The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus covers the period 655 to 1117 and tells us of the arrival in 1128 of Henry of Angely, he having been appointed Abbot of the Abbey then known as Burch by King Henry I. This had not been a very popular appointment as far as the monks were concerned and Hugh records a great many of their complaints, and Abbot Henry’s actions. One such record tells us that:
‘In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of Lent, throughout the woodlands and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and their hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. And this is no false tale, for many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns.’
Dr Simon Sherwood in ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ [University of Northampton Psychology Department, 2008] suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is the account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:
‘Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.’
Is the story true – or just made up to scare people? I don’t know. It is said to be the basis of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story and I do know that it makes one heck of a spooky story when told late in the evening, in the dark, under trees with the shelter of a beautiful, towering Cathedral close by!
The Great Hall was empty apart from 3,000 books – old books – very old books. Through the window the branches of a bare tree drew pictures across the sky. All was quiet.
‘Now listen’ he said quietly, ‘make yourselves familiar with the layout. We have three targets and just a few seconds to get each one.’
He stopped as a guide walked towards them.
‘You gentlemen OK?’
‘Yes thanks’ said Tim, ‘We’re just having a browse.’
‘Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with’ he said as he turned away to ask the same question to another visitor.
‘If only you knew,’ Tim thought to himself.
More tourists came into the room as the three checked on their target items. As they left, the guide caught their eye; ‘Thank you gentlemen’ he said, ‘Take care.’
‘You bet we will’ thought all three.
The half hourly ghost tours round the old house were a godsend to Tim and his two friends.
Pip joined the second tour of the night. The Great Hall was half way round the tour – up the back stairs, through the doors into the dark hall, a two minute spooky story then through the other door and down the corridor. Flickering candles distracted; spooky sounds caused screams and 30 seconds was long enough for the porcelain piece to move from the display to Pip’s pocket.
Chas had just had to time to check all was OK with Pip before he joined his tour. His was the most challenging lift. In daylight it was covered by an alarm. What about on the spooky night? He got to the front of the group as they entered the room and stretched his arm across where they had seen the alarm on their recce. There was silence. It was not active.
He let the rest of the group pass. As Pip had told him – a hooded figure rose at the back of the room with a crack of lightning and a roll of thunder. Distracting screams rent the air – and the targeted piece relocated to Chas’s pocket.
Two down, one to go.
Tim waited until the last but one tour of the night. As they began the circuit he became aware of more ‘large’ men than on the other tours he had watched depart.
‘Co-incidence or warning? We’ll see,’ he thought.
As the tour progressed he became conscious that, as they entered each room, at least one of the ‘large’ men was next to him. Once or twice they made contact with him – a firm nudge coinciding with a screaming spook scaring the rest.
As they went into the next room – the last but one of the tour – Tim tripped over the feet of one of the nudgers. It unbalanced the ‘nudger’ while Tim stumbled forward and collided with two or three of the other customers.
They all ended up in a heap on the floor. Someone turned on the lights – and one of the ‘large’ men picked Tim up by the back of his jacket. ‘I’ve been watching you; you did that on purpose.’
‘What are you on about,’ Tim responded, in a loud voice, ‘It was you – you clumsy oaf that tripped me. You and your other buddies have been a real pain all the way round this tour. I’m surprised I even managed to get this far before being knocked over by one of you.’
The ‘nudgers’ were not ready for that outburst, and the rest of the group instinctively seemed to back Tim.
Tim stood up: ‘I assume we have now finished and, if you don’t mind, I shall go and find my friends and go home.’ With that he rubbed his coat straight and left – leaving behind some annoyed customers and confused ‘nudgers’.
The man at the exit wished Tim and ‘good night’ as he left.
Pip and Chas were waiting for him with the car engine running quietly. Tim climbed in the back and they slowly drove away into the darkness.
It was half an hour later that two of the ‘nudgers’ discovered their wallets missing and three days before the house found two small but rather valuable pieces of porcelain were no longer where they should be.
Tim, Pip and Chas?
Well they reverted to their real names, shared the wallet contents, shredded the wallets and achieved a more than respectable price for the porcelain.
All I can say is ‘Watch out for them next Hallow’een’.
Spooky tours can be expensive.