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Folklore refers to the tradition of telling tales and reliving legends amongst the individuals within a particular country, territory or tribe. This is usually done orally as older generations tell the stories to the younger members of their culture, keeping the traditions alive. As with all folklore, English legends are fantastical in nature, often referring to heroes, villains, ghosts, imps and fairies.

England’s folklore has been enriched by several factors. First, its history has been a complex and convoluted one. It has seen many battles, losses, victories, religious revolutions, artistic renaissances and political upheavals.



The Robin Hood statue outside the castle Nottingham, England.

This gives its folklores an element of deep import and nostalgia; some sad, some tragic, and some undeniably comical. Secondly, England has been the land of refuge and desire for many different nations. As each one of these major groups has lived in it, they have left their cultural and historical marks, influencing the locals to a certain degree.

With so many influences, the folklore has become a rich source of information, intrigue and resonance. Folklores differ from region to region. Each county has its own brand of fairies, goddesses, heroes, and so on.

In times past, folklore was passed down orally, from generation to generation. In this way, it was preserved and protected, and formed an important part of the culture. The storytellers and listeners believed these tales to be true, basing many of their customs and rituals on protecting themselves, appeasing certain gods, keeping imps away, etc…However, as culture has developed and modernised, the folklores are being forgotten and discredited, losing their magical quality.

Because it is such an important part of the country’s history, though, many historians are trying to preserve this element by recording as many tales as have been documented or remembered.


Some popular folklore tales include:

The Black Dog
A nocturnal apparition associated with the devil, this character most commonly makes its appearance in the folklore of the British Isles. When the Black Dog ghost was seen, its observers would believe it to be an indication of imminent death. It was larger than a normal dog and its eyes glowed in the darkness of night. It was usually said to be seen in places at which executions had taken place, at crossroads and on old pathways.

Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb is a thumb-sized hero that dates back to the 1500’s. Originally, he was intended to scare children, as horror tales about this tiny mite were told to them by their nursemaids, along with tales of witches, and so on. In the 17th century, tales of him portray him as a hero, rather than as a frightful villain.

Robin Hood
One of the best known English folklore characters in history, Robin Hood was a hero that stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He lived in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men. As a gang, they would taunt and terrify the rich aristocrats, who had abused their power to become wealthy and powerful. They would steal their jewels and money and hand it out to those less fortunate. Since this time, many books, films and TV series have been made about this world-renowned folklore hero.

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