The manor house here is built on the site of a former monastery, and like others of similar history is said to be haunted by a monk. The story of this monk, however, is unusually tragic; when the monastery was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII, he hanged himself rather than leave. He now appears in the bedrooms of the manor house, where he is seen by anyone who is visiting the manor for the first time, as he bends over the bed to examine the newcomer.

A curious tale, given by Kathleen Wiltshire in her collection of local folklore from the 1970s, but allegedly going back to 1761, tells of the magical ringing of an invisible bell. ‘A debauched person who lived in the parish’ came to the vicar very late one night, demanding the keys of the church because he wanted to ring a peal. It is not said whether the man was simply drunk, or whether he had reasonable excuse – he might, for example, wish to ring a passing bell for someone dying or to toll for someone just dead, as was sometimes done even at night. The vicar refused, saying it was far too late, and the noise would disturb Sir George Wroughton and his family, whose house adjoined the churchyard.

Furious, the ‘debauched person’ went off to Devizes to ask a famous wizard or cunning man called Cantle to help him take revenge on the vicar. ‘Does he not like ringing?’ said Cantle. ‘He shall have enough of it!’ From then on, a bell tolled incessantly inside the vicarage, although, oddly, anyone who stuck his head out of a window would no longer hear it. People came from far and near to listen to it; even the king sent a gentleman from London to check the truth of the report. Eventually Cantle, who had been arrested on some other charge, confessed in prison that it was he who was causing the trouble, but did not withdraw the spell; the ringing continued as long as he was alive.

There are strong similarities here to the circumstances surrounding the story of the Drummer of TIDWORTH, leading to a suspicion that the Wilcot legend is less old than is claimed, and is modelled on the more famous Tidworth one.



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