Did you know that there are four levels of ghostly encounters in Shropshire? First we have “Summat to be sid” [seen]. These are things like ghostly animals, headless pigs, dogs with glowing red eyes—non-human apparitions. If you find yourself faced with a purposeless terror such as a headless ghost or mysterious indelible bloodstains, then you’ve been subjected to a “frittening”. Come face to face with a revenant—a ghost of someone who can’t rest or has unfinished business—and you’ve either met someone who has “come again” or “come again very badly”, depending how malicious the ghost might be. Did you also know that the large hill dominating the area—The Wrekin—was created when a cobbler tricked a vengeful giant into dropping his load of rocks just outside Wellington, instead of using them to destroy Shrewsbury?
The reason we know all this is because of a remarkable woman, Charlotte Sophia Burne, who lived in Edgmond, just down the road from Harper Adams University. If you get the time to go for a walk through Edgmond, look out for this blue plaque on Newport Road, marking her home. Not much is known of her life now, apart from the facts recorded on the plaque: she lived in Edgmond from 1854 until 1875, and became the first woman president of a leaned society—the Folklore Society. Yet she must have been a remarkable woman. At a time when learned societies were dominated by men—and men living in London, to make matters even more difficult for a provincial woman—she not only gained entry to the council of the Folklore Society, but became its president. The work she is most famous for is editing the four-volume “Shropshire Folk-Lore: A Sheaf of Gleanings”. As you can tell from the precision with which she records the different levels of ghostly sightings, she not only collected and wrote down folk-lore, but classified it, showing the hierarchy of beliefs underpinning Shropshire society.
As a writer of historical fiction, I’m fascinated by folklore. If anything can give us a glimpse into the minds and imaginations of the people of the past, it has to be through the tales they told. Most of my stories have been set in Shropshire and the Welsh Marches, so I’ve turned to Burne’s work many times, to help build up the layers of the world my heroes and heroines inhabit. Even though she’s unknown today, many writers are indebted to her, and that’s why I’ve included her in this mini-series on notable literary connections of this part of Shropshire.
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.