[Image: Kingley Vale, near Chichester]
‘Knuckerholes’, a haunted ASDA store and a mysterious fiery dragon spotted in the forest: Celebrating the weird and wonderful folklore of Sussex to mark this Halloween season
Dancing fairies, jumping devils and all-female cuckoo clans – Sussex is home to some truly weird and wonderful beliefs, customs and tales. The historic county’s folklore includes fairies, dragons, ghosts, and the devil, and is often inspired by the hills and forests of the landscape. Sussex is home to Knuckers, a kind of water dragon which lives ‘knuckerholes’, which were said to be found all over Sussex, including Lyminster, Lancing, Shoreham and Worthing. Fairies play a significant role in Sussex folklore. Hilaire Belloc, a writer and historian who grew up in Sussex, once recounted the story that the fairies would come out to dance in fairy rings on Halloween, and Rudyard Kipling wrote two stories about Sussex fairies. Sussex has several landscape features named after the devil, including Devil’s Dyke, Devil’s Bog, Devil’s Book, the Devil’s Ditch, the Devil’s Humps, the Devil’s Jumps and the Devil’s Road. In her 1878 work West Sussex Superstitions, Charlotte Lathan collected a list of the good and bad signs that the inhabitants of the weald and wold of Sussex still put their faith in. This includes cutting one’s nails on a Monday morning without thinking of a fox’s tale in order to receive a present, looking for a lucky nine peas in the first pod you gather, and listening out for the cuckoo. Every cuckoo in Sussex is said to be female, and is will ‘bring good tidings and tell us no lies’.
[Image: This folklore map was created by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy (director Prof. Bill Gray and assistant Heather Robbins) and is based on Prof. Jacqueline Simpson’s book The Folklore of Sussex]
Chichester is home to some fascinating folklore. A heron which lands on the Chichester Cathedral’s spire warns of the Bishop’s impending death, and a Roman centurion haunts the Chichester Inn.
To celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1, Chichester’s shops would sell small white-iced cakes representing the saints’ white robes in Heaven. On December 31, people would dance around the Market Cross to see the New Year in. Around the area from Bosham to Fishbourne, it is said that Bevis the Giant used to wash his dogs here on the way to Arundel from Southampton, and would give the church his staff. Maybe this was how the village maypole was restored?
At Washington, there is a story of the Pharisees (or Sussex fairies) who were congratulated for their work by the farmer, which greatly offended them. They never helped him again.
At Selsey Bill, the bells of the sunken cathdral of St Wilfred are said to still ring underwater.
The King’s Graves, or Devil’s Humps, at Kingley Vale are said to be the timbs of Viking leaders, who were buried in 894. The battlefield site is marked by yews, and the woods are said to be haunted byVikings or druids. Some say that the tree themselves come to life, and move around.
The Buttery cafe on South Street is said to be home to a naughty spook who pinches the waitresses’ bottoms, and reports of a ghostly lady dressed in black with long hair have been made at Willow Cottage on Fishbourne Road West.
[Image: Brewery Shades]
Crawley’s fascinating folklore features Black Dogs, marble tournaments and poisonous dragons.
Ghosts feature prominently in the folklore of this area – the town’s ASDA was built on the site of an old church and graveyard, and staff have reported spooky spirits haunting the aisles, including a mysterious man in a black cape. The store stands on the location of the demolished Bethel Chapel. Six bodies from the chapel graveyard were identified and re-interred at Snell Hatch Cemetery, with headstones which were paid for by Asda. The rest of the remains were buried in a mass grave and a memorial placed on a tree in the Asda car park.
Sussex inns are often sites of reported hauntings, and Crawley’s Brewery Shades is no exception to the rule. A woman and a young boy is said to haunt a room in which a bed was once found alight for no reason, a man haunts the ladies’ toilet, and a doorbell is said to ring by itself during the night. The word ‘shade’ historically meant ‘ghost’, which is possibly the origin of the inn’s name. The Friends Meeting House in Ifield is said to be haunted by two little children – although they were supposedly caught on camera, the picture has since been mysteriously lost. This Quaker meeting house is thought to be the site of a number of haunting manifestations, including a ghost of former sailor, and objects have been reported to move around the attic rooms. The Hog’s Head is said to be haunted by a woman accompanied by a small child, and visitors to The George Hotel have spotted the shadowy outline of a man, supposedly the ghost of a night porter who was found dead after drinking a glass of poisoned wine left out to trap a thief. The Star Inn on Horsham Road, Rusper, was originally built in 1486 and is home to a ghoul who has been seen sitting on a stool at the bar on a number of occasions.
Bar Med, a club which used to stand in Crawley High Street, was supposedly haunted by a mischievous little girl who liked to move things around and an aggressive ghost who hurled light bulbs at people. This building was formally Crawley’s Embassy Cinema, which was said to be haunted by a little girl who populated the lower part of the building. A projection room also experienced poltergeist like behaviour.
Balcombe tunnel is also thought to be the site of ghostly presences. The souls of three First World War soldiers killed by the London to Brighton express train are thought to linger on at this site. They have been reported going into the railway tunnel there and then fading away when approached by a living being.
A woman is said to linger at the side of the road looking as if she needs a lift on the A23 near Handcross. When people have stopped to pick her up, she reportedly vanished into thin air. The ghost of a man who is thought to have been murdered in the cellar of Smuggler’s Cottage in Copthorne is said to still haunt the house. Although some claim that Colin Godmans, or Colin Goodman, was killed in a watch tower in Danehill, his spirit is thought to linger in the cellar to this day. Opposite the cottage lies the A264, on which a large oak tree stands. This was apparently used to hang a smuggler who betrayed his fellow criminals.
The legend of St Leonards Forest says that St Leonard was injured in the forest, and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell in an area still known as The Lily Beds. The saint requested that snakes be banished from the forest. A nine foot long poisonous dragon was rumoured to have lived in St Leonard’s Forest, Horsham, in around 1614. Although this black beast had a red belly and killed men with flames of fury, it apparently preferred to eat rabbits and smaller creatures. Several mysterious black creatures have been said to populate the area around Crawley, including a sleek black cat has been seen hiding between the trees of Tilgate Forest.
Sussex is also a place often associated with Black Dog ghosts. ‘Wish Hounds’ or ‘Witch Hounds’ were thought to be omens of death, but despite many sightings of Black Dog ghosts in the area, it was once a superstition in Sussex that when the ghosts of dogs walk abroad, they are only seen by other dogs. An old name for the lane that runs between the old Crawley High Street and West Green is Black Dog Lane, and Crawley still has a Black Dog Walk. Crawley has also had a The Black Dog pub and a Black Dog Cottage. Tinsley Green in Crawley has long hosted the British and World Marbles Championships.
Marble tournaments are part of Sussex’s folklore and were historically held on Good Friday. Because of this, Good Friday became known as Marble Day and Long Rope Day, and women were known to skip in groups while men took part in the marble tournaments in Battle, Brighton, Burgess Hill, Cuckfield, Ditchling, Seaford, Southwick and Streat.
[Image: Haunted phone box in Monk’s Gate]
Horsham is home to some fascinating folklore. The legend of St Leonards Forest says that St Leonard was injured in the woods, and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell in an area still known as The Lily Beds. The saint requested that snakes be banished from the forest. A nine foot long poisonous dragon was rumoured to have lived in the forest in around 1614. Although this black beast had a red belly and killed men with flames of fury, it apparently preferred to eat rabbits and smaller creatures.
The Causeway in Horsham is sometimes visited late at night by a ghostly figure which walks towards St Mary’s Church before disappearing.
Over the years, there have been reports of mysterious big cats around the Horsham area. Numerous people have claimed to have seen a creature like a black leopard, puma or a lynx stalking the Sussex countryside.
A red telephone box which used to be sited at Monk’s Gate was apparently haunted by a Victorian woman with a parasol.
[Image: Ockenden Manor]
The fascinating folklore of Mid Sussex features ghosts a-plenty. Cuckfield’s Ye White Harte Inne, which was built in 1881 on the site of two 14th century cottages, is said to be home to a spectral figure. It has been sighted on a number of occasions, gliding from the main door towards the kitchen at the back. Another pub ghoul, The Kings Head in Cuckfield is said to be home to a spirit nicknamed Geranium Jane. Jane is thought to have been a 19th century serving maid who was seduced by her employer and later met an untimely death when hit by a flying flower pot.
Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield’s Elizabethan Manor house, is thought to be home to the grey lady, a sad by friendly ghost. She is believed to have been a chambermaid, who was killed when a tunnel leading from Ockenden Manor to the Kings Head in South Street collapsed on her after a minor quake. It is said that her ghost can be seen running to and from the old tunnel entrances.
There have been reports of screams coming from Clayton Tunnel, which was the scene of the worst train crash recorded in 1832. 23 lives were claimed and 176 passengers were left injured. The field nearby where the bodies were carried out and laid is also thought to be haunted.
Sussex is also a place often associated with Black Dog ghosts. ‘Wish Hounds’ or ‘Witch Hounds’ were thought to be omens of death, but despite many sightings of Black Dog ghosts, it was once a superstition in Sussex that when the ghosts of dogs walk abroad, they are only seen by other dogs. However, Ditchling Beacon is said to be one of their haunts where people have heard barking.
Cuckfield Park is said to be haunted by ‘Wicked Dame Sergison’, a ghost with a permanent foul mood.
[Image: Miller’s Tomb in Worthing]
Worthing is home to some fascinating folklore. The legend of the Midsummer tree was first recorded by Charlotte Latham in 1868. The tale goes that on Midsummer’s Eve, skeletons would rise from the oak and dance around it until dawn, before sinking back into the earth. The oak, which stands near Broadwater Green, is said to be around 300 years old.
Another legend surrounds a tunnel while supposedly led from the (now-demolished) medieval Offington Hall to the Iron Age hill fort at Cissbury and the Neolithic flint mines. There is supposed to be treasure sealed at the far end, and those who had tried to find the treasure had been scared away by large snakes guarding the tunnel.
Be careful if you have any plans to go for your evening jog around the churchyard in Broadwater – legend says that if you run around the oldest tomb in the yard, the devil will jump out at you. John Oliver built his tomb, known as the ‘Miller’s Tomb’, at Highdown Hill while he was still alive. It is said that he wanted to be buried in it upside down so as to be the right way up when the world ends. If you run around the tomb seven times, his ghost will jump out and chase you.
Worthing also has its ghosts. One family, who had recently moved into their new home in Worthing’s Cobden Road in 1931, were terrified by figures of monks, slamming doors and heavy footsteps. Evidence seemed to suggest that the house had been built on the site of former monastic premises.
[This story is an amalgamation of a number of articles I wrote for different Sussex Newspaper titles published on October 26 and 27.
Read the original Chichester story at: chichester.co.uk/news/ghostly-goings-on-in-creepy-chichester-1-7645863
Read the original Crawley story at: crawleyobserver.co.uk/news/frightening-folk-tales-and-spooky-spirits-in-crawley-1-7643621
Read the original Mid Sussex story at: midsussextimes.co.uk/news/ghostly-going-ons-in-the-folklore-of-mid-sussex-1-7643708#
Read the original Worthing story at: worthingherald.co.uk/news/discover-worthing-s-wonderful-folklore-1-7645689]