Funeral Home

Despite being Midlanders, or perhaps because of it, Mavis and Betsy do love to be beside the seaside. It’s not just the nice girls who love a sailor, you know. On a recent holiday in Devon, Mavis tired of bingo and pig racing and went in search of stories. Wedged alongside the Temperance Steps in Brixham, she found Ye Olde Coffin House. As a woman who enjoys a bier from time to time, the latter of course held far more appeal than the former.

The Ghosts of Brixham

 

Ye Olde Coffin House takes its name from its sinister shape. According to Brixham folklore, the creepily constructed property was erected by a fisherman after the father of the woman that he wanted to marry told him that, ‘he’d rather see her in a coffin’. Undeterred, the chap built the house to resemble that very thing, and the father, impressed with his ingenuity relented. The couple lived there happily ever after until death did them part which is possibly the least believable element of this story.

Coffin House Brixham

Now, this may well be a red herring but there was a ‘Coffin’ family in this little fishing town in the 1600s. In 1642, Tristam Coffin left Brixham for Boston, and along with eight other men bought the island of Nantucket for thirty pounds plus two beaver hats. Patsy spends more on her Halloween decorations each year. Is there a possible explanation for for the origins of the house here perhaps? As much as Mavis likes the thought of the Coffin House being an architectural rebus, it seems unlikely. Despite suggestions that it dates back to the first part of the 17th century, and was the first place that William of Orange stayed in after first setting foot in England in November 1688, its Grade II listing description suggests it was probably built sometime in the early 19th century. However,  that isn’t to say the current building didn’t replace an earlier one on the site but without trawling the historical records, it’s impossible to deduce if there is any connection between this unusually shaped house and this unusually named family.

Fressingfield Baptist Church (C) Adrian Cable
Fressingfield Baptist Church
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Adrian Cable – geograph.org.uk/p/1096058

Until fairly recently, The Coffin House had a sign outside proclaiming it as the only one in England. It is not the only coffin shaped building in Britain however. There is a ‘Coffin Mill’ in Dundee, named for its structure rather than its line of business. The spooky doesn’t end with the shape here though, as on the night of September 4th 1945, a crowd gathered to see ‘The White Lady’ after news spread that she had returned to the mill she’d been haunting off and on since her death there seventy years prior.   According to the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Ye Olde Coffin House also inspired George Spratt to build his new Baptist Chapel in Fressingfield, Suffolk in 1835 in the same shape to act as a bricks and mortar reminder of mortality.  Back in Brixham, the replacement of  ye olde sign on the Coffin House with one that says ‘Destiny’, could also be interpreted as a memento mori in its own unintended way.

Sources: 

Plymouth and Exeter Gazette Friday 9th August 1907

http://fressingfield.suffolk.cloud/organisations-in-fressingfield/baptist-chapel/

https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101298287-ye-olde-coffin-house-brixham

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The Signal-Box Man

In March 1956, the spectre of a supernatural Station Master was supposedly seen on the steps of a signal box in Chesterfield. Forty people gathered at the disused Market Station to try and spot the spook after factory workers and members of the town’s operatic society all claimed to have seen a white human shape descending the stairs and then disappearing. Peter Brown, aged 12, reported that he and his friends had seen the ghost which was ‘white, in the shape of a man but not touching the ground’ and that their torchlight had gone through the spectre before it disappeared. In circumstances of this kind, who you gonna call?

Ideally, not 57 year old Henry Hall who managed to not only get himself arrested but also mistaken for the ghost he was there to hunt. Hall was spotted in the signal box in the small hours of 21st March, ‘awaiting the arrival of a ghost which is supposed to have been seen in this vicinity’, by PC Rex Brookes who arrested him for trespassing on railway property. At some point during the proceedings, Mr Hall placed his coat over his head, causing another man to shout, ‘It’s the ghost!’. Detective- Sergeant Sydney Martin of the British Transport Police hoped that Mr Hall’s case would act as a deterrent to other would-be ghost hunters.

The signal box’s ghost story came to an end the following summer when it was destroyed by fire. Chesterfield Market Place station, which had been closed to passengers since December 1951, was demolished in April 1973.

Rail tracks

 

 

The Head in the Hedge

”The mystery of the skull found in a hedgerow at Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, has been solved’, announced The Birmingham Post on Monday 21st February 1966. The police were told that some years back it had been won by a girl on a church outing who had thrown it away.  Satisfied with this explanation, the police decided to donate the skull to the town’s Technical College for use in medical demonstrations.

Mavis and Betsy however, are not satisfied with this explanation. The Post gives only these bare bones of the story and raises more questions than it answers. Where, or perhaps more accurately, who did the skull come from in the first place? How did the girl win it – at some sort of sinister variation on a coconut shy? A nut shy, if you will. And even more peculiarly, how were police so sure that no skulduggery had taken place here?

Whilst we await an update from a resident of Burton who has offered to take a look at the newspaper archive to see if he can dig up anything more on the matter, Mavis would like to inform readers that the only thing with even a potential whiff of scandal that she has found in a hedgerow is a pair of gentleman’s underpants somewhere near Lichfield but considers some mysteries to be better left unsolved.

Pants in hedge

Source:

The Birmingham Post 21st February 1966

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