TWO RUSTHALL GHOSTS
[During the Civil War] the western hamlet of Rusthall was occupied by the Cromwellian forces whilst the Royalists preferred Southborough as a temporary centre. And it is this fact which may well account for an unusual incident which occurred in Hurst Wood, just north of Rusthall, in 1966.
One evening a man walking home along the narrow, now overgrown path from Broomhill Road, heard the sound of horses’ hooves and on turning round was astonished to see the headless figure of a rider bearing down on him. Up to that moment he had dismissed all tales of ghostly happenings as figments of imagination or the results of excessive drink. But faced with a horseman wearing the apparel thought at the time to be of a medieval knight, his ideas vanished and he fled.
On examination of the description of the phantom later, one finds that the figure could well have been that of a cuirassier, a member of Cromwell’s troops, wearing the normal three quarter armour of laminated plates. To the uninitiated such an apparition could well have resembled that of a soldier of an earlier century, but the known situation of the Parliamentary forces is too great a coincidence to ignore. Admittedly Denny Bottom and Rusthall both contain some evidence of medieval, even prehistoric, occupation, but nothing is known about an encampment other than that of the Roundheads anywhere near the sighting of the phantom rider.
As to the reason why the horseman was headless, the answer can only be conjectural. Perhaps the soldier had been killed in a skirmish with a group of Royalists or, as has been suggested, his head was knocked off by an overhanging branch as he sped through the forest. We will never know.
Some years ago and only a few yards away from that haunted spot, on the Broomhill Road itself, Mr and Mrs Phil Gearing of Tonbridge visiting some friends on Christmas Eve, saw the figure of a man standing in a hollow at the side of the road. They were travelling too fast to stop the car in time and drove so close to the silent spectre that they felt they must have hit it. Shocked and abashed by the experience they searched the area for some time before being forced to accept that they had hurt and damaged nothing other than their own credulity.
Derision from friends hearing of the incident turned to puzzlement when Joe Ovenden of Rusthall recalled that some 70 years earlier a large house and a cottage had existed at the exact bend in the road where the phantom had been. The buildings had lain empty and derelict for many years before being demolished because "potential buyers were scared away by the ghost of a man who haunted the place". Joe claimed that his mother knew the people who lived in the house and they frequently stated that the "cottage is haunted by a man in a grey suit". The figure seen by the Gearings was on the exact spot where the cottage had been.
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Andrew Green M.Phil (1927 - May 2004) was the author of Haunted Houses, Haunted Inns and Taverns (Shire Books), Our Haunted Kingdom (1973, Phantom Ladies (1977) and Ghosts of Today (1980), at least a dozen other books and countless articles on the paranormal. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research and broadcast on radio and television, being featured in the last Strange But True series with Michael Aspel. He ran many popular courses on parapsychology at such venues as London, Cambridge, Kent and Surrey Universities. Andrew's booklet Ghosts of Tunbridge Wells was published by John Hilton of Hadlow, near Tonbridge, in 1978. His two most recent titles are Haunted Sussex Today (1997, reprinted in 2000) and Haunted Kent Today (1999), both for SB Publications of Seaford. He received worldwide publicity when commissioned to investigate alleged ghostly phenomena at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996, and the Dreamland theme park, Margate, in 1997.
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Regarding the first story above of the phantom rider in Hurst Woods, Francis Huddy of Exeter (who grew up in Rusthall) wrote in September 2004 to say:
'I can remember walking home from school one day, with a friend, from Southborough (St Gregory's) through Hurst Woods (in about 1981). This is really spooky because there was no-one around, just the two of us, and we actually heard this really eerie, shrieking noise of a heavy horse approaching at speed yet there was nothing there! We even started running away, assuming the horse was right behind us ready to run us over. I remember that to this day and to read of the account of the ghost is rather strange. I must say that I am not remotely a believer in anything paranormal, and this is the only such experience in my entire life.'
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