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University Event Looks at Historic Belief in Fairies

Historical belief in fairies will be the focus of a special public event organised by the University of Worcester.

Entitled "Believing in Fairies", the University’s Early Modern Research Group is behind the free event that takes place at St Swithun’s Church, in Worcester city centre, on Saturday, May 19.

It will feature a talk on fairies and what they symbolised at different times in history by author and academic Dr Richard Sugg, followed by a discussion with other academics and the audience.

“Once it was common to believe in these creatures and they scared people to death,” said Dr Sugg. “Little wonder, as they were known to be descended from the Fallen Angels, and had the power to destroy the world. They ranged in size from a human thumb to fourteen feet in height, could steal your children and cause sickness or death in humans and animals. And they were all around you. Fairy trees, hills and paths were treated with intense reverence.”

Ranging from the 17th century to the present day, the talk explores the relationship between fairies, ghosts and poltergeists, the extreme limits of fairy fears and the versions of fairies modern children still produce. Dr Sugg will be looking in particular at how they have been represented in art and folklore in the British Isles. The talk will also discuss sightings of fairies.

Dr Sugg is the author of nine books, including A Singing Mouse at Buckingham Palace (CreateSpace, 2017) and Fairies: A Dangerous History, (Reaktion, 2018) which is published on Monday (May 14). His newest work, Filthy Aristocracy: A Short History of Disgust (Gibson Square, 2018), will be published in August.

The former Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Durham, but now writing full-time, added: “Although privileged Victorians delighted in the highly coloured, miniature feminine fairies of stage, page and canvas, for ordinary people fairies were a powerful everyday feature of their belief-systems.”

University of Worcester staff from the Early Modern Research Group will then join Dr Sugg for an audience discussion on the topic led by Professor of Early Modern History, Darren Oldridge. Also an expert on the supernatural and fairy beliefs in Tudor and Stuart England, Professor Oldridge has published on this topic.

The Early Modern Research Group is a body of scholars and postgraduate researchers based at the University of Worcester from a variety of disciplines that are interested in all aspects of culture and society in the period 1500 to 1700.

Prof Oldridge said: "This is a wonderful chance for the people of Worcester to discover the beliefs about fairies that were once taken for granted, but now seem at best whimsical or even crazy. Who today believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden? Well, once the existence of these creatures was common knowledge, and people were careful to stay on the right side of them!"

The talk begins at 2pm. To reserve a place email ihca@worc.ac.uk.