According to the Bible, to defraud others of part of their land by secretly shifting boundary markers is a particularly serious sin; ‘cursed be he that moveth his neighbour’s landmark’ it says (Deuteronomy 27:17), and the curse is one of those solemnly repeated in the Commination Service which used to be held in Anglican churches on Ash Wednesday. In folklore, the sinner may become a ghost, forced to walk until the effects of his deceit are undone. A correspondent using the pseudonym ‘Nonagenarian’ recorded a tradition about this in the Hereford Times in 1876; the White Cross mentioned is a medieval monument on the road from Hereford to Hay, about a mile (1.6 km) outside the city’s former limits:

There was old Taylor’s ghost, that used to walk about at the White Cross. He couldn’t rest, because he had moved a landmark. He used to ride upon a little pony, and sometimes he would be seen sitting on a stile. I have never seen old Taylor myself, but have heard many say they had seen him. At last his ghost was laid … One stormy night a fellow whose name I have forgotten walked into the bar of the Nag’s Head, and said he had seen old Taylor, and had promised to meet him in the Morning Pits that night at twelve. Of course nobody believed him, and as the night wore on the others jeered at him, and said ‘I wouldn’t go out on such a night as this.’ He said he would not; but as the hour drew near he was obliged to go.

Something forced him to run, so that he reached the Morning Pits as the clock struck twelve. There the old man was waiting. ‘Follow me,’ said he; the other followed him into some strange place, which they seemed to reach in a very short time. In the place were two immense stones. ‘Take up these stones,’ said Taylor. ‘I can’t,’ said Denis (he was nicknamed Denis the Liar). ‘You can,’ said Taylor, ‘try.’ He tried, and tilted them easily. ‘Now come with me,’ said Taylor, ‘and place them where I shall show you.’ He carried them, and put them down with ease. ‘Now,’ said the other, ‘I caution you never to tell anybody what you see here this night.’ He promised. ‘And now,’ said he, ‘lie down on your face, and as you value your life, don’t attempt to look either way, until you hear music, and then get away as fast as you can.’ He lay for a long time without hearing what he earnestly desired, but at last the welcome sound was heard … He was a very different man after that, though he died soon after from the effects of his fright.

Tales giving this specific explanation for a haunting are common in some Continental countries, for instance in
Denmark, but are rare in England. More usually, English ghosts (as at SEXHOW, Yorkshire) feel guilty at having hidden money away, and order a living man to take it to the rightful heir.



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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