My new novel – Freya’s Choice – is set in the charming, picturesque and seemingly tranquil small town of Abbey St. Francis. Chocolate box thatched cottages sit alongside a meandering river. Birds of every hue sing and chirrup. The world moves at a slower place in communities like this, doesn’t it?
Well, don’t you believe it! In my small town – hardly much more than a village really – strange things happen within some of those cottages. Unnatural, spooky things. The river transforms into a raging torrent when it feels like it. A massive bird takes to the air, and a new resident has moved in. One that will change everything for this peaceful little backwater.
In England there are many places like Abbey St Francis. And some of them are well haunted. Scarily well in some cases. Many of them hide deadly secrets. Oh yes, a lot can – and does – go on in the heart of rural England…
|Dora Carrington, Ralph Partridge and Lytton Strachey|
The village of Ham is tiny. Just 150 or so people live there. It nestles quietly in the peaceful Wiltshire countryside, a few miles south west of the busy town of Hungerford. The famous writer Lytton Strachey lived at Ham Spray House, along with fellow writer, and diarist, Frances Partridge, and painter Dora Carrington. It is the epitome of a tranquil English village.
But not in 1895. In January of that year, a couple living in a cottage in the village were terrified out of their wits by a succession of poltergeist events in their home. The wife turned to her neighbours for help while her husband asked for help from his employer, the local publican, a policeman and an ex-prize fighter - referred to in the newspaper report carried by the Yorkshire Evening Post on February 1st 1895 as “Jack”.
For some reason, the little investigation party took with them two cats (maybe because they are noted for their psychic abilities). Once inside the couple’s home, they heard a distant rumbling. This was quite enough for the ex-prize fighter who tried to make his escape. He couldn’t. The ghost blocked the door and ordered “Jack” to sit back down. But he couldn’t. None of them could sit because the chairs were rolling around and tumbling over each other, all by themselves. They all managed to get out of the house, and soon after, the couple moved.
The cottage became a curiosity and attracted scores of visitors. One said he had seen the ghost who had “a face resembling a cartwheel, and a frightful tail, the extremity being bifurcated and in appearance like an inverted V, with eight pairs of fins and scales like a fish.” Other visitors reported chairs turning over, pictures falling from walls and even eight pairs of boots flying around the room.
Unearthly noises were also heard, sometimes those of a child in distress, sometimes those of a man in torment, sometimes they were cries for help.
In the village, stories circulated, sometimes embellished after a few glasses of the pub’s best ale. One villager told a visitor of a man who was a habitual user of bad language. He approached the haunted cottage and stood on the doorstep. Maybe he was goading the spirits within but whatever the reason, door the door opened and he fell into a cavity, up to his knees. The step that had opened up to create the crater, suddenly snapped shut, severing both his legs in the process. He did not survive, but there were many sightings of him at night, going home with the aid of two sticks…