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The folklorist J. S. Udal, who collected much Dorset material in the late nineteenth century, published the following anecdote in 1922. There was once a sexton at Netherbury whose cottage backed onto the churchyard, and who was annoyed that a certain half-witted village girl used to sit in the church porch night after night singing psalms, which kept him awake. So one moonlit night he wrapped himself in a sheet and crept about among the graves, meaning to scare her away for good and all.

But the girl cheerfully greeted the supposed ghost: ‘Here’s a soul a-coming! Whose soul be you? Be you my granfer’s or granmer’s, or so-and-so’s?’ – naming someone recently buried. Then she went on: ‘H’m! Souls be about tonight! There’s a black ’un too, and he’s trying to come up to the white ’un, and he’s coming on so fast that if the white ’un don’t take care the black ’un’ll catch him.’ Terrified, the sexton fled, while the half-wit clapped and shouted: ‘Run, white soul; black soul’ll catch ’ee!’ He never stopped till he was back home, where he lay gravely ill from the shock, so ill that all the skin peeled off him from head to toe. And from then on nobody tried to stop the girl singing her psalms in the porch at night.

Similar tales are found in other parts of Britain, for example at Garstang, Lancashire, and TUDHOE, Co. Durham; beneath their humour, they carry a serious warning against frivolity in relation to the supernatural, which is liable to bring rapid retribution.



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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