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During the Victorian era people became fascinated by ghosts. Whereas once people had seen only white ladies and hooded monks they now saw the likes of Roman soldiers and phantom Cavaliers. Part of the reason was that nineteenth century education had created some sort of awareness of Romans and Cavaliers. Another reason was that many more people were able to read fictional works, and these often included ghosts in the plots. Some of these were Gothick horror tales, but they appeared in other popular genres too, such as Charles Dickens' 'ghost of Christmas past'.
The folklore collectors of the Victorian era were happy to include such lore. And the editors of local newspapers included such 'encounters' through most of the twentieth century. Little wonder that there are now so many such tales.
Edith Olivier, a one-time mayor of Wilton and self-proclaimed 'psychic', saw a phantom fair taking place in the stone circle when she was driving through during October 1916. Only some years later did she find out that fairs had once been held at Avebury – but the last one was in 1850.
Countrywide, a remarkable number of these tales recount paranormal encounters in pubs. And the Red Lion at Avebury is no exception.
'The Red Lion. The most-haunted pub in the UK!! There have been reports of at least 5 different ghosts at the Red Lion... A ghostly horse and carriage has been seen pulling up outside, the pub's staff have heard the phantom clattering of hooves in the courtyard outside the pub...' One of three signs formerly on display inside the pub.
'The most famous ghost at the Red Lion is... Florrie. It is believed that she lived here in the 17th centiury, during the Civil War. Florrie's husband went off to fight in the war and while he was gone Florrie took a lover. One night her husband returned unexpectedly & discovered his wife with her lover... oops! In a fit of rage he shot dead his rival & killed Florrie, throwing her body down the well... ' The exceptionally deep well is now a feature in one of the rooms.
Yvette Fielding and the crew from 'Most Haunted' done a live show from the Red Lion... None of them have been seen again... in this pub, we swear it wasn't the fish and chips...
Avebury Manor too has more than its fair share of 'encounters'. Sian Evans, in her book describing The Manor Reborn, provides her version of some of these events.
Apparitions at AveburyStories persist about the melancholy atmosphere in the panelled Jacobean Crimson Room, or Cavalier Bedroom, at Avebury Manor. There have been numerous sightings of a man wearing a faded red outfit typical of the Cavaliers standing near the window overlooking the south lawn, or to the left of the fireplace, and the figure has also been seen at the window from the garden below. Tradition has it that this is the ghost of Sir John Stawell, a dedicated Royalist, who bought Avebury Manor in 1640. He fought for two years in the English Civil War, was imprisoned in the Tower and his estates were confiscated in 1646. On the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the Avebury estate wasreturned to Sir John, but he died only two years later.
When Sir Francis Knowles, a respected scientist, first opened the house to the public in the middle of the twentieth century, visitors would ask him of this room was haunted. The Cavalier's appearance is allegedly preceded by a drop in temperature and the smell of roses, often used in the seventeenth century as an eau de toilette. There are also stories of a young woman dresses in white, believed to be Sir John's ward, who committed suicide at the house after the death of her fiancée in the Civil War. Bearded male visitors have reported a peremptory tap on the shoulder, but when they turn round there is no one there...
Most books on Wiltshire folklore include a brief account of the ghost of a little boy who has been seen in or near the churchyard next door to the manor house. Two separate 'lady in white' encounters took place at a gateway near Avebury Trusloe manor farm. But these were no classic ghosts who simply fade away – she took the persons by the shoulder and pushed them away.
Another repeatedly retold tale is of a priest who appears at West Kennett long barrow, but only at midsummer sunrise. He is followed by a huge white hound with red ears. Anyone who knows their way around Welsh legends will recognise this kind of canine – it's a typical description of an Otherworld dog. The 'priest' is presumably the ghost of one of the 'Druids' conjured up by the imaginations of the early antiquarians.
Several present day residents of the parish have seen an old man waiting in one of the bus shelters on the main road just north of the henge. Except after walking up to the shelter he is no longer there.
A former resident was told by various people staying in a cottage by the churchyard that it has poltergeists and 'all sorts going on'.
Two people still living here have independently told me of encountering something akin to the Wild Hunt up on the Ridgeway.
I would be most happy to hear your favourite paranormal encounter from in or around Avebury. It can be first-hand, or one you have heard told by someone else. Please email me.
SourcesSian Evans, The Manor Reborn, National Trust 2011.
Kirsty Hartsiotis, Wiltshire Folktales, The History Press 2011.
Katherine Jordan, The Folklore of Ancient Wiltshire, Wiltshire County Council 1990.
Rupert Matthews, Haunted Places of Wiltshire, Countryside Books 2004.
Sonia Smith, Wiltshire: Stories of the supernatural, Countryside Books 2007.
Ralph Whitlock, Wiltshire Folklore and Legends, Robert Hale 1992.
Ken Watts, Figures in a Wiltshire Scene, Hobnob 2002.
Articles about aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history
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