Hampstead Marshall

Here, the park surrounding the family seat of the Earls of Craven is the setting for a tradition about a death omen. How old this tradition may be is not known, but it was certainly current in 1965. On a dark and stormy night in January of that year, Mr Robert Graham, service manager of a garage in Newbury, was driving back one of the earl’s cars on which his garage had been working. The road through the park was full of potholes and wound through dense woodlands, making it even more difficult to see, so he drove slowly and with great care.

After a few minutes he became aware of thudding hooves, causing him to wonder who would choose to be out riding on such a night. Into sight came a horse, ridden at speed, with the rider, dressed in a cloak, bent low down on its neck. The horse veered straight in front of Mr Graham, who braked to avoid a collision. Upon arrival at the house, he was greeted by the chauffeur, Mr Mullins. Mr Graham was quite shaken, and commented that one should keep a look out for people riding horses through the park in such a dangerous way. The chauffeur and his wife were visibly upset by the tale, and asked if the rider had a head. Graham, a very down-to-earth sort of person, was surprised at the question, but had to admit that no, he had not actually seen the rider’s head, because he was bent down so low that it must have been almost impossible for him to see where he was going. Mullins then told him that the story went that when the headless horseman was seen in the park, the head of the household was going to die. And William Robert Bradley Craven, sixth Earl of Craven, died shortly afterwards, on 27 January 1965.



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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