Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Phantom Copper of Romsey, Hampshire

Rather less disturbing is the phantom copper of Romsey. The rain had eased off by the time I left the Conservative Club to seek out his haunts. I had been put on to this ghost by a Mrs M (she would rather not have her name in print). “He was stood there as clear as day,” Mrs M had told me. “Just like you. Solid. In books and on films you see ghosts floating above the ground or going all see-through. He was not like that at all. He was was solid and real. He was really  there. Well, until he vanished that is.”

As I well know this is typical of ghosts. Forget what you see and hear about fictional ghosts, the real thing is very real indeed. Like Mrs M, many people who see a ghost don’t at first realise what it is they are seeing. “I thought it was someone in fancy dress” is a typical comment. And yet there is usually something odd about the ghost, something that is strangely out of place, though it is difficult for the witness to put their finger on it. It’s as if you are looking at a painting where the perspective has been painted incorrectly. Everything looks right enough, but there is something very definitely wrong.

But to get back to Mrs M and her ghost. She had seen the Phantom Copper of Romsey. This ghost is not so well known as the Roundhead trooper, nor does he seem to be seen so often. He is, however, rather more mobile. I know of two places where he has been seen: Winchester Road by Cupernham Lane; and on the Broadwater Road. There may be more locations for other accounts that I have traced do not pinpoint the location of the sighting.

So who is he? Well, according to Mrs M’s account he wears the uniform of days gone by, but not too far back in history. Another person to see the ghost, Mrs Perry, saw the Phantom Copper on the Winchester Road and gave a more detailed description. Judging by these, I reckon the ghost dates from the period between the Wars. He wears a wool serge uniform with what appears to be a cape slung back off his shoulder, and a good solid helmet tops his head. Whenever he is seen the Phantom Copper just stands there. He does not walk as if on patrol, nor does he seem to be taking much notice of what goes on around him. He just stands and stares.

Given that the spectre is a policeman of the 1920s or 1930s, I set out to try to track him down. The only record I could find of the Romsey Police making the national news in that period came in 1923. And it was altogether too silly to account for the haunting. There had been a series of attacks on children by a dog running loose. As a result a bylaw was passed that all dogs had to kept on leashes by their owners. Any loose dog would be rounded up and, if found to be guilty of the attacks, would be put down.

In October one of Romsey’s finest found a loose dog and promptly grabbed it. To be honest, the little airedale terrier did not look much like the fearsome beast reported by the children, but orders were orders. The dog had to be taken in for identification. The policeman slipped a collar on the hound and set off back to the police station in The Hundred, leading the terrier behind him.

A contemporary newspaper takes up the tale. “Then the dog began to follow the policeman as he led the way towards the station-house. The small crowd which had gathered to witness the occurrence grew, as small crowds will, into a fairly large one. Despite the smiles of the populace, the dignity of the law had to be upheld; but when the smiles of the crowd which followed became audible in the form of tittering, the constable looked round to see the cause. The cause was plain. The dog had become tired of the policeman’s company and had broken arrest. He had slipped his head out of the collar and the policeman was merely dragging the empty collar along the ground by the string. The tittering grew into a laugh when the crowd found the policeman had discovered the situation, but the law had a card up its sleeve. The policeman solemnly conveyed the collar to the police-station in lieu of its wearer as evidence of arrest.”

Embarrassing, no doubt, but enough to cause the poor policeman to return in spectral form? I doubt it. Rather more promising as a candidate is the unfortunate policeman who was run down and killed by a car on the Winchester Road. At least, so it is said. When I called at the police station nobody knew anything about this accident. Perhaps it was too long ago for the force to recall it. But the ghost remembers.
from "Haunted Hampshire" by Rupert Matthews

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