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

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Spectres of Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey is without doubt one of the premier stately homes of England. The grounds are magnificent, the house splendid and the artworks within fabulous.

As its name suggests, Woburn began life as a cistercian monastery. The religious house was confiscated by King Henry VIII in 1538 during the reformation that so disrupted religious life in England. Having stripped the place of its moveable wealth, Henry granted the lands and buildings to his Lord Privy Seal, Lord John Russell. Russell, later to be made Earl of Bedford by King Edward VI, took down many of the monastic buildings and remodelled the remainder to be a comfortable home. In 1744, the Russells, now holding the title of Duke of Bedford, tore down the old house and commissioned first John Sanderson and then Henry Flitcroft to create an entirely new residence. It is this graceful Georgian house that is the Woburn Abbey of today.

The oldest ghost of Woburn dates back to the traumatic upheavals of the Reformation. Most monks, nuns and abbots who lost their holy houses during the dissolution of the monasteries were not treated badly. They were moved to almshouses or given modest pensions so that they would not starve, but were forbidden to continue their religious life. The last abbot of Woburn did not take his fate so meekly. Not only did he rail against the soldiers sent to seize the abbey and its assets, he denounced King Henry as a heretic and worse. The tough soldiers hanged him from an oak tree beside the church without much ado. The figure of this cleric was seen for many years standing beneath the tree, which was surrounded by a patch of barren ground where no grass would grow. This particular ghost has not been reported since the tree died and was felled some generations ago.

The next oldest of the Woburn phantoms lurks in the private chambers of the house. This phantom manifests itself by stalking through the lounge, not that he is ever seen. First the door on one side of the room flies open and slams shut, then the sound of footsteps moves across the room to a second door, which opens and shuts in its turn. During the 1960s this ghostly activity became so frequent that the ducal family had to move their television set to another room where they stood more chance of watching a programme uninterrupted.

This ghost is traditionally said to be that of a black servant of the 3rd Duke of Bedford who met a grisly end in the room just after the present house had been built. Reasoning that the house must contain a wealth of precious objects, a gang of thieves broke in and began quietly searching cupboards for silver and other valuables. They had reached this lounge when the black servant came across them. The bandits quickly overpowered the man and bound him to a chair. Rather than waste more time searching, the crooks decided to beat the servant to make him reveal the locations of the most valuable objects. The loyal servant refused to answer, despite the violence, so they threw him out of the window to his death.

Such an unpleasant death would explain why anyone might return as a phantom, but it is not entirely clear why he should want to stomp about slamming doors.

Considerably more gentle is the spectre to be found flitting around the grounds, especially near the summerhouse. This is the phantom of Lady Mary Tribe, who married the 11th Duke and so came to live at Woburn. Lady Mary was an adventurous woman who in the 1920s took to the glamourous business of flying. She was the first woman to fly to South Africa, visiting many remote British colonial settlements on the way, and made great efforts to encourage other women to take up flying for both sport and employment. Unfortunately the Flying Duchess, as she was known, lost her life in 1937 when flying off the coast of East Anglia.

Soon afterwards her ghostly counterpart was seen drifting gently around Woburn grounds. She is seen dressed in a pretty summer frock as if ready to entertain her aristocratic friends at a garden party. The flying togs are nowhere to be seen.

The Flying Duchess is not the only duchess to haunt Woburn. The 6th Duchess held court here in the early 19th century as a noted hostess. She has been seen infrequently in one of the public reception rooms. The most recent sighting came in 2004, when she was mistaken by a visitor to the house for a guide.

Perhaps as intriguing is the ghost of the Butler's Pantry. This figure is indistinct and appears blurred, but is usually said to have the appearance of a monk. Given the indistinct nature of the ghost, it is not entirely certain that it is a shade of one of the holy men who used to live at Woburn. Given his location, this seems more likely to be a phantom servant of the Bedfords. He is, in any case, not seen often.

Woburn Abbey has been one of the premier stately homes of England for generations and, in more recent years, a top ranking tourist attraction. It would seem to be a favourite haunt for the ghosts of Bedfordshire as well.

Ghosts come to Greatham in time for Halloween

The spooky world of the supernatural came to Greatham in time for Halloween in the form of author Rupert Matthews who gave a talk about ghosts in Hampshire to a packed meeting of the Greatham WI.

The limping monk of Winchester Cathedral took centre stage, but the beautiful young lady who haunts the White Hart in Andover also featured, along with the  odd phantom of Ebenezer Lane in Ringwood, the spectral monk of Netley Abbey, the poltergeist of the Cricketers at Yately, and the royal apparition of King William Rufus in the New Forest.

The talk was part of an ongoing launch programme for Rupert’s book “Haunted Hampshire”.

After the talk, author Rupert Matthews said “I was delighted to come to Greatham and talk to the WI. The county of Hampshire may wear a face of normality by day, but lurking not far below the surface is an unequalled amount of paranormal activity and strangeness. In my book, I draw together a terrifying and intriguing collection of first-hand accounts and long-forgotten archive reports from the county's history. Finally revealing the story behind many of Hampshire’s most famous myths and legends, whilst also shedding light on some lesser known paranormal phenomena, this book will fascinate those who are unaware of this side of the county's character.”

To book Rupert to speak at your function, contact him via his website on

 You can watch a video about the book  HERE

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Brambridge Mystery

There is a mystery at Brambridge, northeast of Southampton on the B3335, where the road runs past what was once the main entrance to Brambridge House. The gateway is now closed off by barbed wire and tangled undergrowth blocks the way. However the towering lime trees that form a magnificent double avenue leading from the main road to the house still stand as impressive as ever. They were planted in around 1805 when pollarded limes were in great demand to provide timber for musket stocks. When the Napoleonic Wars ended at Waterloo in 1815 the limes were not by then mature, so they were never harvested. They stand today as tall and impressive as any trees in Hampshire and are a well-known local landmark.

The ghosts, and the mystery, belong to the wide grassy field to the north of the magnificent avenue.

The field is used to graze horses and other livestock, though it is sometimes empty. It is a generally peaceful and rural scene. But it was very far from peaceful late one evening not so very long ago.

A lady living in Winchester was driving home with her husband from visiting friends for dinner in Eastleigh. As she passed the avenue of trees heading north, her husband said “Look. There in that field. Something is going on.”

The lady looked and was surprised to view a scene of confusion and mayhem. In the bright moonlight bathing the field she saw men riding horses, while other men were running around on foot. The men on horseback had on long jackets that fell down over their hips and the horses’s flanks. The men on foot also wore coats. This was odd as it was a warm summer’s evening. Within seconds the car was past the field. She came to a halt.

“We had better go back,” she told her husband. “It might be vandals chasing the horses or poachers.” He agreed and she backed her car up.

The field was completely empty and peaceful. There was nothing in sight.

She and her husband compared notes. They had both clearly seen men on foot running around and horses rearing and careering around as if frightened. Her husband had seen a man on a horse with his arm raised and wearing a long coat that came down over the horses flanks. He thought perhaps he had his arm raised to hit somebody and may have been holding something in it. He thought the men were fighting, but she was not sure about this. And now there was nothing there except the wind and the trees.

Responding to the lady’s request for information, I came to Brambridge one chill winter’s afternoon. There was the field and the avenue of trees, but no ghosts. A man pulled up in a landrover and started unloading horsefeed to take to the horses in the field. Did he know anything about the strange apparition?

“Can’t say I do,” he replied. He looked around the field. “Mind you the big house has been used for all sorts of things. Back in the Napoleonic Wars it was used to house French prisoners of war. And it has had plenty of famous people stay there. That might have something to do with it.”

I decided to undertake some research. It transpired that Brambridge had, indeed, had some famous residents. Chief among these was young Maria Smythe, daughter of the owner Walter Smythe. Maria is far better known by her widowed name of Mrs Fitzherbert. She married King George IV when he was Prince of Wales, albeit illegally. And records confirm that the house was rented out during the Napoleonic Wars.

If it had been a camp for prisoners, it would have been surrounded by wooden huts housing the prisoners. The open field now grazed by horses would have been an ideal setting. Any trouble here, and there was certainly trouble at other such camps, would have been put down by the local yeomanry or by soldiers stationed nearby. The costumes described as being worn by the horsemen of the apparition were similar to those worn by dragoons and yeomanry at the time.

Was the mysterious ghostly scene glimpsed by moonlight a recreation of a riot or uprising by the French prisoners of war, or was it something quite different? We shall probably never know.

This is an extract from Haunted Hampshire by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ghost Walk in South Harting, Kent

South Harting

Distance:            6 miles

Ghostly Rating        ***

Route:                South Harting - Elsted - Treyford - Uppark - South Harting

Map:                OS Explorer 122

Start/ Parking:        South Harting

Public Transport        South Harting is served by the Stagecoach South 54 bus route.

Conditions:            This walk combines two steep scrambles with some short stretches of path that is rough underfoot and others that are decidedly muddy after rain. Stout walking boots will be needed.

Refreshments:        There are pubs in South Harting and Elsted that serve good food, while shops selling snacks and soft drinks are to be found in South Harting and, when open, there is a cafĂ© at Uppark.

The phantoms to be encountered on this walk are, with one notable exception, a genial bunch. They pose so little danger and cause so little fright or alarm that they are regarded as quite natural visitors. The ghost of Uppark, in particular, is welcomed because his continued presence demonstrates that the old house has recovered from a grievous blow. The one supernatural visitor that is not so genial is, despite his famously bad temper, not much bother. The walk also offers the most spectacular views over western Sussex and into Hampshire that can be imagined.

The Walk

1) Park in South Harting and make your way to the church.

The churchyard here is rumoured to be haunted by a figure of obscure origins and vague appearance. Most are agreed that the spectre is a lady, though who she was or how often she appears are difficult to pin down.

2) From the church walk north along the village high street and follow the road as it bends to the right. This lane runs east out of the village, skirts around East Harting and enters Elsted.

3) At the crossroads in the centre of Elsted, turn right downhill. Follow this lane as it runs south, then bends sharply east to reach a T-junction. Turn right and follow this lane into Treyford. As the lane goes downhill past Manor Farm Cottages, a patch of dense woodland stands on a slope running up from the lane on the right. Hidden among the trees and undergrowth is the old ruined church of Treyford.

This old ruined church has stood roofless and forlorn for many years. But that does not seem to have put off the phantom congregation that come here to worship God. On calm, still evenings in the summer the sounds of hymn singing drift out of these shattered walls to waft over the village of Treyford and surrounding fields. Nobody is ever seen t0 enter the ruins, nor to leave and the ghostly congregation remains totally invisible. But sing they do and, so say those who have heard them, with remarkably fine voices.

4) From the church  walk south along the main street of Treyford. Where this lane turns sharp left, beside a road signpost, continue straight on along a surfaced track. This track runs steeply up the escarpment of the South Downs and presents quite a challenge to the walker. Where a second track diverges off to the left, look up to the left to the summit of Treyford Hill.

This is an extract from Ghost Hunter Walks in Sussex by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ghostly Ladies in Saltwood, Kent

This is one of the most energetic walks in this book, involving steep climbs up and down the slopes of the South Downs. The effort is rewarded by sweeping views across the Downs and out over the Straits of Dover. The supernatural is never far away from the walker on this route, with the atmospheric ruins and remains of the past providing a suitable backdrop to the unusual tales of ghosts and phantoms.

The Walk

1) Park in the Brockhill Country Park car park just south of Sandling railway station on the lane that runs from Saltwood to Sandling. Brockhill is signposted from the A20 and the A261. Leave the car park to find yourself on the Sandling Road. Look to your right.

This stretch of road is the haunt of two ghosts - or possibly just the one. The first is by far the more gentle of the two. This is of an elderly lady dressed in a sensible tweed suit who is out walking her little dog. Those who have seen this particular phantom report that she is at once both quite ordinary and yet noticeably odd. She appears quite solid and real in all respects, not semi-transparent nor floating above the pavement, and yet she attracts attention by some indefinable strangeness.

This is not at all unusual for a ghost. Despite what fiction writers or film makers might have us believe, ghosts are more often solid than not. Some people do, indeed, mistake them for real people until they vanish or otherwise behave oddly. And yet there is always something strange about them. Perhaps the shadows are not quite right. Or they are in bright sunshine, when it is in reality a cloudy day. Whatever it is, there is something odd about this quiet lady and her dog that attracts attention as she wanders down the lane and into Brockhill Country Park.

The second phantom is altogether more dramatic and alarming. This is the ghost of a woman who steps off the pavement straight into the path of oncoming vehicles. More than one driver has slammed on their brakes or swerved to one side, desperate to avoid a collision with the mysterious figure. Descriptions of this phantom are vague. She is seen for only a second or two and the drivers are understandably more concerned with avoiding a crash than noticing what the person looks like.

There are some who think the two phantoms might be one and the same. Perhaps the old lady in tweeds crosses the road, and causes alarm and shock as she does so. It is, after all, more likely that the same ghost is responsible than that there are two different ghosts on the same stretch of road.

This is an extract from Ghost Hunter Walks in Kent by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Video for the book Paranormal Surrey

Watch the video HERE

Ghosts come to Godstone for Halloween

 The spooky world of the supernatural came to Godstone in time for Halloween in the form of author Rupert Matthews who gave a talk about ghosts in Surrey to a packed meeting of the Godstone WI.

The ghostly highwayman of the White Hart in Godstone took centre stage, but the beautiful young lady who haunts Reigate’s St Mary’s Church also featured, along with the  freaky phantom of  Cobham’s bridge over the River Mole, the spectral monk of Waverley Abbey at Godalming (who is said to be guarding a vast hidden treasure), the poltergeist of Finches Rise, Merrow, and the apparition of Mr Thompson at 85 High Street, Esher.

The talk was part of an ongoing launch programme for Rupert’s book “Paranormal Surrey”.

After the talk, author Rupert Matthews said “I was delighted to come to Godstone and talk to the WI. The county of Surrey may wear a face of suburban and rural normality, but lurking not far below the surface is an unequalled amount of paranormal activity and strangeness. In my book, I draw together a terrifying and intriguing collection of first-hand accounts and long-forgotten archive reports from the county's history. From big cat sightings and ancient monsters to poltergeists and UFOs, this compendium of the bizarre events that have shocked and frightened the residents of Surrey is richly illustrated with a range of modern photographs and archive images. Finally revealing the story behind many of Surrey's most famous myths and legends, whilst also shedding light on some lesser known paranormal phenomena, this book will fascinate those who are unaware of this side of the county's character.”

To book your talk by Rupert Matthews on ghosts, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Yetis or related paranormal subjects contact him via his website on

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The ghostly monk of Shaftesbury, Dorset

Find your way to  Abbey Walk.

It is along this pleasant walk that the troublesome ghost of the last monk of Shaftesbury might be encountered. Hearing that King Henry’s men were on their way to shut the Abbey and confiscate its wealth, Abbess Elizabeth Souche decided to take action. At the time it was by no means certain that Henry’s actions would be the end of the matter. The King had broken with the Pope and set up the Church of England for personal and political as much as religious reasons. Abbess Souche believed that the political climate might change and that she would again be allowed to continue her sacred calling. Things did not turn out that way and England was to become a Protestant nation.

But, hoping for the best, Abbess Souche collected together the gold, silver and other moveable wealth of the Abbey and entrusted it to a large, burly monk to hide in safety. The man set off, loaded down with his sack of valuables at dusk. He returned, covered in dirt and carrying a spade, soon after dawn. The treasure was, he declared, safe. King Henry’s commissioners closed down the Abbey and confiscated its lands and buildings to the Crown. The nuns were given small pensions and sent on their way.

At this point Abbess Souche received an urgent message. The burly monk had been taken ill and wanted to speak to her. She hurried to his bedside. Desperately the man tried to tell her where he had hidden the treasure, but words failed him and he died without telling his secret.

Obviously the matter troubled his conscience. He returns to Abbey Walk from time to time, beckoning people to follow him into the gardens that now cover the steep slopes that once fell away from the Abbey walls. A few people have followed him in the he hope of unearthing a treasure, but he always vanishes from sight before pointing out any spot in particular. Whatever is buried here seems certain to remain there for some time to come.

This is an extract from Ghost Hunter Walks in Dorset

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Video for the book Mysterious Northumberland

Watch the video HERE

The Mysterious Lady of Madeley Hall, Shropshire

Shropshire can be a daunting county for those unfamiliar with it. There are the towering heights of the Long Mynd and the Wrekin, where bleak moorlands are whipped by gales and drifted by snows in winter or baked dry under a windy sun in summer. It was in this remote area that Edric the Wild kept alive resistance to William the Conqueror for a full decade after the Norman Conquest and here that he is said to ride still in spectral form.

From the heights, the lowlands of Shropshire can appear flat and featureless, but once the viewer is down on the plain it becomes a succession of rolling hills and wooded slopes. For generations these rich lowlands formed the fortified outpost of England, facing the wilds of Wales. Nobody was ever certain when the Welsh would come raiding over the border, so every man had to keep a weapon within reach to be ready to protect hearth and home.

In these more peaceful days the major threat to the fertile farmlands of Shropshire comes in the form of urban sprawl tipping over the county border from Birmingham and Wolverhampton. In 1968 town planners staring through rose-tinted glasses decided to turn over much Shropshire countryside to the bulldozers and build what they saw as “an exciting concept city”. The final conglomeration of sweeping bypasses, concrete shopping centres and bland housing estates has as much to do with Shropshire as does the Scottish engineer after which the city was named: Telford.

Embraced within the modern city is one of the most historic estates of Shropshire. Fortunately, the old manor house was turned into an hotel and much of the surrounding parkland kept free of late 20th century concrete. The imposing Tudor mansion of Madeley Court even has a small lake.

Perhaps it is because the building retains its rural setting, that the ghost of Madeley Hall remains as active as she does. The current house and gatehouse were built in 1553 on the site of a priory grange belonging to the Much Wenlock monastery. The house has had a chequered history, being at times the centre of an iron ore mining and smelting business, a farm and council offices. It is now a luxurious hotel which welcomes visitors.

Although it is not certain to which date the ghost belongs, it is generally thought that she must be at least 200 years old. The phantom form of the elderly lady has a degree of gentility and elegance that would indicate that she lived here before 1828 when the Brooke family sold up the estate for commercial use. She wears a long dress that sweeps with the distinctive rustle of heavy silk as she walks.

She is seen most often in the main house and has a particular affinity with the lower ground floor area, which is now used as a bar, and to the main hall, now a restaurant. She has been seen more than once walking up or down the spiral staircase that links the two rooms. Strangely, her head is usually turned away from the witness so that a clear view of her is impossible.

While the old lady causes no trouble upstairs in the restaurant, she is rather more bother downstairs. The glasses are often found pushed to one side of the bar when no human has been around to move them. More spectacularly a table set by an old blocked up window is often found cleared of its cutlery or even upended. Changing the table for some other item of furniture did nothing to solve the problems. Whatever is placed by this old window seems to come in for unwanted phantom attentions. Why the ghost should behave in such a fashion is unknown, though several members of staff will testify that they suddenly feel uneasy when in the bar alone seeming to confirm that the ghost is in there up to no good.

This is an extract from The Ghosthunter's Guide to England by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Gruesome Ghost Inn of Callow

If the popular imagination prefers to put ghosts into stately homes, ruined castles and churchyards, it is interesting that some of the most active ghosts are to be found flitting about in the fresh air beside the roads, lanes and footpaths that crisscross Herefordshire.

One of the more gruesome, and spectacular, of these is the ghostly inn of Callow. Most phantoms are of single humans, sometimes of two and rarely of more. But Callow musters an entire ghostly inn complete with staff and customers.

This is no ordinary inn, but one that was demolished many years ago due to the horrible crimes committed inside. The A49 now bypasses the village, but the old road into the village from the south passes the site of this inn, shortly before it reaches the church. The inn was a welcoming one serving fine ales, ciders and good food. Many travellers on their way to or from Hereford stopped here and enjoyed themselves enormously.

A few visitors found when they got home that they had lost some valuable or other. It was never anything particularly much and most people thought that they must have dropped their watch, purse or the odd coin somewhere along the way. In fact, the landlord of the Callow Inn was adept at filching objects from his guests. He was careful not to take too much in case investigations were put in place and the trail led back to his inn.

But he could be more ambitious. If a particularly wealthy gentleman should stay, the landlord would put his attractive wife on the case. Flashing her bright eyes and making a fuss of the visitor she would wheedle information out of him. In particular she would want to know if he travelled alone and, if so, whether any of his friends or family knew that he was staying at the Callow Inn. If they did she would quickly be called away to another customer.

But if the man was alone and nobody knew his travel plans, his fate was sealed. He would be plied with fine wines until he was tipsy, then tucked up in bed. When the inn had emptied, the landlord would sneak upstairs to murder the guest and rob him of everything he had. Then the landlord and his wife would carry the body away across two fields to be buried in a private copse.

Eventually a man was missed and his trail was followed to the Callow Inn, but no further. Investigations were made and soon a list of unsolved vanishings was revealed. Exactly how many travellers had been murdered was never discovered. One was enough to hang the miscreants, and hanged they were.

But they return in spectral form to Callow. Most often the ghosts of the murderers are seen staggering alongside the old main road carrying a corpse between them. They are seen only on moonlit nights. More rarely the long demolished inn is also seen, its windows filled with a warm, welcoming light. Fortunately it vanishes if anyone seeks to approach.

This is an extract from Haunted Herefordshire by Rupert Matthews