Thursday, 22 December 2016

Jenny Greenteeth

 Earlier this year GB and I went in search of the Pump that gave Pump Lane, Greasby (on The Wirral) its name.  After an adventure or two we found it.

 Next to the pump is a pond which was covered in duckweed.  

It reminded me of Jenny Greenteeth….

 Most of this description is taken from the website of the Fairy Investigation Society

Jenny Greenteeth was a water fairy associated with the Lancashire, Liverpool and Wirral areas. She and her sisters ‘lurked at the bottom of pits, and with their long sinewy arms dragged in and drowned children venturing too near’. There has been, since the nineteenth century, an attempt to rationalize Jenny. She was a form of social control: parents evoked her to keep their children away from dangerous ponds, streams, rivers and later canals (Jenny moved with the times). And certainly we have accounts that tend in this direction: ‘Jenny’ll get you!’ One little boy was brought into the garden and told that the moaning of the wind in the trees was Jenny’s voice: another was shown some enamelled teeth that had been stained green! But Jenny was also a proud boggart with her own agenda and there are parts of the legend that do not serve to save lives. For example, the idea that duck weed was particularly associated with her or even that it was her hair. It should also be noted that even if there was only one Jenny Greenteeth she apparently dwelt in tens of different bodies of water simultaneously.

Home region: Jenny was overwhelmingly a Lancashire bogie, but there are some references from further afield that might suggest she once had a wider kingdom. In 1870 weed in Birmingham was sometimes called ‘Jenny’ or ‘Jenny Greenteeth’, the wording is ambiguous. There is also an East Riding legend about  a drowned girl called Jenny that sounds as if it may be Jenny Greenteeth or a close cousin.

Physical Description:  Duckweed, Pondweed, slime and algae are all associated with Jenny and her teeth were clearly forty shades of green. There is the reference above to long sinewy arms and you did not want to see her teeth. Brian Froud has a particularly effective image of Jenny in Froud, Brian and Lee, Alan ‘Faeries’ (New York, Abrams 2009).  See the head of the post.

Earliest Attestation and Etymology: Nineteenth century? Jenny is a common fairy name

Jenny Greenteeth Locations: Coming to a pool or water pit near you! 

Duckweed, Lemna minor, is one of the world’s smallest flowering plants, but it can form dense mats on still water, and less frequently on permanently damp mud and rock faces. It is common throughout the British Isles, apart from northern Scotland.   In northwest England the presence of duckweed indicated that the bogey Jenny, or Jinny, Greenteeth lurked below the water’s surface. Duckweed is a small floating annual with no stems or apparent leaves but a rounded thallus, 1.5 to 4mm across, floating on the surface of still fresh water in large quantities. 

It mainly appears from May to September though this photo was taken in October.

RoyVickery's website on Plant Lore tells us the following -

 "As a child about 50 years ago in the Liverpool area, I was frightened by Jenny Greenteeth, a sort of fairy, who would drag people down into deep pools. Jenny was particularly associated with pools covered with duckweed. Although Jenny Greenteeth was usually unseen, in about 1920 the bogey which inhabited two pools beside Moss Pitts Lane in Fazakerley, ‘had pale green skin, green teeth, very long green locks of hair, long green fingers with long nails, and she was very thin with pointed chin and very big eyes’.”


Katharine Briggs, in her Dictionary of Fairies, classified Jenny as a Nursery Bogey, one of ‘a group of spirits that seem as if they had never been feared by grown-up people but had been invented expressly to warn children off dangerous ground or from undesirable activities’.

In Jean-Paul Ronecker's ‘Encyclopédie Illustrée des Esprits de la Nature’ we learn
"Jenny Les Dents Vertes is a female Spirit from the race of Noyeurs (Drowners), lurking in the waters of the rivers of Yorkshire.  She manifests herself as a most disgusting. skeletal creature with very long arms, bony hands, crooked fingers, pale skin, bulging eyes, long greenish teeth, and a long green vase full of hair.  She attracts children into the water to drown them. "  Duckweed is not found in rivers so perhaps the Yorkshire Jenny was algae-based.

And the moral of all these stories is ‘Don’t try walking on duckweed!’


  1. How scary!! I am grateful for my parents never having resorted to any such threats in raising me and my sister. There were some dangerous situations and I was not the most obedient child in the world, resulting in a burned hand and some other similar incidents when I would not listen. But all in all, I think I've gone through my childhood pretty well without the "help" of such scary beings!

  2. I suspect a lot would depend upon the intelligence of the parents and perceived intelligence of the children as to whether they felt they had to resort to this sort of story. Our parents never did either.

  3. This is one bogey i'd never heard about. If my parents had told me such a creature was waiting to drown me, i'd have certainly stayed as far from the water as i could!


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