Southend Was Surrounded by Witches and Ghosts
29th of December, 1960
By J. K. PayneLong ago on dark winters nights those who believed in ghosts and were at all nervy must have found it an ordeal to travel the roads in and around Southend. An old Barling inhabitant told the writer some years ago that during his childhood, spent not far from Barling, such tales of witches and other frightening things were told that he was scared to go to the door at night.
Those who passed by the north front of Southchurch Lawn, now Eton House School, might have been startled by the ghost with a lantern that is said to haunt that spot and if they went on to Little Wakering, at Baker's Grave, they might have heard a ghostly baker if the night was windy. A baker of that neigbourhood is said to have hanged himself on a tree where the three roads meet and on windy nights his heels were heard knocking together as if he still hung on to it. If one were brave enough to run a hundred times round the tree one could see the baker kneading his dough with his back to the tree. This legend may be very ancient as Clement le Bakere, probably associated with the legend, lived in Wakering in 1314.
Old inhabitants also believe that the spot was haunted by Baker's black dog. This is probably connected with the phantom black dog of nearby Star Lane, another terrifying apparition which may be connected with the Hound of Odin and go back to the time when the savage Norsemen came to this part of the coast.
The corner by Wakering Church was the place where a small, harmless phantom could be seen, a ghostly white rabbit!
At Paglesham another ghost was said to haunt three hollow trees that stood in the bend of the road near East Hall. The hollow trunks of the “three widows” as they called them were once used by smugglers and £200 of silk was once hidden in them. Only two trees remain now.
Long ago at Hockley a lovely lady in her coach and four crashed into a tree and her and her coachman were both killed outright. It is said that those who travel by Hockley Church at certain times may see a phantom coach with four white horses pass by; it pulls up and the beautiful lady waves her hand then the coach travels on, the horses swerve and the tragedy is repeated.
At Canvey the ghost of an old Dutchman may be seen; he always walks from Benfleet towards Oysterfleet. He is dressed in full knee breeches with rosettes at the sides, wears buckled shoes and has something slung over his shoulder. Sometimes his footsteps only can be heard.
Then there is the legend of Lucy who worked at the 16th century Lobster Smack and was engaged to Jack the sailor. Lucy and Jack were to be married at St. Katherine's when he returned in the spring, he was lost at sea on the homeward voyage. Lucy could not, would not believe it and refusing all offers of marriage she pined away and was buried in her wedding dress in the village churchyard. It was believed that in the spring Lucy walked down the Bride's Walk or Holehaven Road, then a rough cart track, and when she came there was a powerful smell of violets.
Another ghostly bride has been seen both inside and outside a 17th century house in the Southend area. It is a luminous spectre of a lovely auburn-haired girl attired in a white bridal gown. Many years ago it was seen on a winter night by one who did not believe there was a ghost. As he approached the house he saw the luminous figure of a young girl with flowing auburn hair wearing what appeared to be a full-length bridal gown standing under a tree in front of the house. As he watched, the figure drifted into a meadow nearby.
At Lapwater Hall, Leigh, which stood beside Lapwater Close there might have been seen in the old days the spectre of ugly bad-tempered Gilbert Craddock, who refused the workmen their pots of beer when they were building the house and said they should lap water instead, whereupon they christened the place Lapwater Hall. Gilbert was said to be seen aimlessly cranking the old pump and saying “Let them lap water.” Another version is that he was condemned to haunt the house, inviting all to drink at his expense.
At a 17th century former rectory not far from Southend ghostly footsteps have been heard. Many years ago a rector, newly arrived in the parish, was told by his two daughters that there were strange noises in their bedroom, but it was thought they were due to mice. One moonlight night the rector was awakened by noises and thinking it might be one of his daughters, who sometimes walked in her sleep, he hurriedly put on a dressing gown and went to the head of the stairs to prevent her failing down, as he did so he distinctly heard someone in the corridor, but could see no one. The footsteps became louder and came towards him, came up to him and passed through him! Terrified, he fled back to bed.
Sixty years ago Chalkwell Hall was said to be haunted and no one would venture near after dark and Rectory Grove, then a little lane, was also reputed to be haunted.
In addition to ghosts, there have always been plenty of witches. Canewdon was famous for its witches. There is one amazing tale. A woman went to see a Canewdon witch who was dying; as she stood by the bed with some others there was a terrific clap of thunder and the room was filled with sulphurous vapour that came down the chimney. When it cleared away the bed was empty and the witch was said never to have been seen again. The woman who told this story many, many years ago said she was so scared that she immediately ran all the way home.
Along with their belief in ghosts and witches was the faith of local people in strange and sometimes unsavoury remedies. Fried mice were believed to be a cure for whooping cough and it is said that a former schoolmaster of Rochford tried this on his son and found it satisfactory.