St Peter's Church building Dunston
Ghosts played an important part in our lives as young lads. The reason for this was not too complex. Our imagination was stimulated by early evening listening to the wireless where Journey into Space filled a young boys mind with incredible pictures
and with the advent of Television, a series like Flash Gordon fighting Ming the Merciless only added to confirm our worse nightmares that al aliens looked grotesque. I was so concerned about meeting odd looking aliens that I once took to wearing my underpants
outside my trousers, like flash, as I assumed this would make me invincible to Aliens, sadly, Dad prevented me from going ouside to test this. On reflection, I know that I should not have built a philosophy on anyone that called himself by the name of 'Flash'
and I should have questioned the fact that my hero couldn't tell that a man who called himself 'Ming the Merciless' was someone he really shouldn't have trusted.
All that be as it may, I think the main reason of our concentration on Ghosts
was that in those days street lighting only went to the edges of the village. The area between villages was pitch dark and the sole reserve of all kinds of foul creatures just waiting for some poor unsuspecting boy to wander beyond that final light into their
waiting foul grasp!
Being surrounded by such a climate led inevitably to evenings of daring escapades and excursions beyond the last street light. This also gave us a excuse to frighten George, who was a couple of years older, but of an extremely
nervous disposition - a condition that was linked directly with his bowels. To add to this, his mum kept him in short trousers well into the years he should have been out of them. This combination was too good to resist and the results could be spectacular!
Not only that, but George proved to be an excellent early warning and he and his weakness could pick up problems long before those of us with a more solid constitution knew was was coming.
One such occasion had to do with the Old Vicarage. This place
was within the bounds of the village and not far away from a street light, so George could be enticed to join us, without fearing a set up.
Dunston's Church building was on an incline overlooking the village. It had a square tower, not a spire
and the large clock was always working and on time. Surrounding this building was the old grave yard, full of Merryweathers, Heckaslykes, Pilsworths and every variation 'Bottom' you could think of, from Higgins, Rams, Sides, Longs and so on. There were
wonderful earthly country names, like Jeremiah, Zechariah, Jed, Cyril, Elspeth wife of Dagary and Louisa, mother of Fred.
The old graveyard went all the way around the building and was separated by a great wall that gave way to the Old Vicarage. This
great wall continued to encircle the Old Vicarage, enclosing it completely and giving it an air of mystery. This was increased by the existence of two great green doors which were mostly closed and only opened when the incumbent, Rev Merryweather, would drive
out his Mayflower.
Being a Primitive Methodist and used to the 'Chapel' with its simplicity and 'ordinariness' the whole 'Church' thing was a mystery to me - later, I found out that it was also a mystery to some of my pals who attended. When the ‘incumbent’
was sighted, he wore a long back cloak with a hood and he seemed to take great long strides compared to other humans and Methodists. At other times I have seen him dressed up in Gold, or Green and even all white, but never in ordinary clothes, I used to wonder
what he wore in bed - very odd. I remember learning bible stories at the feet of Miss Lintin and how she told me of Jesus and how He gathered together ordinary village folk and they all wore ordinary clothes, like everyone else around them. This was
all very confusing for a young lad...but I digress.
The large wall around the Old Vicarage was threatening, but there was a street light not far away, so we felt fairly safe. This degree of security made us brave enough to venture an expedition
behind the walls. We had heard stories about a Ghost, but they varied from the usual 'Grey Lady' to a bizarre two headed doglike thing - however none of those could be substantiated and it suited us to put them out of our minds.
We, being, Badger,
Podgy, Willie decided that under the cloak of darkness, we would sneak past the old Yew tree, that was near to a small side gate, and simply take a look through the windows. Personally I wanted to see what the Rev Merryweather wore around the house, or whether
he wore his collar to bed.
We thought that we would take George and his short trousers, this would give us our usual early warning about approaching apparitions. At first we didn't tell him what we had planned. We waited until in a well lit part
of the village then broke the news gradually, Podgy watching carefully from behind him as to how the news was being recieved. We assured him that we would let him stay on the side of the house from which he could keep the streetlight in view.His bowels and
nerve held and he consented.
Passing the graveyard was not a problem, we had done this many times, then as we approached the small gate that would take us into the unknown, we began to fear. George wanted to stay on guard outside under the light, we
thought it best he did and we could always call him if we thought fit. On through the gate the rest of us went, careful to tread on the edges of the driveway, so to avoid the noisy stone chippings.
The Old Vicarage was in darkness except
for one large downstair room and a couple of bedrooms. The curtains were open. We crept nearer the large downstair window. We would consider that our mission was a success if we could just look in without being detected then do just one circuit of the grounds
and all return alive to tell the story.
We decided to do the circuit first. Slowly and silently we crept around the large building. It was silent. No music, no noise, just like the grave yard next door. In those days not a sound could be heard, no traffic,nothing,
just a silence that was deafening. a village on the edges of the vast fens, like a great Mary Celeste. We were used to it, but it still, sometimes scared us.
'Nuthin here' said Podgy, breaking the silence and making us jump.
Willie and I agreed.
'Lets go back and look thru the window' Badger whispered.
We all agreed and moved round the front to the big window. One by one we popped up to see. I remember thinking at the time that we looked like four flowerpot men, bobbing up and
The room was huge with endless bookcases and old books. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling at the centre of the room. We had never seen such a thing, being from a council house, this was another world. The furniture looked a bit more familiar
- it was old and well worn. An old Bush Wireless stood on a small table in one corner. Several old clocks stared out at the room. The walls were covered with old pictures of Angels and heavens opening up pouring more of them out all over the picture.
All around were stuffed animals, a badger, a fox, a group of birds and a massive Cock Pheasant in an oversized glass cabinet.
I had once seen a house like this when I was taken to visit my Aunt Maud, at Billinghay. She wasn't a real Aunt,
but I had to call her Aunt. She used to give me Zubes cough sweets and when she kissed me I could smell lavender and sweet flowers. Her house was always dark and smelt of, what I would describe 'oldness'. She always seemed so old and one day I expected I would
go and find her in the corner, stuffed, in a glass case, between the pair of dueling ferrets and the Red Squirrel.
The room in the Old Vicarage was old and dreary and it looked haunted - in fact the whole place looked like it could accommodate a whole
bunch of restless spirits and to do it without many of the inhabitant realising it.
'Let's get George' whispered Willie 'I've an idea'.
As he said that I thought I saw something, or someone, swishing passed the window inside the room. I said
nothing and thought I must be mistaken. The others were deep in conversation and not paying much attention, then, I saw it again and heard a scratching noise from the other side of the window. I became a bit unsure as to what it was I heard and preferred to
The plan was to bring George and give him a go at looking into the room, then Willie would grab his bare leg from behind, hoping that this would bring the desired result. George came a little hesitantly. I could see that he was fighting
bravely against his imagination whilst clinching part of his anatomy.
'Over here', said Willie,'you'll get a better view from just here'
The unsuspecting George came, crawling under the window to where Willie was and settled down to make
ready for his viewing.
I should have mentioned that the Rev Merryweather was the owner of a huge,slobbering Great Dane, called Clifford. Through an incredible turn of providence, Clifford had decided to investigate the voices he had heard outside the
window. His investigation coincided with George's peep. As he rose up with his paws on the window sill and his great loose,wet face pressed up against it, so George also raised up his head, opened his eyes and stared straight into the bloodshot
eyes of Clifford.
George's response was instantaneous. He screamed, let loose below and with great difficulty ran arms outstretched for the safety of the street light.
The rest of us were off in all directions. Badger and me ran for the
light following George's trail, but for some odd reason Willie and Podgy ran towards the Graveyard wall and leaped up it and over into the graveyard.
The three of us ran from one street light to the next, George found it hard to run in his condition,
but fear drove him on. Breathless we arrived in front of the Church building, where a car passed on the main village road, giving to us a sense of security and normality. George started to roll around in the grass to clean himself and look reasonable before
he went home. But where were the other two?
My question was answered immediately as a roar emitted from the vicinity of the graves behind the church building. It was Willie, he came running , dodging in and out of the head stones and shouting,
got him, the beast has got podgy, HE'S EATEN HIM!..nuthin left of him!'
George's cleaning was to no avail as he and his bowels responded to the incoming news.
I very much doubted whether the beast had eaten Podgy as no one heard any munching
or screaming that one usually associates with such a violent end.
'Well he just disappeared, one minute he was there, the next gone', Wilie said .'There's bound to be something of him left' I replied,'
Sometimes beasts take bits away to eat later',
Badger said, trying to be a comfort to us all indicating that we should be able to retrieve some of him if we could locate the beast.
This was rapidly getting out of hand, Willie was breathing heavily and George still groaning. I had to take charge.
'Let's go back and find him' I said.
Badger agreed and added 'he'd do the same for us'.
Carefully we picked our way through the stones. I was scared, but had to show myself brave. I knew the beast wasn't there, but I was a Primitive
Methodist in an Anglican graveyard, I was already out of my depth!
'Where did you see him last?' I asked Willie.
'Near to that grave over there, the last time I saw him, he was there then he just disappeared.'
We left George and crept
over to the area the beast had caught up with Podgy and at which the ripping and tearing was supposed to have happened.
We found nothing. Podgy had just disappeared. I was at a loss. He had definitely gone - but where? and how?
we looked at each other the quiet of the graveyard was disturbed by a quivering voice coming from over in the corner
'Help.. please help me..please!'
We turned and in the corner we could just make out Podgy's head lying on the
We'd never seen a head on its own like that. We just stood there. It was him, well his head anyway. This was very disturbing.
How could we tell his mum? How can we take just his head back even if it did speak. So many questions.
Podgy's head continued....
'Get me out, help me, don't just stand there gawping!'
I must say I thought that he a lot of courage. How could he act in such a calm manner with his body inside the beast somewhere and his head lying there in the
The head spoke again...
'Get me out, I think I've twisted my ankle!'
Ankle? How could he? Where was his ankle?
'Come on you lot, get me out,I need a hand!'
Hand? What could we do?
Podgy's talking head, very slowly. A deep sense of fear was, already over us, this combined with a sense of duty to help our friend. As we moved closer, suddenly,one of Podgy's hands shot up towards us, followed by another. I don't mind telling you that by
then we were all scared and glad we'd left George behind.
'Lift me out this stupid great hole!' The head and hands said' My ankles twisted and my knees are skinned and I've hurt my back!'
Whether it was the result of doing a quick calculation
that there was more of Podgy attached to the head than we had thought or the lights of the 2a bus from Lincoln shining on the scene- but it hit us in a flash!
Podgy has fallen down a newly dug grave! And he was pretty mad about it, but he was
alive! The talking head was still attached to his body which was concealed by the partially dug grave. He hadn't been eaten at all. That was a great relief to us and and I should think to Mrs Heckaslyke!
We pulled him out and supported him out
of the graveyard back to a sorry George and the lights. I don't think that I had ever felt so relieved as I checked Podgy over for missing bits and finding every piece of him was where it should have been.
We didn't go Ghost hunting for some time
after that, the fun had gone out of it, besides which, George's mum decided to put him into long trousers and a visit to the doctors had resulted in him going on to 'nerve pills' for a period of time. Ghost hunting had lost its appeal after that.
© john cropley