Local History‎ > ‎

Ghosts and Spunkies

Haunted by the ghosts of children and hanged rebels 
The ghosts of hanged rebel soldiers and “Spunkies” or "Will-o’-the Wisps" (unbaptized children) were widely believed to haunt the wastes and moors of Clayhidon and other remote parts of the Blackdown Hills, according to an academic study.
Stories of lost souls wandering the hills were common and bandits and thieves traded on local superstition and fear to move through the landscape unchallenged, says Lucy Ryder.
She writes about the “haunted” Hemyock road between Broad Street in Clayhidon and Churchinford in a 227-page thesis, Change and Continuity: a Study in the Historic Landscape of Devon, submitted to the University of Exeter and available online.
This road runs along the former common of Ridgewood at Bolham Water, which was “the haunting grounds of ghosts, demons and other spirits, and much of the supernatural encounters occurred either at night or as the mist comes in”.
A report of the Western Circuit in 1690 described the “bewitching” of Jacob Seley en route to Taunton after an evening at a public house. Mr. Seley told the judge that he had been set upon by the ghosts of “Monmouth’s Men… hang’d on the sign post”, and that the ghosts went on to steal his horse.
It was thought he had been told the stories of hauntings by locals in the pub over dinner (and no doubt a few drinks), and that the thieves had followed him from the inn to trade in on his fear.
“It is known that many men from the local communities joined the Monmouth rebel army in 1685and camped on Luppitt Common,” writes Ms Ryder. “Local stories state that many of these men were executed on Black Down Common which lies on the border with Hemyock in Uffculme. Thus it was thought that these men still wandered the commons trying to get home.”

>Read Lucy Ryder's thesis in full on the Blackdown Hills AONB website. 

>Back to Local History