In 1612, a wealthy widow named Madam Joan Carne, of Sandhill Manor, was buried at Withycombe. Indeed, she was triply widowed, and popular tradition remains convinced that she had murdered all three husbands – and, furthermore, was a witch. The tale of what happened after her death is well known locally; one version, as told to Ruth Tongue in 1959, goes:

When at last she died they made sure of her. They nailed her coffin with iron nails, they hurried her body off to the church for Christian burial, and when the service was over they came dancing with joy back to Sandhill Manor. One of them flung open the kitchen door and there stood Madam Joan Carne frying eggs and bacon quite placidly. Then she turned her head and smiled at them. Well, they sent post haste to Watchet for a priest who was hiding there [i.e. a Roman Catholic?] – their own Parson had failed badly, and the Watchet priest had succeeded with another ghost. Now, the Priest must have known a lot about Madam Carne, for he sent her spirit into a pond not a mile away and she can only return by one cock-stride each year, despite her smile.

Our people are now saying that she turned into a hare and someone shot her with a silver bullet and lamed her, and that she is now a ghost. Some of our older men say she’s about if things go wrong.

In 1969, Ruth Tongue repeated the story personally to Kingsley Palmer, adding a few variant details: that the whole coffin, not just its nails, was of iron; that the priest turned the revenant into a greyhound before sending it into the pool (which she said was still called the Witch’s Pool); and that ‘everyone is waiting for Sandhill Manor to burn’ once Madam Carne does get back home.



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