Often mooted as the most haunted village in England, this picturesque Kentish village is certainly steeped in ghost stories, whether based on actual sightings or just modern folklore. Its reputation as a ghost village is not without its problems and the village can be a magnet to thrill seekers and also those with a genuine interest in the paranormal, especially around Halloween. While this may be a bonus to local businesses it does not come without its own pressures and there has been an increased police presence in the village around Halloween due to the sheer number of visitors. While every village and town has its fair share of ghosts stories, close scrutiny of Pluckley’s ghosts show many to have dubious origins.
Pluckley’s ghosts first appeared in print in 1955 when Frederick Sanders wrote Pluckley Was My Playground, where the Gypsy woman and Highwayman were mentioned. The phantom highwayman is certainly a common motif of sorts and the Gypsy woman may have been an old established story. However, Desmond Carrington who once lived in Pluckley has admitted to “concocting a whole string of them” for an article featured in the TV times written by journalist Bill Evans in the 1950’s, so perhaps Pluckley’s reputation is not deserved. Of all of the ghosts, there has only been a recent (within ten years) witness for the phantom coach and little evidence to support any of the others, though the monk may have been seen sometime in the last thirty years.
The Highwayman – At Fright Corner (once Frith Corner), an unknown highwayman was reputedly ambushed by either the law or other criminals and killed with a sword, pinning him to a hollow oak tree that once stood in this area. In some accounts there was a fight between the highwayman and his attackers and in others he was hiding in the hollow tree and was pierced when a sword was pushed into the hollow. According to legend, the ghosts appear a re-enactment of the killing is repeated. I don’t know of any evidence to support the legend nor have I heard of any witnesses to the ghostly re-enactment. Ghostly Highwaymen and there stories can be tentatively dated to the time when Highwaymen were active in the 18th Century.
Coach – Maltman’s Hill is haunted by the sounds of a horse drawn coach. This ghost has been seen on at various places around the village. One October a lady was lady driving home from babysitting her granddaughter, just after midnight. At Pinnocks Crossroads she could see a coach being pulled by horses with light coming from its windows. I am unsure, but her husband may also have been in the car and witnessed the coach too. On another occasion, one local resident using the back roads to get home had the coach pass straight in front of him. In early November 1997, around 7.00pm some one who was driving through Pluckley had the inside of their car filled with the sound of horses’ hooves on cobbles. The road wasn’t cobbled but in the past it would have been.
Gypsy Woman or Watercress Woman – At the crossroads bridge, the apparition of gypsy woman has been seen smoking a pipe. Apparently she used to sell watercress which she found in the stream. She is said to have haunted the site since she was somehow accidently burned to death. One theory about her combustion was that she was ignited some alcohol she was drinking with a spark from her pipe. Witnesses have described her as being a misty figure sat on the bridge. Note should be taken that this area around Pinnock Bridge is apparently an area where natural mists form on a regular basis.
Miller – As with many ghost sightings this apparition is said to be a black silhouette. It haunts a ruined windmill near a house called The Pinnocks. The mill had been closed by its last miller Richard ‘Dicky’ Buss in the 1930’s and was then destroyed by fire in 1939 when it was struck by lightening during a storm. Stories of the haunting spread whilst the mill was in disuse and could possibly be related to a rumour that Dicky’s son used to set bird traps in there with long white sheets attached. It is said that the ghost appears before the arrival of a thunderstorm.
Schoolmaster – On Dicky Buss’s Lane (named after the Miller) is said to appear the hanging body a schoolmaster that is suspected of having committed suicide after World War I. The hanging body of the schoolmaster from Smarden was found by Richard Buss a few weeks after he went missing. As far as I am aware, no one has ever seen this ghost and the tree from which he hung is no longer present.
Colonel – Another suicide by hanging. This ghost was that of a Colonel who hung himself in Park Wood and his apparition could be seen walking amongst the trees. Now however many of the trees have been cleared and the area is grazing land. Given that nobody has been able to identify this figure, it is hard to believe that somebody has been able to attach a specific military rank to the ghost, and in the past an apparition has automatically been attached to the suicide story. This is not that unusual as until fairly recently a lot of superstition was attached to suicide with a long precedent through the Middle Ages.
Clay Pit – An accident occurred at the old Brick works and clay pit that supposedly created another of Pluckley’s ghosts. A man was killed when either a wall of clay collapsed onto him or he fell into a clay pit, depending upon which version of the story you are listening to. You are supposed to be able to hear his screams to this day, although no record of such an accident has ever been found.
Red Lady – Lady Dering (circa 1100’s) haunts the grounds of the church of St Nicholas. She was supposedly buried in seven lead coffins, within an oak one and placed in the church’s crypt. The name may come from the rose reputedly placed in the coffin with her. She is said to wander the churchyard in search of the unmarked grave of her still born child. The lady and the child have never been traced or identified and as far as I know may not even have been seen. The part of the story about concerning the coffin and rose is also attributed to another ghost, depending upon who’s accounts you are reading. This is the Ghost known as the White Lady, and is probably one of the characters created by Desmond Carrington.
White Lady – St Nicholas’s Church apparently has another ghostly Dering lady that may haunt the inside of the church as well as the Dering family house library in their manor of Surrenden Dering which was destroyed in a fire around 1952. The manor house also served as a boys school before burning down. As mentioned above, the coffin with several linings of lead and the rose may belong to the White Lady and not the Red. The white lady was seen whilst Surrenden Dering was the US Embassy between the two world wars. A Mr Walter Winan supposedly held a lonesome vigil one Christmas Eve in the library with his hunting rifle. When the White Lady appeared before him, he reputedly shot her. The shot passed through the apparition. She vanished through a panelled wall which might have led to a tunnel which was supposed to link the house with the Church. The witness may have been Walter Winans (1852-1920), an American born British marksman and sculptor who competed in the 1908 Olympics winning a gold medal for shooting and a silver in 1912. He did live in Kent and as he died in 1920 it would certainly help date the sighting.
Monk – A house called Greystones is said to have had a monk haunt it’s grounds. The house was built around 1863 and was called Rectory Cottage (home of the curate for St Nicholas’s Church). Residents of Greystones (renamed in 1924) as far back as 1954 to present day have denied encountering any paranormal activity there. Local legend suggests he is connected to the phantom lady supposedly haunting Rose Court, though how they are connected is unsure.
Tudor Lady – Rose Court is another haunted Pluckley house which dates back over two hundred and fifty years. This ghost is again the result of another suicide, this time committed by eating poisonous berries. The lady, possibly a mistress of a member of the Dering family can be heard calling for her two dogs. She is said to haunt both house and gardens between 1600 and 1700 hours, which is when she is supposed to have died. This is also the time that the dogs in the nearby hunting kennels were fed and when the kennels moved, the ghost and dogs weren’t heard again.
The Black Horse – Items, usually clothing go missing, only to reappear at a later date when they have been considered truly lost. Whether this is really the work of a ghost or poltergeist, the jury is still out. The building itself is old and was once reputed to be a moat surrounded farmhouse and home of the local bailiff.
The Dering Arms – The Dering Arms was once an old hunting lodge is said to be haunted by an old lady in a bonnet. This apparition is said to be so clear that she is mistaken as a customer whilst sitting at a table.
Blacksmiths Arms – This pub which began life as a blacksmiths is supposedly haunted by a cavalier in one of the upstairs rooms.
Devils Bush – Which bush this tale refers to is unclear and where the story originates is also a mystery, but if you dance around the bush three times the Devil is said to appear. This is quite a common folklore motif but with the absence of location there is no way of tracing the legend.
Most of these stories can now be seen as modern folklore rather than hauntings related to specific witness sightings. Like many villages and towns if you dig deep enough you will find many ghosts stories and folklore, Pluckley may be lucky (or unlucky) in the circumstances that have created the head of publicity that has had the village named The Most Haunted in England.