The Ghost of Swinbrook Bridge
4 August 2021 (Updated 7 September 2021)
The bridge that crosses the River Evenlode at Swinbrook is said to be haunted by the ghost of a disheveled young woman in the clothes of the 15th century. The woman carries a bundle in her arms and looks frail and distressed as she crosses the bridge, stopping in the centre of the bridge before vanishing into thin air.
The origin of this haunting is somewhat mysterious, but Joe Robinson in his book Oxfordshire Ghosts suggests that the ghost may be connected with a local legend concerning an unfortunate young woman named Martha.
The legend of Martha Hussingtree
According to Robinson, Martha Hussingtree was a scullery maid who had become pregnant by a married man. In desperation, she went to ask for the help of three local wise women. It seems that these wise women were not of the benevolent herbalist type. In fact, they were witches who tricked Martha into making a pact with the devil!
For a while, Martha's pact seemed to work in her favour. She soon became the owner of a successful business and was courted by a number of eligible bachelors. However, as her pregnancy wore on the true nature of the pact the witches had arranged was revealed.
When Martha gave birth to a baby girl, the three witches took the baby and, to Martha's horror, sacrificed it to the devil at a witchs' sabbat. The witches' dreadful act was witnessed by another villager, who fled to the local church to report what they had seen.
A tragic end for Martha
As a result, the three witches were rounded up and hanged. Martha and the father of her child fled into Wychwood forest but were eventually captured. They too were hanged, and their bodies displayed in gibbets on the Asthalls to Leafield road.
Could the ghost seen on Swinbrook bridge be the unhappy ghost of young Martha, desperately searching for her lost baby? The story is somewhat far-fetched and Robinson does not cite any sources to verify the tale, but it is an evocative story nonetheless.
- 'Oxfordshire Ghosts' by Joe Robinson (2000, Wharncliffe Books, ISBN: 9781871647762)