Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Second Ghost Story

Following on from the excerpt of last week and my earlier appeal for your stories and experiences of the paranormal kind I look to another of my spooky publications for a sample to whet the appetite and hopefully will stir a memory or experience and see a narrative for possible inclusion in forthcoming volumes covering my native Staffordshire and also the city of Birmingham and its suburbs.

From Paranormal Cotswolds published by Amberley Publishing in 2009,
comes the story of Sir Laurence Tanfield
A man whose career encompassed lawyer, politician and landholder; a prominent figure in the country between 1583 and 1625. Born around 1551, his earlier years are something of a mystery but we do know he was admitted to the bar of the Inner Temple in 1569 and was extremely successful, enabling to purchase an estate at Burford in 1583 and later lands at Great Tew, Burford Priory was built at his behest on his lands where a mental hospital had previously stood.
In 1584 he entered parliament as MP for New Woodstock, twenty years later he was returned for the county of Oxford and knighted by James I. The king had clearly been a guest of Tanfield's en route to London in the autumn of 1603 and clearly enjoyed an excellent rapport with Tanfield. In 1607 Sir Laurence was Chief Baron of the Exchequer, a position he held until his death.
However, while his professional career was undoubtedly successful, in Burford and Great Tew the inhabitants had a revelaing story to tell. By 1617 as Lord of the Manor of Burford, he and his wife were involved in a number of disputes with both the inhabitants and the local administration. Indeed the reputation of Lord and Lady Tanfield as greedy and corrupt remains a part of Burford folklore. Having stripped Burford church of every valuable, purportedly to be in settlement of a dispute with the then vicar, although the circumstances regarding the dispute and the supposed agreement are suspicious, the people thereafter saw him as 'the very devil among us'. So reviled was he that the people of Burford celebrated his death by burning an effigy of Lord Tanfield around the anniversary each and every year and continued to do so for over 200 years.
It was probably unwise for his widow, who herself died three years later, to return to the church or St Catherine's and erect a quite astonishingly outlandish monument to her husband, which also allowed for room for her when her time came. The craftsmanship of the sculpture is unquestionable, the design ugly and clearly not the conception of anyone with the talents to produce such work but undoubtedly produced exactly to the orders of the widow. However, perhaps the sculptors, embarrassed by the work they had probably been paid an exceptional sum of money to produce, made their own comment on the memorial. Bending down to look underneath the carving one will see a frail skeleton, invisible to the casual observer and unlikely to have been part of the widow's design. Is it suggesting that, neither money nor power can save anyone from the inevitability of death.
Yet the story does not end there, for Sir Laurence is still said to be about today. He has been seen driving a coach pulled by four impossibly black horses in a number of places around his former estates. It is claimed that each and every one of these winesses suffered bad luck following the sighting of the phantom coach and its notorious driver, although how the vision of the coach and horses is identified with Sir Laurence is unclear.
Furthermore it has been suggested that the skeletal carving beneath the sculpture was not created by mortal hand but a warning added by the lord of the manor announcing his return to this world after his wife's death.

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