Peg O’Nell and the Well

Peg O’Nell fell in a well

Or so one story goes.

Was she pushed?
Was she shushed?

In truth, nobody knows.

That’s the trouble with folklore. First, there was no Peg O’Nell, or at least no proof of one. So who are you going to believe? Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Maybe there was a Peg O’Nell, maybe there wasn’t. The story says there was. Is the story factual? It exists, so that much is fact. Everything else could be a lie and still be true.

Stories are like that, and folklore is basically stories, so you see the problem, I trust.

Now then, the story.  Waddow Hall is a grand estate near the River Ribble in Lancashire. Originally, the river was said to be the home of a vengeful spirit which demanded a sacrifice every seven years, or else. In the 18th century, the story changed, and Peg O’Nell becomes the main character. It’s a rather tawdry tale at heart. She was a beautiful scullery maid who drew the wandering eye of the Master of Waddow Hall, much to the annoyance of the Mistress…yes, one of those. Easy to draw parallels to the amorous adventures of gods like Zeus who had their fun and left their paramours to deal with the wrath of his wife, Hera, who always seemed to think his actions were her signal to punish the girls involved. Depending on which version of the story you believe, the Mistress sent Peg to draw water from a nearby well on a bitter cold night and she either had someone push the girl into the well or Peg slipped on the ice and broke her neck and fell in on her own.

One or the other, or maybe neither.

Now Peg is the vengeful water spirit. I can imagine the original spirit might be a little put out by that. After all, they were there first. Sacrifices now go to Peg, who may not want them. No one asks. Yet there is a well on the grounds of Waddow Hall near the River Ribble, known as Peg’s Well. It’s guarded by a statue with no head. Said to be a likeness of a saint, or Peg herself, and that Mistress took an axe to it in order to break Peg’s power over the living, which she certainly never had when she was alive, if she ever was, and why would a scullery maid have a statue in the first place? So many questions.

So few answers.

This much we do know: Waddow Hall exists. A well exists. The River Ribble exists. People think there was a scullery maid named Peg O’Nell. Maybe, maybe not. You can’t prove them wrong. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, and things like that.

One last thing, that sacrifice I mentioned? It has to take place every seven years on the anniversary of Peg O’Nell’s death. Problem is, nobody knows when that was. And one or two people still disappear without a trace every seven years or so.

Just sayin’.