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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