A house called ‘Woodfield’ in Weathercock Lane must be one of the few houses in Britain to be the subject of a rates appeal on the grounds of ghosts.
In his A–Z of British Ghosts (1971), Peter Underwood reports being invited by the Borough Council to take part in investigations to see if there was any substance to the claim.
He says there was a persistent local legend that, 200 years previously, a former house on the site had been lived in by a girl and her father. The girl’s secret lover would visit the house whenever her father was away, and one night on his coming back unexpectedly they hid in a large cupboard. Unbeknownst to them, he had spied them through a window, and in fury blocked the cupboard door with a heavy table and other furniture, and left them to die. Some time later, the highwayman Dick Turpin broke into the house and accidentally discovered the bodies. Waking up the old man and hearing the story, he blackmailed him into allowing him to use the house as a hideout in return for keeping the murders quiet. The lovers’ bodies were then buried under the cellar floor.
The owner of Woodfield, Mr B. Key, told Underwood that there was evidence to suggest that Dick Turpin had indeed visited the former house, said by some to have been an inn. In Weathercock Lane, people still heard the sound of a galloping horse, believed to be Turpin’s mare, the famous Black Bess. One man told Underwood that he had seen a phantom horseman dismount and hastily enter the grounds, apparently passing through a thick hedge. Underwood established that on that spot, many years before, there had been an entrance. The ghosts of the doomed lovers, especially the girl, were also said to have been seen about the garden and in the house.
Mr Key appealed twice against his rates assessment, arguing that no one would rent the house because it was haunted. In addition to the phantom horseman and the ghostly lovers, he said that a white lady had been seen at the top of an embankment. Although the Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Appeal Committee dismissed his argument as ‘without point or substance’, the affair made a sufficient stir for the BBC to announce the failure of his appeal on the News.
Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson –
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008