Hergest Court

In the nineteenth century, many tales were told of the eerie happenings in and around Hergest Court, a fifteenth-century manor house a little over a mile (1.6 km) to the south-west of Kington, because one of its past owners, Black Vaughan, was too wicked to rest in his grave. He is usually identified as a Sir Thomas Vaughan killed in battle in 1469, whose effigy is in Kington church, together with that of his wife Ellen; but some think he was another Sir Thomas, beheaded in 1483 as a traitor to Richard III. Always malevolent, Black Vaughan would manifest himself as a bull or as a fly; he would haunt the lanes, overturning wagons and terrifying women as they rode home from market at dusk by leaping onto the crupper of their horses; he would lurk by a certain oak, where his footprints showed as two bare patches burnt into the grass. Those who thought he had been beheaded would say that the disembodied head was sometimes to be seen hovering above the moat. There was also a sinister black dog that prowled through the house and grounds, clanking its chains, which would appear as an omen before any deaths in the Vaughan family; in life it had been Black Vaughan’s favourite hound, though now it was a demon.

Vaughan’s fearsome spirit was eventually laid, though it took the combined force of twelve parsons, a woman, and a newborn baby to do it. Armed with a silver snuff-box, and each carrying a candle, they summoned him and tried to master him by their prayers and ‘read him down’ into the box, but he only grew more and more menacing. One version of the tale was told to the Revd Francis Kilvert in the 1860s by a mole-catcher in Radnorshire; another was recorded by Mrs Leather from a local storyteller in about 1910:

Well, they read, but it was no use; they were all afraid, and all their candles went out but one. The parson as held that candle had a stout heart, and he feared no man nor sperrit.[sic] He called out, ‘Vaughan, why art thou so fierce?’ ‘I was fierce when I was a man, but fiercer now, for I am a devil!’ was the answer. But nothing could dismay the stout-hearted parson, though, to tell the truth, he was nearly blind, and not a pertickler{sic] sober man. He read, and read, and read, and when Vaughan felt himself going down, and down, and down, till the snuff-box was nearly shut, he asked,

‘Vaughan, where wilt thou be laid?’ The spirit answered, ‘Anywhere, anywhere, but not in the Red Sea!’ So they shut the box, and took him and buried him for a thousand years in the bottom of Hergest Pool, in the wood, with a big stone on top of him. But the time is nearly up!

A tradition so vigorous and multi-faceted is likely to have grown over several generations, though there is no way of knowing whether it actually goes back, in any form, to the fifteenth century. The folklorist and local historian Roy Palmer, collecting material in this area in the 1990s, found that even in the twentieth century some people thought Vaughan still manifested himself, in spite of the exorcism:

In the 1930s his ghost was regularly seen by the pool at Hergest Court, and horses were known to refuse to pass the spot. Half a century later [1980s] a visitor to the district … was terrified to see in Kington Church the ghostly figure of a bull outlined against the blue curtain covering the north door. The daughter of the present owner of Hergest Court told me that her father … decided some years ago to have the pool filled in but abruptly changed his mind and dismissed the contractors when, as JCBs prepared to begin work, the water started to bubble ominously.



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