Hardly a year goes by without a sighting of the mysterious “Lily White Boys” – let me explain. The Earth has twelve moons for each month of the calendar year: The Wolf Moon, the Snow Moon, the Worm Moon, the Pink Moon, the Flower Moon, the Strawberry Moon, the Buck Moon, the Sturgeon Moon, the Harvest Moon, the Hunter's Moon, the Beaver Moon, and the Cold Moon. Of course, there is only one moon, but different cultures in different time periods have perceived and celebrated our natural satellite in different ways. The Harvest Moon is no ordinary full moon because it behaves in a rather special manner. Throughout our year the moon rises about fifty minutes later each night. However, near the autumnal equinox, the day-to-day difference in the local time of moonrise is only half an hour. Harvest Moon is determined as the full moon that falls nearest to the autumnal equinox, around September 23, but sometimes the nearest full moon will fall in October. In 2006, for example, Harvest Moon rose on Saturday 7 October. This therefore became the traditional date when some pagans would thank Mother Nature for a successful harvest. When Christianity spread to Britain, the cult of the Harvest Moon was observed on the Sunday nearest to that full moon, and thus began the ritual of the Harvest Festival, a noble custom in which adults and children bring food to schools and churches as a reminder of all the good things God gives to the human race. This food is parcelled and given away to the needy.
The Harvest Moon is apparently also one of the dates marked by a mysterious cult that is said to predate Christianity – that of the Lily White Boys. One of the earliest mentions of this obscure cult, which practices animal and allegedly once child sacrifice, is in an ancient folk song called Green Grow the Rushes O. A line of that song states ‘Two, two, lily-white boys, clothed all in green.’ Such green-robed figures have been seen for hundreds of years across the land, including the north west of England. They congregate around this time of the year at four locations: Wirral’s Bidston Hill, a field between Waddicar and Melling, Bowring Park, and the Delamere Forest. One Harvest Moon night in the 1970s, Brian and Tina, a young couple travelling homewards down Bull Bridge Lane in Aintree, saw a circle of figures in green robes standing in a field around a bonfire, and one of the figures was holding what looked like a small doll-like effigy. Brian got out of his car near the River Alt to get a better look at the strange ceremony, and asked an old passer-by what was going on. ‘It’s the Lily White Boys burning a child,’ said the oldster, gravely, and he advised Brian not to go anywhere near the group, or they would kill him too. ‘You’re joking,’ said Brian, ‘that’s some Guy Fawkes thing they’re burning – isn’t it?’ But the old man shook his head solemnly. Brian raced home and called the police, but only the charred remains of a sheep was found in the smouldering vestiges on the following day. Further back in time, in 1941, the ARP wardens of World War Two were livid when they saw a huge bonfire lighting up fields for miles at Bowring Park. The wardens investigated and were shocked to see green-robed men and naked women dancing around the fire, and five of these men, wielding scythes and swords, chased the wardens away. The wardens returned with a few policemen, and were told that the Lily White Boys had been conducting a thanksgiving ritual, and had burned several sheep. One another occasion during the war, this time on Walpurgis night – April 30 – the green-clad figures were gathered around a fire near to what is now Childwall Golf Course, when the ARP wardens and police confronted them - only to see the fire and the figures – spookily fade away before their eyes. The locals said this was a ghostly re-enactment of a medieval gathering of the Lily White Boys. Many years ago, a certain prominent politician passed away, and his wife discovered among his belongings, a mysterious green robe and matching pointed hood, similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. She assumed it was Masonic regalia, but she later received a sinister threatening letter, warning her to burn the robe, and the epistle was signed LWB, an abbreviation for the Lily White Boys. If you see any bonfires on your travels around Walpurgis Night (April 30) or at the time of the Harvest Moon – keep well away from them.
In the 1960s, a 30-year-old Childwall woman named Claire was about to go out to a Halloween ball one October evening, when her mother told her that she was concerned about Claire's grandfather. He had not yet arrived home, and he had not been seen in the local pub (the Coffee House), so Claire was asked by her mum to check his hut at the allotment, just two hundred yards away, on Thingwall Road. In the past, Claire's grandfather had fallen asleep in the hut after sipping his whiskey. Claire went to the allotment, which was deserted at that time in the evening – around 7.45pm, and checked on what she thought was her grandfather's hut. She opened the door, looked in, and in the mirror of an old wardrobe in the hut that faced her, the young woman saw the startling reflection of a man in long green robes with a strange mask on his face and a pointed green hood on his head. In the reflection, this man was laying in wait behind the door of the hut – brandishing a long-bladed knife. Claire realised she was looking into the wrong hut, and she clamly pretended she hadn't seen the oddly dressed man. She closed the hut door and hurried off home as fast as her legs could carry her. When Claire told her mother what she had seen, her mum told her how, many years ago, back in her courting days, she had seen a group of identically dressed men leaving the same allotment at half-past-one in the morning. At the time, Claire's mother was dating a lad who lived on Childwall Valley Road, and they both watched the men in their weird costumes, getting into the back of a lorry, which drove up Thingwall Road and turned left into Childwall Road.
Copyright Tom Slemen 2010. All rights reserved