Galloping ghostly highwaymen can still be heard in the haunted Donkey Wood in West London, says PATSY SORENTI
I have studied the behaviour of insect life, which lives along the banks of the River Crane.
In parts where paranormal activity has been reported, insects have been noticed to swarm and bite more readily and frequently than in parts where ghosts have not been seen.
This could be an indication that insect life, and wildlife in general, may be ‘tapping in’ to changes in the atmosphere of the locality.
Donkey Wood is a stretch of woodland, which lies on the banks of the River Crane at Baber Bridge, situated between Hounslow and Bedfont.
It is a continuation of Hounslow Heath, which is itself a remnant of The Middlesex Forest, an ancient woodland that formed part of The Weald from prehistoric times until the Norman Invasion, when most of it was cleared for agricultural use.
However, there are many areas of Wealden forest and woodland that exist still, and Hounslow Heath is one of those parts. It is now a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and a Grade 1 historical site. It is protected by law, and development is forbidden.
Hounslow Heath, central to industry and historical crime
Hounslow Heath was used for local industry from the 17th century onwards, and Donkey Wood in particular deployed various industries: a gunpowder mill, a dye works and a paper mill. The woods were employed for industrial habits until 1927 when economic activity ceased.
It was also used as an escape route for 17th and 18th century highwaymen who frequented the Heath, holding up the carriages that passed to and from the west country. Hounslow Heath was notorious for footpads, who were in the main, demobbed soldiers from the army who turned marauder.
So frequent were the robberies that travellers using the Staines Road from Hounslow to Bedfont were uninsured by the carriage companies. Highway robbery on the Heath eventually ceased by 1818 because it was used by the military and associated industries.
In 1794 Matthew Weaving, a labourer of the gunpowder mill, along with a fellow colleague was killed in a blast caused by a horse’s hoof striking the flint that makes up the geology of the wood.
The spark ignited the gunpowder and poor Matthew’s body was found in Whitton, his friend’s body in Sunbury. Following this incident donkeys were used to transport the gunpowder from the mill to the Army depot, which was stationed nearby.
Haunting of Donkey Wood
There have been stories of ghosts haunting this wood and the Heath for many years.
The earliest reports of hauntings date from the early 1800s when reports of the ghost of Matthew Weaving having been seen began to circulate in the locality.
Several people had had encounters with the ghost, and many more refused to use the wood as a short cut to Hatton, even in daytime.
Even more folk complained of a highwayman’s ghost having been seen galloping along the path on his way to Cranford.
It is believed that the highwayman is Claude Duval, a Hugenot émigré from Domfront en Poiraie, France. He was a former French nobleman, who worked in the employ of exiled Royalty.
Following the decline in fortune he turned to highway robbery but never used violence against his victims. instead, he would address them quite politely and would even dance with the ladies whom he held up. He became quite a popular character but eventually he was caught and hanged at Tyburn.
His ghost is said to haunt the woods along the banks of the Crane at Hounslow.
In October 2014, a group of ghost walkers on a tour of the area were astonished to hear a horse’s galloping emanating from the wood. The party were so shaken that the tour ended abruptly.
The ghost of a highwayman atop a horse was seen by a man as he alighted from a bus one evening in 2005. This was on the main Staines Road quite near the entrance to Donkey Wood.
Have you seen a ghost or something strange in Donkey Wood? Tell us about it in the comments section below!