A Haunting In Somerset: The Hunchback Spirit of Westbury-sub-Mendip

Mrs Eileen Alford from Somerset, England, claimed that in 1965 her property in Westbury-sub-Mendip was haunted by the spirit of a hunchbacked old woman who had previously occupied the property.

Westbury Sub Mendip Ghost
The property at Stoneleigh Cottages that Mrs Alford claimed was haunted by the previous occupant

There does not seem to have been, at least on the surface, any great trauma in the life of an old lady who lived in a cottage at Westbury-sub-Mendip, near Wells, yet her apparition seems to have appeared there almost nightly for a period of over six months in 1966. In December 1965 Mrs Eileen Toomey went to join her husband who had taken a job on a farm at Westbury-sub-Mendip, and who was living at Stoneleigh Cottages, a pair of agricultural houses probably built in the early nineteenth century but recently modernised with indoor sanitation to replace the traditional outside closet. At the front of the houses a garden wall blocked much of the view from the downstairs rooms, but from the bedroom window one could see straight along the lane to the traffic on the busy Wells to Cheddar road.

Soon after 10.30 as she lay in bed on her first night in the cottage, Eileen Toomey heard the back door rattling, and assuming it had been left unfastened and was swinging in the wind, she switched on the light and went down to lock it. Moving quietly to avoid waking her two-month-old baby who was asleep in the cot by the window, she crept downstairs only to find the door shut, locked, and without any movement that could have caused the noise. A little puzzled, she went back to bed making a mental note to see if there was anything outside that might have caused the sounds. A search in the morning revealed nothing, and the matter was dismissed - until about 10.30 the following night when the now definite clicking of the latch and the shaking of the door began again. Once again Eileen inspected it, but there was nothing about the door, or in the dining room, that could possibly have been responsible.

After getting out of bed for five nights in a row only to find the downstairs silent and motionless when she reached it, Eileen decided that some oddity in the building itself must be responsible and that however annoying and disturbing the noises might be she must put up with them for their brief, but mysteriously regular performance. And having made this decision, the following night she did not switch on the light but lay awake in the darkness, slightly tensed, as ten-thirty approached.

Then, as on the previous nights, came the rattling from below. It died away, and in the taut silence that followed, Eileen heard something she had not noticed before - the sound of quiet footsteps on the stairs. She turned round in bed automatically to face the door, but was shocked to disbelief when an elderly woman with a pronounced stoop and a longish skirt crossed the room to the window, where she stood silent and still, apparently bending at the end of the cot. From the first instant of its appearance there was no doubt about the phantom nature of the figure, for it was, Eileen said, all in reverse, like the negative of a black and white photograph: the light flesh tones of the face and hands were black, and the skirt a dusky grey. Eileen did not know how long the apparition remained because in sheer terror she hid under the blankets, and when at length she peered out, the room was in the normal darkness of midwinter with the cot vaguely silhouetted against the slightly less opaque blackness outside.

Some days later the neighbour asked across the garden if Eileen was settling in all right: she replied that apart from the ghost she was comfortable enough. The neighbour seemed very surprised and asked what had happened, but could offer no explanation. Some days later, however, the two women met again, and the neighbour revealed that the corporate village memory had thrown up some disturbing information. Some years earlier, it seemed, the cottage had been occupied by a middle-aged farm worker whose wife had a deformity that gave her a hunchbacked appearance. Probably because of this she tended to spend most of her time indoors, sitting at the side of the front bedroom window where she could see people moving freely about the world.

Her husband normally went to bed early because of his work, but she did not usually follow until about 10.30, invariably making the inconvenient but essential journey to the outside lavatory before she did so. One morning her husband woke up to find his wife absent, and her place obviously not slept in. Alarmed, he hurried downstairs and found her lying dead in the outside toilet, where she had collapsed and died the previous night. Although the story was frightening enough, it was a relief to Eileen: she knew now that what she had thought was an ominous figure crouching over her baby was the result of the poor woman's deformity, and that far from being filled with malevolence and perhaps possessiveness, she was only returning to the one place where she could spend her passing time feeling secure and at peace. Eileen Toomey said that until she left Stoneleigh Cottages in May 1966, the apparition was almost a nightly visitor, and although the instinctive apprehension of the supernatural never completely left her, there was no longer the initial paralysing dread: indeed, she grew to feel that she could not go to sleep until the old lady, still in negative form, had come in and crossed to the window to see what people and traffic hurry along the road, even though it was deserted and obscured by night.

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