Monday, 21 May 2012

The Wicked Lady Howard of Okehampton

The most spectacular phantom in Devon is to be found in Okehampton. This is the ghost of the Wicked Lady Howard accompanied by her equally spectral entourage.

According to local legend, the Wicked Lady Howard was the evil daughter of an evil father. She married four times, each husband being murdered by her after the briefest of marriages. To atone for these crimes, the spirit of the guilty woman is doomed, until a certain task of completed, to sally forth from Okehampton Castle in her dreaded coach of bones. The coach, it is said, is made up of the bones of her victims with the supporting post at each corner topped by a grinning skull. In front of the coach runs a huge black hound which bays and howls in tones which alternate between mortal anguish and evil aggression. The coachman has no head and is reckoned to be the servant whose death caused that of the father of the wicked lady.

In this spectacular phantom coach the shade of the Wicked Lady Howard drives from Okehampton Castle to Fitzford House, near Tavistock. In the course of this journey she, or the dog, must pick one blade of grass from the roadside. Only when the verges of the road have been entirely stripped of grass will the penance of the murderess be completed and the coach of bones cease terrorising the good folk of Devon.

As if the coach of bones were not a frightening enough apparition as it was, the Wicked Lady Howard also had the task of singling out those she felt sufficiently deep in sin to act as her servants through the time of her penance. If she encountered such folk, she would halt her coach and open the door for them to join her.

An old song used to be sung in Okehampton to commemorate their most famous spectral resident.

My lady’s coach hath nodding plumes
The driver hath no head
My lady is an ashen white
Like one that is long dead
Now pray step in, my lady saith,
Now pray step in and ride

I’d rather walk a hundred miles
And run by night and day
Than have that carriage halt for me
And hear my lady say
Now pray step in and make no din,
Step in with me and ride.

from HAUNTED PLACES OF DEVON by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

There’s room, I trow, by me for you
And all the world beside.

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