The Girl With the Golden Ringlets

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The Girl With the Golden Ringlets

The following story is reproduced from the book Supernatural England

The story of the vicarage at Amberley, and the reverend's daughter with a ghostly friend. 

Two of the most evocative place names in Sussex are surely Amberley and the Wild Brooks. The Wild Brooks are in fact marshland liable to flooding at times from the river Arun. The church at Amberley is cheek by jowl with the castle which was once the favourite residence of the Bishops of Chichester. Naturally the church needed a vicarage to house a priest to minister to the people in the thatched cottages. It is this vicarage which is haunted.

The vicarage has cellars dating back to Elizabethan times but the house itself was completely rebuilt in the 1720s when Bell Carelton was the vicar. Even then it was only a one-storey building with a thatched roof and a verandah on the west side. It did not gain another storey until the late 1890s when the Rev William Streatfield was vicar. He and his family moved to Amberley in 1897 when his second daughter was two years old. Her name was Noel Streatfield, later to become a prolific writer and one of whose best loved books is Ballet Shoes. 

Noel often played alone at Amberley after her adored elder sister Ruth had to be sent away because the dampness of the place affected her delicate health. Noel had a young brother and sister but they preferred each other's company. So Noel frequently amused herself in the garden. There was a mulberry tree and a hornbeam, but best of all, away from the house, there was an unusual rose tree which had flowers half white and half red and so was called a 'York and Lancaster'.

Noel adopted the rose tree as her own special possession but gradually she came to realise there was another little girl who also loved the rose tree. This little girl wore long white pantalettes and a crinoline. Her golden hair was parted in the middle and fell in ringlets on either side. 

Noel accepted her quite naturally and she did not feel any surprise at her presence although she only saw her in the garden. But the little girl was heard in the house quite often. She was inquisitive and liked to inspect new guests. When visitors came to stay at the vicarage, the handle would turn and the door of the spare room would open while footsteps pattered lightly over the floor. Visitors found this unnerving and one left hurriedly, even before breakfast!

There was a conspiracy of silence about the ghost because the servants knew and never mentioned it to the family, while Noel never dreamed of telling her parents.

It is strange how the villagers also chose to remain silent about the ghost. It is possible they thought the vicar would be sceptical about such things or perhaps they feared he and his family would be frightened into leaving. Thus silence becomes a tradition.

In 1902 the Rev W. Streatfield left to become vicar of St Peter's church at St Leonards and the new incumbent at Amberley was the Rev Dr G. F. Carr who arrived with his family. Mrs Carr saw the little girl and she was so clear and lifelike that Mrs Carr could not beleive she was not a real child. She saw her through the dining-room window one afternoon and she watched her walk up the garden path towards the house. Mrs Carr noted too the white dress and fair curls and she thought the child was about seven years old. Mrs Carr waited for her to ring the front door bell and when nothing happened she went to ask the servants what had become of the child but they had seen nothing at all untoward.

There is a last satisfying footnote to this Amberley ghost. In 1904 the Carrs decided the vicarage must be renovated and an old wall was demolished so that the dining-room could be enlarged. While digging out the foundations, the workmen came upon a trench which contained earth of a different colour to the surrounding area. At about two feet below the surface which had once been covered by the old floorboards in the corner of the dining-room, the workmen discovered two skeletons, one of a woman and the other belonging to a child of about seven years of age. It was remembered then how the Rev George Arthur Clarkson, the vicar before the Streatfields and who had lived at Amberley for almost 50 years, had often complained about a bad smell in the dining-room. But nothing was ever done about it perhaps because it was put down to country drains.

The bones were buried in consecrated ground but not before several pieces had been carried off by the villagers as souvenirs. All the same, the ghost of the little girl has not been seen again so it seems that she has found peace at last.

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

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  • Alex Batho
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