Elf Howe, Folkton, East Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 0422 7726

Archaeology & History

A once-impressive haunted burial mound on the southern edge of Folkton parish, all that remains of the place now are aerial images showing the ghostly ring of its former site.  Commenting on the destruction of this burial mound  before he had chance to give it his full attention, in William Greenwell’s (1877) magnum opus he wrote the following:

“Elf Howe had been removed to a great extent, and the grave had been dug out before I had an opportunity of examining it.  I however got an account of what was discovered from the foreman on the farm, and I was able personally to inspect a small portion which had not been disturbed.  The barrow had been 60ft in diameter and 6ft high, and was made of earth and chalk.  Near the centre a deposit of burnt bones was met with, over which some large flints were placed; this was at a depth of 4ft, and as a great quantity of burnt earth was observed immediately round the bones, it is probable that the body had been burnt on the spot where the bones were placed.  Two unburnt bodies were found on the south side of the mound, with one of which a vessel of pottery was associated.  At a distance of 17ft south-south-east of the centre I found the body of a strongly-made man, laid on the right side, with the head to the south and the hands to the knees; he body was placed about 6in above the natural surface.  Immediately below the head was the body of a very young child, the bones of which were too much decayed to admit of anything being made out beyond the fact that it was a child’s body which was laid there.  Still lower, and on the natural surface, was a patella, a radius, and some other bones of a body, which had been disturbed, probably in the interring of the person who was found buried above.  At the centre was a grave, lying northwest and southeast, 7ft by 6½ft and 2½ft deep.  On the bottom at the north side was the body of a strongly-made man in the middle period of life, whose head…was to the south, but my informant could not remember on which side the body was laid; at the head was a ‘food vessel’, which, from the fragments that have been preserved, must have been a rudely-made one with unusually thick walls.”


Although antiquarians and archaeologists such as Elgee, Grinsell, Gutch, Johnson and others each tell (in their own respective ways) that Elf Howe “testifies to a widespread belief in goblin-haunted barrows” — albeit in the linguistic ‘elven’ of the Scandinavian invaders — we appear to have lost the original tale behind this fairy-haunted site.


  1. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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