Friday, 29 October 2010

The Phantom Highwayman of Rackenford, Devon

Small and somewhat isolated, Rackenford has always been determined to improve itself. In 1235 the village persuaded its lord, Robert de Sideham, to make a special journey to the court of King Henry III to secure royal permission to hold the annual sheep and cattle fair. This gave the village not only the benefit of the trade and the many visitors, but allowed them to gather fiens from any locals who sold goods elsewhere. It was a real moneyspinner.

The Stag Inn had been built just three years earlier to cater for the booming trade from drovers, livestock dealers and farmers who came to Rackenford at fair time and throughout the year. Two centuries later the booming market provided the village with enough cash to rebuild its church completely with a fine wagon roof and some beautiful wooden sculpture. The market faded away after World War II, but the village is still busy ensuring its livelihood with a newly built village shop selling local honey, lamb, cakes and crafts of all kinds.

Back in the 1730s, Rackenford managed to attract visits from a very wealthy young man. From time to time he would ride into the village, secure a room at the Stag Inn and spend his money freely on whatever Rackenford had to offer in the way of food, drink and entertainments. Having stayed a few weeks, the mysterious stranger would ride off again only to return after an absence of some weeks or months.

In February 1735, the elegantly dressed horseman left Rackenford for the last time. Only later did the villagers discover that their free-spending guest had been none other than the notorious highwayman Tom King. King had been tempted away from his West Country haunts by an offer to team up with the equally notorious Dick Turpin. The two men planned to become rich attacking the wealthy merchants who travelled between London and the provincial cities of York, Norwich and Bristol. For some months everything went well for the unscrupulous pair, but then they were ambushed by the Bow Street Runners. In the shoot out that followed, Turpin shot King by mistake and then fled. King died by the roadside.

And then his ghost returned to the Stag Inn in Rackenford. It still appears from time to time, as King did in life, riding his horse into the courtyard and striding into the bar. He has also been seen lurking in the porch, perhaps keeping any eye open for any sign of of the forces of law and order.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Devon by Rupert Matthews

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