Wyrd Daze Six: The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

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Greenstone Tea Room, Damsel’s Cross

It is the nature of war to spawn secrets. While the many military bases found in the county would be the obvious breading grounds, evidence of wartime clandestine activities may also be glimpsed in some unlikely places. However, the small cottage tea room of Greenstone on the High Street of Damsel’s Cross, must rank as one of the most improbable locations to find details of a once classified Admiralty operation.

Under oak beams and amid embroidered tablecloths, fresh flowers and tables burdened with apple butter cream teas known in the county as Hookland Delight, are souvenirs of the strange life the establishment’s first owner, Mrs. Lucy Bowman. If you ask politely about the vintage Admiralty charts, photographs of First World War U-boats and Royal Navy ships carrying depth charges that hang incongruously on the walls, the waiting staff will likely call the current proprietor and Mrs. Bowman’s grandson, John Moore to your table. With a charm and energy that surprises in being unbroken despite the number of times the tale has been told, he draws patrons attention to various letters from the Admiralty and objects on the walls while unfolding the most surprising biography of his grandmother.

In January 1917, the recently widowed Lucy Bowman offered her services to her country as dowser. In an impassioned letter to Admiral A.L. Duff, who had known her father when they both served above the cruiser St. George nearly two decades before, she claimed that her skills as a ‘spiritual dowser’ would enable her to pinpoint the location of enemy U-boats if she were provided with accurate Admiralty charts. Duff, who had been appointed Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Royal Navy, responded with an invite to a meeting at an Ashcourt naval establishment.

It is not entirely clear why Duff took such an extraordinary measure. It may have been out of desperation to tackle the problem of the German’s unrestricted submarine warfare which was costing losses of up to 500,000 tonnes per month and greatly eroding public morale. It may have been due to the link with Bowman’s to father or an existing belief in the efficacy of dowsing. However, after meeting her, Duff granted Bowman access to Admiralty’s secret submarine tracking room where with the aid of an iron saddlery needle suspended by the tail hair of white horse, she attempted to track U-boat movements in the North Atlantic.

As various letters on wall suggest, she was successful enough in her endeavours, to be invited back to provide assistance to the navy on several occasions right up until the Armistice of 1918. Mrs. Bowman’s part in the war below waves was kept secret right up until her death in 1959, after which her daughter turned the tea room she inherited into an informal museum celebrating her mother’s clandestine contribution to the war. When pressed by the author of The Guide about the reaction this revelation caused at the time, John Moore admitted:

“Mother did have a visit from a commander in naval intelligence when she first put the letters up. He asked to take them down, but she gave him short-shift and they soon gave up making a fuss, in the end just asking for a picture of nanna’s needle for their own archives. I am only sorry I’ve no talent for dowsing as that thing only passes down the female side in my family.”

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.

Creator of the
@HooklandGuide

@Cultauthor

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Wyrd Daze Five : The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

Wyrd Daze Five is live!
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Elmsley

Hookland has a surfeit of quiet villages, almost managing to achieve their ambition of sleeping through the twentieth century. Among that number is Elmsley. Stretching in its slumber along the old market road that travels from the north of the county towards Hook, it is an unhurried dream of stone and timber cottages that ends in a mediaeval church and a shaded green.

However, like most of rural England, Elmsley’s peace and attempt at atemporality has been troubled by the invention of the automobile.
Fitful visits by motoring pioneers soon gave way to steady passage of tourers and eventually became the current harassment by traffic. It is also the car that gives the village both strange haunting and a most unusual byelaw.

At just after noon on Saturday, August 17th 1957, the cream and red Austin Westminster of Mr. Harvey Caldwell came towards Elmsley at near its top speed of 85 mph. Caldwell did not slow down as he approached the stone bridge marking the northern entrance to the village. In the harsh trajectory of predictable tragedy, the vehicle punched through one of the bridge’s walls and into the River Abna.

The Jordan family who were picnicking on the riverbank close to the bridge saw the Westminster claimed by the water. In testimony to the Coroner’s court,
Mr. John Jordan said: “My daughters and wife were shrieking as I ran towards the river.
I took off my shoes and jacket and dived in. With the mud and sediment thrown up
by the crash it was difficult to see anything.
I came up, filled my lungs and went back down and located the car.

The driver, a man I now know to be Harvey Caldwell, was slumped over the wheel, but the women – one in the passenger seat, one in the back – were pounding on the glass, trying to get out. I tried the doors repeatedly. They just would not open.

“I came up for air and went back down to try and smash the glass two more times, but gave up when the beating against the windows stopped. When I surfaced for the last time, all I could hear was a the sound of screaming. My wife, the girls, were
hysterical and had not gone for help.”

When the rescue services eventually retrieved the car from the river, it contained two bodies which the with police identified as Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell. There was no trace of the third occupant that John Jordan claimed to have seen. Despite intensive investigation, it was never established whether Jordan was mistaken and there was no other
passenger or whether the mysterious woman had managed to escape the drowning doom of the married couple she shared the car with.
Although the deaths were ruled as misadventure, no satisfactory
answer to why Caldwell was driving so fast has ever emerged. 

In the usual evolution of tragic event to ghost story, the tale would see the spot of accident haunted by the spirits of the Caldwells.
Yet, in the years that followed what has been reported is the sound of the still-living
Mrs. Jordan and her two daughters
screaming from the riverbank as temporal echo. The trauma cycle of witness refusing to be broken by the teeth of time.

The hearing of screaming became such a concern locally that the Parish Council, convinced it was the work of practical jokers, voted in a new byelaw. It prohibited: ‘Shrieking, screaming, screeching or crying in a way that suggests distress within sight of the riverbank or bridge at all times.’ Unfortunately, this unusual measure failed to prevent continued reports of the upsetting sound.  Even as recently as 1978, two German foreign-exchange students staying in the village who had no prior knowledge of the story. told their hosts that they had heard ‘hysterisch schreiend’ coming from an invisible source while walking along the Abna.

Although all of the Jordan family were reluctant to speak to the press or to investigators into psychic phenomena for many years, they temporally broke their silence after the Daily Mirror ran a tenth anniversary piece on odd accidents. The article had featured a recent picture of the bridge and riverside where the calamity had occurred. When reading it, Mr. Jordan, spotted a woman on the bridge looking towards the camera. He then contacted paper trying to find any details of who she was, claiming: “It was the woman in the back of the car. That face has haunted my fevers, my nightmares for a decade.
I know it was her.”

Mrs. Jordan also spoke publicly for the first time since the inquest into the deaths of the Caldwells, telling the Daily Mirror:
“I am thoroughly sick of people talking about my daughters and I as if we were some triad of banshees. I don’t believe any of this ghostly nonsense about a ‘scream spot’. I place the blame squarely on my husband for claiming we were hysterical. After 24 years of marriage I can tell you that he has always proven inadequate in dealing with emotion in others – whether it comes from shock of seeing a terrible accident unfold or his own daughters upset at their pet cat Arthur dying of old age.”

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.

Creator of the @HooklandGuide

@Cultauthor