The Lady of the Pond
Before the Church sold the Old Rectory, the last person to live there in an official capacity was Reverend Woolsey. He died in 1913 and legend has it that the house and its history are what killed him.
It has always boasted a reputation for ghostly goings on. Stories of the Lonely Nun and the Headless Coachman have haunted Rothwell for centuries. Woolsey, in a bravely ironic effort to convince his parishioners that ghosts didn’t really exist, was the first and last person to research the phenomena that blighted the house.
The rectory itself dates back to the late eighteenth century and is built in the grounds of an old Benedictine monastery. Less than a mile to the north, in Rushmede Woods, you can find the ruins of what used to be a nunnery.
In the Middle Ages monasteries and nunneries were popular with parents who had to feed too many children and so often the novices didn’t really want to be cloistered inside these walls of faith and silence. And there was the terrible temptation having a group of likeminded but oppositely sexed people almost within earshot.
In those days the rules against fraternisation between the young novices were draconian and the punishments harsh beyond reasonable measure. A monk caught having romantic liaisons with a nun could be hanged while the nun would be “sent away for her own good”. It was common knowledge that being “sent away” meant drowning in the pond using the old ducking stool. Anyone found guilty of aiding and abetting the lovers would be sentenced to death by beheading.
Despite these threats and bafflements human nature sometimes wins out. And it never won out more tragically than in the case of young Martha Godwin.
Martha was of good stock, from a rich family which had close ties to the crown. She was the eldest daughter, which implies that she chose to become a nun, rather than being forced.
Reverend Woolsey uncovered two more pieces of information pertaining to Martha.
The first was her death on 31st October 1506 – the day before her twenty-first birthday. The entry in the parish records describes in grisly detail how she was found “drooned and blyted in ye old fishe pond.” Somewhat chillingly, it is marked as an accidental death.
A few days later, she was named as a “base fornicatrix” in the execution records describing the beheading of the coachman Jack Tally.
Reverend Woolsey discovered and pieced together all these facts and came up with a convincing narrative.
Martha came to the nunnery of her own free will, but before long had fallen in love with one of the Benedictine novices. He remains nameless in the court and parish documents. It’s impossible to know how long this love blossomed in secret, but it seems obvious that eventually, with the help of the local coachman, plans were made to flee from their respective cloisters and start a new life together.
Why and how these plans went awry is also a mystery, but Woolsey gives two explanations for the failure. The first is bad luck or just poor planning. The lovers were discovered and brought swiftly to the justice of the day. In his notes, he dismisses this as unlikely, due to the “continued nature of the supernatural effects perceived at dusk”. This is particularly striking given his initial, sceptical reason for his research.
The second explanation he gives is more unpleasant. Perhaps, because the monk is nameless, he reported his affair to his superiors and they set a trap for the hapless nun and the coachman. Woolsey seems to favour this because it fits with the sinister aspect of the apparition which roams near the pond every Halloween. A young nun wanders aimlessly around and around the pond. It seems fearful of the water, yet fascinated. Gradually it grows more agitated until it begins to moan its anguish into the night.
“Betrayer!” This is the only clear word amidst a babble of a thousand others that carry on the wind, sometimes as far as the house, sometimes further. It is said that if a man hears that voice on All Saints Eve he shall not live to see the morning.
The Reverend Woolsey was found dead in the bedroom that overlooks the pond on the 1st November 1913. His doors had to be broken down because they were locked from the inside and he had placed heavy furniture against them.
This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo effort “The Book of Lies”. I’m currently on 4200 words and I should have written about 8000 by now.
Any thoughts, encouragements or comments are always welcome.