Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hauntings in July


A priory church in London, a castle in Norfolk, two battlefields - one in Somerset, one in Scotland -are the locations for ghosts this month.


Around 7 o'clock in the morning is the time to be in London's oldest parish church. At that time on each 1st July the ghost of the founder of the original monastery and hospital, built in 1123, is said to walk in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield.


Rahere, a favourite courtier (some sources say, a jester) of King Henry I, fell ill on a pilgrimage to Rome. He vowed that if he recovered he would ‘erect a hospital for the restoration of poor men.' He then saw a vision of St Bartholomew who commanded him to build a priory church as well as a hospital at Smithfield. When he died in 1145, Rahere was buried inside the church.


His tomb was repaired in the 19th century when his body was found to be well preserved with even his clothes and sandals intact. After his tomb had been sealed one of the church officers fell ill and confessed that he had stolen one of the sandals. It was never returned to the foot of the owner, and since that day Rahere has haunted the church. His shadowy, hooded figure appears from the gloom and brushes past witnesses before fading slowly into thin air.


In the mid 20th century a Reverend Sandwich, showing two ladies round the church, sighted a monk standing in the pulpit delivering a sermon to an unseen congregation. No sound could be heard; the two ladies were quite unaware of the ghostly apparition.


In May 1999, the security company informed the verger early one morning that the alarms inside the church were going off. The verger searched the building but the church was empty, He had switched off the lights and was about to leave when he heard slapping footsteps down the central aisle. When he called out the footsteps stopped for a moment before continuing along the aisle. He locked the doors and called the police. Their search found no windows or doors open; there was no sign of anyone in the building. When the security company's engineer came to check and reset the alarms he found that only the central beam that passes Rahere's tomb had been broken. Whatever, or whoever, was responsible had managed to simply appear at the centre of the church. It was then that the verger remembered that the footsteps sounded like the ‘slip-slap' of sandals.


A seemingly tragic enactment takes place on the 3rd July at the ruins of Burgh Castle in Norfolk. A body, or what appears to be a body, shrouded in a white blanket or flag is flung from the ruins onto the foreshore. The real life origin of the presumed death is not known.


I have only established one source for this story but there is more than one account of ghostly galleons seen approaching the shore overlooked by Burgh Castle.


The Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 is said to be the last battle in England. The battle site in Somerset is the scene of ghostly horsemen and troops on 5th July. Voices are said to call out to witnesses over the nearby River Cary, and horsemen gallop silently along. People have reported pockets of cold air, and seeing a white woman glide over the marsh, near where her lover was murdered by Royalists. Sounds of fighting have been heard on the anniversary of the battle.


The battle between the ‘pitchfork' rebels led by the Duke of Monmouth and the army of James II under Lord Faversham, took place on the 6th July 1685. The royalists ruthlessly slaughtered wounded rebel soldiers who survived the skirmish. Monmouth was captured two days later and executed in London. Disembodied voices are heard and the ghostly figure of Monmouth is said to re-enact his attempted escape every year.


The revolt had started in June 1685, when the Duke tried to claim the throne. The Duke mustered support from the Somerset people; they suffered terribly in the aftermath of the battle, during the trails known as the 'Bloody Assizes', presided over by the notorious hanging Judge, Judge Jeffries, who sentenced hundreds of people to death.


The events of the battle and the bloody aftermath left a deep mark upon the local people.

A local lad fighting with Monmouth's army captured after the battle was known in Somerset as an exceptional runner; his captors told him that his life would be spared if he could keep pace with a horse. Although he managed to stay beside their finest horse at full gallop, this feat did not save his life for after the race his captors reneged on their promise and he was put to the sword. His sweetheart devastated by the news of her lover's death drowned herself in the shallow waters of the levels, her ghost accompanied by the sound of a man and a horse running at full pelt is now said to haunt the levels.


From Somerset we move to Pitlochry in Perth and Kinross, and to the Pass of Killiecrankie. On 27 July 1689 this was the scene of a bloody battle between the government troops of William of Orange and Jacobite Highlanders supporters of the deposed King, James VII of Scotland (James II of England), commanded by Viscount John Graham of Claverhouse, better known as "Bonnie Dundee".

The battle site is said to be haunted, the whole scene replaying in all its gory details with young highland women picking over the corpses for valuables. Other witnesses have reported ghostly soldiers at the site. The haunting is said to be more intense on the anniversary of the battle. A dull red glow bathes the area and people have been startled by the sudden appearance of ghostly troops, marching through the ravine in the fading light of day; others have heard the distinct volley of muskets, firing in the air close-by them, and one woman looked up from a picnic to see the phantom forms of dead soldiers lying on the ground!


During the battle, the government troops dazzled by the sun watched as a screaming avalanche of tartan swept down the slopes of the gorge towards them. A government soldier named Donald Macbear, took one look at the advancing hoard and ran for his life. Reaching at the rocky shore of the River Garry, he escaped by jumping 18 feet to its opposite bank, leaving his pursuers gazing in astonishment across the gap, which is still known as "Soldiers Leap."


As if this was not enough, the area is also haunted by the drifting head of a woman murdered on the site during the seventeenth century, and a tall white spectre who tries to grab people passing along the roads; anyone the ghost touches dies within the year!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Haiti - 6 months on

Yesterday the 12th of July was exactly six months after the Haiti earthquake. So far the 100 Stories for Haiti anthology has raised about £3000 for the Red Cross.



You can listen to interviews with some of the writers and volunteers involved in podcasts at

http://www.100storiesforhaiti.org/podcast

The book may be bought direct from the publishers or as an e-book from smashwords - details may be found at http://www.100storiesforhaiti.org.

You can also donate to the British Red Cross Haiti Appeal at http://www.redcross.org.uk/

If you read or listen to the news you will know Haiti still needs our help.