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A Regency Haunting…

October 31st, 2013

What better subject for All Hallow’s Eve than a real Regency murder/ghost story? The following comes from a book titled ‘Haunted Inns’ by Marc Alexander (haunted English inns – published in 1973).

The Voyeur and The Sun.

If you have visited Holland and enjoyed the small canal-side villages, you will recognise something of the same atmosphere at Saxilby in Lincolnshire. The village, which is only about four miles from Lincoln, runs parallel with the Fossdyke, along whose banks in summertime are moored lines of pleasure cruisers. Opposite the canal stands The Sun, an inn which was the subject of a most extraordinary haunting at the beginning of the last century.

On 3rd of November 1805, a certain Thomas Otter got married, evidently much against his will. On the same day a casual labourer by the name of John Dunkerly, after enjoying some drinks with his friends in The Sun bar, decided at six o’clock to return to his own village, Doddington, which was about five miles away. As he neared Drisney Nook on the way to Doddington, he met three friends who said as they passed: “You’ll have company, John,” and told him Tom Otter and hi new wife were walking down the lane. They laughed, knowing that Dunkerly had the reputation for being a peeping Tom.

By now darkness had fallen and the labourer, whose reputation was well deserved, decided to shadow the newly-married couple in the hope of being able to spy upon some amorous activity. Creeping up behind them, he heard Tom Otter say to his wife: “Sit down, you can rest here.”

Hoping this was the prelude to love-making, Dunkerly climbed through a hedge into a field, and crawled behind it to where Mrs Otter was resting on a bank. If Dunkerly had expected to witness some passionate display, he was in for a shock. Tom Otter left his wife, climbed into the hedge within a few paces of the crouching on-looker, and pulled out a stake.

This is what happened next in Dunkerly’s own words: “The moon shined on his face at the time and his eyes frightened me, ther was such a fiery look in them, like a cat’s eyes in the dark, and I heard him say to himself, ‘That will finish my bloody wedding!'” Then he climbed down to where she was sitting with her head hanging down, and he swung the hedgestake with both hands and hit her a clout on the head. She gave one scream and called on God for mercy, then tumbled over with her head on the ground. He hit her again as she lay on the grass, and that time the knock sounded as though he had hit a turnip. I saw her arms and legs all of a-quiver like for a while and then she was still as a cobblestone. I think I went off in a faint. When I came round again, the hedgestake he had murdered her with lay close beside me. I took it up and my hand was covered with red, and my smock sleeve dabbled with it. Then i thought if they found me in that state they’d take me for the murderer and hang me, so for days I wandered about. I don’t know how long, working on roads and getting a job as how I could. I came back to Doddington on the 20th of March.”

Soon after the muder, the body of Mrs Otter was found. Her husband was arrested at The Sun inn when an alert constable noticed a dried bloodstain on his clothes. Here, too, the body of the unfortunate bride was brought for the inquest. As it was carried in, blood drippe on to the threshold. When the servants were told to clean it up they superstitiously refused, statin they would rather leave their jobs than touch the blood of a murder victim. Four months later the stains were still to be seen. On 20th March Thomas Otter was executed at Lincoln, after which his body was taken down so it could be hung in irons from a gibbet at Drisney Nook as the usual warning to other violent persons.

Odd things began to happen when the body was transported to where the demonstration gallows and its grisly equipment had been made ready six days after the execution. A moment after the wagon bearing the decomposing body had rumbled across Saxilby bridge, he structure broke and dropped twenty spectators into the water. When the corpse had been riveted into its irons and was being hauled into position, the crossbar broke and the body, irons and all, fell sickeningly upon the team of men hauling the rope. Among them was the Peeping Tom, John Dunkerly. The beam was repaired and, as the body was once more hauled up, Dunkerly remarked: “Well, he won’t come down any more!” At this the corpse of Tom Otter did come down crashing heavily onto Dunkerly.

Meanwhile the landlord of The Sun had acquired the fatal hedgestake and exhibited it in the bar of his inn in order to attract custom. In those days, when the country population had little to entertain them, the sight of the morbid relic in th bar was enough to put the yokels into great good humour. On the anniversary of the murder it was found that the stake had vanished, and a little while later a farmer located it lying behind the hedge at Drisney Nook where the murder had been committed. The Same thing happened the following year and finally the landlord of The Sun, tiring of the stake’s supernatural disappearances, gave it to the landlord of an inn at nearby Torksey, who had long wanted it to increase his own bar trade.

Fearing the trophy might be removed by some of his more unruly customers, he had it clamped to the wall of the bar with three iron hasps, but on the following 4th November the hasps were mysteriously torn from the wall and the stake had vanished. As before, it was found in the field at Drisney Nook. That was enough for the Torksey landlord, and he passed it on to the Peewit Inn whose landlord commissioned the blacksmith of Saxilby – the same man who had constructed the suit of chains for Otter’s body – to make cast iron staples to secure it, but on the next anniversary both the staples and stake vanished. The latter was recovered in the usual place, and this time it was bolted to the wall with half-a-dozen clamps.

The next November, a party of villagers planned to stay the night at the inn and keep watch. With some misgivings they sat in the darkened bar but, no doubt having over-fortified themselves with brandy, dropped off to sleep. When they rubbed their eyes in the morning and looked at the wall on which the stake had been bolted, they saw the clamps had been torn out and the crude weapon had once again disappeared.

The mysterious activities of the hedgestake had now become too much for everybody and, in order to calm the locals, the Bishop of Lincoln ordered it to be removed from the inn and burned under the walls of Lincoln Cathedral. As far as the public were concerned this was the end of the puzzling affair, but during his last illness, John Dunkerly revealed a secret to a visiting clergyman, which explained how the stake came to be found so regularly at Drisney Nook. The parson passed the account on to a well-known Victorian author who recorded the words for posterity.

“It was the very night of the murder, exactly a twelve-month afterwards, that I felt doley-like, so I went to bed about dusk hours and what I’m trying to tell you is as true as I’m a dying man,” the expiring voyeur confessed. “I couldn’t sleep, and while I was like that, all of a sudden Tom Otter stood in front of me in his chains, and says: ‘It’s time, come along.’ And I had to go with him. And he says: ‘Fetch it-make haste.’ And I broke into The Sun, at Saxilby, and fetched the hedgestake that he had murdered her with from off the nail where it was hanging up, and when I got outside the door they were both waiting for me, and we all three went over Saxilby bridge together. She was walking behind and carrying a paper box in one hand and a pair of pattens” (these were overshoes for keeping shoes out of the mud) “in the other. She was wearing the light blue gown she had on that very night the year before. He had on the same light velveteen jacket and breeches that he had on when he came through the hedge and tore up the stake that I was carrying then. It was a kind of mist we seemed to be walking in. We turned down Drisney Nook Lane, and reached the same spot we reached before, and he used the very same words, and said: ‘Sit down. You can rest here’ And she sat down with her head drooping on her breast, like before, and he came up to me, with his eyes more fiery than they was before-time, and says: ‘Now then, quick.’

“And somehow I threw up the hedgestake with both hands and murdered her just the way he did twelve months before. I give you one clout when she was sitting down, and another when she’d fallen over. And every third of November for years, no matter where I might be, the same low-doley feeling came over me, and Tom Otter would come to me in his chains and say: ‘Now then, it’s time,’ and I had to go and fetch the hedgestake from wherever it might be, and do the same murdering over again, and twice when it was fastened up with staples he came and helped me pull, and said: ‘ You pulled hard enough when you helped to gibbet me!’

“For years this went on, and the hedgestake was always found in the stubble field next morning where I’d thrown it like he did, and when I’d find myself walking back home I’d be wet with sweat. “I had no peace until that stake was burnt in the Minster yard. After that was done they never came to fetch me to go with them to murder her no more.”

———

We know two people died, but did the voyeur take to drink and imagine himself haunted by the dead unromantic newlyweds, or did they really return on the anniversary to re-enact the evil deed? What do you think happened? Personally, if Otter killed his unwanted bride, he can’t have been the brightest star in the sky. He’s seen walking his bride home…so he kills her and leaves her there to be found and then wearing the same clothes (same evening or one after) he goes for a drink… It’s totally bizarre!

Ghost stories, History Notes, Regency Notes

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