Penallt’s Ghosts

As sceptical as one is of these matters, we have been assured that a friendly spirit still lingers at the Argoed. “Christopher” can be heard upstairs – nothing frightening – but from time to time there are inexplicable noises and a “presence” which perhaps inclines one’s (welcome!) suspicion of the unknown link with the past. The Generals, too, has its tales, though its present owner assures us that the only manifestation she has found is from the cat that will not go near the old mill pond where undoubtedly there was a drowning.

A sad ghost we have heard of is from the erstwhile residents of Old Church Farm who had an odd tale of a woman’s crying being heard from their barn. They had inherited a tale of the house being originally the home of the village policeman who had to imprison some poor malefactor overnight, and her painful crying had been heard ever since.

We are indebted to Mrs Freda Parker for providing a rich source of stories – a booklet based on tales gathered at the end of the 19th century by a visitor to Moorcroft who gloried in the name Albinia Beatrix Wherry. The booklet was a reprint by J B Nichols & Sons of Westminster of an article first published in 1904 in Folk Lore. Freda remembers “Bea” Wherry very well and took the trouble to copy in longhand the whole of her article. It includes some first-hand ghost stories.

In the first story, Granny England (called “Mrs Briton” by Bea Wherry) tells how she and her father were out at night seeking her two sons who had gone to find lost cattle. “We was just going past the house of a wicked old man what had died … and I saw just beside me a big, big black dog, as large as a calf, and his eyes shone like lumps of fire. My father hit at it with his stick and, would you believe me, the stick went right through it … when we’d passed the house, the dog disappeared.” They were sure that this apparition meant that the boys had fallen in the river, but when they got home they found to their relief that the two boys were fast asleep in bed. What did the apparition mean, then? “The next day, a telegram came to say as my brother had been killed by a railway truck … it was an omen.” Granny England’s son also saw “the great black beast with flaming eyes” in Troy Woods and her husband saw it “going nine times round a tree”.

Granny England was returning home to Mitchel Troy, “where we used to live”; at about midnight she was near the Potash (an old house – field number 54 on Key Map to Penallt Field Names) – when “I heard a lot of people talking in the air. First of all, I thought it was gypsies, but as I was coming by the hedge in the field I saw a sort of black cloud coming thro’ the gap and heard the cound of clanking chains – but there was no gypsies and I heard voices all around me, an’ I ran and ran, I was so frightened, until at last I fell in a sandpit at the bottom of the hill”.

Granny England’s husband figures in another tale which illustrates nicely the mixture of credulity and scepticism with which villagers regarded ghost-stories. He was going to visit his wife “who was nursing a sick woman, in a farm, some way off”. By the side of the road, he saw a lady dressed in a very old-fashioned way, her hair, of a sandy colour, was divided and arranged in two knots on the top of her head. Though it was a pitch dark night, he saw her plainly, and said “Goodnight”, but she passed him without speaking, and vanished up the road. He rushed into the farm where his wife was, and told her he’d seen the Devil. “Had he got a tail?” said she, laughing. “No – but he had horns”, he said, for he thought she had, from the way her hair was arranged. “You should have followed her and she’d have shown you a treasure if you’d asked her, in God’s name, what she wanted”, said Mrs Briton sagely, and he wished he had. “it is easy to explain away most ghost stories especially about black dogs at night, but as detailed a description as that given by Granny’s husband presents much more difficulty. The connection he made with evil in his own mind is interesting too. When he was asked why he thought the lady was the Devil, he replied, “Oh! I suppose it was just a wicked thought of mine.” Did he really think it was “all in his mind”?

[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]