Murders, ghosts and scandal: We take a ghost walk around Bideford

PUBLISHED: 08:45 29 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:26 30 October 2017

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

Archant

With Halloween on Tuesday, we took a ghostly tour of the streets of Bideford to hear tales of scandal, depravity, murder and ghosts...

“The important thing to remember is that these were real people,” explains Susan Pengelly, as she tells the tale of the murder of young Mary Anne Parsons in 1849.

Mary’s tragic tale is one of many told on a series of ghost walks through Bideford which reveal the secret – and sometimes brutal – underbelly of the town.

Just 12 years old, Mary was a pauper at the workhouse in Meddon Street when she was taken to work on a farm in Buckland Brewer by the Bird family.

“She was beaten and abused in the most horrific manner by the Birds,” said Susan, founder of the English Psychic Company.

“You have to remember that a 12-year-old then is probably more equivalent to a nine-year-old now; she was so young.

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring. What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

“The wounds on her body were quite horrific. She had abscesses the size of a man’s hand and lashes as deep as a man’s finger, all over her body, when she died.”

Murder trial

When the murder trial of Robert and Sarah Bird was heard in Bideford’s magistrates court – now the town hall – there was outrage.

Some 1,500 people lined the longbridge, trying to get hold of the couple when they came out of the court.

Susan, a clairvoyant medium, feels a deep connection with the people, like Mary Anne, behind the tales she tells on her ghost walks.

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring. What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

“I want to tell the stories of the working class,” she explained.

“Everyone covers the more respectable people, and pretends everything is wonderful, but if not for the working class, these people would not have got to where they were.

“Often these people have left the world with nothing to say they were even here, buried in unmarked graves. I am giving them a voice.”

Scandal and prostitution

As well as murders, Susan’s eye-opening tour of the town includes depraved tales of scandal, prostitution, ghostly sightings, suicides and infanticides.

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring. What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

As she puts it: “I tell the stuff people want to know - the real dirt and depravity - but don’t want to ask.”

The walks begin at the Green Goose in Mill Street, walking in a circular route down Bridgeland Street, along the Quay, through Allhalland Street and back along Mill Street.

Along the way are tales that will send shivers down your spine.

Ghostly sightings

“One building on the corner of Allhalland Street and High Street, there was a man who was a boot maker,” said Susan.

What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring. What are the ghostly stories behind these Bideford buildings and streets? Picture: Stephen Ring.

“He lived there with his wife and five children but the building was owned by a landlord.

“The man was in arrears, but he was a hard worker, not a drinker.

“One day the landlord came and took away all of his boots and shoes so he had nothing to sell and make a living to support his family.

“The landlord then called in the bailiffs and when they arrived the High Street was in uproar.

“People were coming out of their shops to support the man and his wife and children were in the street crying.

“In his despair he went up to the attic room and shot himself.

“His best friend heard the gunshot and rushed up just in time to hold the dying man’s head in his hands. His ghost still shows himself in that building.”

Nothing ‘evil’

But despite the spooky preconceptions of ghosts and ghouls, Susan, who has has the ability to see and hear people who have died since she was a child, said there is nothing ‘scary’ or ‘evil’ about the spirit world.

“These sorts of things are all said to frighten people,” she said.

“If a person passed over angry of course their spirit can be bolshy, but like people they can be rationalised with.

“For a lot of people, it can be a very healing experience to have contact with the spirit world.”

So if you’re after an evening of ghostly tales which are guaranteed to prickle your supernatural senses, a ghost walk around the town is certainly an eye-opener.

I know I certainly won’t be looking at some of Bideford’s buildings in the same way again!

The English Psychic Company runs ghost walks around Bideford and Barnstaple. To book contact Susan on 07855 402410 or spengelly60@gmail.com, or visit www.englishpsychiccompany.co.uk.

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