Once upon a time…
The Middleton Moonrakers is the tale of how, after an epic drinking session in a Middleton ale house, two men made a massive, embarrassing mistake. The story goes that post-pub binge in, let’s say, The Olde Boar’s Head, these two men attempted to stumble back home to their respective, long-suffering wives however, for some reason known only to “drunk logic”, they took a detour. The men tramped through the long-gone green pastures of the town when they happened to find a lake in the middle of a field. Shining in that lake, in a bit of a twist on the myth of Narcissus, was what looked like a delicious, round creamy, Lancashire cheese. With the hunger of the inebriated, those two men desperately wanted that cheese and found some rakes nearby. What followed was a sloshy, sploshy and ultimately thwarted attempt at trying to pull out what was the reflection of the moon. The tenacious men were not to be beaten by this “cheese”, and after several, cold and soggy hours they were caught out by passers-by and given the nickname “moonrakers” as an epithet for their folly.
Or maybe not. This moonraker legend is not exclusive to Middleton; in folklorists Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson’s book The Lore of the Land. A Guide to England’s Legends from Spring-Heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys they trace the story of the moonrakers to Grendon in Northamptonshire, Bishop’s Cannings and Downton in Wiltshire. They do not record the Middleton legend and the earliest date that Westwood and Simpson attribute to this story is 1787 in Bishop’s Cannings.
In terms of the Middleton folk tale, the earliest I have located this story is in a newspaper article collected by Margaret Smith in 1982. (If anyone has an earlier record of this story I’d love to know!)
- Margaret Smith (1982) Collected Articles on the History of Middleton. Middleton: Edward Pilling Publishers.
- Jennifer Westwood & Jacqueline Simpson (2005) The Lore of the Land. A Guide to England’s Legends from Spring-Heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys. London: Penguin.