Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ghosts of Battle, Sussex

This brisk walk is not too long, but does include some steep hills. It takes the walker over some of the most historic turf in England, as well as some of the most haunted. It was here in 1066 that the Norman pretender, Duke William, defeated and killed King Harold of England and earned himself the historic name of William the Conqueror. It was a savage battle that has left is spectral mark on this walk.

The Walk

1) From the station, walk southwest along Station Approach to reach the main road through Battle. Turn right. As the road nears the crest of the hill, the parish church of St Mary is on the right. It was built here in the mid-14th century to cater to the village that was growing up around the abbey walls.

The church is haunted by a phantom curate. Described as being a gentle, elderly man, the ghost sits quietly in the church bothering nobody. Only his old fashioned clothes gives away the fact that he is no mortal clergyman, but a phantom.

2) Just beyond the church is a large open square, with the impressive gatehouse to Battle Abbey to the left.

This historic abbey was founded by King William the Conqueror to mark his victory in the Battle of Hastings. In the cold light of dawn as he surveyed the English army drawn up along the crest of this hill, William vowed a solemn oath that he would build a church on the spot occupied by the English Royal Standard - then a dragon - if he won. Win he did and before the year was over a small church had been completed on the otherwise deserted hilltop. The church and surrounding lands was later given to the Benedictine Order which built a monastery here. The monastery was subsequently closed down by King Henry VIII in the 16th century and the buildings converted into a comfortable manor by Sir Anthony Browne.

It is this house and the few remaining monastic buildings that today go by the name of Battle Abbey. Excavations have located the foundations of William’s original church and a monument has been erected to mark the spot where the English King Harold stood beneath his banner as battle was joined.

The ghosts here are those of monks. These phantoms walk the grounds of the Abbey, and seem particularly fond of the ruined refectory where they would have gathered to dine each day. They are not, however, quite so gentle as they might seem. When Sir Anthony arrived to take up his new property in 1538 he was met by a group of four former monks. Spitting and gesticulating they cursed him and his family, calling on God to ensure that all Brownes died by fire or by water. As the years passed, rather more members of the family did indeed drown or perish in fires than might be expected. In 1699 they sold Battle, after which the curse seems to have vanished. The Brownes no longer die strange deaths, and neither have the subsequent owners of Battle Abbey. The phantom monks, however, still walk.

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