Uncanny Book Club: British Goblins by Wirt Sikes

Yep, that’s not a typo: the author really is called that. Wirt Sikes was the American ambassador to South Wales and while in residence he decided to research and write about the folk tales of his adopted home. He drew a lot of material from two previous authors, William Howells, who compiled a book called ‘Cambrian Superstitions’ in 1831, and Edmund Jones, who was active in the late 18th century (see my forthcoming article in the next issue of Phenomena Magazine for more on Jones). Sikes also gleaned a lot of material from one T H Thomas, a keen collector of folk tales. Thomas contributed the many attractive illustrations to British Goblins.

My copy is a UK first edition published in 1880 (an American edition was published a year later). The publishers, Sampson Low, put considerable effort into the designs of their books during this period and ‘British Goblins’ boasts a particularly appealing cover: one of Thomas’s illustrations, depicting a man crumbling to dust after returning from a long spell in fairyland, has been engraved on the front in gilt, black and ghostly white. The spine shows another illustration, of a will o’ the wisp, similarly rendered. The cover alone makes the book a joy to own, and Thomas’s illustrations have been widely reproduced. My own writing has largely been devoted to Welsh folklore and this copy of ‘British Goblins’ is one I’m especially fond of in my collection.

But the book isn’t just a pleasing artifact: Sikes has compiled his material with care and it’s packed with information. It’s also a thoroughly good read. ‘British Goblins’ has often been reprinted over the years, so you needn’t fork out for a Victorian copy if you fancy giving it a go.


About UncannyUK

I am the editor of Uncanny UK (www.uncannyuk.com), a website devoted to British ghosts and folklore. I am the former editor of Paranormal Magazine and the author five books on Welsh folklore. Just launched Apparition Developments, first product of which is Ghost Finder London - an app plotting 300 haunted sites in London for iPhone. I'm a highly experienced journalist and corporate copywriter. I'm an enthusiast on the subjects of UK folklore, the supernatural and antiquities and am fond of old horror and sci-fi movies, cult TV such as Dr Who and I collect Victorian/Edwardian magazines. I also enjoy weird art and macabre literature by the likes of M R James, E F Benson, Algernon Blackwood, W Hope-Hodgson, H P Lovecraft etc. I live in North Wales, which is a very spooky place.
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2 Responses to Uncanny Book Club: British Goblins by Wirt Sikes

  1. john hall says:

    were can i get a copy of the the books ?

  2. UncannyUK says:

    Hi John. Some of these early editions are not easy to find. It’s worth trawling eBay for them or check out second-hand book websites like http://www.abebooks.co.uk

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