Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Ghost stories for Christmas

And we did get a bit of a battering from the wind and the rain but at least we have suffered no structural damage - or any damage at all, for that matter.  Plenty of debris down through the wooded area of the park, and one tree almost blocking the road with a car under it completely smothered.  Some bridges and roads along the sea were closed, trains cancelled or reduced in speed (in case of fallen trees, of which there were plenty), ferries and planes cancelled.  Our elder son was due to cross from Newhaven to Dieppe but had to drive 100 miles to Dover - and add almost the same distance to his journey on the other side of the Channel.  it's a bit calmer now, but forecast to be similar on Thursday.


There is a very old tradition that ghost stories be told on Christmas Eve - which does seem rather strange.  But we must remember that there is little real justification for the choice of 25th December as the date on which to celebrate the birth of Christ.  The date was probably chosen by early Christians because it was very close to a day on which pagans celebrated and many - well, some, anyway - of the old pagan traditions were usurped and brought into the celebration of Christmas.  Maybe that's how the telling of ghost stories became part of it?

Brighton has several really old pubs - and I suspect that I have drunk in most of them!  One of the oldest is the Druid's Head, which is said to date from 1510.  It is named after a circle of standing stones which at one time stood nearby and formed a place of worship for the druids.  Like so many old pubs, the Druid's Head is said to be haunted.  Could the poltergeist activity be connected with the troubled souls of human sacrifices made on those old stones?  The apparition of a woman in a long, red gown once made a sudden appearance in the bar - and just as suddenly disappeared.  But the disturbed spirit of a smuggler is blamed for much of the activity.  It is said that he met a brutal death in one of the tunnels that used to lead from the cellars, having been caught by customs men and beaten to death.  Glasses and bottles have been seen moving on the shelves of their own volition and glasses have moved unaided along the top of the bar.

I have never seen the ghost of Deryck Carver in the Black Lion, not so very far from the Druid's Head.  In 1548, Deryck Carver, a French-speaking Flemish man from a town near Liège, sought refuge in Brighton from the persecution he was experiencing from the ruling powers of the time in respect of his Calvinist beliefs. He had been a lay reader; as well as establishing Brighton's first brewery at the Black Lion, he held Bible reading sessions at his house in Brighton for the next few years until Roman Catholicism was re-established as Britain's state religion by Queen Mary I in 1553. At this time, such meetings of Protestants were banned, and Carver was arrested and committed to trial in London for continuing to hold them. He was burnt at the stake in 1555 in Lewes but is said to haunt his old brewery.

Both those pubs are in the Lanes but the best ghost story from "the Lanes - in fact, from the whole of Brighton - is that of the medieval Grey Nun, who fell in love with a soldier who happened to be billeted nearby. The couple eloped but were captured and whilst the soldier was executed immediately, the nun received a worse fate (a fate worse than death?); she was bricked-up behind a wall in Meeting House Lane and left to die. The sealed cell can still be seen to this day and the nun has been seen walking hurriedly around the narrow lanes. She was last spotted in a narrow alleyway between Ship Street and Middle Street by a fire warden during the Blitz, who reported that beneath her dark veil, there was .. no face! One presumes, though, that he wasn't using a torch."

(Although I knew that last story, I stole the words from here.)


joeh said...

Interesting tradition...thx for the fun.

Buck said...

MOST interesting, and The Druids Head looks magnificent decked out in summer finery. I sure do miss the pubs.