Confusion surrounds the story and location of Kitt’s Grave. It’s often the case when investigating stories from the past. Tales based on real-life events were rarely recorded on paper and there was no internet! Evidence is often scant. Their existence today relies upon ‘word of mouth’ with the stories passed from generation to generation being embellished and changed over time. It seems this may be the case with the story of Kitt’s Grave but I wanted to investigate anyway. Since Bowerchalke is supposed to be one of the most haunted villages in Wiltshire I thought it would be a good place to research.
There was said to be a young girl from Bowerchalke who, in a heartbroken state, threw herself down the village well near the churchyard to her death. Another tale tells of a gypsy lady who roamed the Chalke Valley area. She was the one found in the well. Whether it was the girl or the gypsy lady or in fact both, the deaths were regarded as suicides, a mortal sin in the eyes of the church. I can find no information about the possible dates of these events. Since it has only been in recent times, in the 1970s and 80s, that the Church of England begun to change its attitudes to suicide I feel it’s safe to assume that ‘Kitt’ would have lived and died well before then.
Anyone desperate enough to take their own life would have been denied burial on consecrated ground, i.e. in the churchyard. As was often the case, the bodies of people who committed suicide were taken outside the boundaries of the Parish and buried at a crossroads. In this case, the crossroads is where the boundary of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire meet.
It is said that the tree lined avenue leading up to the grave is a sorrowful place. The birds do not sing on this part of the lane. I have also found mention of a sad looking female ghost, standing at the crossroads.
Pouring over an ordnance survey map, I struggled to find a crossroads near to the church but approximately one mile away, on the edge of Vernditch chase, is a crossroads which appears to mark the county boundaries. And it is marked ‘Kitt’s Grave.’ ‘That must be it!’ I thought.
Vernditch chase is an ancient woodland running between a Roman road and an old ox drove, just south of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire. Within the woods the map indicates two long barrows and a grim’s ditch. There are so many long barrows, tumulus and grim’s ditches dotted across the Wiltshire countryside and there seem to be a particularly large amount on the downland areas of South Wiltshire.
I find it quite incredible that you can just be walking along a footpath round these parts and spot grassed over lumps, dumped in the middle of a field. Sheep grazing around them. And yet they are monuments, created in the Early Neolithic period, so around the fifth and fourth millennia BCE! There is some debate by archaeologists over the purpose of these earth or timber chambers but as many of them contain human remains within their chambers it is thought were used as burial sites.
The Elusive Kitt’s Grave. Unconsecrated buriel site or a long barrow?
I found some information which indicates Kitt’s Grave is in fact the name of a long barrow, located on the west side of the woods at Vernditch Chase.
The Modern Antiquarian published this information about Kitt’s Grave:
(SU 03192116) Kitt’s Grave. Almost certainly the ‘Cotelesburgh (Cotel’s Barrow) of a Saxon charter of Damerham (B817) and the ‘Chetoles Beorh’ of another of Bower Chalke. The adjacent place-names ‘Catler’s Corner’ and Chettle Head Copse’ are also from the name ‘Cotel’. No mound or other significant feature located. Local tradition is that Kitt was a gipsy who died at this spot and was buried in Martin churchyard; but this (whether or not genuine) is probably a superimposition on a long-standing Cotel/Kitt name. The barrow may in fact have been that seen 300 metres to the east (SU 02 SW 18).
I wonder if Kitt’s grave is actually the name of the long barrow thought to be in the beech woodland. I found some accounts of people who have searched for the long barrow, possibly Kitt’s Grave, and they have found nothing significant.
On the website www.heritagegateway.org.uk an account from an unknown source appears to have gone long barrow hunting too, back in 1937. They report:
I could find nothing definite. Visited July 1937.
No mound or other significant feature located.
The barrow may in fact have been that seen 300 metres to
the east (SU 02 SW 18).
Another, more modern account of a search for Kitt’s Grave, from Hidden Wiltshire, says of his hunt:
“I plunged into the trees and started to hunt around, getting further and further into the woodland. After spending far too long searching, I gave up. Notwithstanding the folklore, it seems Kitt’s Grave is in fact a very indistinct long barrow, so likely Neolithic or Bronze Age.”
So, could it be that either the melancholy girl or the wandering gypsy lady is buried where the bridleway crosses the county line of Wiltshire to Hampshire, marked as Kitt’s Grave? Or is the long hidden long barrow actually Kitt’s Grave and is in fact a Early Neolithic tomb?
Getting out ‘on foot!’
Not fancying my chances of finding much but still feeling need the need for a little local adventure I decided to drag my family in search of Kitt’s Grave. It was Easter Monday. A bitterly cold northerly wind was blowing across the downs. Despite this, it was a good time to look for a long barrow, before the Spring vegetation really took hold of the woodland.
Children, dogs and reluctant boyfriend in tow, we headed off to find the spot marked Kitt’s Grave. We walked along a tree lined path, which could be the reputed avenue where no birds sing. It was true! No birds were signing there. Nothing paranormal, it was purely down to the perpetual cold. No birds were to be seen anywhere today. It was very much a Winter’s day in Spring. Kitt’s Grave appears to be the point where a bridleway crosses the county and parish line, which is what I believe to be the old crossroads. In reality, it didn’t look like an old crossing point now, even though I have no idea what they would have looked like. Things change over the centuries! I took some photos. A grave could have been anywhere around that point, the ground was overgrown and uneven.
We walked on, into the woodland. It was pretty flat and there were no obvious signs of a long barrow, as other explorers have previously found. We did find one raised area but I’m no archaeologist! It could have been a long barrow or it could have been anything. Have a look at this video of the woodland, complete with dog.
The Ghosts of Bowerchalke
So, after half an hour of yomping around the woodland, it was time to move the search onwards to the village centre to see if we could find any other evidence of Kitt’s Grave or the other ghosts of Bowerchalke. I really hoped to find the village well, somewhere near to the church yard but I had no luck. The 13th Century church, Holy Trinity, has its own set of ghosts. A procession of monks have been seen, walking in the churchyard in the early morning.
Come this way to find the treasure…
Following this I headed off to see if I could find Apple-Spill bridge. This is the place where the ghost of a lantern wielding man is sighted, rattling a bag of coins. It is said he is trying to show the way to the hidden treasure, following any passer-by for a short distance. There was said to be gold buried at the East end of the village. Maybe it’s still there? No-one has been brave enough to follow the ghostly latern-wielding man to find out.
The story of the Golden Coffin
Is the latern-man connected to the story of the golden coffin? The story tells of a golden coffin, stolen from a barrow up on the downs. Seven men went to dig up a long barrow in the hope of finding hidden treasure. They uncovered a gold coffin and dragged it from the ground. But they never returned to the village. No one knows what happened to them but they have been sighted. Their ghosts have been seen on certain Winter’s nights, dragging their golden treasure, over the downs for all eternity.
A private residence sits in the village, named after a water tank where residents would go to fetch their water, which was pumped from the stream by-hand up until the 1950s.
Footsteps are often heard, coming and going from the old water tank. A child told a story of playing hide and seek in the garden. She hid near a bank when some invisible hands lifted her by the shoulder and ruined the game!
The last of the local ghost stories involves a thorn bush that grows in the shape of a garden seat. It is nestled into a dip on the hills and is known as Pug’s Hole. On dark nights a voice is said to call out ‘I’m lost! I want to go home.’ When searching for the man in distress, a ghost is seen, vanishing into the thorn bush. It could be the ghost of a shepherd who was thought to have been lost in a snow drift, one dark night.
The Fruitless Search for Kitt’s Grave
Despite my best efforts, it seems that the real story of Kitt’s Grave and the exact location is probably long gone. Regardless, it’s always good to put a place to a name (even if just approximate).
The truth of the long barrow and an unconsecrated grave will stay secretly in the past but it’s still possible that, somewhere in that woodland lays a Neolithic tomb and a sad female soul, buried alone.
Do you have a ghostly tale to tell? I am always collecting stories of the strange and unusual so if you are willing to share with me, please get in touch!
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