Pluckey is ‘officially’ reported to be England’s most haunted village. MANDY STEEL COLLINS, in the first of a two-part series, investigates …
Pluckley is a small village, with a population of around 1,050, located in Kent. It is famous for two things: The Darling Buds of May, the TV drama that rocketed Catherine Zeta Jones to fame, was shot there; and it is the most haunted village in Britain, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The ‘official’ given number of ghosts is 12, but it appears that 13 to 16 ghosts may be a more accurate figure.
Some of the village ghosts are tied to the Dering family, who were the ‘lords’ of Pluckley’s manor house, Surrenden Dering, for several centuries. A serious fire in 1952 destroyed the house, but despite this, its ghosts remain. Occasionally, the ghost of a White Lady might be seen flitting about the ruins of the house. Dressed in a magnificent white dress, that shines in a ghostly light; her main haunt is actually Dering Chapel, connected to the old Manor by a tunnel. She apparently travels along this from the chapel to visit her old home. The story goes that she was married into the Dering family, but died at a tragically young age. Her husband had her placed in several lead coffins, one inside the other, which were then encased in an oaken casket and laid to rest in the Dering Chapel vault. She was entombed this way in order to preserve her outstanding beauty.
Another ghost associated with the Dering family is the Lady in Red, believed to be an early member of the Dering Family. She can be seen floating amongst the gravestones of St Nicholas’ Churchyard, sobbing for a lost child. Sometimes she is seen at the rear entrance of the church, which was built by the Derings in 1475. Perhaps not quite a member of the Derings, but certainly seen at a pub named after them, The Dering Arms, is the strange little old lady who sits at a table in the pubs bay window. She looks real enough, but on closer inspection, she is revealed to be wearing old-fashioned clothes, and promptly vanishes when commented on.
Other pubs in Pluckley are haunted. The Black Horse Inn had a tendency in the past not to keep its proprietors more than a year, though one braved it out for 15 years. He experienced phenomenon ranging from things disappearing and reappearing in strange places, and had new heavy wooden furniture being severely damaged by an unseen force. No one had gone into the room where the furniture was stored after it had been put there…
The Blacksmith’s Arms has such a ghostly reputation, that in the past it was called The Spectre’s Arms and The Ghost’s Arms. Its spooky residents include a Tudor maid, a coachman staring wistfully into the fire of the public lounge, and a Cavalier trooping around the upstairs rooms that are closed to the public. The Cavalier in particular has been blamed for disembodied footsteps heard in the dead of night
Pluckley and its environs have a number of screaming ghosts. The Screaming Man haunts the Brickworks, and is said to be the ghost of a man who fell down a clay-hole on the site. The terrified scream he emitted as he plunged to his death can still be heard. And the village’s Screaming Woods are so called because a strange screaming can occasionally be heard from deep within the trees.
Greystones is a centuries old mansion in the village, haunted by the sad wraith of a monk. In life, the story goes that he had a clandestine affair with a young lady, who in true Pluckley fashion, haunts Rose Court! The pair had snatched moments of romance in the little lanes near the village, but the affair was fraught with difficulty as it was seen as unacceptable. In the end, the pressure got to the girl, who committed suicide by drinking poison. Shortly after, the monk died of a broken heart. His pathetic spirit now wanders the gardens of Greystones. Conversely, his true love similarly flits about Rose Court house. The garden of that property in particular holds a certain melancholy. One can’t help but wonder if these two might be happier if their respective spirits were to meet.
In Dicky Buss’ Lane, the ghostly figure of the Hanging School Master might be seen swinging in the trees. In 1920, the teacher from nearby Smarden would regularly meet up with the head master of Pluckley School in the Black Horse Inn, where they would discuss philosophical matters over a drink. The Smarden teacher went missing, and was found hanged by Richard ‘Dicky’ Buss, the miller. The teacher had committed suicide. By coincidence, the old windmill is thought to be haunted by Dicky Buss himself. The ghost of The Colonel, who dispatched himself in a similar way to the Hanging School Master, haunts the site of the former Park Wood, cleared for agricultural use in 1965. The Colonel evidently enjoyed taking a regular constitutional in Park Wood, when it was actually woods.
A tree plays a strong role in Fright Corner, a cross roads in Pluckley where an old hollow oak tree once stood. No trace of it remains. During the 18th century, a highway man hid in the tree from a company of soldiers sent to deal with him. The highway man had been causing mayhem on nearby Hothfield Common, and rode through Pluckley to escape the soldiers. He hid in the tree, thinking his abandoned horse would gallop away. Unfortunately, for him, the loyal horse stayed put, grazing next to the oak tree, highlighting his hiding place. One soldier noticed the hollow in the tree and ran his sword through it.
The Watercress Lady, haunts Pinnock Bridge. She was an old woman who made her living by collecting and selling the watercress that grew beneath the bridge. One evening, she was having a smoke on her pint and a swig of gin to keep warm. A spark from her pipe set her gin splashed shawl alight, engulfing her in flames. She ran screaming, until she finally collapsed and burned to death.
Finally, Elvey Farm has numerous spirits, including that of a 1850s tenant farmer who shot himself after the farm failed and his wife left him. The owners of Elvey Farm in the 1970s encountered apparitions of a young man in their bedroom. Could it be the ghost of the farmer – who knows? These days, the farm operates as a small hotel. The barn is evidently a rather scary place to visit!