Thursday, May 20, 2021

Ep. 386 - Bishop's Stortford

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Moment in Oddity - Knocking On Wood (Suggested by: Mary Bright and Memory Burcalow)

The superstition of knocking on wood has very interesting origins. There is an ancient belief that Hamadryads or Dryads live inside trees. Hamadryads are creatures found in Greek mythology that live in trees. These nymphs are born bonded to a specific tree and will be with that tree until the tree dies. It was believed that the gods would punish people who harmed trees for this reason. The Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus lists eight hamadryads who were the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas and these were Karya associated with walnut or hazelnut, Ptelea associated with elm, Ampelos associated with vines, Balanos associated with oak, Morea associated with mulberry, Kraneia associated with dogwood, Aigeiros associated with black poplar and Syke associated with fig. The Cracker Butterfly is part of the genus Hamadryas, which is named for these nymphs, and it is fitting as this butterfly spends all its time on trees and its coloring causes it to completely blend into the tree. Ancient priests and priestesses would knock on trees to summon hamadryads when they needed help. This could be help with getting rid of evil or sometimes the Dryads would fulfill wishes. Perhaps like rubbing a lamp to get three wishes from a genie? So if you knock on wood out of superstition, just know that you might be summoning a tree spirit and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Operation Chastise and Bouncing Bombs

In the month of May, on the 16th, in 1943, Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers hit Nazi German industry hard by destroying two huge dams in Operation Chastise. These bombers accomplished this feat by using bombs designed by Sir Barnes Neville Wallis who was an English scientist and engineer. These bombs were called bouncing bombs and what they did was bounce across water towards a target and this bouncing action kept them from getting caught in torpedo nets and other obstacles. The bomb has backspin, which causes it to bounce on the water several times before dropping under water and going off near the target. The official name for the particular bouncing bombs used during this raid was Upkeep. The RAF bombers dropped the Upkeep bombs close to the surface of the lake at the Mohne and Edersee dams, flooding the Ruhr Valley. Two hydroelectric power stations were destroyed, along with mines and factories. It would take months for the Nazis to get production back to normal. They tried to frame the attack as a minor inconvenience, but it boosted British Morale and had they used a thousand bombers, they would have had even more success. Sir Wallis was disappointed that there were not follow up attacks to keep the dams from being repaired.

Bishop's Stortford

Many of the buildings and homes in Bishop's Stortford have changed very little since medieval and Tudor times. This is a historic market town in Hertfordshire, England with a history dating back to Roman occupation and Norman conquest. Many locations claim to have ghosts from churches to pubs to hotels and so much more. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Bishop's Stortford!

Early on, the area where Bishop's Stortford would be established was a small Roman settlement that was mostly used as a stop along a well-traveled road. After the Roman Empire fell, the Saxons moved into the area. The village would first be mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 with the name Esterteford. This was named for the Steorta family that built a manor here and ruled over the area. That manor was sold in 1060 to the Bishop of London who was named William. Putting Bishop with Steorta gave the town the new name of Bishop's Stortford. The nearby river would take on the name River Stort as well. The Normans would build Waytemore Castle shortly thereafter, but the castle would not survive as King John had it destroyed in 1208 and now only a mound remains, as this was one of those motte and bailey designed castles. There are many tunnels that seemed to have run from the castle to various places in the town and these were once opened for historical tours until demmed unsafe. During medieval times, Bishop's Stortford became a market town and remains that today. The corn exchange brought malting, which brought brewing and the river canal was used to transport all kinds of goods from coal to timber to food supplies.

Death was a common occurrence in the town. Three plagues swept through starting with the Bubonic Plague in 1349, which killed half the town. This was followed in 1582 by the Black Death and then the Great Plague of London in 1665. Bishop's Stortford managed to avoid most of the bombing raids of the World Wars, but there was a prisoner-of-war camp in the town. Fires have swept through and there have been the tragedies that all towns face. Many places in the town claim to have spirits and the center of the town seems to be a hotspot. Let's explore a few of them! 

St. Mary's Catholic School

One of the most famous ghosts in the village is the Grey Lady and she is literally everywhere. We've never heard of a ghost getting around this much. This first stop is where many people believe she originates from and the legend behind her is that she is a nun who jumped from an attic window after she was disgraced, but no one knows what that means. We would imagine if the story is true that she more than likely was pregnant. This originally was a convent founded by five nuns from Belgium in 1896 and is located at the top of Windhill on Bell's Lane. These nuns had a goal of establishing a school, but the people of the village were suspicious of the women and their unusual dress. They bought Windhill Lodge and carted all their belongings up the hill. They started with nine pupils. This original building serves as administration offices today and another building built later is the school. Interestingly, even though the origins of the Grey Lady are traced to here, there are no stories of hauntings here. None that they are talking about.

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael's Church is located at 1 Windhill and is at the center of the town. This is a beautiful church with many medieval touches that give it a castle-like look and it has a churchyard. The first priest in Bishop's Stortford was John De Stratherne and he arrived in 1332. The Normans built the first church here, which eventually fell into disrepair and was pulled down in the late 1330s. The 1400s would see this new church built in the perpendicular style of English Gothic with lots of windows and bigger than most parish churches. As we have covered on other episodes, Henry VIII began a war of sorts on the Roman Catholic Church and pronounced himself head of the Church of England. He sent Thomas Cromwell out to dissolve monasteries and bring the wealth that the Catholic church had been accruing by buying up land and renting it out, back to the nobility. St. Michael's was used as a barracks by Cromwell's men for a time. The church had to be fumigated after the men finally left. The churchyard harbors spirits. People report seeing a mysterious figure in black and this has taken place for a couple centuries, all the way up to the mid-1980s. A woman was walking by the churchyard early one morning when she saw a woman wearing a long dress walking amongst the tombstones. She at first thought the woman was visiting the graveyard, until she disappeared.

Boar's Head Inn

Across from the church is The Boar's Head Inn, located at Number 30 on High Street. This was built in 1420 and when the church was transferred over to an Anglican church, Queen Elizabeth I ordered the Rood Loft to be taken down that had been built under her sister Mary's reign. Wood from this was used at the Boar's Head Inn and a huge wooden beam that goes across the fireplace is one of those pieces. This is thought to have been the Church House for St. Michael's and used for the brewing of Church ales. Now before you get to thinking that the church was getting into an early form of craft brewing, the term ales was used for any festive gathering or fund-raising event. During a church ales, a warden would beg for or buy malts and then sell it to the public to raise funds for the church. The Boar;s Head has records showing that it paid rent to the church, which makes sense because the church owned a ton of property here. The pub was built in the Tudor style and features exposed timber framework. The inn  has changed hands many times over the years and was almost destroyed in a fire in 1991.

The Grey Lady is such a strong presence here that the pub has been exorcised multiple times. There are those who say that she is harmless and that there are other malevolent entities here. During a Ouija Board session, people felt that they communicated with the Grey Lady and she told them that her name was Sarah and that she had been raped and murdered by the squire's son several centuries before and the date that this occurred was the day of the seance. A grey misty vapor has been seen in the pub and an entire bar full of patrons witnessed the Grey Lady float through. Other paranormal activity includes chairs being dragged across the floor, trash cans in the back rattle on their own, loud bangs are heard on the doors and a dog refused to go down into the cellar. A man is thought to haunt the cellar, but no one knows his identity. An apparition of a woman has been seen many times sitting at the bar. And Ruth Stratton who wrote Haunted Hertfordshire: A Ghostly Gazateer claims that a ghost people call "Captain" is possibly Captain Winter who had owned the Windhill House. 

Windhill House

Captain Winter raised a band of yeomanry and he gave permission for them to camp on the grounds of Windhill House. This was in the early 1800s when there was a fear that Napoleon might invade England. The Captain decided to test the soldiers one night to see how alert they were and this turned out to be a bad idea. One of the soliders was so alarmed that he fired his musket and killed the Captain. The property is now business offices and occupied by Pellys Solicitors. People have claimed to see the ghost of Captain Winter on this property too as well as a phantom army marching around.

The George Hotel

The George Hotel is another place where the Grey Lady is seen. This hotel just recently came under new ownership and was also renovated. The George Hotel is thought to be the oldest inn in the town. The original foundation was built at the end of the 14th century and Thomas Petworth may have been the first owner, as he was running it in 1417. The Hawkins family were the next owners and they held onto it for 300 years. During the 15th century they held their manorial courts here. The central location made it a prime spot for people to stay. King Charles I ‘dyned at ye George’ in 1629. This was such a big moment for the little town that the bells were rung at St. Michael’s Church in honor of the occasion. King Charles II visited often because he loved the races at the Newmarket and The George was the place he stayed with his entourage.

William Layer of Cambridgeshire became the owner of the George after the Hawkins family. He leased the George to Thomas Doncaster and Philip Mills along with an adjacent barn. The barn was eventually demolished after 1800. Five cottages were added to the property and when the original building was expanded, these cottages became part of that and the hotel was raised to three stories. It became the Bishop Stortford Excise Office and a terminus for stagecoaches coming from London. In the early 1800s, the hotel became a masonic lodge followed by an auction house in the 19th and early 20th century. Today, it is a hotel sitting above a popular Italian restaurant called Prezzo.

Guests and staff claim to have had strange experiences here from doors that open and close on their own, strange noises, beer taps and water taps that turn on by themselves and the feeling of being watched. The Grey Lady is here and seems to like Room 27 the best. Could it be because of the mysterious cupboard set into the wall? This is something that hasn't been opened for reputedly 200 years and the reason why is because the handle is stuck and no one wants to force it since the building is historically protected. According Jenni Kemp's "Haunted Bishop's Stortford," there are some who believe this opens onto a balcony where a murderer hid before jumping out of the cupboard and murdering a woman in the room. But we would think that a balcony would be visible from outside? The feeling in the room can be malevolent and a grey mist is sometimes seen, which is why the Grey Lady is thought to be here. She has appeared to a few as a full-bodied apparition, usually standing over the bed with her arms raised. Many guests have left this room in the middle of the night out of fear, including a military officer who felt safer sleeping in his car.

The Star Inn Pub

The Star Inn probably dates back to at least 1636 and was a timber-frame structure that is now covered with bricks. John Ward was the first owner and in 1808, a brewer named Hawkes and Co. The small pub garden here was once a stable yard that became a car park and then finally the garden. Unexplained activity here includes noises and knocking in the small bar of the Star Inn. The Grey lady has also been seen here. A person cleaning the place ran into the Grey Lady and fled, never to return. Right outside the pub, a male apparition was seen walking, three feet in the air!

Black Lion Inn

Across the road from The Star Inn Pub is the The Black Lion Inn, which was used for coffin storage during Tudor times. The Black Lion gets its name from the emblem of Edward III’s wife, Queen Philippa, the daughter of the Count of Hainault, which was a province in Belgium. The word black was ominous in the life of Philippa. She was a victim of the Black Death in 1369 as was her daughter Joan. Her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was known as the Black Prince. Bishop Bonner held prisoners here that were accused of heresy and these prisoners would cross the bridge from here to the bishop’s Court House for their hearing. Local builder Joseph Glasscock bought the Black Lion in 1899 and removed every inch of the plaster that covered over the interior timber work. The two story building attached was once a stable.  There are a couple of ghosts here. A ghost haunts Room 6 and once joined a man in bed. There is also a mischievous little girl ghost dressed in Victorian clothing that has been seen and guests and employees have heard what they think are her footsteps. She likes to turn off the lights and hide people's keys.

Cooper's Department Store

Across from the Black Lion Inn is Cooper's Department Store. This timber framed building is basically the Sears of Bishop's Stortford, if there was still a Sears. Residents can find everything for the garden, gifts, glassware and tools. They also might find some ghosts because this is a very old building. The hanging judge Bishop Bonner's nephew owned a house that was once part of the building that houses the store. There is plaster ceiling decor that dates back to the early 16th century at the entrance of Coopers, giving a glimpse into its past. This store had been called Maslens in the 1980s and employees complained about poltergeist activity. There are thought to be three spirits here: an angry woman who is hostile, a male spirit in a brown uniform and our Grey Lady who is spotted as an apparition that disappears into walls. The angry ghost is blamed for throwing tools when the building was being renovated. She also gashed the fresh plaster. Human bones were discovered in a cupboard during the refurb and it was thought that perhaps burying them would tamp down the hauntings, but that has not been the case.

The Oxfam Shop, Tissimans and Pearsons Department Store

The Oxfam Shop is another haunted shop in town. The basement is the most haunted location in the building and a woman working there claims that she felt a tap on her shoulder and when she turned around, no one was there. That seems tame, as do the stories of stock being moved around down in the basement, but the story of an ominous shadow figure on the stairway scares many people. Pearson's Department Store had been located at Numbers 15 and 17 on North Street and this was yet another favorite of the Grey Lady. A woman claimed to see her in the basement stockroom as a grey misty figure. And yet another haunted shop is Tissimans, which is a men's clothing store dating back to 1601. The building itself dates back as far as 1360, so Tissimans claims to be the oldest men's clothing store in the world and had served the Royal Family. That was until it closed in 2013. Tissimans had been something else at its start. They did more than dress the living, they dressed the dead. This was also the local undertaker and had been named Slaters. The Grey Lady had been seen there on many occasions. Mr. Tissiman himself claimed to see the apparition multiple times, usually at night. There were also the claims of the smell of smoke in the building.

The Cock Inn

The Cock Inn dates back to 1540. There were four inns on this corner and this is the only one to remain, making it the oldest one here. The building is timber-framed with three gables and crooked windows. This became a tavern in 1620 under the name The Black Lion and was renamed Vernon's Head in 1749. That name was for Admiral Edward Vernon who captured all the military installations at the port of Portobelo in the West Indies in 1739. Many pubs renamed themselves in his honor. That was right after the event. It took The Cock Inn ten years before they did that. The pub eventually took on its current name. This inn was the place for the average person. The rich and nobels stayed elsewhere, while The Cock Inn was for servants and employees. Funny thing, the more elite Crown Inn or Red Lion Inn that were on this corner, no longer exist. The notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, stayed here in between bouts of robbing wealthy travelers along the nearby road. Wanted posters at the time read, "Wanted. Knowne highwayman and rogue, Dick Turpin. For robberie and grievous offence upoune travellers on ye London to Cambridge coach. He has been espied in company at ye Cock Inn." Ironically, on the south side of the building, there was a courthouse and jail. Coal merchants moved in and there was a shop here until the 1960s when it was demolished to make room for more road.

The publicans daughter was playing in the cellar one day when it suddenly became very cold around her. The cellar door then banged shut loudly and locked itself, leaving the poor girl locked in the cellar. She screamed for a bit before she was finally heard and rescued. The culprit is said to be a mischievous little girl ghost named Emilie. Strange lights have been seen as well as shadow figures and a man in Civil War clothing has been seen. A young female ghost is seen crying and people believe she is waiting for her husband's return. Renovations in the 1970s escalated the haunting activity and employees would come in to find table overturned, lamps broken and the energy in the place began to feel malevolent. The bad energy seemed to leave when they started decorating with beautiful fresh flowers in vases everywhere.

The Police Station

The police station opened in 1940 at Basbow Lane across from St. Michel's Church. Supernatural activity started to be reported in the 1970s. Two officers were hanging out in the cell block and enjoying good conversation as they had been told that there were no prisoners in any of the cells. There easy evening ended at 3am when they both jumped at the very loud slamming of a cell door. They both jumped up and ran to the cells and found cell door number 2 vibrating as though it had just slammed. There was no one anywhere in the cell block. The magistrate's court is in this building too. A few weeks after this incident an officer called two of his colleagues to return back to the station from a call because he felt that there were intruders in the courtroom that was above where he was sitting. There had been a crash and some bangs, which led him to believe there were multiple people. The group went up to the courtroom and looked through the window and saw that all the tables and chairs had been turned over. All the doors were locked. There was no one in the building. They could not figure out how the furniture got that way other than that something unseen had done it. 

Many police officers claim to hear disembodied footsteps and doors lock and unlock themselves. Two police officers were playing cards one night when they heard footsteps coming down the back stairs. They turned to see who was coming, but no one ever showed up. A female police officer had similar experiences when manning the front desk. She started thinking that some of the male officers were playing tricks on her, so she would hide behind something to jump out...and she would wait...and wait and no one ever appeared. And probably the strangest story occurred during a refurbishment. The constable noticed that the lights had been left on in the men's and women's bathrooms. He tried to go into them to turn off the lights and they were both locked. He talked to the contractors the next morning to make sure they turned the lights off when they were done with their work. The men looked confused and took the constable into the bathrooms to show him that the lights had bare wires that had no power and were not hooked up. What has caused this place to be named the most haunted police station in England? It was built on a former slum property where much suffering probably happened.

The Grey Lady was said to pop up at a cottage on Basbow Lane and a grey mass was seen at Basbow Lane car park. A White Lady passes across from an old cemetery on the east side of Cemetery Road to the new cemetery. The disembodied sounds of horses and carriages are heard in various place. Some times the coaches are seen riding along the lanes in a spectral form. The shrieking lady runs along Water Lane. The mound that was once Waytemore Castle has given up its literal skeletons, mainly of children and babies, leading many to believe a hospital was once in the castle. Prisoners were kept in the dungeon. The energy is malevolent near the mound. Some even think the Grey Lady had actually been burned at the stake here. 

Most interactions with the Grey Lady have been negative in nature, but sometimes she is not in a bad mood which makes people wonder if there is more than one Grey Lady. Is there even a Grey Lady? Are these locations in Bishop's Stortford haunted? That is for you to decide!

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