CLAIRE BARRAND describes her haunted childhood in South Wales unknowingly living next to a secret mass grave…
From the age of 12, my family home was a beautiful ivy covered white 1950s house in Gilwern, Abergavenny, with a veranda overlooking the Black Mountains.
Situated on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, my bedroom had unsurpassed views of the rolling hills, and I could see from my window, The Lonely Shepherd, an isolated limestone pinnacle that stands on the horizon of Llangattock Mountain.
Doused in Celtic history, my homelands boast numerous neolithic mountain top cairns, fairy folklore, legends, Shakespeare, stunning castles, and many mining and ironwork ruins.
I should have been able to dream sweetly but I, however, could never sleep in that bedroom. Despite the enchanted marvels before me, something still unnerved me.
From as young as I can remember I have had paranormal experiences and being a girl of that age meant I was in tune with my sixth sense maybe more than ever.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but “something” was eerie about that room.
I would often experience the bed shaking me awake during the night, continuing long after it woke me up.
I’d lie listening to soft footsteps across the floor towards me and then feel a weight on my bed.
I would hear breathing that wasn’t my own.
I could sense things moving under the cloak of darkness.
I wouldn’t have described the feeling I got from this, as being an evil entity. This spirit had an edgy presence that was not going to allow me to settle.
After only a few months I had moved permanently to sleep in the spare bed in my sister’s bedroom although my possessions remained and I would still go in the room during the day to study or listen to music and look out of the window.
The gardens below my room stretched out into about an acre of orchard and woodland and at the bottom, where a gate and pathway to a small disused chapel known as Lion Terrace Chapel stood, also there was the main road, constructed in the 1970s known as The Heads of the Valleys, which was shielded by huge conifer trees.
I used to keep pet rabbits about halfway down that path, in an old greenhouse base we had converted into a lovely large run. But if it had gone dark before I had chance to go and check on them, I would have to persuade my sister to accompany me as I was frightened to go alone because of a disturbing sense of being watched.
My fears were confirmed one evening, when we had a chilling experience. Whilst feeding the rabbits we both suddenly heard the loudest rustling and sounds of cracking and splitting branches, as something huge and clumsy scrambled about and we froze to the spot then saw a terrifying black humanoid shape looming in the tree above us, which sent us screaming back to the house.
Nothing was ever revealed to be the origin of the “thing” we saw though, despite our father searching the area thoroughly.
Years were to pass and we grew up and moved out, but we live less than half a mile away and still our mother remains living there to this day.
In 2015 work began on expanding the A465 road at the bottom of the garden. It had become a dangerous route, with many fatal accidents caused by speeding vehicles on the two-lane road and the plans to dual-carriage the road were set in motion by Costain Ltd.
Under the proposed scheme, it did however mean the compulsory purchase of Lion Terrace Chapel.
Lion Terrace chapel was built in 1838 and had not been used since early 1900 subsequently it was boarded up and so overgrown with ivy and sharp brambles, that it had effectively become invisible to residents.
Unknown to most, including myself, there remained ten headstones in the small graveyard adjoining. Many attempts to find the relatives of the names on these headstones mostly of the Watkins family name, were made to no avail. A disused burial ground notice was then published, as is the law, giving two months’ notice warning of the intention to exhume and relocate the bodies. Nobody objected, and so the delicate task of exhumation began, following conditions set by the Welsh Secretary of State. This included taking due care and attention to decency, screening the area from the public during removal and placing any items buried with the deceased into containers.
It rapidly transpired, however, once the work began, that there were far more than 10 bodies buried here, and to the shock of archaeologist Mick Rawlings, who was overseeing procedures, a total of 62 bodies were eventually recovered.
This discovery at the bottom of my family homes garden tugged at my emotions, and I wanted to cover the story for an article in my local paper, and began to investigate further.
I interviewed Mr Rawlings and he informed me that almost all the bodies exhumed, were children between the ages of two and four years of age, and many were double burials. Wrapped in cloth, with no coffin or personal belongings and tightly packed together, it was to become apparent there was no way possible to identify any of the poor souls.
I discovered that as civil registration had not been introduced until 1837, and it seemed that the parish registers were sadly destroyed in a fire in the early 1900s.
However, the lack of evidence could not take away the fact that these children existed. What I did know was that they were all born into a family, and they would have been as loved and cherished as my own children are by me. The children, typically would have died of a disease epidemic such as typhoid, cholera, and influenza, which was rife during those times due to poor sanitation and a lack of clean water.
With little or no medical facilities these children would have been nursed and cared for without pain killers or medicine until they breathed their last breath.
South Wales was an industrial area and full of poverty, so faced with bereavement, most folk had the additional burden of not being able to afford a burial on consecrated ground. Many desperate folks found themselves forced to use the cover of nightfall to secretly carry their dead in silence to a church yard, or as close to the church yard as possible. The only place they believed would protect their child’s innocent and pure souls from evil spirits and help them to cross over to the other side. A belief in God’s protection would have been the only reprieve for incalculable grief and pain.
They then had to quietly dig a hole and bury them, then walk away allowing the most treasured thing in their life to become lost in the earth, buried with nothing but rags and silently shed tears. Imagine the pain at having to surrender your child’s fragile and precious body to be devoured by the earth for more than a century.
Heartbreakingly, and as was so commonly the case in those times, these children, unlike today, would have no headstone, no little white coffin, no flowers, no teddy bears and no funeral.
One heartening outcome to this sad story was that on April 23rd, 2016, Costain Ltd financed a funeral for the bodies, in a nearby cemetery, which I attended along with my family and a few residents of our village also touched by the sadness of this story gathered together to pay respects. We stood solemnly around one mass dug grave, laid with roses and listened to bagpipes being played. It was an incredibly poignant moment.
Afterward, in a private moment, I placed a small bunch of daffodils by the wooden cross and whispered, “sleep tight” to the children who now were finally, I hoped laid to rest.
The lump in my throat even as I write this story today is profound such was the emotion in the air that day. However, I should tell you that this wasn’t the end of this story.
My home today, parenthetically happens to be half a mile in direct line from the chapel location but in the opposite direction. My article was printed in the Abergavenny Chronicle on Wednesday, 4 May 2016. That night as I slept in my bed, I woke up suddenly at approximately 3am.
It wasn’t a sound that woke me; it was a feeling. Something made me look up, and as I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus, I was startled to see a young woman and a little girl stood by my bed no more than two feet away from me.
The woman was leaning a little towards me and smiling. She was not beaming, she simply had a gently upturned mouth and a questioning gaze. She was young. About twenty. And I recall she had dark hair parted in the middle and tied back. I remember her long dress and white apron; her child, a little girl, stood shyly by her side peeking round her skirt… she was almost two-dimensional and like an old negative photograph, with lines through her (as you would imagine the television if it were going on the blink?) It is the only way I can describe her. I was in no doubt that this was a mother of one of the children we had just buried. I cried out in surprise and woke my husband just as she faded.
I found it difficult to get back to sleep that night but I haven’t had another visit from the ghosts since that night. I have given my visitors a lot of thought and I think that maybe, she came to thank me for writing her story and to ask me to pass on the message to all those involved in giving her children the recognition and burial they deserved.
I wondered if the emotion of the 62 secret bodies lying so close to my bedroom was the reason I felt such an intense feeling of discomfort as a girl. What was the humanoid figure I saw with my sister that day? Was it a guardian of the graveyard as folklore suggests many graveyards have, prowling after dark and keeping trespassers away, defending the dead?
Thankfully all these innocent souls are now at long last resting in peace after getting the burial they deserve. Sleeping soundly forevermore at long last.
How many others are out there still lying cold and undiscovered though? We will never know…
CLAIRE BARRAND is an Independent British Writer and Researcher of the Paranormal based in South Wales. Claire has had many paranormal experiences since being a child which has sparked a lifelong passion for the supernatural and thus she is a regular columnist for her local newspaper, The Abergavenny Chronicle, reporting on topics such as ghosts and Welsh folklore, as well as being an active investigator of all things mystical. As well as writing a blog and popular articles for online publications such as Metaphysical Source, Paranormal Magazine and Haunted Magazine, Claire is also researching for other exciting new projects to be announced later in 2017.