I'm a great fan of audio books and have
a stash of them in various cupboards and draws scattered
throughout my house. Amongst my many favourites is
"Ghost Stories" by M.R. James (1862-1936).
One of the ghostly tales is entitled
the "Ash Tree" which first appeared in print in 1904.
It's about a woman named Mrs. Mothersole, who was
executed for witchcraft at Bury St. Edmunds during the
late 1600s. After her execution the spectre of Mrs.
Mothersole proceeded to wreak havoc on her accuser, the
local squire of a Castringham Hall in Suffolk with
"orrible long legged spider like beasties".
Now as some of you may know there were indeed a number
of witch trails in Bury St. Edmunds during the 17th
century, so I thought I would try to find out if there
was any corroborating evidence for this ghostly tale,
and to ascertain if Castringham Hall in Suffolk actually
existed. My investigations uncovered that many folk are
of the opinion that the village mentioned in the "Ash
Tree" was based on Great Livermere in Suffolk and that
Castringham Hall was based upon Livermere Hall.
M R James coveted this hall when he lived with his
parents in the village of Great Livermere (where his
father was the local rector) but his hope to own it was
never realised and, alas, Livermere Hall is now no more.
Another interesting fact is that the name of the witch
"Mothersole" appears on gravestones in the churchyard at
Great Livermere, so perhaps there was some truth to this
Another tale is "A Vignette" about a boyhood encounter
with a ghost, which appeared to be spying through a hole
in a gate, again quite obviously based on the area of
the park in Great Livermere. As the style differs
considerably from other M R James stories there has been
considerable speculation as to whether M R James was
in-fact the boy mentioned and it was he as a young lad
who had the ghostly encounter.
During an interview with a local lady in 1995 where M R
James was the subject, the interviewee was quite
convinced that James had indeed encountered a ghost in
the village. She went on to say that the village of
Great Livermere has a long standing reputation for being
haunted and she herself had encountered ones of these
ghosts when she was a child. She maintains that
the area is haunted to this day!
However, she did not mention if any of
these ghostly apparitions included long legged beasties!