The Headless Ghost of Faringdon Churchyard
15 March 2021 (Updated 20 June 2023)
There are three possible stories of how a headless ghost came to haunt the churchyard at All Saints Faringdon.
Hamilton Tighe: death by cannonball
In the account that appears in Ingoldsby Legends, the ghost is that of a young naval officer named Hamilton Tighe whose wicked stepmother wanted him out of the way so that her own son could inherit the family fortune.
She achieved this by bribing the captain of her son's ship to orchestrate an 'accident' for him during a navel conflict with Spain. The captain managed to push the unfortunate Hamilton into the path of a Spanish cannonball, which took his head clean off his shoulders.
According to the legend, Hamilton's ghost appeared to his stepmother and her favoured son while they were on their way to his memorial service and the shock caused the woman to break down and confess her crime.
His ghost also apparently haunted the captain, appearing to him at his club in Bath.
The ghost of Hampton Pye
In the other version of the story that sticks a little bit closer to the historical facts, the young man is actually Hampton Pye, oldest son to Robert Pye and Anne Hampton.
Hampton was not popular with his parents, and when they discovered he had disobeyed their wishes and secretly married a barmaid, they forced him to join the navy where he was eventually killed in battle in 1702.
Whether he lost his head to a cannonball or by some more plausible means is not recorded. Hampton Pye would not have had the opportunity to haunt his parents, as they both died a year before he did.
A Civil War haunting?
The final suggestion as to the identity of the headless ghost comes from Curious Oxfordshire by Roger Long, and suggests the ghost may be a relative of Hampton Pye.
The Uncton family were a wealthy local family who were sadly divided by their political allegiances. Robert Pye Uncton (senior) was a Royalist, who found himself defending Faringdon House (sometimes recorded as Wadley Hall) against Parliamentary forces led by his son Robert Pye Uncton (junior).
As a result of the conflict, both men are said to be candidates for true identity of the headless Faringdon church ghost. There is no clear explanation as to why eithers ghost should be headless as both men survived the civil war and later died of natural causes!
A cannonball is said to have knocked down the spire of Faringdon church as part of the conflict, which may be where the cannonball idea came in!
Whichever version of the story is true, the ghost of a headless man in 17th-century garb was said to be seen walking past the north wall of the church adjoining Faringdon House for many years until eventually, a priest managed to 'lay' his ghost via bell, book and candle.
- Oxfordshire Ghost Stories by Richard Holland (Bradwell Books, 2013, ISBN: 9781902674735)
- 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (Sutton Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 0780750949576)
- 'The Headless Victim of Step-Mother Love' - www.berkshirehistory.com
- 'The Headless Victim Folklore or Fact?' - www.berkshirehistory.com