Here, a deep, clear, pool surrounded by trees, which was formerly called Shirebourne Pond, has been known since the mid nineteenth century as the Silent Pool; it is said to be bottomless and haunted, and its name implies that it is one of the many places where, supposedly, no bird ever sings. It is in fact a flooded chalk-pit. Such sites very often attract supernatural beliefs, and it is common for water-haunting ghosts to be female. A Victorian novelist named Martin Tupper, who lived at Albury Park, provided a melodramatic explanation in his novel Stephan Langton (1858); it is now impossible to tell what form the legend took before his time, if indeed it existed at all.

According to Tupper, Emma, a virtuous village maiden, used often to bathe naked in this pool. One day, she realized that a horseman was spying on her from between the trees – it was none other than King John (that stereotypical bad king in popular history and folklore). Rightly guessing that he meant to rape her, she tried to escape by moving to deeper water, but he followed, riding his horse into the pool. Before long she reached a spot where the pool deepens sharply, and with a despairing shriek she sank down. A further tragedy followed, since her brother was not far off and heard the scream; he plunged in to save her, but since he too could not swim the brother and sister drowned together, while the callous king made no move to save them. Later, the girl’s father denounced King John before his assembled retinue at Guildford Castle, producing as proof a feather from his hat, which had caught in the branches of a tree near the pond. The indignation caused by this crime contributed to the barons’ revolt, which led to the signing of Magna Carta at nearby Runnymede.

Tupper’s tale no doubt appealed to Victorian taste, since it managed to be at the same time morally uplifting, tragic, patriotic, and discreetly sexy. He also claimed, quite falsely, that it was true history, and ‘may be depended upon for historical accuracy in every detail’. It has since been repeated in virtually every guidebook to the district, and has fed back into local tradition. It is said that Emma’s ghost still haunts the spot.



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

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