When the inhabitants of Wales and the county of Devon went to work in the mines, they often heard strange taps there, and after they saw little green men in a mining robe and with a pickaxe in their hands. At the word “Tommyknocker”, most people recall the famous science fiction novel by Stephen King, while the original meaning of this term is almost forgotten today.
However, hundreds of years ago, Tommyknockers were no less popular than leprechauns, with which they have a lot in common. The difference is that Tommyknockers live in caves and dungeons, like European gnomes.
Most often, Tommyknockers (originally just knockers) are described in Welsh and Devonian folklore. Their name can be translated as “Those who knock” – it was believed that it was the knockers who knock on the walls of the mines to cause deadly collapses. Local miners have repeatedly heard these mysterious taps. Some are convinced that the knockers are vicious and long for death, but many of the miners themselves, who personally saw strange little men in underground tunnels, assured that the knockers, on the contrary, try to warn people about the danger and that if they hear these taps, leave in time then you can happily avoid a rock collapse.
Eyewitnesses described Tomminokers as tiny men half a meter tall, with greenish skin, normal human body proportions, and dressed in dirty clothes that looked like a typical mining robe. All tomminokers seen were men. When the gold rush began in California in the 19th century and everyone began to dig mines and look for gold, many British miners went to the United States and brought with them faith in the Knockers. When they began to meet strange little men in American mines, stories about this quickly spread throughout the states and at some point they began to call the Knockers tomminokers.
At the same time, it was believed that strange knocks in a mine might not portend a blockage, but rather indicate rich deposits of ore or other valuable minerals. And when someone heard these sounds, he set off to wander through the tunnels in search of their source. Most often, such miners then simply went missing, but there were also those who really came across a rich mine. That is why it is difficult to say unequivocally whether Tommyknockers were considered bad or good creatures. When collapses occurred, people died or disappeared, Tommyknockers were scolded, but if thanks to their knocks they managed to find a vein or get out of the labyrinth of tunnels, they were called good and thanked.
After a few decades, a whole layer of “urban legends” appeared, according to which strange knocks in mines produce ghosts of dead miners and they do this to warn the living of danger. It was after this that folklore about Tomminokers began to be forgotten gradually, yielding to faith in ghosts. Now the miners began trying to appease the ghosts and brought pieces of bread or cake with them to the mine to leave them in some niche and ask the ghosts for protection and mercy.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Tommyknockers had almost sunk into oblivion. They were remembered only by collectors of fairy tales or by locals whose houses stood next to the mines and who sometimes also heard strange taps.
There were rumors that when the mine closes, Tommyknockers “go live” to the nearest houses and knock already there, now predicting not collapses, but the death of family members or accidents.
Today, many researchers believe that centuries ago, small children often worked in mines, including illegally, and that it was precisely the miners who faced them underground. The greenish skin of children could become so from contact with copper.