The Hand of Glory!


The following story is an old classic. Set in bleak moorland in the north of England. It is claimed to be true!

I have heard and read several versions of this tale, but only one that included the ‘recipe’ for making a Hand of Glory. That was by the late Richard Walker or ‘Mogsy’ as he was often called. His recipe gives the story an additional ‘creepiness’, which I like. And so I dedicate this story to the memory of a wonderful storyteller. But first:

The Recipe

The first thing you need to make a Hand of Glory, is a man fresh off the gallows, no more than twenty-four hours dead. His hand must be severed at the wrist with a sharp knife.

Take a winding sheet and squeeze out the blood to get it as dry as you can. If possible, take some of the dead man’s flesh and render it down to produce a bowl of fat.

The hand should then be preserved in an earthenware jar that is filled with salt, saltpetre and black pepper – all well powdered and mixed. Leave the hand in the jar for two weeks.

Remove the hand, dry it and dust off all of the powder. Place the hand in a hot oven that is fired with vervain and fir. Leave it for about an hour and then remove. Mould the drying hand into a fist, with just enough space in the centre to take a candle.

The candle is then made from the previously rendered dead man’s fat, virgin wax and sesame oil. The wick should be made from freshly spun flax.

Coax the candle into the curled fingers, which are then squeezed tightly, gripping the candle firmly in position. When complete with the candle fixed into the mummified fist, you have a Hand of Glory!

And with a Hand of Glory, you have a power. You have magic! As you light the candle, you cast your spell:

“Hand of Glory, Hand of Glory, let those who are asleep remain asleep – in a sleep that is fast and deep! But those who are awake, be wide awake!”

Now the story:

The A66 road that runs across northern England, between Cockermouth in the west and Darlington in the east, is a bleak road. Particularly the section that runs over Bowes Moor. In the late 18th. Century, long before the road was known as the A66, there stood The Old Spital Inn. A farmhouse now stands on the site.

One cold, wet winter’s night, an old woman called at the Inn and asked if she might stay. She was heading for Lazonby, she said, to visit her sick sister. She would depart early in the morning and not disturb the landlord and his wife on her leaving.

The landlord allowed the old woman to stay and said that she could sleep on a bench by the fire in the public bar. He instructed his servant-maid to remain with her until her departure and to see that she got some warm porridge before she left. The maid stretched herself along a sturdy settle that was also positioned beside the fire. She looked across at the figure on the bench opposite and thought to herself that the old woman looked taller and somehow more muscular than an elderly lady should. Her feet also seemed to be quite large. Feeling suspicious, she pretended to go to sleep, but kept half an eye on the stranger. She deliberately began to gently snore.

After about ten minutes, the visitor stood up and lifting her long, full skirt, revealed a pair of men’s trousers underneath. As the servant girl suspected, the stranger was a man! His hand went to his pocket and withdrew a bandage wrapped bundle. Carefully, he unwrapped the package to reveal a dead man’s hand! The hand was formed into a loose fist, into which the stranger stood a candle. After lighting the candle, he passed it several times in front of the servant girl’s face and whispered, “Let those in this house who are asleep remain asleep, and those who are awake, stay awake!” Then the hand with the candle still burning, he put on the mantle-piece over the fire.

He paused for a moment to make sure that all was still then went to the front door, drew back the heavy bolts and pulled it open. He leaned out and began whistling to call his criminal companions, for they were a gang of robbers. The girl who had all this time been wide awake and not affected by the sleeping spell that the Hand of Glory induced, jumped up, ran quietly to the doorway and pushed the man outside, slamming the door and quickly locking it behind him!

He immediately turned, cursing and swearing and banging on the door. His companions had by now joined him and were trying to force open the window shutters. The girl ran upstairs and tried to awaken the landlord and his wife – with no success! She shouted and shook them both but it was no use. They slept on as though they were drugged.

She headed back downstairs, filled a glass with water and threw it over the candle. This caused it to burn even more fiercely. She knew that she had to put out the candle in order to awaken the landlord, and she had to do it soon. The men outside would eventually break in and would surely kill them all!

Then she remembered something that her grandmother had told her about breaking an evil spell. She ran into the kitchen and found a can containing skimmed milk. She took the can into the public bar and threw the milk over the candle flame, which spluttered and then went out!

Rushing back upstairs, she found the landlord, now awakened by the commotion and getting out of bed. She quickly told him what had happened, upon which he went downstairs, picked up his shotgun and headed for the door. The robbers outside, realising that their enterprise had failed, ran away into the darkness. The landlord took the Hand of Glory with the candle from the mantle-piece and threw them both onto the fire, where they were quickly consumed.

He and his wife were very grateful for the brave efforts of their quick thinking maid and subsequently rewarded her with a large sum of money. He reported the incident to the authorities the following day. Four men were later apprehended. The maid identified the man who was dressed as the old woman and another whom she recognised outside the window.

The four were tried, found guilty and executed. Their bodies were hung on gibbets and left to rot in the market-square at Appleby.

Two days later, it was noticed that each of the hanging corpses had lost both of their hands. Severed at the wrist with a sharp knife!

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