In 1848, a rich old lady named Mrs Ann Pritchard Sergison died at the age of eighty-five at her home, Cuckfield Park. She had been notorious for a bitter lawsuit in which she wrested ownership of the estate from the woman commonly thought to be her niece by proving the latter was not really her brother’s daughter but had been bought by him as a baby in a Dublin pub in order to provide himself with an heir. Mrs Sergison was also notable for her harsh treatment of her tenants, and for a vindictive temper, which led her into feuds with her neighbours and relatives, even with her own son. She was locally nicknamed ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’, and she had not been long dead when country people claimed her ghost was walking, for she was too wicked to rest in her grave. In particular, she haunted the road that passed her home; she could be seen swinging on the oak gates at the entrance to its park, causing horses to shy in terror. No one dared go that way at night. Finally, it is said, the vicar and curate of Cuckfield, together with the vicar of Balcombe, held a service of exorcism in the village church at midnight and drowned the ghost in the font. At about the same time, her son replaced the old oak gates by spiked iron ones, and the haunting stopped.

Iron is a good safeguard against malevolent spirits, and if it is in the form of a sharp object its power is all the greater, as is seen in the frequent use of knives, shears, scythes, or scissors as protection against witchcraft.



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

Related Articles

Lyme Park

According to a tradition of the mid nineteenth century, Lyme Park (near Disley) is said to be haunted by a phantom funeral which slowly approaches…


Porlock is the setting for a tale of ghost-laying reported by the Somerset folklore collector Ruth Tongue in the 1960s, the ghost being that of…


Collecting folklore in the late nineteenth century, Charlotte Burne encountered a curious tradition at Fitz, which combines horror with grotesque humour. There was once a…


In 1922, the writer Alfred Williams, describing the countryside of this area, mentioned a story of ghost-laying which provides a humorous variation on this popular…