One of the first articles that I wrote about Sussex (and certainly the first I got paid for – I was about 13 at the time), finished with the couplet,
“I saw a ghost at Jacob’s Post
Last night, almost!”
I didn’t, and I don’t know anyone who did, but certainly the locals were afraid of passing “the post” at night. It is situated on the very northern end of Ditchling Common, near where was the Royal Oak (actually in Wivelsfield parish) and although the pub, and indeed its successor are no longer there, the post is and its gilded cockerel bears the date 1734, which was when the events took place which could have well given rise to a haunting.
Jacob Harris, the murderous pedlar
A travelling pedlar, Jacob Harris by name, having “booked in” at the pub, went on to murder the landlord, his wife and maid for which he was convicted and hanged at the site of the surviving post. This post had a great following, so much so that the original post, and probably another, were hacked away by people seeking a cure for toothache by carrying a splinter of it.
Certainly, Sussex has had its fair share of hauntings, and several historians have recorded them, notably R Thurston-Hopkins (1884-1958), Judy Middleton (Ghosts of Sussex 1988) and self-proclaimed ghost hunters such as Andrew Green of Robertsbridge and others who have gone out to seek strange phenomena, with some success. My purpose therefore is to try to link some of the actual appearances that have graced our homes, ruins and glades.
The headless hitchhiker
If Jacob Harris did not appear to the unwary traveller, certainly the phantom “hitchhiker” did in St Leonards Forest near Horsham. The horsemen who took rides across the forest were likely to find an unexpected passenger riding pillion behind him. We know who it was, namely Captain Powlett, which is just as well because when hitching a lift, the Captain was not normally wearing his head!
The Powletts were an ancient family in Shipley, just south of the forest but just who the Captain was, what he had done with his head and why he needed assistance with his transport arrangements is not clear.
The horse of Brewer Griffith
Certainly horses are known to appear when not expected. My late father-in-law Ronald Kenyon believed he saw a ghostly one crossing the road in front of him when returning at dusk from Brighton to Horsham at Dale Hill between Pyecombe and Poynings. This was undoubtedly the horse of Brewer Griffith of Brighton who was murdered by robbers near this spot and his horse turned loose. Like many other hauntings, recent researchers have associated this spot with “ley lines” radiating from Wolstonbury Hill.
Other Sussex hauntings can be linked by the nature of the manifestations. The former Kings Head at Cuckfield enjoyed the presence, and scent of Geranium Jane. A former housemaid who having fallen pregnant by the landlord, was killed by him dropping a pot of geraniums on her head. Other sad ladies who turn up to those that are receptive seem to be characterised by their clothing. There are plenty of “grey ladies” – they appear to those prepared to see them at the theatres of the Theatre Royal at Brighton and The Connaught at Worthing, but they also crop up at Preston Manor near Brighton and Michelham Priory.
White ladies abound too at Herstmonceux Castle and Battle Abbey, whilst some of our well documented hauntings are manifested by sound: at Herstmonceux the ramparts of the castle are well known (heard) to be frequented by the Drummer Boy whereas elsewhere in the county the acute may be regaled by ghostly music – the monkish choir at Poling, near Arundel, the lone singer at Didling and the phantom Polka performer at Angmering.
Sometimes however the manifestations vouchsafed to the faithful do not even offer them a full apparition! At Hangleton Manor near Hove, white hands have been known to resist access to doors, whereas at Twineham Rectory near Cuckfield, a gloved black hand was seen to progress on its own along the landing. One could say “unnerving”!
Happy to be home
So are the sad spirits from the past more likely to appear to those of a receptive mind? Maybe. Or perhaps, like the white lady at Preston Manor they will be appeased when properly re-interred in hallowed ground. Or some, like the old groom who haunted a stable at Alfriston or another benign spirit who crops up from time to time, the late Sir Hubert Parry who has appeared in his beloved Knightscroft at Rustington, perhaps they are all just happy to be home. In fact, perhaps these spirits are, like the rest of us, happy to be home in Sussex.
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