Acton Cross

This village, like many others, had a traditional tale about a ghost and how it was laid; in 1921 Andrew Haggard, a writer who collected examples of local words and phrases, reproduced a conversation in which he heard a man telling his friend George that he remembered just how and where it happened when he was a boy. The ghost was a Mrs Hodges, the local blacksmith’s first wife, and the parson had ‘read her small’, put her in a matchbox, and thrown the matchbox into a pond in the village. His friend seemed doubtful, so he explained further:

‘Well, I were about ten and afore I starts work at Mr Cooke’s father’s in Acton it was, that Mrs Hodges dies and leaves two children, and the blacksmith he marries again, and very quick he did too – warn’t that so, George? – and her was bad to the children of the first wife. And the first wife’s sperrit took to haanting her children, not tarrifying them as you might say, but just standing at their beds. And the children they warn’t frightened neither, ’cos you see her had her clothes on [i.e. she was dressed, not in her shroud]. But her come that strong that all the place was talking on it. And they tells parson and he lays un and says – parson says
he don’t never want no such job again – fair made him sweat, it did. Copeland, yes, Copeland were parson then. And he got eleven other parsons so there was twelve on ’em, each with a lit candle, and they starts to read her small. Least they raised un first ’cos with sperrits you got to raise un afore you falls un. And her come that big and the lights went out and at last there was only one candle left, and fortunate that candle kept burning else she’d ’a bested them. And they got reading her smaller and smaller and got her real small and pushed un in a matchbox and throwed un in Amstell Pond as I was telling you, and her aren’t troubled no one since, ent that so, George?’

This tale is somewhat unusual in that the ghost’s motives for the haunting are so benign; she returns in order to comfort her children, who are being ill-treated by their step-mother. Nevertheless, she is causing such disturbance that the harsh decision to exorcize her in the customary fashion has to be taken.

Andrew Haggard points out that the parson mentioned, the Revd William Copeland, was rector from 1828 to 1854 and died in 1865, so the storyteller, Ted L., who was no more than sixtyfive in 1921, could not possibly have witnessed the event as a boy of ten. However, he might well have heard the story at that age, from people whose reliability he would never think to question, and later claimed it as his own. Haggard also notes that by the time he printed the tale, in 1972, the pond had been filled in for some years.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008