ransacked and burnt and those that lived were forced to answer to their new overlords.
This is one reason given why the primrose, one of Spring's messengers and a flower deeply rooted in folklore, is said to be unable to grow in this village, another being that the plague affected not only the human population, but the primrose one, too.
In The Imperial Magazine of 1831, it reads: "It is a curious fact, that no primroses grow at Cockfield, Suffolk; the oldest villagers say no root has been seen since the dreadful massacre of the Danes!
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"Others maintain that a plague occasioned the phenomenon! The hedgerows in the extreme boundaries of other contiguous parishes appear decorated in the proper season with primroses like 'so many stars in the canopy of heaven,' but, in the fatal soil of Cockfield, the 'modest primrose' sickens and dies."
In his book Materials for A History Of Cockfield, Suffolk, author Churchill Babington writes: "...It may be observed that the plague …visited Cockfield severely. In the sickness year (as our register calls it) viz., 1666, fifty-one burials are recorded in July and August, the day on which the corpses were buried being also specified; and besides it is mentioned that eighteen other persons (whose names are given) were buried between July 5 and August 21 in that year.
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"This looks as though there had been some crowded burials, possibly without any service over the bodies."
The plague of 1665/6 saw the population of England scythed down by an illness spread by infected fleas on rats and which spread like wildfire in streets filled with rubbish and waste.
Primroses are linked to a host of fascinating folklore: legend has it that if you peer over the petals of a primrose, you are offered a secret gateway to fairyland.
Other stories say that in order to see where the fairy folk live you must touch a rock with a posy of primroses which opens a doorway to a magical land: there is, however, a downside: get the number of taps wrong and you will become victim to a deadly fairy curse.
Hang primroses outside your house and you are inviting fairies to bless your home, scatter primrose petals on your doorstep and the fairies will not venture inside (nor witches if it's May Day Eve).
Greek legend has it that the pretty pastel flower sprang from the body of a young man called Paralisos, who died of a broken heart after the sudden death of his sweetheart and to relect this, Victorians used to plant primroses on the graves of children.
Somewhat aptly, considering the name of the village, primroses are also linked to bringing luck to those who keep chickens - children were warned to bring no more than 13 primroses into the house as this was the optimum number for a clutch of chicks and fewer primroses meant fewer eggs would hatch.
If you keep chickens and ever see a single primrose, dance round it three times to prevent bad luck: just tell everyone Weird Suffolk made you do it. Equally, never bring a single primrose indoors - dancing won't help you if you do.
And finally, somewhat reluctantly, we must end the story with this, published in 1880 by the aforementioned Mr Churchill."
He writes: "The Mirror for 1838 says that no primrose grows here, and that the villagers declare that it will not live here, but sickens and soon dies. This, I believe, has been thought to be so since the year of the plague.
"But in truth we have the primrose, though very rarely: I have gathered both it, the cowslip, and the true Oxlip, in Dead Man's Lane, Cockfield."
Having said that, we can't find any reference to a Dead Men's Lane in the village, so perhaps if you see a primrose in Cockfield, let us know (after you've danced round it, obviously).