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The memorial to Sir Lawrence Tanfield, St John the Baptist Church, Burford.

The memorial to Sir Lawrence Tanfield, St John the Baptist Church, Burford.

Photo: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wicked Tanfields of Burford

3 March 2021 (Updated 4 February 2024)

Sir Lawrence Tanfield and his wife were 17th Century aristocrats who purchased Burford Priory in 1617. It is said that they were so hated by the local population for the callous cruelty that they showed to their tenants that they were burned in effigy on the anniversary of Lord Tanfield's death for 200 years after his death.

Lord Tanfield's second wife Lady Elizabeth Tanfield was particularly notorious for her antipathy towards the townsfolk, having apparently declared that she 'would like to grind the people of Burford to powder beneath her chariot wheels'.

A ghostly coach and horses

The ghosts of Lord and Lady Tanfield are reported to have been seen driving around the town in a ghostly (and in some reports, fiery) coach and horses.

The pair would reportedly drive their ghostly coach across the rooftops of Burford, up one side of a street then back down the other.

Ghosts trapped in a bottle at Burford

The supernatural antics of Lord and Lady Tanfield eventually became such a nuisance that a group of clergymen were summoned and charged with 'laying' the ghosts.

This was achieved by summoning Lady Tanfield's spirit to Burford church where it was corked up in a bottle. The bottle was then hidden under the first arch of Burford bridge.

Legend tells that if the river dries up and the bottle is exposed, the ghostly pair will return to carry on their mischief!

According to Mark Turner in his book Folklore and Mysteries of the Cotswolds, this very nearly happened during a dry spell in the 18th century and the mud exposed beneath the first arch was seen to hiss and bubble. Fearing the return of Lady Tanfield's ghost, townsfolk poured water into the river until the levels under the first arch were sufficiently high!

A vintage postcard of Burford

An image from a vintage postcard of Burford, viewed from Weston Hill (date unknown).

Poachers at Burford Church

It's unrelated to the Tanfields, but when discussing Burford church I can't resist mentioning another story.

According to Katherine M. Briggs in Folklore of the Cotswolds, one of the alter tombs in Burford churchyard was used as a hiding spot by poachers. The lid could be lifted off one of the tombs and there was enough room within to conceal an entire deer carcass!


  1. 'The Lore of the Land' by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson (ISBN: 0141021039)
  2. 'Folklore of the Cotswolds' by Katherine M. Briggs (B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1974, ISBN: 0713428317)
  3. 'Folklore and Mysteries of the Cotswolds' by Mark Turner (Robert Hale Ltd, 1993, ISBN: 0709052472)