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.
Myths and legends have captured the human imagination for centuries, and have become a crucial part of our collective psyche, enchanting us with tales of gods, demons, monsters and magical places where good thrives and evil dies away. Some of these legends, grand and sweeping in nature though they may be, are obviously stories, with little or no basis in reality. But other legends – such as those surrounding a certain English magistrate named Jan Tregeagle – are composed of no small degree of fact, as well as epic fiction.
Although there are many fantastic stories surrounding the magistrate Tregeagle, the truth is that he was a real person and his deeds are well-documented. He was a magistrate, who lived and worked in the early 17th century, serving as a steward for the Duchy of Cornwall. He had a fearsome reputation and was known for being brutal to the tenants in his charge. Some of the grim rumours which surrounded him included that he had murdered his wife, robbed a poor orphan of his estate, and even that he had sold his soul to the devil, making him a very dark and Faustian figure indeed.
You might imagine that having such an unsavoury reputation might cause some sort of moral epiphany, but in Tregeagle’s case this did not occur. In fact Jan took so much delight in his cruel ways that even after his death he supposedly returned to the courtroom to plague the local tenants, on one occasion even appearing in court to testify that he had indeed deceived that day’s defendant into signing away his land. Once his evidence had been given, the spirit of the wicked lawyer could not be gotten rid of. He had no wish to return to his place in Hell, so it was decided that he should be given a series of impossible tasks to keep him occupied and to prevent the hounds of hell coming to herd him back “down below”.
These tasks included empting the Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor with nothing but a limpet shell, and weaving rope from the sands of Gwenvor Cove. The rope-weaving turned out to be not as impossible as once thought, and Jan Tregeagle completed the task by pouring freezing water over the rope to bind the sand together. A collection of local priests and exorcists came to the Cove and condemned him to continue with the task, stating that this time he was forbidden to go down to the water, and to this day – legend has it – the frustrated cries of Jan Tregeagle can still be heard during the dark cold nights, when the icy winds carry his voice in from the cove as he struggles to weave the rope.
Of course this is only one version of events. There are several different interpretations, depending on where you visit, and because of this the name Jan Tregeagle is spoken of from Land’s End to Porthcurno Cove and Bodmin Moor, where his ghost supposedly roams in bitter loneliness, uttering fierce and desolate howls as he passes by. Over many years his legend has developed and grown, making him world-famous for his wicked ways and almost mythical nature. Taking into account what we know about his temperament, we can only imagine that Jan would be delighted if he knew of his notoriety.
Poltergeists are a well-documented – and rather terrifying – paranormal phenomenon, immortalized on screen in the 1982 American horror movie franchise, which was, interestingly enough, supposedly cursed. Their name comes from the German for “noisy spirit”, and they are characterized as being mischievous, sometimes even dangerous, spirits who tend to haunt people rather than locations. Just some of the activity attributed to them includes unexplained knocking, rapping and disembodied voices, objects moving, and physical attacks ranging from pinching to biting – a poltergeist has even been documented throwing someone bodily across the room, in the famous case of the Enfield haunting.
One of the most well-known poltergeist hauntings is that of Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, home at the time of the disturbances to the Reverend Samuel Wesley and his family, which included his wife Susanna and their many children. One version of events states that the trouble began one night in December 1716, when the family suddenly heard a terrible cacophony coming from the upper floor of the house. However another version recounts how a servant named Robert Brown, and an unnamed maid, heard dreadful groaning noises emanating from the dining room – but when they opened the door, there was no one there. Whatever truly happened, the noises and other strange activity went on for a number of months after that.
Most often, the Wesley family would hear a variety of unexplained knocks and bangs coming from various empty rooms inside the house, which at first they thought to be someone making mischief – a very unfunny joke. However the activity soon developed to include the sounds of human moans and footsteps and the noise of glass bottles being broken or coins emptied out onto the floor. Some people thought the disturbances were being caused by the devil – including Samuel Wesley himself – but one of the children, a girl named Emily, believed the spirit to be that of a man who had once resided in the Rectory, and she nicknamed him Old Jeffry, a moniker which stuck. From that moment on, whenever someone called the poltergeist by this name, loud bangs and rapping noises would be heard as if in response.
It seems that the poltergeist wasn’t around to stay, however, as a few months later the unexplained activity suddenly ceased, and the Wesley family remained at the Rectory undisturbed for nearly 20 more years. The poltergeist haunting had a deep effect on several members of the family however – including little John Wesley who was 13 at the time the activity began. He went on to become founder of the Methodist church and led a full and busy life, but never forgot the eerie goings-on at his childhood home. To this day, the Epworth poltergeist remains a well-known and much-discussed case, said to be the second most-documented haunting in Britain, and though we will never know what really caused it – or why the poltergeist chose to create such havoc for those few months – the story of the disturbances in the old rectory still continue to fascinate and intrigue us.
While I have always had an interest in the paranormal, until recently I had never actually witnessed any paranormal activity. I had never seen a ghost. I had never heard disembodied voices or footsteps. I had never felt the eerie cold blast which means that a ghost is touching you. I had heard many ghost stories in my time, and met people who had seen ghosts – but lacked any first-hand experience.
So, when I moved into the home where I now live, just four months ago, and began to feel strange feelings and encounter some slightly odd occurrences, at first I merely joked about the possibility of the house being haunted. Of course, I did find it rather strange that the oven clock had been changed – even though no one had touched it – and that the fire alarm mysteriously set off in the middle of the night even though there was nothing around to activate it, not even a bumbling moth. I also found it slightly unnerving when, at breakfast one morning, my daughter looked down at the floor and said ‘dog’ and made barking noises, when there was no dog anywhere in sight. But still I didn’t allow myself to believe that my home could be haunted, although deep down in my gut I think I already knew that it was.
After all, I had been feeling strange sensations whenever I sat in the lounge. It wasn’t an evil feeling, but a sensation of being watched; or having a large unseen presence hovering nearby. It began to unnerve me, and when I woke up at night to visit the bathroom I would refuse to look down the hall toward the half-open lounge door, for fear that I might see something standing there looking back at me. I tried to pretend that I wasn’t having these feelings, but they were too powerful, and they only increased as the days went by. I began to feel this presence moving into the hallway at night, and somehow knew that it went to visit the kitchen and even came near to my bedroom door.
When I went to visit my psychic friend for a healing reiki session one morning, she was silently working on me when suddenly she said, “You’re afraid aren’t you?” and I admitted that I was. I told her about my feelings and she gave me a quartz crystal to place on the sideboard on the living room. At that point I believed that the sideboard, which we had only just acquired, was the source of the haunting. It is not uncommon for a spirit to attach itself to a cherished piece of furniture and travel with it wherever it may go. I believed that was what had happened, and I wanted the sideboard ‘cleansed’ somehow, as I had bad feelings about it though I didn’t feel that the spirit had any bad intentions at all.
When I came home from my reiki session I placed the crystal on the sideboard among the ornaments and let it do its work. For several days afterwards I didn’t feel the spirit’s presence, though I knew it was still around, lying low. I felt lighter, no longer watched so much or followed around by an unseen energy. I missed it a little, but began to think that either I had been imagining it in the first place or that the crystal had removed the presence from the sideboard.
Until the night when my daughter had a night terror – and then, a few days later, another one. Perhaps because of the presence of the crystal the spirit had left the lounge and moved to her room? Perhaps he or she liked my daughter and was drawn to her and was inadvertently frightening her? Now I believed whole-heartedly that my home was haunted. This belief seemed further confirmed when, one afternoon, I sat on the floor of the lounge playing with my daughter and suddenly felt an unexplained cold blast on my face and right shoulder. There was no draught to cause the blast, and it vanished as suddenly as it had come. A few days later my daughter had another night terror, and this time was inconsolable. I ended up making up a bed in her room and as I lay there I felt the overwhelming sensation of a presence moving silently along the hall to the bedroom door and as I looked up I saw a black thing about six feet high flash by, through the narrow gap between the door and the wall.
The next morning my daughter woke early and I took her out of her cot and sat her with me on my bed on the floor, when suddenly she became distressed and pointed at something behind me. That was more unnerving…but I still didn’t feel that the spirit was evil or intending to frighten us. Nevertheless I decided to call in my psychic friend to see if she could feel anything, or even talk to the spirit.
She duly came, and within a few minutes of entering the lounge she told me that I was absolutely right – there was a presence there; it had made her feel cold and tingly and even though she checked for draughts she found none. She then began to make contact with the spirit, and found that it was a tall lady, in her fifties perhaps, who had once lived in the house. Her name, she said, was Sarah, and she had died of breast cancer. She had been a very self-sufficient woman, a businesswoman in fact, but had had no family and had been lonely. The spirit enjoyed the new family atmosphere of the home, my friend told me, and particularly loved my little daughter, who she felt protective of.
“You have nothing to fear from her,” the psychic told me. “Talk to her. She’s here to help. She showed herself because sometimes you feel lonely and that’s when she makes her presence felt the most.”
As for the sideboard, it was not haunted but my bad feelings about it had probably stemmed from the fact that the spirit didn’t like it very much! Knowing all of this greatly reassured me and lifted a weight from my mind. The next day, when the spirit fixed the lid of our kettle – which had got stuck so none of us could shift it – I smiled and thanked her. And now, when I feel her at night moving through the hallway, it sends shivers down my spine but I don’t feel afraid. I know she is merely looking out for us, roaming her old home, and probably keeping an eye on my daughter too. I hope to find out more about her, though as yet I have been able to find nothing. But at least I know her name now – and that I have nothing to fear. Unlike the evil spirits in horror movies, she is a gentle though powerful presence; and best of all, she just wants to watch over my little girl and make sure she is safe and well.