TRUE GHOST STORIES FROM SOMERSET
Sedgemoor must surely be one of England’s most poignant battle sites. Two huge trees tower, sentry like, over a none–partisan memorial stone, that commemorates the men of both sides who "Doing right as they saw it", died in the battle that was fought here in the early hours of the morning of 6th July 1685 and "lie buried in this field."
On that long ago summer morning, as the first rays of dawn rose over the blood spattered landscape, the hopes of James, Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles 11, to take the throne of England from his uncle James 11, lay crushed in the mud of Sedgemore field, along with the bodies of his dead and dying followers.
Monmouth was executed on July 15th 1685 and was soon followed by many of his loyal supporters as the infamous Judge Jeffrey’s meted out a savage retribution at the notorious "Bloody Assize."
The raw emotion of the battle, the dashed hopes and unimaginable suffering have all left their mark on the surroundings, and shades from that long ago conflict abound around the swampy field.
Local farmers speak of galloping horsemen often seen racing across the marshy expanse, or tell of eerie, disembodied voices that call to startled witnesses from across the River Carey urging them to "Come Over."
They talk of Monmouth’s shivering shade, repeating his cowardly escape from the battle when, it is said he outran his colleagues by an incredible distance.
But the most tragic wraith to haunt this tranquil and evocative spot is that of a young girl, whose lover was captured by the Royalist troops. They promised to spare his life if he could run as fast as a galloping horse. When he had succeeded in the wager, the soldiers gunned him down in cold blood as his sweetheart looked on.
In her sorrow, she drowned herself in the River Carey and her phantom periodically returns to the site, where she glides along the route of her lovers last run.
The thundering of a horses hooves often accompany her weary vigil, and the desperate panting of an invisible runner, coupled with a cold blast of air, have all been known to alarm even the most sceptical visitor who finds themselves standing on Sedgemoor field as twilight creeps across the surrounding countryside.
Glastonbury has been dubbed “the occult Capital of England” and on the high Street, stands the George and Pilgrim Hotel, built in 1475 to provide hospitality for visitors to the nearby Abbey.
Its superlative freestone fašade, with its mullioned windows hides a veritable time capsule with low beamed, narrow corridors, a winding old stone staircase, and at least two ghosts.
One is a spectral monk, who has been seen by many residents flitting about the dark corridors in the early hours of the morning when the silence is broken only by the creaking of the hotels ancient timbers as they settle.
An elegant lady sometimes follows him on his nocturnal wanderings, a look of longing admiration upon her pale, emaciated face.
A regular guest at the hotel is a German medium who has told the manageress that the two were lovers in the days of the Abbey.
But, because of his vow of celibacy, theirs was an unconsummated love, the frustration of which has left their spirits earthbound, doomed to wander the corridors and passages of the snug and atmospheric George and Pilgrim hotel.
On May 11th 2012 an article appeared on the This Is Somerset website showing a photograph that may well have caught the face of the George and Pilgrim's resident spectre on film. Here is the article.
A rich array of phantoms inhabits the 16th-century Choughs Hotel in Chard.
It is a mysterious building of solid stone, riddled with secret passageways and hidden rooms, period furnishings and dark timbers.
Set into the wall of an ancient fireplace is what appears to be an inverted tombstone, on which can be discerned a weathered inscription that looks like the name ‘Winifred’.
It is said that anybody who attempts to take a picture of this mysterious relic using flash photography is destined to fail.
The most sophisticated camera equipment has been known to malfunction and, even if the flash does go off, the resulting images are either very foggy or else do not appear on the negative at all.
Successive landlords have grown used to explaining the anomaly to prospective photographers with the warning, ‘The ghost won’t like it!’
No one is certain which ghost is responsible for the phenomenon and, since there are several to choose from, the would-be ghost seeker might be better rewarded seeking out a spectral rather than a photographic image.
A former landlady was walking along an upstairs corridor one night when she encountered the mysterious figure of a knight in armour.
His bulk was blocking the passageway, and she thought at first that he must be something to do with the carnival that was taking place in the town that day. She asked him politely if he would mind moving aside to enable her to pass and was nonplussed when he simply vanished.
The ghost of a sinister-looking old man has been seen crouched by the fireplace in the bar. Some say that this particular entity is that of Judge Jeffreys. He supposedly stayed at The Choughs in a room where his coat of arms can still be seen in bas-relief on the wall.
In the early 20th century a guest at the hotel was awoken one night by the sound of a woman’s voice, alternating between whispering and laughing.
It was accompanied by the more forceful and menacing voice of a man who appeared to be remonstrating with her. As the strange sound ceased the guest fell back asleep. But next morning he awoke to find a deep red weald across his face, as though a whip had struck him. Not surprisingly he quickly paid his bill and departed.
Ethereal figures seen drifting about other parts of the hotel, objects that move of their own accord, and doors that slam in the night, are just some of the other supernatural occurrences that give The Choughs a genuine air of antiquated mystery. Those who come here seeking the ambience of old England will not be disappointed.
This late medieval hall house was once the residence of the priest’s who served the parish church on the opposite side of the road. It has large gothic windows and a long tradition of being haunted.
The legend centres on a nun and a priest who at some unspecified date fell in love with each other and were secretly married.
The couple settled down to a furtive life of marital bliss and the girl was hidden away in a secret room known only to her spouse.
But one day the priest was called away on some parish duty and when he returned he found his lover dead in their secret hideaway.
Since then there have been several reports of strange happenings at the old house.
A ghostly monk was seen by a former tenant on a regular basis and this man also heard doors banging in the dead of night, although whether these were anything to do with the mysterious death of the nun has never been ascertained.
King John’s Hunting Lodge is a much restored early Tudor merchant’s house the name of which commemorates the time when Axbridge was a favoured base for Royal hunting parties. It is a small, timber-framed structure that occupies a corner of the market square and which gives the impression of leaning wearily against its neighbours for support. Several visitors have reported sightings of a beautiful Elizabethan lady garbed in a shimmering white dress inside the property. Nobody knows who is was, nor why she chooses to wander the old building in spirit form. Staff at the building are somewhat dubious that she does infact roam the house and dismiss her as little more than a product of over-active imaginations.
However, the other ghost that haunts the property is less easily pooh-poohed since it has been sighted a number of local residents who have been only too happy to talk of it. It is the spectral form of a tabby cat which has been seen in the vicinity of the doorway to the panelled room on the buildings first floor. Some witnesses have been honoured with a full manifestation of the phantom feline, whilst others have simple caught brief glimpses of its tail. But whenever a search is carried out in the wake of a sighting there is never any sign of the mysterious ghostly cat of King John’s Hunting Lodge.
The 16th century Plough Inn, situated in the picturesque village of Holford, was where Virginia and Leonard Woolf spent their honeymoon in 1912.
A year later, Virginia succumbed to one of her recurring bouts of mental illness and her doctor advised rest.
So the couple opted to return once more to the Plough of which Leonard later wrote in his autobiography, "The people who kept it were pure Holford folk. The food was delicious. Nothing could be better than the bread, butter, cream and eggs and bacon of the Somersetshire breakfast with which you begin your morning."
However, Virginia’s condition failed to improve and, according to her nephew Quentin Bell, "...she thought people were laughing at her; she was the cause of everyone’s troubles; she felt overwhelmed with a sense of guilt for which she should be punished ... the only course was to refuse to eat..."
Her husband, Leonard, grew increasingly concerned for her well being, noting in his diary "...bad mornings and good evenings, delusions by day and peaceful nights, bad nights and cheerful days..."
He, therefore, telegraphed their friend Ka Cox asking her to join them, believing her presence might have a calming effect on his wife.
But her arrival brought no improvement in Virginia’s condition and so the party returned to London.
The Plough Inn is still the pleasant village inn that Virginia Woolf would have known in the happier time here during her honeymoon.
It boasts an inglenook fire place and a mass of carved Tudor beams.
It is a cosy hostelry in which to while away a summer’s afternoon, or a dark winter’s night, at which time of year you might well encounter a friendly local or two who will delight in telling you in hushed tones all about the ghost.
The story goes that a Spanish traveller arrived at the inn one long ago night in the 16th century and fell into conversation with a group the locals.
His companions, noting his rich attire and full figure, became convinced that he must also be carrying a hoard of gold coins with him.
As the night wore on the traveller, somewhat the worse for drink, announced that he must go to bed. Staggering to his feet, he slurred, "goodnight,” walked unsteadily from the bar and headed up to his room via an outside stone staircase.
His drinking companions listened to the thud of his footsteps on the stairs, heard the latch of his bedroom door as it lifted, then heard the dull thud of the door as it closed behind him.
They gave him a few minutes to get settled and then stealthily snuck up the stairs, quietly opened the bedroom door and strangled the Spaniard in his bed.
They searched his belongings and they searched his room, but they could find no sign of any gold. It seems he had none on him, although one version of the story holds that the man had hidden it before he climbed into bed.
His ghost now makes periodic returns to the inn, either to mourn the ignominy of his end or else, to check that his gold remains safely hidden.
He was said to appear on the stairs that led to his room, and when they were removed, to make way for an extension, his footsteps were heard where the stairs had been.
He is also thought to be the dark, cloaked figure that has been seen in an upstairs room of the pub.