Belper’s Horrifying Horseman in Black
Somewhere on the East Midlands crossroad that links Belper to Ashbourne, you’ll find the ghostly Horseman in Black. Guest writer ELLIOT DAVIES is going to track him down.
I only moved to Belper a few months ago, but I’ve had a copy of David Bell’s Derbyshire Ghosts & Legends for some time now.
Published in 1993, like all compendiums of local folklore, it’s charming in that all the information within is written as if it actually happened. Seldom will you see words like “apparently” and “alleged”, and the testimonies of eyewitnesses are trusted outright. If they say it happened, it happened.
The Horseman in Black is reported to appear “on a very old road called Chevinside in the area called “The Dalley”. Somewhere along this road you’ll find a set of crossroads which link Belper to Ashbourne. On these crossroads, you’ll find The Horseman in Black.
“The rider was dressed entirely in black [wearing] a three-cornered hat and cloak” reads David’s account, which is based on a series of sightings from one Mike Woodhouse.
Mike saw the rider on three separate occasions in August 1992. The first was allowed Mike to catch a glimpse of the rider – only to see him disappear after having diverted his gaze for a moment.
The second sighting is more interesting. This time, the rider was facing Mike straight-on; and he saw quite clearly that The Horseman in Black had no face.
“It wasn’t that his face was in shadow,” says Mike in David’s book. “There was just a black space where his face should have been!”
I don’t know if the exclamation mark’s an embellishment on David’s part, or if Mike (who David records as if he spoke to him directly), here spoke in such a distressed way as to warrant the use of such alarming punctuation.
Whereas on the previous sighting The Horseman in Black had disappeared when Mike allowed for his attention to sway, this time he apparently vanished into nothingness whilst Mike was staring straight at him. This left him “somewhat shaken, as you might imagine”. Thanks, David.
Mike’s third and final sighting occurred three weeks later. This one was similar to the second sighting, in that The Horseman in Black was facing Mike straight-on (so he could see the black void where his face should have been). Once again, the horse and its rider disappeared whilst Mike was looking straight at them.
David’s retelling of this story ends in this way: “Mike admits that he changed his route after this [third] appearance. He has returned to the area with his wife Joan, who is keen to see the ‘phantom highwayman’, but it has not appeared, so far.”
They’re my italics. David’s book was published in 1993. Mike’s sightings took place in 1992. Who knows how many sightings might have taken place in the intervening nineteen years?
This is why I intend to make The Horseman in Black of Belper the focus of my first ever ghost hunt. Watch this space!
And Mike: If you’re still alive and you’ve Googled yourself, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.