St Martin’s Church, West Drayton
The church of St Martin dates from the 13th century. The following account of a phantom bird associated with the building was published in ‘Haunted Churches’ (1939) by Elliott O’Donnell (27 February 1872 – 8 May 1965). ‘ONE of the most remarkable cases of haunting in a church occurred at West Drayton, near Uxbridge, in the middle of the eighteenth century. People visiting the churchyard heard knocking in certain of the vaults under the church. On one occasion, three people from one of the large houses in the village, hearing the sounds, peered through the grating in the side of the foundation of the church and saw a large black bird, resembling a raven, perched on a coffin, pecking it furiously. On their telling the Parish Clerk, he informed them he had often seen that bird in two of the closed vaults. His wife and daughter, who declared they had seen it too, said it usually appeared on a Friday evening.
When the bell-ringers came one day to peal the bells, a boy, who appeared to be very agitated, told them the mysterious black bird was flying about in the chancel.
Four men and two youths at once armed themselves with sticks and stones and, cautiously entering the church, saw the bird fluttering among the rafters. They flung stones at it and drove it from one place to another. Twice they hit it with sticks, so hard that one of its wings drooped as if it was crippled. Finally, under the fusilage of stones and blows it fell down wounded, screaming and fluttering, into the eastern part of the church. Two of its assailants immediately drove it into a corner and, with cries of triumph, vaulted over the communion rails to seize it. It sank, apparently exhausted, on to the floor. The two men thrust out their hands to clutch it, and, to the amazement and stupefaction of all present, it vanished ; vanished, suddenly and quite inexplicably, the moment the men’s outstretched fingers seemed to close round it. After this it was constantly seen perched on the communion rails, or fluttering violently to and fro in the vaults, and every attempt to touch or catch it always failed. All sorts of theories were expounded to try and account for the phenomena.
Certain people believed that, some time previously, one person had secretly murdered another and then killed him or herself, and that the assassin and victim had been buried side by side in one of the vaults. Their spirits, being unable to agree, could not lie at rest, hence the disturbances created by the phantom bird, which was supposed to be the earth-bound soul of one of them, probably of the murderer.
Footnotes in Glimpses in the Twilight, a work by the Rev. F. G. Lee, D.D., contain interesting references to the haunting.
A Mrs. White, whose family had been residents in West Drayton for about thirty-six years, writing to Dr. Lee, said : ” The country folks always believed that the Spectral Bird which haunted Drayton church was the restless and miserable spirit of a murderer who had committed suicide, and who, through family influence, instead of being put into a pit or hole, with a stake through his body, at the cross-road by Harmondsworth, as was the sentence by law, had been buried in consecrated ground at the north side of the churchyard.”