The Legend of Jenny Green-Teeth

Great Britain

Jenny

Duckweed is one of Britain’s most common small water plants. It forms a smooth green mat that covers bodies of still water. It has a simple body known as a thallus, which floats on the surface of the water, and a single root which hangs down.

You find duckweed all over London’s canals in August, which might help to explain the extraordinary proliferation of wildfowl we now have on the capital’s waterway system. You can see geese, ducks, moorhens, herons and so many swans that I’m starting to wonder what they taste like.

When covering the entire surface duckweed can make the water appear solid, and in our neighbourhood children sometimes try to walk on it – the canal water levels are very close to the surrounding pathways. In parts of the north-west of England children were scared away from such areas by the myth of Jenny Green-teeth, a pond elf or monster whose presence was indicated by duckweed; she was said to lure children into ponds and drown them.

She’s a figure of English folklore, a river hag similar to the Grindylow or Peg o’ Nell, who will pull children or the elderly into the water and drown them. She has green skin, long hair and razor-sharp teeth. She’s similar to the Slavic Rusalka or Australia’s Bunyip, and is considered a memory of sacrificial practices. She may also lurk in the upper branches of trees at night.

A similar figure in Jamaican folklore is called the River Mumma (River Mother) who lives at the fountainhead of large rivers in Jamaica sitting on top of a rock, combing her long black hair with a gold comb. She usually appears at midday and she disappears if she observes anyone approaching. However, if an intruder sees her first and their eyes meet, terrible things will happen to the intruder.

Perhaps she is related to Jack-In-The-Green, the legendary forest creature of English folklore, a colourful figure almost nine feet tall, covered in greenery and flowers, representations of whom you’ll still find around the country during May Day rites and summer festivals. Room for a story there, I think!

220px-Kingston_Jack_in_the_Green

6 comments on “The Legend of Jenny Green-Teeth”

  1. Roger says:

    “so many swans that I’m starting to wonder what they taste like.”

    Resist the temptation! Or get yourself invited to a feast at St. John’s Cambridge or the the Vintners’ Company or
    the Dyers’ Company . If the common belief is true, they’re the only people in England except the royal family allowed to cook swans. If the limerick is correct, the dons of St. John’s have other rights too.

  2. Brooke says:

    Legends? Jenny Green-Teeth and others are quite real.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    I was reading Mike Harding’s Autobiography, the comic, singer & ex-presenter of BBC Radio 2 folk programme. As a kid in Manchester, Crumpsall to be exact. There were lots of things kids believed in Manchester one was as you said Jinny Greenteeth. ‘If you played near grids you would get fever and Jinny Greenteeth the water witch would get you. …was an urban version of a dryad or water sprite and that Jennet was a name often associated with witches,..’ from Mike Harding – The Adventures of the Crumpsall Kid.

    o not only the cuts and ponds but the very sewers themselves.

    Wayne.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    We were told there was a “bogeyman” in the bush beyond our park. My mother didn’t believe in scaring kids to keep them away from dangerous places but she never actually denied it. Much later I learned that there had been tramps living rough in that bush back in the thirties and early forties so parents were just as happy to have us stay away. Aside from the tramps the area was full of marshy, mucky areas that could certainly have led to danger. That area is all built over now – a high school, community centre, and playing fields.
    By the way, who is it that tells us these things? I never heard an adult say any of this but “everyone” knew.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and native children were warned that the Old Woman of the Woods would get them if they didn’t behave. Her mask showed a mouth “oohing” and she lurked in the woods to grab children and take them back to her cave where she ate them. She was called Tsonoquah.

  6. J.Folgard says:

    I love british folklore admin, thanks for this excellent (and informative) post.

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