The Broken Oak, Damsel’s Cross
Some taverns tell their tales in the free public library of swinging signs. Some like The Broken Oak will only give up their strange stories if you venture inside. While its name and sign is simple memorial to a lightning-tortured tree that once stood on the village green, once inside, the establishment offers a unique look at old method of dealing with troublesome spirits. For the price of a pint, you can take a look at its perpetually locked ‘ghost room’.
In the late 18th century, The Broken Oak was so troubled by an unruly spirit that scratched and scarred both the landlord’s wife, her young maid and several of its patrons, that a ghost-layer was called. When the sanctions of the Church of England were unable to end the spiritual terror, the services of the cunning folk were sought. The one who answered the call was Tom Warden, one of the then Walking Nine.
The Walking Nine refers to the folklore claim that there are always nine cunning women or men not tied to any parish who wandered abroad in the county at any time. Given they are the class of cunning folk traditionally viewed with most suspicion in Hookland, it suggests the haunting of the tavern must have become a desperate for one of them to be trusted to resolve it. Warden proved up to the task, even if he resorted to employing a long-established measure used only against the most intractable spirits.
For upstairs at The Broken Oak is a room that has been sealed since 1797. Previously a bedroom when the establishment was an inn, it was sacrificed by Warden to end the haunting. In the ghost lore of Hookland, when a dead spirit refuses all forms of banishment and exorcism, there is a chance that it can be dealt with by trapping it. Although ideally this is done in a bottle which can easily be disposed of by burial or placing in running water, it is also possible for a ghost-layer to confine it into specific place where, by use of ritual and sealing marks, it may rendered powerless and forever shut in.
Paying customers of the inn with a disposition for spook curiosity, are allowed by the current landlord to go take a peek at what regular patrons call the ‘Never Open’. Previously plastered over, renovations in the 1920s exposed the entrance to the ghost room that had become part of local legend. Now encased by a glass box that covers a metal grill put across the threshold after Tom Warden had finished his work. Visible evidence of the spirit attacks of 1797 reduced to an ancient wooden door. The once open wound of its keyhole sutured with solder; seven heavy iron bolts, inscribed with the names of angels, drawn; a network of mystic symbols carved into it providing map to the occulted mind of the 18th century cunning folk.
There is something about seeing the door that infects the imagination. At first you may think you are troubled only by the thought that superstition was once so strong that rationality as well as a room were abandoned. However, the idea that evolves and refuses to be expelled is that something must have actually happened, something tangible and dreadful that such a drastic action was undertaken. If you ask downstairs about any phantom problems since 1797, you will be told that Tom Warden did good considering he was one of the Walking Nine. The only more recent suggestion of an alleged trapped entity, come from claims by some visitors like yourself that when they tapped on the glass, they were certain they could hear them answered by knocks coming from within the ghost room.
David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages.
However, these days, he mostly writes about place.