My last book of ghost stories appeared in 2011, Paranormal Staffordshire my fourth of this genre. I have always enjoyed re-telling the experiences of others, the settings and background to each I find equally as interesting as the event itself. As another couple of books are in the pipeline, no publishing date yet, I thought it time to throw appeal for personal experiences in the county of Warwickshire.
To whet the appetite I offer the following taster of what is to come with the story of John Smith from Gaydon.
While it is not true today, John has certainly been the most common male christian name overall. As a surname Smith remains the most common. Thus logically the most common man’s name is John Smith. Those who argue this is not the case as they have never met anyone called John Smith and that Mr and Mrs Smith would never call their son ‘John’ have clearly never been to Gaydon or the Gaydon Inn.
Once the pub was the headquarters for an infamous bunch of ruffians who had justifiably earned a reputation as thugs and thieves. Their leader was no other than one John Smith. Yet when he was caught and hanged the problems refused to go away, at best a temporary lull ensued until his son stepped up to continue in his father’s footsteps. He not only continued the family tradition but also continued the family name for he was John Smith Jnr. Again he followed his father in being caught, and eventually followed him in being tried at Warwick and hanged there.
First his captors took the wise step of holding him prisoner in the Gaydon Inn. To attempt the journey during the hours of darkness would doubtless have resulted in the rest of the gang freeing him within the first mile or two. His ‘accommodation’ for the night was the inn’s attic. Here, in 1789, John Smith Jnr spent some of his last hours carving his initials in a roof beam. The following day he was taken to Warwick where he met the same fate as his father. Well, almost the same.
A woman by the name of Elizabeth Beere had followed him to Warwick. They had been lovers for some years and, as with any girl who had lost her heart to the bad guy, his death was no barrier and she steadfastly refused to abandon him. Normally the body would have been taken back to Gaydon, the scene of his misdemeanours, where he would be hung from a gibbet. The body would rot and, as flesh and bone broke away from the stinking corpse, would serve as a warning to others who may be tempted to break the law.
Elizabeth Beere was determined this would not happen to her beloved John and begged his body should be returned to her for why should she suffer the sight of his rotting remains when she had done nothing wrong? Eventually her argument won the day and she was permitted to dispose of the body as she saw fit. Obviously Elizabeth was quite certain she would be successful for she had brought a donkey with her to Warwick for the sole purpose of transporting the corpse of John Smith Jnr back to his home.
Elizabeth walked back to Gaydon, leading the donkey with its unusual load. The body was buried, although whether it was granted a grave in consecrated ground is unknown as there is nothing recorded. Perhaps one clue that it was not given a Christian burial is found in the attic of the Gaydon Inn. Over the succeeding two centuries many reports have spoken of footsteps heard as if someone was pacing the attic which, when examined, was found empty.
Is this the restless soul of highwayman John Smith Jnr? And is that the sound of him as he continues to carve his initials into the wooden beam?
I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.