Wikipedia recounts the story from 1904 of the Allendale Wolf, also reprised in the pages of the Allen Valleys Folk Festival programme. The creature was the ‘large black cat’ of its day. [From early in 2000 until at least 2012, the Hexham Courant has run stories of a mysterious large black cat prowling across country lanes.]
However, the rampages of the Allendale Wolf were consequential: serious losses were reported of over 40 sheep, all blamed on a marauding wolf. Things came to a head when the Hexham Wolf Committee convened to offer a £5 reward for the beast’s skin. Search parties were sent out, but though a reliable sighting was made up at Allenheads School (now the base of Allenheads Contemporary Arts), no wolf was found, and the rampaging continued. Farmers were keeping their livestock indoors, and lamps were kept lit throughout the night. Consternation abounded, and suspicion turned on one Captain Bain of Shotley Bridge (just over in Co Durham near Consett), who kept a zoo, or a menagerie of exotic animals, including a young wolf.
It would have made a great story, wouldn’t it, if this wolf were the last wild wolf in England, but that sad creature had met its demise in the 14th century, by reputation at Humphrey Head in the Lake District. Rather prosaically, however, in the case of Allendale’s Wolf, a large gray male wolf was ultimately discovered in two pieces, some 40 yards from a mainline railway on the way to Carlisle, on the 29th of December, 1904. It had apparently been hit by an express train. The railway workers who found the two halves of the body had buried it, but on reflection decided that it could be quite a money-spinner. They exhumed it, sewed the skin back together, and the remains of the creature were the subject of at least one postcard, as Nora Handcock recounts in her book Allendale: Twentieth Century Memories! Of course Captain Bain denied that the poor creature, now a full-grown adult specimen, was his wolf.
But as Mandy Rice-Davies said of Lord Astor’s denial of an affair with her during the Profumo scandal, ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?’ Captain Bain’s application to the planning authorities to extend his zoological gardens was delayed, and by the end of 1905 was abandoned altogether.
From such episodes at the beginning of the last century, new iconic celebrations have arisen, and the burning of the wolf in Allendale’s square as part of the Allen Valleys Folk Festival looks set to be another feature of the oral history of this place. Why and wherefore will be lost in the mists of time, as people congregate in Allendale and enjoy a good old fire together. That will be at 6:30pm in the square, tonight, and an image or two of tonight’s conflagration may follow on the website. Until then, here’s a series of images from last year’s Wolf Burning, with thanks to the AVFF programme.
And this year’s terrible hybrid-monster, the stuff of every child’s nightmares, a hybrid Dalek-Wolf, burned sublimely as the sun set: