Spectral Coach of Blackadon
Lanreath is well known for the tale of a spectral coach which was said to haunt the area. The following account that appeared in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ by John Ingram (1897), describes the encounter between the exorcist, Richard Dodge, and the phantom coach.
The belief in headless spectres of not only human, but equine and canine beings is very widely spread throughout England, as readers of Charles Hardwick’s Traditions, and other kindred works, are well aware. In the western counties the myth is frequently localised, as at Plymouth, where Sir Francis Drake has been seen driving a hearse drawn by headless horses, and followed by a pack of headless hounds. In Cornwall such apparitions are quite common, one of the most noted being that told of by the Rev. Thistleton Dyer in One and All. The Rev. Richard Dodge, early in the last century, vicar of Talland, near Looe, in Cornwall, like several other Cornish clergymen, was very eccentric. His singularities impressed the surrounding peasantry with a great awe of him, and to meet him on the highway after dark inspired, it is averred, the utmost consternation and terror. At that lonesome time he was believed to drive along the evil spirits, some of whom were visible in various sorts of shapes, and pursue them with his whip in a most audacious manner. Not unfrequently, too, he would be seen in the churchyard at midnight, to the great horror of passers-by. As an exorcist Mr. Dodge had a great reputation; he was supposed to be deeply versed in the black art, and able, not only to raise ghosts, but to “lay” them in the Red Sea, or other convenient resting-place, by a nod of his head. A truly useful clergyman for the time and locality, although, indeed, his fame was not confined to his own parish nor limited to the age in which he lived.
One day a messenger arrived at his house with a note from Mr. Mills, Rector of Lanreath, to this effect: “On divers occasions has the labourer, returning from his work across the moor, been frightened nigh into lunacy by sounds and sights of a very dreadful character. The appearance is said to be that of a man, habited in black, driving a carriage drawn by headless horses. My present business is to ask your assistance in this matter, either to reassure the minds of the country people if it only be a simple terror, or, if there be any truth in it, to set the troubled spirit of the man at rest.”
This was quite sufficient to put a man of Mr. Dodge’s temperament upon his mettle. The next night, accompanied by Mr. Mills, he set out to visit the haunted locality; but, although the night “was dark and murky, they could catch no glimpse of the ghostly driver, and only hear the occasional howling of dogs belonging to distant farm-houses, or else the melancholy wailing of the wind, as it soughed across the moor. After some long time the clergymen became wearied of waiting, and decided that it was useless to watch any longer then, but they agreed to meet again some other night in hopes of meeting the spectre.
They separated, Mr. Dodge for the vicarage at Talland, and Mr. Mills for his rectory at Lanreath. Mr. Dodge had not proceeded far before his steed became excessively restive, and, although he applied whip and spur, the beast grew most uneasy, pricked up its ears, snorted, and swerved from side to side of the road, as if something stood in the path before it. This continued for some time, until Mr. Dodge, thinking it dangerous to attempt to pursue his journey, threw the reins on the neck of the horse, when it immediately started back towards the moor, and, with immense rapidity, carried him to the spot where he had parted from his companion. On nearing this place, the horse seemed seized with incontrollable fury; and the vicar was horrified to behold Mr. Mills prostrate on the ground, and by his side, the much-dreaded spectre of the black coach and the headless horses!
Jumping down to the assistance of his insensible friend, Mr. Dodge raised his lips in prayer, when, instantly, the spectre screamed, “Dodge is come! I must be gone!” and leaped into its chariot, whipping furiously the headless horses, and vanishing into the darkness of the night. The rector’s horse, which had taken flight on beholding its own headless kith and kin, galloped off homewards at a terrible rate. The sound of its hoofs, as it dashed madly through the quiet little village, aroused the cottagers, who, deeming their clergyman had been thrown and, perhaps, killed, turned out in a body to seek for him. On arriving at Blackadon, they discovered their rector, supported by Mr. Dodge, but in an insensible condition. They escorted him home, and, in a few days, much to the satisfaction of everybody, he recovered completely from the ill effects of his severe fright and fall. Curious to relate, from that time, nothing has been seen or heard of this ghost and its headless horses driving over that moor.
I am not exactly sure where Blackadon is, so the map shows an area south of Lanreath and should not be taken as the site of the above experience.