The Malvern Hills are without doubt the jewel in the crown of Worcestershire's beautiful natural areas. Walking over the range inspired many of the compositions of Elgar and set the seed of the Misty Mountains in the mind of a young JRR Tolkien, while the towns and villages nestled around the peaks are charming. Surely a place like this must have it's fair share of strangeness? You bet! I can't tell every tale of the hills in one post, but we can start with this one...
Little Malvern Court is a curious building and grounds that sits in the village of the same name right at the foot of British Camp hill. Formerly a Benedictine monastery dating back to 1170, it became a family home after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s. The old tower was rebuilt in 1480 and still stands as a landmark among the former monastery fishponds while the court with it's quaint minarets lies peacefully among strangely toparied hedges. A bridle path runs along the northern boundary of the Court, out into the open fields then ending at a farmyard. Now called Underhill Farm, it was previously known as Gough's, and there lived a tenant farmer and his family named Dee sometime around 1800.
Mr Dee horribly mistreated his wife both mentally and physically. This abuse eventually killed her and while it's not known whether he killed her or she killed herself, it is said that Mrs Dee swore that she would haunt her husband forever if he ever laid a hand on their daughter. For a time life at the farm was sombre but peaceful, but as time went on the farmer's old self returned. Driven to desperation just like her mother, the daughter, now just entering her teens, resigned herself to suicide and ran out into the lane. A deep pool fed by trickles from the hilltop lay near the farm and the girl headed for it, intending to walk in and drown.
As the poor girl began her final steps an apparition rose from the depths of the water. Her mother, with arms outstretched, stopped her daughter from going any further. The girl ran back in shock to the farm but to her horror, and her father's her mother had appeared there too. With bulging black eyes fixated on her hated husband the whole time, Mrs Dee rose high in the air and down again before moving a in a bizarre dance around the farmyard. All the farm workers fled leaving Dee alone, in desperation he paid people to have dinner with him for fear of the ghost returning – she did. Dee threw his knife at her at in the kitchen but in true ghostly fashion it went straight through, leaving a dent in the timber apparently still there today. When hay was due for harvest he suddenly found dozens of volunteers appearing for work, all hoping to see the ghost of Gough's Farm. Mrs Dee's phantom did not disappoint, with one account saying she danced and screamed so disturbingly that the hundred people gathered ran in terror, trampling over each other in their desperation to flee.
A priest was sent for to exorcise the spirit but he himself then asked his counterpart from nearby Little Malvern Court (the priory was in use then) to support him. They seemed to succeed, commanding the ghost to never appear as long as candles burnt in the priory, and for a time the farm returned to relative peace. Mr Dee treated his daughter now as a good father should so it appeared the apparition's work was done. Unfortunately some renovation work began at the priory and the candles were extinguished while this went on. The sad ghost appeared again close to the farm but there was no more dancing or shrieking. She sat upon an outcrop of stone that jutted from the hillside which came to be known as Mrs Dee's Rock. Head in hands, sometimes quietly weeping, it seemed this lost spirit was now condemned to stay at this wooded spot, miserably watching life go on at the farm that was once her home.
The priest came out again and this time after the prescribed litany he bade Mrs Dee to vanish just as the flames on the candles he held were about to. With that he turned and left with his group of onlookers, the procession solemnly heading down to the pond where she had first appeared from. He threw the candles into the pond and Mrs Dee's ghost has never been seen since. The farm is still there complete with the old timbered house they lived in, ironically it is now a retreat for troubled teenaged children. The pond remains and still has a dark ambience about it, and Mrs Dee's Rock ? It lies in a wood, ivy covered and all but forgotten but still very much a feature of the Malvern Hills. Weekend walkers plod along the path nearby with no idea that a frightening haunting witnessed by dozens happened right there.
Little Malvern Court
Gough's Farm, now Underhill Farm
Mrs Dee's Rock, just visible through the undergrowth
The pond by the farm, the beginning and the end of the haunting
The Piory tower at Little Malvern