The Last Wolf in England: Background Grange over Sands

Humphrey Head at high tide

It is claimed (but can't be proved) that the last wolf in England was killed at Humphrey Head in the fourteenth century

There were wolves in Britain from earliest times, but efforts were made to exterminate them from at least the time of King Edward I.  By the late middle ages, they were very rare in England, although they lingered on in Scotland until the 17th or 18th century.

A local story reports that the last wolf in England was killed in the fourteenth century by John, son of Sir Edgar Harrington of Wraysholme, after a chase all the way from Humphrey Head to the Coniston Fells and back to Humphrey Head.  The tale is first mentioned in a 'Letter from the Lakes' of 1820, by John Briggs.  Then in 1853, an anonymous poem appeared in the Ulverston Avertiser, entitled, "The Last Wolf  a legend of Humphrey Head".  James Stockdale later identified the poet as Edward Postlethwaite, of Cartmel.  The story was later retold by the Lancashire poet and author Edwin Waugh in his "Rambles in the Lake Country and its Borders" (1861).  Then in the early years of the 20th century, the tale was retold yet again, at length, with lots of additional romantic detail, in a rare little book published in Grange-over-Sands by Mrs Jerome Mercier, entitled "The Last Wolf - A Story of England in the Fourteenth Century".  

The origin of the story may be found in Cartmel Priory, where there is a monument to an (anonymous) knight and his lady, known as the Harrington Monument. At the lady's feet lies a dog, representing loyalty - but local people claimed it was a wolf - indeed, the last wolf to have been killed in England


Text and photo by Bill Shannon