There was an honest miller in Chalvington in the 1750s, ‘the only honest miller ever known’, according to M. A. Lower, writing in 1854. This man, finding success in business impossible, in a fit of despair hanged himself in his own mill. He could not be buried in the churchyard, for until 1823 it was forbidden for suicides to lie in consecrated ground; instead, coroners frequently ordered that they be buried in the roadway, usually (but not necessarily) at a crossroads. This seems to be an extension of the legal and ecclesiastical rule that persons condemned to death should not receive church burial, for suicide was a crime equivalent to murder, and the death of the ‘culprit’ was deemed equivalent to execution. As a further mark of ignominy, the bodies of suicides often had a stake driven through them, as was done in this case. Lower explains:

An oaken stake driven through his body grew into a tree, and threw a singular shrivelled branch, the only one it ever produced, across the road. It was the most singular abortion of a tree we ever saw, and had something extremely hag-like and ghostly in its aspect. The spot was of course haunted, and many a rustic received a severe shock to his nerves on passing it after nightfall. The tradition … [was] looked upon as fabulous, until about twenty-seven years ago [c.1827], when a labourer employed in digging sand near the roots of the scraggy oak discovered a human skeleton. For this part of the history we can vouch, having in our boyish days seen some of the bones.



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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