A595 and The Muncaster Boggle
The A595 road running past Muncaster Castle has a long tradition of being haunted by the ghost of Mary Bragg and this case is currently being investigated by the same research team (headed by Dr Jason Braithwaite) looking into the castle’s own hauntings.
To protect the on going research I won’t go into any details here about recent sightings, but I will say it is possibly one the most interesting Road Ghosts I have come across. What is probably the earliest story of the road being haunted appeared in an 1870 pamphlet entitled ‘The Muncaster Boggle’ written by J Burroughs and published by Callander & Dixon of Whitehaven.
On the morning of the first of May, 1862, I started in a gig from Holborn Hill, intending to do a little business at Kirksanton, Sylecroft, and Bootle, and arrive at Ravenglass in good time in the evening, but having been kept rather longer than usual at Bootle, I found I had lost the tide, so I was obliged to travel round by Seaton and Corney. The day had been exceedingly sultry, so I jogg’d leisurely along, enjoying the beautiful landscape before me. The evening tide was running up the Esk as bright and smooth as glass, like some gigantic mirror, in which was reflected the uplands and forest trees, inverted as if by magic, or as though they had agreed to all dip together to refresh after the heat of the day. The birds were singing each his own favourite song to cheer up his mate, very likely sitting on her eggs at that season of the year; and the ploughmen were whistling after their teams returning home from their labour- altogether it was a picture of peace and rural contentment; but on the opposite side, away to the east, I observed a threatening black cloud rising over the fells from Ulpha and Coniston, and though I could hear occasional sounds of distant thunder, I could not avoid watching the capricious manner of the clouds’ progress; sometimes the whole mass would advance swiftly and steadily, then little bolting spiral vapours would fly off in all directions, like scouts before an approaching army! then again the main body would move on and expand quicker and blacker, until the whole horizon was envelop’d in a dense, thick darkness, not at all like the usual darkness of night, but a dismal, heavy, horrible darkness, I suppose something like the Plague darkness that was inflicted upon Egypt- a darkness that could be felt. the rolling thunder kept approaching still nearer and louder, and the lightnings were flashing in my eyes incessantly, leaving their zigzag lines for a few seconds on the sides of the hills, like a mysterious warning handwriting on the wall.
A little beyond the Muncaster bridge, I overtook an old man who seemed rather lame. I drew up to him, and, after the customary saalutation about the threatening appearance of the weather and such like, I inquired how far he was going? “Wey I’se gean heam,” says he “what for?” Well, I said, I only wished to know if he was going much further my road. “Wey than” says he, “Ise gaen ta Rebbenglass if ye mun know.” I rather liked the cautious though surly and independent bearing of the old fellow, so I told him I was most anxious to have a guide, as I had never been that road before to Ravenglass, and begged him, as a great favour, to take a seat beside me in the trap. “Wey than” says he “if ye want somebody to show ye’t wey I’ll dea that for ye, and thank ye fer’t lift ano, fer Ise nin sa lish at wokin- so I gave him a hand, and we toiled on slowly up the hill towards Muncaster, watching the repeated flashes, and listening to the rolling discharges of the near approaching thunder.
“By and bye,” says the old man, “I think it wadn’t be an unlikely time fer’t Munkister Boggle to be stirran, sic a neet as this, if it be tely fwore yet.” “What do you mean by Muncaster Boggle,” I eagerly inquired, “and what is it?” “Wey that is a capper,” says he, “if ye’v niver hard tell o’t Munkister Boggle, bit yan hes hard them set et ye book-larn’d fwoke hed nowt else off.” And on my admitting my ignorance, and that I should like to hear some account of the mysterious boggle, he thus began: “Yo’l mind than, what ise gaen to tell ye happen’t gaely near sebbenty year sen- Mr. Grice was’t parson at Drigg and Irton, an’ he leev’t at that time in yon girt hoos, at Rebbenglass, at old Mrs. Thomson leeves in noo; an’ he hed a hooskeeper at they coa’t Mary Bragg, she was as nice a lass as ever step’t, an’ a gay canny deacent young chap they coa’t John Pike’tho coortit her, an thout a gay bit on her an o; he was’t hoos steward fer Lord Munkister; bit Miss Littledel ‘t hooskeeper ar ‘t Cassel, thout just as much o him, an was gaely jelles at poor lass, fer she wantit em o tul hersell. It sooa happen’t at t’ Priest fwoke went off a visitan an hed ta be away fer o lock o days, than Miss Littledel teak a kashon ta gang ta Whitehebben aboot ‘t seam time, an she hire’t Scot, ‘t hack shaise keeper ta drive her heam agean ta Munkister, an that was o reet eneuf if things hed nobbet stop’t thear; bit aboot yan o’clock at mwornin, Scot and yan Kit Gale ‘t cwoachman at ‘t Cassel, dreave ‘t seam shaise throo Rebbenglass street, turn’t aboot on t’ scar an dreave up agean tul Mr. Grice duer, than they nock’t poor Mary Bragg up, an perswadit her at John Pike’tho hed been tean varra bad, an was like ta dee; an she mud gang than and thear if she wantit ta see him alive, seea she just lock’t up duer an tie’t key tull her brat string, an jump’t intult shaise an set off, lal thinkan what was ta happen.”
Just then we were pulling up a short steep part of the road through the Muncaster wood, and as we were in the act of passing under an old spreading oak, there shot forth the most fearful flash of lightning I ever witnessed; it was like a solid flame of fire, which filled the whole forest, and so intensely bright that even the smallest twigs were as visible as at mid-day, and the next instant a dreadful thunder-clap began crackling and crashing right over our heads, as if the very heavens were coming down upon us to destroy us “in the twinkling of an eye.” I was really terrified, I fairly crouched down, and crep’t into my shell, if I may use that metaphor,- but rousing up again a little, I began to think of the real danger of being under the trees at such a time, and was just on the point of giving the horse a little taste of the whip, when my fellow traveller seized the reins, and at the same time cried “wohoy!” Well if I was afraid before, I was now completely palzied with fear, the shock was so very sudden and unexpected. “Wey man,” says the old fellow, “ye need’nt be sa scar’t, I tell ye thear will’nt as much as a singel cushet tummel fra a tree this neet, widout God bids it, an I warrent ye beath ye an me ‘el dee in oor beds efter o this.”- and the old man bowed down his head- “bit it was’nt ta tell ye that at I stop’t t horse, for” says he, “I’ve stopt’ ta tell ye , at we er just stannen on’t varra spot whore poor Mary Bragg com be her deeath; it was just here at tean o them hellish scoundrels jamp intelt shaise beside her, and when she was aboot screaman oot murder, he ram’d his pistol, intul her mouth and blew her brains oot.”
It just then commenced raining, so we wrapped up, and as I was quite put out of the humour of asking any more questions, I allowed the old man to keep the reins, and drive down to Ravenglass, which he did skilfully and quickly. It was a perfect deluge before we alighted at Wallace’s; however we got housed as smartly as possible, and had our clothes changed and sat down by a comfortable fire. I then ordered tea and chops for two, and after we had partaken of the good things provided for us, I begged the old man to finish his horrid tale. “Wey bit mappen ye nay think Ise leean,” says he, “bit I know my words is gaely nar’t spot, fer o it niver was mead oot quite clear, at ‘t time it happen’t; bit suer aneuf efter them fellows hed kill’t ‘t poor lass, they teak her doon intult hags, they likely thout she wad niver be fund tull’t dogs hed gean wi her o tegidder; bit it happen’t et a lad they coa’t Joe Brockbank fand her ‘t next day, when he went to fodder some stricks, an he ran an tell’t old Beatman ‘t gardner, an Dubbleby, ‘t gamekeeper, an they order’t hem at his parrel ta tell neabody net a singel word aboot it, er they wad o be coa’t up, an thear wad be a terrible flare up, an mebby o be hanged; hooiver ‘t nesh’t neet she was hidden agean, an she was latit beath hee an low fer lang, tull at last some o them spiet her claes wavan about, in a girt wholl in ‘t Esk beck, just aboon’t steps, her body was quite sandit up; efter that she was brout doon tul Bill Jonson’s, at t’ Fish public hoose.”
The old man here seemed a little affected and paused to take breath and another taste from his glass, when I took the opportunity to say I hoped the cold-blooded murderers were justly and severely punished for the dreadful crime. “Nout at mak,” says he, “things was carrit on quite in a different way than tull what they er noo-a-days. There was a swort ev a Crowner’s Quest Jury held oor her, bit Docter Bragg an Taylear cudn’t be gitten ta say whedder she hed been shot, er droon’t, she hed been liggan sa lang in’t watter; an her heed med ha been crush’d amang ‘t steans er chig’d wid eels, fer out they could tell; bit it was whisper’t they’d gitten a gay penny fer sayan that. Sooa’t crowner tell’t t’ jury thear was nea way for’t than, bit set doon fund droon’d, ivery yan aboot ‘t Cassel gat orders niver ta speak on’t er they mud leave ‘t pleace ‘t seam day; bit o’t neyberhood sed sham, an toke’t plenty aboot it fer lang efter. I dunnet want ta judge neabody consarn’d, bit nit yan at hed a hand i’t job ever threave efter. Kit Gale t’ cwoachman was tean up aboot Lunnon fer heeway robbery, an’ hang’t; Scot t’ shay driver was brocken up in less ner a twelvemonth, an’ than turn’t quite lunatic an’ dee’t ravan mad at last; old Mister Dubbleby, t’ gamekeeper, was droon’t ya neet in a girt whol, aboot a hundred yards frae’t spot whore Mary Bragg was fund; Miss Littledel was pack’d off, an’ went te Whitehebben, an’ she gat t’ neam o’ murderess us lang as she was alive an’ lang efter; an’ fer Pike’tho, neabody cud tell whedder he hed owt ta dea wi’t murder er nit, bit he hed fer sarten adre a bad conscience er a brocken heart, fer he niver was happy efter, an’ hardly quite reet at times,- he niver durst sleep by his-sell, ner sit in his oan hoose widoot hevan t’ door lock’d; Dr. Taylear was droon’d at Egormuth brig end, nit aboon twenty yards fra whore Mary’s bredder leav’d, an’ Dr. Bragg went quite mopy lang afoor he dee’t.”
“But what connection do you make out between these shocking events and the Muncaster Boggle you spoke of?” I inquired. “Wey I hardly teak ye ta be se daft as o that nader,” says he, “what it’s plain eneuf at t’ poor lass dudn’t git justice deun, sooa she cudn’t rist, but wander’t aboot t’ rwoads, an’ woods at neets, in a white sheet, an’ o ways, an thear was varra few fokes bit what hed ader gitten a flay their-sells er hard tell o’ somebody else at hed seen her- thear was that poor Will Smith gat sec a scarin he niver dow’t efter, an when any body ax’t hem oout aboot it he went off in intel stiracks in a minnet, bit it he dud’nt leve varra lang efter, poor fellow.”
“Then do you believe all these tales, or did you ever see anything of the sort yourself?” I asked, but I saw I had wounded the old chap’s honour, for he spoke very excitedly, “I sud think I’d ‘casion eneuf ta believe it, I niver saw nowt, sartenly, mesell, but I yance hard summet, an’ I hard it as fair as I hard your teeth clatteran togidder a cumman up by ‘t old yak, an’ neabody sall iver persuade me at it wasn’t a Boggle. An’ if I mun tell ye, I was gaen doon’t old hag’s rwoad ya black windy neet, te cross’s watter by’t steps; when I was gaen by ‘t old hay-shade, I hears somebody cumman efter ma, thinks I it’s some woman-body, fer its gaely leet a fwoot, sooa I hung back tull’t gat up to ma, an’ when it was aboot anenst ma, I says ‘its a gay wild neet this,’ bit nout spack, still ‘t feet patter’t away doon ‘t rwoad wi ma, tull we gat tull ‘t watter, ebben beside pleace whore they fand Mary Bragg, when it just streak ma at it mud be hur I hed fer company; an’ by gocks I dudn’t tak mesell time te grape fer’t steps, bit I intul’t beck in a bit ov a flurry, an’ fairly ran across, an mead ‘t watter flee aboot me lugs, tull I was wet through an’ through, an’ oor head an’ o; bit I niver venter’t that rwoad agean, an ‘t varra next year efter they poo’t ‘t old shade doon, an’ mead yon new brig, an ‘t new rwoad, an’ than stop’t that old way by ‘t watter up o tegidder, an I niver hard tell ev ‘t Munkister Boggle been seen sen.”