Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Terrifying Ghost of Gossage All Saints, Dorset

1) Park in Gossage All Saints. If you are intending to refresh yourself at the Drovers Inn, you are welcome to use their car park. Otherwise park towards the northern end of the village near the church.

2) Follow the village high street as it turns sharp left by the church, then sharp right to leave the village in a northwesterly direction towards Gossage St Michael.

This stretch of road, and other lanes in the area, is haunted by an open carriage drawn by a smart pair of black horses. Sitting in the carriage is an exquisitely dressed Restoration gentleman. This is the first Lord Shaftesbury who owned lands hereabouts. This is not the philanthropist after whom Shaftesbury Avenue in London was named, but an altogether more sinister ancestor of his. .

Born the humble Anthony Cooper, Shaftesbury led an adventurous life. He inherited a comfortable estate in Dorset, but was not happy with a quiet country life. His chance came in the Civil War of the 1640s. Like most other Dorset gentry, Cooper joined the Royalist cause. After 10 months, however, Cooper saw the way the wind was blowing and promptly changed sides to become a vocal supporter of Oliver Cromwell. Other Parliamentarians did not trust Cooper, believing his support had more to do with the opportunities for self enrichment than any devotion to Parliament. As soon as Cromwell died, his generals threw Cooper into prison. The wily Cooper talked his way out of prison, however, and at once changed sides again by sailing to France to join the exiled King Charles II. When Charles returned to England, Cooper was once again in high favour. It was Charles who ennobled Cooper as the Earl of Shaftesbury.

But Shaftesbury could not stick to a single cause for long. Seeing that Charles was unlikely to father a legitimate heir, Shaftesbury realised that the king’s brother James would be the next monarch. However, Shaftesbury’s well-known Protestantism made him unpopular with the Catholic James, who promised to deprive him of his offices as soon as possible. Shaftesbury turned to plotting once again. This time his schemes involved the dashing, handsome and safely Protestant Duke of Monmouth, a bastard son of Charles. Shaftesbury began spreading rumours that Charles had secretly married Monmouth’s mother before the boy was born. The mother was safely dead and could not deny the rumours. Charles denied the allegation, but Shaftesbury’s agents ensured the rumours spread even wider.

In 1683 King Charles finally tired of Shaftesbury and sent him into exile. After Charles died, Monmouth led a rebellion that was to fail in tragic circumstances and leave its ghostly mark in Dorset at Lyme Regis and Dorchester. Before Monmouth went to the block, Shaftesbury had changed sides yet again, this time finally. He had died and gone to join his God.

But his ghost came back to his ancestral acres around Gossage All Saints. Who knows what wily, twisted plans the artful Shaftesbury is hatching as he rides in spectral fashion around the lanes of Dorset. Whatever his plots may be, he keeps them to himself.

from Ghost Walks of Dorset
Buy your Copy HERE

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