Ye Decrepit Olde books

So who has read The Ingoldsby Legends from cover to cover? 

These days not many I bet, but if you'd asked that question a century ago countless thousands of hands would have shot up. The collection ran to many editions and was probably almost as popular then as Harry Potter is now.

The book is a collection of macabre yarns, stories and poems written by the Reverend Richard Harris Barham masquerading as Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Hall. They usually involve a lot of myths, legends, ghosts, saints, and the utterly ridiculous. “Burlesque horror” is a good description.

In spite of often archaic language much of the humour stands the test of time, but a lot doesn't, so if you're easily offended be prepared for masses of non-PC religious and racial stereotypes, etc.  I won't repeat what other enthusiasts have written elsewhere about this – see here - and you'll get the picture.

I imagine Ingoldsby was best when read aloud to the family gathered around the fire in the parlour. I have a copy in my library. On the inside cover is an inscription to my father from an old friend who I know was born around 1890 and would have been very familiar with the work. The page at “The Jackdaw of Rheims” is particularly well-thumbed and it was one of my favourites as a child.

This poem has a delightfully rolling rhythm, especially the verse where the Cardinal curses the thief who stole his ring (the Jackdaw).  With everything being over-analysed these days,  modern readers might detect between its lines a swipe at Catholic hierarchy and that Church's arbitrary selections on who deserves sainthood, plus the repeated mentions of nice little boys attending them has acquired unpleasant connotations, but read without such cynicism and in the spirit of the age in which it was written it is still great fun.

Google and you'll find all the text of Ingoldsby available online in various places with several editions via Internet Archive,  and on YouTube, including audio, although after listening to the awful droning auto voice I'd only recommend it as a cure for insomnia. 

There is also a much better old British radio recording of “The Spectre of Tappington.

Otherwise, I can't find much more audio online, but as Ingoldsby was still popular until mid 20th Century, surely there are better archival recordings out there by some of the great actors of the past?

Tappington Hall still stands and the B&B looks charmingly spooky and is an obvious must for anyone who is a fan or even has a passing familiarity with Ingoldsby. I particularly fancy seeing the axe mark where the brothers fought during the Civil War!

Birthplace of Richard Barham at Canterbury

Another YouTube showing illustrations from various editions, including those by Arthur Rackham

Royal Doulton even used the Jackdaw story for its crockery


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