A Ghostly Highwayman on the B4047
5 August 2021 (Updated 6 October 2023)
Before the A40 dual carriageway was built, the main road between Witney and Burford was what is now the B4047. A particular stretch of this road close to the Asthall turn is said to be haunted by the ghost of a highwayman known as 'Black Stockings'.
The figure has been seen both on horseback and on foot, but always dressed completely in black in the garb of the 18th century. According to Joe Robinson's Oxfordshire Ghosts, in life, the highwayman lived in the hamlet of Worsham, a few miles to the East, and has been witnessed by late-night car travellers in recent memory.
The most famous highwaymen in this area were probably Tom, Dick and Harry Dunsdon who terrorised the Burford area during the 18th century. Could 'Black Stockings' in fact be one of the notorious Dunsdon brothers?
The name Black Stockings may have been inspired by the legends around famous highwayman Dick Turpin. According to Westcountry Outlaws, Highwaymen and Rogues by Richard Peirce, one of Turpin's first crimes was the theft of a race horse named White Stockings.
Was Black Stockings a highwayman hoax?
Katherine M. Briggs in Folklore of the Cotswolds provides two alternative explanations for this haunting.
In one version told to Briggs by locals, Black Stockings was a spirit who stopped horses and pulled their riders off their backs. However, the same source also told Briggs that this was merely a story put about by actual highwaymen, presumably to generate fear and discourage the law from hunting for them so they could continue their highway robbery in peace.
The shrieking boy of Worsham
Briggs also mentions another nearby haunting that may have become confused with the legend of Black Stockings over time. The nearby hamlet of Worsham, also known as Worsham Bottom, was said to be haunted by the spirit of shepherd boy whose ghost would run screaming along the valley.
The truly grim tale behind this haunting is that the shepherd boy had confronted a gang of ruthless sheep-stealers going about their work, and had been skinned alive by them for his trouble! Worsham was home to a woollen mill during the 19th and early 20th centuries, so it is perhaps fitting that it should be haunted by a ghost connected to that industry.
- 'Oxfordshire Ghosts' by Joe Robinson (2000, Wharncliffe Books, ISBN: 9781871647762)
- 'The Lore of the Land' by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson (ISBN: 0141021039)
- 'Westcountry Outlaws, Highwaymen and Rogues' by Richard Peirce (IDBN: 9780955869488)