Pluckley - The most haunted village in Britain
Britain is a country with an exceedingly long and colourful history; it is rich in folk law and steeped in ancient mysticism and spirits. The major cities and towns have many fine\ historic buildings and monuments often with unusual happenings and spectres attached to them, but real fear and haunting comes from villages with long traditions and close secretive families.
One such place is Pluckley a small village of around 1000 people in Kent located close to the brooding North Downs, and approximately 5 miles west of Ashford. The village is about 5 miles from junction 9 of the M20 motorway, is also served by Pluckley railway station, about 1.25 miles (2 km) to the south and lies on the long distance walking route, the Greensand Way and close to the Stour Valley Walk. To the south of the village stretches what remains of the ancient Jutish forest, the 'Andredsweald.'
The Domesday Book entry for Pluckley lists its name as Pluchelei although the earliest records show Pluccan lëah from the old English 'Plucca's clearing.’ During the 1100's it was spelt Plucelea and Plukele before finally settling on modern day Pluckley. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Lanfranc, the Italian born Archbishop of Canterbury, owned Pluckley. He gave management of the village to a Saxon knight, by the name of John Folet. The surrounding thick forested area, are part of the Weald of Kent, and was important to iron smelting and charcoal production during the Iron Age. The name 'Weald' comes from the German meaning 'forest' and relates to the source of the large amount of the fuel needed for early iron making, i.e. wood to make charcoal.
From the late Iron Age until the end of the Middle Ages, iron was smelted in the Weald in what is known as bloomery furnaces. Nearly 600 bloomery sites are known in the Weald, and it is possible to date about a quarter of these. Over half of these dated sites are from the period of the Roman occupation, of between 43 - 300AD. There is a furnace site to be found to the east of Pivington Mill and has been designated an ancient monument.
The Romans who were active throughout Kent, built a road through the area while the site of a Roman bath house with a mosaic floor, has been found nearby at Little Chart. The village thrived until the Black Death, in the 14th century, decimated the inhabitants. The population grew again, with the village moving away from the main forest area and established home weaving of textiles which brought wealth to the population.
Pluckley was involved in the 1450 unsuccessful revolt by Jack Cade (due to disorder under Henry VI) and in 1554 in the bloody Wyatt rebellion (aimed at preventing the marriage of Queen Mary and Philip of Spain), during which the parish church of St Mary at Pevington was destroyed
A large local landowner Sir Edward Dering, the 1st Baronet is buried in the village. He was well known for The Dering Manuscript, the earliest surviving manuscript text of any Shakespearean play. It was discovered at Surrenden Manor in Pluckley and the manuscript provides a single-play version of Henry IV Pt.1 and Pt.2 The consensus of opinion of Shakespeare scholars is that the Dering Manuscript is an edited version prepared around 1613, perhaps for family or amateur theatrics, by Edward Dering (1598–1644). He is also noted for creating a huge reference library of books, charters, maps and manuscripts and part of this collection can be found in the Centre for Kentish Studies at County Hall Maidstone. The third baronet, also named Sir Edward Dering, was commissioned by William and Mary to raise a new regiment and in 1689 the 24th Foot was established. Just under 200 years later it holds the record for the most VCs gained in a single 12-hour battle (Rorke's Drift fought during the 1879 Boer War, which was the subject of the film 'Zulu'). In 1881 the regiments name was changed to the South Wales Borderers and is now part of the Royal Regiment of Wales.
Probably Pluckley’s is best known as the Most Haunted village in Britain with at least 12 commonly recorded hauntings. There have been many more tragic deaths and paranormal appearances occurring in the village and one explanation for the concentration is because of high levels of magnetism in the village. There is no scientific proof to support this suggestion but all over Britain the occurrence of strong geological magnetism often results in high levels of paranormal activity. In addition to the hauntings and various manifestations the area is subject to the sudden descent of heavy blinding mists which can leave people frightened and disorientated.
I will describe some of the paranormal occurrences or hauntings and leave you to make of them what you will.
Lady Dering (The Red Lady)
The Red Lady was a member of the Dering family (about 1100ad) and is universally acknowledged in the area. When she died she was buried in no less than seven sealed lead coffins within an outer oak coffin which was then placed in the crypt in St. Nicholas's Church. Before they were sealed a red rose was placed on her beautifully dressed corpse hence the name "The Red Lady". Although the lead barrier protected her earthly body her spectre is said to be searching for the grave of her stillborn child which was taken from her and buried somewhere in the churchyard.
Lady Dering (The White Lady)
The White Lady is also a member of the Dering family and is also known as Kira Lee. She haunts St. Nicholas's Church and was the Baron’s wife. Local folk-law has it that when she died, Lord Dering was so distraught that her body was also buried in at least three sealed lead coffins and an outer oak one in an attempt to stop her body from decomposing. Sounds of knocking can be heard coming from beneath the church at night, often accompanied by a flickering and fluttering light inside the empty building. Some say the light belongs to Lady Dering whose ghost also walks the Dering family house library. The White Lady and the Red Lady were certainly related; but they are not the same ghost as has been suggested. As in life the most likely relationship between them are as sisters, or mother and daughter. Between the wars Surrenden Manor was used by the Court of St James' (the US Embassy in the UK) and a regular visitor there was the big game hunter and horse owner Walter Winan. Mr Winan was intrigued with the stories of the White Lady and on Christmas Eve 1920 he stayed to see if she appeared. He waited in the library with his gun until she suddenly materialised. Taking aim he fired but the bullet passed straight through her and into the wood panelling quickly followed through the same panelling by the White Lady. There was always a rumour that a tunnel connects the manor with the church at the point she disappeared. Subsequent examination found, In the church organ-well, a cupboard with a door at the back which leads to a, now bricked up, passage. It has never been explored.
Screaming Man of the Brickworks
There are two versions to this story, the first and most widely related is:
Tayler Jay Smith worked at Pluckley Brick & Tiles Company in the Pluckley Brickworks, which opened in 1877. One day the poor man was buried alive by a drying clay wall that fell on him. His screams are said to be heard coming from the brickworks, and his ghost is said to appear sometimes as well. There is an alternative version which suggests he fell into a clay pit and slowly drowned.
The other story concerns a young man who had his arm torn off by machinery in the brickworks and it’s his bloodcurdling screams that is said to be echoing around the brickworks and local forest.
This is the ghost an old Gypsy woman Abigail Nicolas who made a living by selling watercress she had collected from the local stream flowing under Crossroads Bridge. She was a well-known local character, eccentric but harmless and each evening at sun-set she would be found sitting on the walls of the bridge, smoking her clay pipe and drinking gin from a battered old flask. She died when a spark from the pipe she was smoking ignited the spilled gin on her clothes turning her into ball of fire. No one heard her agonised screams and she was found the next day, just a charred pile of ashes. Her ghost is seen regularly materialising as a screaming, howling figure surrounded by flame but recently the manifestation has faded to a faint, pink glow, that hovers in the air on the spot where the ‘Watercress Lady’ burned to death.
* Robert DuBois - The Highwayman
There were apparently two highway men that operated in the area but Robert DuBois was the most notorious and the one that manifests himself as the ghost. His technique was to hide inside a hollow tree on the corner (known as "Fright Corner") and jump out surprising his intended victim, giving them a fright which temporarily stunning them. Whilst it worked very well it also became well known and rather predictable. Eventually, those in the area tiring of this constant robbery killed him with a spear or long sword thrust through the oak tree where he usually hid, piercing and pinning him to the tree. The tree has long gone but the ghost of Robert DuBois and the tree with his body impaled often appear. In addition it is also reported his ghost still appears, jumping out at people traveling on the road much as he did in life.
Dering Arms public house and Hotel
This old hunting lodge is now a seafood restaurant and small hotel which is said to be haunted by an old lady in Victorian dress with a bonnet. This is not a wispy apparition but seems so solid that she is often mistaken for a customer sitting at a table albeit in period dress.
Blacksmiths Arms -
This tea room, run by Gloria Atkins, which began life in the 14 century as a blacksmiths before becoming an alehouse, seems to have several ghosts. One is a jaunty cavalier whose form has been seen by the family striding in and out of various upstairs rooms. The other is a maid in Tudor dress, standing by the fireplace slowly turning the spit and watched by bemused customers. There are other phenomena, such as a line of hanging mugs for no reason clinking together. There has also been various phantom customers who open and close the outer door and move furniture.
The Black Horse Public House was built in the 14th century as a farmhouse, at which time it was encircled by a deep moat, long since filled in although the outline is still visible in places. The pub is haunted by a ghostly prankster who delights in hiding the personal possessions of staff and customers alike, and who has locked the landlady out of her pub on more than one occasion. He moves items across the bar, tidies, and sometimes hides coats and wallets. The site is also home to disembodied screaming and there is an area in the kitchen where the dogs stop, look and abruptly bark at something, or someone that only they can see and an upstairs room that the dogs refuse to enter. The land-ladies young daughter has seen what she describes as a ‘nice lady in a red dress’.
Horse and Carriage
This well-known ghostly sighting has been seen and heard on numerous occasions over the decades. All of the sightings describe the same dark coloured Carriage and pair being driven through the village at high speed on Maltman's Hill. No-one seems to know the reason for this apparition although in addition to Maltman's Hill it has been seen at various places around the village. One sighting was quite recently just after midnight at Pinnocks Crossroads the coach and horses, with bright light streaming from its windows, was seen by several people. On other occasions it has been sighted being driven furiously, the thunderous sound of horse’s hooves on cobbles being chilling as the road is not cobbled now although in the past it would have been.
There is a second coach and horses, heard but not seen, that rattles past the Bakery from time to time.
Phantom Monk of Greystones
The house called Greystones built in 1863, was formerly Rectory Cottage and is haunted by a monk dressed in a brown robe. He may have been involved with the Lady of Rose Court as legend has it he had a romantic affair with her. Why he haunts the grounds is unknown although it is possible that he ended his days here. This monk is said to have lived in Tudor times, and his love of the daughter on a neighbouring property was tragically cut short by her untimely death. He sank deeply into depression and was seen to walk in sadness and solitude until eventually he died of a broken heart. His ghost, continues to walk the fields and lanes and was last spotted in 1989 by an American journalist who saw the brown robed figure drifting slowly through the lanes.
Lady of Rose Court
The ghost, thought to be one of the Dering family, haunts the house called Rose Court near Greystones. As mentioned above she may have been having an affair with the phantom monk of Greystones. The relationship being impossible she committed suicide by eating poisonous berries and fungus and now haunts the house and the gardens usually seen between 1600 and 1700 hours,(said to be the time she died) and is often heard calling her two dogs.
This sighting seems to be a variation of the above two when a couple (a monk and young lady) are seen walking down Station Road, near Greystones House, engrossed in conversation and walking a little dog. They were last reported in 1971 and are suspected of being the two mentioned above that each met a tragic end.
Colonel of Park Woods
An unidentified man believed to be travelled to Park Wood, near Pluckley, committed suicide by hanging himself from one of the trees. The woodland was levelled in 1965 but often his ghostly form is seen marching through the area in the full military uniform of a Colonel, hence his nickname. His ghost seems to be completely harmless and his demeanour does not appear distressed or angry. The ghost is quite solid and most people who see him don't even suspect he's a spectre.
Phantom of the Pinnocks
The ghost haunting the ruined windmill near a house called “The Pinnocks” is thought locally to be that of Richard 'Dicky' Buss. The mill was closed down in 1930 and fell into disrepair being eventually destroyed in 1939 by fire, when lightning struck during a severe thunder storm. The phantom is unrecognisable and is a completely black silhouette usually considered a portent of a bad storm.
This manifestation appears at Mill Hill, near The Pinnock, which is the location where the ruined mill once stood. Tales suggest it is haunted by both the miller and a gypsy woman who was said to have burnt to death on the site. This reported sighting seems to be a confusion or combination of the Watercress Lady and Phantom of the Pinnocks.
The headmaster Henry Turff
Henry Turff was the esteemed headmaster of Smarden School. He was close friends with Richard Buss in Pluckley and he would travel to Pluckley every Sunday to visit Buss and discuss their favourite subject of politics. However, one Sunday, he did not arrive and was later found, by a group of schoolchildren, on the land leading to the mill, hanging from a tree and dressed smartly in a green blazer and striped trousers. No-one knows the reason for his suicide, but on occasions of a full moon, his ghostly form is clearly to be seen, swinging back and forth, at the end of a rope, face twisted and eyes protruding as he slowly strangles for eternity.
The alleged site of the bush can be found at Frith Corner and is probably one of many bordering either the wood or the fields in that area although which one in particular is not known. The tale is that if one dances three times round a certain bush (and presumably chants the right words) then the devil will appear to do your bidding, or for you to do his. How or why this story has grown up, no one really knows although Devil worship usually crops up in areas of high supernatural activity.
During the renovation of this property they removed an old Victorian fireplace, which exposed the original hearth. Immediately a whole series of supernatural happenings occurred including ghostly heavy feet that stamped across an upper room and fell silent when they reached the fireplace. Residents reported the archetypal icy chill hanging in the air around the fireplace on even the hottest day. The stretch of road running past seems to be used by the phantom coach and horses that are heard, but never seen, racing by the houses in the early hours of the morning.
Just outside the village is the Elvey Farm Country Hotel. Originally a barn built in the 15th century an upper storey was added in the 16th century and it was converted into a comfortable home. When still a farmhouse it was well known for poltergeist goings on accompanied by a pervading smell of burning yarn or wool. The poltergeist was suspected to be a fair-haired young man with a tidy cropped beard often seen walking around the farm house and land. He was suspected to be a tenant farmer who committed suicide at the farm in the 1850’s following the death of his wife and the failure of his business. His tricks were never malevolent and amounted to little more than footsteps and lights on and off. However the house seemed to exert a greater power. A Japanese TV crew exploring the haunting was accompanied by a medium who complained of an overwhelming feeling of drowning on arrival. It transpired that the site of the car park was a deep pond in times gone by.
A taxi driver reported being flagged down by a man on the roadside. The man climbed into the back seat and settled down, however, when the driver turned to ask where he wanted to go there was nothing and no-one there.
The Screaming Woods
These woods were originally called the Dering Woods, and most of the local people still refer to them as that. The nickname of the "The Screaming Woods" came about because, at night, it is said you can still hear the screams of the numerous lost people who unable to get out eventually died. It is an eerie experience to walk these muddy paths through the skeletal trees, especially when it is getting dark and the journey is made even spookier by the knowledge that many lone travellers who have come this way have been scared almost to death by sudden loud, agonising screams from deep within the woods which sends the birds scattering from the tree tops.
There are many other reports of unusual happenings, mostly uncorroborated and, of course, villages with interesting histories attract those, from outside the area, which like to make up nonsense stories not knowing that the real spectres take a very dim view of this and may turn the tables on the sad perpetrators wherever they hide.
The whole Dering estate was sold in 1928, at which time many of the tenants purchased their homes and businesses. A copy of the auction catalogue was very interesting showing that tradesmen in the village included a wheelwright, coffin maker, saddler, shoemaker, provisions store, post office and general store, butcher, baker, sweet shop, newsagent, furniture warehouse, and windmill (destroyed by fire in 1939 following a storm). The manor house of Surrenden Dering became a boys' school but was gutted by fire in 1952, perhaps releasing its many spirits.
Setting the ghostly happening and fiendish apparitions to one side, Pluckley has many other places of interest which makes it worth spending a day or two sightseeing and experiencing the atmosphere. There are several comfortable hotels in the area including the haunted Elvey Farm Hotel and Dering Arms Hotel.
One reason why some people visit Pluckley is that it has figured in many television programmes. Probably one of the most famous was 'The Darling Buds of May' a rather sugar sweet drama series which included Catherine Zeta Jones before she became a super Hollywood star. Because the village has changed little in decades it is a favourite setting for period dramas.
Even though Pluckley', by local standards, is quite a small village it has two independent coffee producers. There is a small gourmet coffee roastery on Forge Hill, and a coffee and tea merchant at Pivington Mill (Kent Tea & Trading Company) producing Pluckley Tea which can be purchased locally.
There is also the workshop of a small silversmith company, named Padgham & Putland Ltd. who have supplied specialist work to the Vatican. The workshop and small retail outlet is on the main road, Forge Hill, in a building owned by the partners for over three decades.
For those railway aficionados Pluckley has one of the oldest railway stations in the world. It opened in 1842, still stands today and remains relatively unchanged. The South Eastern Railway Company built the line that left the London and Brighton Railway at Redhill and ran to Ashford. The station is in the local Kentish style of timber-framed buildings with casement windows and clapboarding. It is believed that Pluckley Station may be the last remaining of this age and style.
Although an archetypal sleepy Kentish village on the surface, it has experienced a couple of events out of the ordinary. In 1926 there was great excitement when an Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy airliner of Imperial Airways made an emergency landing in a field between Pluckley and Egerton. This was a tight fit as the field had once been used as an airfield in the First World War for light biplanes.
During the Second World War V1 flying bombs causing a tremendous amount of damage and the local area was nicknamed 'bomb alley'. The Royal Observer Corps had a lookout post with a bombproof shelter (still in existence) at Prebbles Hill. In case of invasion the army built three anti-tank 'pill boxes': two of which still exist in the village. The Home Guard had their headquarters in Egerton Road and their hut can still be seen
Pluckley has the reputation of being the most haunted village in England and this is what attracts tourists to the village at Halloween However you have little chance of seeing anything paranormal on this date with all the crowds around as it becomes quite noisy and sometimes even a little rowdy. The dedicated ghost hunter has a greater chance of success following a more low-key and serene few days of relaxation in the area.
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You can download a map for Pluckley walk from Kent County Council
“Explore Kent” County Hall 1st Floor, Invicta House Maidstone Kent, ME14 1XX Envelopeexplorekent@kent.gov.uk
Telephone 0300 333 5538 (open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday)
You can contact Pluckley parish council for info on village
Clerk to Pluckley Parish Council
01622 890 596
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Have you ever experienced ghosts or been the subject of haunting ?
Map of Kent - showing Pluckley
© 2013 Peter Geekie