Ghost of a suicide at Mill Bridge, East Hanney
3 September 2023
The bridge and road in front of the old Dandridge's Mill in East Hanney is said to be the site of a chilling haunting that replays a tragic incident from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
The apparition is of a little old lady wearing a white dress and clogs, who is seen hurrying along the road towards the old mill, before suddenly throwing herself over the side of Mill Bridge into the millstream below. The haunting is recorded in Mike White's book The Veiled Vale, which provides what scant information is known about this.
The woman is said to have lived at Hale Cottage, just a few metres up Mill Orchard to the east, though what circumstances drove her to take her own life are not recorded. Hale Cottage is named after the family who originally lived there. Jonathan Hale's name appears in the East Hanney Enclosures in 1803, so it is likely that the woman who haunts the lane outside was a relative of his.
A detailed description of the haunting was given by Bob Brakespear, a local who witnessed the ghost while stationed outside Dandridge's Mill when it was being used to manufacture aircraft parts during the second world war. Bob was on guard duty with another men when the pair saw the woman approach along the road. They just had time to notice her peculiarly antiquated clothing and the clatter of her clogs along the road as she hurried towards them, before, to their horror, they saw her fling herself over the bridge into the water.
Rushing to her aid, they peered over the side of the bridge to see no sign of a body in the mill stream below. In fact, the mill steam was completely still, without a ripple to suggest a body had struck its surface only seconds before.
A startled horse and another tragedy
It seems the mill bridge has a habit of attracting tragedy. An article published in Hanney Parochial Magazine in May 1877 (and mentioned in Hanney Historical Walk) states that Mr Dandridge, then owner of the nearby mill, was standing on the bridge when he was hit by a passing horse and trap, leaving his leg 'dreadfully crushed'.
The article mentions that the accident happened when the horse pulling the trap was startled by something, causing it to career out of control. What could have the horse seen on the bridge that startled it so much? Given the repeated sightings of the ghostly lady on the bridge, it does make you wonder!
Dandridge's Mill was the site of yet another tragedy in 1828. Church records mention the death of 8-year-old Thomas Stallard, who was crushed by machinery at the mill. It's not clear whether Thomas was working at the mill at the time, but using children as cheap labour in industrial facilities such as mills was far from uncommon during this period.
- 'The Veiled Vale' by Mike White (Two Rivers Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781909747173)
- Hanney Historical Walk (pdf)