Drowning of a maiden

hannah phillips, astley abbotts

Step into St. Calixtus, a church in the sleepy Shropshire hamlet of Astley Abbotts, and walk a path around the nave to find glass-encased and dripping wax-like the remnants of the funeral of Hannah Phillips, sitting unadorned and still of childish innocence. Upon an iron rod hangs the maiden’s garland; its heart-shaped frame holding her gloves, decorated with cloth and ribbons faded and yellowed. This sad feature, like garlands before and after, has served as a reminder of the death of a bride-to-be, cut down just a short time before her wedding. Upon the arrangement, chaplets of white paper flowers and a ribbon-like piece of paper saying, in still legible handwriting, that it commemorates Hannah Phillips who drowned whilst crossing the Severn on the eve of her wedding, May 10th 1707.

The Phillips family lived on the far side of the river, and years ago, there used to be a place where people could ford the channel. A day or two before her wedding, Hannah set off for the church to help with the preparations. And she was never seen alive again.

Locals say that she slipped at the ford and drowned, her body finding its way to a sunken cave lying below the ford. The only item found was her small clutch bag, floating in a shallow pool further downstream.

Maiden's garland, Hannah Phillips, Astley Abbotts

If it had not been for the maiden garland hanging in the church, this sad little story may have been forgotten — and for the greater part it was — until the early 20th century that is, when sightings of Hannah’s ghost began to be reported…

Mr and Mrs Owen moved into Little Severn Hall, a pretty riverside house north of Bridgnorth nearly forty years ago. A few years later, Mr Owen was returning home one evening by car. Though the skies had begun to darken, the road and hedgerows were still reasonably lit. Just up the road from his house, past the farm, between Severn Hall and The Boldings, was a lay-by with some oak trees, opposite a field with a little pool. As he approached the widening, he was shocked to see a woman appear, from out of the hedge, hovering a short distance above the road, and gently drifting to the other side.

With no time to turn, he came upon the woman, and in the instant he would have collided with the shape, it disappeared. What he had seen was a young woman, about five feet tall, in dark, drab clothes. She wore a long skirt, which reached to the ground, and a shawl pulled up over her head. He saw a side view of her as she floated across the road; the person was slim and wore clothes of an earlier time, though not fancy, more country working class. And she never looked to either side of her.

Mr Owen told a neighbour about this the next day — at that time, he knew little of the history of the area. This man told him the story of Hannah Phillips. It seemed to both gentlemen that the spectacle, though lasting but thirty seconds, was a ghost, and possibly that of the drowned maiden, again making her way to church.

But that is not all. Nearly twenty years before, another local man, Mr Tipton, had a similar experience in the same area. He was twelve at the time and was cycling home towards Colemore Green late in the evening, after finishing work on a nearby farm. Suddenly, in front of him, in the same lay-by, he saw a man wearing a suit. As he approached the figure, it faded and disappeared into the surrounding hedge. It was only once he had got over the shock of its vanishing did he recall the phantom’s attire: a dark brown suit and breeches.

Could this have been Hannah Phillips’ intended husband, still searching for her?

And the month: it was May.

A garland shall be framed
By Art and Nature’s skill,
Of sundry-coloured flowers,
In token of goodwill.

And sundry-coloured ribands
On it I will bestow,
But chiefly black and yellow
With her to grave shall go.

I’ll deck her tomb with flowers
The rarest ever seen;
And with my tears as showers
I’ll keep them fresh and green.

– Corydon’s Doleful Knell

Astley abbotts

14 thoughts on “Drowning of a maiden

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Perhaps with her story continuing to be shared she’ll eventually realize where she is and move on.
    It’s sad. To be stuck in that sliver of time for all time.

  2. Just wondering, are the stories in this blog fictional, inspired by real events or actual real ones. Your about page seems to indicate that these are inspired events.

  3. I like this because it’s eerie without being scary and oh so very British! Made me want to be a tourist in England again, poking around in quaint old churches and roaming the storied moors. Oh well . . .Thank you.

    • Hi NTMM,

      I am delighted to announce the launch of my first collection of ghost stories:

      GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS – 12 Tales of haunting

      P. J. Hodge spins rich, spine-chilling and beautifully written tales that tell of haunted ancestral homes, supernaturally-possessed objects and revengeful spectres that will not rest until their work is done.

      Mesmerising, understated, and convincingly Victorian in tone, this is a frighteningly good collection of stories. Purchase at your own risk!

      Please share and pass this on to fellow ghost story fans. Also, if you read the book and have the time, would you be so kind as to write a review for the Amazon book page and Goodreads. Thank you!

      Available for Kindle ebook here
      US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FY82PXI
      UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00FY82PXI
      Germany – http://www.amazon.de/dp/B00FY82PXI
      India – http://www.amazon.in/dp/B00FY82PXI

      and all other Amazon international sites.

      If you enjoy period ghost tales of that bygone England of country house gatherings, servants and hansom cabs, with smog-filled days and sinister churchyard nights, you’ll love this varied and entertaining collection of chillers.

      An Amazon review:

      ‘I rarely get time to read so I always look for books containing short stories so I can finish them in a single reading session. Once I started reading it however I couldn’t put it down! It is superbly written and you immediately get drawn into it. One of the best short story book I have read to date. Looking forward to the next book already.’ Richie

      Kind regards, Paul

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