There were several local ghost stories that were covered
in a series of articles from 'The Times and Weekly News' of 1938, by a writer who
signed him or herself as 'THE ROMANY'.
Here are a few articles that related to Arborfield, plus a reader's letter.
February 25th 1938:
‘Some Local Ghost Legends’
A great many places in town or country – usually country, being sufficiently old – have, nine times out of ten, a ghost story attached to them. A great many of these stories have been handed down through generations while others are merely vain suppositions and perhaps products of a lively imagination.
However, in these enlightened times no one pays attention to old country superstitions, nor do they any longer speak of ghosts and witches with bated breath. A few generations back it was not so, and such things caused a great sensation – especially when told in the village inn over the landlord’s good ale, while the fire roared up the spacious chimney, and a winter wind howled and moaned outside. Here is one of the most remarkable belonging to this district: -
‘The Laying of a Ghost’
In the Swallowfield road at Arborfield there stand two old farms immediately opposite each other – White’s Farm and Bartlett’s Farm. At sometime back in the early 18th century, there lived at White’s Farm, a farmer and his wife. What their names were it is impossible to tell, but it may have been White or Maggs, as an adjoining hamlet is called Magg’s Green. However, that is immaterial. The farmer’s wife was widely rumoured to be a witch, and beside having the power to work magic, she was reported to have been so mean in her dealings with customers that it was her habit to serve them milk that was three parts water, and persistently give short weight in the butter and cheese.
After she had been dead a few months, it is said that several people saw at a certain time of night – a spectre prowling that lonely stretch of road, wringing its hands and moaning in a hollow voice: "Weight and measure gave I never; Milk and water sold I ever!" Then with a final groan it descended silently into a deep pond by the road-side.
It is alleged that this went on for some time until the whole neighbourhood became terrified, and were compelled to take drastic measures, these being seven Priests came out from Reading and a great flat stone was brought to the place by a party of men. When the ghost appeared, the Priests began chanting incantations which were used especially for such proceedings. As soon as the apparition had descended into the pond, the stone was heaved flatly down over the middle of it and sank below the water. Strangely enough, no more was heard of the ghost until about a hundred years later, when a party of labourers was set to clean out the pond. After digging it out to the bottom they came upon the flat stone, and were about to prise it up, when the foreman came up and wildly entreated them not to touch it, telling them that his father had been one of the men present when the ghost was put down, and if they touched the stone, the spectre would escape and start its night prowls afresh. How much truth there is in the whole thing no one knows, but the stone was certainly there when the pond was filled in during recent years, and undoubtedly it is still there today.
[Note: Many villagers are under the mistaken impression that this pond referred-to above was the one at the Cross. However, the village pond was still in use, though in a poor state, several years after this article was written. There used to be several ponds along the Swallowfield Road itself, and two possible locations are shown on the Tithe Apportionment Map near to Chamberlain's Farm and Yew Tree Cottage. This map also showed ponds around both White's and Bartlett's Farms.]
February 25th 1938:
‘When the Devil Came to Arborfield’
In the early part of the 1850’s there was a very hard winter. Snow lay on the ground for some weeks and, during that time, a curious thing occurred at Arborfield, and, if rumour can be depended upon, other parts of the country beside.
Early one morning, some extraordinary tracks were discovered in the snow on the Arborfield Hills. They resembled a cloven-footed animal. So far there is nothing strange in that, but the curious part about it was that the tracks did not go in fours as an animal’s do, but in pairs like human tracks and, apart from that, they began suddenly!
From the crest of the hill they proceeded downwards towards the Swallowfield road where they suddenly ceased. Then the track was again taken up in Pudding Lane, which lies as a cut between the Swallowfield and main Reading roads. It was traced down the lane to the Reading road end where it ceased as suddenly as before. However, it was found again – this time, on the roof of an old thatched cottage which used to stand somewhere near Arborfield Grange. From there it was taken up again in Arborfield Hall park, and went on for a time, ceasing in the direction of Earley, and no more was seen of it from that point.
This mystery was never cleared up, nor could any solution be arrived at, apart from the fact that it was commonly supposed by all and sundry that the Devil himself had passed through Arborfield. No one saw the possessor of the cloven hoof, or heard him as he silently padded over the snowbound countryside. So the mystery remained. A few days afterward it was heard that the same track had been found in Norfolk where it had again crossed the roofs of cottages. The mystery deepened. Again it was seen, and this time on the coast of Denmark! Whether this was identical with the others is not known for certain, but it was most probable, though somewhat fantastic. Speculation ran high.
The only possible solution is that the tracks were probably made by some rare species of Eagle or Falcon, as some of these birds have strange and rather clumsy feet that could easily have made a mark like that of a cloven hoof in the snow. It is probable that the bird had come from the mountains of Wales, or perhaps from Ireland, having been disturbed by the severe weather conditions, and made its way across the country by stages, walking occasionally to rest its wings. Having reached Norfolk, it eventually made its way across the North Sea to Denmark. A fantastic and far-fetched tale if you like, but it served to entertain the simple country folk of last century for many a long day whilst we, in this enlightened age of Radio and Talking Pictures, would not stop to think of such a thing twice.
Letters to the Editor: ‘Was the Arborfield Ghost Laid?’
Sir, It was with the greatest interest that I read the contribution by ‘The Romany’ for the following reasons. People living in Arborfield will remember several happenings, more or less tragic, which have taken place during the last few years at, or near, a spot in the Swallowfield Road, not very far from the Farm mentioned in the article by ‘The Romany’ in a recent issue of the ‘Times’. It is headed ‘Some Local Ghost Legends’, and tells the story of the laying of a ghost of 18th Century fame, and also the tale of another local witch. Now many people, like myself, must often have wondered whether there could not be some evil influence at work in this particular part of Arborfield, or whether, after all, it was pure coincidence.
The facts are as follows: In the road, near a farm building, which by the way had once been damaged by a storm, a little girl was knocked down by a motor vehicle and badly injured. But for the wonderful treatment she received at the hospital, she would not be alive today. A few yards further along the road, a little later, a man cycling from work was killed by the fall of a tree, and in a field a little way distant from the spot, an aeroplane was wrecked and two people well-known in society lost their lives.
Of lesser import was the fact that a caravan close by was burned out. Fortunately the occupant was away at the time. Hence my query? Thank God, or goodness (the terms are interchangeable), nothing untoward has happened here lately, but it gives me furiously to think.
Yours faithfully, EVE.
‘Some Local Ghost Legends’
This week's article mentions: 'A headless white lady, mounted on a white Palfrey, is rumoured to rise out of the Rectory Marsh at Barkham, and wend her way nightly, by a cross-country route to the water meadows by the ‘Mole’ on the Bear Wood Road, and there disappear.'
[This was explained-away as the vapours rising from the watercourse as the temperature dropped.]
‘Some Local Ghost Legends’
Another ghost legend was described in detail in this week's article, but summarised below:
The Washington family’s coffins were transferred at night-time from the old churchyard to a vault in the new churchyard. As the coffins were disinterred, a gale-force wind picked up and lasted until all of the coffins had been re-interred at the new churchyard, at which point the wind dropped and the moonlit night became still again.
With acknowledgements to Surrey & Berkshire Media
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