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The Phantom Army of Grafton Regis

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The Phantom Army of Grafton Regis

The following story is reproduced from the book Supernatural England

300 years to the day after a civil war battle took place in Grafton Regis, three men in a caravan wake up to the sound of cannon-fire, trumpets sounding and horses galloping in the night... 

Grafton Regis is built on a hill, nine miles from Northampton. It is a tranquil place now, but royal romance, intrigue and passion are all threads running through the history of this small village. Here in the forest nearby Edward IV met his future wife, the young widow Elizabeth Gray, eldest daughter of the Woodville family who owned the manor house at Grafton. Several years later, lusty Henry VIII brought his mistress Anne Boleyn to the manor house. He was besotted with Anne and was desperately petitioning the Pope for a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon. The last interview between the King and Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio, took place at the royal residence at Grafton.

Events in history once more touched the quiet village in the Civil War, when in December 1643 the manor house was besieged by the Parliamentarian army. Both Grafton and Towcester were held by the Royalists and this was preventing the passage of ammunition from Northampton to Gloucester. Sergeant Major Skippon, in charge of a body of Parliamentarian troops, joined a detachment of soldiers from Northampton and set off to the manor house at Grafton Regis.

On Thursday night, 21st December, 1,000 Roundhead troops marched into Grafton from Lathbury, six miles away. They met with fierce opposition from the Royalists, and it was not until Sunday night, which was Christmas Eve, that Sir John Digby surrendered the house to the Parliamentarians. On Christmas morning, Philip Skippon gave orders to his men to set fire to the huts they had built in the field, and, to prevent further opposition, also to fire the manor house. He thanked God for the few casualties, and released the women, children and innocent parties. This done, the Parliamentarians set off to Newport Pagnell, with their prisoners.

Three centuries later, on the night of 21st December 1943, the streets of Grafton Regis were silent and dark. The blackout was complete, not a chink of light escaping from the darkened windows. In a field not far from the village, six Irish farm labourers, four O'Donnell brothers and two mates, were spending another cramped and cold night in a caravan. With most able bodied men serving in the forces, vital land work was carried out by older men assisted by prisoners of war, displaced Europeans, land army girls and men from neutral Ireland. Far from home and their loved ones, the six men must have felt very isolated, especially at Christmas time.

After settling down for the night the Irishmen were awakened in the early hours of the morning by the sounds of horses galloping and men shouting. It seemed to them as if cavalry regiments were fighting outside, with horses' hooves thudding and harnesses creaking and jingling. A baleful light shone through the small windows of the caravan, and the men got out of their beds to find out what was going on. They could see nothing, but the threatening noises increased, with the yells of men, the muffled roar of cannon, the blast of trumpets and the beat of drums. The activities of the ghostly army carried on for an hour or more and then the noises died away. The Irishmen were too scared to go outside, so they remained huddled together to await the dawn.

The next morning, the supervisor, who was based at Northampton, set off in his van with the weekly wage packets of farm labourers working in the Roade area. He arrived in Grafton Regis at about 9.30 am, and went to the field adjacent to the farm buildings where the Irishmen should have been working. There was no sign of them, and when the farmer said he had not seen them that morning, the supervisor became concerned and drove to the caravan. Inside, he found six very frightened men who were immensely relieved to see him. They explained about their unnerving experience of the previous night. Their tale was met with a good deal of scepticism by the supervisor who privately thought that the men had overslept after a heavy drinking bout at the White Hart! But it took a lot of persuasion on his part to get them back to work, and then only on the condition that their caravan was moved to another site.

What the Irishmen could not have known was that it was 300 years to the day that a battle had taken place in Grafton Regis. As past momentous events are believed by some to leave an indelible impression, was the ghostly army that they heard as they huddled together terrified in their caravan, a re-enactment of the storming of the manor house by the Roundheads?

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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