An encounter with an appariton in the West Midlands leads to a man spending a very uncomfortable night
by Richard Holland
I’ve just picked up a copy of Leonard DeVries’ 1974 book ‘Orrible Murder, a collection of entertainingly gruesome snippets from the Victorian ‘tabloid’ The Illustrated Police News. Although concerned mainly with crime, it appears spook stories would feature, too: there are two in ‘Orrible Murder. Here is the first: an ‘Encounter with a Ghost’ which first appeared, according to the IPN of December 14, 1872, as a letter in the Brierley Hill & Stourbridge Advertiser. The writer’s name is not given.
The location is the West Midlands. Whittington is a few miles north-west of Stourbridge and, judging by Multimap, still comparatively unbuilt on; it is bordered by a fairly extensive patch of woodland. Here is the account:
‘Perhaps you will afford me space to give a short narrative of an adventure which occurred while crossing Whittington Common which people who are acquainted with the locality know as a lonely place at night. I had been to Kinver and remained rather longer than I intended and about half past eleven passed Whittington Inn. In two minutes or so I was in the solitude of the Common.
‘With the silence around me I was on my guard in case I should be surprised or set upon by some desperate character but let no one suppose I was oppressed by the silence or the solitariness. No such thing – I was enjoying the solitariness and drinking delight from the wondrous beauty and calmness of the scene and jogging along at something like three miles an hour. From the time of leaving Kinver I had not met a single soul but as this moment just as I was about to ascend a hill – I observed a figure approaching.
‘Its manner of approach struck me as strange, it appeared rather to glide than to walk, but I accounted for this by the softness of the ground which prevented me hearing the footfalls. At this moment the moon was overshadowed and a comparative darkness fell upon the scene. There however, the figure still stood, and I could see it plainly although the moon was obscured.
‘I demanded why I was thus stopped but there was no answer and I made an attempt to pass on one side. I was far from feeling assured that I could force a passage and raising my stick with all my force aimed a blow at the unwelcome visitor. My blow was well aimed but my stick passed straight through what ought to have been a head.
‘The swing made me stumble and I heard a low chuckling laugh. The figure extended a long arm and I was pressed gently but irresistibly down until I was laid upon my back on the wayside. A cold sweat broke out and the phantom continued to stand about a yard away. I could see it with perfect distinction as the cloud had passed from the moon and she was again pouring a silver stream over everything around.
‘At last day began to break and as the first ray gilded the clouds on the eastern horizon the phantom lifted up both its arms over its shadowy head, uttered once again its mocking chuckle, and disappeared. I felt immediate deliverance and reached home in a complete state of exhaustion, mental and physical.
‘I can only say that I never get drunk and was perfectly sober. Moreover, no dreams visit the bestial sleep of the drunkard. Others will say I must be a timid man and that my imagination played me a trick. To this I would say I am not of a timorous nature and my health was never better at the time. How to account for the adventure I cannot tell but I shall not forget the experience of that horrible night.’
The story – though an antiquated one – particularly interests me because I am collecting accounts of ‘ghost assaults’ for a forthcoming book. The second spook story in ‘Orrible Murder deals with a more violent encounter – I’ll reprint it next week.