Over the 5000 years of Dorchester’s existence, many people have lived and died in and around the market town we know today. It would appear that among those who have died not every one of them rests in peace and on occasions may manifest themselves as spectres, phantoms ghouls or ghosts. They are rarely seen but their presence is often attested to by unusual sounds or strange smells. In parts of the old town there can be a sudden drop in temperature and folk speak of a chill running through them even on the balmiest of evenings……
Figures from prehistory, wearing coarsely woven woollen garments and animal furs have been encountered on Maiden Castle armed, as were its defenders when attacked by the Romans, with spears and slingshots. It’s been said that visitors have heard the sound of slingstones whizzing past close to their heads and have, very sensibly, beaten a hasty retreat.
The sound, and sometimes the sight, of Roman legionaries have been heard and seen on the banks of Maumbury Rings, the 5000 year old Neolithic henge monument converted by the Roman invaders into an amphitheatre for gladiatorial combat and displays. There is almost certainly a ghost on the site of the Roman Townhouse, described by some as that of a small child heard crying pitifully – perhaps the occupier of one of the infant graves marked within the site.
A few years ago a strange and most offensive smell was detected close to the Town Pump in the centre of town. Despite the authorities best efforts at clearing and cleaning drains and sewers in the vicinity, the evil smell persisted for several days and then disappeared as mysteriously as it had suddenly manifested itself. Knowing the gruesome story of Judge Jeffreys, the “hanging judge”, and his sentence of death by the hanging, drawing and quartering onfa number of Monmouth’s rebels in 1685, the horrific smell may well have been an echo of the stench sensed by many who witnessed the hanging, the bloody dismemberment and the burning of the victim’s guts – not to mention the boiling of their remains before they were tarred and strung up on poles and church railings as a deterrent to would- be traitors. Judge Jeffreys himself has been sighted in the vicinity of the Old Oak Room in which he held court.
A walk along the Millstream of the River Frome on the northern boundary of the town takes you directly under the main gateway to the County Gaol where, for many years, public executions took place in front of huge crowds gathered in the water meadows. Should you encounter the fine figure of a woman attired in black silk dress of the Victorian period , there is every likelihood she is the ghost of Martha Brown. This was the woman whose public hanging was witnessed by the 16 year old Thomas Hardy in 1856. Having suffered years of abuse from her husband, she was finally driven to strike him and he died from the blow. Despite pleas for clemency she was hanged from the scaffold built on top of the prison gateway. Thomas Hardy was greatly affected by what he saw as you may be if you spot Martha’s ghost………
Finally, if you’re determined to be spooked, find a quiet corner of a graveyard or cemetery and read Hardy’s poem, “The Garden Seat”:
Its former green is blue and thin,
And its once firm legs sink in and in.
Soon it will break down unaware,
Soon it will break down unaware.
At night, when reddest flowers are black,
Those who once sat there ,come back;
Quite a row of them sitting there,
Quite a row of them sitting there.
With them, the seat does not breakdown,
Nor winters freeze, nor floods drown.
For they are as light as upper air,
For they are as light ad upper air.
Town Crier of Dorchester