This is a well known yorkshirism. The etymology of this word dates back to the 16th century when the then monarchs would descend upon the northern territories in order to further their hunts. It was a well known practise for them to disguise themselves as 'peasants' by donning stolen goods they would take from their subjects and covering their faces with ash from the fire. They would add a ferret at their heel to complete the picture and ensure that none in the villages would suspect their entry. The ferret was meant to symbolise earth and good nature amongst the then pagan beliefs which had percolated through the northern territories. After completing this disguise the regent would take to stalking the lower classes for prey.
If I'd have seen the ferret at the heel, things would have been different.
by Ahistorian July 21, 2011