Over the centuries, creepy tales of ghosts and ghouls, legends of mystery and imagination, and fragments of ancient folklore become inextricably intertwined with the history of every town, and whatever you believe about the origins of ghost stories, these old legends are firm favourites with those who like to tell tall tales by the fireside, ale in hand, long into the night.
There are a few particularly memorable local stories of the supernatural, perhaps the most popular of which relate to The White Hart. The legendary home of the ‘Caldmore Ghost’ is a very old and picturesque house, later used as a pub, located on Caldmore Green, just outside Walsall town centre.
Now wonderfully restored for shared use, The White Hart is thought to date back to the second half of the seventeenth century, and was probably built by George Hawe (died 1679). This remarkable listed building is the object of great local affection, despite the dark legends associated with it. Since it was built it has gathered around it a shroud of many chilling stories, which may or may not be old wives tales.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century The White Hart was renovated, and, during the work, a child’s arm was found hidden in an attic chimney. The arm has become known as the ‘Hand of Glory’, traditionally a hand cut from a hanged felon and dried in the prescribed manner. Then, either by lighting the fingers themselves or using the hand as a candle holder, the Hand was supposed to stupefy any person seeing it, thus enabling a burglar to ransack a house without being caught. It was generally believed that the flames could not be blown out by any ordinary person and that milk was the only liquid able to extinguish the candle.
This grisly object, now on display in Walsall Museum, seems to be a medical specimen, dissected by a surgeon and injected with formalin to preserve it. It certainly does not date from the time when the house was first built. However, popular legend refuses to accept such a dull solution.
There are many other tales of haunted happenings, into modern times, and The White Hart has become known as the home of ‘The Caldmore Ghost’. I present here for your interest a photograph taken in 1925 of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Clarke, allegedly ‘taking the pulse’ of this legendary spectre.
Other subjects of spooky speculation around the Borough include, of course, the old vicarage of St. George’s Church on Darlaston Green, the haunted Area Dispatch Office at Walsall Bus Depot, the spirited old lady at the Manor Arms in Rushall, the spectral West Highland terrier of Sutton Road, and the Ghost Train of the Leighs Wood Line at Shelfield!
Bloxwich is also the haunt of many a terrifying tale, and I well remember in my youth being told of the ghostly Flying Nun of Wallington Heath, who had supposedly committed suicide at the Convent there.
This story may derive from the alleged haunting of the Old Kings Arms, a former coaching inn on the site which later became the convent of St. Paul of Chartres, by the ghost of a young woman who was murdered at the inn. There are still a few older people in the neighbourhood who can remember their parents hurrying past the spot or refusing to venture that way at night.
Then of course there are more recent reports of footsteps upstairs in The Spring Cottage pub, Elmore Green Road, Bloxwich – or the beer-chucking ghost of the Memorial Club in Harrison Street! Of course, not many people know that the old part of the ‘Memo’ is Bloxwich’s first Branch Library, and second Police Station, in use from 1874. The old house’s former cellar was used as a gaol cell, as the rusted hinges down there testify. Is a former prisoner or spectral librarian causing a ruckus? Who knows…
Supernatural goings-on in Bloxwich have not been limited to reports of ghosts, though.
More than once I have referred to the story of the Bloxwich Wishing Tree which once stood near the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road.
This time I’ll conclude by returning to that story by quoting a spooky poem from the book ‘Ghosts & the Folklore Around Barr Beacon’ by Andrew Perrins, sadly now out of print:
Ballad of the Wishin’ Bush
Sum airty years ago in Bloxidge town,
A tale told there is so well known;
About a quaint ode wishin’ tree,
By th’ Bull’s Yed for all to see.
Now a local blade, he did enjoy,
A pint or two upon the sly,
In that said pub within th’ town,
Those quarts ov ale, ‘e drunk ‘em down.
Now ‘is wife she was so much vexed,
In fact, she was a touch perplexed,
To know ‘er bloke went astray,
Drinkin’ each nite an’ ev’ry day.
She med a wish so th’ tree would fall
Upon ‘er spouse to stop ‘im all,
From a drinkin’ in that wretched pub,
A curse she uttered upon the shrub.
But th’ tree, it missed an’ ‘it th’ inn
Uzby escaped by th’ thick ov ‘iz skin,
Now th’ wife, she took it all to ‘art,
An’ on that day she did depart.
‘Em say th’ bush’s growin’ still,
So do mek a wish if yoh will!
Whether all of these tales are the result of ghostly materialisations or are due to the effects of some other kind of spirits, who can say? I for one keep an open mind, especially at Hallowe’en…
(Previously published in ‘The Borough Blog’)