South Mimms, a small village in Hertfordshire, England, located near the busy junction of the M25 motorway, was once surrounded by uninterrupted countryside and better known for its picturesque views over Ridge-Hill than the service station that currently resides there.
In the late 19th century, however, the village gained something of a reputation, and it wasn’t long before newspaper reporters descended and reported on a tiny community that had become widely known as ‘The village that marriage had forgotten’.
The articles spoke of how romance had seldom come to the village, and reasoned as to why wedding bells had long been silent. Villagers were interviewed and spoke of a lack of eligible brides-to-be but behind closed doors gossip was rife, and folk spoke of something quite different:— that of a curse that had been placed upon the village.
The source of the haunting was a female ghost known as ‘The Spectral Bride’, who had died after the shattering of her love romance, and would appear whenever a wedding took place in the tiny church. Whether she came to those who were seeking the happiness she was herself denied, or whether she came to bless them, nobody knew but they were sure that there was a connection between the ghost and the lack of marriages.
Its strangest manifestation was seen by one of the parishioners, Miss Long. In broad daylight she saw the female spectre, hovering just a few inches above the altar; averting her gaze from the terrifying apparition, she was then drawn to the figure of a priest kneeling in the stalls of the parish church, which dates from 1350. Two days later the village received news of the death at Bournemouth of the Rev. William Woods, who had been the parish vicar 30 years before. Miss Long, who had never seen the late vicar, described the phantom figure in the church which tallied exactly with that of Mr Woods.
Rev Hay, vicar at the time, said that he could feel the presence of the spirit morning and night as he walked up the pathway to St. Giles’s Church, and he believed this to be an ill omen:— the news of portending disaster. “Many of the parishioners state that they have seen ‘a bluish-white glow ‘over the tombstones in the churchyard,” said the reverend, “and over it is the spirit of the lady of the vicarage who has been observed kneeling at the altar when some dire thing was going to happen.”
“Until recently, South Mimms was known as the parish where young men and women seldom married,” continued Reverend Hay. “It is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and has a strange history of tragic happenings.”
The reverend went on to discuss the parish records which had a gruesome tale to tell of accidents, one entry stating that a highwayman was buried there on August 2nd, 1689. South Mimms suffered severely from the plague in 1665, and near its boundary Warwick’s Army fought King Edward in the Battle of Barnet. It was also a favourite hiding place of the invincible Dick Turpin from his pursuers, and not far away is an ancient inn called the Black Horse, where the notorious robber was in the habit of resting between his plunderous exploits. There is an entry in the parish register of the birth of Richard Turpin in 1703.
The parish church, dedicated to St. Giles, is situated almost in the centre of the village. At the west end it has an embattled tower with a small staircase turret built during the reign of King Stephen. The main fabric consists of a nave and chancel, separated from a north aisle, erected at a later period, by octagonal pillars and six obtuse arches. These are mostly of the Tudor period, and what remains of the stained glass windows belong to the fifteenth century. Such is the church with the haunted vicarage.
The Rev. Allen Hay had a great deal to say about the ghost.
“It is perfectly true,” he stated, “that ever since I came here 30 years ago, the vicarage, has been and is still haunted. Almost every morning when the church clocks strikes 3, I am awakened by the presence of the spirit, and this has been going on even during the rebuilding of the house.”
“I still sleep there,” he added, “and every night, with the assistance of the ladder, I make my way to an improvised bedroom adorning the haunted bedroom, which I have occupied uninterruptedly all those years.”
“I am not in the slightest perturbed by my surroundings or the visitations of the spirit, whose presence I am conscious of daily, even when I walk along the pathway leading to the church.
“Personally, I cannot say for certain whether the spirit is associated with any legend of the village, but I have the most implicit faith in its presence. Many of my parishioners have told me of a bluish white glow in the churchyard. Others declare they have seen the ghost figure kneeling at the altar, and, from what I hear, the spirit has been seen in various parts of the village. The presence I regard as a supernatural mystery, though, to those who believe, it is only to be expected that the spirits of the departed should revisit and haunt the places where they lived on this earth.”
“There are many who, like myself, are absolutely convinced of the existence of the spirit. And here let me tell a curious story the authenticity of which I can vouch.”
“Some time ago my wife’s aunt, Mrs. Nicolle, was spending a holiday at the vicarage. During her visit she frequently complained about hearing noises in the night and she could not sleep. She stated that the noises sounded like some one moving from room to room, and though she turned on the light, she could not see anything to account for the disturbance. Turning to my wife, Mrs. Nicolle remarked, ‘Allen is to blame for all this. Why does he not be quiet at night?'”
“As a matter of fact, I was hundreds of miles away from South Mimms during Mrs. Nicolle’s visit to the vicarage. On my return my wife told me that not only had her aunt heard noises repeatedly, but on more than one occasion she saw a white figure go from the dining room into the sitting room.”
“On another occasion. Mrs. Nicolle stated, the figure brushed against her coming downstairs, and went in the direction of the churchyard. This is all very strange, but nevertheless true, and six weeks after Mrs. Nicolle returned to Switzerland from England, we had a cable telling us of her death.”
A fervant little woman, named Mrs. Long, who has lived all her life at South Mimms, told a similarly convincing story, like the vicar, of the ghost: “I remember visiting the church one evening,” she said, “when it was practically deserted. I was reading my prayer book, when my attention was attracted by an apparition in white kneeling at the altar. I looked and wondered, and then, above the figure, I saw another, floating above it but a few inches, and upon its face an expression of horror such that I cannot describe, and a moment later it disappeared into the vestry. I looked down to see that the figure kneeling had also vanished.”
“The apparition I am certain was that of a lady. I became frightfully uneasy and spoke to the vicar, who had previously told me of visitations of the spirit in his bedroom. I called on Mr. Hay again the following day, and to my astonishment he told me he had just received a message that Father Woods, a very old friend of his, had passed away at Bournemouth. The apparition I had seen instantly came to my mind, and was evidently a token of death. Since then, I have seen it on two other occasions, and I feel that the spirit will be always with us.”
“I have also been attracted by the bluish-white glow in the churchyard.”
Equally uncanny was the adventure of the village constable: “I was walking towards a marshy stretch of grass known as ‘The Wash,'” he declared, “when suddenly I caught sight of a white figure. It. was pitch black at the time, and I flashed my torch in the direction of the spot where I saw the figure, but it had vanished and I did not see it again that night.”
A young farmer from St. Albans also had a disquieting experience. He was walking along the High Barnet road when within a few yards of the church he saw a light. “I went closer,” he remarked in conversation, “and noticed a bluish-white glow coming from the churchyard. I cannot describe my feelings, but I hurried away. While I was walking I heard a peculiar sound as if something had crashed to the ground. I struck a match and looked, but could not see a soul.”
“A few minutes afterwards I heard footsteps as if some one else was trying to overtake me. I again struck a match, but could not see a soul. When I returned home I explained to my father what had happened. He told me that some years ago one of the old tombs in the churchyard was being repaired and had to be left open at night. While the repairs were going on, a bluish-white glow, the same as I saw, was seen coming from the tomb which everybody said was haunted.”
For anyone wishing, or, for that matter, daring to visit, the haunted tomb is still there; and haunted it will remain, no doubt, like the churchyard and the vicarage, for all time…