Category Archives: Ghostly events

The St. George of Hertfordshire, England

My week-end postings on ‘talkinghistory2013’ are for factual stories while my mid-week postings on ‘beejaytellingstories’ are intended to be pure fiction. However, there are many stories that sort of ‘falls between these two stools’. Today’s posting is one such situation. It’s a story that I first came across many years ago when we lived in the area. We went to see the site, took pictures and I started some research. What follows is based on the story I found.

The site is the parish church of St Mary in the Hertfordshire village of Brent Pelham. This church is the last resting place of a local hero who is said to have ‘performed a brave deed against a might adversary.’

This is the ‘Legend of Piers Shonks’.
Many years ago, in the time of William the Conqueror so the story goes, a fierce dragon lived in a cave under a Yew tree in the parish of Brent Pelham. This dragon was under the protection of the Devil and wreaked havoc throughout the surrounding countryside, ruining crops and killing livestock.

In the village of Brent Pelham lived Piers Shonks, a landowner of substance, the lord of a Manor in the parish. Everyone knew that Piers was brave – after all he had already fought and defeated the ‘Giant of Barkway’, a nearby community, over land and tenure rights. Piers was also a great hunter.

As they had before, the villagers turned to him for help and asked him to rid them of this terrifying Dragon. Piers listened to their pleas and agreed it was time something was done about the Dragon. He put on his armour, took up his sharp sword, called his three hunting hounds to him and set out on his quest. The hounds were fast and brave and led the hunt. Piers followed resolutely behind. Further back, but determined not to miss the fight, were the villagers.

As they approached the Dragon’s lair the baying of the hounds caused the evil one to stir and come out from its cave to investigate. By the time Piers reached the great Yew that topped the Dragon’s cave near the parish’s boundary the Dragon was awake – and ANGRY. Piers and his hounds had enjoyed many hunts together and were a deadly team. Between them they distracted and outwitted the Dragon so that Piers was able to close in and thrust his sword deep into the throat of the Dragon. At this mortal wound the Dragon slumped to the ground and all went quiet.

Then, as Piers and his panting hounds watched, the body of the slain Dragon changed and the Devil himself stood before the hero ‘all quivering with rage’. He vowed that when Piers’ life on earth was done he, the Devil incarnate, would ‘Have his soul for his own. No matter whether Piers was buried in or out of church, he would collect.’

Piers, an honourable and God fearing man of his time, told the Devil that ‘his soul was his Maker’s, and His alone. With God’s will and protection neither his soul nor his body would ever become the property of one so evil.’

At this the Devil gave an evil laugh and vanished back into the form of the Dragon, just as the villagers came into view.

Time passed, and life in Brent Pelham resumed the even tenor of life. Piers Shonks grew old, and his time drew near. As he lay on his deathbed he recalled the Devil’s vow and gathered his kin around him. They went outside and Piers took up his favourite bow and fitted one last arrow to it. He then told those around him that ‘wherever the arrow landed, there was where he should be buried.’ He aimed at the Church and fired.

The watchers told how Piers’ God, who had stood by him through his battle with the Dragon, caught the arrow in flight and caused it to pass through a window of the church and transfix itself in the wall opposite.
When told where the arrow had landed Piers Shonks said: ‘So be it. Let my body be buried for all time in the wall of my beloved church: neither inside nor out, but there, in the Holy fabric, safe from the clutches of the Devil incarnate.’
With that he lay back and passed into eternal rest – and the legend of the Dragon Slayer of Hertfordshire was born.

The present church is not the one that is told in the story. This church was built around the middle of the 14th century. Piers’ tomb is built into an arch on the North wall of the Nave of the church. Above the tomb there is an inscription attributed to the Rev’d Raphael Keen who died in 1614 after being Vicar of Brent Pelham, it is said, for 75 years. The inscription reads:

“O Piers Shonks
Who Died Anno 1086
Nothing of Cadmus, nor Saint George, those Names
Of great Renown, survives them but their Fames.
Time was so sharp set as to make no Bones
Of theirs, nor of their Monumental Stones.
But Shonk one serpent kills, t’other defies,
And in this Wall, as in a Fortress, lies.”

Cadmus was a legendary Greek hero who founded the city of Thebes. He also killed a dragon and then drew the dragon’s teeth and set them in a field. From those teeth grew a race of fierce warriors.

In the corners of the black marble top are the winged symbols of the four Evangelists of Christ. Piers Shonk’s soul is seen being taken to heaven by an angel. At the foot of a Cross Fleurie can be seen a writhing Dragon with the staff of the Cross, Piers Shonk’s sword, administering the final, deathly, thrust.


Strange happening one Christmas in Peterborough

Apologies for the delay in this second story – I have had a battle with certain elements of my computer and Windows 10.  I think I am getting on top of it – so let’s move on:

This second ghostly story is much different to the first one. When I first started the ghost walks this was one of my favourites but it’s quite some time since I told it so here goes: it was on Saturday 9th January 1892 that the Peterborough Advertiser told the story, headlining it as:-

The opening paragraph reads:
‘Alarming nocturnal noises have compelled a family to dessert their home in Mayor’s Walk, Peterborough, have terrified residents on either side of the house, and have filled the neighbourhood with fear.’
So – what was happening? 22 Mayor’s Walk had become vacant and a Mr Rimes [a worker on the railways], his wife and their three boys moved in. Soon after they took in two lodgers – her brother Mr Want, and a brother-in-law Mr Easy, who both also worked on the railways.
The Advertiser picks up the story, recording that they were: ‘much surprised soon after their settlement in this particular quarter of the city at being saluted at various hours of the night with most unwelcome, and unexpected, rappings at the front door and against the partition wall of the building – noises most unmistakable and unwelcome. The boys – so goes the story – experienced midnight intruders, and on one occasion both lodgers and boys were suddenly deprived of their bed coverings.’
Things got worse – on the Friday before Christmas 1891 the noises were so bad that they woke the neighbours on both sides of number 22. One described the sound as ‘a noise like a cannon going off’. Another described it as being ‘like a giant ripping up a kitchen table and hurling it down the stairs’.
Messrs Want and Easy called upon a Mister Arthur Wright – a friend of theirs who also worked on the railway and was sceptical about the whole story they had told him.  He offered to lodge with them for the night to convince himself of the story. That night ‘the house was carefully locked up, windows fastened, and the occupants of the rooms duly regarded.’ The report says that a few minutes after 12 midnight there was a hum along the bedroom passage followed by a fearful smash – described as being like ‘a giant sack of coal being tipped downstairs’! Wright and all the occupants of the rooms rushed out – but there was nothing to see. The whole passage looked as if nothing had happened!

They then all got together in one room but noises continued. Then there was another crash – described by Mr Butler the neighbour as being ‘like the fall of a house into the passage’. Mrs Goode on the other side of the Rimes’ house described it as ‘like the explosion of a great gun which shook the house and all in it. The noise before it was like that when a boy rubs the string of his toy telephone.’

The Advertiser goes on to tell its readers that: ‘On Friday the family left, and are now living in Monument Street, and whilst Mrs Rimes declares she has had no sleep at night for six weeks, Want and Easy give similar testimony, that for nights and nights they have never closed their eyes, and neighbours corroborate this probability of this evidence. The house, it should be mentioned, has no cellar and no attic, and the noise in the passage and rattling of the interior doors seemed altogether disproportionate to the average strength or movement of any human individual.’

So that’s the end of this spooky story. The Rimes had no more ghostly problems and there has been no repeat of the events for any residents since in this Mayor’s Walk cottage. Oh, and by the way – don’t go looking for the house. It’s still there but the number has changed!
If you want more on this story you can read the Advertiser’s full-length report in the library archives and Stuart’s telling of it is on pages 60-62 of his book that’s available at the Museum, various shops in Peterborough and on-line.