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A Brief History of Trolls in Lancaster

by C E Finnerty

Under one particular bridge in Lancaster, lives a troll. Not a smelly troll, not a mean or angry troll. Not a troll asking for a toll. Just a well mannered, well meaning Lancaster troll.

Since the Royal Lancastrian 1618 Troll Act, trolls in Lancaster have seldom been seen. Many were chased out of the city as far south as Garstang and as far north as Kendal (where a large population of trolls remain today). The remaining trolls in Lancaster feel very misunderstood. These rebel families that stayed have had to keep a low profile for hundreds of years. Over time, the humans of Lancaster developed the fear of trolls. An irrational, ignorant fear. But it wasn't always this way...

Pre-1600s, Lancaster had a thriving community of trolls and humans alike. Records at the castle show that trolls played a big role in the design and building of many houses of the time. They had stalls at the markets selling intricately painted pottery. All in all, the trolls were respected as creative creatures who are very good conversationalists, particularly when drinking ale. Troll and human drama music productions regularly took place in Market Square. Old illustrations from books at the time depict the ‘Lancaster Trolle and People Players’ performing original pieces of theatre such as ‘The Peasant and the Farmer’, ‘Thou and I’, and the still much loved today, ‘Flat Cap Follies’. With naturally nimble fingers, trolls make great harpists. At the time, they were often responsible for sending whole streets to sleep with their lullabies. It has often been thought that the people of Lancaster have never slept as well since.

Life for trolls in Lancaster all went sour around 1610 when Dr Peter Peterson claimed to see a gang of trolls meeting with witches on his way home from the The Sun Inn one night. He allegedly overheard the trolls sharing wicked herbal medicine recipes to known witches. He claimed that these medicines were designed to deceive and control humans. As the most highly regarded doctor in Lancaster at the time, his words carried incredible power. He was so influential that people immediately changed their attitude towards trolls. Some were just suspicious. Many withdrew their business. All the trolls knew something had changed. By the end of the year, the trolls felt no longer welcome in Lancaster’s streets.

The ‘Great Migration of Trolls’ out of Lancaster began steadily in February 1611. Trolls were said to sneak away by night with many travelling by foot across miles of farmland. By the end of March 1611, only a few rebel families remained, living underground in the Aldcliffe area of Lancaster. There, they were rarely bothered.

By the late 1800s, Lancaster’s canal was well established. It is at this point that it is believed that the rebel troll families of Aldcliffe slowly moved waterside. The Old Toll House records show that they cleaned and painted boats at night for a few local traders who were happy to take advantage of the trolls and their cheap labour. In other cities in England, trolls were well integrated into society at this point. It wasn’t unusual for trolls to work in local government, like in Rochdale, or hold teaching positions, like in Salford. In London, many trolls worked in print, famously living in the Fleet Street area. They were fantastically fast typers. You may not believe it, but it is rumoured that it was a troll editor that first discovered Dickens!

Now, the attitudes towards trolls are slowly changing in Lancaster thanks to a viral video made in the 2020 lockdown. Prajesh, a media and cultural masters student at Lancaster University, danced alongside the troll who lives under this bridge. In the video, Prajesh and the troll boogie to ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weekend. When his video hit one million views, he decided to set up a charity for trolls called Lancaster Troll Action (@lancaster_troll_action on Instagram). In a recent Lancaster Guardian report, Prajesh, 25, explained that he created the charity because, ‘The locals need to know the history of trolls. They helped build this incredible city.’ Lancaster Troll Action offers workshops to schools and businesses about how to reintegrate trolls into daily Lancaster life. Many believe that Cat Smith will be heavily focusing on troll rights in her upcoming 2024 local election campaign. Despite the challenges, this could be a turning point for human and troll relations in Lancaster.

Under that bridge lives a troll. Just a well-mannered, well meaning, dancing troll.

A Lancaster troll.

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