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Widecombe - Ghost Town?
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Is Widecombe a Ghost Town?
There have been a number of reports from the United States that Widecombe is haunted and/or is a ghost town. These stories have originated from a TV programme described by one correspondent as follows:
Version 1 of the Ghost Town Story
Saw an interesting television program on Ghost Stories - this particular episode featured the American actor Daniel Stern. He and his wife in 1980 were on their honeymoon in England and traveling by car to Tavistock, where they had reservations - on the way seeing the Old church steeple or tower of Widecombe, they stopped to visit the village.
They parked in the town square and noticed about 30-40 people walking about slowly all dressed in black and no one speaking.
They left the town later to be told by the innkeeper in Tavistock where they had lodging reservations that the old church had been struck by lightning and many people died in the church as it had occurred during a service.
It was surmised that they were seeing the ghosts of those killed in the fire who are still unsettled from the experience.
Any confirmation of the fire or reports of ghost sightings would be appreciated.
I was watching the Biography channel's "Celebrity ghost stories" and they had Daniel Stern talking about his honeymoon back in 1980 to England. He rented a car and went for a drive through the moors and stopped in Widecombe. Now there seems to be another spelling of Whiddecome but the story goes that him and his wife were walking around and there were people milling around wearing all black looking and moving like "extras from a movie much like 'night of the living dead' and nobody said anything". He went on and said that when they left and got to their bed and breakfast in another town, the manager told them that nobody goes there and that there was a fire caused by lightning at the church one Sunday and everyone died because of it. It's supposed to be a "Ghost Town" in the full sense of the word.
Now I never heard a ghost town having a web site and am always skeptical but it did send me to do a little research and it led me to your site. I'm wondering if you have heard of such a story. The fire was supposed to have happened around 1600 and had a town square where the church was located. If you have any info about this story I would sincerely appreciate anything you can give me.
Preview of the show on the Biography Channel
To see the episode online (or perhaps just a preview) go to the Celebrity Ghost Stories Episode Guide (link below) and scroll down for Episode Number 25 - (Shelley Long, Daniel Stern, Gail O'Grady, Matt Sorum) The section with Daniel Stern is most interesting as it relates to Widecombe. Click on episode 25 to view the story:
Full Clip on YouTube
There is a full clip of Daniel Stern's piece on YouTube. Follow the link beloe:
If you don’t want to open up the link, just go to “youtube.com” and in the search enter “Daniel Stern, Celebrity Ghost Stories”
Our secretary's reply to these stories is as follows:
I am replying to a series of emails that has been received here in Widecombe from USA regarding a television programme that you have recently seen on Your TV Stations.
I write to you all in my capacity of Secretary of our Local History Group.
I shall reply to all the queries in the one letter and send it to you all.
Marc: you started the ball rolling with your email and requested details of a 'ghost village' of Widecombe.
Widecombe is a thriving village with a great living community, certainly NOT a ghost village.
Regarding the different spelling - over the years it has been spelt in many ways but the real spelling is:- either -
WIDECOMBE, which is how we spell it now, this has got its name from Wide Coombe which means Wide Valley -
Witheycombe, this means Valley of the Witheys. - A WITHEY is the local name for Willow Tree and there are hundreds of them growing in the valley here.
On Sunday 21st October 1638, when the church was full for a service, a terrible thunder storm threatened the valley. One of the four pinnacles of the church tower was struck by lightening, with the result that it came crashing through the roof of the church and killed four people. One an ancestor of mine, a Susannah Beard. Parts of the tower were found in the Manor House Garden, 400 yards away to the north, and considerable damage done. The school master at that time was a Richard Hill, and he wrote a detailed summary of the event.
We understand that his manuscript is in The Bodleian Library of Oxford University.
Near the 'Rood Screen' at the front of the church two large 'granite' slabs are in the floor and that is where those that died that day are buried. One carries the date 21st Octobre 1638 - note the spelling of October!
In the 15th C. superstitions were rife and everything that happened that was GOOD was the work of OUR LORD and everything that happened that was BAD or even evil that could not easily be understood, was the work of Satan or the Devil.
This is how a ‘legend’ grew up: -
“That the Devil came to Widecombe to claim the soul of a man who was playing cards in the back of the church. The Devil tied his horse to one of the pinnacles, grasped the person, and in his haste to gallop away forgot to untie the horse, this pulled the pinnacle over, resulting in it crashing through the roof. As he galloped away across Dartmoor the four ‘aces’ fell out of the sleeve of the card player and landed on the ground and turned into four fields - they are visible today in the shape of a Heart, Diamond, Spade & Club.”
The fields are part of an old tin mining enterprise, so it can be seen how facts and fiction can get confused!
Regarding the people dressed in black. In rural areas of Devon, when there is a funeral of someone local or well known, most of the local people turn out to pay their last respects to the departed. It is possible that when the TV presenter was in the village, an event of this kind was taking place, and we would all have been in a solemn or sombre mood.
Now to Jon Cordas: Your letter asks about our church. Our Church is dedicated to St Pancras and due to its large size, it is affectionately known as "The Cathedral of the Moor". In its present form, it dates from the 14thC, but there is little doubt in my mind that there has been a church here for much longer - even to the point that it was of religious significance in pre-Christian days. There is a great deal of prehistoric evidence here on Dartmoor. I personally collect prehistoric implements and tools and the earliest that I have, date from 8000 B. C. There is no Roman evidence here but there was Roman activity within eight miles of here and of course in Exeter our County Town.
On the second Tuesday of September each year we hold the Annual Widecombe Fair. people come from all over the world to this special day when animals are shown, sporting events take place, the history of the area is on display. Widecombe Fair was an opportunity for farmers to sell stock when it was begun several hundred years ago, but now it is more of a fun gathering.
On Dartmoor there are many ghost stories, the hairy hands, black dogs, spectres, all mixed up with the legends as I mentioned earlier
MrsH81: We do not know of the TV programme. If ever you come to our village do let us know and we would be pleased to meet you. I do many guided walks around the village to raise funds for our History Group, and relate about our history.
Brian from Seattle: As you will have read by now, we do not have a steeple to our church but we do have four pinnacles. Not everyone died - four initially and a few more afterwards due to their extreme burns etc.
There are four large boards in church that relate the happening so if ever you visit you will be able to read all about the 1638 disaster.
Our History Group has written a small book about Widecombe, another about Widecombe Fair and these are obtainable through our website. There are several more of you that have written to us and I hope that I have answered most of your queries in this letter.
Thank you for your interest in Widecombe and we would like to send you all Season’s Greetings and all the Best for 2011.
A. E. Beard (Hon. Secretary)
Widecombe History Group
Find out more
There is a lot more information about the church, the storm and the various stories on this website. Please use the search facilities to locate them (search for e.g. 'great storm'.
If you prefer you can access the old menu below:
Widecombe-in-the-Moor - The Heart of Dartmoor
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