Lucy Lightfoot & The Crusader of Gatcombe, Isle of Wight
The following story is reproduced from the book Supernatural England.
The peculiar tale of two lovers, separated by centuries, supposedly reunited by the power of a ferocious storm
This is a strange and fascinating story which leaves the reader with many questions and few answers. Its hero is Edward Estur, a knight whose family, lords of the manor at Gatcombe in the Isle of Wight, built the church of St Olave in the 13th century, as a family chapel.
Over the centuries many additions and alterations have been made to the building where now Edward Estur's handsome armour-clad effigy, carved in solid oak, lies. His legs are crossed, a sign that he was a knight who fought in the Crusades, and his feet rest on a small dog.
Eighteenth-century engravings show him holding a short steel dagger, known as a misericord, its hilt set with a chrysoberyl jewel encased in a lodestone mount. But today, this weapon is a wooden replica, the original said to have been damaged on the fateful morning of 13th June 1831 when certain curious events occurred.
Our heroine was born at Stoney Meadow Farm in Bowcombe, about two miles from Gatcombe, and in her early twenties Lucy Lightfoot was a beautiful, lively young girl and a keen horsewoman. She had attended St Olave's church regularly on Sundays for some years, but could often be seen there at other times as well, and it was noticed that she had apparently become obsessed with Edward Estur's effigy. She would stand totally absorbed, staring into his face, and when asked why, her answer was: 'I love to be with him and accompany him on his adventures in my thoughts and dreams.'
No doubt there were some who thought it unnatural that such a lovely young girl should waste her romantic fantasies on a centuries old monument rather than a flesh and blood admirer, and there were many whose hearts were captured by her, but to no avail.
On 13th June in 1831 Lucy arrived on horseback at the church at about 10.30 am, tethered her horse at the gate, and went into the church as she had so often done before. Shortly afterwards, at 11 am, there was a total eclipse of the sun, with darkness lasting for more than half an hour, while an extraordinarily violent storm burst upon the island causing floods and great damage, and many properties were struck by lightning. Nothing to equal the ferocity of the storm, combined with the eclipse had ever happened before on the island within living memory.
It was two or three hours later that a farmer, George Brewster, came by the church and saw Lucy's horse, frightened and distressed, still standing tethered to the gate. He went into the church expecting to find Lucy inside, but there was no sign of her, so he looked round the churchyard and made enquiries to see if she was sheltering in one of the nearby cottages.
But Lucy was nowhere to be found, and despite widespread searches and a subsequent large reward offered by her distraught parents, no clues to her disappearance ever came to light. She had vanished without trace!
But there was one curious thing noticed by the rector. The metal misericord had been torn from the hand of Edward Astur's effigy, and lay broken on the altar, the jewel set in its hilt now gone.
In more recent times the Rev James Evans, a former rector of St Olave's church, wrote the story of Lucy Lightfoot, and described how in 1865 a Methodist minister of the Scilly Isles, the Rev Samuel Trelawney, had been researching the history of the Crusades when he came across a manuscript by Phillipe de Mezieres, Chancellor to the King of Cyprus, which included a list of the names of English Knights who had joined Peter I in his battle to destroy the hold of the Mamelukes on the Holy Land. Among them was the name of Edward Estur, who was said to be accompanied by a brave and beautiful young woman, by name - Lucy Lightfoot of Carisbrooke!
The story goes that the knights and Lucy travelled to Cyprus in 1365, where although she, too, had hoped to go with them to the Holy Land, she was persuaded to remain while the Crusaders went on to Alexandria, which they conquered in October. They then went on to ravage the coast of Syria where Edward was seriously wounded in the head by a Saracen, and lay dangerously ill before eventually he was brought home, both health and memory gone.
King Peter of Cyprus rewarded the Crusaders who had come to his aid with the Order of the Sword, a silver bejewelled dagger, the same no doubt as the one in the hand of Edward Estur's effigy. We are not told how long Edward survived but the Saracen's sword had caused serious damage and shortened his life, and he died at home in Gatcombe.
But what of Lucy after Edward departed on his fateful journey? It is said that she waited three years for her lover to return, then believing him to be dead, she ultimately left Cyprus for Corsica where she married a fisherman, Lionallo Marnellino. She lived a long, hardworking life, helping her husband with his fishing, and growing citrus fruit and grapes, and leaving a large family of children and grandchildren when she finally died at a considerable age.
So what really happened during that terrific storm on the morning of 13th June 1831 when the 19th-century Lucy Lightfoot paid one of her frequent visits to the tomb of Edward Estur? Is it conceivable that in some kind of time warp two lovers were reunited over the centuries?
As the Rev James Evans wrote in his booklet, 13th June 1831 was no ordinary day. There was a unique combination of a tropical storm and a total eclipse, and he also points out the significance of the crystal in the dagger. When crystals disintegrate under pressure, he says, tremendous forces are released which could, perhaps, distort time itself. There are many instances where people have found themselves suddenly switched to another earlier time, before just as suddenly returning to the present.
Did something like that happen to Lucy Lightfoot, except that in her case, she did not return? As the Rev James Evans so charmingly puts it: Thus Lucy Lightfoot just stepped lightly into the past and stayed as she always longed with her loved one.'
This story is reproduced from the book, Supernatural England, by Countryside Books, which contains dozens of spooky tales featuring ghosts, poltergeists and hauntings from across the country. To find out more, click here
- Alex Batho