Officially sanctioned ghosts

Image result for battle of edgehill


I learned about ghosts when I was a twenty-one- year old army officer stationed in Warwickshire. History seemed like the present in such a place – Banbury Cross was still there, Warwick and Warwick Castle were nearby, Stratford-on-Avon not far away, while behind our camp at Kineton lay the village of Warmington, which was near the site of the Battle of Edgehill, one of the first important battles of the English Civil War, fought in 1642. The Royalist army under Charles 1 (sometimes called Cavaliers) met the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell’s troops here. (they were nicknamed Roundheads from their short chopped hair-do’s)

Nearly every English child back then, used to know the Prayer of Sir Jacob Astley which he murmured here after positioning the Royalist infantry which he commanded, on the morning of the battle: “Oh Lord, Thou knowest how busy I shall be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me”.

The Royalist army  – 18,000 on foot and horseback- trumpets blaring and drums beating, had straggled through Warmington village on its way to the battlefield. (It was only Prince Rupert who used the new-fangled method of marching his troops in those days). People in the gracious grey stone manor house, and from the many gabled cottages still standing from that time, stood and watched the army go by.

After the indecisive but bloody struggle, some of the dead were buried in the churchyard, but many, both Royalist and Roundhead, died and were buried on the battlefield.

The Battle of Edgehill seemed to dominate the memories of people in the area, even though this was 1960. Or rather, the ghosts of the Battle of Edgehill. The site of the battle encroached onto army land, and there was an area where the guard dogs refused to patrol, or if they were dragged into it, they growled and barked, and their hackles rose. A single- track railway line was used to carry ammunition to various points (this was an ammunition depot), and at night, to convey the guards and their dogs to the perimeter of the camp, which covered some miles.

One of the legends of the battle which continually surfaced in people’s conversation was that anyone who saw the ghost of Sir Edmund Verney, Charles 1’s standard bearer, who was killed in the battle, would be involved in some disaster. The latest such victim was a man who had seen the ghost as a boy growing up in the village of Warmington.

As a man, he drove the train carrying men and goods around the camp. One foggy winter’s night, he thought he saw the ghost again, just as the train he was driving, carrying men and dogs on their way to guard duty, inexplicably left the rails, killing and injuring some of them.

It was no wonder that the memories and the legends of the battle should surface so often. Most of the people who lived in that place were descendants of the country people who had seen the event – Prince Rupert’s cavalry charges into the Roundhead infantry, and the flight of panicking, bleeding soldiers through their village. The villagers had lived through the long, cold frosty night of Sunday, October 23 when both sides stayed where they were on the battle field, the dead and the wounded around them.

They would have heard the groans and cries of wounded and dying men lying in the muddy fields which those farming folk later ploughed and planted, reaped and harvested for the rest of their lives. The memories of that day and that night would have stayed with them, and would be revived wherever and whenever they walked and worked over that land in the succeeding years, and those memories would have been passed onto their children and their children, until they reached us over three hundred years later.

The reliability of folk memory has probably not been scientifically proved, but for example, the country people in Turkey and what used to be Persia, still threaten their children with Alexander the Great if they are naughty. His conquest of their ancestors in 331 BC is still part of their reality today.

So the people in the villages and farms around Edgehill, Kineton and Warmington were never far away from their history either, and the anniversary of the battle was always remembered in those parts. The actual date, October 23, had become confused, owing to the changing from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 in England. The Julian calendar had over-estimated the length of a year by some minutes. Over the centuries, the minutes had built up to some thirteen extra days by 1582, when Italy went into Gregorian time.

The changeover was always accompanied by the same sort of resistance as the 20th century opposition to decimal currency, which is why it took another two hundred years for England to change her calendar. (The old calendar is still in use in Mt Athos monasteries) It took some calculation to work out what the original October 23 was in the new Gregorian calendar, but the members of the Society for Psychical Research had been up to the challenge, and one of their number turned up the year I was there.

He brought a tape recorder, in the hope of recording the sounds of battle which were often heard on the anniversary. There was also the hope of seeing the Standard Bearer, to try to clear up the mystery of why his feet seemed to be below the surface of the fields, for he could only be seen from the ankles upwards.

The Society rather thought that the land must have risen by about six inches since 1642. This theory was based on the fact that when a group of ghostly Vikings were sighted hewing and slashing away in battle on some island off the coast of Northern England, they could only be seen from the knees upward, and geological evidence showed that the island had risen by some eighteen to twenty inches since then.

The researcher sat in my sitting room, and told me all this one night before the date of their enterprise. He also explained that ghosts needed exorcising, and that the Society had a team of tame priests who practised the rite of exorcism. He told me lurid stories of possession, of candles being seized by invisible entities, (evil of course), and priests standing fast, holding up the cross, chanting the Lord’s Prayer, or calling on His name.

It was only when I encountered a medium and healer nearly twenty years later in New Zealand, that I discovered that exorcism didn’t need to be a dramatic ceremony with bell, book, and candle.

This man who I’ll call Colin, worked with a tiny group of other mediums, doing what is known in his trade, as “rescue work”. They deliberately go into other planes of energy or consciousness, to find the lost souls who are what we call ghosts. According to him, and to others who quietly do this work, these ghostly energies haunt the place they have known when they were alive, or, in the case of people who have died suddenly, from accident, murder, or war, they remain trapped where it happened – so suddenly – that their consciousness hasn’t realised the body has died.

Colin explained that it’s very delicate work, because often, if you tell ghosts they are dead, they either don’t believe you, or they become so shocked and panic-stricken, that they remain stuck where they are, and the whole point of the exercise is defeated.

He told me about the ghost of a little girl who’d died before World War One. She had been searching for her kitten, when she heard it mewing from the bottom of a dis-used gold-mine near Waihi. Trying to rescue it, she fell in too, and was killed. Colin worked with another medium, a local traffic policeman, who gave up the work after this, in case word got out, and his career was endangered. The traffic cop was able to convey what the little girl was feeling, lost and lonely waiting to be rescued at the bottom of the mine.

” It was weird hearing this great big man talking in a frightened little girl’s voice,” Colin reminisced.

” We didn’t dare tell her she’d been dead for years. We also had to be careful about what we said about heaven and Jesus, because she remembered everything she’d been taught at Sunday School, and she had some mighty strange beliefs.

” It was real touch and go, winning her confidence, and then not saying anything that would upset her, in case we lost contact again.

” We nearly had her ready to go to her new home, where people she loved were, and Jesus too, when she suddenly remembered Sooty.

” ‘Oh, I can’t leave Sooty”, she cried. “They won’t let me take an animal to heaven’.  Well, we worked on that, and convinced her that Jesus would welcome a kitten to heaven, and then we heard her voice slowly fading, and then we heard her excitement when she saw someone she recognised. When I brought Tim back, we were exhausted. It had taken several hours. We were so relieved we were practically in tears.”

On the strength of these stories, I did my own exorcisms when needed, which I’ll write about next week, as this blog is already rather long. I’ll be fascinated to know the experiences of others too.

These thoughts and memories were inspired by a blog on ghosts I’ve just discovered:

Googling the battle I found this postscript : ‘Uniquely though, as a result of the Royal Commission’s investigation, the Public Record Office officially recognises the Edgehill ghosts. They are the only British phantoms to have this distinction’.

Food for threadbare gourmets


We were watching a car rally go past our gate, in the company of our neighbours, and we all gathered for a pot lunch afterwards. I had made a big plate of ham sandwiches, using beautiful ham off the bone, and when I brought those that were left home, I decided to use them for a quick supper.

I’ve mentioned them before, but some readers might like to be reminded. I dunked the sandwiches in a couple of eggs whipped up with milk, and then fried them in olive oil. Some had mustard on the ham, others were just bread and butter and ham. They were delicious, and seem quite different to ham sandwiches when cooked like this, Since they’re piping hot, they need to be eaten with a knife and fork.


Food for thought.

Sometime I like a good joke, and ‘1066 and All That’  by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman is one of them.

They wrote about the Civil War that : The Cavaliers were wrong but romantic, and the Roundheads were right but repulsive.






Filed under army, consciousness, cookery/recipes, history, humour, life and death, military history, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

30 responses to “Officially sanctioned ghosts

  1. Behind the Story

    Our history in the western part of the United States is very recent. We don’t have the feeling of it being inhabited by ghosts. The Native Americans have been here much longer, of course, but their stories belong to them. We don’t take them as our own.

    My daughter used to live in Nashville, Tennessee. A Civil War battle was fought on her property. History and, I presume, ghosts remain a part of life on that side of the country.

    My late husband, who was born in China, had a deeper connection to ghosts than I. Here are a couple of posts I wrote about his ghost stories:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Nicki,
      thank you so much for this interesting comment… I wish it showed up in the comments so that other readers could follow up your blogs about ghosts… strangely it’s printed in yellow in my list of comments

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aha, and now it’s materialised – something ghostly about this, I feel !!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hello Valerie,
    What an interesting read! Entertaining and educational.
    I’ve completed a draft of a novel that dwells on a Jesuit priest’s after-life journeys. And some of what you say resonates – especially regarding this: “these ghostly energies haunt the place… their consciousness hasn’t realized the body has died.”
    Matches my own experiences and research into this aspect.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Eric, so good to hear from you… your novel sounds very interesting for the likes of me … hope you’ll give us some instalments when you’re ready…
      I’m interested in what you say about your own experiences.. it’s always encouraging when a person you respect doesn’t doubt what you’ve written, so thank you, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello Valerie,
        I did run a few installments in my blog when drafting the story – primarily to receive feedback and to gauge reader interest. But since made the posts “private” when I went into the home stretch. Tentative title: Fallen Grace.


  4. I know someone with similar interests I must give this address to!!


  5. I didn’t ever see them, but the caretaker at our house in Kathmandu told us that she saw young children walking across our large in ground, covered water tank. Other staff reported other ghosts. No one seemed overly worried about them, except the nigh watchman who always banged his big stick very loudly every time he went round a corner of the house. Apparently this was necessary to ward off any unsuspecting ghosts. I can’t say for sure but my impression was that the ghosts were considered as much a part of the landscape as the living. No need for exorcism; just be wary and don’t annoy them.


  6. The above comment from GP Cox refers to me! Loved your post! I write about ghosts, too, and found your essay of great interest!


  7. Love that prayer. It’s applicable to much more than just days when you’re in battles of any sort. I’ve noticed that there are ghost tours at many Civil War battlefields in the US and they seem to be very popular. I would imagine they’re mostly sensational, though.



    • Hello Janet, yes, I’ve always loved that prayer… we used to say it every day at school assembly – as you say, it applies to more than battles…
      I always feel sad about the sensationalism of ghosts like the tours you mention…no fun being stuck in time.. but I’m writing about that in my next blog…


  8. Dear Valerie,

    Interesting if not unsettling. A dear artist friend insists that I’m an ‘old soul.’ I question but don’t discount.
    As always you impart knowledge in such a way as to teach and entertain at the same time. Don’t ever stop.




  9. Very, VERY, interesting! As for me…I believe…but you know that about me, I’m sure.



  10. Totally fascinating as always.
    I am sceptical about ghosts. The things I have experienced personally I put down to an overactive imagination unless, as on a couple of occasions, an animal companion goes paranoid. Then I find discretion to be the better part of valour.
    I love the Rickman books, though. We also happen to have a good friend, now a retired vicar in England, who was involved with what is now known as Deliverance for some years — a real-life Merrily Watkins . She is convinced that her experiences were genuine enough.


  11. It’s interesting the way animals , with their extra sensitivities so often feel the presence of other energies … I’m writing another blog about my own experiences, which had no connection to an over-active imagination !
    I loved the word Deliverance for the rescue work that some compassionate people do…


  12. Fascinating Valerie, I love ghost stories though I’ve never seen one myself, despite going ghost-hunting a couple of times – felt one perhaps. I’ll look forward to the next post.


  13. I find folklore to be such a fascinating documentation of a collective historic consciousness. Your account of how the people of Warwickshire continued to pass down stories about the English Civil War put me in mind of even older tales told by the Welsh about their tribal kings, battles against Anglo-Saxons, and the importance of the places that made them a community.


    • I agree, those old Welsh folk stories are fascinating, and I believe that they pre-date the Mabigonion … I feel the Mabigonion is descended from old folk lore… interesting that Tolkien’s Silmarillion seems to have been based on one of those stories, and the hero and heroines of both share many similarities… and apparently he translated some of the old Welsh stories…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for this very interesting post. Two quibbles. In 1642, the Parliamentarians were not Cromwell’s men. The general in command was the Earl of Essex and Cromwell, a man with no military experience, was at this time more politically important as an influential MP than militarily important, though he was already employing his organising skills on behalf of the war effort in East Anglia.

    “Roundhead” was indeed a nickname given to the Puritans by the Royalists, but most Parliamentary commanders, including Cromwell and Fairfax, had long, flowing locks!

    England had grown unused to battles on its soil – there had been none for over two generations and very few since Bosworth Field in 1485 – so it’s not surprising that immediately after the battle, stories circulated of ghostly armies and the cries of dying soldiers. It’s interesting what you say about local traditions. By contrast, the site of the bloodiest battle of the war, Marston Moor (1644) just outside York, is almost unknown locally and barely commemorated, though it was a far more decisive battle than Edgehill.

    Verney’s story is a sad one. He sympathised with Parliament and one of his sons fought for it. But he held a position of honour under the king and for him, that overrode everything else.


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