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Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Ghost Story for Halloween

The damp Autumn evenings are drawing in and Halloween is just around the corner, so what could be more appropriate for my latest post than a seasonal ghost story?  The following creepy little tale was told to me many years ago by my old friend Christopher Gask. Readers of this blog will no doubt recall that Chris and I shared our own creepy little adventure documented in an earlier post entitled "Phantom in the Fog" However, as it was Chris who told me the following story, I feel it is best he should tell it here in his own words.

The Interrupted Journey

A Ghost story for Halloween
By Christopher Gask 

" The following story was told to me some thirty years ago by my brother, who in turn heard it from my father and he was told it by the mother of the young man it concerns. In those days my father worked as a travelling salesman covering almost the entire length and breadth of Lincolnshire, which is how he came to hear the tale. Sadly he has since passed away and I never got to ask him which Lincolnshire village the following events took place in. Apart from this and the names in the story being my own invention, it is just as it was recounted to me...

Billy Gray was about as imaginative as a cheap package holiday. Compared with him dishwater was clear and sparkling. Everyone in the small Lincolnshire village knew what to expect from Billy; The lads reputation preceded him. "Did you see that film last night Billy? Where an alien burst out of that blokes chest!" Was typical of the comments some of his peers in the playground would make to him. "Burst out of his chest? That`s ridiculous, grow up really! "were equally typical of his response.

Billy lived with his mother in a small house just outside the village. It was a crisp autumnal day, the 31st October, to be exact, Halloween and Billy was cycling to a nearby town where he planned to visit a friend. Nothing more was heard about the boy until later that evening when a local girl in the village spoke to Billy who claimed he was on his way home, she reported nothing untoward or strange about him. The next few hours following this are shrouded in mystery and we only have Billy`s terrifying account to go by. But more of that later.
At around midnight Billy`s sleeping mother was rudely awakened by a furious crashing at the front door. The terrified woman threw on a night dress and nervously descended the stairs. "Who is it?" She cried from halfway down. The response was a blood-curdling anguished cry of "Let me in, please God let me in!" Mrs Gray was just restrained from fleeing out the back door by recognition of Billy`s strangled cries. She threw open the door just as it was about to come off its hinges to admit a nightmarish figure just recognisable as her son. His clothes dirty and dishevelled, his hair wild, face ashen and his eyes starting from his head like a caricature of a man in amazement. " Don`t let her get me mum, for heavens sake lock the door!" His mother hastily complied. "Who is it? What happened ? Calm down Billy." But the boys hysteria was not to be placated. "She`s gonna get me, you must help me." The boys ravings were frightening Mrs Gray,in his hysterical state she feared what he was capable of. She managed to sneak to an upstairs phone and call the police, but by the time they arrived the youth was little short of a raving maniac and they were forced to call for an ambulance. It finally took eight brawny arms to get the crazed teenager into the vehicle and restrain him. Finally the ambulance sped off, siren wailing for the nearest hospital.

A few miles into the journey Billy suddenly became even more energised and redoubled his efforts to break free. "She`s here!" he screamed pointing at the back window of the ambulance though he could not possibly have seen through the tinted glass where they were. The ambulance driver who could see noticed that they were passing a lonely road flanked by a churchyard on one side, a dike on the other and overhanging trees on both.

Finally they got their unhinged captive to the hospital where help was on hand and the boy was sedated and pacified. It took a few days for him to return to anything like his old self and a few more before he could be persuaded to impart the tale of what had transformed him from Jekyll to Hyde.

The fateful evening had been preceded by an uneventful day. After leaving his friends he had cycled back to the village where he called at a shop to buy some chocolate, munching contentedly he peddled on until he met a local girl he knew, he stopped and they chatted briefly then he pushed on for home.

The crisp October evening was dark and chill as Billy left behind the few village shops and found himself on a secluded road which he had always disliked without knowing why, the imaginative would have known why. This particular stretch of road was a dark and dismal place, it passed an old churchyard on one side and a forbidding dike on the other, and was flanked by ancient trees which overhung the road and entwined with each other forming an eerie struggle, as if the trees had decided that the road wasn`t big enough for all of them, and they were battling for supremacy.

Of course such a simile would not have occurred to the unimaginative Billy, he only knew that it made the road darker and even he often felt a chill as he rode through and was always glad to emerge on the other side.

Tonight though he was to find himself somewhat delayed.

As he rode on, the only sound that of the bike wheels crunching on the crisp autumnal carpet he discerned something up ahead, an ill defined shape to his left. Billy peered into the grimy darkness. His bike lights with its fading batteries could scarcely pierce the ink-black darkness, but still the figure stood out with faint luminosity, gaining tangibility with every turn of the bike wheels. What the Hell was it? Billy knew this road blindfolded and had never encountered anything like this before. And now wasn`t it moving, coming forward to meet him? Billy was experiencing feelings he had been a stranger to since infancy, maybe not even then. He almost laughed out loud as he discerned a figure in a dress. It was a woman waving an arm to flag him down. Perhaps her car had broken down further up the road, or she had lost her way seeking directions. He applied his breaks and came to a halt as he drew alongside her

 The woman stepped from the side of the road into a small circle of light which Billy`s failing lamp afforded. The first thing that he noticed was the unfortunate woman had only one arm. And then his whole world stopped making sense. For besides the arm the woman also appeared to be missing her head.

The bike he had just dismounted clattered to the floor, he could only stare stupefied as the grisly apparition made straight for him.
Seizing him with her only arm she dragged him with preternatural strength off the road and through a nearby gate. Somehow on the periphery of this nightmare, he was aware that they were in the churchyard. The creature dragged the mute Billy, who was too dumbstruck to resist, into a neglected corner of the churchyard and the unlikely duo stopped abruptly at a certain grave.

As the hapless boy watched the surface of the grave began to move, the earth was pushed aside from within by an arm followed by a female head, both caked in mud from what should have been their final resting place. The eyes blinked then opened wide and focused on their unwilling visitor; the mouth began to open and close as if the thing was trying to regain the power of speech, rusty with years of disuse. At that moment Billy snapped out of his trance and with a strength lent to him by sheer terror. he Broke free and fled like a fox pursed by hounds.

The next few hours were not recalled to Billy. He must have wandered aimlessly around the lonely lanes and fields, his reason almost completely destroyed before he found himself by sheer chance outside his home. This restored him to an awareness of who he was and what had happened to him.

Billy concluded his tale to deathly silence from the awe-hushed audience assembled around his bed. It was a few minutes before anyone spoke. A police Sergeant from among the group turned to one of his constables. "Er...could I talk to you outside for a moment." Once out of ear shot the sergeant told his man. " It seems the lad has suffered some kind of nervous breakdown, but I think a couple of you should check that churchyard if only to help clear up this mystery."

Two policemen were dully dispatched to the scene of Billy`s ordeal. Their first find was Billy`s bike half buried in autumn leaves at the side of the road. The two men, who expected their research to yield this bicycle and nothing more entered the graveyard and made their way over to the long neglected corner. They didn't need to look long for the grave  that Billy had described. Switching on a torch to combat the failing daylight, both men gave a sharp intake of breath as the beam of light disclosed a scene of disarray. A crisscross of footprints, evidently pointed to the scene of a violent struggle, but the grave itself was what made each man feel glad that he was not alone.

The earth had clearly been disturbed, broken and pushed aside as though someone had tried to get in...or out!

Acting on a hunch the more astute of the two policemen, took note of the name on the grave, it read:

Helen Barton, 1933-1963. Not dead only resting

Those words would later echo prophetically in the constables mind, for investigation unearthed a report on a certain Helen Barton, who in 1963, was driving past the churchyard when she lost control of her car when swerving to avoid a cyclist and crashed into a tree on the side of the road. Not only was she dead but the state of the corpse was said to be horrific! Mrs Bartons left arm was severed at the shoulder, but most terrible of all the unfortunate woman had been decapitated.

And the date of the accident? Yes you guessed it, 31 October, 1963.

"Mum just promise me they will burn that bloody church and graveyard down to the ground" Billy had begged after he had recounted his story, but of course they didn`t.

As I said earlier this tale was passed onto me and I haven't been able to specify the exact location. But if you do find yourself on a lonely Lincolnshire road this Halloween, with a churchyard on one side and overhanging trees on both then beware. And if a dimly discernible figure on the side of the road appears to be flagging you down, you had best ignore it and get out of there fast.

Oh, and whatever you do...Don`t loose your head!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Phantom Hitch-Hikers


Since the advent of the motorcar that most enduring of modern myths the phantom hitch-hiker, has been reported all over the world. A typical scenario has the driver of a vehicle stop by the road-side to pick up what appears to be at first a flesh and blood human being, only to have them vanish into thin air before journeys end. Later investigations reveal that a person answering the description given by the driver was killed in an accident on the same stretch of road years earlier. To my knowledge there are two examples of  phantom hitch-hikers  in the county. One occurred as recently as 2001, when a taxi driver reported picking up a fair in a lay by near Keadby Bridge Scunthorpe. His passenger, a young girl asked to be dropped off near the football ground but when he reached their destination the girl had vanished.

Above: Keadby Bridge Scunthorpe
A better known example, is  the haunting connected to a former world war two air force base near the village of Metheringham.
Here, a young woman dressed in the war time uniform of a WAAF (Woman`s Auxiliary Air Force) has been known to flag down unwitting motorists at around 9.30 in the evening on the public road now running through the old base. Witness say a strong smell of lavender fills the air as the woman tells the driver that her fiancee has been injured in a motorcycle accident further up the road and could they possibly help? At this point the horrified onlooker notices the woman’s eyes start to fade away as if receding into their sockets and the smell of lavender is replaced by the stench of decay as the apparition vanishes.

The ghost is said to be that of a young woman tragically killed in an accident whilst riding pillion on her fiance's motorbike sometime during World War Two. It seems the trauma of the accident is so great that the unfortunate woman is unable to accept her death and is still concerned about her fiancee lying hurt in the road.

An urban myth perhaps?...Possibly. Or maybe you yourself will one day need to drive past the old air force base near Metheringham and perhaps you will experience something to prove the contrary.

Above: Haunt of the phantom hitch-hiker. The run way at RAF Metheringham now used as a minor access road across the fens.




Monday, 21 April 2014

Murdered By Poachers

 In the early 19th century rural unemployment, poverty and subsequent starvation forced many villagers to poach the plentiful game stocks on local estates, but those caught were subject to the severity of laws that favoured the affluent landowners over the suppressed peasantry. Some were given long prison sentences with hard labour whilst others were transported to the colonies. Faced with such draconian measures, those who persisted in poaching were more likely to shoot it out with gamekeepers rather than submit to capture.

A gravestone in the church yard of St. Margaret's in the picturesque hamlet of Well bares an epitaph that serves as a grim reminder of these times. It reads:

"Sacred to the memory of William Dadly, late Gamekeeper at Well. The faithful and devoted servant of Robert Adam Christopher, Esq. who was hurried to his redeemers presence by the hand of a murderer. In the 32nd year of his age, on the 10th day of January. In the year of our Lord 1839."
                                  The grave of William Dadly
On the day of his murder gamekeeper William Dadly and his wife of just five days were holding a belated wedding party for friends at their new home, Kidd`s Cottage, known to day as Ulceby Lodge, situated on the main road to Alford opposite Well Vale gate. At around eight o` clock in the evening the proceedings were brusquely interrupted by the sound of gun fire in the nearby vale. Despite pleas from his wife and guests not to apprehend the poachers, William and a group of friends set out for the woods.

They found the poachers by following their foot prints in the snow and as William approached them one of the poachers shouted "Stand back or I`ll shoot." William, dressed in his wedding cloths, his white shirt front clearly a visible target refused to heed the warning and he was shot in the chest at point blank range. As William fell dead to the ground, the poachers fired a warning shot  threatening more of the same to any man who tried to stop them and they made good their escape.

Despite a substantial reward being offered, nobody was ever apprehended for the crime. However, local folklore has it that many years later a man named Stephen Cowley from the nearby village of Aby made a death bed confession to his involvement in the murder of William Dadley. 

The memorial stone marking the spot where William Dadley was murdered 
Kidd`s Cottage, Now known as Ulceby Lodge,  the former home of murdered game keeper William Dadley . 
A poacher who was not so lucky in evading the law was William Clark, the last man to be publicly hanged at Lincoln Castle in 1877.
One night Clark and three other men went poaching for pheasant in the woods at Norton Disney. They were caught by the local gamekeeper and in their struggle to evade capture Clark shot the gamekeeper in the leg and the gang made good their escape. However, the gamekeeper died from his wounds and Clark was later arrested by police in Lowestoft and charged with murder.
He was sentenced to death at Lincoln Assizes on 8th March and as  already mentioned, he was the last person to be publicly hanged at Lincoln Castle on the 26th March 1877.
This is not quite the end of the tale however. Clark was known to  frequent the Strugglers Inn pub, situated at the west bank of Lincoln Castle. After he was hanged, his faithful old Lurcher  dog took to sitting outside the pub waiting for his master who would never return.
The pub landlord took pity on the poor creature by giving it a home and when it died, he had it stuffed and mounted where it was kept behind the bar for many years.

A former landlord of the Strugglers Inn once told me that he and customers experienced poltergeist activity centred around the bar. Objects mysteriously vanished and beer glasses flew off the bar as if thrown by an invisible hand.  However, it is the ghost of William Clark`s dog that is more often heard, whining and scratching at the doors late at night as if searching in vain for his long dead master."

Above: The Strugglers Inn, situated at the west bank of Lincoln Castle. In the days of public hangings, crowds gathered here to witness the executions
The pub sign board serves as a grim reminder of those times
The pub ghost: The stuffed dog belonging to William Clark now on display at Lincoln Castle  Museum, ironically just a stones throw away from Lucy Tower, where Clark and others who met the same fate are buried. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The White Dog of Eresby and Other White Dog Apparitions

Phantom black dog`s are ubiquitous in the folklore of the British Isles. They are friendly in some places but more often they are regarded as omens of death. Black dog`s differ from their earthly canine counterparts in terms of their size. Witnesses often describe them as being the size of a calf, with huge red saucer-sized eyes. Although the term "black dog" traditionally referees to ghostly black canines, not all of these phantom hounds are invariably black. For example a ghostly  white dog of gigantic size  purportedly haunts the neighbourhood of Haugham and Cawthorpe near Louth. The dog is said to run from Manor Farm in Burwell , and  vanish into a copse leading to Burwell woods. The same phantom is also said to haunt the old vicarage at Cawthorpe where it has been heard whining and pattering from room to room. Local author Peter Gregory, described one man`s terrifying encounter with the ghostly white hound as he walked the lanes between the villages of Cawthorpe and Haughham:



 "It was near dusk and in the gathering gloom, he suddenly notices something white in the woods near the roadside. Thinking it was a stray cow, or other farm animal, he ignored it and carried on walking.  A few minutes later he saw the same white shape again, only this time it was closer to the road side and keeping pace with him. Now a little frightened, he hurried on up the hill towards Haugham. He was almost clear of the trees when, without warning, the white shape sprang from the woods towards him. The sight which met his eyes was truly hideous. Standing before him was a huge white hound with blood red eyes and slavering jaws. He was so terrified, the young man collapsed on the ground, convinced the demon beast would kill him. But the hound remained still and staring. Then let out a blood-chilling howl, it leapt over the terrified man and disappeared into the woods." 

Above: Me at Manor Farm, Burwell. One of the haunts of the phantom white dog

The following little known tale  "The Legend of the Idiot Girl and the White Dog of Eresby," recorded by an unknown author in the 1870`s tells how a phantom white dog haunting a road between East Keal and Spilsby was said to have been the unquiet spirit of  a man driven insane by religious persecution:

"In the days of Queen Mary Tudor, there was, according to popular tradition much cruel, religious persecution in the Spilsby district: Lady Catherine Willoughby, owner of Eresby Hall, had married Richard Bertie 1553, and they, favouring the reformers, went abroad for safety; during that time a son was born to them, and they named him peregrine. Commemorating this exile  Eresby Hall was accidentally burnt down, in 1769; the stables becoming a farm house; the avenue of trees has been a favourite promenade for the people of Spilsby, and the school children used annually to be feasted there, when dancing on the green was enjoyed.

The story relates that about 1571 Colonel Butler who held a commission in the royal army, went to stay with his friend Mr Duford of Hundlesby Grange; one day he was riding back from Boston to W. Keal, and passing near Bollingbroke saw on an elevation of sandy rocks a party of white-robed young women, singing a hymn in chords of great melody and sweetness, then they disappeared behind some trees; he went on into E.Keal where the funeral of a popular poor old man was taking place, he learnt from a friend of the deceased that he had witnessed Kit`s rebellion of 1549 at Norwich, and seen the consequent executions, then on returning he had found that woman had been murdered, and cottages burnt. This informant pointed out a handsome house where dwelt Mr. Packman who had risen to fortune, but who was given to constant swearing and blasphemies, so that people avoided his residence. Just after this man had left him, Colonel Butler perceived a large white dog moving in front of him, and keeping pace with him, however much he changed it; then coming to a marshy dell, the dog vanished, and he heard the shrill voice of a maniacal woman seated on a rock; she was holding a knife, her grey clothing was stained with blood, and at her feet lay a bleeding lamb; the woman, exclaiming widely, rose up, and trampled the lamb under her feet, then she gave a piercing cry, and rushed away, while oaths and blashshemies were heard by him; he hastened back to the Grange, and learnt there from Mr.Dunford, that the woman`s mother had been driven mad by the religious cruelties, the  daughter inheriting that madness; also that a son, when dying had taken the form of the White Dog the colonel had seen, and that this apparition used from time to time to appear to people in the 19th century. Mr Baker, a surgeon of Spilsby, returning from Toynton Feast with a lady behind him riding en croup both saw the White Dog, and she nearly fell off the pillion through fear. It used to haunt the site of the demented woman`s residence, and Eresby Walk; also frequently at the entrance to a subterranean passage to Eresby Hall, nearly choked up."

Above: The Historic Hundlesby Grange where colonel Butler was told of the phantom White Dog of Eresby

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tales From the Gibbet

In an earlier post I related the grisly tale of the wife and child murderer John Keal, (see the gibbeting of John Keal) who was hanged in 1731 and then hung up to rot in gibbet irons by the roadside, as a warning to others tempted by a life of crime. Gibbeting was a common form of punishment which existed in one form or another in Britain up until 1832. Here are more examples of this macabre form of punishment.
A tombstone in Surfleet churchyard bears the following inscription: "This stone is erected in memory of Mr Samuel Stockton, late of Ashby, in the parish of Leigh, in the county of Lancaster, who was most barbarously murdered near this place on the 8th day of December, 1768, for which murder one Philip Hooton was tried and condemned at Lincoln Assizes, and afterwards executed and hung in chains in the very place where the horrid deed was committed".
Philip Hooton, a local confidence trickster, had convinced wealthy trader Samuel Stockton, to buy corn in Lincolnshire and then sell it at a profit in Stockton`s native Lancashire. While returning from the corn markets, presumably with money, Stockton was lured by Hooton along a secluded path along the banks of the river Welland near Surfleet reservoir, and there brutally murdered him.

Hooton maintained his innocence throughout the trial but he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged and gibbeted at the scene of the murder in the March of 1769. In the early 1930`s the chains from Hooton`s gibbet were sold in Boston market and the "scolds bridal" a head piece devised for for nagging women that served as head irons, was donated to Boston`s Guildhall Museum  by J A Parkinson in 1931.

Although historical evidence is lacking there are stories of prisoners being gibbeted alive. For example in Wetheral, Cumberland, John Whitfield was said to have been hanged alive in a gibbet for many days until he was mercifully shot dead by a passing coachman. At Castle Cary in Somerset, Jack White, having committed fratricide, was said to have been left to starve in a gibbet cage at a crossroads three miles from the town and that his life was prolonged by a stranger who fed him candles.
In Lincolnshire, a similar story is connected to Gibbet Nook, situated between Tattershall and Coningsby. The story goes that while a man was being starved to death on a gibbet, a baker who was passing gave him a loaf of bread to eat. This prolonged the felon`s life and as a punishment, the baker was also gibbeted alive next to the man.
Gibbets encouraged grisly superstitions, as illustrated by the following rhyme:
 "Now mount who list, and close by the wrist`, sever me quickly the dead man`s fist! Now climb who dare, where he swings in the air, and pluck me five locks of the dead man`s hair".
This describes how the body parts of gibbeted criminals where once used in medicines, as it was believed that the moss growing on the corpse of a hanged man, particularly the skull, cured many ailments. When gibbeting was abolished in 1835, a version of this macabre practise was still in evidence as the following from "Fenland Notes & Quiries" illustrates:
"The Dead Man`s Hand- in Ellis enlarged edition of brands`Popular Antiquities iii, 276, is an instance of the remedy of stroking a wen (warts or other diseased body parts) with the hand of a dead man. From the context it would appear that the dead man ought, for the cure to be effectual, to have been executed for some crime. Nowadays, it seems this condition is not held to be essential.`(Vol 1V 1898-1900)
An example of the above occurred in 1830 when a multitude gathered at Lincoln to witness the execution of three men condemned to death at the late assizes. Two women rushed forward to "rub the dead men`s hands over some wens and one brought a sick child for the same purpose.
The hand of a gibbeted felon was sometimes used by criminals for the dark purpose of creating a charm known as "The Hand of Glory" The hand was first cut from the body pickled in salts, then dried. A candle made from the fat of the hanged man was then placed in the hand which was then brought into a house that was to be burgled.  As long as the candle burned, the occupants remained fast asleep thus enabling the felons to rob the house undisturbed.
Above: A " Hand of Glory" donated to Whitby Museum in 1933
Perhaps the best known gibbet site in the county belongs to that of wife murderer Thomas Otter, the last man to be gibbeted in Lincolnshire at Drinsey Nook near Saxilby on March 14th, 1806. While working in Lincoln, Thomas Otter, an itinerant labourer from Nottinghamshire  formed a relationship with local girl Mary Kirkham who soon discovered she was pregnant by him. In accordance with  the custom of the day, the magistrates gave Tom a simple choice. Marry the girl or go to prison!  He chose the former however, what the magistrates and his intended did not know was that Thomas already had a wife and child in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, so on November 3 1806, the couple were married at Hykham church.  After the ceremony, the newly weds  were seen walking along the turnpike towards Saxilby...It was the last time Mary was to be seen alive.
Her battered body was discovered some time later by the side of what is now the B1190 Doddington Road with the murder weapon, a large hedge stake lying on the ground next to her. Otter was arrested in Lincoln and on March 12 1806, he was found  guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged and his body gibbeted at the murder scene. After his execution, a great multitude gathered to watch otter`s body hung to the gibbet post. Over the years it became a grisly tourist attraction, that gained more notoriety when blue tits built a nest in the lower rotting jaw bone of the corpse, and raised a family of chicks in the dead man`s mouth.  The grisly spectacle inspired the following rhyme:
"Ten tongues within one head. Nine living and one dead One flew out to fetch some bread to feed the living within the dead" 
The gibbet stood for a total of forty four years until the post supporting the cage was blown down in a storm in the spring of 1850. It is hardly surprising that over the years all manor of ghostly tales grew up around the site as contemporary author Thomas Miller recounts in his book, "Rural Sketches":
"I remember well, when a boy, having to pass the gibbet post at Saxilby one stormy night, when the wild broken sky, with its masses of gloomy and billowy clouds, through which the watery moon now and then gleamed, together with the roaring of the trees, the hooting of an owl, and the whistling and creaking of the gibbet-irons as they rattled to and fro in the blast, caused me to look sharply round, and hurry on the trusty old pony, lest Tom Otter should spring back from the thicket, with the murderous hedge stake in his hand."

An unknown author wrote the following:

" Last spring I  caught  a  glimpse of the gibbet-post and irons, while passing the end of the lane; nor could I forget the sensation which the sight of it awakened in me when a boy, when I stood gazing upon the mouldering bones and the rusted irons, or heard them whistling in the wind at night, as I passed the long gloomy fir-trees"
Thomas Otter`s real name was Thomas Temporell or Temple. The word Otter is derived from the old Norse "Hottr" or "Odin" and was often used to describe a hooded man. I can only speculate that the man in this case was Thomas and the hood was the head irons of the gibbet which can still be seen today at Doddington Hall near Lincoln.

Above: The site of the gibbet, the present B1190 Doddington Road, which is still, known locally as Tom Otters Lane 

Above: The head irons from Tom Otter`s gibbet now on display at Doddington Hall