the headless cavalier at pirton

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  • The Headless Cavalier at Pirton By Jessie Adelaide Middleton

    2006 by

    During the Civil War a skirmish took place upon the Herts and Beds borders, in which the troops of Cromwell were victorious. The defeated Cavalier leader, whose name was Goring, took flight with his man and, having friends among the Docwras of High Down, Pirton, near Hitchin, gave his enemies the slip and reached the house in safety. He was, however, tracked down and followed by the Roundheads, who were soon searching for him all over the house, while he had been hidden by his host in the hollow trunk of a large elm tree standing in the avenue in front of the house. He was, however, discovered, captured and executed there and then with a sword, in the summary manner characteristic of those good old times. Every year the Cavalier rides headless, on a white palfrey, from High Down to Hitchin Priory, on the anniversary of the fatal day (June 15), with his head in his hands, first descending from the hollow tree in the old avenue. The story, adds Mr. W. B. Gerish, who relates it in Notes and Queries, is so well known and widely believed in the neighbourhood that one cannot help thinking there must be some basis for it. Being much interested in the unfortunate Cavalier, I wrote to Mr. Gerish, who is a member of the East Herts Archological Society, asking him if he would give me more information on the subject. In reply, he kindly sent me the following account of the Pirton Ghost, from the annals of the Society, adding, It is doubtful if any one now living has seen it. All the statements are of the they do say character. Over the porch room, the haunted room, is a small roof-chamber that was discovered in i 873 by a bricklayer falling through the tiles. To his relief he found a floor beneath him. It was very much perished. in one of the inner corners the remains of a turret stair were seen. The small window over the front doorway had been closed up. It was re-opened and the room is used as a box-room, access to it being through a trap-door. A Cavalier of the name of Goring, when wounded, sought and obtained shelter in the house. After some time his whereabouts being suspected, the house was to be searched; he was hidden in the hollow of the large wych elm outside the gateway (of late years the tree has lost two large branches and smaller boughs). He was discovered by Cromwells soldiers, dragged down and murdered at the foot of the tree, whence he rides headless, on a white palfrey, on the night of June 15, to the site of the cell in the grounds of Hitchin Priory. From further correspondence in Notes and Queries, I gather that the skirmish was probably that of St. Neots, fought July 10, 1648, when Colonel Scrope routed the Royalists under the Earl of Holland, the Duke of Buckingham and Colonel Dalbia. The latter was cut to pieces by the Parliamentary troops. Buckingham fled and Lord Holland was taken prisoner, sent to Warwick Castle and subsequently beheaded for his share in the rising. This was the ill-fated Lord Holland who still haunts Holland House, Kensington. The ghost story may be found in the history of Holland House, written by Princess Lichtenstein, in which she writes

  • The gilt room is said to be tenanted by the solitary ghost of its first lord, who, according to the tradition, issues forth at midnight, from behind a secret door, and walks slowly through the scenes of his former triumphs, with his head in his hands. To add to this mystery there is a tale of three spots of blood in one side of the recess whence he issuedthree spots which can never be effaced. Henry Docwra, of Pirton, was, according to the reports of the Committee for Compounding, dated 1648, fined 66 for his delinquency in being twelve hours in company with the forces raised against Parliament last summer. It is, therefore, known that Docwra was in the company of at least one cavalier officer during a Royalist rising, and we also know that one of the latter was captured and beheaded. Pirton lies on the route from Kingston to St. Neots, and Holland might have visited High Down before the skirmish. A correspondent of Notes and Queries, pointing out this fact, surmises that, instead of Goring, the cavalier was possibly Holland. Colonel Scropes, in his report, says There were slain one colonel and some other officers, which I cannot get knowledge of their names, with forty soldiers or thereabouts. . . I hear also that Sir Kenelm Digbys son is slain . . . Whether it refers to Goring or to Lord Holland the story of the Pirton Ghost is both an interesting and a picturesque one.