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The Green-faced Ghost

An article by Melanie Warren, first published in Poulton Life Magazine, winter 1996

In December 1936, the Blackpool Evening Gazette carried an article which began excitedly; 'Carleton Ghost? A Layton taxi-driver claims he has seen a ghost with a green face, near the gates of Carleton Crematorium..'

Although this story appeared sixty years ago, the media's treatment of it was no different than it would be today. Concentrating on the sensational rather than the factual, the article meaningfully pointed out that five years previously a lonely widow had been battered to death in nearby Robins Lane - perhaps the green face had been this poor woman's ghost? In fact, there was probably no link at all between the two.

When I read this old news-clipping, I was intrigued because I knew of a Robins Lane in Bispham; beginning partway down Kincraig Road and wandering through fields and farmland to Bispham Road, it was an ideal place to walk my two dogs. But this Robins Lane was nowhere near Carleton. Only when I looked closely at a map did it become clear that Robins Lane extends for several miles, from Bispham to Skippool in one direction, and in the other direction meandering to Carleton, and beyond the Crematorium, into Poulton itself. Only in Carleton is the lane actually lined with houses; the rest is no more than a path winding through beautiful Fylde countryside. As I looked at the map, suddenly the age of the lane became apparent - dotted along the miles of 'lane' are several old farms - clearly the lane was an ancient track linking all the local farms with the agricultural market which used to be held at Carleton.

I have often found that researching ghost stories encourages a plethora of coincidences, and this tale of the green-faced ghost was no exception. A young friend of mine, hearing that I had taken the dogs down Robins Lane one summer evening, quite innocently told me that nothing would induce her to take the same route - as a child, she and all her friends had believed that in one of the many ponds which lie along the path there lurked a malevolent 'red hand'... Quite what the significance was, she didn't know, but the tale had frightened the children enough to keep them well away from the farmers' land. Perhaps the farmer himself had made the story up for just that effect?

Suspecting that there was a more prosaic explanation, I asked Maisie Allen, a local expert on folklore and history, if she knew anything about it. She informed me that many farms had a 'hand' insignia over their doorways, carved in red stone. Quite possibly one of these artefacts had found it's way into a local pond - and had found it's way into legend when it was discovered by a child explorer. So much for that story - satisfactorily explained.

But my run of coincidences wasn't over yet. A couple of weeks later, my teenage son and a group of friends had a strange encounter, walking home to a friend's house along part of Robins Lane. It was late, and dark, and one of the boys had been standing atop a small hillock near one of the many ponds, when 'something white' had appeared out of nowhere, and 'brushed against him' before disappearing. None of the other boys had seen anything, and my son has lived with me long enough to know that most strange events have a natural explanation, but his friend refused to accept his reassurances. Finally, two hours later, with his white-faced friend still looking as if he had seen a ghost, my son rang me at one a.m. to ask me what he should do? I had no idea!

The next coincidence came a week or so later when another teenager of my acquaintance told me of his own encounter with the Robins Lane ghost, a couple of years earlier. He and a friend had been walking home along this popular short-cut, late at night, when suddenly they had seen a white shape in front of them. It was only there for a few seconds... and so they carried on walking. When they reached the place where the 'shape' had appeared, to their consternation it appeared again, this time in a field to their left. They walked on, a little bit faster... and then, to their horror, it had appeared once more - in front of them - when it should have been behind them! The idea that some ghostly apparition was playing games with them was too much, even for these brash teenage boys, and they weren't ashamed to admit that they had turned tail and run back along the path, taking the long route home instead.

When I subsequently discovered that Blackpool's UFO research group had staged several 'watches' along Robins Lane in search of similar strange lights, I couldn't resist the temptation - the next Saturday night saw my partner and I walking the dogs along the Lane at two in the morning, hopeful of seeing something mysterious for ourselves. We walked quite a distance, my partner took several photographs, and the dogs were ecstatic at this midnight adventure, but of course we saw nothing remotely supernatural. Until we developed the photographs. To our surprise, one of them showed a white misty shape hovering above a field just off in the distance. What was it? Had we captured the ghost of Robins Lane on film? Sadly, probably not. We surmised that the strange glow was probably caused by the camera flash, lighting up a patch of marsh-mist. And the following day we retraced our steps and explored that field, and sure enough, we found a pond. The boys had probably seen a similar patch of mist, lit up for a second or two by a distant car headlight. How disappointing!

However, none of this explains what happened to the poor taxi-driver, back in 1936. And despite the newspaper's tendency to turn his experience into a rattling good story, there is no reason to doubt that he did have a very frightening experience. It was nearly eleven o'clock on a cold December night when a lady outside North Shore Station hailed Harry Hodges' cab and asked him to take her to Robin's Lane in Carleton. Harry set off to take the best route; over Carleton railway crossing and along the Carleton road. He turned into Stocks Lane and was about to turn right into Robins Lane when his passenger interrupted, asking him to turn left instead. Harry was puzzled - the road on the left led only to the Crematorium gates - but the woman insisted, so he did as she asked.

He pulled up just in front of the gates and waited whilst the woman found her purse to pay him... and as he turned to take the money from her, he looked out of the car's side window and found himself staring into the face of an old man, 'with sunken eyes, long dark hair, a Punch-like nose and prominent chin'. Then Harry jumped almost out of his skin as an ear-splitting scream came from behind him - his passenger had obviously seen the face too. The next moment, the woman was clambering out of the cab and running off, disappearing down a path to the left of the Crematorium gates. Stunned, Harry continued to watch in grim fascination as the phantom face moved around to the front of his cab, and then... it wasn't there any more. It had simply disappeared.

Harry's next thought was one of concern for his terrified passenger, who had obviously seen the face too. Quickly, he put his cab into gear and maneouvred so that the headlights illuminated the path the woman had taken, but there was no sign of her - and we can forgive him if he didn't actually get out of his car to make a more thorough search...

The next day, Harry was still trying to make sense of his experience, and not knowing who else to call, he called the local newspaper. His hope was that other people might come forward and give him a logical explanation for what he had seen, or failing that, help him track down the woman who had been in the cab, and who he was sure had also seen the 'face' as well. Only she could corroborate his story, and convince everyone - and Harry himself - that he hadn't imagined the whole affair. The reporter who covered the story asked around in the area of Robins Lane, in the hope that someone might recognise the woman's description, but he had no luck. It was as if the woman had just disappeared into thin air.

The question arises; why did the woman run off beyond the Crematorium, where there are only fields? Probably because she lived at a local farm and this was the quickest way home. The reporter enquired only at the houses on the small part of Robins Lane which is built up - and which is some distance from the fields beyond the Crematorium - so it's no surprise that he could not find her. The second question; why was the mysterious face green? Probably because whatever-it-was was glowing in the reflection of Harry's car headlights.

But explaining the 'face'; what it was, why it was there, and where it disappeared to - that's a little more difficult. Perhaps it would be surprising if a lane which has been used for hundreds of years, as Robins Lane undoubtedly has, were not haunted. It must surely have seen its share of accidents and tragedies, and after all, life would be very boring without a little mystery here and there. Although such an assertion would probably have been of little use to poor Harry Hodges, who lived with his own personal mystery for the rest of his life..

Melanie Warren, 2001

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