It is a curious trait in twentieth-century attitudes that tales of haunting can be either a cause of fear or, very frequently, a matter of pride for the people in the area concerned. It is rarely possible to ascertain the age of such stories, yet they circulate vigorously in the press, in guidebooks, and of course orally. And where there is one, there are likely to be more, for publicity generates imitation.
Writing in 1983, Alan Bignell lists a numerous and richly varied company of ghosts reputedly seen in and around Pluckley in past generations, giving it the reputation of ‘the most haunted village in England’ – even though he adds that ‘it becomes more and more difficult to find anyone who will admit to having seen or heard of any of them.’ Several are linked to the Dering family, landowners in this area for many generations, but this need not mean that the tales themselves are old. There is a Red Lady, wearing a fifteenth-century red gown, who wanders round the family chapel in St Nicholas’ church and also in the churchyard. She is said to be searching for the grave of her dead baby, and a more recent writer (Richard Jones, in 2001) offers the plausible theory that the baby died at birth, which would mean that it was never baptized, and so had to be laid in an unmarked grave, not in the family vault. Returning to Bignell’s list, we note that the site of the Dering home (burnt down in 1950) is haunted by a White Lady holding a single red rose; she also sometimes appears in the churchyard. She too is said to be the wife of a former Dering, who died young, to the despair of her husband; hoping to preserve her beauty, he had her buried in the family vault in four airtight coffins, three of lead and one of oak, placed one inside the other, with a red rose on her breast. Mysterious lights, hammering sounds, and wailing voices have also been reported as coming from the Dering chapel.
In the 1970s, a group of psychic researchers were allowed to spend a night in the vault; next morning they told the vicar that their vigil had been boringly uneventful. ‘We were quite glad that your dog came to join us from time to time.’ ‘Actually,’ said the vicar, ‘I don’t have a dog.’
The Black Horse Inn has occasionally suffered, it is said, from mild poltergeist pranks; the road outside it is reputed haunted – by a schoolmaster who hanged himself, say some. Outside a house called Rose Court, one can hear a dog (or dogs) barking and a woman’s voice calling; in the grounds of another house, Greystones, the ghost of a monk has been seen. Some tellers choose to link these two traditions, telling how a Tudor monk at Greystones fell in love with a woman at Rose Court, who had a pet lapdog; she was already the mistress of one of the Derings, so, being unable to follow her true love, she poisoned herself, and the monk soon died of a broken heart.
There is also a phantom soldier, a ghostly miller, an old tramp, an old gypsy woman who accidentally burnt herself to death when her pipe set light to the haystack where she was sleeping, and a young farmer at Elvery Farm (now a hotel) who is said to have killed himself in the 1850s because his wife had died and his farming was a failure. And there is a highwayman who haunts the crossroads aptly named Fright Corner. When alive, he used to hide inside a hollow oak there, to ambush passing travellers, till one day someone who had heard of his trick drew his sword before reaching the tree and drove it right through its thin shell. The highwayman perished, skewered inside his tree.