Here's my favourite as it's a local legend for me.
Annis has borne many names over the years - Black Anna, Black Anny, Black Agnes as well as Cat Anna. Her dwelling was a cave (called Black Anna's, or Black Annis's Bower) in the low-lying Dane Hills on the outskirts of Leicester. Annis is supposed to have clawed the cave out of the sandstone rock using naught but her long, and very sharp, nails. At its mouth grew a pollarded oak in which Black Annis crouched in order to pounce on unsuspecting children. These she carried off into her cave, sucked them dry of blood and ate their flesh before draping the flayed skins of her victims out to dry on the oak's branches. She wore a skirt sewn from the skins of her human prey. As she also preyed on animals, local shepherds blamed any lost sheep on her hunger. Many a generation of Leicester's young, if either naughty or out after dark, were told, 'watch out or Annis'll get you'.
By the late 19th century her cave was filling-up with earth. A housing estate, built just after the first world war, now covers the area. A 19th century eye-witness said the cave was 4-5 feet wide and 7-8 feet long and 'having a ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side'. A tunnel was said to connect Black Annis's Bower with Leicester Castle and she had the free-run of its length (1).
An account of Annis was related by an evacuee to Ruth Tongue in 1941(2): Three children were sent out by their wicked step-mother to collect fire-wood. As night descended they feared to see Black Annis who only came out after dark for, it was said, 'daylight would turn her to stone'. They heard a snuffling and, through a hole in their witch-stone, saw Black Annis. Unable to escape her whilst carrying the ******s, they dropped them and ran. Annis bloodied her legs on the bundles and, mumbling and cursing to herself, went to her bower to rub her legs with salve. Then she came back for the children and caught-up with them at their cottage door. Their dad came out with an axe and hit Annis full in the face. She began to run for her cave shouting 'Blood! Blood!' but just then the Christmas bells began to peal and she fell down dead.(***)
The evacuee claimed Annis's howling could be heard as far as five miles away and, when Annis ground her teeth the sound was so loud that all the people had time to lock and bar their doors. The evacuee also said, because the people didn't have window-glass in those days, witch-herbs were tied above the apertures to stop Annis reaching inside with her very long arms and grabbing their babies. This was why Leicester cottages only had one small window. Annis was said to be very tall with a blue face and long white teeth(2). Other descriptions say Annis's teeth were yellow rather than white and that she only had one eye. All agree her face was hideous and blue(3).
A Leicestershire poet, John Heyrick Jnr.,(18th century) wrote of her:
'Vast talons, foul with human flesh, there grew In place of hands, and features livid blue Glar'd in her visage; while the obscene waist Warm skins of human victims close embraced.'(1)(1A excerpt)
Although the origins of Annis story are - as is the nature of folk-lore - unknown, there were two fifteenth century women who it has been suggested might be the origins of Black Annis. It is likely that Annis's tale existed in the 15th century and the women's' lives became part of the folk-lore. The first is a Dominican nun, Agnes Scott, who lived as an anchorite and is described as a 'hermit of the forest'. She wore the long black habit of her order and died in 1455. Swithland's church bears a brass plaque in her memory as well as a three foot veiled statue of her. From a translation of the Latin inscription Agnes is surmised to have lived in a cave near the Dane Hills and from there ran a leper colony(1&4). Unfortunately the connection between her and Black Annis was made by Robert Graves, poet and writer. His insight may have been visionary - it may have been nothing more than poetic licence(6). Nevertheless, an interesting speculation.
The second woman is rather more tenuous in her association with Black Annis for she is the witch or wise-woman who foretold Richard III's death. As he rode over Leicester's Bow Bridge on his way to the Battle of Bosworth, his spur/foot struck a stone on the bridge. The wise-woman told how, on his return, it would be his head that hit that stone. When Richard's corpse was brought back over Bow bridge his head did indeed hit the same place (5). A tablet was put on the bridge (newly-built last century) saying "his head was dashed and broken as a wise-woman (forsooth) had foretold, who before Richard's going to battle being asked of his success said that where his spur struck his head would be broken" (7).
So who else has a tale to tell that could send shivers down our spines this Halloween?