Haunted Wiltshire, pt 1: The Devil’s hill, Penhill exorcisms & the shadow of Wyke House


IT’S that time of year again. Allow us to dust off our leather-bound tome and share with you a collection of infamous hauntings from across the county. This three-part series will climax on Halloween and is made up of local folklore, press cuttings and official reports logged by paranormaldatabase.com.

If you are of a nervous disposition, continue no further…


You’ll always find an open door at the church in Odstock – because anyone who locks up is doomed to a sudden death.

In 1801 a young gypsy lad was accused of stealing a horse in the village near Salisbury. His father, Joseph Scamp, took the blame and was duly hanged – as was the fashion at the time.

Jo became a martyr to the gypsy folk, who would mark the anniversary of his death with a boozy graveside party each year.

The local authority did not welcome such antics, locking the door to keep them away and even uprooting a rose planted in Joseph’s honour.

The gypsies’ retort was severe. A curse was placed on the church and anyone who locked its door was condemned to a sudden death. After two premature fatalities of church wardens, the rector tossed the key into the River Ebble, where it remains to this day.


In 1973 a BBC crew descended on a house in Swindon’s Penhill to perform an exorcism.

‘Leap in the Dark: Hauntings’, documented the Pellymounter family – Dave, Sheryl (pictured) and son Alan, 3, in their haunted house on Westbury Road.

Alan was petrified of going into the hall and would stand at the threshold sobbing, while his parents said they could hear whispering in the room.

PENHILLEXIn the BBC programme, Canon Harman is shown performing the exorcism, going from room to room pronouncing the ceremony prayers to abolish the property’s evil presence.

Afterwards Dave said: “The temperature just seemed to drop, it went ever so cold and just as the Canon finished it just went back to normal.”

In 1980, Thamesdown Council called in another exorcist at a nearby property on the estate.

Perry Boyce, 17, and his 16-year-old partner Donna claimed an invisible evil force attempted to kill their three-week-old baby Emma, breaking a door, switching lights on and off, and hurling a cassette recorder at Emma’s cot. The family was immediately rehoused and the exorcism performed. Five years later, new tenant Beverley Walsh claimed she felt unseen hands pulling at her clothing and that her bed was moved across the room.


In 1946 a gentleman by the name of Joshua Cowdry was taking a stroll in the garden of his All Cannings home opposite Cliff Farm.

Joshua’s neighbour watched him amble along his garden path and thought nothing more of it. Until he later discovered that Mr Cowdry had in fact spent that entire day in hospital and had died at the precise time of the sighting.


In the 1990s Bath trucker Laurie Newman was on a late-night delivery, driving along the A4 from Chippenham to Bath.

As he approached Corsham, Laurie claimed to witness a nun-like figure in the middle of the road. As he slowed down to a halt, the figure sprung onto the side of the cab of his truck, pressing its face against the window to peer at the stunned driver. Instead of a face inside the nun’s habit, Laurie saw only a grinning skull. After clinging on to the lorry for several seconds, the entity vanished.

After making his escape, Mr Newman was so traumatised he was unable to recount the story for three months.


As you might expect from the most famous mystical stone circle in the world, there are many myths and legends weaving between the rocks of Stonehenge.

Some say it was built by Merlin the Wizard, or even the Devil, and that it is impossible to count the true number of stones.

But in terms of reporting ghost sightings, one of the most heart-stopping came during the Second World War.

Several people driving past a field witnessed a plane crash. When they investigated the crash scene all they found was a small monument – dedicated to the first two members of the Royal Flying Corps to die in a plane crash.

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The original Wyke House in Trowbridge – prior to its 1864 rebuild – was the site of an infamous haunting 50 years prior.

While in the throes of passion with a serving maid, John Faltham was rudely interrupted by a perturbed spirit.

The local paper covered the haunting in an article republished in Wiltshire Notes and Queries in 1893. It reads as follows: “That house was troublesome none doubted. One night John and his sweetheart were in the porch of the old house. Our informant could not say if their love-making aroused the ire of the ghost, but certain it is that doors opened and shut, footsteps were heard, and the rustling of silks – that sad, uncertain rustling’, as Poe calls it – heralded the approach of a shadowy being who glided by the trembling pair.

“At length things got too hot to be borne; the occupants of the mnsion felt that to secure their peace it was necessary the phantom should have notice to quit and take up his abode elsewhere.”

Easier said than done. Feltham required the help of a dozen clergymen to banish the spirit. The story continues: “With some difficulty, 12 orthodox divines of the church were assembled, and at midnight the incantations were commenced.

“In the presence of the trembling, awe-stricken party the ghost was raised, but then came the question what was to be done with him?

“On occasions of that kind the spirit to be laid has to make a choice of a place wherein to rest; twice he is asked where he will go; if no reply is given, he has to pass into the Red Sea.

“The Wyke House spirit, however, gave little trouble, but intimated that he should like to get into a certain chest that was at some distance.

“The box was sent for. The ghost quietly got in and was fixed there.

“What became of the box our informant knew not, but ever since the house has been quiet.”


Folklore suggests Cley Hill near Warminster came into being after the Devil abandoned an attempt to destroy the town of Devizes and all of its residents – presumably he was not a fan of future plans to introduce a Poundland in the town centre.

The story suggests the hill was formed by the Devil when he dropped a sack of earth with which he had planned to bury nearby Devizes. He had stopped to ask an old man the distance to the town. The man told the evil overlord that he had been walking for years to reach Devizes, so the Devil abandoned his plan. Lazy.

Any Devil-made landmark is bound to host the supernatural, and sure enough, Lucifer has left his hoofprints all over the landscape. Many witnesses have reported large fires on the hill, often around Halloween, with figures dancing around them, chanting and singing loudly in an unrecognised language.


The Savernake Forest near Marlborough is a hot bed of paranormal activity.

The three best known spectres are a pack of salivating black dogs said to bring ill fortune to all those who cross their path, a ghostly white deer that prances through the trees, and, most alarmingly, a headless female horse rider, said to have been decapitated while galloping at high speed through the forest – before falling foul of a low branch that took her head clean off.


Legend has it that an attractive young lady of Chapmanslade was once pursued by two suitors. The romeos decided to duel to decide who should win the hand of the fair maiden. As was usually the case in these competitions, finishing runner-up meant death.

CHUCKThe loser in this instance was accompanied by a large black dog, which reacted angrily to his master’s demise, promptly tearing out the throat of the winner.

Understandably bereft at losing both of her boyfriends, the little tart took her own life and was buried at Dead Maids crossroads, near the edge of the old parish.

Ever since, the vengeful canine has stalked the nearby Black Dog Woods. Its eyes glow as red as hot coals and to see him means certain death within the year.


Dating back to 2700BC, Europe’s largest man-made mound, Silbury Hill on the edge of Avebury’s stone circle is shrouded in mystique.

Some believe the ancient pile was built to immobilise a great evil. Others believe it to be the grave of King Sil, buried within, astride his horse, both in armoured suits of solid gold. Horse and rider are said to gallop around the base on moonlit nights.

A more modern day anecdote was officially recorded by an off-duty police officer passing the monument in July 2009. He spotted what he thought were three forensic officers, in white overalls, all tall and with blonde hair. The trio were walking around a newly-formed crop circle close to the hill.

The officer went to investigate further, but as he reached the edge of the field he described hearing the crackling of electricity, which prompted the men in white to flea faster than any human could run.


A Melksham man would often take a midnight stroll along Snarlton Lane in the early part of the 1900s. One evening he encountered a figure holding an umbrella strolling very slowly ahead of him.

As the man approached, the figure lowered the umbrella, revealing a headless stump on top of its shoulders. Twice more the witness spotted the headless brolly phantom during his late night walks, and eventually vowed never to travel along Snarlton Lane again.


The former Great Western Railway buildings form a huge part of Swindon’s past and, as you might expect, that weight of history brings with it a supernatural tale or two.

The most disturbing of which being the clock winder that inhabits the National Monuments Record building.

The complex housed a large number of clocks and employed the winder to keep the time pieces ticking over. Folklore suggests that during one shift, the disgruntled clock winder ascended a spiral staircase to the eaves of the roof, threw a rope over one of the large iron beams and hanged himself in front of horrified colleagues.

His restless spirit has been witnessed winding an invisible clock in a zone referred to as the haunted corridor – an area which security guard dogs apparently refuse to patrol.






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