Betty Butterow, the barmaid of the Squid and Teapot had, you may recall, unexpectedly discovered a ghostly headless lady in the inn’s shiny new toilet annexe. Shrieking in banshee fashion at her great misfortune of having been reduced to haunting a privy, the apparition had managed to wake the whole inn. Fortunately there were no paying guests that night so it was only the Lypiatt family – Sebastian, Madrigal and their son Isaac – who were disturbed and they wasted no time in coming to investigate the cause of the blood-curdling wail emanating from the privy. Upon their arrival the ghost decided to sulk and disappeared back into the stones which, at one time, had formed a diminutive portion of her previous home, Oxlynch Hall.
It became apparent that the Headless Lady only deigned to manifest herself when the moon was full. This tended to create a degree of consternation with some customers who found themselves sharing a seat with her and more worryingly, finding her disembodied head resting weightlessly on their lap. It was the sort of thing likely to put anyone off the task in hand!
Fortunately for the ghost, Betty Butterow was the caring type who made it her business to give a welcome to everyone who visited the Squid. Having inherited the dubious gift of The Sight from her great-great grandmother, Colleen O’Stoat, she reasoned, therefore, that it was no more than her duty to make contact with the spirit and try to win her trust and friendship. And so, little by little, she did and in doing so unearthed her tragic story.
After the siege of Gloucester in 1643, when Royalist attempts to capture the city were thwarted, the Parliamentarians were keen to clear the county of Royalists and their sympathisers for good.
Sir Rupert D’Avening, master of Oxlynch Hall, was on the other side of the Severn in Wales, rallying support for the crown, when his home was sacked by the Parliamentary forces. The small garrison that he had left to guard both the manor, his wife and the tiny hamlet of Oxlynch stood little chance against the well-armed and dedicated Roundheads, who were spurred on at every step by one Obadiah Hyde. Hyde was a puritan rector of the worst sort. He preached Hell-fire from his pulpit and famously tried to fell the churchyard yew tree one Christmas when parishioners began to cut greenery for, what he regarded as being, ungodly, festive uses. Unsurprisingly, when he learned that Oxlynch was to be rid of its Royalist – and even worse – Catholic masters, he was delighted and became intent, to the point of madness, on contributing personally to their downfall.
While the Roundhead invaders were content to drive out the servants and ransack the manor for anything of value, the fanatical Hyde had another agenda.
If he had been a man given to celebration, which he most certainly was not, the parson might have thought that it was his birthday when he burst into the bedchamber of Lady Margaret D’Avening. It was with a mixture of disgust and glee that he discovered her to be flimsily clad and enthusiastically entertaining a young Royalist colonel who, having suspected little chance of intrusion, had foolishly hung his sword at the bottom of the four-poster bed. Confident in his own righteousness and without hesitation, Hyde grabbed the blade and ran the young man through the heart. Frozen with horror, Lady Margaret could only watch as the parson wrenched the sword from her lover’s twitching body. Roughly he caught her by the hair and dragged her from the bed; she felt herself being pushed on to her knees. There was a deranged look in Hyde’s eyes as he denounced her as being the Devil’s Whore, then, reminding himself that he was the instrument of a vengeful God, brought the sword swiftly down upon her pale neck. Popery, adultery and fornication were high on Hyde’s list of unforgivable sins and he had no compunction whatsoever about parting the lady’s head from the rest of her.
Decapitation is a bloody messy business. I mean that quite literally. Lady Margaret’s blood liberally sprayed the walls and door of her bedchamber and left no small amount on her attacker, either. Although he had witnessed and thoroughly approved of public beheadings many times, Hyde was totally unprepared for the close-up, physical reality of his abhorrent act and he fled the room, wild-eyed and even more entrenched in the slough of his own insanity than he had been previously.
For almost three hundred years the Ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening haunted the bedchamber in which she died. Much to her dismay, the wraith of the soldier who had so recently enjoyed a brief spell as her lover, having no particular attachment to Oxlynch Hall, declined to join her and wasted no time in ‘going to the light’ as he put it.
As the years passed Lady Margaret’s apparition grew weaker and so she confined her energy to only appearing when the moon was full and she was at her most powerful. When she found her home being dismantled and shipped abroad she retreated into the stonework, which, along with her chamber door, was kept on its own pallet. After the little of what remained was eventually moved, she emerged briefly to try and find out exactly where she was and what was happening. Unfortunately she did this in full view of the captain and crew of the ‘Daneway’, who immediately abandoned ship and for their trouble, perished to a man in the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.
Over the following months Betty Butterow and the ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening became close friends. Inter-dimensional relationships are generally frowned upon in the wider community, so you must understand that this is a fairly unique situation that is only likely to happen somewhere like Hopeless (other magically tolerant islands such as Hy Brasil or Tír na nÓg spring to mind but never having visited either, I am in no position to comment).
It occurred to the wise and beautiful barmaid that if Lady Margaret could disappear into the stonework of her chamber then it followed that, should a stone, or stones, be placed in a different spot she ought to be able to manifest herself in that particular location. The ghost thought this over and agreed it was worth a try. The prospect of spending the next however many years witnessing the patrons of the Squid and Teapot easing bowel and bladder, unsurprisingly, held little charm for her.
It took a certain amount of badgering, not to say mild flirting, by Betty to persuade the landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, to prise out one of the more modestly sized stones and place it in an unoccupied guest room. Sebastian was not particularly inclined to start ripping apart his prized privy but if it kept his favourite barmaid happy, so be it. Besides this, he was becoming more than fed-up being told how chilly the privy was feeling every time the moon was full.
Much to the delight of both Betty and Lady Margaret this seemed to work, though the ghost’s disembodied head steadfastly refused to leave the privy, for some reason known best to itself. This mattered little, as the Lady Margaret was in receipt of all of her faculties, head or no head. The physical aspect of an apparition is, after all, only there for the benefit of anyone lucky, or more probably, unlucky enough to see it.
Over the following months and years the block of stone was moved around the inn and its grounds, allowing the headless lady to haunt the premises properly, though she was careful not to drive business away. There was an exception to this rule, however. When a particularly troublesome guest had outstayed their welcome they would find, one night, when the moon was fat and full, that a medium sized and unassuming stone had mysteriously appeared in the corner of their room. Strange to relate, such guests rarely visited again.
In case you wondered, following Oliver Cromwell’s death and the growing certainty that the monarchy would once more be restored, Obadiah Hyde fled England’s shores in fear for his life. With a small party of like-minded and equally cheerless companions he decided to travel to the New World and be the founding father of his own austere community. It was something of a surprise for him, therefore, when he was shipwrecked on Hopeless and scuppered by two small but persistent demons when he tried to achieve his goal. This story is related in the tale ‘Chapel Rock.’
Art by Tom Brown