Stephen Worsley – Of Things That Go Bump In The Night

Back in the early/mid 60’s my friend Terry Day and I camped on several occasions at Barrels Hall for the entire night waiting for Lady Luxborough to make her appearance. On those occasions the only event worthy of note was brother Philip ambushing our camp at the bewitching hour and scaring us both shitless. As a result of Philip’s intervention we both tailed it home with much flatulence after having consumed a hearty feast of Heinz baked beans cooked over our camp fire. I do know the parents of Rosemary Bishop (Phil’s old flame) saw the phantom carriage on several times as it speeded over the humped back bridge adjacent to their house (on the road to Hurst’s pit where I used to fish). The only experience I have of the life thereafter so to speak was when I was at Solihull Tech and lived at the vicarage in Ullenhall. At that point in time I was banished to take up a bedroom and residence in the attic. At the time of my experience Mum and Dad were on holiday in the Bournemouth flat and I was alone in the house. It was quite late when I retired to my attic room and was rather imbibed with a large quantity of Whitbread barley wine, at the time having returned from my revelling in some local hostelry. Might have been the Winged Spur, although Dad expressly discouraged our fouling on one’s doorstep so to speak. I fell into a very deep sleep. In the early hours of the morning, without explanation, I woke up to see the apparition of a very young man dresses in a khaki uniform and Sam Brown belt standing at the foot of my bed. He gave me such a serene, kind smile and as if on a bed of air floated passed me and disappeared into the darkness. A strange, faint but very distinct smell of cordite mixed with surgical chloroform pervaded the room.

The strange thing was that he did not frighten me and I stayed perfectly calm. I think it was his smile that calmed me and also told me I had nothing to fear. He looked such a kind and gentle man.

Weary of telling Dad and being ridiculed, I approached my old pal Mrs Friend.

On recalling my tale she seemed not in the least bit surprised. Her only reply was “You saw the son of Rev Pelton who was the Vicar here many years ago and if you go to the war memorial you will find your answer”. Sure enough and very intrigued I went to the memorial in the center of Ullenhall, just opposite Mrs Sparrows Post Office. Among the many names in memory of the dead fallen in the Great War (1914-1918) was that of Lance Corporal Pelton who died in 1916 aged 17 years in the service of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Light Infantry. This really aroused my interest and I went to see old Mr Richmond who was Dads church warden, a good friend to me and had lived his whole life in Ullenhall. Indeed Giles Pelton and Leslie Richmond had been childhood friends. I learnt from Les that Giles had never been much good at school and had joined the army on leaving school (today in all probability he would have been diagnosed as being dyslexic). In the winter of 1916 whilst bravely storming a German machine gun emplacement during the bloody slaughter of the Battle of the Somme he was mortally wounded by a bullet from a Mauser of a German sniper. He succumbed to his injury some time later in a nearby field hospital. Hence the faint smell of cordite on receiving his wound and the smell of surgical chloroform when he finally exited this life.

Funny thing is that the day after I made my acquaintance with William Pelton I had to sit examinations at Solihull Tech. Needless to say I had been a tad lazy that year and had to resort to “spotting” and trying to anticipate potential questions. Irrespective of a throbbing hang over I remained amazingly calm and composed. All the questions were those that I had spotted for the exam. I flew through those exams like a dose of salts and gained distinctions in every one of them. My success in those exams assured me of a place at Coventry Tech and thereafter on to the University of Coventry and eventually the gold mines of South Africa. In retrospect, he must have felt a great deal of empathy for that young lad awakened from his sleep who, like himself was not too academically inclined and decided to give him a chance. Although I never saw the apparition of Lady Luxborough I did have the opportunity of meeting her in person one summers day in 1966. But that is another story.