ELLIOT DAVIES ponders the miserable tale of Derby’s saddest ghost, former hangman John Crossland
Being the lingering spirits of those who died tragic or untimely deaths, all ghosts are sad ghosts.
However, Derby ghosthunters have identified a particular spectre who they consider to be the saddest ghost in the city.
In terms of hauntings, Derby Cathedral is a particularly gloomy hotspot. All reported sightings tend to radiate an air of grim melancholy, the most common of which is that of a tearful woman holding a child. But one spirit comes with a story so steeped in tragedy as to leave a downright miserable ghost.
The ghost is that of former hangman John Crossland.
In a deeply religious society that took the Bible at face value, the role of hangman was often a tough position to fill. In the 15th -19th centuries, it was perfectly acceptable for the powers that be to sentence somebody to death – so long as they didn’t carry out the execution themselves, their souls would remain clean and heaven-ready.
Theocracy often results in hypocrisy, and the hangman’s hood was often offered to condemned criminals in exchange for their lives – but not, presumably, in exchange for their souls.
Faced with the task of executing three brigands but without a hangman up to the task, the Derby Gaol had to resort to desperate measures.
The three brigands in question were a family of ne’er-do-wells – a father and his two sons – The Crosslands. The father was approached and told that he could escape the noose if he executed his two sons. Understandably, he refused this kind offer.
So instead, they turned to his oldest son. He too could avoid execution if he only agreed to execute his father and his younger brother. He too refused.
The youngest son, though, had no such qualms. John readily agreed to execute his older brother and his father in exchange for his life, thus passing perhaps the toughest and most demanding job interview in the history of the world.
John Crossland’s father and brother died at his own hands, and John would fill the role of hangman for the rest of his days. Upon his death, he would leave a depressed spirit desperately seeking a sense of peace and forgiveness that will never come.
I mean, his actions were utterly unforgivable, weren’t they?
I’m afraid I’ve no idea at what times and in what circumstances you can expect to see the ghost of John Crossland. All I know is that he proves the grounds of Derby Cathedral, presumably by night.
So if you happen to be in the area – perhaps enjoying a glass of red at one of the Cathedral Quarter’s fine wining and dining establishments – and you suddenly feel a gloomy cloud of yearning descend, know yourself to be in the presence of John Crossland – the saddest ghost in Derby.