Moonraking in Middleton

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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.

The end.

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!)

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  • 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.
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4 thoughts on “Moonraking in Middleton

  1. Hi, I have an original coloured postcard from 27/10/1908 of Middleton Moonrakers (published by Teddy Ashton, Blackpool). Plus a rather unreadable copy of the Middleton Guardian article on 1/1/1971. I’m trying to source this original article but so far no joy. David

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    1. Hi David, that sounds fantastic. During research, I found a couple of books edited by Teddy Ashton (if I recall he’s also known as “capanbells”). Would you mind scanning the postcard? I will drop you an email. As far as sourcing original newspaper copy, I know that Touchstones have some on microfiche and have copied pieces on folklore and fantastical happenings from newspapers (it’s in their ‘Weird and Wonderful’ files). I’m unsure as to whether there are copies of the Middleton Guardian (especially pre-1974) but I can check. There’s mention of the Moonrakers in the Margaret Smith collected edition which is located in Local Studies at Touchstones. Anyway, I’ll check next time I’m in the borough which will be next Thursday now!

      If not, Central Library Manchester has also been helpful – it has been an interesting experience using libraries all around the region for this!

      EDIT: sorry, was nosey & checked your website and have seen where you’re currently located. I’ll post up any further findings on this blog and hopefully that will be helpful. (I love a mystery.)

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      1. Hi,

        Thanks for your message! I’ve attached a couple of shots front and back.

        All the best, David

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      2. Hi David, I’m afraid it’s not showing up – possibly because I’m using the free version of WordPress. I will email. Best, Jennie

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