A Tale of Chirbury has been published in ‘Darker Times Anthology, Vol 3’ – Amazon Kindle and Paperback

Darker Times Anthology Volume Three


The short stories here range from the plain gruesome to the psychologically sinister, black comedy to gritty drama, the playfully spooky to the downright disturbing. The winning stories were picked for their style, their technique, their originality, or their ability to invoke something ‘dark’ within the reader: fear, despair, doubt, regret, loneliness, pain. These aren’t just stories that will have you wondering what’s lurking under your bed or hiding in your closet; they’ll have you looking into your own life, peering into your past, glancing at your own personal ghosts. When you start delving into the darker times, it’s hard to get back to the light.

A Tale of Chirbury by PJ Hodge

A door to Chirbury Church

A Tale of Chirbury

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

A Tale of Chirbury

A Tale of Chirbury

“No sooner do they reach the entrance to the church when a blast of wind, violent and from nowhere, blows out the candles. The procession stops suddenly, each of the hunch-framed bodies consumed by an ice-cold chill. One of them screams and points into the near distance. Ahead, through the swirling mist, they make out a dark shape. It is moving towards them. As it approaches, the apparition grows; and from its black mass stems a gnarled, grey hand, the outstretched fingers of which drum out an invisible beat. Worse still, deep within its shapeless body comes a cold whisper; a voice that calls each of their names in turn: Henry Edwards, Matthew Bradeley, John Thynne, Martha Thynne… the unseen tongue continuing until all twelve names have been spoken.”

A tale of Chirbury

A door to Chirbury Church

Cowering under the deep shadow of St Michael’s church lies the little village of Chirbury, its population rarely venturing beyond the crooked line of buttresses that maintain its walls. Equal in number are those that will not pass through its cemetery; for here, the tendrils of time have reached across the ages to bind brick and soil to an ungodly power, a power diffused into the village conscience. Step into its realm and one feels touched by a sense of suffering, a gateway to the past.

Continue reading

The New Short Story Annual 2013

The New Short Story Annual 2013

Delighted to announce that The Monks of Lilleshall will be making an appearance in The New Short Story Annual 2013.

The New Short Story Annual 2013, edited by Hayley Sherman.

“Throughout 2012, writers have been submitting their stories to the short story of the month competition and proving why the short story is such a fresh and vibrant channel for great fiction…A fear-facing game show and Facebook stalker, the mistake-prone proofreader and murderous brother, pride before a jukebox, love on the streets, the monster in the mirror, the fading beauty, the tea-addicted teddy bear, the door to nothingness, regret, longing, nearly meeting Jimi Hendrix, jealously, intrigue, the gun directed at Father Christmas, a perfect painting, an upturned Robin Reliant, the monks of Lilleshall, the Googled baby killer, the attention-seeking pensioner, the tree of hippopotamus, two men, two ducks, one dog and a fish… What more can you ask from a short story annual?”

The Monks of Lilleshall

The beautiful ruins of Lilleshall Abbey sit lonely and unheralded at the end of a farm track, tucked away in an unexpected, sleepy corner of the Shropshire countryside. The decaying walls of the Abbey are shielded from the nearby road by a line of trees and feel distinctly isolated and sheltered from the outside world.

Stand at the centre of this imposing structure and breathe in the atmosphere; touch the cold, lichen-covered walls and journey through time to a darker, less enlightened age.

It was a miserable day to arrive at Lilleshall: the sky was a thick mass of angry cloud; the wind had whipped up and driven channels through the grassway; and the rain was beating heavily, spreading fierce torrents across the ancient grey stone. I had parked the car in a neighbouring lay-by, just in case the approach proved too small and busy; why I don’t know – anyone else would have turned back in this weather. But rain or shine I had made the commitment to visit Lilleshall several days earlier; and as anyone who knows me will testify, once entered into my notebook only death or disaster would see me change my plans.

I walked up and stopped central to one of the walls; my eyes were immediately drawn to the beautiful arches that soared across the distinctive red sandstone wall, rising and falling above huge glassless windows. But it wasn’t enough for me to only see; the desire to run my hands across the centuries was too strong. I clasped the sodden stone, letting the rivulets form rippling pools around my fingers; my breathing quickened and all at once I was overcome by an intense emotion; an indescribable connection; a peculiar and uneasy sense of oneness with the ancient edifice. Continue reading