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Added on 25th June 2020

Oral tradition Welsh Folktale

A folktale from Wales about the fiery, short-tempered and secretive house fairy.

Story

A Welsh folktale about the dangers of taking the forces of nature for granted.

Why we chose it

There are stories of brownies and house fairies from all over Britain and Ireland and many of them have found their way into more recent children’s novels.

Where it came from

In Welsh folklore the Bwabach is house fairy, brownie or hobgoblin. When treated well and given cream he will protect the house and complete household chores overnight but if mistreated he turns in the BWCA and wreaks havoc in the house Sometimes he then leaves of his own accord – on other occasions he must be forcibly removed.

Similar stories can be found all over Britain and Ireland. If treated well brownies, or hobs as they are sometimes, called do the housework while the family sleeps but they must be rewarded with food. They are generally unclothed or dressed in rags and if presented with clothes they will leave the house. There are also stories of them luring unsuspecting travellers into danger like a kind of will-o’-the-wisp.

Welsh mines have their own fairies the Coblynau who are also sometimes called BWCA. They are gnome like creatures dressed like miners who haunt mines and quarries and knock to warn of danger or to indicate good seams of coal. Similar creatures in Cornish mines are known as Knockers. Sometimes they knock maliciously to bring supports down and sometime benevolently to warn of danger in unsafe tunnels.

Where it went next

The Brownies, the junior branch of the girl guides, were named after a story based on brownie folklore which encouraged children to help around the house.

Associated stories

Brownies appear in more recent fantasy stories like George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. House elves in Harry Potter have similarities with brownies – they do the housework and leave the house if they are given clothes. A brownie named Thimbletack is a key character in The Spiderwick Chronicles.

In the 19th century miners took the stories to America where the knockers became known as tommyknockers. There is a story that as recently as 1956 at the closing of a Californian mine the miners asked that the knockers were set free to work elsewhere – and the owners agreed. Knockers are found in mines in many parts of the world.

Added on 25th June 2020

Oral tradition Welsh Folktale