The Runcorn Dragon

In 1821, the writer Heinrich Heine stated: “Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings." Just over a century afterwards, the Nazis did exactly that. Going centuries back in time, the Apostle Paul supervised the burning of all the ‘strange books’ on the occult at Ephesus, and earlier than this, in 47 BC, we have the most famous general in history, Julius Caesar, burning scrolls of ancient knowledge at the Great Library of Alexandria. In the long history of human stupidity mountains of books and papyrus scrolls containing information on the lost secret wisdom of the ancients have been burned in orgies of insanity, fanaticism and religious fervour. All that remains of some of these incinerated manuscripts of old are legends, transmitted by the spoken word, and the following tale is derived from such folklore.

After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th Century, there were many invasions. Norsemen, Danes and Saxons arrived in waves on our shores, and in those times of bloodshed and troubles, King Vortigern of Britain fled to Wales during the battles and was later murdered. In the wars that followed, a man named Arthur arose to lead the Britons in battle against the marauding Saxons, Picts and other invaders, and he later became the Over King of Britain. The rest of course, is history. The rise and fall of Camelot, the tragic disbandment of the 150 Knights of the Round Table, and the banishment of Merlin at Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The ‘Once and Future King’ died around 537 AD, and was taken by boat from the Wirral peninsula to the Isle of Man, known to the ancient Celts as Avalon. Wirral at that time was largely a forest, and parts of it were owned by Arthur’s nephew, Sir Gawain.

When the boat returned from Avalon, one of the pallbearers, a mystical Mercian knight named Jareen was summoned to a village close to where modern Runcorn now exists. Some accounts say it was the village of Cuerdley. A dragon known as the Morgawr (pronounced "Morgwah") was terrorising the villagers and carrying off sheep and cattle to a cave on the banks of the Mersey.

Sir Jareen and his faithful muscular Great Dane Brennos – who wore spiked armour - arrived at the village he found a farmstead ablaze and the blackened charred corpses of soldiers who had tried to fight Morgawr scattered about. Sir Jareen got farmers to dig a hole in a field near to the village, and close to the pit, five sheep were tethered to a post. The rest of the cattle and sheep of the village were hidden in a nearby wood. The hole was covered with a lattice of wooden slats and canvas, and Sir Jareen hid beneath it in his full battle armour and double-edged sword at the ready.

As the sun was setting, an ominous silhouette appeared in the sky, and although it was some distance away, the flapping of its wings was evident. It was the Morgawr, and within the minute it was circling the village, uttering dreadful cries and blasting the air with foul-smelling gouts of methane flame. People barricaded themselves indoors. The dragon spied the drove of sheep and dived through the air to seize them. Jareen felt the ground shake, and he pulled away the canvas and saw he was beneath the belly of the beast. He rammed the sword repeatedly into the Morgawr and its groans were deafening. Thick blood filled the pit and Jareen was almost drowned, but he managed to squeeze past the scaly underside of the dragon. His armoured Great Dane, Brennos, was savaging the head of the dragon, while torrents of flame narrowly missed the surviving sheep and incinerated trees. Sir Jareen thrust his sword between the Morgawr’s eyes and the flames ceased and the creature died. A cheer went up from the villagers, and Sir Jareen and Brennos were soon on the road again, in search of other adventures.
************************************************** ***************************

The Thing in Berkeley Square
by Tom Slemen

A weird "thing" haunts 50 Berkeley Square in Mayfair, London. Other ghosts include a strange, weird girl and a terrifying man with a gaping mouth.

Long before Mayfair's Berkeley Square was synonymous with nightingales (thanks to Eric Maschwitz's song), the place was invariably associated with a rather nasty ghost that was alleged to inhabit number 50, a four-storey townhouse that dated back to the 1740s. It was once the London home of Prime minister George Canning (1770-1827), but it seems very unlikely that the well-documented supernatural goings-on at number 50 are anything to do with his spirit, as Canning died at Chiswick. No one seems to know just what haunted number 50, because few who encountered it lived to tell the tale, and those who did survive were always left insane by the supernatural confrontation.
All we can do is piece together the fragments of anecdotes and accounts that concern the Berkeley Square entity.

In 1840, the 20-year-old dandy and notorious rake Sir Robert Warboys heard the eerie rumours about the Berkeley Square Thing in a Holborn tavern one night, and laughingly dismissed the tales as 'unadulterated poppycock'.

Sir Robert's friends disagreed with him, and dared him to spend a night in the haunted second-floor room in Berkeley Square.

Warboys raised his flagon of ale in the air and announced: 'I wholeheartedly accept your preposterous harebrained challenge!'

That same night, Sir Robert visited the haunted premises to arrange an all-night vigil with the landlord. The landlord tried to talk Sir Robert out of the dare, but the young man refused to listen, and demanded to be put up for the night in the haunted room. The landlord finally gave in to Sir Robert's demands, but stipulated two conditions; if the young man saw anything 'unearthly' he was to pull a cord that would ring a bell in the landlord's room below. Secondly, Sir Robert would have to be armed with a pistol throughout the vigil. The young libertine thought the conditions were absurd, but agreed to them just to get the landlord out of his hair.

The landlord handed Warboys a pistol and left as a clock in the room chimed the hour of midnight. Sir Robert sat at a table in the candlelit room and waited for the 'Thing' to put in an appearance.

Forty-five minutes after midnight, the landlord was startled out of his sleep by the violent jangling of the bell. A single gunshot in the room above echoed through the house. The landlord raced upstairs and found Sir Robert sitting on the floor in the corner of the room with a smoking pistol in his hand. The young man had evidently died from traumatic shock, for his eyes were bulged, and his lips were curled from his clenched teeth. The landlord followed the line of sight from the dead man's terrible gaze and traced it to a single bullet hole in the opposite wall. He quickly deduced that Warboys had fired at the 'Thing', to no avail.

Three years after Warboys' death, Edward Blunden and Robert Martin, two sailors from Portsmouth, wandered into Berkeley Square in a drunken state and noticed the 'To Let' sign at number 50. They had squandered most of their wages on drink and couldn't afford lodgings, so they broke into number 50. Finding the lower floors too damp, the sailors staggered upstairs and finally settled down on the floor of the infamous room.

It proved to be a serious mistake. Blunden told his friend he felt nervous in the room, and felt a 'presence', but Martin told his shipmate he'd been at sea too long, and was soon snoring.

A little over an hour later, the door of the room burst open, and the enormous shadowy figure of a man floated towards the sailors. Martin woke up and found himself unable to move. He was paralysed with fear. Blunden tried to get to his feet, but the entity seized him by the throat with its cold, misty-looking hands and started to choke him.

Martin suddenly gained enough courage to enable him to spring to his feet. He tried to confront the apparition, but was so horrified by its deformed face and body, he found himself fleeing from the house. He encountered a policeman in the square outside and told him of the vapoury assailant that was throttling his friend. The bemused policeman followed the distressed sailor into number 50 and when the two men entered the room up on the second floor, there was no sign of Blunden. They searched the entire house, and found the missing sailor's body in the basement. His neck had been broken and his face was contorted in a terror-stricken grimace.

Documentary evidence for the aforementioned incidents is very scant, but the eminent psychical researcher Harry Price unearthed a great deal of data on the Berkeley Square bogeyman while investigating the case in the 1920s. Price scoured periodicals and newspapers from the mid 18th century onwards for a reference to the ghost of Berkeley Square, and discovered that in the 1790s, a gang of counterfeiters and coin-clippers had used number 50 as their headquarters. Price speculated that the criminals had invented the ghost to disguise the true nature of the bumps in the night: the printing presses churning out bank notes. But the theory could not explain how the ghost was heard decades after the counterfeit gang had been detected and thrown into prison. Price discovered more intriguing references to the ghost. In 1840, several neighbours of number 50 Berkeley Square heard a medley of strange sounds emanating from the haunted house; bumps on the stairs, dragging noises as if heavy objects were being moved around, jangling of signal bells below the stairs, and the tramping of footsteps. Price read that one of the braver neighbours who had grown weary of the noisy spectre obtained a key and dashed into the house one night during the creepy cacophony. There was no one in the house. Down in the kitchen, the signal bells were still bouncing on their curled springs.

Price found another thought-provoking account of the ghost in Notes and Queries, a magazine published during the 1870s. An article in the publication by the writer W. E. Howlett stated: The mystery of Berkeley Square still remains a mystery. The story of the haunted house in Mayfair can be recapitulated in a few words; the house contains at least one room of which the atmosphere is supernaturally fatal to body and mind. A girl saw, heard and felt such horror in it that she went mad, and never recovered sanity enough to tell how or why.

A gentleman, a disbeliever in ghosts, dared to sleep in number 50 and was found a corpse in the middle of the floor after frantically ringing for help in vain. Rumour suggests other cases of the same kind, all ending in death, madness, or both as a result of sleeping, or trying to sleep in that room. The very party walls of the house, when touched, are found saturated with electric horror. It is uninhabited save by an elderly man and his wife who act as caretakers; but even these have no access to the room. This is kept locked, the key being in the hands of a mysterious and seemingly nameless person who comes to the house once every six months, locks up the elderly couple in the basement, and then unlocks the room and occupies himself in it for hours.

Price continued to research the history of number 50, and learned that the house had been empty for remarkably long periods, yet the address was one of the most desirable ones in London, so why had the house been left vacant for so long? Had the rumours scared off prospective occupants, or had the ghost itself frightened them away? Price could not answer this question, nor could he draw any firm conclusions to the whole case. His final surmise was that a particularly nasty poltergeist had been active at number 50 in the 1840s, but doubted that the 'thing' was still at large.

But there have been many ghostly encounters at number 50 in recent times. In January 1937, Mrs Mary Balfour, an octogenarian lady of a stately Scottish family, moved into a flat in Charles Street, which lies adjacent to Berkeley Square. One night Mrs Balfour's maid summoned her to come to the kitchen situated at the rear of the flat. The maid was staring intently through the window at the rear of a house diagonally opposite. It was the rear of Berkeley Square. The maid drew Mrs Balfour's attention to one of the rear windows of number 50, where a man stood dressed in a silver-coloured coat and breeches. He wore a periwig and had a drawn, morose ashen face. The two women thought he had been to some New Year fancy dress party, because his clothes were centuries out of date. The man moved away from the window, and Mrs Balfour and her maid were later shocked to learn from a doctor that they had sighted one of the ghosts of number 50 Berkeley Square. The doctor told them that number 50 was currently unoccupied, but workmen in the building two months back had seen the phantom of a little girl in a kilt on the stairs.

Stories of the haunted house continue to circulate today in Mayfair. Late at night, faces are said to peep out from the upper windows of number 50, which is now occupied by a firm of antiquarian book sellers. Will the 'thing' ever make a comeback? Only time will tell.
************************************************** **

Resurrection Mary

In the autumn of 1995, a Wavertree couple moved into a beautiful old Victorian house near Druids Cross Gardens in the Calderstones area of suburban Liverpool. In the daytime, the house and garden seemed so picturesque and quiet, but when darkness fell, a series of supernatural occurrences sent the couple in search of a ghost researcher. The couple said that on most nights after 10 p.m., they heard the chilling sound of something being dragged up the gravel path outside. Whenever this sound was heard, the couple's dog, Arthur, would become hysterical and run upstairs in a terrible state. The couple's cat, Jinjee, on the other hand, always went to the window and stared out into the darkness with a fascinated look, as if she could see something. Jinjee was much braver than her owners, because the couple who had just moved into the house never dared to look outside when they heard the eerie dragging sound. They just sat it out and held onto each other as they heard the 'thing' outside crawl up to the doorstep and rap on the door for a while.

The ghost researcher turned up and taped the sounds, and on one occasion, he caught an actual glimpse of a fuzzy white object on the gravel path and tried to photograph it, but nothing showed when the picture was developed. One night when the dragging sound was heard, the ghost researcher went outside and actually saw the pieces of gravel being dragged along with the invisible object. He researched the address of the house in Calderstones, determined to see if anything had happened there. The ghostbuster passed the address to a circle of local historians, and one of them found a piece of information that threw light on the strange haunting.

In 1750 on the site of the couple's Calderstones home, a doctor named Charles Johnson had an affair with a young girl named Mary Jenkins. Mary was only 18 but was exceptionally beautiful. She had long blonde hair, big blue eyes and pale delicate skin. She was uneducated and worked as a maid for the doctor, but he had a fling with her and she became pregnant. Doctor Johnson's wife died and young Mary said that meant they could now be married and tell the world about their love, but Dr Johnson wanted to marry a wealthy woman named Georgina Clayton who had recently inherited her late father's estates. Mary Jenkins pleaded with Doctor Johnson and she got down on her knee and kept saying "Please say you will marry me. I'm having your child."

But Johnson threw a tantrum and hit her across the face. Mary got to her feet, sobbing, and said, "Then I'll tell everyone about our love and our baby."

Johnson became infuriated and reached for the poker near the fireplace, and he struck his young lover on the head with it. An old widow named Hannah Cleveland heard the screams and went to Johnson's cottage and peeped through the window. She saw Johnson bending over Mary Jenkins, who looked lifeless, and the tearful doctor was saying, "Mary my love...what have I done? Please open your eyes."

The Widow Cleveland went to the local vicar and told him of the dreadful deed, and he and a mob of locals turned up at the cottage, but there was no sign of young Mary. The poker was examined but had evidently been cleaned and had no blood on it. Doctor Johnson denied the attack had taken place and said he had not set eyes upon the maid Mary Jenkins for over two days. He said the maid often went missing and was believed to be staying with a lover. Johnson said the Widow Cleveland was mentally unbalanced and prone to hallucinating since the death of her husband, but Mrs Cleveland repeated her story. The vicar said that as there was no evidence of any murder, he could do nothing, but tongues in the community started wagging as the weeks passed without a sign of Mary Jenkins. Many believed that the Widow Cleveland had been telling the truth and that Johnson had disposed of Mary's body.

When Georgina Clayton, the woman Dr Johnson was to marry, heard about Mary's strange disappearance, she asked him if he had killed her. Johnson became enraged and said, "I swear before almighty God! I only wish Mary Jenkins would return so she could prove my innocence! Please believe me, I have nothing to do with Mary Jenkins's disappearance."

"Oh, I'm sorry I doubted you Charles." Georgina told her upset fiance, and a week later, the couple were married and enjoyed a short honeymoon in Scotland. When the couple returned, they found backs were turned upon them and the gossipers would openly point Johnson out when he passed by in the street.

"They still maintain that you have something to do with the maid's disappearance." said Georgina, one stormy night at the cottage.
Dr Johnson turned out all the lights and lit a candle. He took Georgina by the hand and led her up to the bedroom saying, "I've told you my dear, By the heaven's above us, I wish Mary Jenkins would return to prove my innocence."

At that precise moment, the couple heard a noise outside the cottage. Dr Johnson went to the bedroom window and opened it. Down in the garden was a horrible sight. In the moonlight, the half-decomposed body of Mary Jenkins was dragging itself along the path towards the house on its stomach. Johnson stared down at the ghoulish figure which looked up at him and reached out with a bony skeletal hand. The face had eyes set in large circular black sockets, and the girls cheeks had collapsed in. The mouth opened and a faint voice said, "Charles, I love you."

Johnson slammed the window shut and drew the curtains. Georgina asked him what he had witnessed, and Johnson started to tremble. His hand shook so bad he had to put the candlestick down. He ran to the bed and hid under the bedclothes like a frightened child. "What's the matter Charles?" Georgina asked, and suddenly flung back the curtains. She looked out the window. "No!!" shouted Dr Johnson from his bed. "Don't look out!"
But Georgina did, and she recoiled in horror at the sight of the rotting corpse, which had now dragged itself along the path to the front doorstep. It's bony fingers rapped and scratched on the door. Georgina became suspicious about the identity of the crawling corpse, and she turned and looked at her new husband and said, "That is Mary Jenkins is it not?"

Dr Johnson begged her to come away from the window, but Georgina started to scream at the idea of being in the same room as a murderer and also at the sight of the re-animated corpse. She ran screaming downstairs and left via the back door. She told the vicar and a local magistrate, and they headed to Johnson's cottage with a mob who were hungry for justice, but they were cheated, because Johnson was found sitting up in bed with a look of terror on his face. He was dead, but his bulging eyes were fixed on something; they stared in horror at the floor beside the bed, but there was nothing there. Nor was there any corpse on the path outside, but a subsequent search of the garden revealed the shallow grave of the missing and badly decomposed Mary Jenkins and her unborn child. For many years the Johnson cottage remained empty because people who lived there often reported hearing the sound of 'Resurrection Mary' dragging herself from the grave in the garden. The couple who recently moved into the house in Calderstones were naturally horrified at the ghost researcher's chilling discovery...

©Tom Slemen 1997. From Haunted Liverpool 3

www.slemen.com/ (external - login to view)