ROBERT SNOW has come up trumps again with an archive of fascinating stories written down by his late grandfather Dr R C C Clay, famous as the man who spied the phantom of a possible prehistoric horseman in Dorset. Robert has kindly made them available for Uncanny UK. First up, a story collected by Dr Clay from a village that is no stranger to this site – Avebury in Wiltshire. Having collected one or two myself from this historic village, I’m delighted to learn about yet another one. Dr Clay’s words follow:
This happened one moonlight evening at 7 pm when Mr. W. E. V. Young, the curator of Avebury Museum, was standing outside the museum after locking up for the night. The museum lies at the western end of a wide trackway bordering the northern wall of the churchyard. He saw at the north-east corner of the chancel a figure with its head concealed by a covering similar to a Macintosh. Mr Young thought it was young Bob Clements, a local youth who was a constant nuisance, and who, Young thought, had a short while ago attempted to break into the museum.
Mr Young entered the gate at the north-west corner of the churchyard, near which he was standing in the hope of finding out whether the figure was that of Clements or not. The figure at once moved along the side of the north aisle before Mr Young could intercept him. Mr Young hurried forward and gained on the figure as it passed round the west side of the church. Mr Young put out his hand to catch hold of it, but as he did so it suddenly vanished. He never saw its face, for the figure had its head covered by a sort of monk’s cowl. He searched a nearby yew tree and the whole of the churchyard, but never found the figure again.
A few days later when Mr Young was again searching the churchyard in the evening, he saw Miss Cox, the village schoolmistress, working in her garden, which borders the churchyard wall about 20 yards due east of the east end of the church.
Miss Cox at once said: ‘Have you seen anything strange about here lately?’
Then she told him that a few evenings ago, when she was working in her garden, she looked up and saw a strange figure close to the east end of the church. She realized that ‘it was not human’ and at once dropped her garden-fork and ran indoors in a panic. For some days afterwards she had been afraid to go into the garden in the evening.
Some months before this, the estate carpenter (Mr Rendle) was walking along the path which leads from a gate in the west wall of the churchyard to Truslowe Manor. He passed on the little bridge ‘a woman in white’. Her appearance was so strange and so unlike anything he had ever seen before that he had hesitated from mentioning the episode to anyone for fear of ridicule.
When the original Saxon Church was enlarged in the late Norman times, some of the vallum and some of the stones of Avebury Circle had to be levelled. A portion of this levelled ground was acquired as an extension to the churchyard in 1922. Whenever a grave was dug in the churchyard Mr Young was in the habit of searching the excavated soil for relics connected with the prehistoric circle. About 1957 when a grave was being dug in this new portion of the churchyard, the extended skeleton of a young woman with very much abraided lower canine teeth and many shards of late Norman pottery was found. The skeleton was lying east and west and it appeared to represent a Christian burial of Norman times, buried probably just inside the bounds of the Norman churchyard. There were no signs of a coffin. Perhaps the ghost was that of this young woman. The ghost was evidently covered in a shroud.
Mr Young first told me of this ghost when I visited him on 28th August 1958. He and I went over the ground very carefully and I made detailed plans of the churchyard and the exact spots where the ghost was seen by Mr Young, Miss Cox and the estate carpenter.
© Robert Snow / Photo of Avebury Church at dawn © Richard Holland