Westwood and Simpson provide several good examples of haunted crossroads in their book The Lore of the Land (2005). In Chalvington, Sussex, in the 1750s, the local miller, unable to make his business thrive due to his honest dealings (he was described as ‘the only honest miller ever known’), hanged himself. His body was taken to a crossroads, buried and staked there. A Victorian historian, M A Lower, recorded the story:
‘An oaken stake driven through his body grew into a tree, and threw a singular shriveled branch, the only one it ever produced, across the road. It was the most singular abortion of a tree we ever saw, and had something extremely hag-like and ghostly in its aspect. The spot was of course haunted, and many a rustic received a severe shock to his nerves on passing it after nightfall. The tradition [was] looked upon as fabulous until about 27 years ago [c. 1827], when a labourer employed in digging sand near the roots of the scraggy oak discovered a human skeleton. For this part of the story we can vouch, having in our boyish days seen some of the bones.’
Murderers were often hanged at crossroads and gibbets set up to display their decaying corpses: two more reasons to avoid them after dark. At Blythburgh, Suffolk, for example, ‘Black Toby’, a man executed for the murder of a girl, was hanged in chains at a crossroads and it was believed that at midnight he could be seen driving his own hearse with four black horses past his place of execution.
Ghosts are still to be met at crossroads. In a letter I received in 2002, a Mr Roberts, of Anglesey, told me how he had encountered an apparition when out shooting pheasants with a friend: ‘By now it was dark, and as I walked toward the Hafod Onnen Crossroads, I was approached by a tall man similar to Ted. Taking it for granted that it was Ted, I asked him, “Did you get the bird?” No reply. “Where’s the dog?” No reply. “Where’s your gun?” No reply.
‘I followed him, almost touching him, but he kept out of reach. He was wearing a full-size oilskin coat, and as I was about to touch him he disappeared through a gate that was locked. Had he been a real man, the sheep in the field would have come running for feed, as there was a trough by the gate, but they didn’t.’
Mr Roberts later learnt that ‘the ghost of Hafod Onnen Crossroads was well-known’. Considering the expansion of our towns and villages, many old crossroads, where dark rites have been observed, corpses buried and criminals hung in chains, must now be disguised among our suburbs and housing estates. What frights have they in store for the 21st century?
c. Richard Holland, 2010, quoting The Lore of the Land by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson, Pebguin 2005, and Wales of the Unexpected by Richard Holland, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2005.