A common feature in twentieth-century folklore is the phantom hitchhiker, victim of a tragic road accident, and so is the ghost which horrifies a driver by apparently throwing itself under his wheels. Both can be found in the series of stories linked to Blue Bell Hill, a steep stretch of road between Maidstone and Chatham, which has been much discussed in the local and national press, on TV, and on the Internet.
The first printed reference is an article in The (Maidstone) Gazette of 10 September 1968, based on research by Tom Harber, a local man interested in the paranormal; the apparition of an unknown girl is said to have repeatedly hitched a lift by the Lower Bell pub at the foot of the hill to go into the centre of Maidstone, where she vanished from the still-moving car. At this stage, Harber told the reporter he had failed to find any first-hand witnesses, though he had gathered about thirty second-hand accounts. Several years later, however, he assured the researcher Michael Goss that he had interviewed twelve people who claimed they themselves had given the ghost a lift, though he did not reveal their identities. This always occurred around 11 p.m., and during the ride the girl would talk excitedly about her forthcoming wedding, due next day. One informant said this had happened to him in 1966; the girl mentioned her home address in Maidstone, and when he went there to check up, alarmed at her disappearance, he learned that she had been killed in a road accident exactly one year before. In some cases, however, the girl stopped a car going the other way, towards Chatham, and spoke of having just been in an accident. None of these witnesses came forward publicly, though the press still showed sporadic interest in the affair.
At midnight on 13 July 1974, a Mr Maurice Goodenough came into Rochester police station to report a most alarming incident. While driving up Blue Bell Hill, his car seemed to strike a little girl of about ten who appeared suddenly in the middle of the road; he halted, carried her to the verge, covered her with a rug, and drove off to fetch help. The police accompanied him back to the scene, but the child had vanished (though the rug was still there); there were no traces of blood either on the road or on the car. Later, a police spokesman told journalists the incident was the latest in a series of strange events on Blue Bell Hill, and described some reported encounters with the hitchhiking ghost. Despite the differences in the physical appearance and behaviour between the child ghost and the hitchhiking ghost, local tradition usually regards them as identical; it is now generally said that the girl of Blue Bell Hill may either hitch a lift or deliberately step into the road and let herself be run over.
These apparitions are supposedly the consequence of a crash on 19 November 1965, when three out of four young women travelling in the same car were killed as it skidded on Blue Bell Hill; one was due to be married next day, while another was to be bridesmaid. Rather surprisingly, it is the bridesmaid, not the bride, who is usually said to be the ghost.
The story is now well established in Kent lore, being periodically reinforced by further sightings; in the course of November 1992, for instance, the local paper Kent Today reported several incidents where motorists had recently thought they had run over a young woman who appeared out of nowhere. A teenage driver described the experience:
She ran in front of the car. She stopped and looked at me. There was no expression on her face. Then I hit her, and it was as if the ground moved apart and she went under the car. I thought I had killed her, because it was not as if she was see-through or anything. She was solid – as real as you are.
Just as in 1974, when the horrified drivers alerted the police, there was no corpse to be seen, and no material trace of any impact.
Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson –
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008