Don’t go down the mine!

ghosts of mines

Miners, like sailors and fishermen, believe in omens. But they have many beliefs and superstitions that might seem meaningless to other people. Mines in Cornwall and Lancashire were supposed to be haunted by the wraiths of tiny children who years ago used to toil in the mines until they died from weakness or from want of fresh air. The children appear harnessed to ghostly trolleys, to warn miners of approaching danger. In some of the mines the white figures of ghostly women materialise before an explosion.

Many mines are said to be haunted by spirits and ghosts. They are possessed with a brooding presence, and, here, strong men become weak, overcome by the mere impact of the enveloping palpable fear.

It is this lower order of spectre that seeks the dark recesses of the globe, and frightens the miner at his dismal task.

There was a mine in Cornwall which was haunted by a Hand — a Hand that shone with a light not of this world, and was chill with the shivering dampness of the grave; the Hand would pursue the miner, touch him on the cheek, and then fade away with little gusts of sobbing laughter.

Polbreen Mine, an old shaft in the Forest of Dean, had a ghost all of its own. She was known as Dorcas. She was believed to be the spirit of a woman who had committed suicide by hurling herself down the shaft. She took a malicious pleasure in tormenting the miners, who sometimes became so furious that they would leave their work and rush after her. But they never caught her. Dorcas, however, seemed to have a liking for some of the men. On one occasion a man was wielding a heavy hammer, when between the strokes he said he heard his name called sharply and insistently. He thought nothing of it at first, and went on with his work. But the crying became so urgent that at last he threw down his hammer and walked in the direction of the sound. Half-a-dozen steps, and — crash ! Down on the spot where he had been standing a moment before came a vast mass of rock.

Amongst the best authenticated cases of hauntings are those in connection with tin and coal mines.

Many of them originate in Cornwall where there is a profound belief in what are termed “the Knockers.”

“The Knockers” did not confine themselves to ancient mines. They were at times heard in quite modern ones. There is a story still told in Cornwall to the effect that a man who bought a house that had just been built in a mining district was awakened one night by the sound of tramping up and down the stairs, as of an army of men in heavy boots. He got up several times to attempt to discover what it was but the moment he opened the door and looked out all was quiet. He made inquiries of one of the servants, who was a local girl.

“Those noises?” she’ said. “Why, I’m certain I heard them too. They are the knockers, and they appeared last night to tell us there is a new lode under this house that wants to be worked.”

What she said proved to be an actual fact. There was a new tin lode beneath the building, and a very productive one, too.

Wheal Vor was an old mine situated a mile north of the village of Breage in the west of Cornwall. An oft-told tale tells of a man who was acting as night watchman who distinctly heard knocking, followed by the sound of someone upsetting a cartload of rubbish outside the account house in which he was sitting. On getting up to ascertain the cause of the disturbances, he could see nothing that could in anyway explain them. In the morning he related his experiences to his mates, who shook their heads gravely, and, sure enough, before many days were passed, the watchman was taken seriously ill and died.

For many years a Cumberland man held the post of overseer in one of the coal pits until, being found out in certain acts of fraud and larceny, he was dismissed, his place being taken by a man from another county. The deposed overseer was often heard to express his hatred of his successor, and one day the dead bodies of the two men were found close together in one of the shafts. It was suggested at the inquest that they had died from accident due to fire damp.

Workers in the pit soon began to hear the voices of two men raised in furious altercation. They were recognised as belonging to the dead overseers, and from what they said there seemed little doubt that the ex-overseer had decoyed his successor into a spot where he knew there was fire-damp, in the hope that it would kill him. Fearing it might not operate soon enough, he had taken his victim unawares, and after a desperate struggle had succeeded in choking him. He had then himself been overcome by the fumes.

Who is it who climbs the stairs?

ghostly figure

I started writing for the papers when I was barely turned fifteen and since 1899 I have been a constant contributor to the local press. When I began, provincial dailies were the big thing, and ‘The Cornish Chronicle’ had one of the largest distributions in the south west. When eastern Cornwall had no daily of its own, I doubt if the sale of all the London newspapers amounted to a few thousand copies a day there. The Chronicle, a small, twelve-paged sheet, begun in Launceston, was transferred to Looe in the summer of 1901. I contributed to it, and in 1903, when 19 years old, I joined the staff officially as a junior reporter. The provincial paper was then very different from its successor to-day. Political news was the mainstay, and far less attention was paid to theatrical, sporting, and personal chat than now. In those days people followed politics seriously, and did not make them merely the pastime of an idle hour.

In my time, I have made the journalism rounds of stories so far-fetched that they would either have you drop the paper at a glimpse of the article and remain in laughter for several minutes or dismiss the journalism as desperate headline-grabbing sensationalism. However, nothing quite prepared me for the story I was asked to cover in the winter of 1919, certainly one of the strangest I have ever come across.

The story I was asked to report on related to a set of mysterious events that had caused considerable upset in the lives of Florence Duttine, a Dorsetshire woman whose family had lived in “Thomas Hardy country” for many generations. My first impressions was that she was a warm and spirited woman who made every effort to convince me that she was not one to make up fanciful stories. Indeed, she was described by those who knew her as “honest” and “down-to-earth”, and by another as “one who never put her status before her duty; which, for the most part, was benefaction”.

“I wish my father had left me the Abbey,” said Mrs Duttine. “Such, a grand old place; I feel proud to belong to the family who have lived there for so many generations. I could understand it if father had left it to Harold; men can’t bear to let the family name fall into oblivion, and a Duttine has lived at St Matthew’s for centuries. It would be an ideal life, full of occupation and enjoyment, and plenty to do each day — servants to interview, improvements to arrange and my husband Sidney would have delighted in it.”

Sadly this was not to be, as, for reasons unknown to Florence and her brother, her father had omitted them from his will.

In the winter of 1917, Florence and her three-year old daughter went to stay with her niece and nephew in Cornwall. An old and apparently charming house, with a quaint cave that stretched from the cellar down to the sea. It had been mentioned to her as a suitable place in which they could remain for however long they required. She agreed to take it, and they were installed with two maids and a nurse. But there were unhappy times ahead:

“I have certainly tried to forget it, but I can’t. The cold and sombre sea-girt house and the eerie, repulsive spectres that nightly wander through its gloomy, crumbling walls are photographed on my mind, never to be wiped out.”

“Every time I hear the sound of a bell or a certain tone of footstep or the click of a closing door my mind is sent back to that awful place—”

Continue reading

In darkness we trust

cornwall haunted house

Having just spent a wonderful week in Cornwall, seeking out its darker corners, I have been inspired to write about this ancient kingdom and its ghosts and legends. Here is the first tale – one of Cornish men and the spectres that haunt them…


Do you believe in ghosts? Or are you one of those fortunate persons who have no fear of the unseen? Or, again, do you belong to the great majority, who keep an open mind, but who like to feel on certain occasions that, after all, just round the corner, in the mysterious darkness, something might happen? …


I believe in ghosts, and not only on Christmas Eve and other occasions much celebrated. For it was on a perfect summer evening, in July, 1911, tranquil and moonlit, that the astounding experience befell me which the editor of the “Weekly Chronicle” has requested me to relate.

I was staying in Cornwall with an old Cambridge friend, who had taken Orders. I had been living a delightful, care-free existence in the open air, bathing and playing tennis, in fact, doing everything but think of ghosts.

Then, one night, at dinner, the conversation turned, as it so often does, to the psychic, and the usual discussion took place. John, my Cambridge friend, had been reading stories by MR James, and was still deeply affected by the impression they had made on him. His brother, Philip, a clever, cool-headed young man, who was spending his long vacation at home, openly scoffed at his foolishness, and a keen argument took place.

Finally, John leaned forward and said: “Well, we have an opportunity of testing all these theories.” Continue reading

Those who marry ghosts

Those who marry ghosts

“And it’s a ghost story you want, is it?” asked the railway guard, having spent the past quarter of an hour or so conversing with the gentleman in the waiting room.

“Well,” he continued when he received an affirmative answer, “did you ever hear of anybody marrying a ghost? I know a young woman who married a ghost and is living with him.”

The young gentleman moved his shoulders ever so slightly. “Please go ahead with your story,” he said, brushing aside a steel-grey curl that had slipped over one eye.

“Then I will,” said the guard. “Though it is as sad and unfortunate as it is unnatural.”
The guard walked towards the young man but instead of seating himself on the bench beside him he chose to rest upon a pile of luggage nearby.

“The woman in question was young Mary Carpenter,” spoke the guard. “Twenty years ago, she was living in a nearby village — in fact, the very place you are travelling to. The girl was betrothed to Tom Allen, a young man who lived not far from Mary, and their wedding had been planned for the June of that year. Sadly, only a week before the wedding, the young gentleman was killed in a terrible accident whilst working on the London to Brighton line. He had a hard job shunting those engines, and the one that took him nearly split him into two — awful business it was.”

“Well, as you would imagine, Mary was devastated; but, oddly, only days into her mourning her grief appeared to subside, and was replaced by a strange newfound happiness.”

“She told her parents that she had met and conversed with Tom’s spirit and they had planned for the wedding to take place on his grave. Her parents attempted to understand their daughter’s predicament but soon they were out of their minds with worry and had to call for a doctor to assist. To their surprise, however, the physician said that the girl was entirely without fever or delusion and confirmed that her mind was perfectly intact. The doctor was called upon several times but on each visit his diagnosis was consistent and his medical skills were not called into question.”

“The parents were entirely at odds with the whole affair but with the sanity of their daughter confirmed, and wishing her to be happy, they allowed her to go ahead and make preparations for her wedding to the ghost.”

“She rented a house and furnished it and went to the minister to engage his services to pronounce the ceremony. The reverend did not take kindly to the wedding of a pretty girl to an apparition and told her it was sinful to do so. She insisted and finally seeing how heartbroken the girl was the minister and her parents agreed to allow the marriage.”

“She is now married and lives in a cottage for two, and an apparently empty chair sits on the opposite side of the table from her as she eats her meals. She eats and talks to the imaginary husband on the opposite side of the table and seems to be happy as the bride of a ghost.”

“Mr. Carpenter, her father, is a well to do man of these parts and as he has the money to afford it he continues to furnish his daughter the means of keeping house with her husband’s ghost as long as she finds comfort for her broken heart in such an existence.”

“I have nothing more to add except to say that I have seen little of the woman since; but each time she has appeared in public those who have seen her say she presents herself in perfect health and is exquisitely neat and dainty.”

“But, no doubt sir, you consider this to be nonsense.”

The young man smiled and, on hearing his train arrive, rose and stepped out onto the platform. As the train moved out, however, the young man turned to remove his overcoat, and a shower of rice fell out; the guard stood behind him, a startled look on his face, and struggled to recall the chap’s name.

The bride who went to Heaven; the groom who went to Hell

The bride who went to heaven; the groom who went to hell
Though there are many ghostly legends, or half-historical traditions, of the antiquated mansions of Lancashire, few are so rich in ghost-lore as Kersal Hall.

A Lancashire version of the Faust legend is the story of Eustace Dauntesey, of Kersal Hall, who was in love with a lady who was about to be married to a rival; on the eve of her marriage, Eustace, being familiar with the Black Art, raised the Devil.

The wedding day was fixed, but the prospect of her marriage was a terrible trouble to Eustace, and threatened to mar the happiness of his life. Having, however, in his youth perfected himself in the black art, he drew a magic circle, at the witching hour of night, and summoned the Evil One to a consultation. The meeting came off, at which the usual bargain was quickly struck, the soul of Eustace being bartered for the coveted body of the beautiful young lady. The compact, it was arranged, should close at her death, but the Evil One was to remain meanwhile by the side of Dauntesey in the form of an elegant “self,” or genteel companion.

In due course the eventful day arrived when Eustace stood before the altar. But the marriage ceremony was no sooner over than, on leaving the sacred edifice, the elements were found to be the reverse of favourable to them. The flowers strewed before their feet stuck to their wet shoes, and soaking rain cast a highly depressing influence on all the bridal surroundings; and, on arriving at the festive hall where the marriage feast was to be held, the ill-fortune of Eustace assumed another shape. Strange to say, his bride began to melt away before his very eyes, and, thoroughly familiar as he was with the laws of magic, here was a new phase of mystery which was completely beyond his comprehension.

In short, poor Eustace was the wretched victim of a complete swindle, for while, on the one hand, something is recorded about “a holy prayer, a sunny beam, and an angel train bearing the fair maiden slowly to a fleecy cloud, in whose bosom she became lost to earth.”

Dauntesey, on the other hand, awakened to consciousness by a touch from his sinister companion, saw a huge yawning gulf at his feet, and felt himself gradually sinking in a direction exactly the opposite of that taken by his bride, who, in the short space of an hour, was lost to him forever.

The bride who went to heaven; the groom who went to hell

Freaky Folk Tales

Freaky Folk Tales – a collection of macabre, supernatural and amusing tales, from the haunting of ancestral homes to the malignancy of inanimate objects.

Freaky Folk TalesIt also features rare illustrations and artwork inspired by the Victorian era.

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A bride buried alive

A bride buried alive

In cemeteries that have been disturbed, and the remains of the dead exhumed, there have been found in coffins, nailed solidly and screwed tightly together, bodies of skeletons that were turned over on their sides or faces, occasionally with the knees drawn up, the joints distended, the hands clenched firm, the arms thrust up against the coffin’s narrow sides, the fingers wrapped and twisted in the hairs of the head, the eyes glaring, the teeth ground together, the head doubled under, and many indubitable proofs that the final death struggle did not take place before burial, but that after the coffin lid had been laid away in the shades of the tomb, or dropped into the deep, solid earth, then and there a fierce, agonising, desperately lonely, and hopeless battle for life was waged into exhaustion!

buried alive

A witness to such a tale was Harold Gulliver, chief gravedigger at an old Victorian cemetery in Bath, England in the early twentieth century.

“The work was at times very dangerous. You never know when you are going to be buried yourself,” he said. “There is often a collapse, and everything comes down on you, timber and all.”

“Sometimes,” continued the grave digger, “there are re-openings, and on these occasions gas would come at you like a fog, so that you may often lose your breath.”

On the day in question he had three graves to dig.

“It had been unusually wet of late and I noticed that in one corner of the cemetery much of the earth had been undermined by the water. The stones in this corner had recently been disturbed to enable the ground to be diverted to streets and building lots, something we weren’t too happy about.”

“I scraped away at the earth with my boots and noticed that I had exposed the corner of a coffin lid. ”

“The coffin needed to be reinterred, of course, so I got several of the men to help me.”

The men gathered and pressed closer to the open grave.

“I gave some loud directions to them. In a very few minutes the coffin was fully up but as we pulled it out of the earth the lid came away. Then I heard a low cry from one of the men.”

Mr Gulliver went on to say that when the lid of the coffin was removed the face and figure of a young bride was revealed, dressed in wedding garments of fine white satin, with a bridal veil, and ring of a costly style and distinction, and all the evidence of affluence, refinement and station of life. The remains were supposedly to have been buried about twenty-five years previously. The coffin plate was no longer present, and, in the really indecent haste of the heartless contractors and brutish labourers, who had worked previously in the area and ruthlessly tore and tossed the relics up, there was not the faintest clue to the identity.

But upon examination it was discovered that the body of the skeleton was twisted and displaced (as no shock of the exhumation could have effected ) and the garments grasped tightly as in a vice in the clenched finger bones, showing undoubtedly that a terrific struggle had taken place in the last narrow house and home of the once-beautiful, early-loved and lost bride. Even the long raven tresses, which were as fine and perfect as ever, were bit fast in the fleshless teeth as though with the last despairing, smothered cry and grasp of death.

“It was a terrible shock,” said Mr Gulliver. “To think of the poor girl suffering like that — and, undoubtedly, on her wedding day, too.”

It was soon after the reburial of the coffin, in another corner of the cemetery, when passers-by began reporting seeing a figure hovering by the graveside.

“One night while I was having my tea,” said Mr Gulliver, “I heard a clatter of horses’ hoofs on the hard road. A few minutes later a man came knocking on my door in a terrible fright. He said that he had seen the ghost and it frightened his horse. He galloped away but it was following in his direction. I wanted him to come back and show it to me, but he would not venture so I did not bother going. I thought he had seen a cow in the cemetery as they often broke in to eat the long grass.”

“Next day there was much talk going on among a few of the men of ghosts and suchlike. Others laughed at them and told them that it was only imagination. They bet some money that no one was game enough to go to the cemetery after dark and visit the grave.”

One chap took the bet. Mr Gulliver was not witness to the exploits that evening but, the next day, he was given the following details:—

“Take me with you, take me with you” — this cry in a high-pitched unearthly voice startled the chap who went visiting the grave in the evening.

“Who is there?” he asked nervously.

There was no reply, nor was anybody to be seen.

Then the voice came again. “Take me with you.” Again there was nobody to be seen.

Then, from out the corner of his eye, he saw something sitting up. He turned to see a woman upright in her grave — the one freshly dug — her face decayed, her fingers twisting the hairs of her head, and she beckoned to him and spoke in a weak voice, “I did not deserve to die. Take me with you.”

The man began to hurry away, pursued by the voice, and finally broke into a terror-stricken run, arriving almost exhausted at the cemetery gates. He had been so overcome that since the incident he had not returned to work, and was reported as being “attacked by fits”.