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Chartley White Park Herd

There is an old superstition that concerns the rare White Park cattle found at Chartley. The herd at Chartley dates back to 1225 when King Henry III removed the protected status of some forests. Some parks were created including Chartley and a herd of the cattle enclosed.

According to ‘The Victoria County History of Staffordshire’ ( Volume 1, 1908) "Chartley White Cattle. Bos taurus, Linn. No account of the mammals of Staffordshire could be considered complete without reference to the famous herd of white cattle so long preserved in a half-wild condition at Chartley Park by the Earls Ferrers. These magnificent animals are white, with the ears, hoofs, and generally the muzzle, black. Black spots and blotches are usually seen on the lower part of the fore-legs and sometimes on the hind-legs also. The horns are white finely tipped with black, are long and sweeping, not short and sharply curved upwards as in the Chillingham and Cadzow herds, and remind one of the fine Old English long-horn cattle and the Highland breed in the bold way in which they stand out from the sides of the head. A remarkable feature is a large tuft of long curly hair which adorns the forehead and reaches as low as the inner corners of the eyes, and especially in old bulls possesses a parting down the centre which gives to the tuft the appearance of a carefully arranged and very beautiful wig. In the cows the horns are thinner than in the bulls and with a more decided upward trend.

"As a rule the disposition of these Chartley cattle is mild and timorous, and when approached by strangers the herd slowly retreats. At certain seasons the animals become dangerous, and it is at all times unsafe to approach too closely to the cows when accompanied by their calves, the first signs of a projected attack being stamping with the fore-feet and an angry tossing of the head. When alarmed the members of the herd collect together and at first retreat a short distance. They then suddenly turn and face the object of their resentment, the herd standing in the form of a semicircle. On being further pressed they again retreat and again turn towards their adversary, and if still molested do not hesitate to charge. Few spectators, however rash and curious, will be found to await the latter consummation, and prudently retire to the shelter of some pineclump or group of birch trees after one or two demonstrations of hostility on the part of the herd. Even young calves but a few days old when met with away from their dams butt with great spirit and fierceness.

"Black calves are occasionally born and are invariably destroyed by the keepers, but black and white calves seem to be unknown. The birth of a black calf was anciently considered to foretell disaster to some member of the Ferrers family.

"Originally driven into Chartley Park from Needwood Forest by William, Earl of Derby, in the reign of Henry III., these cattle have been carefully preserved pure by his descendants, the Earls Ferrers, and although inbred for over 650 years they still survive. At times however they have been very near extinction, for about twenty years ago they were reduced to 17 head. By 1887 the herd had doubled in numbers, and from 1890 to 1900 averaged about 45 head. Within the last few years the numbers have steadily declined, and in April, 1903, they were reduced to less than a dozen."

The folk tradition concerning the birth of a black calf and Ferrer family was also published in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897). ‘One of the most bizarre superstitions of any time or clime is connected with Chartley, near Lichfield, a seat of the Ferrers family. When the immense possessions of the Ferrers were forfeited by the attainder of the Earl after his defeat at Burton Bridge, where he led the rebellious barons against Henry the Third, the Chartley estate, being settled in dower, was alone reserved to the family.

In the Park of Chartley, still described as a wild and romantic spot, untouched by the hand of the agriculturist, and left in its primitive state, is preserved a singular species of wild cattle, declared to be indigenous, and of a race nearly extinct. In Bewick's Quadrupeds, the principal external appearances which distinguish this breed of cattle from all others are thus described : " their colour is invariably white, muzzles black; the whole of the inside of the ear, and about one third of the outside, from the tip downwards, red ; horns white with black tips, very fine, and bent upwards."

In the year the battle of Burton Bridge was fought and lost, a black calf was born in this unique race; and the downfall of the grand house of Ferrers happening about the same time, gave rise to the tradition, still current, that the birth of a dark-hued, or parti-coloured calf from the wild breed in Chartley Park, is a sure omen of death within the same year to a member of the Ferrers family. It is a noticeable coincidence, says the Staffordshire Chronicle of July 1835, that a calf of this description has been born whenever a death has happened in the family of late years. The decease of the seventh Earl Ferrers, and of his countess, and of his son, Viscount Tamworth, and of his daughter, Mrs. William JollifFe, as well as the deaths of the son and heir of the eighth Earl, and of his daughter, Lady Francis Shirley, were each preceded by the ominous birth of the fatal-hued calf. In the spring of 1835 an animal perfectly black was calved by one of this mysterious tribe, in the Park of Chartley, and the portentous event was speedily followed by the death of the Countess, the second wife of the eighth Earl Ferrers. This outre family tradition has served for the groundwork of a romantic, once popular novel, entitled Charlie or the Fatalist.’

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