The Boggart beneath the Buttery Stone

Intersecting the Roman road from Ribchester to Lancaster, just outside Longridge in the village of Grimsargh you will find the aptly named Written Stone Lane. Perhaps unsurprisingly at the top of said lane, beside Written Stone farm (formerly Cottam House) you will find the ‘Written Stone’, a sandstone slab of considerable length bearing the legend “RAUFFE:RADCLIFFE:LAID:THIS:STONE:TO:LYE:FOREVER:A:D:1665:”

Written Stone Lane

Many folk tales and fables surround this gritstone block, it has been suggested it was once a standing stone, possibly an outlier or altar piece, a relic of past paganism Mr Radcliffe wished to see stand no more hence its horizontal positioning.

Other theories include it having been the lintel stone which once sat above a doorway.

Resting beneath the prickly holly

However, non of this explains how the stone found itself established beneath the holly bushes at the crossway of two quiet country lanes. The quintessential mythos is as follows, that on the very spot where the cursed stone rests an atrociously brutal murder was said to have occurred, and collaborating in such a heinous crime were members of the Radcliffe family!

The restless spirit of the victim, unable to achieve eternal repose, began to bedevil the conspirators. Family members died in unexplainable and mysterious ways, as though the whole household were cursed. In a vain attempt to appease the relentless disquietude (and perhaps as atonement for his part in the slaying) Mr Radcliffe arranged for the inscription of the monolithic tablet before organising its emplacement at the scene of the crime.


Despite such measures being put in place the disturbances amplified: from an audible haunting of screams, shrieks, knocks and banging it grew into the more malevolent (& physical) spite of painful pinching and clothes being torn asunder by unseen hands!

Alas, the plague and torment became so relentless the Radcliffe’s upped sticks and moved far away, to an undisclosed location. Remember this was the 17th century, a time of sorcery and witchcraft where the weltscmerz felt regarding curses seemed undoubtedly real.

Cottam house became the home of new tenants who knew nothing of the trauma and tribulation suffered by the previous occupants, they happily went about their business of dairy farming until the day they decided the stone in the lane would be better put to use as a ‘buttery stone’.

The stone in the lane

Removal and relocation of the stone proved far more laborious and problematic than the residents could have ever imagined, many local folk and a team of six strong horses battled to move the great hunk the short distance to the house. It was heard to emit a strange echoing sound and several locals were injured during the remotion!

Once repositioned in the farmhouse kitchen the strange occurrences accelerated – on its very first evening in its new residence all hell broke loose, any object placed upon the stone was forcefully thrown across the room by an invisible power and an unearthly cacophony unceasingly emitted from it until first light.

In situ as Rauffe wished

Fearful the newly liberated spirit would never permit his family rest at night the farmer felt compelled to convey the stone back to whence it came. Strangely, only the farmer and one horse were required to facilitate the return.

The Boggart from beneath the stone?

Unfortunately, this was not the last to be heard of the malevolent spirit, a doctor on horseback had his mount spooked when riding up the lane, it hysterically galloped off at full speed leaving the poor physician hanging on for his dear life for at least two miles! Deciding upon a return to the area he bravely confronted whatever dwelt below the stone only to witness a shapeless mass form atop it. Taking on substance the mass was able to seize him and drag him from his saddle almost crushing the last breath from his lungs.

A lady wearing a fancy bonnet has also been reportedly spotted walking the lane on several occasions, nothing strange about that you might be thinking . . . except her head, complete with bonnet, is being carried by her side in a basket!!

The phantasmagorical vision

Walkers braving the hike down from Jeffrey Hill have had their hats whipped from their heads and encountered indiscernible hands tugging at their anoraks. To this day strange phenomena is described as occurring in the vicinity of the Written Stone.

So who, or rather what, can these occurrences be attributed to? Many folk believe the cursed stone is home to a boggart and the narrow track has become locally known as Boggarts Lane. Dissimilar to the modern storybook boggarts who live in houses our Lancashire variety are much more likely to be encountered outdoors. They favour fields, marshland, under bridges and holes in the ground. Some have been known to dwell by the roadside at dangerously sharp bends .

North West folklore is teaming with tales of these wicked, geographically defined spirits. Always vengeful, spiteful and vicious they are considered insuppressible. Beware getting lost over moor or marshland as you may just fall foul of a flesh eating boggart, yes dear reader, they can devour our kind! Others lurk deep in the still waters of rivers, ponds and lakes – for who’s mother hasn’t warned them of Ginny Greenteeth when they’ve strayed too close to the brink of a pool. Appearing as both man and beast I recently learned some have the ability to shape-shift, taking the form of various animals and that of the most fearful of creattures!

Perhaps we will never know the true story of Written Stone Lane and why a four hundred year old inscribed slab is still shrouded in mystery and superstition. Ramblers often meander by the stone seemingly oblivious to its terrible history, yet visiting paranormal enthusiasts have feared to even reach out and touch the reposing pillar in trepidation of what could ensue.

Beware of getting lost in these parts!

The stone has been recognised as being of national importance and special interest and has been given a grade II listing.

Deborah Contessa

The Fylde Hag who roamed as a Hare

The parish church of St Anne, Woodplumpton, has been in existence since since 1340, being rebuilt in both 1639 & 1900. It’s a very curious looking place and appears rather cosmopolitan in style.

Old postcard of St Anne’s churchyard showing the Witches Grave

During restoration original stonework dating back to the 12th century was discovered. The main entrance into the churchyard is through the Lychgate which was erected in 1912, flanked on one side by the now restored 18th century stocks and a mounting stone, which was well used in times gone by when travellers arrived on horseback.

The stocks outside the churchyard

The burial ground lies mostly to the south and west of the church building where the graves seem to have been placed nonsequentially, as if the mortal remains were placed there in a hurry – and one such occupant was . . . for on Saturday the 2nd May 1705 the torchlit interment of the Woodplumpton Witch took place under cover of darkness, as the tintabulation from the west tower heralded the midnight hour. (Probably!)

But who was the Woodplumpton Witch/ Fylde Hag?

Meg Shelton (Aka Margery Hilton) was reputed to be a malevolent and powerful witch and although she did actually exist it is thought her misdemeanours were somewhat exaggerated.

Was Meg just an unmarried or widowed wise woman, with botanical knowledge of healing plants and herbs and perhaps some capability in childbirth?

We do know Meg was clever, shrewd and frugal, surviving on just her wits and what she was able to steal from the local farmers. Corn and milk were often reported to have gone missing but the perpetrator could never be found, this was put down to Megs otherworldly ability to transform herself into all manner of innocent domestic equipment. Flights of fancy tell of the old woman disguising her milk jug as a goose and of her own metamorphosis into a sack of grain.

Her dwelling was a ramshackle hovel known locally as ‘Cuckoo Cottage’ which formed part of local landowner Lord Cottam’s Catforth estate. Legend has it Meg won the cottage from Cottam in a bet, as she was known to have lived out her life there rent free. Even stranger tales tell of blackmail, black artistry and even surrogate motherhood (Lady Cottam being infertile) being the reason behind such an arrangement.

The pronounced limp Meg walked with was also attributed to her witchy shenanigans. The aforementioned bet consisted of Meg transforming into a hare and racing her landlords dogs back to her home, the leveret was witnessed heading towards Meg’s cottage followed by a baying pack of hounds. It raced through the front door, beating them by a whisker, but not before receiving a nasty nip to its hind leg.

How Meg might have looked

Some believe these stories may be a cover up for a dalliance, as Meg was rumoured to have once been the paramour of a local dignitary. Was it he who funded her rent free cottage and paid for her moonlight burial in consecrated ground?

If Meg’s life appeared to be clouded in a mix of fact and fiction it seems her death also was. Even after her life was ended she refused to go quietly.

Meg was discovered dead in her isolated home in 1705, apparently the victim of a freak accident which resulted in her becoming crushed betwixt the cottage wall and a heavy oak barrel.

The villagers were convinced her dealings with the dark lord had resulted in her demise.

Being in no doubt that a witch had the power to return post-mortem the locals decided her spirit may rest if placed in the hallowed ground of St. Anne’s.

The author paying a visit to Meg

But, as the sun rose on the morning after her interment her cadaver was spotted lying beside the freshly opened grave. It is claimed this happened again and again, after each & every attempt at reburial. The alarming regularity of her escapes caused a local catholic priest to be summoned who decided it was in the community’s best interest to reinter Meg head down and her resting place be covered by a large glacial boulder, which fortuitously was lying nearby. One exorcism later and the good folk of Woodplumpton once again slept safe in their beds.

The large boulder atop Meg’s grave

But in her own indomitable style Meg Shelton has ensured her name is still whispered from the lips of West Lancashire folk. Locals claim to have spotted Meg around the village on many occasions, grown men have felt the ghostly thwack of a broom on their backsides only to turn and spy nowt but a bedraggled hare limping off across the fields. During one visit a small boy was terrified by ‘a wicked old woman in old fashioned clothes’ chasing him around the church as his parents chatted outside!


Should you ever visit the picturesque village of Woodplumpton (it’s beautiful hiking country and I’d highly recommend it) do pay a visit to Meg’s grave, I always gift her a trinket, if I’ve nothing pretty in my pocket I’ve been known to slip off an earring to leave! If you stand atop her boulder and turn around three times you can even make a wish.

A ghostly imagining

I’ve also known others to walk around her stone thrice chanting her name in an attempt to renew the blessing/curse which keeps the dwellers of Woodplumpton at peace from this formidable lady!

The Blackpool Brew that Caught a Killer

The general consensus on a young James Hanratty was that he wasn’t ‘quite right’ – he displayed evidence of impaired intellect and delayed development (his personality having been described as anti social, disinhibited and egotistical.) By the time he was ready to move up to St James’Catholic High School In Barnet, North London, his teachers proclaimed him to be uneducable.

However, his doting parents were having non of it and resisted all attempts to send him to an educational institution which would better serve his complex needs. So upon leaving school in 1951 Hanratty found himself unpopular, unqualified and illiterate.

After a failed job with the local council James headed for the bright lights of Brighton and after a couple of years made his way to the bohemian utopia of Soho where he endeavored to affiliate himself with the criminal underworld.

Eventually forced to seek treatment for his psychiatric problems Hanratty spent a while as an outpatient at the Portman Clinic, this was possibly a requirement of his probation, as he had by now acquired an increasing number of convictions, (including house braking & various motoring offenses). Unfortunately the treatment had no effect whatsoever and the next seven years of his life were spent in and out of prison. In each of the institutions that housed him Hanratty became well know as a psychopath.


In the March of 1961 Hanratty left Strangeways and headed back down south.

Fast forward five months to the night of the 22nd of August and the picturesque village of Dorney Reach. An amorous couple inside a Morris Minor are parked up in a cornfield. He is a scientist at the Road Research Laboratory, his paramour a lab assistant. This clandestine meeting is to be their last.

Ms Storie

Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie were abducted at gunpoint and forced to drive in a roundabout manner, as their assailant chatted away in his distinctive, uneducated cockney accent occasionally ordering them to stop and pick up supplies.

Complaining of fatigue and spying a lay-by the back seat conquistador forced Gregsten to pull over. Rather ominously his final destination was Deadman’s Hill, beside the A6.

Scene of the crime

After parking up Gregsten reached down to retrieve a duffle bag and the sudden movement spooked their perfidious passenger, two shots rang out, both of which hit Gregsten in the head at point blank range. He died instantly.

The understandably hysterical Ms. Storie was unceremoniously forced into the back seat where she was ordered to remove her undergarments before being viciously raped. After the attack Valerie pleaded for her life, handing over both her money and the car keys in a vain attempt to save her own skin. But the fiend showed no mercy and after appearing to back off turned and fired the gun at her seven times (even pausing to reload).

Hitting the ground the courageous young woman ‘played possum,’ and believing her dead the gunman drove off. Although she had escaped with her life Valerie was left paralyzed from the bullets which had penetrated her shoulder, arm and leg. Her spinal cord was severed. Aged just 23, she was never to walk again.

James Hanratty was arrested for this heinous crime on the 11th of October 1961 at the Stevonia Cafe on Central Drive, Blackpool. Quite what he was doing in Blackpool has never been explained, it is thought he had arranged to meet some contacts in the Philharmonic Club on Foxhall Road, but this has never been verified.

Stevonia Cafe, Blackpool

It was in fact two prostitutes who recognised the villain as he sipped his tea, after seeing a facial composite in the national press. One of the ladies gamely engaged him in conversation whilst her companion went to inform the local police.

Intriguingly, Hanratty was not the only suspect in this case, Back in London, the manager of the Alexandra Court Hotel reported a surreptitious tenant to the authorities, one Peter Louis Alphon, a local transient who bankrolled his accommodation by gambling. In an extraordinary twist of fate Hanratty had been a hotel guest there at the same time as Alphon.

When spent cartridges from the murder weapon were discovered down the back of a sofa in a basement guest room rented by Hanratty, ( at the Vienna Hotel) and the gun found wrapped in a gents handkerchief on a local bus, this evidence seemed to indicate Hanratty was the guilty party.

The Vienna Hotel

(Alphon was also able to provide police with a credible alibi for that fateful evening.)

Valarie Storie subsequently identified Hanratty in a police line up, for although he had made an attempt to disguise his image, when asked to repeat the phrase “shut up, I’m thinking” his cockney accent and fricative tendency to say ‘f’ instead of ‘th’ were a dead giveaway.

At his capital murder trial on the 22nd January 1962, Hanratty faced judge and jury at Bedfordshire Assizes. After 21 days of listening to evidence and nine hours of deliberation the jurors delivered a unanimous verdict of guilty.

Hanratty leaving Court

James Hanratty was hanged on the 4th April by Harry Allen, who shares the dubious joint honor of being Britain’s last hangman. (Harry, incidentally, later retired to Fleetwood where he got a job giving change on the pier!)

Later, evidence came to light casting doubt on Hanratty’s conviction and a band of campaigners including MPs, politicians, journalists and even John Lennon & Yoko Ono contested the judgement. His family repeatedly called for further inquiries into the case.

famous campaigners ©️Daily Mail

In the spring of 2001 James Hanratty’s body was exhumed for the purpose of obtaining a DNA sample. This was compared with DNA extracted from mucus on the handkerchief that accompanied the gun and on semen found in Valerie Storie’s underwear.

It was found to be a match.

Further appeal hearings were held, bad storage was blamed for contamination of samples, new theories and conspiracies were heard, but the verdict of guilty was not to be overturned.

One person adamant Hanratty should not be exonerated was Valerie Storie, so I’ll give her the last word;


“ I identified the guilty man, I looked in his eyes and he looked into mine. I knew who he was, and he knew I recognised him. I had found the guilty person.”

Love Never Dies

Edward Rifle Mann & Helen Wolstenholme

Layton Cemetery is located in the seaside town of Blackpool, within the county of Lancashire. A holiday destination situated on the NorthWest Coast of England.

Opened in 1873 when the council decided its parish churchyard was replete with burying. This sprawling Victorian necropolis contains many notable graves.

If you walk through the original peeling cemetery gates and head towards the now derelict Church of England Chapel, you may catch a glimpse of a modest stone, weathered, crumbling and unassuming, yet adorned with the imagery of a strong Christian faith.

Love’s final resting place

Although obscured by a towering monolith celebrating the life of a local brewer, its worth risking a twisted ankle on the soft ground and paying a visit to the final resting place of Edward Rifle Mann.

During the summer season of 1886, Edward Rifle Man, a twenty six year old German national, was employed on Blackpool’s seafront by The Wolstenholme Bathing Van Co. Very much enjoying the summer sunshine, sea air and bathing belles he was happy in his work.

Bathing machine

Being young and strong he coped admirably with the physical labour and long hours, he worked voraciously, saving every penny he earned for his up and coming wedding to his beloved fiancée Helen.

Now bathing machines (or vans) were a necessary component of English beach etiquette during the 19th century. Typically a canvas, windowless box, stretched over a wooden frame with a door at each end which was raised off the floor by its wheels. Entry was made via a stepladder before being pulled out to sea.

The machines protected the modesty of bathers, allowing them the privacy to change into swimwear away from prying eyes!

Towards the end of the afternoon of the 1st of August, Edward, his boss Samuel Wolstenholme & Samuels brother, John, were preparing to pack up for the day when Edward was approached by two young gents eager to hire a van and enjoy a quick dip in the briny water. But the tide appeared on the turn, the weather seemed to be becoming inclement so conditions were not ideal.

The gentlemen though, could not be discouraged.

Against his better judgement Edward reluctantly agreed, dragging men and machine out to the waters edge.

After a short while spent standing on the beach, he noticed the swimmers in some difficulty quite a distance from the shore.

With no thought for his own safety Edward swiftly dove into the unforgiving waves in an attempt to rescue the pair.

Bravely battling against the current he managed to reach one of the friends and drag him to the safety of the sand. He then valiantly headed back out into the whitecaps, but the sea was relentless and the second man was swallowed by the undercurrent.

Tragically Edward lost his own life performing this courageous recovery, for he too was drowned.

With just two weeks until they were to be wed poor Helen was left bereft, her dreams shattered and her heart broken.

Helen had longed to marry Edward

Edwards memorial stone in Layton cemetery was paid for by the local townspeople. As news of his bravery had spread a collection was generously donated to – in testament to the heroic young man. It is one of very few English graves that relate the full story of how someone died.

Two months after Edwards sad demise a baby son was born into the Wolstenholme family. He was named Edward Mann Wolstenholme in Edwards honour.

Helen went on to marry John Wolstenholme, who you may remember was not only Edwards colleague but also his boss’s brother! But her first love was never far from her thoughts. In fact, she continued to carry a torch for him throughout the rest of her life.

Upon her death in 1903, her selfless husband arranged for her to be buried alongside her One True Love.

Helen lays here alongside her beloved Edward

So although parted in life Edward and Helen are forever reunited in death. They now eternally rest together.

Must be Something in the Water

Mermaid tales in folklore run as deep as the waters they swim in, they have been both feared and revered, celebrated and abominated. From the stories of my youth where benevolent beauties bestowed magical gifts upon menfolk, (often falling in love with them, thus transforming themselves into radiant women) to the older, darker fables of enchanting sirens luring unsuspecting sailors and seafarers to the inky black depths of a watery grave.

Fairytale Mermaid

The earliest mention of mermaids was most likely Atargatis, a Syrian goddess associated with water. She was reputed to have dove into a lake, wishing to take the form of a fish. However, she was rescued and emerged piscatorial from the waist down. Ataragatis was worshiped at a magnificent temple built in her honour, surrounded by pools of sacred fish.

Martin Mere is situated on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, close to the village of Burscough, the outcome of the last Ice Age, when the glacial drift sculpted the landscape leaving behind vast depressions which filled with peaty, black water. When the pools became larger their waters merged, forming the largest body of fresh water in England covering 3,000 acres. In 1695 the land was reclaimed for agriculture following an act of parliament and work began on digging drainage channels. Although it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when steam powered pumps were introduced, the landscape began to look recognisable.

These days Martin Mere is home to a wildfowl collection, overseen by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It attracts pink footed geese, whooper swans, wigeon, numerous birds of prey and even the rare snow goose.

Martin Mere

Surprisingly, the wetlands also have a history steeped in folklore, local fables link the area to several sagas in Arthurian Legend.

Close companion of the King, Sir Lancelot (of the Lake) was brought from France to the safety of Lancashire by his birth mother and left beside the mere, whereupon he was stolen by a nymph and taken into the lake by her.

Martin Mere is also supposedly the body of water from which The Lady of the Lake handed Arthur Excalibur after his weapon was broken during an altercation with the King of Listenoise. Ostensibly, it has been named as the lake into which Sir Bedivere returned the aforementioned Excalibur, hurling the sword into the dark waters to fulfil Arthur’s dying wish.


But let us travel now to the seventeenth century, for I promised you a mermaids tale! A yarn filled with melodrama, abduction and murder!

Captain Harrington and his friend Sir Ralph Molyneux embarked on a ride around the mere, well caparisoned cavaliers the pair of them. As they trotted along enjoying the silence they observed the setting of the golden sun as it seemed to slide beneath the water. Simultaneously and unexpectedly, their curiosity was piqued by a female form raised half way above the pool, her long dark hair floating behind her as she mysteriously glided along.

Captain Harrington was the first to regain his composure and cried out to the creature, he addressed her as ‘Sea- wench’ which certainly attracted her attention.

After momentarily returning the gentlemen’s gaze, she flicked up her iridescent tail and disappeared with a small splash. Convinced their eyes had deceived them and the woman had just sunk they considered searching for her, but twilight was rapidly drawing in so they instead instructed their mounts to head for home.

The Sea-Hag

Their progress was rather difficult as their steeds were barely able to keep their footing, often often plunging knee deep into the quagmire.

Although completely lost by now the fellows continued, eventually spotting a light in a lone hut bordering the lake. They were greeted by a kindly fisherman who bade them welcome to his simple abode.

As they recounted their experience to the peasant and his wife, they were surprised to see no incredulity on the couple’s faces but alarm, or something similar perhaps, which awakened their suspicions.

Noticing the infant on the woman’s lap beginning to stir, Harrington paid it the obligatory attention, but as she smiled Harrington was at once smitten, for never before had he seen such a beautiful child, he thought her the image of perfect loveliness.

Suddenly, a low, guttural muttering was heard at the window causing the peasants wife to turn as white as a ghost. Her husband disappeared outdoors for a while before returning to relate quite the series of events.

It had indeed been the ‘meer-woman’ who had called at the hovel with a warning the child must be removed speedily. It transpired she had been stolen by the mere hag in an act of vengeance and could not be returned ‘till the wrongs were righted.

As the abducted babe’s life appeared in mortal danger Harrington agreed to her becoming his ward. His signet ring was passed, as a promise, to the mere hag in agreement that whomever presented the ring back to him would be able to rightfully claim the child.

Many years passed and Harrington was as good as his word, little Grace (as he had named her) flourished and blossomed. He went on to marry an altruistic lady who happily raised Grace as her own.

Haunted by the pact he had made Harrington took to seeking the elusive mere hag, but never could he find her.

Although their existence was a blessed one, the vow caused feelings of grave foreboding to grow in his heart.

One fine evening Mrs Harrington spoke openly with her husband, recalling a dream she’d had of a mermaid stealing away their precious daughter and began to sob as she repeated tales she’d been told of a mermaid haunting local waters.

Just days later, glancing over the balustrade, Harrington spied his worst fear. Beside a pillar, staring straight at him was a hooded, cloaked figure. The signet passed over, and he knew what he must do.

The next day Grace’s mare was prepared and Harrington mounted his steed, the child was filled with excitement as never before had she been permitted to ride to the mere. All the way she prattled on about ‘seeing a mermaid’ as her ‘father’s’ heart grew heavier.

When they arrived at the fisherman’s hovel it was dirty and damp with decay, but inside they went – and they waited. A low guttural muttering was heard by Harrington, he was in no doubt who was outside. He raced to the door to confront the mere hag, walking along the shore trying to catch a glimpse of her.

When the muttering became distant he returned to the hut to find his beloved daughter gone. He threw himself to the floor in anguish and wept as though his heart would break.

Abruptly, Harrington felt his arms pinioned as a bandage was wound tightly around his eyes. Rough hands steered him to a boat upon which he was forced to embark. Before long he was transferred to a larger vessel and thrown unceremoniously into the cabin.

As his bandage was removed and his eyes became accustomed to his dimly lit surroundings he found himself facing a weather beaten pirate, armed with both cutlas and pistol.

The captain told the tale of his own precious daughter, entrusted to a siren, stolen by Harrington, then dying in infancy. Harrington’s protestations fell on deaf ears.

As the ships clock began to strike midnight the fierce mariner drew his weapon. On the count of three as the bloodthirsty freebooter squeezed the trigger, the mere hag appeared, at once throwing herself between the executioner and the condemned.

The pirate seemed horror struck at his deed and as the mere hag threw him a look of reproach her spirit departed.

Years later, in a tiny cottage on the Harrington estate, dwelt a wisened old man and his beautiful daughter. The savage grew tame, he repented his many sins. The young woman, with her two devoted fathers, felt the richest in the land.

More recently there have been strange occurrences witnessed at Martin Mere, an unknown large creature has been spied attacking swans and large birds on the lake, dragging them beneath the surface, never to be seen again. There have been many reports of local folk observing something huge and dark circling the mere, one of whom described it as ‘a powerful, fast swimming creature of immense proportions’.

Richard Freeman, former head keeper of Twycross Zoo claims the beast is a very old, huge, Wels catfish.

Perhaps it is . . . but perhaps there’s just a possibility it’s something far more interesting.

Deborah Contessa Hargreaves

Military Murder at Princess Parade

When vacationing families return to their rooms and day trippers journey home, the bright lights of Blackpool are often witness to more sinister sights.

On such an evening, during wartime in 1944 the body of a local girl was discovered in an air raid shelter by North Promenade. Perhaps surprisingly, she had not fallen victim to the Luftwaffe but the US flying corps.

Miss Joan Long

Joan Long, a naive and cheerful Blackpool lass, lived in Bristol Avenue, Bispham, Blackpool. She was the eldest of three children and helped her widowed father, William, to run the home and raise her younger siblings.

William Long himself must have had quite a story to tell, achieving an exemplary military record, having signed up as a Private but leaving as Lieutenant.

Joan had suffered from meningitis as a child which left her partially paralysed, she walked with a pronounced limp and struggled to use her right hand effectively. She had also been born with what we now correctly refer to as learning difficulties, nevertheless she didn’t let this dampen her spirits and often visited the town centre hostelries to enjoy the lively nightlife on offer.

On the evening of July 25th Joan donned her glad rags and headed for the pub to meet friends, it was here she got chatting to a smart and attractive aircraft mechanic. Enjoying the attention she agreed accompany her newly acquired beau around further licensed establishments.

The couple were seen later that night huddled in a tram shelter before heading along the promenade towards the Princess Parade colonnades by The Metropol Hotel – originally built as sea defense but repurposed as an air raid shelter.

The Princess Parade Colonnades as they are today

In the early hours of Wednesday 26th, four chaps (two civilians & two servicemen) came upon the shelter in their search for somewhere to doss down for the night. After shoving the door open, entering and lighting a match, they were met with the most grisly of sights. The partially clothed body of Joan was laid out on the ground. Cuts and bruising were evident on her face.

Princess Parade in 1944

It didn’t take long for the police to establish Thomas Montoya as a person of interest in this case. He was traced to his base at Warton and taken in for questioning.

The 24 year old Native American Airforce officer from New Mexico was initially charged with the heinous crime of first degree murder but at his Court Marshal, heard at the local A.R.P headquarters, 24 year old Thomas Montoya pleaded not guilty. He claimed his companion that night had died from an epileptic seizure and his defense described her as “frothing at the mouth”.

Despite there being no evidence of this, Montoya was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years hard labour.

The Guardian’s report on Montoya’s sentencing

Joan had never been diagnosed as epileptic, during autopsy Dr Bruce, a police surgeon, concluded she had died of asphyxia due to manual suffocation.

Article from a Brisbane SA newspaper

(An interesting post script to the trial was the global headline ‘Dead Girls Brain Exhibited in Jar’ which referred to the brain being produced during the trial, for Doctor FB Smith, pathologist, to scrutinise – the murder itself was not so well publicised.)

Poor Joan Long (aged just 22) was laid to rest in an unmarked grass grave in a quiet corner of Layton Cemetery.

The unmarked grave of Joan Long

My Eerie Encounter on Yeadon Way

Sit down dear reader, get comfortable, let the train take the strain, as I regale you with the true life encounter of a phantom vehicle witnessed by myself back in the late 70’s . .

Tightly grasping each other’s hands we quickly scrambled up the steep incline, our pathway choked by brambles and weeds. Leslie yelled as a thorn bush encircled her ankle, tripping her and causing pinpricks of fresh blood to appear on her crisp white socks. After attempting to free my friend from her horticultural captor I felt the familiar tingle of nettle stings annoyingly prickling at my fingertips. This was not the start to our adventure we had imagined! Nevertheless, we continued to clamber precipitously as we were determined to investigate the highest point of the embankment at the rear of our adjoining homes.

We climbed the embankment from the other side of this bridge

Rising high above the ordinary row of terraced houses the seemingly perpendicular hill had been tempting us all summer, not because it was anything special, there was nothing grand or remarkable about it at all, the appeal came from the fact we were forbidden to play there and to two small children, this was reason enough! We had marveled at the bigger boys who had bravely stolen wire cutters from the nearby allotments and watched jealously as almost every afternoon they disappeared together through the hole they had snipped into the fence. So this is how we found ourselves scratched, stung and sore, disobediently trespassing on an old earthwork owned by British Rail.

 Upon reaching the brow of the mound we stopped to catch our breath and consider our surroundings. Unimpressed by what we discovered there, we nonchalantly wandered down a cinder path, stopping periodically to gather small posies of clover, daisies and buttercups until boredom got the better of us.

We pondered the appeal of the place and thought it was perhaps time to head home when we spied a great, grey cloud on the horizon, it came into view quite unexpectedly and appeared to be heading towards the pair of us at an alarming rate. We exchanged worried glances, searching each other’s faces in the hope of finding an explanation there for the strange anomaly before us. Suddenly, we became aware of a deep rumbling sound accompanied by a shrill whistle then the grinding of cogs and gears.

Falling to the ground, I was roughly thrust aside by a powerful rush of air and looking up I could scarcely believe my eyes… .hurtling by my friend and I was a magnificent, green steam locomotive followed by three shabby but still elegant carriages! It huffed and puffed along the embankment beside us proudly chugging coal soot and steam into the atmosphere.

Steam engine

 After such a shock, Leslie, being the oldest, gently took me by the arm and proceeded to carefully guide me back down the steep grassy slope.

Gingerly stepping back through the wire railings we were met by an irate group of our parents and neighbors all acutely concerned with our whereabouts.

As we began describing what we had witnessed that afternoon to account for our absence we found our explanation met with incredulous stares. The adults regarded us suspiciously and seemed completely unconvinced by our recount.

Incoherently babbling about the train we had seen we were stopped in mid-flow by my father, taking us to one side he patiently rationalised why our account was preposterous . . . steam engines had been replaced by diesel many years previously, trains had ceased to run along that particular (Marton) line in 1964 and by 1970 the tracks had been removed!!

As if this chronicle wasn’t ominous enough, there is also an uncanny postscript, Leslie and I were convinced we had been exploring for no more than an hour at most but according to our respective parents we had in reality been missing for the best part of the day, hence the search party!

Aerial view of haunted location

 Interestingly, the trackbed of this old rail route is still in existence, it is now ‘Yeadon Way’ the main road out of Blackpool Lancashire leading to the M55 motorway. I often wonder if anyone else has born witness to the phantasmagorical phenomenon of the spectral ghost train.

Deborah Contessa

Dead amongst the Dunes

Kathleen Elsie Breaks December 24th 1919

Even in death she was beautiful. But how did the ‘prettiest girl in Bradford’ end up dead among the sand dunes of Lytham, near Blackpool?

Imagine the excitement 25 year old Mrs Breaks (for she was in fact a married woman) must have felt as her train slowed to a stop at the platform of Blackpool Central station, for not only was it one of the most magical nights of the year (Christmas Eve) she was off for an assignation with her handsome and wealthy lover.

Frederick and Kathleen

After checking into the Palatine Hotel, Kathleen, who preferred to be known as Kitty, dined alone before styling her long brown hair, adding a slick of lipstick, then slipping on her coat in readiness to catch a tram to Lytham.

Waiting for Kitty on the coastal road was Frederick Holt, he had visited a local hostelry ‘The Fairhaven’ before heading to their rendezvous.

Fred Holt was a local man of independent means, the son of a respectable family, who had served Queen and country in the Great War as lieutenant in the North Lancashire Regiment.

Interestingly Holt had attempted to take out an insurance policy on Kitty’s life, but was rejected on the grounds of them not being married. This didn’t deter him and it’s believed he convinced Kitty to insure her own life naming Holt as the beneficiary.

The couple were spotted heading into the dunes by a tram driver on that fatal night, sadly though, Kitty was never seen alive again.

pathway through the dunes

On the cold and frosty Christmas morning of 1919 a most gruesome discovery was made by a man collecting driftwood. The body of an attractive and fashionable young lady lay prone on the sands, she had her bank book in her pocket so was easily identifiable.

The woman had been shot four times.

Identifying the murder posed no conundrum either as it was discovered Holt had left a glove, a revolver and distinctive footprints at the sand hills. A subsequent search of his home also revealed sand covered wet shoes, with a matching tread to the incriminating footprints found at the scene.

At his trial Fred appeared blasé about his crime. Huge crowds gathered at Manchester Assizes to hear his fate. Despite the fact Holt had tried to plead insanity the judge sentenced him to death by hanging.

An un-remorseful Holt went to the gallows at Strangeways on the 13th April 1920 and although he maintained his innocence his demeanor remained nonchalant.

declaration of execution

Legend has it Kitty Breaks was never able to rest, for around Yuletide on bitter winter nights the apparition of a beautiful, melancholic, weeping woman has been reportedly witnessed, wandering around the area where her lifeless body was discovered.

The Abominable Ablutions of Alice

Alice Burnham. Died 12/12/1913

In the eerie glow of a Bobby’s lantern a cheaply made coffin was raised slowly from its penultimate resting place.

This was the second of three disinterments requested by detectives in the February of 1915. The cadaver of 25-year-old nurse Alice Burnham (of ‘Brides in the Bath’ infamy) was removed from her Blackpool grave as local police exhumed her body for a further post-mortem.

Laying Alice to rest for the final time

Anyone who follows my posts should know I have an inexplicable affection for Alice and I often spend time at her unmarked grass grave.

Here I am at Alice’s grave

Alice, a bonny young woman from Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire was the daughter of a coal merchant, she was a devout Baptist and somewhat ambitious for a lady of that time, after taking up teaching ( but failing her final exams) she went on to become a nursery governess before embarking on a career in general nursing.

A subsequent move to Southsea to privately nurse an elderly invalid left Alice with an abundance of savings but a deficit of affection as she was isolated from family and friends.

How her heart must have soared when a dapper chap named George came along and professed to be utterly bewitched by her.

George Smith was very much a product of the late Victorian period, arrogant and self important. In spite of this he went on to bigamously marry a string of women, leaving them with broken hearts and empty purses.

Far from being the gentleman of good character he presented himself to be, he had in fact first been incarcerated at the tender age of nine, where he resided in a reformatory until he reached 16.

By 1910 Smith had changed his modus operandi, leaving destitute women in his wake wasn’t enough anymore and he began his nefarious career as the villain in The Brides in the Bath saga.

Smith, in the role of a loving husband, would whisk his new wife off to a seaside honeymoon, insisting on accommodation with a bath tub. After convincing his spouse to bathe he would approach her as she reclined in the water. Suspecting nothing of his evil intentions they were caught by surprise as he stooped over the bath and deftly slid an arm under their knees, or grabbed at their ankles before swiftly lifting their legs.

Newspaper report on the fate of Smith’s brides

On Tuesday 4th November 1913, Alice became Mrs George Smith, she married a man she knew little about which caused a rift between herself and her family.

The following month Alice was thrilled to be whisked off on honeymoon by Smith and on the 9th of December they arrived in Blackpool. The newlyweds marveled at the Blackpool Tower as they walked the short distance to their boarding house.

After inspecting their accommodation George deemed it unsuitable, informing the landlady his wife required the use of a bathtub, luckily for him (but not so for Alice) their host was able to recommend a property at 16 Regent Road.

The couple took the room at Regent Rd, paying a ten shilling deposit to secure their booking. During a brief chat with the owner, Margaret Crossley, Smith complained his wife was suffering from terrible headaches. Mrs Crossley recommended he took Alice to visit her doctor.

Dr Billing was a registered medical practitioner at 121 Church Street, Blackpool, personal physician to the Mayors of Blackpool and the towns pathologist. His name might have been lost in history if it wasn’t for his involvement with the murders, for Doctor Billing examined Mrs Alice Smith ( née Alice Burnham) not once but twice, both in life and posthumously!

At the insistence of her villainous husband Alice was taken for a consultation with the good doctor, where Billing noted “She was a short, pale woman and extremely fat. I examined her tongue which was rather foul, dirty and coated, I believe she was suffering from nothing more than constipation.”

Just after 8pm on the 12th of December, as Alice took a bath, the Crossleys became aware of water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. Her husband was heard calling down the stairs “My wife cannot speak to me – go for the doctor!”

Sadly their next meeting was to be at the Smiths Regent Road lodgings, where Dr Billing had the unenviable job of freeing the body of Alice from the confines of the tub she had been drowned in.

The following day, after a thorough post-mortem examination, he ruled her passing as an unfortunate misadventure and it was recorded as accidental death due to drowning.

(In a strange twist of fate Alice & Dr Billing are buried just yards apart in Layton Cemetery.)

The grave of Dr Billing

George Smith became a victim of his own success, for once he had seemingly gotten away with uxoricide his hubris and greed drove him to commit the atrocity again and again.

Were it not for a newspaper report ( regarding Margaret Lofty’s watery demise) read with great interest by both the Crossleys of Regent Road and the Father of Alice Burnham, who knows how many other brides may have ended up penniless and lifeless at the hands of the evil Smith.

Mr Burnham couldn’t help but notice that Margaret’s death was suspiciously similar to that of his daughter’s and alerted the police. Mrs Crossley’s son had also written to Scotland Yard voicing his suspicions, including within a periodical clipping he’d saved regarding Alice Burnhams death. Smith was subsequently arrested in February 1915, as he visited his solicitor to discuss his claim on Margaret Lofty’s will.

Smith’s trial was one of the most sensational of the 20th century, the public was so fascinated by Smith’s crimes that for many decades an effigy of him stood in Madame Tussauds’ Chamber Of Horrors. The bath from Regent Road is exhibited in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard.

The Regent Road Bath at Scotland Yard

Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham and Margaret Lofty finally had their day when In August 1915, Smith was hanged at Maidstone Prison for their murders. He was in fact only tried for for the murder of Bessie Williams in accordance with English law, but the prosecution used the deaths of the other two wives to establish the pattern of Smith’s crimes. All of the women were slain simply for financial gain.

He killed three innocent women, who were desperate for love but were met instead with cruel and untimely deaths.

Alice, Margaret & Bessie

The lovely Alice was laid to rest in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, in a paupers grave.

The Last Goodbye of Abigail Whalley

On the 11th May, 1931 the body of eccentric widow Abigail Whalley was discovered in her bungalow on Robins Lane, Carleton, near Blackpool. She was believed to be away on holiday as she had earlier confided in a local resident she was going away and had said ‘Goodbye, I might not see you again’ as they parted company.

Her neighbour decided to keep an eye on Mrs Whalley’s home, for although the lady was thought of as miserly it was common knowledge she was actually rather wealthy. (Unbeknown to lots of people she generously contributed to various charities) She had also been overheard many times stating she had so much money she didn’t know what to do with it!

The home of Abigail Whalley

Becoming worried she hadn’t seen her neighbour return, this good Samaritan along with an acquaintance, went to investigate. They noticed the front door had been forced open and contacted the police.

The body of eighty five year old Abigail was found, battered about the head with possibly the same instrument that was used to jemmy the door. No murder weapon was ever found nor was anyone ever charged with this heinous crime.

A vagrant, a lavender seller and ‘red haired scarred man’ all came under suspicion but were either never found or cleared.

A popular vehicle from the 1930s

Police later confirmed reports of a suspicious vehicle seen in the vicinity on two separate occasions. A two seater car was spotted idling on the corner of Robins Lane in the early hours of the 10th of May. Two figures, thought to be a man and a woman, stole out into the darkness and headed toward Miss Whalley’s bungalow, however they soon returned to their car and drove away.

The corner of Robins Lane & Stocks Lane

As dawn broke on the 11th the mysterious motor was back, after parking up in the same spot the couple once again headed up Robins Lane.

The silence of that Monday morning was broken shortly afterwards by the harsh cacophony of a motor vehicle racing noisily away at brakeneck speed.

If the identity of this duo was ever discovered it was never made known.

Poor Abigail’s murder remains unsolved but her soul has hopefully found peace.

Interestingly, a sinister spectre is often spotted near the bungalow on Robins Lane. A local taxi driver reported he had seen a stooped figure with long dark hair, sunken eyes and a green (bruised & battered?) face! Could this be the ghost of this unfortunate woman?!

Thank you to Chris Clark ( former Police intelligence officer) for additional information.