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The Spectre of the Horse Drawn Carriage
Slade Green, Kent - 1978
by Keith Harris
It was a balmy night and the bedroom window was slightly ajar. Vivienne had drifted off into sleep beside me in the bed and I was reading something, my head propped against the headboard of the big double bed.
I'd paused to reflect on my reading and was gazing over the book toward the end of the bed and the window but not really looking at anything in particular, as you sometimes do when drifting into thought.
A flicker of unexpected movement beyond the bed and to the right broke my contemplations, but its complete unexpectedness combined with the fact that I knew there was no one else in the room but Vivienne froze my reactions for a few moments. But what I saw remains clear to me to this day.
The movement that caught my eye had been the appearance out of thin air in the room of the spectre of a gold gilded, black Victorian horse-drawn covered carriage, with one man dressed in black in the driver's seat and holding the reins. The carriage was empty.
Soundlessly it moved across the room from right to left and before my stunned senses could react the horse - or horses, I still cannot be sure to this day if the carriage was drawn by one or two horses - began disappearing through the wall that separated us from the neighbouring house in our second storey, end of block maisonette home.
Then I was shaking Vivienne but of course as she stirred from sleep it was too late - the whole spectral vision had simply passed through the wall and I was left like an idiot trying to explain what I had just witnessed to the sleepy woman beside me.
Before I go on, no - I had ingested no drugs, drunk no alcohol, am not prone to hallucinations, whatever they may be, am and was of good sound mind and am intelligent about enlightenment.
There was no explanation other than to accept I had seen what I had seen. That came a few days later, by even more unexpected means.
I was sitting in our living room and Vivienne was preparing a meal in the kitchen when the knock came on our front door. Vivienne reached the door at the same time as I did and we opened the door to two strangers, a young man and a young woman. The woman carried a collection tin and began to explain.
"We're doing a house to house collection for the girl at the end of the block," she said.
I had no idea what she was speaking about and said so. She looked nonplussed for a moment before saying: "You haven't heard ... ?"
They told us that a young married woman living in the ground floor maisonette at the other end of our block had suddenly passed away a few days ago. The collection was to help her bereaved young husband, who was out of work and had been nursing her through her illness.
After they had left we made no connection with the odd scene I had witnessed in our bedroom. The connection happened a few days later. We were again in bed, when our young cat wandered into the room, walked across to the window and jumped up. The window was hinged open a few inches and after a moment of hesitation the cat stepped out onto the gently downwardly sloping three-inch wide ledge that ran along the outside of the 8ft long window and gingerly began creeping towards the far end. The problem was the far window was closed and the cat suddenly realised there was nowhere to go other than to turn around on the narrow ledge and make its way back.
By now I was sitting up in bed alarmed, the window was about 50ft from the ground. I was trying to figure out what if anything I could do when the cat attempted the impossible turn and slipped off the ledge.
In a flash I was over to the window and had flung it open to look down. It was dark, with just a little light spilling out from other windows but I couldn't see anything. I hauled on some clothes and shoes and grabbed a torch on the way out, wondering just what I'd find. We'd only had the cat a few months, given to us by a neighbour.
There was a large grassed area on the side of the building that the cat had fallen and edging the base of the building was a 2ft wide strip of plants and shrubbery, though it was mostly overgrown with weeds. The cat was nowhere to be seen.
I found it crouched inside the shrubbery immediately below our bedroom window and it didn't appear to be injured, but it did look very shocked. I carefully took it out and was relieved it didn't protest. At that point Vivienne appeared in slippers and a dressing gown and with her help I was better able to examine the animal. It didn't appear hurt at all, perhaps bruised but nothing else. We took it back indoors.
It proved to have been miraculously uninjured and went on about life as normal, sitting on indoor window ledges looking out, but it never went out an open window again.
When we returned to our bed, my thoughts were on what had happened and so the memory of the spectre returned.
Over the days we had learned more of the unfortunate death of the young woman. She had been terminally ill for some time and her young husband was helping to look after her at home.
One Saturday night the young man was preparing to go along to his local for his weekly few beers with his mates but his young ill wife told him she felt particularly bad that night. Instead of going into the nearby pub, he decided instead to get some cans of beer and take them straight home.
Tragically when he returned home with the beers less than fifteen minutes later, he found her dead.
Tracing back the days with Vivienne, I found that the night I had seen the spectre of the carriage was the same night that the young woman had passed away, although the timing is a little inconsistent, as it would have been around midnight that I saw the ghostly vision.
The tale did not end there. A very short time after the death of his wife, the young man moved out of the house, perhaps feeling unable to continue living there. Several days later neighbouring residents telephoned police after hearing noises in the empty property and thinking it had been broken into.
When police arrived they were completely baffled at what they found. There were no signs at all of any break in and the maisonette was empty, but cupboards and drawers were open and items had been haphazardly scattered around inside the property, particularly in the kitchen.
The next day, local council workers boarded up the empty property's front door and all windows. But the strangeness was to continue.
Again, a few days later, neighbours rang police to report loud crashing noises coming from inside the boarded up maisonette. When police arrived, they too heard crashing noises from within, but found all windows and the door to be tightly boarded with no way in or out of the property. The fire brigade was called to get into the building.
No more sounds were heard and when police eventually entered the building they found it had been ransacked even more violently than before, with many items broken and items flung about.
The events became news and soon after, at the request of the local authorities, a senior cleric carried out an official exorcism at the property. Following the exorcism, no further disturbances were reported to have taken place.
Before moving away from the area ourselves, I was sitting in the Sun pub by the railway station and was telling a local man about the odd event of the ghostly carriage. He listened thoughtfully and after a time asked if I knew much of the history of Slade Green. I didn't, and he told me how the maisonettes were built on land that was a former mud plain alongside the nearby River Thames and that the land had sunk considerably over many years.
He said that there had once been an important carriage route that passed through Slade Green, linking routes into London from places such as Canterbury, Rochester and Margate.
He said it was also quite possible that the original route might have been on a level when it exited with what was now the top floor of a two story maisonette block.
COPYRIGHT Keith Harris