“From Ghoulies and Ghosties …”
… and long –leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night the Good Lord deliver us”. (Old Scottish prayer)
Strangely enough, although I’ve talked to several village people recently about their ghostly experiences around Helmdon none of them appears to have been so frightened that they turned to prayer for their deliverance.
Mrs Olive Holton tells me how, as a girl, she was cycling home with her sister from the old Wappenham Feast on an August night with a moon but some mist rolling around. It was after midnight as they dropped down the little hill towards the millhouse below the ponds at Astwell and there, ahead, of them, an old-fashioned coach drawn by four horses floated across the road in front of them. “There was no noise so it couldn’t have been an owl flapping by”, says Olive. She and her sister didn’t stop until they reached Helmdon; they didn’t even get off and walk up the hill beyond the old railway bridge as was their usual habit. But Olive continued to cycle this road twice every day to and from her work in Abthorpe without fear or further experience. Alcoholic drinks at the Wappenham Feast? “Not a drop”, says Olive firmly.
Another fairly commonly told story concerns the second field along from Peters Bridge on the road to Sulgrave. A man killed a little boy in this field and was subsequently found insane and died in a lunatic asylum. This happened before the turn of the century and people from Sulgrave, who had to travel by train to Helmdon and then walk across the fields home at night, claimed to have seen the man’s ghost on moonlit nights.
Mrs Noreen White remembers clearly how she and a couple of friends, including Mrs Annie Humphrey, were cycling home from a dance at Culworth during the war. It was a brilliant moonlight night in October and as they were approaching Peters Bridge from Sulgrave, with Noreen in front, they all suddenly saw a man crossing the road ahead of them. It was so bright that they could see he wore a bowler hat and a dark suit, yet when they reached the point where he was, there he wasn’t. He was seen 2 nights running and when Annie told of the experience to her mother, she said “Oh, that was old Jimmy West who killed a little boy on the other side of the hedge.”
There are stories of several people having seen a horse and cart travelling silently along the Brackley Road near Radstone and of other unexplained experiences between Whittlebury and Silverstone.
But right here, in the village, Mrs Nancy Wheeler vividly recalls an occasion about 25 years ago, on a winter’s evening around dusk when she was on her way to deliver an evening paper to the cottage on the hill at the beginning of the Weston Road. As she crossed the railway bridge and approached the war memorial, she saw an old lady come out of the field opposite the war memorial and across the road to enter the garden of the Wrightons’ house, the big house facing the war memorial which is now 3 dwellings. It was only as Nancy continued on her way that she realized there was no gate from the field and no way into the Wrightons’ garden and, of course, the old lady had vanished. Although Nancy was on her own, she didn’t feel at all frightened at the time and when she mentioned the occurrence to a friend, the friend said, “Oh, that would be the old Mrs Wrighton”, as though it was not an unusual occurrence. Mrs Wrighton had been dead for many years but her family continued to occupy the house until relatively recent times.
What struck me, talking to all these people about their unexplained experiences, was that none of them felt they had been in the presence of malevolent manifestations, not even “old Jimmy West”. Indeed, without exception, they are convinced that Helmdon is a very friendly village, with a “good day”, a smile and a welcome for everyone who lives here and wants to enjoy the village life.
And did they believe in ghosts? A hesitation then, “Well……..”.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
Reprinted from Helmdon’s Talkabout Spring 1987
See also: Articles 55 and 56