Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Headless Horseman of the A184, Sunderland

Now, when it comes to spooky tales and ghastly ghosts, you can’t get much more dramatic than a headless horseman. But it is my experience that most ghosts are a fairly harmless and mundane bunch of characters. There are more grey ladies floating about the country than you can shake a stick at. and if I have heard of one phantom monk to be found at a ruined abbey, I have heard of a hundred. Such phantoms go about their business with little fuss and paying no heed to what we mere mortals might be up to. Of course, they can be frightening. There you are all alone when suddenly a chap in a cowl and cloak appears out of thin air, chants a plainsong and vanishes. It can be very unnerving.

But headless horsemen and the like tend to be more usual in horror movies and books than in real life. Was this just a made up story to keep children off the moors, or was there more to it than that? I took myself off to Sunderland Library to track down any legends or ghosts from Boldon Moor. I found additional stories about the ghostly farmer from Laverick Hall Farm, including several sightings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As for the headless horseman, back in the 1700s, what is now the A184 was, in most parts, little more than a country lane. It was busy, though and that was why a highwayman frequented the area, constantly harassing his victims to 'stand and deliver'. He was not, however, a particularly clever crook as he tended to spring out at his victims on the same stretch of road each time. The local Justices of the Peace rounded up a group of local men and set off to arrest the highwayman, which they did. In those unforgiving days the penalty for robbery on the King’s Highway was death, so the highwayman was hanged.

Quite why the highwayman’s ghost should be headless when he was hanged, not beheaded, is unclear.

This is an extract from Haunted Sunderland by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Haunted York video

Video about Haunted York, watch it HERE

Pagan Ghosts in Knowlton, Dorset

The ruined church of Knowlton stands in the middle of an ancient henge that dates back at least 4,000 years to the Neolithic Age, before the knowledge of how to make metal tools had reached Britain. The site has been considered as sacred for longer than perhaps any other in England.

The ghosts that lurk here seem to date back to pagan days. The tall man dressed in a long cloak who walks about the inner ring of the earthen bank that marks the outside of the henge is generally held to be a pagan priest of some kind, while the great black hound that patrols outside is marked down as a dog of the Devil – but then Christianity viewed all the old gods as devils. Certainly local people believe that it is the henge alone that keeps the ghosts trapped inside and protects the surrounding Christians from pagan wrath.

The medieval church is ruined, as it has been for many years. In its time the church was famous for having a magnificent peal of three bells. When the church was closed, one bell was taken to Sturminster Marshall and a second to Shapwick, but the largest and finest was left at Knowlton. In the mid 19th century a gang of crooks decided to steal it, take it to France and sell it. They got the bell only so far as Sturminster Newton. The horse pulling the cart on which the bell was loaded refused to cross the Stour. No amount of whipping would persuade the horse to move, but in the commotion the cart overturned and the bell fell into the Stour.

The local folk rallied to the cause and next day came with horses and ropes to pull the bell out of the river so that it could be restored to its proper place. Again the horses refused to work. And when the men tried brute human muscle power, the ropes broke. And so the bell remained in the Stour where, when flood waters rage down the stream, it can be heard tolling as it tumbles about.

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

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Terrifying Sir Humphrey Kynaston of Shropshire

The modern A5 swoops past Nesscliffe, carrying juggernaut trucks and cars by the thousand on their way to and from North Wales. Before the modern dual carriageway was constructed, however, the road ran through the village of Nesscliffe on its way from Shrewsbury to Oswestry.

Just before the old road enters the village it runs beneath a towering hill with, on the left, the Three Pigeons pub and a small war memorial on the right. Today, this is a welcoming place where the pub offers good food and fine ales to travellers and locals alike. But in Tudor times this was a dangerous and forbidding place. So risky was passing this way, that the wool merchants guild in Shrewsbury hired tough mercenary ex-soldiers to escort its members to Oswestry on their way to buy wool from Welsh sheep farmers.

The main problem came in the form of a daring and violent highway robber by the name of Sir Humphrey Kynaston. This Sir Humphrey had been born into wealth and privilege, but as soon as he inherited his lands around Myddle, he drank and gambled his inheritance away. Scorning anything so common as working for a living, Kynaston became a robber, finding easy prey among the travellers on the road to Oswestry. He lived in a cave set high up on the hill above Nesscliffe, where he carved himself a fine chair out of the living rock.

It was the feats of Kynaston’s horse that gave rise to the rumours that he was in league with the Devil. Pursued by his enemies, Kynaston once jumped his horse over the River Severn itself, a distance of 40 feet. On another occasion he was trapped inside a yard at Aston, but his horse leapt the 12 foot tall gates to freedom.

It is no wonder that the towering figure of a huge man mounted on a gigantic black horse that has been seen galloping past the Three Pigeons is said to be Sir Humphrey Kynaston. Whether this is, indeed, the legendary outlaw returning to his old haunts on his satanic steed or some quite different phantom it is hard to judge. Perhaps it is best to believe the old stories - they are certainly the romantic option.

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

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Savage Events in a country churchyard at Kilmington, Wiltshire

The otherwise peaceful village of Kilmington was shocked by the news of what happened in the churchyard one day in 1555. The local landowner, the 8th Baron Stourton, had long had a reputation for violent behaviour and a quick temper. Both came into play that day and they were to cost more than one life and lead to more than one ghost.

The chain of events that led up to the fatal day, and to the hauntings that followed, began in 1551 when the 7th Baron Stourton, William, died. The Stourtons, though not of the highest nobility, were well connected and wealthy. Baron William’s wife was Lady Elizabeth Dudley, daughter of Edmund Dudley the Duke of Northumberland. It was Lady Elizabeth who had brought most of the wealth to the family and, now her husband was dead, it reverted to her. Only on her death would her estates pass to her son, the new Baron Stourton.

But the new baron, Charles, was in a hurry. He had debts to pay and a life of debauchery to lead. Just a few weeks after his father’s death young Charles rode to Kilmington to see his mother. Using the pretence that the family assets should all be kept under one control, he demanded that his mother hand over her jewels, gold and the title deeds of her property at once. The old lady was on the point of doing so when she was interrupted by William Hartgill, the steward of her estates. Hartgill suggested that Charles should give his mother an annuity to live on. The two men quarrelled violently and Charles stormed out without his mother’s wealth.

The following Whitsunday Lord Charles Stourton hired a gang of 20 toughs and lay in wait at the church at Kilmington for the Hartgills to arrive for Sunday service. Fortunately for the Hartgills, their son John was planning to go hunting with friends after the service and had with him his bow and a crossbow. As the Hartgills approached the church, Stourton and his men charged with swords drawn. Young John dropped one man with his bow, then led his parents into the church where they barricaded themselves in the tower. The Hartgills managed to fight off Stourton and his men until the forces of law and order arrived in the person of Sir Thomas Speak, High Sheriff of Somerset.

The courts threw Lord Stourton in prison and ordered him to pay compensation to his victims, which he flatly refused to do. In 1555 he was released and returned to his home, but he had neither forgiven nor forgotten his imagined grievances. At Christmas 1555 Stourton sent a message to the Hartgills offering to meet them at the church, to pay the compensation for the injuries he had caused them and to use the season of goodwill to end the feud.

The Hartgills were understandably suspicious and arranged for several local gentlemen to be at the church on the day set for the meeting. All seemed to go well, Stourton handed over a purse of coins and pledged friendship. But it was just a ruse to put his quarry off their guard. As divine service ended, the congregation left the church to find themselves under the guns of two dozen men hired by Stourton.

Triumphant and full of rage, Stourton ordered the two Hartgill men to be tied up and thrown onto a cart. When Mrs Hartgill protested, Stourton stabbed her. A scuffle broke out in the course of which several men were injured, but Stourton had the guns and he got his way. The Hartgills were dragged off and promptly vanished.

A few days later one of the men Stourton had hired for the treachery at the church went to see the local magistrate, Sir Anthony Hungerford. The man revealed that Stourton had told them he meant to kidnap and beat the Hartgills, but in fact they had been murdered. The man showed Sir Anthony where the bodies were hidden, then quickly fled the area. Hungerford moved promptly, arresting Stourton and four of his men that night. A search of the Stourton home found not only clear evidence of the murder, but also stolen cattle and sheep together with the proceeds of a local robbery.

Because of his aristocratic connections, Stourton was taken to London for trial. Found guilty, he was returned to Wiltshire for execution. He was hanged in Salisbury Market Place on 6 March 1557 and buried in the cathedral, where his tomb became the centre of some paranormal activity. The four men who had helped Stourton in the actual murder were hanged at Kilmington.

These dramatic events, played out in a quiet churchyard have left their spectral mark. The two ghosts seen most often are those of the two Hartgills. Father and son walk solemnly around the church as if deep in discussion. Also seen, though rarely, is a man armed with a gun and sword. Rather more sinister, this figure hides among the shrubs and trees, keeping to the shadows and is not seen clearly. Presumably he is one of the murderers.

Once Lord Charles Stourton was dispatched by justice, Kilmington returned to its peaceful ways. The titles and estates of the Stourton’s passed to Charles’s eldest son, John. To everyone’s enormous relief John had inherited none of his father’s temper nor taste for violence. So far as is known deadly treachery has never again marred this village.

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

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The terrible ghost of One Hand Boughton finds a new home

Just north of the town centre of Rugby the modern dual carriageway of the A426 follows a route through industrial estates, by passing completely the old Leicester Road with its houses and the grand edifice of Brownsover Hall. This monumental pile was erected in 1857 by the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott on the orders of Sir John Ward Boughton-Leigh.

The Leighs acquired their double-barrelled name when they inherited the much haunted Boughton estates of nearby Little Lawford. But if they thought a new house at Rugby would put an end to the terrifying ghostly manifestations of One Hand Boughton, they reckoned without the determination of that colourful Tudor squire. Only a few days after Sir John moved into his grand new home, the ghost came calling.

A  footman heard a carriage approaching the house up the sweeping drive from what was then the main road to Leicester. Thinking some late night guest was arriving, the man roused a maid and opened the front door. He was startled to be confronted by the towering figure of the ghostly one armed squire, apparently surveying with some satisfaction the new home of his descendants. Several times since then the phantom coach has been seen driving from Little Lawford down the lanes and over to Rugby. Strangely, it has not been seen returning. But return it must for One Hand Boughton is a very active ghost on the wide acres that were once his.


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

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Ghost of Worksop Canal, Nottinghamshire

The cause of the haunting along the banks of the canal just north of the Priory is rather clearer, the ghost itself more substantial. The ghost appears as a young lady, dressed in a long dress of a pale colour and with a thick woollen shawl drawn over her head and tied, or clasped, beneath her chin. She has her head bowed so that her face can never be clearly seen. She walks in total silence along the banks of the canal then, as she approaches the bridge in Priorswell Road, she fades swiftly from view. This is the ghost of a young woman whose body was pulled from the canal in the 1870s. Whether she had committed suicide or died as a result of an accident was unclear, though there were no marks of violence on the body. The name of the girl was kept out of the papers, but it has long been rumoured that she was the daughter of a prosperous local family.

Whatever the sad truth behind her death, it seems the girl’s ghost cannot rest and returns night after night to retrace her last, fatal walk down to the dark waters of the canal.

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

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Phantom Smugglers on Romney Marsh, Kent

If there is one character who can be said to encapsulate the atmosphere of the misty landscape and equally misty past of wild Romney Marsh in his persona, it is Doctor Syn. This 18th century rector had a secret nocturnal life as the dashing leader of a gang of smugglers who brought brandy, lace and other luxuries into England illegally over the marsh. He fell in love with the daughter of a local squire and launched into a famous romance.

These days the life of Doctor Syn is celebrated in local fetes and festivals. The main event is held every two years when the activities are co-ordinated into the appropriately named “Days of Syn”. The erstwhile clergyman was actually a literary creation of local writer Russell Thorndyke and is entirely fictional. His story is, however, based on the real life escapades of Romney Marsh smugglers in days gone by.

One such smuggler was less fortunate that the fictional Doctor Syn. He ended his days on a gibbet just outside the village of Brookland after being caught by the revenue men. After his body had been left to rot for some weeks, his remains were cut down and buried by the roadside. Ever since then he has returned to pace restlessly around the site of the now-vanished gibbet. Perhaps he seeks a decent burial, perhaps he returns to atone for his sins. It is unlikely we will ever know for as soon as a witness gets within a few feet of him, this phantom vanishes abruptly.

This is an extract from HAUNTED PLACES OF KENT by Rupert Matthews

Haunted Hampshire video