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Helmdon Historical Articles

Another Helmdon Ghost Story

recounted by Kay Bristow (née Pettifer)


The Pettifers

The young man with the elderly couple: Bill,

his mother Karolina and father

Richard (Dick) Pettifer outside

their cottage which is now

incorporated into Butts Cottage



The Shape

This story was told to my sister and myself by our mum Marjorie. Marjorie became Mrs. William Pettifer just after the War. At the time of this event she was engaged to Bill Pettifer a Helmdon lad, who was away fighting with the Eighth Army in Egypt, Italy and North Africa.

It concerns a small cottage, now incorporated into Butts Cottage, Wappenham Road, Helmdon.

It was owned by Dick and Karolina Pettifer before it was sold to Londoners just after the War. At the time of the `ghostly` event, Karolina Pettifer, Bill (William) Pettifer’s mother, and Marjorie Billingham (Bill's fiancée) were eagerly awaiting Bill`s return for a brief period of leave.  It was a time of heightened emotions for those left at home whether living in cities or in the countryside.  Newspaper headlines carried censored news of the fighting in Anzio where they both knew Bill was fighting.  Both women coped with the stress as best they could so, in order to support Karolina who was then widowed, Marjorie would travel on the old LMS line from Rugby where she lived, to stay with Karolina in Helmdon.  

Suffice to say that unfortunately the two women were polar opposites in character and the relationship between them could only be described at best, as rocky. Karolina, although a naturalized Briton, was Austrian by birth, no nonsense and practical by nature. She was part of a farming family who had emigrated to London from Koblenz, then part of Austria in the late 19th Century, to escape the privations of constant warfare and bad harvests. However, despite years of living in Britain through two World Wars, Karolina had never lost her strong German accent. Indeed, this could have been an alienating factor with some of the English amongst whom she and her family had settled before she married Richard, a Helmdon man, and found herself living in a small Northamptonshire village. So then, for the second time in Karolina`s life, her land birth was at war with her adopted country, the difference being that this time her only son was at the battlefront and Karolina already widowed, faced losing her son to another woman, or to the War.

At the other end of the spectrum was our mother Marjorie, the only daughter of a couple who owned a small shop in Rugby. She was a young, vivacious and generous young woman who had met Bill by chance at a village dance in Helmdon. She had not experienced many hardships even during the Great Depression. She was a `townie` used to the comforts up to date electricity, gas and plumbing. Marjorie`s background however, did not make her insensitive to others or in any way or spoilt, indeed she was imaginative and her bubbly nature hid a great deal of insecurity with a lack of confidence that laid her open to any criticisms made against her, especially from her prospective mother-in-law. The following is her story.

It was evening time after a humid, sultry summer day. The two women were tired. They had been preparing for Bill`s arrival, making meals from the rations allowed, collecting the fresh vegetables from the plot behind the cottage and  cleaning  the

The late 1970s photo shows dwellings on the Wappenham Road. The 'ghost sighting' featured in the story took place during the Second World War, in the back bedroom of what was then Pettifer's Cottage (the cottage directly behind the mother holding a child) before its sale and amalgamation in the late 1940s with Riley's Cottage to form what has become Butts Cottage.

house from bottom to top. Cleaning the cottage for Marjorie was by far the worst torture, an ordeal in itself. The main living room was very small and dark with an inglenook fireplace at one end. Inside the inglenook were the largest, blackest, hairiest spiders in creation! It took all of Marjorie`s strength to stifle her cries of fear when one of the creatures that had crept down the chimney unseen, waved its legs in her direction as she was just about to dust the lintel! To add to her fear was that she didn`t have Bill to dispose of them for her, only his mother who would make her feel silly for being so scared.

Later in the evening after the supper, Marjorie carrying a small hurricane lamp, bade Karolina goodnight and climbed up the old, creaking stairs to bed. The flickering oil lamp cast dancing shadows along the walls of the stairwell as she walked, leaving the corners in inky blackness. The rough walls of the old cottage smelled of paraffin but were still warm to the touch after heat of the day. Once inside the tiny bedroom at the back of the cottage Marjorie prepared for bed. She snuggled down underneath the bedclothes and, weary after all the hard work she and Karolina had done together, was soon asleep. Marjorie didn`t know how long she had been asleep or what had woken her, but something had! She awoke with an uneasy feeling that something was not quite right! The room was in complete darkness and it seemed to be getting cooler by the second. She told herself that must be getting breezy outside and it was probably a draught from the window. She tried to get back to sleep but although exhausted, proper deep sleep would not come. She was caught between waking and sleeping, aware of the noises of the night, of the old cottage creaking and groaning as the breeze outside gathered momentum. Something, maybe the increasing coldness in the bedroom or the moon illuminating the room from outside, awoke her. It was then she saw a movement in the shadow from the darkest corner of the bedroom. The black shadow moved slowly along the wall. As it crept along it began to assume a shape. The shape was becoming clearer as it neared the bed in which Marjorie lay cowering. Terrified, Marjorie buried her head under the bedclothes and tried not to look. However, curiosity eventually got the better of her and she raised her head above the bedclothes just enough to glimpse a dark shadow. It appeared to be hovering at the side of her bed then suddenly, it loomed up bending over her. The shape appeared to be that of a hunched, old woman! Marjorie, panic struck, pulled the bedclothes over her head and suppressed a scream that would have brought her mother-in-law into the bedroom. At all costs, Marjorie thought, she would not admit to seeing a ghost to her prospective mother-in-law. The next morning, when asked by Karolina how she had slept and still shaken from the experience of the night before, Marjorie described the event as being a nightmare. Imagine her shock when, instead of an unsympathetic remark from Karolina, Karolina raised her eyebrow and looking directly at Marjorie said, “So! You have seen it too?

Of course, when Bill returned he gave a hundred and one logical explanations as to what had really happened. Maybe the moon had cast the shadow of the tree into the room. Maybe the headlights of a car had illuminated the water jug and bowl standing in the window and, as it drove along the road, so the shadow moved around the room. Each explanation was countered. The trees would have cast different shaped shadows. The road was too far away for the lights of a car to reach into the bedroom and not at the right angle…………and anyway, both women knew what they had seen.

Kay Bristow née Pettifer


Ed note: See also A Helmdon Ghost story  The Open Gate





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