As Halloween is nearly upon us again, here is a true tale of ghosts and scary happenings.
If you were driving through Northamptonshire and happened to pass through the village of Woodford and you drove down Church Street your eye might be drawn to the lovely old village Church.
On first sight a Church not unlike many others in the County, constructed of Northamptonshire stone, standing in the same spot for many, many years, nothing unusual it its outward appearance you may think, and glancing away you drive on to your destination whereever that may be.
Buildings however like people often have things hidden inside which sometimes due to particular circumstances are revealed with shocking results.
In the Spring of 1866 it was decided that restoration work must be done on this fine building, wear and tear had taken their toll and with the majority of the people still holding their religion as important in their lives the Church was an important building in any community.
Nobody at this time could have known that this would lead to a strange and sinister discovery which would fascinate and horrify the local populace in equal measure.
The work started innocuously enough but there came a point when an old beam had to be removed, and after moving some masonry the workmen noticed a recess in the stonework, curiosity roused one man put his hand into the recess and feeling around thought he had discovered an old birds nest.
Pulling the object out they saw what appeared to be some sort of small wicker basket, the workman dropped the object whereupon it shattered on the stone floor, what happened next would shock and stun the men inside the Church.
The outer object having broken released what appeared to be something wrapped in a type of cloth and the men being lowly and probably lowly paid thought they may have chanced upon hidden treasure.
The cloth was unwrapped and what was actually revealed was a mummified human heart, the men naturally were stunned and word spread quickly throughout the local area with people flocking to the church.
St Mary The Virgin Church Woodford Northamptonshire
The people were asking questions, and the question most on their lips that day was, whose heart was this, how had it come to be hidden in their Church ?
At this juncture two women of the village told tales of ghostly appearances in the building, one telling how she had been alone in the Church arranging some flowers when she had seen what appeared to be a monk move towards the altar and upon reaching it knelt and prayed.
Another woman told a similar tale of being alone and her attention drawn to a movement near the altar she witnessed again what appeared to be a monk moving in her direction, only to disappear near the spot where the mummified heart had been discovered.
The answer to the question of how the heart came to be hidden in this Church will never really be known with certainty but much speculation has gone on over the years, some saying that it was the heart of a Crusader who had lived locally, some speculated it belonged to the monk whose ghostly apparition appeared to the two women.
You can still see the heart behind glass, set into the stone of one of the transepts, it was placed there a very long time ago for posterity.
So today I visited the Church to see for myself, above you can see the Church and below that the river Nene as it runs through fields at the back of the building.
Was it a recess like the one below where the heart was discovered ?
Below you can see the heart as it is on display now set into the stone but safely behind glass. Its a strange feeling to be looking at something which once beat strongly in the body of a human being who lived so long ago.
Aside from the novelty of its strange occupant the Church is a beautiful old building, andalthough I am not a religious person I can always appreciate the beauty of stained glasswindows, and the work that went into building these wonderful places of worship.
The two figures below are the oldest remaining memorials in the Church, they are the figures of Sir Walter Trailli and his Wife Eleanor, Sir Walter died in 1290 and his Wife in 1316.
They are effigies made from wood and the fact they have survived this long and are in such good condition is remarkable.
Sir Walter is dressed in his armour which would have been from around the period of Edward 1 and Eleanor is wearing a rather elegant costume as befitting her status.
Ghosts and stories about ghosts have always created lively conversations between those that believe in them and those that don't. As for myself I can say I have never witnessed or even thought I may have seen one, but I like to keep an open mind.
Last year I read a book about a well known outbreak of Poltergeist activity in a family home in Enfield North London, Some of the things that were described made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the two men who investigated the case were sure the events were in no way staged by the occupants. In any case the chaos and disruption and it has to be said terror that were caused to the family were obvious, and nobody would inflict that on themselves. Eventually they were forced to leave their home and live with neighbours and friends.
This was in 1970's England pre the internet and all the easy publicity that brings so the family who some thought were staging these happenings for some short term fame for themselves did not have the easy and readily available outlets that people do today,
After watching this and then reading the book I certainly was convinced that an open mind is definitely the best policy, after all can everything be explained rationally, and would we really want to live in a world where it could. ?
So I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up a well known television and radio listings magazine this week and saw that on the 21st of this month the BBC are going to broadcast a new drama named Gunpowder,
It will centre around a certain gentleman, one Robert Catesby who I wrote about a short time ago in a short piece about November 5th and my experience of it many moons ago, methinks it will be quite interesting to see how the story of the plot and its protagonists are portrayed,
I'm hopeful as anything the BBC produces of this genre is usually pretty good, and I'm hoping they did some of the filming in and around the Catesby family home where a lot of the plotting was done. The actor who will play Catesby is a real life descendant of the man himself on his Mothers side of the family.
I was thinking about this and thought what a good idea a follow up series which told the story of how things may have turned out had the plot succeeded might be, after all not too long back we had the story of a UK ruled by a victorious Germany,
That aside its good to see our history being given an airing, and sadly I suppose it shows that for all our assumed sophistication the human race will always be at war with itself, maybe one day we we learn to live without religion, would that be a positive thing ? you tell me.
So an update now that the first episode has been shown.
You know when you hear someone's voice on the telephone but you have never met them, without realising it you build an image in your mind of what you think they will look like.
I did a similar thing leading up to the first episode of Gunpowder, I thought "Ah the story of those bad men who plotted against the good me but were caught and rightly punished".
This is a sad admission on my part as it shows I was still seeing and thinking about the story through the prism of what I had been taught, or maybe not taught at school. If you read my blog on the mummified human heart and ghosts I mentioned always keeping an open mind. Obviously I'm not always following my own advice and I need to think about that in the future.
What did I think after the first episode, well it opened my eyes to the cruelty we as humans can inflict on each other for no real reason, I knew that Catholics had suffered persecution,
but had never thought what the realities of that might be like.
The scene where the lady of the house was slowly crushed to death was truly horrific, and worse was to come with the dismemberment of the young man.
I am not religious and never have been, and for me the lunacy of one set of people inflicting such barbarity on fellow human beings on the basis that the method of worship they practice differs although they believe in the same God suggests to me we could do without formal religion.
You can see how one mans terrorist can easily become another mans freedom fighter, anyway I look forward to episode two and the comments that will appear on Twitter, I love reading other peoples thoughts and opinions.
OK its not about Northamptonshire but last night there was a wonderful Harvest Moon which I attempted to capture,
Some of the shots I saw on Twitter were magnificent and my own attempt can't match those but I thought I would post it up for posterity anyway.
A few days later I took the picture above, the sky was looking like something out of a Hammer Horror film, with the Moon just visible.
If you travel through the countryside and visit some of the many villages of the county you will see many examples of the use of Northamptonshire stone, it is not a well known fact but many different types of stone were available to craftsmen.
The county at one time had many small quarries producing stone, and one point over forty existed but many of these diasappeared as mining for iron ore boomed.
John Morton writing in The Natural History of Northamptonshire, 1712:
“And no County in England affording a greater Variety of Quarry-Stone than this, or exceeding this in the Goodness and Plenty of it, upon that account it deserves a more particular consideration.”
‘Quarries: here of White Stone, there of Red; here of Freestone, there of Ragg.’
The most common for use in construction were Ironstone, brown sandstones and pendle limestones, and dustin slates