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This October, local author Zowie Swan will be sharing 31 Hallowe’en tales with Blackpool Social Club, sourced from our local area. The pieces will be based on archive reports and eyewitness accounts, as well as the local folklore of Blackpool, the Fylde Coast, and Lancashire.

Located on Stocks Lane, opposite the sleepy Robins Lane, Carleton Crematorium and its adjacent necropolis Carleton Cemetery occupies a huge tract of land straddling Poulton, Blackpool, and Bispham.

Built in 1935 by Blackpool Borough architect, J C Robinson, it is one of the oldest crematoriums in the country. Robinson based his design on his interpretation of the ancient Persian Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Known as the Cemetery of the Stars, Carlton is the final resting place of Beatrix Potter (cremated there), the famous Italian clown Charlie Cairoli, and everyone’s favourite Northern battle-axe Ena Sharples (Violet Carson).

Carleton Crematorium and Cemetery is a place of peaceful remembrance, on the surface nothing more than a dignified and stately space to say goodbye to loved ones, favoured by dog walkers and those seeking quiet reflection. However, as with most places in a county as old as Lancashire, all is not as it first seems.

Harry Hodges and the Green-Faced Ghoul

Harry Hodges was a local man, hailing from Layton. He was a taxi driver by profession. One fateful evening in 1936, shortly after the Crematorium had been built, Harry picked up a fare at Blackpool North Station. His fare, a young woman travelling alone, directed him to Robins Lane in Carleton. Thinking nothing of it, Harry dutifully obeyed and carried his fare over the Carleton Crossing and up to Robins Lane. However, before he could turn right and continue down to the few houses that stood on Robins Lane at that time, the young lady suddenly made him take a left turn and drive up to the cemetery gates.

Mr Hodges later told how he had found this request to be unusual, what with it being so late in the evening and the cemetery being closed, but who was he to argue with a customer? He drove up to the gates of the pitch-black cemetery and waited for his fare to pay. It was then that he was seized by the sight of a ghastly green face “with sunken eyes, long dark hair, a Punch-like nose, and prominent chin” staring in at him through the window.

Now, Harry did what any other grown man would do if met with a similar apparition – he screamed bloody murder. His screams were met by the young woman’s shriek of fear as she clapped her own eyes on the dreadful face at the window. The next thing Harry knew the cab door slammed as the woman fled the car in terror and high-tailed it over the fields and into the darkness. The ghoulish face floated across the windscreen of his taxi for a moment and then dissipated.

The next morning Harry Hodges consulted the Blackpool Evening Gazette to see if they could calm his fears with sense and reason. He also wished to locate the missing woman, such was his sincere concern for her wellbeing. The newspaper however took a rather different spin on things and ran his story as a serious piece. For on checking their archive of back numbers the Gazette discovered something rather unsettling. Five years before the grim spectre had been seen there had been a despicable and horrific murder on Robins Lane. They wondered if there could be a connection.

The dreadful murder of Old Widow Whalley

On Monday 11th May 1931 Miss Duckworth mentioned to her dear elderly neighbour, Mrs Abigail Whalley, that she was due to leave Carleton and embark on holiday the following day. Mrs Whalley was a widow of great age, entering her 84th year and living completely alone in her bungalow on Robins Lane, so her kindly neighbour Miss Duckworth checked in with her daily to ensure that the old lady didn’t want for anything.

Abigail Whalley had once run a respectable school with her sister in Manchester, but after her sister’s passing was rendered all alone in the world, with her only remaining family living on the other side of the Atlantic in America. Not only was she all alone, she had been left with a considerable fortune. The problem was that she had little need of it. She was once overheard lamenting that she had so much money she scarcely knew what to do with it! Abigail was not an ostentatious woman, she did not much care for worldly possessions. In her twilight years, she had even taken to wearing a sturdy pair of old gentleman’s boots, eschewing the societal norms of the time in favour of thrift.

When Miss Duckworth told her of her impending trip, Mrs Whalley answered with the rather dismally prophetic, “Goodbye – I may not see you again”.

This statement prompted Miss Duckworth to take extra care the next morning in wishing Mrs Whalley farewell before she left. However, when she could not get a response from her neighbour, it was swiftly discovered that a terrible wrongdoing had taken place in the night. The widow’s house was in disarray, her door had been forced by a blunt instrument and it was clear that a robbery had taken place. Tragically the trespasser had used that same blunt instrument to bludgeon the poor old lady to death.

Such a heinous and atrocious crime sparked national interest and the hunt began for ill-fated Abigail’s murderer. Initially, a roving lavender seller was suspected, as he had been seen in the area recently, selling his wares. But then a witness came forward and stated that they had seen a young couple, a man and a woman, visit the vicinity twice on the night of the murder, both times speeding off in their vehicle in great and noticeable haste. They were never traced however and no one was ever brought to justice for the appalling crime. What is more bizarre is that Mrs Whalley’s wealth was naturally believed to be the motive of the murder, but on investigation, a large sum of money had been left untouched at the property, along with jewellery and other valuables. The case remained a mystery.

The Blackpool Evening Gazette hazarded that the chartreuse shaded figure that had been witnessed by Harry Hodges and his passenger was none other than the spectre of poor Abigail. Could it be that the female passenger had been in some way connected to the crime, perhaps one-half of the mysterious couple who had visited Mrs Whalley’s home that fateful night five years earlier? Was this Abigail’s terrible revenge? This is what the press of the time believed, yet as we delve even further back, perhaps something far older and far more, elemental, is to blame for the apparition.

The Haunted Hollow Way

Robins Lane is not of modern design, despite the architect-crafted houses and sleek cars in the driveways. Robins Lane is, in fact, an ancient Celtic Hollow Way.

Hollow Ways are sunken lanes with built-up banks of earth on either side, originally shielded by a tunnel of overhanging trees. These historic byways were of great significance, often marking land boundaries or the sacred path to religious sites. The land around Robins Lane and Carleton Crematorium is believed to have been an ancestral burial ground once guarded by pre-Roman Chieftains. The Hollow Way ran from the entrance of the modern-day Crematorium to All Hallows Church in Bispham. The original path has now sadly been interrupted by Kincraig Road, but evidence of the lane connecting to Bispham can be seen on early maps.

All Hallows church itself is old enough, but its history is even older with indication of a Holy Well on the site and the presence of a Keeill – a Manx Gaelic name for a very early type of chapel. These fledgling churches were built by those converted by Saint Patrick himself and were often built on sacred pagan sites, as it was Saint Patrick’s preferred method of conversion to blend the two faiths to further his Christian mission. As there is believed to have been a Keeill at Carleton also, it makes sense that the Hollow Way at Robins Lane connected these two important sites.

Legend says that Celtic Hollow Ways are traditionally protected by boggarts. Mischievous, malevolent spirits and boggarts are said to have a leader, or master called ‘Owd Hob’, who takes the form of a satyr or devil, sporting horns, cloven hooves, and a tail. Could it be that Harry Hodges saw a boggart or even Owd Hob himself, guarding the entranceway to this ancient road?

Whether Harry saw a ghost, a boggart, or just a drunken farmhand having a laugh, two facts remain – Abigail Whalley was brutally murdered by unknown assailants and in the same spot five years later a young woman disappeared into the night and was never heard of again. Harry was adamant in what he believed he saw and certainly thought twice about taking any more fares to the crematorium after that.

Next time you are walking your dog in Carleton Crematorium or down by Robins Lane, if it stops to seemingly bark at mid-air, you may wish to heed its warning and turn back the other way!

Take a look at Zowie Swan’s debut novel, Chingle Hall here.

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  • Zowie Swan is a local writer of fiction and folklaw. Her debut novel, Chingle Hall, is out now with Safety Pin Publishing. She's also bassist for Blackpool band Dischord.

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