In the Bible, spirits were described as being banished to the Red Sea and this is probably the reason there are so many haunted pools and lakes – they were chosen as the places to bind troublesome spirits. The spirits were usually trapped by the exorcist in a small bottle or tin which was then thrown into the middle of the expanse of water. This is probably one of the reasons why so many pools have an eerie reputation.
This is also the reason for the reputation of one of the UK’s most famous haunted pools: Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Here the spirit of (the typically wicked) John Tregeagle was laid to rest, ordered by the ghost-layer to remain there until he had emptied the pool with a limpet shell (which had a hole in it to make the task doubly difficult).
John Tregeagle, incidentally, is one of the few ghosts to have given evidence in a court of law. A swindler who had borrowed a sum of money in a transaction witnessed by Tregeagle, insisted after Tregeagle’s death that no such loan had been made. Brought to court by the lender, he swore: ‘If Tregeagle ever saw it, I wish to God Tregeagle would come and declare it!’ To his dismay, the spirit returned from beyond the grave to denounce him (and then wouldn’t go away, hence the need to bind him in Dozmary Pool).
In North Wales, the spirit of another supposedly wicked character, the 16th century squire Sir John Wynne, has found itself trapped in a pool formed below the celebrated Swallow Falls at Betws-y-Coed. Wynne’s spirit must remain in its watery prison until Doomsday ‘to be punished, purged, spouted upon and purified for the foul deeds done in the days of his nature.’
The Parliament-arian Captain Thomas Round was another villain of the first degree, if tradition is to be believed: he is said to have murdered his first two wives, cheated his neighbours and while ‘helpfully’ guiding a blind widow’s hand as she wrote her will, succeeded in making her write his name instead of her chosen beneficiary. He suffered for this particular act of villainy, however, for the spirit of the angry woman returned to plague him, giving him no peace morning, noon or night. At last, in despair, he drowned himself in a pond near his home in Upton-on-Severn, Worcestershire.
Since then, his ghost became a trouble to the neighbourhood. Various attempts were made by clergymen to ‘bind’ his spirit in the pool where he had done away with himself, but with uncertain success. His ghost is said to still be seen lurking round the fateful pond and also wandering along the banks of the River Severn.
Bodies of still water have often been used by unfortunates to drown themselves in but rather than wicked squires, they are usually wronged young girls. But the subject of female apparitions haunting pools and ponds is the subject for a subsequent article.