Friday, 20 December 2013

The Ghost Ship of the Goodwins


One of the most famous ghosts of Kent is not, strictly speaking in Kent at all. It manifests itself out to sea among the treacherous waters of the Goodwin Sands off the coast near Deal.

On 13th February 1748 the popular local sea captain Simon Peel married one of Deal’s society beauties. To celebrate the event he invited 50 guests to join him and his wife on his ship the Lady Lovibund on a pleasure cruise out to sea. Unknown to Captain Peel, however, he had a rival in love in th shape of a Mr Rivers. And Mr Rivers had been driven mad with jealousy. Rivers muttered black oaths of revenge in the days leading up to the wedding, but nobody paid him any attention.

As the wedding party set sail, however, Rivers was seen to slip aboard the ship. Just hours later the ship was deliberately rammed at full speed on to the deadly Goodwin Sands. The ship broke up rapidly in the heavy swell which was running at the time and all on board were drowned. Had Rivers deliberately destroyed the craft? It seems likely and is widely held to have been the cause of the disaster.

To the amazement of the many who witnessed the event, the Lady Lovibund again set sail from Deal on the afternoon of 13th February 1798, exactly fifty years after the tragedy. As gathering crowds watched, the ship sailed out to sea, put about and again rammed the Goodwin Sands to break up and vanish. Several times since then the ship has been seen dashing through the sea and coming to grief on the Sands. She is usually seen on 13th February, but has sometimes appeared on other dates.

The Goodwin Sands take their name from the powerful Godwin family who held extensive lands and titles in England before the Norman Conquest. The sands were then dry land where the Godwins held manors and grazed livestock. Over the years the land was eroded away until now it emerges above the sea only at exceptionally low tides. The rest of the time the wide sandbank lurks dangerously beneath the waves. These waves are deep enough to prevent the sands from breaking the surface, but shallow enough to entrap in the banks the keel of any ship which tries to cross them. A lucky few ships can be refloated, but in heavy seas any craft which strikes the Goodwins are smashed to pieces by the waves, just as was the hapless Lady Lovibund. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of craft have ended their days on the deadly Goodwin Sands.

from "Haunted Places of Kent" by Rupert Matthews

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The White Lady of Berry Pomeroy, Devon

The massive ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle are among the premier tourist attractions in this area of Devon. They manage to combine mighty medieval solidity with a charm and quiet atmosphere that is most endearing. They are also very haunted.

The castle was built by the family of Sir Ralph de Pomerai, a Norman knight who was given the manor of Berry by King William the Conqueror in 1067. Sir Ralph had fought on the winning side, that of William, at the Battle of Hastings. The former ownerof the manor, Alric, had fought on the losing side, that of King Harold, and been robbed of his estates in consequence. In the later 16th century the castle was remodelled by the Seymour family, who bought Berry from the Pomeroys. An elegant Tudor mansion was built within the forbidding medieval walls. After 1700, the house and castle were abandoned and both now lie in ruins.

The most famous of the many ghosts of Berry Pomeroy is the White Lady. She dates back to medieval times when the Pomeroys inhabited the fortress. It is said that the Lord Pomeroy of the time had two daughters, Lady Margaret and Lady Eleanor, both equally beautiful and both infatuated with the same dashing young knight from nearby Totnes. Unfortunately one of the girls was not as good as she was beautiful. Lady Margaret locked her sister in a dungeon, deep beneath a tower and left her to rot while she, herself, successfully wooed the young knight. When she was released, Lady Eleanor was too ill to survive long. She walked the ramparts a few times, then died.

But she did not rest. Lady Eleanor returned to Berry Pomeroy in the white wedding dress she never wore when alive. The White Lady, as she is now known, climbs the stairs in one of the towers and walks around the ramparts. She is seen several times each year by visitors or staff and never varies her routine.

from "Haunted Devon" by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Ghostly Miser of Braishfield, Hampshire

Even further out of the city, you might come across the phantom of another notoriously acquisitive local. Braishfield lies west of Winchester. Take the A3090 from Winchester towards Romsey. Leave this road at Standon and follow the lanes to Braishfield, if you know the way. It is less confusing to take the long way round. Stay on the A3090 until you are almost in Romsey, when a road to the right is signposted “Braishfield”. Follow this road for about 2 miles and you pass the sign advising you that you are entering the village – a spread-out straggling sort of a place.

If you haven’t won the National Lottery this week, nor managed to get on one of the many TV quiz shows that offer tempting prizes, you could do worse than take yourself down to Braishfield for the day. It’s not that there are any big prize game shows going on in this charming village. Nor are there any well-paid jobs on offer. But there is a ghost. And this ghost brings with her the promise of great riches. But only if you are brave enough.

A century ago, when King Edward VII sat on the throne, a very rich old woman lived in Braishfield. The scale of her wealth was legendary, as was her meanness. The locals called her “the Miser of Braishfield” and wondered why on earth she did not spend more of her money.

The old woman shuffled about the village in worn and patched old clothes. Her dresses were so old-fashioned that they dated back to when the dead Queen Victoria had been young. She never took out her carriage, although she had one, if she could walk instead. Shoe leather was cheap enough, but if she took out the carriage she might have to pay her oddjob man extra for the work.

And that was another thing. She had no live-in servants, though most people of a fraction her wealth did so. Instead she hired a local woman to come in twice a week to deal with housework. For any heavy work she had a man from the village who would come in when required.

From time to time both these staff would tell tales about the old woman and her money. Sometimes she would sneak into the house carrying a leather bag or small box which had earth and mud stuck to it. Clearly it had just been dug up. The old woman would retire into her parlour and then would come the steady chink-chunk of heavy gold coins being counted out.

Back in the early 20th century gold sovereigns were still in circulation and it was not at all unusual for people to have gold on hand. But nobody has as much gold as the Miser of Braishfield. And it was all divided up in small bags and boxes and buried.

The day came when the old miser died. A nephew came from some miles away to sell the house and contents and to arrange the funeral. But no matter how hard he searched the house nor how thoroughly he dug up the garden, he never found any gold. So he buried his miserly aunt and left.

And that was when the ghost began to walk.

On bright afternoons, dull evenings and even late at night the shuffling figure of the Miser of Braishfield was seen moving around the lanes of the village. Sometimes she was seen poking about in hedges, or thrusting her stick into hollow trees. Thinking the ghost was looking for her lost gold, the villagers tried digging where she was seen. But no gold has been found. At least, none that anyone will talk about.

It was a brilliant spring day when I came to Braishfield to look for the miser. The sun shone bright, though there was still a chill nip in the wind that blew down the lanes where the ghostly miser wanders. One passerby knew of the phantom.

“Oh her,” he chuckled when I stopped him. “Yeah, she’s around somewhere. Not that I’ve ever found any gold. But good luck. If you find the treasure you can buy me a drink. I’ll be in the pub having lunch.”

from Haunted Hampshire by Rupert Matthews

This well-researched book showcases almost 100 ghostly encounters from around Hampshire. The stories are arranged as a tour around Hampshire, guiding the reader on a journey through the New Forest, Winchester, Southampton, the edge of the Downs, the Test Valley and the hills around Overton. Here you will discover ghostly seamen haunting the King's Bastion at Portsmouth, spirits of the Roundheads galloping through Crondall and a haunted megalith at Mottistone. Each entry includes not just the story of the ghost but also eerie eyewitness accounts. Exploring everything from pubs and churchyards to castles and ports, Haunted Hampshire will appeal to anyone interested in the supernatural history of the area.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Haunted Falcon at Bletsoe

The village of Bletsoe lies off the A6, rather than on it. The village itself may be easily missed by travellers.

This was just as well back in 1745 when a foreign army came to England for the last time. This was the force of Scottish Highlanders raised by Bonnie Prince Charlie, which had defeated the British army in Scotland and was now marching down what is now the A6 towards London. While troops were hurriedly brought back from the wars in Europe to face the threat, panic ran ahead of the highlanders, who reached Derby. Even as far south as Bletsoe, villagers hurried to bury valuables to keep them out of the way of pillaging Scots and sent their womenfolk away to safety.

Standing directly on the main road north, and so in the path of the enemy, stood the Falcon Inn. This was one of the most famous and best admired coaching inns on the road north to Leicester, Derby and Scotland. The Scots never reached this far, but the Falcon played host to the military officers racing back and forth between London and the troops facing the Scots. When the army marched north, the troops camped around the inn and the innkeeper did booming business.

It may have been in these troubled times that the ostler who worked here came to have an unfortunate accident. At least, it was recorded as an accident though local gossip had it otherwise. The unfortunate lad was found dead having apparently fallen from the hayloft. Whatever the truth of his death, the boy returns to the inn to this day. He is sometimes seen in the gardens, which run down to the river, but most often appears in the pub itself. For some reason he seems to favour the rooms that are now the kitchens, where food is freshly prepared lunchtimes and evenings for the customers.

The ghost is blamed for things that go missing, which may or may not be his fault, and is generally reckoned to be one of the more active phantoms in Bedfordshire.


Haunted Places of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire by Rupert Matthews

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Phantoms of Michelham Priory, Sussex

This route in the Cuckmere Valley takes the walker around some of the most charming farmland in Sussex. The towering South Downs dominate the skyline to the south while more rolling countryside runs to the north. Most of the walk is through fields and pastureland, but there are a few woods and copses to add variety to this gentlest of walks.

The Walk

1) Park in the car park at Michelham Priory.

Michelham Priory is both one of the most charming and most haunted houses in England. As its name suggests it was founded as a religious house, in this case for the Augustinian Order. The Priory was begun in 1229 to be the home to just 13 canons. Although it expanded considerably over the following centuries, Michelham was never very large. It did, however, attract the unwelcome attentions of French invaders eager for loot and none too scrupulous about taking it from holy ground.

It was as a defensive measure that the monks diverted the River Cuckmere to flow around their priory, creating the largest moat in England. This impressive waterwork is still in existence, and is home to swans, ducks, geese and a multitude of fish. The other defensive work was the mighty gatehouse, which dwarfed the other monastic buildings and barred entry to the artificial island created by the moat. And it is the Gatehouse that is the centre of the more active haunting at the site.

On the first floor landing of the Gatehouse hidden behind the wooden panelling is a small chamber which is traditionally described as being a priest hole, a place where Roman Catholic priests were hidden in the early 17th century when Protestant England banned such men from entering the kingdom. It is here that the Grey Lady is seen. She appears dressed in a long gown of a grey or fawn colour and is usually reported as being of middle age and seeming to be sad or upset. It is believed that this is the ghost of a maid servant who fell down the stairs from the second floor and broke her neck. The accident, for there was nobody else in the building at the time, occurred in the 1730s and the ghost’s dress certainly seems to date from this period.

The Grey Lady is seen often, and is frequently accompanied by a heavy floral scent, sometimes likened to incense. But she is not the only apparition to be encountered here. Seen much less often is a ghostly girl aged about 8 or so. She is dressed in a torn or ragged dress and, like the Grey Lady, appears to be in distress of some kind. Some think that her name is Rosie, though where this information came from is unclear. Whether it is the Grey Lady or the little girl who opens the door from the landing to the Banquet Hall is unclear, but it is often found open when it had been firmly shut, and even locked.

Not only the Gatehouse has survived from medieval times, the Prior’s House is also intact and now serves as a museum of monastic life in the 14th century. There is rumoured to be a ghostly man in the building who can seem to be very angry and to resent intruders. One group which held a seance here in 2004 reported that the spirit seemed absolutely determined to get them to leave, even adopting different personas to encourage them to go. Detailed questioning at the seance produced the information that the man was the ghost of the owner of the house at a time when King Henry and Queen Catherine sat on the throne. This could mean only Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, which would make the angry ghost that of Thomas Cromwell. It was Thomas Cromwell who, as Lord Privy Seal, had come up with the legal and theological arguments that gave King Henry the powers to close down the monasteries of England and take their wealth for himself and his government. In thanks, Henry gave Michelham Priory and its estates to Cromwell in 1537. However, Cromwell later fell out with Henry over foreign policy and made the mistake of tricking the king into an alliance he did not want. In 1540 Henry had Cromwell executed. No wonder his ghost is so angry.

After Cromwell’s death the estates were broken up and sold off. The priory itself was converted into a manor with much demolition and rebuilding to make the place more suitable for farming activity. It is in the Tudor house that the next haunting takes place. In the Music Room there is a most unusual pair of ghosts, which follow a set routine. First to enter is a young man dressed in a short cape and jacket over hose of typically Tudor pattern. He runs in, turns to look behind him, then rushes on. He is followed by a young lady, also dressed in Tudor fashion. She seems rather angry and is clearly chasing the man.

What makes these ghosts so remarkable is that they enter through the ceiling of the room, descend to the floor through thin air then rush out of the door. They are following the route of a staircase that was removed some 250 years ago. Clearly, for the phantoms, the staircase is still there and its removal has had no effect at all on their movements.

The final ghost of Michelham is not, strictly, haunting the Priory. The ghost of a middle aged lady in a tweed suit and accompanied by a small terrier on a lead has been seen several times on the drive that leads to the Priory from Upper Dicker. She has also been glimpsed walking along the banks of the Cuckmere. Her clothing would seem to date her to the early 20th century, but nobody seems to know who she might be.

2) Leave the Priory and walk along the drive towards Upper Dicker. At the crossroads, turn left. Ignore the drives that give access to farms, but take the first lane on the right.