The Making of a Town Wraith

Photo of St Mary The Virgin, Henley, via Wikipedia

This is the third part of the story of Mary Blandy. For parts 1 and 2, start the trail here and continue here.

Did she wait until the third day?

Did Mary give the dust of the carriage which bore her body rattling to Henley- after that infamous, notorious execution- time to settle before she began walking?

The horses and their carriage thundered across the land from the hanging tree at Oxford and arrived with Mary’s body at Henley, ready for a hasty burial in the early hours of the morning after she died. Haste and discretion were imperative: for criminals are not customarily buried within church bounds, and she was set to sleep between her mother and father in the chancel of St Mary the Virgin , next to the Thames.

Her connections ensured graceful rest.

Yet if the townspeople are to be believed, rest she would not. Shortly after she was buried, people would double-take as they saw a grave figure in grey, with an unsettling quality of insubstance to her, gliding about the town.

It takes personality to dominate a whole town, wouldn’t you say? They saw her at the Angel pub, wandering the streets, in the church; and hauntingly, even for a spectre, beneath the old mulberry tree in the back garden of her old house.

The town could not shake her. Perhaps it did not altogether want to. Perhaps a really good haunting is a two sided business, a problem shared.

If they wanted to shake her, why stage a play about her and her execution? It was Joan Morgan, ex-silent screen star and later scriptwriter, who came to live in Henley, and wrote Mary down on a page. She called it: The Hanging Wood.

Joan wrote the play in 1950. It was not until 1969 that a company performed the play at Henley’s Kenton Theatre.

And there she was: a slim figure standing at the back of the theatre. Critiquing her life as it played out, on those boards, its characters etched in greasepaint.

That’s the thing about these creatures. You can hear stories about encounters, but it is not until you experience something so totally unexplained that you realise that they are often accompanied by a clammy, deep rooted terror.

One night a man was driving up the road near Mary’s house when he noticed a young woman wandering at the junction. She seemed a little confused, and it was dark, so he stopped to ask her if she needed help or directions.

The women bent down to look into the car, and it seems she smiled an enigmatic smile.

And then she vanished, and he was alone.

Well, he couldn’t move for shaking.He called his wife on his mobile and begged her to come and collect him and drive him home: but for whatever reason, she was unable to come.

Four hours later, he was still sitting there, in the car, unable to move.

Mary Blandy spent 30 years on this earth walking the town of Henley, and one year as its perplexing antiheroine. She was its celebrity, and has been ever since, alive and dead, sleeping and waking. Appearing at the town’s windows, treading its flagstones, and returning to sleep in the resting place which restoration has erased.

Seldom have a place and its spectre walked so close together.

If you enjoyed this story and others on this site , please consider adding your nomination to others for a Shorty Award here. Many thanks.


34 thoughts on “The Making of a Town Wraith

  1. If I hadn’t already nominated you for a Shorty, I would do it again. Literature and life are full of tormented women driven to crime by villains, it seems. And it’s so fascinating.

    1. Ah, but it is well worth a visit, Sidey; incredible buildings. One has to pinch oneself to believe they are still here after all this time. And all perched next to the Thames.

      If you are ever in the area, I’ll accompany you to fend off any ghosts. Promise.

    1. Ha! They’ve done overnight stays at the theatre, I believe, Nancy, to try to talk to her, and claim to have done just that. I’ll leave ghost hunting to the professionals.

    1. Stories like that just beg to be told, Judy 🙂 There are many versions. People have loved telling the stories even when she was still alive. There are Mary Blandy souvenirs still around, I believe.

  2. What a spooky and yet delightful tale. Delightful as long as I’m hearing about it and not experiencing Mary. I do enjoy your ghost stories, Kate. I sometimes wonder why I’m so taken by them when in reality I’d be terrified. I liked that you gave yourself plenty of room to tell it!

  3. Gooseflesh, Kate!! I always enjoy a good ghost tale, but I waver between thinking it would be fun to experience a visit from the spirit world and thinking that I, like the fellow in the car, would be simply horrified and unable to function for a bit thereafter.

    This county where I live claims not to have a single haunted place or resident ghost, so I guess I’ll not need to worry about any chance encounters. There is this place though, not too far down the road, if I ever get a hankering. 🙂

  4. A great tale. Glad I found it – I knew a little about Mary Blandy, less so about Paradise House (despite living very close to it!).

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