Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Ghost Week: The Headless Horseman of Onecote

Today we're off to Staffordshire, home to many a ghost legend, including the headless horseman that's said to haunt the small village of Onecote.

It was first recorded in 1900 that a farmer, on his way home from Leek market at night found himself whisked up on the back of a phantom horse, seated behind a headless rider. It is said that the horse effortlessly bounded through fields and over hedges. Then, the farmer was flung to the ground close to his home and succumbed to his wounds a few days later.

After further reports of headless horseman activity, including one man, who, after experiencing the terror of this phantom rider witnessed the death of his horse an dog, the clergy set out to banish the demon. However, the ghost could not be exorcised so is still said to roam the lonely country roads.

Writing in Folk-Lore (1942) W. P. Witcutt gives a couple of explanations as to the origin of the decapitated rider. Either it is the ghost of a pedlar who was killed by robbers and his headless body was left to ride off on his horse, or it could be the ghost of a knight who died in battle against the Scots. His white horse bore his headless body back home. 

Folklorists Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson have pointed out that these explanations are probably more recent, since headlessness tended to be just a sign of the supernatural, rather than a reflection of how the person had died.

There is another explanation given for the horseman, that it was one of the four spirits that were cast out of heaven and forced to roam the Earth until the Biblical Day of Judgement.