Hobs are mythical creatures of the North York Moors and elsewhere. Surprisingly, there seem to be no hobs in the Yorkshire Dales but some lived near the Yorkshire-Durham borders. One lived at Coniscliffe near Darlington and another was Hob Headless who haunted the lane between Hurworth and Neasham.
Exactly what was a hob in the original story as it was told in the proverbial mists of time?
We are reminded of hobs in place names on the moors, such as Hob Garth, Hob Hill, Hob Beck and Hob End, while named hobs include the High Farndale Hob, Cross Hob of Lastingham, Hodge Hob of Bransdale, The Scugdale Hob, Dale Town Hob, Hob of Hasty Bank, Hob of Howl Moor, Hob of Egton High Moor, Hart Hall Hob, Hob of Chop Yat, Hob of Hawnby and one called Elphi of Low Farndale.Their appearance and behaviour is broadly similar throughout the moors. A hob was a somewhat ugly dwarf-like creature, invariably male, and he was covered with shaggy brown hair. His height is difficult to judge but it was probably around three feet (1 metre or so) - certainly a hob was much larger than the traditional image of a fairy or elf. A hob was a solitary creature who lived alone in farm buildings, and he attached himself to a particular farm or even to a family. A farm or family to whom a hob became attached was considered very fortunate because he would work extremely hard and rapidly on their behalf, expecting no reward save a daily jug of fresh cream which had to be placed in the barn at night. A hob always worked in secret, invariably without wearing any clothes, and most of the stories depict hobs as being very bad tempered. If they were upset for any reason, they could become mischievous or even vindictive.
The things that upset hobs were people who tried to spy on them whilst they were at work, and people who insisted on giving them clothes as a gift. Another aspect of their work was that they could not be asked to perform certain tasks - hobs did what they considered to be necessary, like thrashing, ploughing, sowing etc, but always in secret.
Hart Hall Hob of Glaisdale
A typical example is related in one of the tales about the Hart Hall Hob of Glaisdale in the Esk Valley near Whitby. Hart Hall is a farm which was blessed with the presence of a hob and he was loved by the occupants because his help around the premises was invaluable. Late one evening during hay time, the wheel of a heavily-laden cart became wedged between two rocks and nothing could release it. Extra horses and men were brought in, but all failed. To unload the cart would take a long time and as it was late at night, with men and horses being extremely tired, it was decided to leave the cart and return to it first thing the following morning, to unload or "teem" it before beginning the day's work. Once it was empty, it could be released.And so the family and their workers went to bed. At this stage, the hob went to work. With his superior strength and speed, he unloaded the cart, stacked the hay and released the wheel so that the waggon was ready for the next day's loading. In this case, there is a record of the Hart Hall Hob being spied on! An old lady provided this lovely account in the local dialect. "Yah moonleet neet, when they heeard his swipple gahin wiv a strange quick bat on t'lathe flooer, yan o' t'lads gat hisself croppen oop close agent lathe-dooer an' leeaked thruff a lathle hole in t'booards. He seed a lathle brown man, a'covered w'hair, sprangin' aboot wiv t'fleeal and my wod, ommost afoore ye could tell ten, he had tonned out t'straw an'sided away t'coorn, and was rife for another dess.
The Farndale Hob
There is the popular tale of the Farndale Hob who was upset by the farmer's new wife and who wreaked so much havoc that the farmer decided to flit, ie move to another farm to get away from the hob. But as the cart containing his belongings was trundling down the dale he passed a friend and said "We're flitting" whereupon a little brown face appeared among the furniture in the cart and said, "Aye, we're flitting".
There is one tale of a sinister hob, Hob Headless, who haunted the road between Hurworth and Neasham in North Yorkshire, but couldn’t cross the Kent river that flowed into the trees. His many activities included pouncing on unsuspecting travelers, changing the direction of signposts, and causing vehicles to skid on the road. He was eventually exorcised and laid and banished to a hole beneath a large stone by the roadside for 99 years and a day. The stone itself is now cursed, and anyone who sits on it will never be able to get off of it. The 99 years is just about up, so there may soon be more tales of trouble about the road from Neasham to Hurworth.