As it's Halloween, I figured it was the perfect night for a creepy story from Wales. Here's one I grew up with that was literally outside my own back door.1823
This stone was erected
over the body
A native of Carmarthenshire
Living in service in this Parish
Who was found dead
With marks of violence on her person
In a ditch on the marsh
Below this Churchyard
On the morning
Of Sunday the Fourteenth of July
The savage murderer
Escaped for a season the detection of man
God hath set his mark upon him
Either for time or eternity
The cry of blood
Will assuredly pursue him
To certain and terrible but righteous
In the village of Cadaxton, South Wales, just outside my hometown of Neath is a picturesque parish Church. A small and leafy path leads from Birch Lane and the Main Road to the Church, meandering through a charming small cemetery. The cemetery is very small, holding no more than 30 or so graves dating from the 1700s, while the church itself dates back to the 1200s. One of those graves stands apart from the others and bears the epitaph "MURDER" (see the complete inscription above). My Dad first took me to see the grave when I was a young boy, and it always sent a chill down my spine. When he showed me these pictures he'd taken with his digital camera I found myself just as fascinated with this story now as I was then. My dad is a much better story teller than me, but I'll try my best.
Margaret Williams was a young girl who lived in the early 1800s. Originally from the rural West Wales farming community of Carmarthenshire, she was employed as a serving girl in the house of the local Squire and allegedly embarked on an affair with the Squire's son. In the summer of 1822 her lifeless body was found near the marshes - she had been strangled and her body thrown into a ditch. Suspicion immediately fell on the Squire's son amid rumors of a secret pregnancy, and several witnesses who had seen him with the girl on the night of her death. But times being what they were, no charges were ever brought.
She was buried in the Churchyard, not far from the spot where she had been found, and the locals erected the headstone you see above, positioning it to face the manor house. The trees to the front were cut down so that every morning when the Squire's son looked out of his window, he saw the gravestone looking back at him - a constant reminder of his crimes.
Today, if you find yourself in Cadaxton, in front of this beautiful old Church, there's an eerie stillness to the place. The leafy trees swish in the breeze and traffic from the Main Road is muffled. Although the manor house is no longer standing, it is easy to imagine looking up and seeing a shadowy figure standing in the window staring. When I went home last Christmas, part of my early morning run took me through this graveyard and it's still a creepy little place, especially in the dark.
I love these old Welsh stories - it seems that there's at least one in every little village. Ghosts of the old millenium and dust beneath our feet, yet the story still lives on in legend - the life breath of an ancient land steeped in mystery and storytelling that I call home.