If there is a dream destination for paranormal enthusiasts it must surely be Pluckley, the picturesque historic village in Kent which is said to be home to up to 16 ghosts – the Guinness World Records put it at a round dozen but who knows for sure? The village’s haunted reputation is so powerful that every Halloween it draws crowds of amateur and professional ghost hunters, each of them eager for a glimpse of the supernatural. Unfortunately there have been hardly any sightings in the last decade and a number of the spooks have been debunked as fabrications invented by a man named Desmond Carrington for a newspaper article in the 50’s. But that doesn’t take away from the village’s ghostly legacy and be they fact, folklore or fiction, the spirits of Pluckley won’t fail to pique your interest.
It seems that almost everywhere you go in the village you will find a ghostly stomping ground. At the crossroads bridge, if you’re lucky, you may see a misty apparition smoking a pipe – the spirit of the Watercress Woman, who used to sit in that very spot, smoke and sell watercress to passers-by. One day she accidentally set herself alight, supposedly when a spark from her pipe ignited the gin she had been drinking, and she suffered an agonising end, burning to death where she sat.
Another accidental demise occurred at the old Brickworks. There is more than one version of the story, one of them being that a worker fell into a clay pit and couldn’t free himself. There he died, screaming in vain for help…but none came. To this day, legend has it, you can still hear his screams emanating from the old pit.
The historic Church of St Nicholas in the village is said to be home to not one but two ghosts – both of them female and both connected to the Dering family, who lived in the old manor house of Surrenden Dering, which has since burned to the ground. The first ghost is that of the White Lady, who supposedly haunts the inside of the church but was also seen in the manor house before it was destroyed. She was a striking young woman who married into the Dering family; when she died her grief-stricken husband was so distraught that he arranged for her to be buried in four coffins, three of them made of lead and one of oak, in a desperate attempt to preserve her body and her beauty. A man named Walter Winans once stayed up through the night to watch for her spirit; when it appeared he shot at her – a rather questionable act – and her apparition vanished into the wall where a tunnel had once connected the manor to the Church.
The other female Dering ghost is that of the Red Lady. The two spirits are often confused with each other and so parts of their stories are interchangeable, although they are not the same ghost. The Red Lady haunts the Church graveyard, supposedly searching for the grave of her stillborn child. She too was said to have been buried in magnificent style, entombed within eight coffins, a red rose lying on her body.
Although ghost stories are so often tinged with tragedy and despair, the tale of the phantom monk of Greystones is particularly sad. In life he was rumoured to have had an affair with the lady whose spirit haunts Rose Court. Perhaps unable to cope with having to hide their love, the woman poisoned herself and the monk committed suicide not long after, unable to keep living without her. Yet even in the afterlife they are still separated, haunting two different properties, doomed never to be together.
A less romantic but equally disturbing Pluckley apparition is that of the Highwayman, named Robert DuBois by the Most Haunted crew, who rode through the village trying to escape from a company of soldiers. At Fright Corner – once known as Frith corner – stood an old, hollowed out oak tree. Thinking the oak would make an excellent hiding place the Highwayman jumped off his horse and hid inside the hollow trunk, expecting his horse to gallop away and lead the soldiers on a wild goose chase. Unfortunately the horse was more faithful than expected and remained grazing by the tree, alerting the soldiers to his presence. One of them plunged his sword into the hollow and that was the end of the Highwayman; or at least, the end of his physical body.
The final Pluckley ghost that I will tell of is the Hanging Headmaster. In life his name was Henry Turff, and he was the head of Smarden School. Every Sunday he would journey to Pluckley to meet his good friend Richard Buss – who supposedly became the phantom of the Pinnocks – and the pair would discuss politics and other topics of interest. One Sunday, however, the Headmaster did not appear. His body was later found hanging from a tree. Ever since his apparition has been spotted, still hanging from the very same tree which grows in the lane leading toward the old mill.
These are not the only phantoms of the village but they are some of the most documented but if you visit the village who knows what other paranormal manifestations you might see. Pluckley is supposedly situated in an area of high geological magnetism, which is said to account for the high number of spirits seen in the area. If you’re interested in visiting the village and doing a spot of ghost hunting book yourself a place on the highly popular Pluckley Screaming Woods Ghost Hunt. They are sold out right through May but spots are still available in June and July. The fee is a mere £10 per person and tea and coffee are included in the price.