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Wednesday, 3 April 2002

Library exhibition marks publication of new book revealing county’s folklore and superstition

Tales of Dark Dorset

A special exhibition is now showing at Weymouth library and will last until Saturday.

It is to mark the publication of an interesting paperback, written by Robert Newland and Mark North, which has just been published. Dark Dorset is a pot-pourri of what is described as ‘tales of mystery, wonder and terror’.

As I have said many times, folklore and superstition are never very far away from most of us, some more than others, and few people can totally divorce themselves from the subject to the extent of totally rejecting it. The authors point out in their introduction that ‘here are some of the amusing tales that make Dorset bewitching and indeed Dark!’

The first tale is the familiar one of Saint Juthware whose tragic story gave the village pub at Halstock (now gone) its name of The Quiet Woman - the inn sign depicted a headless woman. There are alleged sightings of a spectre of a woman carrying her head on All Saints’ Day each year. Who has seen it?

Phantom coaches abound all over Dorset, but the most famous is the one which is connected with Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which uses the real life Turberville family from Woolbridge House, the Jacobean manor house at Wool.

The spectral coach is said to appear on the medieval bridge over the Frome at Wool and its appearance forecasts some sort of disaster, but can’t be seen by all. ‘None can see the ghostly coach of the Turbervilles but those who have Turberville blood in their veins’.

Another story in this book is one I have never come across before. The macabre drawing (shown above, far right) is by Mark North and it illustrates the story of Murderer’s Lane and the Gibbet Pit, set in the Melbury/Evershot area in the late 1600’s.

The tale is as gruesome as the illustration, which shows what punishment befell two murderers who were convicted of their grisly crime and were sentenced to be gibbeted alive - hung suspended in the air in irons or chains for the sake of example — and to be left until carrion crows had picked their bones clean!

It was made known that no one was to help the criminals in their distress — indeed, that was a criminal offence itself. How pendulums do swing. Now they are sent on holiday.

Will o’ Wisps or Jack o’ Lanterns mix happily in this book with fairies, monsters and fabulous beasts, premonitions, eye-witness accounts of sightings and the famous Cerne Giant.

The past does not have all the odd happenings - they still go on, even though more people would remain silent today in the absence of a rational explanation. UFOs are a classic example of this and a number of stories feature in Dark Dorset.

Can these sightings be put down only to a vivid imagination, misinterpretation of cloud formations, optical illusions or madness? I think not. Mankind in general has the arrogance to think that the inhabitants of earth are the only possible intelligent beings in the universe - we are probably the least so. Why shouldn’t other worlds exist?

One well-documented story of such a sighting came from a retired BOAC man, Angus’ Brooks of Owermoigne, who was out walking his two dogs near Holworth at 11.25am on October 26, 1967. Taking shelter from a force eight wind, the story goes, he saw a thin vapour trail in the sky over Portland and realised it was made by some sort of craft which descended at a very high rate and, as it approached, decelerated fast when only about 400 yards away. The craft hovered motionless 250 feet above the ground.

Mr Brooks described the structure as having a central disc, around 25 feet in diameter and 12 feet thick. Protruding forward was a girder-like fuselage, with three behind, parallel to each other.

Each was approximately 75 feet long, 7 feet high and 8 feet wide, having nose cones and groove fins.

The craft appeared to have no windows and was constructed from some transluscent material which changed to match the sky.

When it stopped the two outer rear fuselages swung 90 degrees to form a cross, with the disc in the centre. Mr Brooks watched with amazement for more than 20 minutes while his two dogs became very disturbed. The fuselages then moved around to line up with the third at the centre, making the previous leader fuselage different to when it arrived.

Very suddenly this mysterious craft turned 90 degrees in a clockwise direction, climbed at an immense speed and headed in an east-north-easterly direction towards Winfrith.

That night there were many reported sightings of mysterious flying lights over the whole of southern England. It appears that at 4am two days prior to the Holworth sighting, well before Mr Brooks’ encounter, two policemen on routine patrol in Hatherleigh, Devon, pursued an illuminated flying cross for 12 miles. That account was given by a man who had dealt with aeroplanes all his working life, so must be considered a credible witness.

Solving that one is in the future, but most of Dark Dorset deals with the past, though many things there still remain unexplained. This A5-format book is the sort of reading that belongs on the bedside table, to pick up and read at leisure.

Review taken from Dorset Diary by Audrey Johnson
Dorset Echo, 3rd April 2002

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