Monday, 17 September 2012

Double Tragedy at Walhampton, Hants


It is a double tragedy that lies behind the haunting of the Wagon and Horses pub at Walhampton across the estuary from Lymington. Back in 1893 the body of local farmer was found lying in nearby fields. He had been shot dead with a single blast in the back from his own shotgun, which lay nearby. Foul play was, naturally, suspected but the hapless farmer did not seem to have any enemies, was clear of debt and there was no obvious suspect or motives.

Then Walhampton gamekeeper Henry Card came forward with a theory. He stated that the farmer had accidentally shot himself in the back. Card said that it was relatively easy for this to happen if a man were in the custom of carrying a shotgun in a particular way, then tripped and fell in such fashion as to jar the gun suddenly. He offered to put on a demonstration for sceptical police and others at the Wagon and Horses. On the appointed day, Card appeared with his own shotgun and proceeded to show how he thought the mishap had occurred. Tragically for him, his own gun was not unloaded as he clearly believed. The demonstration went only too well and Card shot himself in exactly the manner the farmer had done. He died instantly.

For decades after that fatal day the ghost of Henry Card was encountered in the bar of the Wagon Horses. He was most often seen standing staring out of the window. After the 1950s the phantom was seen less often and today the ghost is rarely if ever seen. It is, however, blamed for any keys or other objects that go missing.


Buy your copy HERE

Friday, 14 September 2012

Black Tom of Bedford

As the county town, Bedford has a history going back well over a thousand years. It is home to several fine public buildings, bridges and town houses. It has also long been the centre for royal justice in the region and it is this that led to the most persistent haunting in the town.

Black Tom was, everyone agreed, a rogue. But he was a likable enough young man who did little actual harm to anyone, except to lighten their pockets of silver and gold on occasion. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone when Black Tom was one day arrested and thrown into Bedford Prison. Nor was it much of a shock that he was sentenced to death, this being the official sentence for highway robbery and a host of other crimes in the later 18th century. It was a bit of a surprise, however, that he was actually hanged.

At the time it was usual for the judges and magistrates to retire after the trial to await any pleas for mercy from the condemned man, his relatives or any interested local residents. Depending on the severity of the crime, and the eloquence of the pleas or size of the petition, the sentence was adjusted. Most people condemned to death were not hanged. Instead they were imprisoned for a set number of years, sent to work as convict labour in the colonies or fined. Being a non-violent robber and, moreover, a ready wit, Black Tom had no trouble getting a good petition together signed by the people of Bedford. But he was hanged anyway.

On his way to the gallows on a cart, Black Tom was stopped by the landlord of the inn that stood by the town gates on the main road north. The landlord offered the condemned man a bottle of wine. Black Tom drank a glass, then handed the rest of the bottle to his friends. “I’ll pay for it on my way back” he joked to the landlord. It was the last joke the witty Black Tom ever made.

It turned out that the head gaolor of Bedford Prison had not passed on the petition to the judges who had not, therefore, commuted the sentence. The gaolor had not been given a suitably large bribe by the impoverished Black Tom. This, and other scandals, appalled a Bedford gentleman by the name of John Howard. He discovered that most county authorities did not pay their gaolors a salary, but instead expected them to earn money by charging prisoners for food, drink and by taking bribes. This, Howard decided, could lead only to injustices, corruption and degradation.

Having travelled around England to collect evidence, Howard began to lobby Parliament for reform. It took time, but in 1774 he succeeded in having an Act of Parliament passed that for the first time set down basic levels of sanitation, food and care in prisons and made provision for gaolors to be paid a salary to supply them.

It was all too late for poor Black Tom, but although he is gone he is not forgotten. Nor has he forgotten Bedford. He still returns from time to time in spectral form to the spot where he was hanged. The place is now a roundabout where Union Street joins the A6 a little north of the town centre. Tom stands quietly beside the road, often with head bowed and is sometimes mistaken for some local in fancy dress.