Derwent Woodlands

A village of this name once existed, together with its small church, in the area which was submerged when the Ladybower Reservoir was made in the 1940s. In the 1990s, several writers on Derbyshire lore picked up oral versions of an eerie tale about that church. This said that a new vicar, who came to the parish from the south of the county, disapproved of various ‘superstitious practices’ he found here. In particular, he was shocked when the churchwardens told him it had been the custom since time immemorial for the vicar on the last Sunday in December to preach ‘the Sermon for the Dead’ in the empty church at midnight. The wraiths of all who were fated to die in the coming year would gather there to listen. The new vicar refused, calling it witchcraft, and saying he would allow no such thing while he was the incumbent. Yet when the last Sunday came, he felt impelled to go, and climbed into the pulpit. All at once, he saw the spectral forms of some of his parishioners in the gallery – among them his own. Sure enough, he was dead within a year.

The plot of this legend is obviously akin to the stories about men who kept watch in a church porch to see wraiths (as at DORSTONE, Herefordshire), though ‘the Sermon for the Dead’ described here is an intriguing variation. Derbyshire is one of the areas where covert Catholic practices lingered long after the Reformation: a correspondent of the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1784 described how children at Findern lit bonfires on the common on All Souls’ Night, which the adults said were meant ‘to light the souls out of Purgatory’. Conceivably, the people of Derwent
Woodlands had a custom of praying annually for the dead of the parish, and expected their vicar to co-operate in this.



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