Dr R.C.C. Clay records several stories of ghosts in the village. He himself experienced three episodes with ghosts that he tells about in his ‘Short History of Fovant’. One was with his brother, Vivian, who was killed in WW I and another concerned his mother who had died the year before. He also saw the Bronze Age Horseman on Handley Downs a ghost which he wrote about in ‘Ghost Hunter’s Game Book’

But he tells of other incidents in the village as well. In Oakhanger Barn, which was once two cottages, several people have seen the ghost of an elderly woman, small and dressed in grey with a full skirt and shawl or scarf. One villager, who lived in the house next door, speaks of knowing the stories but not of having actually seen her, but another was recovering from flu in the small upstairs bedroom when ‘The Grey Lady’, as she was known, came and laid a soothing hand on her brow. She did not feel any fear.

In the 1920s a local carpenter was repairing the roof in Oakhanger Barn when he saw the old lady. He threw his hammer at it and it disappeared.

Here is an example of one of Dr Clay’s ghost stories, exactly as he told it in his book “Some Notes on the History of Fovant.”

John Witt and his son Jack

Jack Witt, who lived an unwashed bachelor’s life in an unwashed cottage in Barber’s Lane, one of the backwaters of the village of Swallowcliffe, was a very interesting man. I remember his father and mother well. Both were of gypsy type, and both lived to a great age.

The old man had helped with pick and shovel to build the railway line from Salisbury to Wincanton in 1853. Later he helped build the line to Amesbury. He walked back from the Amesbury district every Friday night, a distance of 20 miles. Armed with an apple pudding, he would walk back on Sunday evenings. It was his habit to sit down by the side of the present A30 at the corner of the wood on the boundary between Compton Chamberlayne and Barford, and eat his “puddin”. One evening a female ghost came out of the wood, walked up to him, and then suddenly vanished. He saw a ghost on another occasion. It was a Saturday evening and he was returning from a walk to Tisbury to buy some tobacco. As he passed the churchyard on Swallowcliffe Hill, he passed a woman with a “girt big blown-out skirt” and high ruff round her neck “which hid ‘er ears”. The old man had never seen anyone dressed like this. He turned round to stare at her. As he did so, she suddenly disappeared.

Jack Witt, the son, never had constant work. His needs were few. He made a few shillings each week catching rabbits and moles. That was sufficient for him. I do not think he ever washed or took his clothes off. He spent most of his time sitting in a kitchen chair, with an old frayed overcoat over his shoulders, in front of a small fire of coal and logs on low iron dogs in an open fireplace. There was always a mug of gruel warming by the fire.

Jack was haunted by ghosts, and because I told him I believed in ghosts, he freely told me of his experiences. Many times in the winter I found his room full of smoke. “They are at it again” he would say. “They get on the roof and block up the chimney. Last night they kept banging on the door, and every time I opened the door, no-one was there. Why do they terrify me so?”. Who “they” were I could never quite understand. Apparently “they” were sent by his cousin in Dorset to worry him. Most nights “they” annoyed him in some way or another. Jack used to sleep on a low bed, covered with sacks and dirty blankets, near the door of the bedroom on top of the stairs. One day he said “They nearly finished me last night”. He heard “them” clambering up the stairs, so he put his head under the clothes. They came up the stairs and jumped on his chest several times. Luckily, he was not hurt.

Many other tales Jack told me, but I never made a record of them. Jack regarded me as a friend because I believed in “them”. I gathered that they were more of the Pixie type than the human type. Jack was very, very dirty, but very, very interesting. I lost a friend as well as a patient when he died.



Oct 2003

Content last updated 

22 November 2011