Sunday, 8 March 2009
Courtiers, Clifton Hampden
Our most popular local ghost, Sarah Fletcher is buried at Dorchester Abbey, according to a slab there which says she died "a martyr to excessive sensibility."
When she died in 1799, Gothic novels were very popular among upper class young ladies, who often fainted at the slightest thing. This is called excessive sensibility. However although it is tempting to suggest she was the first goth there is more to this dark tale.
What really happened was Sarah's husband cheated on her and she committed suicide in the house where she lived. Her ghost has been seen in the house, called Courtiers, and also out and about in Long Wittenham and Clifton Hampden villages.
She frequents two pubs: the Barley Mow in Clifton Hampden, and the George next door to Dorchester Abbey.
Her ghost has also been seen in the car park at the Barley Mow. It was Christmas Eve and there was a full moon. A couple had been to the pub and were going back to their car. When they got in, they noticed the moon getting larger and larger until it filled the passenger seat window. Then they realised it was a face. The pale face was Sarah's; it was benign and smiled benevolently at the lady until her husband drove off, leaving Sarah alone and sad in the car park on Christmas Eve.
It is thought Sarah wears a romantic long black velvet coat, or black silk coat, popular in the 1700s to keep ladies' dreses from getting dusty in the roads. This is why only her face could be seen. Sarah wears a purple ribbon in her hair.
Maude Ffoulkes wrote about Sarah in her book True Ghost Stories. In this she interviews the vicar who lived in Courtiers, and who apparently fell in love with the ghost, who is said to be very beautiful.
I went in the George pub, where the bar staff were very polite and helpful, and visited Sarah's grave in Dorchester Abbey. The George is a 15th century coaching inn across the road from the Abbey and has several other ghosts including that of a monk.