BURNLEY-born author and historian Simon Young is organising a ‘census’ of one of England’s most mysterious and fearful supernatural creatures - the boggart.

Simon, who has written several books about the supernatural and folklore, wants to find out more about what he describes as ‘Britain’s most understudied bogey’.

“We have literally hundreds of thousands of words written about them in the 1800s, but modern folklorists largely ignore them.,” he said.

East Lancashire is a particularly rich area for boggarts - Simon has put together a map showing where stories of boggarts are commonplace.

“Lots of people wrote about boggarts in the 19th century, he said. “Bbut practically no one bothered in the 20th century. I’m looking for people born between about 1920 and 1970 who grew up with boggarts and who can fill this gap.

“I am worried that this will be the last chance to write these precious Lancashire memories down, memories which are rapidly dying out. So far, with a lot of huffing and puffing, I’ve been able to gather in about 110 from different parts of the county.

Simon admits that there is no one definitive answer to the obvious question, what is a boggart?

“Boggarts are supernatural creatures. But what kind of supernatural creature? Well, the answer changes from place to place and from family to family,” he said. “Some people grew up with the idea that boggarts were devils, some elves, some ghosts, some a bogey man, some evil mermaids!

“I have one account of a boggart that was half human, half bluebottle... This is one of the reasons I’m doing the survey to find out what recent memories tell us about the boggart’s shadowy identity.”

Although he now lives in Italy, Simon has fond memories of Burnley and is delighted that the area where the stories of boggarts have been kept alive.

“Burnley is special because this is one of the few parts of Lancashire where enough was written down for us to reconstruct the local boggart population,” he said. “In the 19th century, Burnley was lucky to have a series of gifted writers with interest in this direction. There were a whole series of boggarts that many locals were terrified by. Each one had its own characteristics and its own way of terrifying folk.

“My favourite is perhaps Holden Boggart, up above Worsthorne. HB used to hang on a hedge in the shape of a rag and then transform himself into a black dog when people went by. “

Although its origins are rooted in the past, boggarts have made some notable appearances in modern popular culture.

“In the last 20 years the boggart has appeared in several novels and films including Harry Potter and the Spiderwick Chronicles,” said Simon. But he is quick to dismiss these ‘newcomers’.

“This, though, is a fictional carpet-bagger who has little or nothing to do with the traditional boggart,” he said.

“One of the reasons I’m doing the census is to get memories of the English boggart before he is entirely obliterated by this fantasy newcomer.”

If you have any family stories of a boggart, you can get in touch with Simon by emailing simonyoungfl@gmail.com. His findings will be published in conjunction with Exeter University Press in the last chapter of a volume entitled The Boggart: A Study in Shadows