GHOST STORIES AND LEGENDS FROM HAMPSHIRE
In 1538 a toad is said to have incubated a cocks egg in the cellars of Wherwell Priory, which, when it hatched, loosed upon the district a fearful, winged creature that the nuns instantly recognised as a cockatrice.
This legendary beast was believed throughout the Middle Ages to have the head of a cockerel, the wings of a fowl and the tale of a dragon, that ended in a ferocious hook.
Such was the power of its gaze that it could kill people simply by looking at them or, as Chaucer wrote "it sleeth folk by the venim of his sighte."
True to its dreadful reputation, the serpent was soon killing people all over the district and, in desperation the powers that be offered a reward of four acres of land to anyone that could slay the beast.
Many tried but all died in the attempt. But then a servant by the name of Green had a flash of inspiration.
He lowered a sheet of burnished metal into the lair of the cockatrice.
Seeing its own reflection appear before it, the creature lashed out in an attempt to kill the intruder and continued to do so for several days before falling exhausted to the ground.
Green promptly leapt into its den and killed it with a spear.
The deed is commemorated at several locations around the area.
In nearby Harwewood forest there is a plot of land known as "Green Acres" -supposedly named for its’ being the reward given to the man who rid the district of its dreadful scourge.
Whilst in Andover Museum can be seen the cockatrice weather vane that once sat atop the church of St Peter and the Holy Cross in Wherwell, and which remembers the hideous creature that once rampaged about the district spreading fear and death in it chilling wake.
Dame Alice’s last stand
On 2 September 1685, Dame Alice Lisle stepped through an upstairs window of this ancient hostelry, placed her old and weary head upon a wooden block, and was beheaded.
She was sentenced to death at the infamous Bloody Assizes by the notorious ‘hanging Judge Jeffreys’, her crime to have given shelter to two rebels fleeing the bloody aftermath of the Monmouth uprising.
Jeffrys wanted her dragged on a hurdle through the streets of Winchester, and then burnt at the stake.
But King James II, fearful of the reaction of the people of Hampshire, commuted her sentence to a simple beheading.
And so her last night was spent in an upper room of The Eclipse, repose made impossible by the sounds of the scaffold being erected, hard against its walls.
Once the executioner had finished his bloody business, her body was conveyed to its final resting place in Ellingham churchyard.
The mournful cortege was followed by hundreds of ordinary men and women, walking silently in disapproval at her unjust fate.
Since then, Dame Alice Lisle has returned time and again to the timbered tavern where she spent that last troubled night.
Her sudden appearance has startled staff and customers alike as, clothed in a grey woollen dress, she watches them silently from the dark recesses.
Her sad and solemn spectre is now regarded as nothing less than the oldest and most distinguished resident of this atmospheric establishment.
Molly the spectral cleaner
With an impressive Georgian facade that is a famous feature on Southampton’s High Street; and a roll call of eminent former guests – including Edward Gibbon (author of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and who visited in 1762), William Makepeace Thackeray (who wrote some of his novel Pendennis here in 1850), and Jane Austen (who attended a ball and was asked to dance by a ‘black-eyed, French officer in regimentals’) – The Dolphin Hotel can boast a rich and varied history.
A ghost of regular though impeccable habits whose name is – or was – Molly, also haunts it.
She was, so it is said, a cleaner who died under mysterious circumstances and now chooses to drift around the premises at around 2am, floating just above the ground and leaving a cold chill behind her.
The Green Lady And The Transparent Man
This 300-year-old coaching inn is the haunt of a number of earthbound spirits.
Chief amongst them is the tall Green Lady whose phantom form has been seen repeatedly, gliding along an upstairs corridor in the dead of night. Whether she is also responsible for the mysterious footsteps heard in other parts of the old building is unknown.
A second female revenant, described as being less distinct, has also been seen.
A male companion, in whose ethereal company she will drift silently past bemused bystanders, sometimes joins her. One witness described them as being ‘not quite white, but semi-transparent’, and went on to explain how their fleeting appearance had left him feeling ‘as if a couple of people had drifted through me’.
No one has ever discovered their identities nor, for that matter, uncovered what long-ago event, tragic or otherwise, lies behind their spectral ramblings.