A peer through the rose-tinted spectacles of nostaligia, by Jeff Dunn. 

JUST as chestnuts roasting on an open fire, holly and ivy, cards showing robins and snowmen, carol concerts and crackers, and mistletoe and wine all conjure up cosy, Christmassy feelings, this time of year has also always been popular for swapping stories of a ghostly and supernatural nature.

That’s why I saved a number of suitable tales from our Halloween edition for this week’s TRM yuletide special.

So dim the lights, pour yourself a small nightcap, and let’s enjoy some alternative spirits of Christmas.

If you recall, the four bravehearts who made up our October coven were Canon John Davies, his wife pirate princess Pat, Martin Rowland, acknowledged by many as a fountain of historical local knowledge, and my dad – father Dunn – well known for being well known.

The first tale comes from Martin.

“Samuel Starbuck snr was one of the original Quaker whaler settlers to arrive at the new town of Milford in 1793. Soon after his arrival he built himself a large, elegant house on the outskirts of the new town. Today the house is called Priory Lodge.

“Samuel was a highly respected member of Milford’s Quaker whaling community. This sad story concerns one of his housemaids.

“Not long after starting work for the Starbuck household, the young housemaid fell in love with one of the stable boys, and it wasn’t long before she discovered she was pregnant. It is said that Samuel Starbuck was so disgusted by the situation, that he immediately sacked the stable boy, and cruelly locked the poor girl in her roomuntil the child was born.

“Then on his instructions, the baby was given to a respectable local family.

“Tragically, soon after, heartbroken at the loss of her baby, the young housemaid died, and it is said that her restless soul still haunts the old house, forever searching for her baby”.

That’s an excellent way to kick off the penultimate TRM of 2012, and I think we will let Martin keep the ball rolling, this time with a much more modern tale.

“On a clear winter’s evening in the late 1970s, a well-known Milford lady was walking home from bingo. To reach her house the lady had to walk up Priory Road and past the Friends Meeting House.

“As she neared the Meeting House she noticed a dark figure standing on the opposite side of the road. She stopped and watched in astonishment as the figure slowly ‘floated’ across the road and ‘melted’ into the solid wall which surrounds the Meeting House.”

I am grateful to Martin, and thanks also to Stevo, who provided snaps for both these stories.

And now it’s my dad’s turn, or in this case his dad, my ‘Grandad Dunn’, whose photo I am also including.

“Tom Dunn was a Lancashire man through and through. There were no airs and graces about him. He was a ‘matter-of-fact’ kind of guy, worked hard, kept his nose clean, and had an imagination about as exciting as a cheese and pickle sandwich.

“At one time he worked as a chauffeur/handyman for the ‘gentry’, in this instance, a retired director of Port Sunlight’s Lever Brothers, who had just bought a large house near Colwyn Bay, in North Wales.

“The ever-reliable Tom Dunn was directed to go down to the house early, to ensure that everything was in order. In the garden there were stables, above which was a small room, known as a ‘bothy’. (Bothies were basic shelters found in north Wales, the north of England, and Scotland, often left unlocked for anyone to use free of charge.) “That night Tom went to bed in the ‘bothy’ and, as it was particularly cold, closed the door, and wrapped himself warmly in a thick blanket.

But before he had had chance to fall asleep, the blanket was whipped off his legs. Tom got up to take a look around, thinking it was some kind of animal, although there had been no sound.

“After a thorough inspection, which showed nothing, he returned to bed, once again, snuggling down under the blanket. Again it was not for long as this time the blanket was whipped right off the bed, and hurled onto the floor. And that was when Tom Dunn, my Grandad, left the bothy, and went to sleep in the big house.

“Ghost or no ghost? I know what my grandfather thought, and he was no fool.”

I will leave the final story to Pat Davies.

“The most famous and well-documented ghostly tale concerning a ship locally was that concerning HMS Asp. She had started out as an Irish packet, a paddlesteamer, and had been acquired by the Navy to carry out survey work.

“In 1850 she was at Pembroke Dockyard for repairs and refit. Newly in command of the ship was Captain Alldridge, who on his arrival in Pembroke Dock, was informed by the Dockyard supervisor that the ship was ‘haunted’ and he doubted if the local men would be persuaded to work on her.

“The captain pressed on undaunted and the work was put in hand. After a week the men came to him with their concerns, saying she was an ‘unlucky’ ship. These might have been felt to be just superstitions, but whatever, the refit was eventually completed.

“The captain remained sceptical, but there were many strange happenings on board, some experienced by him personally, and written down by him.

“One night a watchman said he saw the figure of a woman standing on the paddle box. Her arm was pointing to the sky. The man fled his post and refused to resume his duty that night, the captain himself had to complete the watch.

“Over the next few years Captain Alldridge experienced many disturbing events on board. In his cabin he would be woken by drawers opening and closing, and by banging noises.

“One night he heard noises as he came on board, and this time he distinctly heard the sounds move from the aftercabin into his own cabin. He rushed forward, believing that at last he would encounter either the culprit, or the ghost.

“But as he entered the cabin the noises ceased and all was undisturbed. The after-cabin could not be reached from the ship other than by using the companion ladder, leading to both cabins, and the captain, from his cabin, could not fail to see anyone approaching or leaving the after-cabin.

“In 1857 the ship put into Pembroke Dock once again.

On the first night the Dockyard sentry reported that a woman had been seen on the paddle box, again pointing to the sky. When challenged she walked straight through his musket which he dropped and fled.

“A second sentry who had witnessed the whole episode fired at the apparition, but with no effect. A third sentry saw the figure enter the Old Pater Cemetery and disappear.

“So unnerved were the Dockyard guards that their number on duty had to be doubled. But it marked the end of the haunting and she was never seen again. The captain himself recorded these events.

“Captain Alldridge attempted to discover the cause of the strange happenings on his ship. The only clue he could find referred back to the time when HMS Asp had been in use as the Irish packet.

“In those days it so happened that the body of a young woman had been found in the after-cabin, after the other passengers had disembarked. She had probably been murdered, but no one ever answered for the crime,andher identitywas never discovered.”The next few tales, all succinctly related by Pat Davies, have church backgrounds.

“The only written account of mysterious happenings connected with St Katharines (as far as I am aware) goes back to 1858, when a Mr John Pavin Phillips vouched for the authenticity of the story. He wrote how, many years previously, seven or eight members of his paternal grandfather’s family were sitting outside their house one fine evening. The house was in Pill, ‘two meadows and a brook’ from the church.

“On this summer’s evening between eight and nine o’clock, they observed a most unusual sight for that hour. A funeral procession was approaching the church.

They could even make out the vicar, whom they knew, dressed in his surplice.

“Intrigued, they sent out to enquire who would have been buried at that most unusual hour, and were informed that there had been no funeral in the church for several days past.

“But a neighbour was soon to pass away, and was buried in the spot where they had observed the procession only days before.

“At first it seems difficult to see how such a location can have afforded that view, but researches reveal that there were once graves on the east side of the church, which were built over when the church was extended in 1907, the headstones being brought inside and laid in the nave.

“There are two interesting stories connected with St David’s Church in Hubberston.

“In the time of the Rev Caleb Hughes, the church was enlarged by the building of the two transepts (1929-31), work which involved the disturbing of ancient graves, an act much disapproved of by many.

“The disinterred remains were re-buried in a communal grave, and the story goes that an old woman cursed the Rector, saying he would ‘die with his boots on’. And apparently it seems that he did, and in the Church too.

“A lady to whom I spoke recently, well-versed in local history, said that she could remember this story being current in her childhood, and it is certainly one my father told me.”

“Next is a fascinating account of a ghostly lady seen walking along the road from Hubberston Church, and although it is the only time I heard of this sighting, the witness was impeccable.

“My parents had a friend who was a lovely gentleman, a person of great intelligence, an Oxford graduate, with a scientific background, a good churchman.

“He often told us the story of the time he was approaching Hubberston Church, when he saw a lady, dressed all in black, in the fashion of earlier days, walking towards him holding a book in her hands, which he felt might be her prayer book.

“She looked sorrowful, and he felt drawn to ask if he could be of assistance. But when he drew near her, she simply vanished before his eyes. It left him totally mystified, but he has maintained an open and enquiring mind about it”.

Some years ago a Milford lady whose name now escapes me, but who was a longstanding TRM reader, wrote me a letter which at the time appeared to be of a decidedly eccentric and odd nature.

She went to great lengths to stress that the letter’s content was for ‘my eyes only’, and was not to be included in my usual weekly wanderings.

I retained the letter for a while, then during one of my ‘purges’ along with a lot of other stuff for which I had no further use, duly shredded it.

When Pat first told me of that Hubberston ‘sighting’, I immediately remembered that eccentric letter. I remembered it because it referred to a ‘lady dressed all in black’ in Hubberston, who had been seen by my TRM reader.

Make of that what you will, meanwhile the photo included with these particular stories is of St Katharines, and was kindly sent to me a while ago by Jo Llewellyn.

Now for last week’s teaser.

It was the odd word out one, and the answer was COUSIN, reason being that it was the only word which didn’t show a particular gender. Well spotted by Royston Holman, Maureen Hardaker, John Davies, the Tish Llewellyns, Alan Scard, Eric Harries, Ken Davies, the Tozers, Vic Bowman and John Roberts.

Here’s another one. A window cleaner is cleaning the windows on the 25th floor of a skyscraper when he slips and falls. He is not wearing a safety harness and nothing slows his fall, yet he suffers no injuries. Why?

And with that there is just time for me to wish TRMers everywhere a healthy, happy and peaceful Christmas.