Lost Spirits and Pipe-Smoking Monks

A pious (if not slightly comical...) ghost
From Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum, Vol II, published in 1804.

The ‘quaint little village of Polesworth’ may seem an unlikely place to find the ‘shades of departed monks’, but read on to hear a chilling and ghostly tale first told by Thomas K. Staines in the Kansas City Journal in 1907. The full story can be found at Warwickshire County Record Office, document reference CR 4210/20.

Murder most foul!

It is told that, in ages past, a murdered woman was found decapitated in the gravel pits between Polesworth and Birchmoor. The perpetrator was never located and the crime went unpunished, but many who passed that place were terrified by the sight of a ghostly figure. Staines writes that ‘while the accounts of those who had seen the spirit differed in many details they all agreed in one particular – that it was headless.’

With this eerie backdrop, our story moves to a warmer setting: Farmer Barrett, a doctor, the local vicar and ‘a jolly crew’ are enjoying ale and tobacco at Pooley Hall. A fierce storm brews outside, but the company are merry. After some songs, the talk turns to the murdered woman and they all conclude ‘that nothing more would ever be known that would throw any light on the unexplained mystery.’ At that, however, ‘there came a most fearful sound that shook the building to its foundation, the room became extremely hot – the smoke from their pipes changed colour, while the fire within their bowls turned blue’. With a fearful grating sound, ‘up through the floor from the underground passages rose a gigantic Monk.’ The Monk held in his arms the pale spirit of the headless woman, and cried out loud and clear ‘Sacrilege!’

Strange tastes…

All those present trembled with fear, as the Monk spoke to the doctor: ‘You have the head of this woman in a case in your museum.’ The doctor (more than a little unnerved!) replied ‘There is a skull there… bought by my grandfather, years ago, from a Gypsy peddler.’ The Monk then demanded that the skull be placed on the table in that room the following night (along with some of the tobacco and pipes – it seems that ghostly Monks have a liking for the stuff!). The spirits then vanished as dramatically as they had arrived.

The skull and tobacco were duly placed and the following night they duly disappeared. The ghost of the lady was never seen again in those parts, and Farmer Barrett was able to enjoy his pipe in peace…

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