Black Annis – what did she look like

Black Annis has been variously described as:

A one eyed wizened blue-faced crone or witch , with immensely strong with long white or yellow sharp tearing teeth, long black iron claws, and nocturnal hag with a taste for humans (especially children) and lambs.[1] Even thinking about her can cause madness.

She guards a stone bridge. She is said to haunt the countryside of Leicestershire, living in a cave which is known as Black Annis’s Bower in the Dane Hills. Annis is supposed to have clawed the cave out of the sandstone rock using naught but her long, and very sharp, iron claws. Her cave was said to be decorated with the skins of her prey, a grisly trophy room whose floor is littered with bones.

At its mouth grew a pollarded oak that was once the remnants of a great forest, which covered the area in which Black Annis crouched in order to pounce on unsuspecting children, leaping out and tearing them apart, disembowelling them and gorging herself on their flesh. She is said to be especially fond of children, at least in her dietary preferences, and her habit when she does catch one is to flay the unfortunate victim alive before beginning her feast.

These she carried off into her cave, sucked them dry of blood and ate their flesh before draping the flayed skins of her victims out to dry on the oak’s branches. It was said that once the children’s skins were dry, she would sew them together and makes them into clothes for herself. She wore a skirt sewn from their skins.

As she also preyed on animals, local shepherds blamed any lost sheep on her hunger.

It is understood that Black Annis used her cave to hide from the sun, which is believed could turn her to stone. She used the cover of darkness to perform her slaughters.

Many a generation of Leicester’s young, if either naughty or out after dark, were told, ‘watch out or Annis’ll get you’, and that Black Annis would catch them if they did not behave.[2] One can only surmise the intimidation parents used, with the horror of Black Annis looming in their children’s nightmares. According to a local writer, the children of a past generation who went to run on Dane Hills were assured that Black Anna lay in wait there to snatch them away to her ‘bower’. This was the myth published in the Leicester Chronicle in 1874…

By the late 19th century her cave was filling-up with earth. A housing estate, built just after the first world war, now covers the area. A 19th century eye-witness said the cave was 4-5 feet wide and 7-8 feet long and ‘having a ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side’. A tunnel was said to connect Black Annis’s Bower with Leicester Castle and she had the free-run of its length (1). She reaches the local castle by underground tunnel in the flash of a frog’s tongue. [frogs are called loscann in gaelic] and can be killed by churchbells & bleeding.

William Kelly, who remembered the area well.

     “On my last visit to the Bower Close, now several years ago, the trunk of the old tree was then standing, but I know not if it still remains. At that time, and long previously, the mouth of the cave was closed, but in my school-boy days it was open, and, with two or three companions, I recollect on one occasion snatching a fearful joy, by crawling on our hands and knees into the interior, which was some seven or eight feet long by about four or five feet wide, and having a ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side.”