Salcombe Regis

In the 1920s, the local historian J. Y. Anderson-Morshead compiled archives on the history of this parish, including an account of the ghost of Mr Lyde of Sid House given many years previously by John Bastin, a villager of Salcombe Regis born in 1818, who remembered hearing it in his childhood:

[Mr Lyde was from] an old Salcombe family and at first appeared in the Orchard, then every year he drew a cockstride nearer and sat on the road gate. Six ministers were called to lay him but they could not and next year he got into the cellar and next sat down to dinner with them. Then they rode wildish up to Paccombe for Mr George Cornish who came with a small Bible but laid him at once. The reason that the others could not was that it takes an Oxford scholar to lay a bad ghost. It was fine to hear Mr Cornish tell him he was in Hell and lay him. Next day to make sure they drove a donkey cart up to Pepperell’s field with his things and laid him with gravel for fifty years in a pit. Some are only bound with sand, but they generally work free, and have then to be bound with bricks … The fifty years are up now.

The Lydes were an old family in Sidmouth. The most likely original for this ghost was Thomas Lyde, who died in 1824 and is buried in the family vault at Sidmouth parish church; his dates match those of the Revd Mr George Cornish, who seems to have lived at Paccombe only from about 1821 to 1828, after which he moved to Cornwall. John Bastin would surely have been too young to attend Mr Cornish’s exorcism (if it really occurred); presumably he was repeating gossip he had heard as a boy.

Despite the successful laying, Mr Lyde’s ghost was seen in 1870 and 1920, and Theo Brown in 1979 reported being told that he was still around. As to the reason for his haunt, it was probably guilt; he is rumoured to have murdered his uncle, and there is a tradition of a treasure buried under an elm tree (to die leaving one’s wealth hidden was regarded as a grave injustice to one’s heirs, and those who did so were unlikely to rest easy).

Punishment for blasphemy is hinted at in another version of the story, given in J. Y. Anderson- Morshead’s printed work in 1930, which says: ‘He, when ill, heard a robin singing and died swearing.’ This requires explaining. It was a widespread belief in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that robins served as death omens when they tapped at the window of a sick person’s room, or, as a writer put it in the Sussex County Magazine in 1932, ‘When they sings a mournful “weep, weep”, that’s when ’tis unlucky, that means death.’ The belief is still found; one of the present writers has letters from informants in the 1990s recording the tapping or singing as a personal experience before deaths in the family. It was the knowledge that the robin was prognosticating his death that made Mr Lyde die swearing.



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