Moira Byast talks to Radio Oxford

 Rob Forsyth

These are the stories Moira told on Radio Oxford and are reproduced with her kind permission

Oxfordshire is known as a county with many reports of hauntings. Many of these are connected with violence, as many wars have been fought over its land.  Burford is known for the Levellers, shot in the churchyard, Minster Lovell for the White Lady and possibly  Francis, Viscount Lovell who fled the battle at Bosworth Field and escaped to Flanders, only may be he didn’t. When you consider that the county was on the borders of Wessex and Mercia in Anglo Saxon times, was involved in the wars of the Roses and in the English Civil war, there is much violent history which could have given rise to ghostly happenings, it is possible to see how haunting might have arisen.

Locally, our ghosts are much more low key, but have some history behind them.
I live in Hempton, known locally for the Hempton Horse man, who appears at the cross roads of the Deddington to Chipping Norton and Duns Tew to BLoxham roads.  I think I might have heard it, as I lived right on the cross roads, with upstairs windows looking to Duns Tew in one direction and Deddinton in the other.  Early one June morning, I heard a horse.  I looked out of the windows and saw nothing although I could still hear the horse.  I thought it was probably an early exerciser from a riding school, which I had seen before.  But the noise continued and I could still hear it, but see nothing.  I thought it was possibly the echo of a long gone horse I could hear, but I was told by neighbours that I had heard the Hempton horse man.

Coincidentally, a local cycling club have reported that cyclists on the Oxfordshire cycle way had apparently been pushed off their bikes at the crossroads, for no reason that they could find.

Some time ago, I was secretary of Deddington History Society and usually arranged the Christmas party for the Society.  One year I decided to focus on Ghost stories.  I found some to start the party off, but was surprised at how many of our members had stories of their own to add. I will tell you, briefly about some of them.The first 3 are of a poltergeist type, interfering with things, but without the malice which often occurs with poltergeists.These are all very brief. 

Firstly, the Old Vicarage. The poltergeist here does not like visitors and disturbs the beds, fortunately before they are occupied, and alters the clocks. The second is a mysterious ladies maid, who brushes your hair if you sit at a certain dressing table in the house, but is only felt, not seen.

Then there is the kitchen  maid in a Victorian house, who washes up any crockery left unwashed over night.  Usefull rather than alarming.

Finally, I have 2 more stories for you.  One is the result of a tragedy in 1917.  It is not a happening on the Battlefield, but a more prosaic story. 2 Brothers, John, aged 13 and Cyril aged 16, the Bowler brothers.  Their family was not the one who gave it’s name to the hat, but were related to it.  The house where they lived, in New Street was later called Bowler House.  It is now called East House.  One winter day, they went skating on the Mill Pond in Clifton, but the ice broke and they both drowned.  Afterwards, crying could be heard from the upstairs of the house, when there was no one there.  Possibly the mother or the nursemaid.  The person who lived there heard the noise but didn’t know the story.  It is known that the grief stricken mother couldn’t bear to live in the house and the family moved away. The boys grave, a combined one, is in the ‘new’ Deddington Churchyard, close to the War Memorial.  A remnant or reminder of the tragedy.*

Lastly there is the story of the groom who has appeared in The Paddocks in Deddington. This happened, probably in the late C18th in the busy days of coach travel.  The main road from the Midlands to Oxford and London  was along the edge of the village.  There were several coaching inns on the road, you can still see where the entrances for the coaches into the Inn yards were, as they have now been filled in, but the arch of stonework still shows in the exterior walls of the houses. To the rear of the Inns was a paddock, shared by the inns where the horses were rested and stayed overnight. They were looked after by grooms supplied by the inns.  One night, a bad tempered groom upset a mettlesome horse, who reared up and struck out with his hooves, killing the groom.  His ghost is said to haunt the scene of the event, now with houses built on it and named ‘The Paddocks’.  I can find no trace of a modern sighting of him, but in the 1920’s and 30’s there were several of them.#

I can recommend a book Oxfordshire Ghosts, by Joe Robinson published by Wharnecliffe Books ISBN 1-871647-76-2 for stories from further afield in the county.


Editor's notes.

* Orally told stories tend to change over the years rather like the children's game called 'Chinese Whispers'. This game was itself named after an unfounded idea in the 1800s that Chinese people spoke in a way that was deliberately unintelligible, associating the Chinese language with confusion and incomprehensibility. It is variously called Russian rumours, arabic telephone or other names. The story of the Bowler family and the drowned boys has recently been updated by John Bowler, grandson of Thomas William Bowler who lived in Eastleigh House opposite Hudson Street and is now renamed as Bowler House. Thomas William was the son of the Thomas Bowler whose felt material was used by Locke & Co to create the 'Bowler Hat'. The two boys who died were swimming in the Cherwell at Clifton rather than skating.The full story of the Bowler family can be found here.

#The Paddocks was the area behind the houses on the west side of the High Street. It became a housing estate of that name in 1946.