Mysterious creatures of springs and wells – phantoms horses and coaches!

A possibly un-investigated sub-genre associated with holy wells and varied water bodies are the coach and horse phantom. The phenomena is wide spread. And in lieu of a longer elaboration I thought I’d introduce some examples here and please feel free to add other examples in the comments. The furthest south one I have found is association with the Trent Barrow Spring, in Dorset Marianne Daccombe in her 1935 Dorset Up Along and Down Along states:

“One dark and stormy night a coach, horses, driver and passengers plunged into this pit and disappeared, leaving no trace behind. But passers-by along the road may still hear, in stormy weather, the sound of galloping horses and wailing voices borne by them on the wind”.

However, the majority appear to be in the eastern side of England which is not surprising as these were and in some cases are boggy, desolate marshland areas which clearly were treacherous in olden times.

In Lincolnshire, the Brant Broughton Quakers (1977) note a site in their history of the village. This was found on the corner near the allotments on Clay road was a deep pond called Holy well pond or All well or Allwells. They note that

it was haunted by a coach and horses which plunged into its waters. I was informed by Mrs Lyon, the church warden that the pond was filled in at least before the writing of the above book.

In Lincolnshire, most noted site is Madam’s Well or Ma’am’s Well. Wild (1901) notes that this was a blow hole which Charles Hope’s 1893 Legendary lore of Holy wells describes as a deep circular pit, the water of which rises to the level of the surface, but never overflows and such it is considered bottomless by the superstitious. Rev John Wild’s 1901 book on Tetney states that they were connected to the Antipodes, and relates the story which gave the site its name:

“In one of these ponds a legend relates how a great lady together with her coach and four was swallowed bodily and never seen again. It is yet called Madam’s blowhole”

Wild (1901) also tells how:

“a dark object was seen which was found to be a man’s hat…when the man was retrieved belonging to it….my horse and gig are down below.”

Norfolk has the greatest amount. Near Thetford a coach and four went off the road and all the occupants were drowned in Balor’s Pit on Caddor’s Hill, which they now haunt.  On the right-hand side of the road from Thetford, just before reaching Swaffham, is a place called Bride’s Pit, after a fathomless pool once to be seen there. The name was actually a corruption of Bird’s Pit, but tradition says that a couple returning home from their wedding in a horse drawn coach plunged into the pond one dark night, and the bride was drowned. An alternative origin is that it may be a memory of the Celtic Goddess, Brede or the early saint St Bride.

The picturesquely named Lily Pit was found on the main road from Gorleston to Beccles (A143), hides a more ominous tradition, that it was haunted by a phantom. The story states that at midnight a phantom pony and trap used to thunder along the road and disappear into the water. What this phantom is confusingly differs!  One tradition states the phantom was a mail-coach missed the road one night and careered into the pit, vanishing forever. This may be a man named James Keable who lost in the fog fell into the pool in 1888 his body never being recovered. Or a farm-hand eloped with his master’s daughter, who fell into the pool and drowned. He so racked with guilt later hung himself on a nearby tree.  This may be the a man from Gorleston who went mad after his only daughter was lost in the pool, and so hung himself from an oak tree which stood there into the 1930s. There is an account in this Youtube video.

About pixyledpublications

Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on June 19, 2021, in Dorset, Folklore, Gazatteer, Ghosts, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. There is just such a ghost story told of a site on what is now the Fletchamstead Highway, at Canley, in Coventry. According to the account on the ‘Our Warwickshire’ website, a coach was going down the highway at speed, some say on Christmas Eve. Then it either crashed into a swamp, sinking with all on board, or crashed into a pond downing all on board. If you go down the Fletchamstead High at certain times of the year, on one of the few green areas remaining, you can see reed-type plants, associated with marshy areas, growing, and I believe that in the past this area was indeed marshy. There is a pub called The Phantom Coach near where the coach is supposed to have disappeared, never to be seen again. It used to have a sign depicting the event, but alas, the pictorial sign has gone.
    There are two independent reports from the 1930s of the phantom coach – in one, a couple living on the Canley Road heard the sound of galloping horses. In the other, a driver was tailgated by the phantom coach!
    I am fascinated to hear that the Canley story is just one of a number of such tales of phantom coaches. It cannot be related to a pagan horse-ceremony, as it is supposed to relate to an event in the 18th century – long after pagan times.
    Rosemary Hall

  2. Re; my previous post about the story of the Phantom Coach at Canley…I have checked, and the Phantom Coach public house opened in 1935. This was the first public house on the site; according to an article in the Coventry Herald of 3 Janaury 1936, when it opened there was no other pub nearer than The Cottage, in Earlsdon (which is some distance from Canley.) According to an article in the Coventry Standard of 14 January 1939, Mr Thorn, licensee of the pub said that its name derived from a local story. According to this, in the past Canley was an important coaching station and one day, the coach arrived, the passengers got on – and the coach was never seen again. Mr Thorn said ‘I had an old charwoman here who well remembered her grandmother telling her the story of the phantom coach.’ But would Atkinsons (the firm that owned the pub in 1935) have searched around for a local legend when deciding to name it? According to the online History of Coventry’s pubs, the then road was what is now the track called Canley Ford; while this of some antiquity, it does not look wide enough to have allowed a stage coach to pass along.

    • Thanks immensely for this I am unaware of it. I do get your point about the pagan origins I was being a bit ironic but I do feel there are so many of these stories there might be an older motif in them – after all there are not so many legends associated cars for example in the last 100 years.

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