CREATURES resembling hobs appear in many folk tales, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

In Denmark and Norway, a nisse was an elf-like creature that worked on farms. In Scotland, it was the brownie, in Germany the kobold, in Sweden the tomgubbe while Holland had its redcap. In other countries there were elves and imps, some areas of England having Puck along with goblins and hobgoblins.

Hobs were so much a part of North Yorkshire’s folklore that localities and places were named after them, including Hob Hole, Hob Hill, Hob Dale, Hob Thrush Grange, Hob Garth, Hob Plantation, Hob Cross and Hob’s Cave. There may be others.

According to the Dictionary of English Folklore, the term “hob” is a shortened form of Robin or Robert and may imply a country bumpkin or stupid peasant. The Dictionary adds that the word “hob” was first used in this sense c. 1460 with hobgoblin and hobthrush appearing the following century.

Perhaps the best known hob in Yorkshire was at Hart Hall Farm, Glaisdale, with one in Farndale and yet another on the coast at Runswick Bay.

All were solitary dwarf-like creatures who lived and worked naked but covered with brown hair.

They looked like miniature humans and were renowned for their secretive hard work which they undertook with no thought of reward. Their tough tasks, some beyond the strength of humans, were undertaken secretly at night. The only reward a hob would accept was a jug of fresh cream placed in a barn overnight; he would drink it in secret too.

The Hob of Hart Hall was not cantankerous or mischievous like others but was kindly and helpful to the resident family. He worked naked at midnight and his only reward was a jug of cream.

One story concerned a loaded hay wagon whose wheel had wedged between stones on its way to the hay shed. The load was so heavy that the men could not free it. It would mean unloading, a lengthy and tiring procedure but as they discussed the problem, darkness descended. They abandoned the load until morning, praying it did not rain. And so they adjourned to bed, determined to have an early start to free the wagon.

Once everyone was asleep, the hob began work. He unloaded the cart and freed the wheel, even stacking the hay then preparing the cart for its morning’s work – all in secret.

However, there was a case when the Hart Hall Hob was observed at work. It was a moonlit night when one of the live-in lads was returning after a night-out and heard the rhythmic sound of a flail. He peeped through the barn door and saw a little brown man covered with hair threshing the corn, rapidly reducing a pile of sheaves to corn and straw. The lad alerted his colleagues who came to look but as the hob was naked, they decided to find a sark with which to wrap him (summat ti hap hisself wiv). A sark is a rough working shirt. Their efforts produced a hessian shirt and in the barn, they laid it out ready for the hob. It never occurred to them that he might be insulted by this and upset he had been spied upon. Fortunately, he was sweet-tempered and, upon realising he was being watched, addressed the lads. He explained he always worked naked and must not accept a gift.

These were his words: Gin hob mun hae nowt but a hardin hamp He’ll cum nae mair, nowther to berry nor stamp.

Hardin was a type of hessian while a hamp was a rough working shirt. Berry meant “to thresh” and stamp meant to knock off the beards of barley, prior to threshing it. Having spoken, the hob left Hart Hall and was never seen again. But there survives a wonderful account in local dialect, the words of an elderly lady.

“Yah moonleeght neeght, when they heard his swipple gannan wiv a strange quick bat on t’lathe fleear (ye ken he wad deea mair i’ yah neet than a’ t’men on t’farm iv a deea), yan o’ t’lads gat hissel croppen oot anenst l’lathe deear, an’ leeaked thruff a lahtle hole i’ t’booards an’ ‘e seen a lahtle brown man, a’ covered wi’ hair, spanging aboot wiv t’fleeal lahk yan wad.

He’d getten a haill dess o’ shaffs doon on t’fleear and My Wod! Ommost afore ye could tell ten, he had tonned oot t’streea, an’ sided away t’coorn, and was rife for another dess. He had neea cleeathes on ti speeak of and t’lad, he could see ‘at he had neea mak nor mander o’ duds bar an aud ragged soort o’ sark….”

The tale of the Hart Hall Hob continues to be told.