Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Hooded Man of Astley, Warwickshire

There is an enigmatic phantom seen in and around the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Astley. This figure appears briefly among the gravestones, walking with head bowed beneath a hood or cowl. He is not seen for long, and very often vanishes almost as soon as he is noticed. He is known locally as the ghost monk, but there is little evidence that he really is, or rather was, a monk. He is as likely to be a vicar – or even some entirely secular local who wears a hooded cloak.

The truth may never be known.

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

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Phantom Cat of Gunthrope

The River Trent at Gunthorpe, northeast of Nottingham, flows wide and deep. The bridge here is the only crossing point between Nottingham and Newark and now carries the A6097. The village lies off the main road, with broad water meadows running down to the river.

It is across these water meadows that a strange, phantom animal has been seen to run as dusk closes in. Some witnesses liken it to a gigantic cat or panther bounding across the grassland. Others think it is a large dog lolopping along. Whatever it is, the spectral beast is in sight for only a second or two before it vanishes into thin air.

Like the other ghosts of Nottinghamshire, the phantom cat of Gunthorpe goes about its business without bothering too much with the modern, mortal inhabitants of the county. These spectres have their own reasons for walking Nottinghamshire, and it is not for us to bother them with our presence.

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

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - and a ghost

Higham House near Patrixbourne, Kent, was built in 1904 for the colourful Count Louis Zobrowski. The count, son of a Polish aristocrat and American industrial heiress, is now largely forgotten but one of his many inventions has become a legend. It was Zobrowski who invented the famous car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Zobrowski had for years been interested in cars, as had his father before him. He raced Bugattis and competed in both Europe and the USA. Then, in 1920, Zobrowski travelled to Germany to purchase a number of Zeppelin engines no longer needed by the German military after their defeat in World War I. Back at Higham House, Zobrowski bolted one of the 23 litre engines to a Mercedes chassis. He added a four-seater body and complex gearing system before starting the car up and taking to the road outside his house. The monstrously powerful car swooped out of the driveway and roared through Patrixbourne on a test run. A few months later, Zobrowski again drove the newly named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang through the village on his way to Brooklands race track.

In public for the first time the car astounded all present by powering round the circuit at an average speed of over 100mph. At the next meeting, Zobrowski tore down the final straight at 120mph. Over the following months Zobrowski and his car beat all comers. The car was so fast that it seemed to fly. Together with his team of mechanics, led by Captain Clive Gallop, Zobrowski set new standards of excitement both on and off the track. The mighty Chitty Chitty Bang Bang dominated the race track, while Zobrowski cut a dash with his immaculately tailored clothes and dressed his team in matching outfits and spectacularly coloured caps. With their glamourous parties and race-winning cars, the Zobrowski team became the most envied in the motor racing world.

At the end of 1922 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was retired from racing and kept by the Count for outings along the country lanes near his home. The deep, throaty roar of the massive engine became a familiar sound around Patrixbourne. Then, in 1924, Zobrowski agreed to drive a new Mercedes car in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. For some unknown reason, the car careered off the track and Zobrowski was killed. The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was sold to another racing driver who used it a few times, then broke it up for parts.

But the car was not forgotten. The fame it had acquired prompted the author Ian Flemming to use it as the inspiration for a flying car in his children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But the car has returned in spectral as well as in fictional form. Not long after reports of Zobrowski’s death reached the villagers of Patrixbourne, they again saw him and his mighty car dashing along the lanes around the village. Most often the car thunders down the old A2, turns off to power at high speed to Higham House and swoops into the driveway. It used to be reported that as the car raced up the driveway, the front door would mysteriously open, but that particular manifestation no longer seems to occur.

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

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.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A solitary ghost in Winchester, Hants

The site of the gibbet
For the next ghost of Winchester you will need to find the Andover Road leading out of Winchester. Fortunately this is fairly straightforward as it is, after all, the road leading from Winchester to Andover. You could worse than to follow the signs to Andover. Once out of the one way system, you are on the Andover Road. If you are relying on a map, however, look for the B3420, for that is  the Andover Road. The haunted section of the road runs from the crest of North Hill down to the city centre. The Jolly Farmer pub is the most visible landmark along the road.

Now, the word “rogue” might have been invented for Henry Robert Whitley. Unfortunately for Whitley the word “loveable” was not anywhere near as appropriate. This fact was to lead to his death, and to the haunting of an otherwise utterly blameless stretch of road near Winchester.

Whitley lived in Winchester in the early 17th century, a period of history when the certainties of the Tudors was giving way to the upheavals of the Stuarts. Civil War was not far away. Political matters did not bother Henry Whitley. He was much more concerned with his neighbours’ property – and how he could get his hands on it.

Any citizen of Winchester who left his front door unlocked might find that something had gone missing by the time he got home. Anyone foolish enough to carry money in his purse was as likely as not to find it gone by the time he got to the shops. And there was rarely much doubt as to where it had gone. Whitley was usually around somewhere. Not that anyone wanted him around. He was not only lightfingered, but unpleasant with it. There was no charm to redeem him as a companion, no ready wit and no good looks. He was, to put it bluntly, a bad man.

But Whitley was not stupid and he rarely, if ever, got caught. The sense of frustration among the good folk of Winchester during the 1630s can be imagined.

Then, in 1637, Whitley made his fatal mistake. He got caught with stolen goods in his little cottage. Not only had he been seen near the scene of the crime, he had the pilfered goods in his possession. He was quickly hauled up in front of the Quarter Sessions and swiftly found guilty by his fellow citizens. The judge, knowing the man before him, reached for the black cap that signalled death.

In desperation, Whitley pleaded “Benefit of Clergy”. Although removed from the law books by 1637, the custom that clergymen should not be executed no matter what their crime was still followed. Imprisonment, flogging and branding was their punishment. The judge was, to say the least, surprised. He had no idea that Whitley had ever been ordained, nor did he want to waste time trying to find out. Instead the judge picked up a pocket edition of the Gospels and threw it across the court room to Whitley.

“Read it”, commanded the judge.

Whitley could not read, and  stood there silent. The judge donned his black cap and pronounced the awful sentence of death.

Next day, Whitley was led from Winchester Gaol to his place of execution. He was hanged from the gibbet on top of North Hill, on the Andover Road. When dead, his body was taken down to be wrapped in chains and rehoisted. His rotting corpse swung in the wind for many days to warn all those approaching Winchester what the citizens would do to habitual criminals. Eventually the bones were taken down and thrown into a pauper’s grave.

Which was when the hauntings began.

The lone figure of Henry Robert Whitley was seen walking from the gaol out of the city and up to the gibbet on North Hill. Long after the gibbet was taken down, the phantom Whitley continued to retrace his last mortal journey on this earth. And he walks still.

from HAUNTED HAMPSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The ghost of Woodrow High House, near Amersham, Bucks, is a frequent supernatural visitor. The most dramatic, and best recorded, sighting came in 1946 when a team of workmen were living in the then run-down mansion while converting it for the the use of Federation. A workman named Jim (he did not give his surname to the reporter who covered the story) woke up in the middle of the night, hearing somebody moving around downstairs. Fearing it might be some thief out to steal the valuable tools and materials lying around, the workman got up to investigate.

Silently creeping down the stairs, he was startled to see a woman dressed in green walking slowly along the corridor. At first he took the figure for a real woman, but she ignored his calls as she walked across the hall and, to his horror, passed straight through the window which had formerly been the front door of the house. Now thoroughly disturbed, Jim saw the ghost glide across the grounds to vanish on the edge of some woods.

Jim raced back upstairs to the room where he and his workmates were sleeping. His sudden, agitated arrival woke up his colleagues who demanded to know the reason for the midnight fuss. The report was passed on to the owners of the new house who soon became aware of the story of the phantom Green Lady from villagers. It was decided there was little that could be done about the ghost and the work proceeded. The Green Lady has been glimpsed several times since, but she does nothing to disturb the good work of the Federation that now occupies the house. She merely gives those who see her a bit of a start.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Ghostly Girl at Rotherfield, Kent


Distance:            7 miles

Ghostly Rating        **

This walk involves little in the way of steep hills, though there are some lengthy gentle gradients that can be surprisingly bracing. Both Rotherfield and Mayfield are surprisingly busy places with much going on and a deal for the visitor to see. The countryside between is wooded and rolling with plenty of charming vistas to entertain the walker. The supernatural entities that might be encountered here represent the opposite extremes of the range in Sussex. One is pleasantly  gentle and inoffensive, while the other is evil in the extreme.

The Walk

1) Park in Rotherfield and find your way to the Kings Arms pub which stands on the junction of the B2100 and B2101 in the centre of the village, close to the church. 

This lovely old pub hit the local headlines in the 1950s when the ghost of a young child was seen and heard several times running around upstairs. The girl was heard more often than seen, her light footsteps seemed to run along the corridor and into one of the bedrooms. When she was seen, it was only for brief moments so descriptions tend to be rather vague. She is aged about 9 and wears a dress that reaches to her knees, and not much more can be said.

The downstairs area has been reported to be the home of an invisible spirit which taps patrons on the shoulder. When they turn around, of course, there is nobody there. This must be quite disconcerting but does nothing to detract from the pub’s well deserved popularity.

2) From the King’s Arms walk south along the village high street, the B2101. At the far end of the village the B road swings to the left, but the route of this walk goes straight on up a short hill beneath overhanging trees. This short section of the route is along a fairly busy lane, so care needs to be taken of passing traffic. Over the crest of the hill, ignore a lane to the left and continue straight on.

3) Just past Rotherhurst House on the left, the lane swings right. Take the turning that bears left downhill. After a mile a lane joins from the left. Ignore this turning, but take the second turning to the left which bears off very soon after the first.

4) At the end of this lane, turn left at a T-junction Follow this quiet, winding lane  until it emerges quite suddenly on to the main A267.  Cross this road with care and take the path that climbs up some steps, past a bench thoughtfully provided by the people of Mayfield for the use of passing walkers. At the top of the steps join a lane that continues running east. This lane joins a busier lane that becomes the main high street of Mayfield. About half a mile along the high street, the village church stands set back behind some shops on the left. It is dedicated to St Dunstan, and with good reason.

from Ghosthunter Walks in Sussex by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Minster at Minster in Kent

The Minster Walk begins at St Mary’s Church, one of the most ancient and historic in Kent. It was founded in 670 by Ermenburga, a princess from the Kent royal family, as a nunnery of which she became the first abbess. Only a short section of wall and a doorway in the north aisle remain of this early building, but the bulk of the church is still nine centuries old and amply rewards a visit.

The foundation came at at time of upheaval in the English Church. The royal house of Kent had been the first in England to convert to Christianity some 80 years earlier, but still counted the pagan god Woden among its  official ancestors and many rural communities continued with pagan practices and worship. Even among the Christians there was dispute and a heresy known as monotheism was widespread, though not common. When Archbishop Deusdedit of Canterbury died in 664 there were six years of confusion before Pope Vitalinus sent an Italian priest named Theodore to take Deusdedit’s  place and sort out the English church.

Theodore encouraged Ermenburga to found her nunnery at Minster. He went on to restore order to the English church by a series of compromises and agreements that were to survive until the Norman conquest.

from GHOSTHUNTER WALKS IN KENT by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Baleful Shuck in Bridport, Dorset

This walk takes in stunning coastal scenery, the town centre of Bridport and some spectacular hills. It is, however, both long and, in places, steep and demanding. The supernatural face of the walk is varied and unusual, with many witnesses confirming even the more bizarre phenomena.

The Walk

1) Park in Bridport and walk to the Church off South Street.

This church is the centre of activity by a terrifying beast which is seen at various places in Dorset. This is Black Shuck, a massive black hound with glowing eyes which comes to announce death or misfortune to those who cross its path. This particular manifestation of the Black Shuck is rather untypical in that he does not pace along lanes or run down footpaths. Instead he is reported to sit outside the church and stare balefully at those to whom he is bringing his message of ill fortune. Bizarrely he is said to be invisible to everyone except his victim, others being quite unable to see anything at all even when the gigantic dog is pointed out to them.

from Ghosthunter Walks in Dorset by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Mysterious Stranger of Chester

Strangely the haunting the ruined priory of St John, just outside Chester city walls began only in 1881, though the ghost itself is much more ancient. It was on 14 April that year that the church tower suddenly collapsed. The priory church had been in ruins for centuries, but even so the crashing to earth of the tower still came as a surprise.

Even more of a surprise was the fact that a ghostly monk at once began to be seen in and around the ruins. So solid and apparently real was he that at first the townsfolk took him for some prankster in fancy dress. Only when one or two witnesses saw him vanish into thin air did it become clear that this was a ghost. The falling tower must have disturbed him in some way, and he has not yet found rest for this ghost walks the area still.

The ghost at once revived an old legend in Chester. During the later 11th century the priory attracted a tall stranger who begged to be admitted as a reclusive anchorite. He was taken in and allowed to build himself a small cell in which to devote his life to prayer and to study. The man was clearly a nobleman from his bearing and education, while the scars on his body showed that he had fought in more than one battle. In particular he had a jagged scar down one side of his face and had lost an eye.

Perhaps inevitably gossip circulated that this was none other than King Harold Godwinson. Harold had been killed at the Battle of Hastings after being severely wounded in the eye by an arrow. The good folk of Chester came to believe that their anchorite was the king, who had somehow escaped death and now sought the consolation of a holy retirement after a lifetime of fighting and ruling. When the man died at a great age, he was buried in the priory graveyard.

from GHOSTHUNTER GUIDE TO  ENGLAND by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Friday, 4 May 2012

A Ghostly Soldier in Herefordshire

Herefordshire has seen more than its fair share of fighting and warfare over the years. Lying as it does on the borders between England and Wales it has long been a focus for raiding and invasion. Indeed the very name “Hereford” means “the ford of the army” in old English. The city of Hereford was put under serious siege no less than four times from 1055 to 1645. It is no wonder that war has left its mark so clearly in the spectral side of Herefordshire.

That said, one of the more active of the warlike shades to frequent the county is of fairly modern origin. Three miles north of Leominster stands Berrington Hall. This magnificent house was built by Henry Holland for Thomas Harley in 1781. The grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown and include a famous 14 acre lake.

During the Second World War the house was taken over by the army as a hospital for men invalided home from the front. It is to this period in its history that the ghost belongs. The ghost is that of an infantryman in uniform, but without helmet or rifle. He is seen pottering about quietly and generally does little to draw attention to himself. It is presumed that the ghost is that of a soldier who died here of his wounds, but his precise identity is unknown.

Berrington Hall is now owned by the National Trust which has lovingly restored the house and grounds to their original 1780s appearance. No amount of work has got rid of the ghost, however, who is still reported from time to time.

from HAUNTED HEREFORDSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The most terrifying white lady of Gloucestershire

The most terrifying white lady of Gloucestershire is likewise without any story, though it is not difficult to guess her background. She appears around the Foregate of Tewkesbury Abbey. Often she simply walks or glides along the path into the churchyard, then vanishes. But sometimes she will pause in her wanderings, turn to face the Foregate and let rip with the most piercing and terrifying scream that can be imagined. Perhaps she is a distant reminder of the terrible slaughter that took place here as fugitive Lancastrians fleeing defeat at the battle to the south in 1471 sought to reach the abbey and claim sanctuary from the vengeful Yorkists who were pursuing them with drawn swords. The vicious massacre would have been enough to make anyone scream.
from Haunted Gloucestershire by Rupert Matthews
Buy the paperback HERE