PATSY SORENTI takes on a tour us along the Haunted River Crane in Middlesex with its ghostly highwaymen and other restless spirits
The River Crane snakes its way from North Hyde, Middlesex to the River Thames. It flows through Richmond-upon-Thames, Isleworth, Whitton, Cranford and beyond.
Much of its course is diverted due to man-made uses, e.g. for transport of goods or for ornamental purposes, as in Syon Park.
Much of the flow is through woodland and open countryside.
There is a course of this river, which runs through the west side of Hounslow Heath.
The haunt of highwaymen
For many years this area was the haunt of highwaymen, those footpads who held up stagecoaches on route to London from the west, or vice versa.
It was so notorious that gibbets were placed along what is now the Staines Road.
Hanged highwaymen were placed in chains and hanged there to deter other would-be miscreants.
Like all forms of judicial punishment though, not everyone was put off.
Indeed, the thrill of the chase was often the reason why perfectly ordinary people would engage in this kind of criminality; it was lucrative and getting caught and hanged was an ‘occupational hazard’.
Due to the cover of trees at this end of the Heath, it was easy and quick for a highwayman being pursued by the authorities to gallop along the River Crane at this point to rendezvous at Cranford, Hayes and Uxbridge.
After the development of the railways and a better police presence, as well as the local Enclosure Acts of the early 19th century, which fenced off much of Hounslow Heath the practicalities of highway robbery died out.
However, not all of the past died out. For many years, stories of phantom highwaymen have prevailed in this part of Middlesex.
Ghosts seen along the River Crane
Ghosts of the long past have been seen in recent years and sounds of horses galloping along the River Crane at Hatton have been recently experienced.
On one such occasion, a group of ghost enthusiasts on a local ghost walk encountered a phantom horse along this stretch of river.
It began with the sound of hoof beats from nearby Donkey Wood, which became louder as the ghost progressed.
The noise ceased as it reached the group and it was followed by a strong gust of wind, which so startled one member he almost fell into the river.
This occurred in late October 2014.
It was late evening and the group had to pass through the haunted woodland, from where they heard the sounds.
Not surprisingly, the group were much shaken, and the ghost walk ended early.
On another instance in early 2018, two men saw what they thought to have been a man wearing a tricorn hat sitting on a horse on the other side of the Staines Road.
This again was late evening when the witnesses had stepped off a bus after finishing a work shift.
Ghostly highwaymen are not the only phantoms here.
Spectre of murdered girl in woods
In 1980 the body of a young girl was discovered in the woods beside the river.
She had been on her way to school when she was attacked and strangled by an unknown assailant.
Her ghost was frequently seen by people using the golf course and by others.
She ceased to appear on a regular basis after a memorial stone was erected in the place where her body was found. This murder has never been solved.
Other assorted ghosts
In 1792, two workmen were killed when the gunpowder mill exploded. One man’s ghost has been seen close by to the old gunpowder workings, a vestige of the former industry for which this area was well known.
A phantom female cyclist has also been seen on the bank of the river near to the entrance of Brazil Mill Wood.
It was interesting to note the increase in insect activity in the parts of the wood and river bank where ghosts have been reported, including the part where the ghostly horse was heard.
Following a short investigation, my companion and I were ignored by insects at the non-haunted places, yet were much bitten by midge and horsefly activity in the areas where the ghosts have been talked of.