September 13th – The Festival of the New Troll Bridge

In 1739 the Troll Bridge in Tallboys district fell into the Withy stream, which bubbles up from the ground in the district and becomes a tributary for the Moway. The Bridge was an old thing, the mortar long rotted, the stone crumbling, and nobody had bothered to look after it or restore it for a long time. It went across the river at an odd place and was seldom used; it’s a mystery quite why they built it there in the first place. It was a foot bridge, arched in design and only wide enough to allow one person across at a time, so it’s no wonder they built another, more useful bridge half a mile down the stream, where it was more useful, and let it fall into disrepair. Thankfully the fall happened in the night, and nobody was hurt; presumably the thing just finally gave up the ghost.

The collapsed bridge did present some issues for the local people, despite the fact that they hardly ever used it. It was called Troll Bridge either because of the festival which happened there every year (on this day), where a man dressed as a troll would hide under it and scare anyone who dared to cross (the bridge actually received far more foot traffic on those days than any other), or because of the stone troll carving at the apex of the bridge. Then again, it’s quite possible that the festival, carving and name of the bridge were all inspired by some earlier event lost to the mists of time, or, as some have proposed, the bridge may have once been a toll bridge. Another theory suggests that the bridge was named as such because people seemed to avoid it, like the bridge in the famous folk story The Kingdom Under Bridge, where a human-eating troll living beneath a bridge is confronted by several great warriors but eventually defeated by an infant flower seller. No matter the origins of the name and festival, it clearly had some significance to the locals, and therefore needed to be rebuilt.

The idea was to rebuild the Troll Brige in a similar design but wider, so that it would be more useful. This led to some disconcert between local people, some of whom were angry that this would make controlling access across it as the ‘troll’ a harder task, but these concerns were swept aside. The work on the new bridge began by first clearing the debris, keeping the carving (albeit in somewhat damaged form) so that it could be later placed back in pride of place at the apex. They then started to dig new, wider foundations. It was only then that they found the bones.

There were the scattered remains of sixteen adults and two children buried beneath the foundations of the Troll Bridge, all showing signs of cannibalistic practice, with teeth marks clear on the bones. Quite how they came to be there is unknown, as all archaeological evidence has since been disturbed by the constructions that followed, and would necessitate destroying or severely damaging the New Troll Bridge. Theories at the time seemed to suggest that some depraved individual living beneath the bridge had buried them there after consuming them, though it’s not clear how they would have managed to dig beneath the bridge without collapsing it.

The bones were said to be ‘very old’ and have since been buried in the churchyard of The Church of Our Lady Versaith, and it was clear that their placement there was not what caused the bridge to collapse. As a result some modern theories suggest that the remains were unknown to those who built the Troll Bridge, as the foundations didn’t go as deep as its wider replacement. There’s little information about who built the bridge, it only being ascribed to a mysterious ‘benefactor’ in some court documents, but it’s possible that they hid the bodies there to hide their crimes, then built the bridge over them, placing the troll carving there as a macabre joke. We will probably never know for sure.

Understandably there was something of a moral panic surrounding the festival, which was now seen by some as a celebration of the gruesome deaths the unfortunates buried beneath had suffered. On the other hand, there were those who said that the tradition should endure, no matter the grizzly connotations. Things seemed to be lining up for a fight, with those who wanted to carry out the festival receiving threats that they would be beaten if they tried. Eventually community leaders stepped in and reached a compromise between the two groups: the festival would go ahead, but not as a jovial thing, with the troll jumping out to surprise people. Two trolls would be employed instead, and they would soberly stand at each end of the bridge, denying access as a gesture of respect for those who were once killed and buried beneath. This rather odd state of affairs is what still happens every year to this day.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Eastern Star Alight Festival
  • The Cream of the Hallowed Ground Day
  • The Festival of Silver and Gold Spinning