Many traditions about ghosts have been collected from this village by various writers between c.1930 and 1980, including J. Harvey Bloom, Alan Burgess, Roy Palmer, and Meg Atkins. One report concerns the relatively peaceful spirit of Edmund Golding, who was the parish clerk and died in 1793; he walks up and down the church aisle, muttering the service responses, as he did when alive. Another tells of a phantom coach, with the traditional headless horses and coachman, which drives along Pig Lane and is said to carry the ghost of a local landowner who had murdered one of his neighbours. Alternatively, it is sometimes described as a coach that has only one wheel, carrying the ghost of a murdered man; it drives straight across fields and up hills, leaving the track of its single wheel.

The third tradition is of a dangerous ghostly huntsman, sometimes identified as a seventeenth-century owner of Ilmington Manor, sometimes as a plain yeoman. In life he had owned a pack of hounds and had been so keen on the chase that he neglected everything else, including church-going, for he would go hunting even on a Sunday. There are two accounts of his end. One is that the ground swallowed him up, together with his hounds, during a Sunday hunt. The other is that one night, hearing the hounds howling in their kennels, he went out in his nightshirt to see what was disturbing them; not recognizing him in this unfamiliar garb, they tore him to pieces. Ever since, he and the ghostly pack can be seen on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, as they set out in pursuit of some phantom fox in the fields below Meon Hill. The cry of the hounds can be heard for miles, and they are locally referred to as ‘Hell Hounds’ or ‘Night Hounds’. Those who meet this huntsman should take good care not to do anything he asks – not, for instance, to open a gate for him – for this would give him the power to carry them away to their eternal destruction. This tale is one of the clearest examples in Britain of the widespread European folk tradition of the demonic Wild Hunt (see PETERBOROUGH, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough).

Finally, there are tales of witchcraft attached to the village. One old woman is said to have been hanged at a crossroads and then buried there with a stake through her body. She is alleged to have repeatedly caused a man’s horse to stumble there when he was carrying medicine home to his sick wife (whom the witch hated); as a result the medicine was spilt, the woman died, and the witch was blamed for her death.

Nowadays, it is a matter of pride for a village to claim multiple hauntings; others that do so include PAINSWICK and PRESTBURY, both in Gloucestershire, and PLUCKLEY, Kent.



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