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Helmdon Historical Articles

A Helmdon Ghost Story

recounted by Kay Bristow (née Pettifer)


William(Bill) Pettifer The young man on the motorbike:

my father,William (Bill) Pettifer


The Open Gate

This story was told to my sister and I by my father, Bill Pettifer. He swore it happened to him but you must judge for yourself.

Picture if you can Bill, a young man riding an old motorbike down a muddy lane on a pitch dark winter night just before the outbreak of WW2. Bill has just received his call up papers to join the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and is on the way home after telling his girlfriend, who is staying in another village near Helmdon, the news. He is already late after spending a few precious hours before embarkation with Marjorie and knows his mother will be waiting anxiously and impatiently, for his return.

The weather however, is getting worse as it begins to rain. Everything around him seems hellbent on preventing him from reaching home in one piece. He feels the tyres of the bike slide on the wet leaves littering the road. Even the skeletal bushes and trees lining the road seem reach out to touch him with their wet fingers as if wanting to dislodge him from his seat. Then, to his horror, his motorbike begins to sputter as the rain seeps into the electricals inside the engine. He considers dismounting to fix the damn thing before it breaks down completely, but decides, as he is eager reach the warmth and comfort of his home, to carry on. His home after all, a small cottage on the Wappenham Road, is not that far away.

It is at this point things take a strange direction. The motorbike engine, after sputtering and threatening to break down, takes on a new lease of life and begins to speed up. He hurtles along the road, over the potholes and through the puddles passing the silhouette of a large old house. It is here that he narrowly misses a large pair of rusty, iron gates flung wide open onto the road! It is however, not until he reaches home that he takes stock of the situation thinking to himself how lucky he was to have missed those gates when the thought occurs to him that, in all the time he had used that road, and that had been often, he had never seen the gates open.

On recounting the events of the night to his mother giving them as the reason for his lateness, imagine his surprise when he is met with disbelief. Everyone knows, he is told, that the gates of that house open inwards and not outwards onto the road. They had been fixed like that many years ago by the owner, a rich landowner, following the elopement and disappearance of his wife and her lover in a coach!

The next day, in order to reassure himself that he hadn’t imagined the event, Bill again took his motorbike along the same stretch of road but this time in daylight. Sure enough, he finds the house and recognizes immediately the skid marks made by his tyres in the wet mud the night before but to his amazement, he finds the gates are shut tight, the locks are rusted and there are wedges to prevent the gates opening onto the road. The gates look as if they have never been opened for years!

Well, readers what do you think? Have you experienced a similar `happening` in Helmdon, or heard any stories like this one about an elopement and disappearance of a young wife, or of `ghostly gates` that open onto the road? I would be interested to hear of any myths and legends relating the Helmdon or the surrounding area. Perhaps then, I can find out if my father was telling to the truth to his mother, or just a good storyteller!

Kay Bristow née Pettifer


Ed note: See  also Another Helmdon Ghost Story The Shape




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