A Haunting In Newbury: The Phantom Pig Of Hoe Benham

When an artist in Hoe Benham claimed to see the spirit of a phantom pig, the village inundated them with stories of earlier sightings and the story of a suicide, the events are marked as folklore in the small village near Newbury,

The phantom pig of Laburnum Villa
The phantom pig of Laburnum Villa

Some of the great eastern religions believe that human beings can be reincarnated as animals as punishment for evil ways in this life, and although western creeds reject this idea of rebirth, the concept does find an echo in the common belief that some ghosts - particularly those of suicides - occasionally manifest themselves in the shape of a beast. An example of this type of haunting comes from Hoe Benham, near Newbury.

At the beginning of the century, Laburnham Villa at Hoe Benham was owned by two young artists, Oswald Pittman and Reginald Waud, who on the morning of the 2 November 1907 were painting in the garden studio while they waited for the arrival of a friend, Miss Clarissa Miles, who lived nearby.

At about 10 am, Pittman went up to the cottage to give the jug to the milkman who had just arrived, and looking along the lane that led to the house saw Miss Miles approaching with easel and palette, and much to his surprise, accompanied by a very large white pig with an abnormally long snout. When told of the fact, Waud rather tartly commented that he hoped Clarissa would leave her new friend outside and would close the gate securely as she knew very well the pride they took in the garden.

A few minutes later when Miss Miles arrived, she was alone and was rather taken aback when she heard what Pittman had seen, for she said, if she had not actually seen the creature she must have heard its grunting and pattering. She was, however, sufficiently disturbed to retrace her steps towards the village to search for the animal but found nothing: children who had been playing in the lane as she passed said that they had seen no pig, and the following morning the milkman signed a statement that Miss Miles had certainly been alone when he saw her. It was not surprising that there were no animals loose as the whole area was under a swine fever order, and any straying livestock was liable to be destroyed.

Pittman and Waud left for London soon afterward but returned in February to continue painting. It seems that up to this point there had been little to no contact between them and the villagers - as townees, artists, and two young men living together they were bound to excite suspicion - but the tale of the phantom pig broke the reserve.

They were inundated with accounts of earlier animal apparitions which it was believed locally stemmed from a farmer named Tommy King whose property had bordered the lane and who had committed suicide in one of the barns. The farm and its outbuildings had been demolished in 1892 when the land was sold. But though his home had vanished, Tommy King still seemed to be very much in evidence. The parish registers record the deaths of two Tommy Kings, one in 1741 and the other in 1753, and it is not known which of them is responsible for the hauntings.

One elderly villager, John Barrett, told Pittman and Waud how as a lad in 1850 he had been returning with seven or eight men in a hay wagon along the lane, when near King's Farm the horses suddenly went wild. Everyone in the wagon saw a white shape dancing above the horses' heads. "This white thing kept a-bobbin' and a-bobbin", and the "hosses kept a-snortin' and a-snortin" until they reached a spot where two gates faced each other across the lane. Here the white shape floated into a field and vanished.

At the same spot in 1873, John Barrett saw in broad daylight a creature "summat like a sheep" pawing the ground in the middle of the road. He hit at it with his stick, but the apparition disappeared before the blow reached it. Albert Thorne reported that in the autumn of 1904 he heard a buzzing noise like "a whizzin" of leaves and saw "summat like a calf knuckled down". The animal was about two and a half feet high and five feet long with glowing eyes, but though he kept his gaze on it, it gradually faded from sight.

Another unnamed witness said that on a bright moonlit night in January 1905, he saw a large black animal which he assumed to be the curate's dog near the gates in the lane. He was about to grab it and return it to its owner when it seemed to turn into a black donkey that reared on its hind legs before vanishing.

With these stories fresh in their minds Pittman, Waud, and Clarissa Miles decided to walk the length of the lane to the main A4 road after evensong to look more closely at the places mentioned. Although they probably did not expect to experience anything it was obvious as they passed the site of the King's Farm that Miss Miles became extremely distressed. She said that she felt the overwhelming presence of an awful being charged with malice and evil towards them and at the same time a terrifying physical sensation of suffocation.

On their return, they heard an "unearthly scream" apparently from the middle of the track near Laburnham Villa, and white and silent they hurried back to the house. Once inside and secure, they discussed the frightening sound, which became even more terrifying when Pittman assured them that it had occurred exactly at the spot where he had seen the phantom pig.

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