Vernham Dene

According to a tragic legend, so many people of this village became infected in the Great Plague of 1665 that the rector of the parish persuaded them to encamp on the isolated top of Haydown Hill, just across the Wiltshire border, so as not to spread the disease further. He promised that he would bring them regular supplies of food. In truth, however, he was so terrified of catching the plague himself that once he had isolated his sick parishioners in this way, he never went near them again, and they eventually starved to death. But he was punished for his selfishness: in spite of all his care he became infected, no one knew how, and died. It is said that his remorseful ghost has often been seen on the old Roman road called Chute Causeway, climbing the hill towards the spot where his victims died.

There are no records to show that the village did suffer this calamity in 1665, but the Victoria County History: Hampshire notes that there is a gap of twenty-six years in the parish registers of births, marriages, and deaths, from 1628 to 1654, presumably indicating that one volume of the registers was mislaid. It may well be that someone, observing this gap, leapt to the dramatic conclusion that the whole population of the village had been wiped out; in the course of time this supposed disaster could easily have become identified with the slightly later and far more famous Great Plague. The tale seems to have been designed as a bitter counterpart to the well-known (and historically true) account of the heroic vicar and people of Eyam, Derbyshire, who went voluntarily into isolation to prevent the disease spreading to neighbouring communities.



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