I do not believe in ‘ghosts’ or other manifestations but for candidates we can go back to 1752 when John Grace, returning home after being thrown out of the ‘Dog’ (as the Red Dog was then called) brutally beat to death his long suffering wife Mary Her dying screams and pleas for mercy were heard by passers by who went to the local dignitary at ‘Ducks Court’ to raise the alarm. On finding the battered body of this poor, much abused woman with her young daughter ‘Lizzie’ sobbing nearby’ a hue and cry was raised and John Grace was captured before he could escape from the peninsula. After pleading guilty at the Maidstone Assizes he was hung and his dead body left to rot in chains on Hoo Common until the carrion fowl of the air had picked the flesh away. Poor Lizzie never married, she died in her twenties and was buried at St Margaret’s churchyard. Are these so called ghosts the spirits of John, in his misery seeking redemption for his brutal deed; Mary re-living the agonies of her last agonising moments or poor Lizzie who was left terrified and orphaned, still seeking her mum and the only love she ever knew. It is believed that the Grace’s had lived in a cottage on the Street, near Christmas Lane,. Who lives on that spot now we wonder.
For other possibilities perhaps we can go back to 1348 and subsequent years when the Black Death hit our area particularly hard. It is estimated that some 70/80 inhabitants from the hamlets of High Halstow, might have been our death toll from this virulent pestilence. The plague knew no boundaries or class barrier. Rich and poor alike were taken. Those clergy that did not ‘run’ ( and that could not always save them) perished with the rest and there was no-one left to perform the last Christian rites. Our Bishop ran (sorry retired) to his palace at Aylesford and did survive although nearly all the priests of his household, and those left behind to manage the ‘see’ also perished. Consequently, at High Halstow, like other villages in the County , we had nobody to bury the dead or even at St. Margaret’s churchyard room for their burial. The remedy was plague pits. All were interred in the same spot, to be blessed later with the rites of the church. But where was ours at High Halstow?. If it was communal for the village than it should be central to all our hamlets of the Street, Sharnal and Clinches etc. On common or waste land that was not good prime soil for crops .. We might have some clues from ancient deeds which for centuries now have referred to an area translated as ‘Dead Mens’ although at the present not sure of the location, it is suspected it was not too far down the road from the memorial hall.
I do not believe in ghosts, manifestations or other such silliness, but an example of how such superstitions can arise might be found in our ancient church St. Margaret’s. A couple of years ago I was chatting to an old chap I met in the churchyard who had returned to the village to visit some graves. He mentioned to me a story he had apparently heard in his youth of the outline of a face of a ‘suffering’ man which re-appeared from time to time in various places on the wall of our church, but could only be seen by a righteous woman, never by a man, unless he was shown the same by the ‘righteous’ woman. My acquaintance had never seen the face himself but then apparently had not been married at the time. We joked that the superstition could have something to do with St. Margaret, the patron Saint of pregnant women, so that a wife could prove to her husband her ‘righteousness’. Later, during sermons (sorry Stephen) I obviously looked around the church but never saw any such face. A few months ago I mentioned this story to my wife who sometime later, again after a morning service, said look, there is a face there, and pointed out to me marks and cracks in the plaster from which I could then clearly make out the tired or haggard face of a bearded man, with what seemed to be a Celtic type cross above. I emphasise again this was no manifestation but merely an imagined experience deduced from accidental marks found in decaying plaster. The coincidence is only that I have never been able to point this face out to a man myself, it is only, to date , their wives who have had this ability. Coincidence? it must be, and one day the superstition will be disproved, although as my own good lady Denise says, men really only see what their wives want them to!.
David Stephenson November 2007