At this time of year the doings of the spirit world bother us most, with many cultures and beliefs finding room for the dead to walk again. It is curious that burial grounds in England – considering their abundance of corpses – have less of a tradition of haunting than other places – castles, manor houses, historic buildings and so on. Possibly hauntings are most fancied in connection with a place of death, or a place important to the deceased, and whilst burial grounds have the bodies, very few have actually ended their lives at these places or have ever intended to visit them.
St Nicholas Ground holds some tales however. The most often referenced is the ghost ship. Manfred, son of the Earle De Warrene of Lewes Castle returned from a pilgrimage to the tomb of the holy virgin in Byzantium to the welcoming arms of his betrothed the fair Lady Eldona. Eldona, her future father in law and their entourage watched for his ship the ‘St Nicholas Galley’ from the hill above Brighthelmstone, but as it approached the ship struck a rock off Shoreham and sank in an instant with all hands lost. Eldona collapsed to the ground where she lay and died of grief and shock.
Her father, and her (almost) father in law paid for a church to be erected on the hill dedicated to St Nicholas. The spot where Lady Eldona fell was marked by the placing of the cross – the medieval remains of which are in place today.
In another version of this tale, Eldona watched from the Tower of the already built church and at the moment of sinking she fell to her death from the parapet. Some say that her spirit can be seen atop the Tower looking out for the return of her love. In both tales, the ghostly ship ‘St Nicholas Galley’ can be viewed from St Nicholas Ground at midnight on May 17th revising its final voyage and sinking beneath the waves.
Earl de Warrene was allegedly buried in full armour with his horse in the Old Ground and has been sighted on moonlit nights lurking about the church door. It has been said that burials in the churchyard left an undisturbed strip around the perimeter to give the ghostly Earl a track to exercise his steed free from monumental obstacle.
A white horse has been sighted running out of the churchyard and down the hill. It has been claimed that adherents of an ancient cult sacrificed the beast on the hill and this spectre is its spirit attempting to escape its fate. Or perhaps it is the Earl’s horse, tired of his odd ways and seeking some variety.
In an especial effort to chart the tales of spectres and spooks at this place of the dead two further posts this week will consider this theme and visitors are welcome on Saturday night to hear further tales from the comfort of the graveyard itself as told by Muir Jankowski as a part of the White Nights festival.