Friday, June 06, 2008

2008 - Friday Fun - The Plough Inn Trysull

Here's another spooky tale courtesy of The Black country Bugle
Tucked away down School Road in the lovely village of Trysull, nestling in the verdant marges of the Black Country, stands the historic inn The Plough. The Plough has been a licensed house since 1833, although its origins go back much further than this would suggest. It was built in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century as a farmhouse, and now this ancient box-framed building is Grade II listed. Some idea of the age of the building can be gauged by a section of original wattle and daub walling, complete with cow-dung and horsehair daub and lime plaster, which has been thoughtfully left exposed and framed behind glass so that visitors can marvel at the age-old building methods used in its construction.

Stourbridge lad Alan Foxall, ably aided by his girlfriend Lou, only took over tenancy of the pub in November 2004. Both immediately liked the atmosphere and period features of the place, although Lou admits that as soon as she went upstairs a strange feeling overwhelmed her. This was not helped when the previous landlord began showing them around the upstairs living quarters. Upon taking them into a lounge, the landlord motioned towards a tiny latched door in the corner. "The landlord said that it was The Devil's Room," said Alan, "but we thought that he was only joking!"
The tenant, however, was not joking, and showed them into the tiny room beyond the latched door. Upon the opposite wall, and covered by a protective glass case, Alan and Lou were astounded to see an ancient wall painting.
Such wall paintings were once a common sight through the country: before the Reformation, most churches would have been richly painted with scenes from the Bible, to instruct a largely illiterate flock. However, many people also employed the painters to work on their own homes. Working in natural earth pigments, these travelling artisan painters decorated the plaster walls of their clients in imitation of the luxurious tapestry hangings of the very rich. However, as the years progressed most of such paintings became covered by layers of paint and plaster, and surviving examples are now very rare. One of the finest examples of medieval wall paintings can be found in the church in Claverley, and Tudor wall paintings can also be seen at Harvington Hall, in Worcestershire, and in the Whittington Inn in Kinver.
What makes the painted frieze in The Plough so unusual is its subject matter. The composition includes two finely executed birds, resembling partridges, clustered near a yew tree, while another below, more indistinct, appears to be a pheasant or a peacock with its tail sweeping downwards. There is also a finely drawn horse, led by a figure, and a figure below which resembles nothing so much as a modern day huntsman.
However, this is no Tudor representation of the chase, but something more sinister. On the left is the prominent figure of a devil, complete with wings, a swishing tail, horns and a trident. Behind him he leads a figure on a rope, either that of an animal or a child on all fours, while another tiny figure dances impishly behind. The origin of the name of the Devil's Room was obvious.
The room's sinister occupant notwithstanding, Alan and Lou decided to take over the pub, and were soon hard at work on a complete refurbishment. However, it seemed that opening the door to the Devil's Room had unleashed some dark force, revealing secrets of lost children, ghoulish monks, concealed tunnels and even, it is rumoured, black magic...
Lou continued to feel that there was something not right about the atmosphere of the pub, but Alan laughed off her concerns. Lou was determined to ask a psychic friend to visit, "to see if it was just me," so in early December the clairvoyant arrived. However, even Lou was shocked by what her friend revealed.
The clairvoyant said that The Plough had once been used to practise black magic, the rituals involving young children, and that there was indeed a connection to the Devil dragging the child portrayed on the old wall painting. She felt drawn to the cellar, and told Lou that the lost souls of several children, who died in some diabolical ritual, were trapped there. Lou and Alan were particularly intrigued at this, as the previous landlord had told them that there were tunnels from the pub leading to the hill opposite, known locally as Witches Hill. A vaulted doorway down the cellar also appears to have been bricked up at some point. In fact, local legend has it that there are several tunnels beneath the village, and Alan has noticed that when horses trot down the lane outside the pub that their hooves ring hollow in certain places.
The painters and decorators, who were still busily working to get the pub into shape, had been sceptical throughout, but now received the shock of their lives. Lou had been previously struggling with an old vacuum cleaner, but had been unable to get it to work. Long-serving staff member Lucy Simpson told her that it would never work, as several parts were missing. As the psychic passed the redundant vacuum cleaner, it suddenly sprang into life, bouncing several times along the floor. Even the painters were gobsmacked!
Ceremonies, involving the lighting of candles and the saying of prayers, were performed in each room, then the clairvoyant said that she felt the need to visit the church, just a stone's throw away. Both Lou and her friend felt drawn to a particular gravestone in the churchyard, which bears no inscription but instead a curious carving. The carving appears to be that of the Green Man, a pagan deity of woods and trees; a strange image for a Christian burial ground. The clairvoyant told Lou that this was the other entrance to the tunnel leading into the cellar of The Plough, and that this is where the poor children would be marched down prior to the evil ceremonies.
Back in the pub, the paranormal events seemed to intensify rather than abate. A month ago, Lou saw the apparition of a cowled monk, wearing a brown habit with a cord tied about his middle. Rather than a transparent spectre, Lou swears that the monk appeared as if flesh and blood.
It is unusual that the spirit of a monk should appear in a building that was erected after the dissolution of the monasteries, but a visitor has informed Alan and Lou that the site may have had some previous connection with a religious order. Moreover, there may be a link with the so-called Monk's Path in the vicinity, which is also rumoured to be riddled with tunnels.
Even the normally-sceptical Alan - a man who can handle himself - has experienced strange phenomena. One night, he was so convinced that a rapidly moving figure that he had glanced, running past the inglenook fireplace, was an intruder that he chased it with an old hatchet! More disturbingly, he was recently frightened when he was pulled back into the kitchen by what he can only describe as the ghost of a tall lady; so violently, in fact, that a livid red mark was left on his arm. Eerie fleeting shadows have also been seen in the kitchen.
Another sceptic was staff member Lucy Simpson, but even she began to be troubled by the strange events beginning to occur in the kitchen. The oven, fryer and glass washer would turn themselves off and on, much to her annoyance, and she also saw plumes of smoke coming from an invisible smoker near the bar. The pragmatic Lucy now admits, "I always used to sit on the fence when it came to ghosts, but since Alan and Lou have been here I have been sliding off the fence very quickly!"
For now, the Devil's Room is consigned to storage space only, and Alan and Lou hope that whatever sinister connections there may be to their peculiar wall painting, that they stay firmly behind the closed door...

Story First Published: 03/02/2005

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