Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 2002

The Miner and the Ghost

“This silent spot tradition old, Had peopled with the spectral dead.”

PALEY has happily described the richly developed limestone mountains as the “gorgeous relics of the happiness of past ages”; in allusion, it must be supposed, to his marine formation, containing such endless remains of organic life.

In the dells of Stoney Middleton and Eyam, sections of this carboniferous formation are exhibited on a scale astonishingly magnificent; affording to travellers and ramblers after the exhaustless novelties of nature a treat beyond their most sanguine expectations.

Of the numbers who have visited these interesting dells, but few, indeed, can have forgone the inducement of stopping for a few minutes to partake of the goodly cheer of the “Ball Inn”: a neat, commodious, and substantial “place of call”, beautifully and conveniently situated at one of the points formed by the dells crossing each other at right angles.

Neither can the visitants of these delightful places of retreat have omitted to notice, at the northern extremity of Eyam Dell, and about two hundred yards from the Ball Inn, a now dilapidated and unoccupied cottage, nestled, as it were, beneath the ledge of a rock, and deeply immersed in the dense shade of surrounding trees. This crumbling, but once picturesque dwelling, is on the east side of the dell, and almost on the immediate verge of Eyam; it has been now uninhabited for some time, during which period it has greatly suffered in dilapidation by the freaks of the wayward and unruly brats of the village.

In the memories of numbers in the locality, this little and unsurpassingly secluded cottage possessed all the charms which could possibly adorn the dwelling one whose every effort and desire was to live in nature's purest and sweetest fashion: along the front of the dwelling a wooden seat was placed, on which the inmates could sit and lavish in the delicious beauties of evening; the honeysuckle spread itself in every direction, giving to the air a sweetness, O! how blissful to enjoy; and contiguous thereto a crystal well unbosomed itself, wherein

“Sweet Luna dipp'd her silver limb by night.”

Notwithstanding the delightfulness of this habitation, there was, towards the latter part of the time it was inhabited, a wide-circulated report of its being haunted, by some unearthly visitant; a shape like that of an elderly woman was nightly seen; sometimes it would cross the dell to and from the cottage with great apparent speed; at others it would - at the witching hour of night - strip the bedclothes off the beds while the trembling occupants were almost paralyzed with frozen fear. Numberless were the antics played by this imperturbable ghost; endless were the forms it assumed at various and sundry times; yet its most wonted shape was that of a rather more than a middle-aged woman, in the apropos garb of the time - a short bed-gown, linsey petticoat, mobbed cap, and shoes with shining buckles. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the cottage of the dell was regarded by every passer-by - particularly in the night - with great trepidation; everyone saw or heard something of the ghost; and after some time the cottage was deserted and left to the sole occupancy of the disturbed and unlayed spirit. But, as might be expected, the ghost kept its abiding place; about the precincts of the deserted cot it was unabatingly seen; from the repeated asseverations of numbers of the vicinity it was known to glide through the keyhole of the door very frequently; into, and out of, small holes in the wall, with the acknowledged facility of insubstantiality. Hence, in the locality, for miles around, the ghost {or boggart) of the dell, was matter of unquestionable fact, and almost of an all-engrossing notoriety.

About this time, near sixty years ago, the Ball Inn, then considerably more humble in exterior and interior appearance, was kept by Stephen S___w, and his childless wife Blandy, or more correctly Blandino, a name she had received in France, where she was born, and where she lived until she was twelve years of age, when her parents left their native country for England.

How Stephen first became acquainted with Blandy, and the circumstances which led to their marriage and settlement at the Ball Inn, would boot but little to the reader, could it (as it cannot) be circumstantially related; suffice she was a good wife to Stephen, and although his nose exhibited frequent and increasing access to the bottle, still her strongest.and bitterest remonstrance on that head very rarely commenced with any less loving prelude than mon cher.

As a landlady, Blandy was wonderfully suitable, especially as regards the customers which the locality furnished; mobilite - the peculiar characteristic of her country and people - was construed into impartiality and other good points, by her rustic and comparatively ignorant customers; indeed she had extraordinary tact in assuming (to please and gratify her guests) a belief in matters the most incredulous. But in this she had more interest than a silent laugh behind the paravent; to gather gear was the idol - the God she worshipped most.

Among the guests who almost nightly assembled at the Ball Inn was old Tom Loxley, alias Cockeye, a miner, who lived in the locality; he had been married, but his wife died in the bloom of youth, and from the day of her death he never dreamed of another, - so said Cockeye, a thousand times, while he sat cross-legged over his cups. Cockeye was a regular toper, still his excellent good humour, on the occasion of his orgies, was considered a redeeming quality.

Tom (Cockeye) found himself one night in November seated with his brother topers round the cup-and-glass-covered table at the Ball Inn. He was in high spirits, and Blandy eyed her customers with delight. Tom threw out his humour almost without intermission, and ever and anon there were roars of laughter that made the pewter dishes tingle on the shelves.

Thus hours flew on “angels' wings”, until the sable-faced clock had announced the noon of night; after which a jeering pot-fellow of Tom's began to rally him on the Dale ghost, for that night poor Cockeye had to pass necessarily the dismal rendezvous of this unearthly being.

“Cheer up! cheer up! Cockeye,” said Blandy, “not afraid of a woman nor her spirit certain!”
“Nor the d---l either, with another quart, eh ! lads!” replied Cockeye.
“Come, come, this is too grave a subject to be lightly talked about”, said mine host, in a tone somewhat pathetic.
“'Tis sad, ma cher, that the woman whose spirit still wanders the dell, came to an untimely end, or death”, said Mrs. Blandy.
“Another drop more, good landlady, and I'll ask her that question this night”, said Cockeye, now almost incapable of sitting in his chair.

Cockeye and his boon companions parted at last, the former taking his solitary way up the haunted dell, and the latter their several ways homewards.

It was near three o'clock in the morning; the moon shed her silver beams on the grim rocks that rose around like towering battlements; all was silent as the grave, except the gurgling of a rill which runs in a narrow, but deep channel, alongside the road that threaded the dell. Cockeye staggered onward, but at every successive step he became more and more subject to peculiar and impressive sensations; fear, deep and undefined, began to creep around his heart as he glanced frequently around him.

Forward, however, he bent his way; but as he approached the cottage - the haunt of the ghost - he beheld, in the centre of the shadow which the humble structure threw across the road, something of human shape; a cold sweat overspread his brow; his heart rattled in his bosom; and an attempt to cry “hollo!” almost choked him.

In a moment, to his imagination, the deadly glance of the ghost met his eye; he sank with his face to the ground, and the shadow-like woman seized him, with her ice-cold hands, by the ankles, and dragged him at a race-horse speed backwards down the dell.

On, on they went, quick as thought; still the sensation which he felt the most in this horrible predicament was the deadly cold ness that proceeded from the hands of the ghost. A chilliness crept up from his feet to his body that froze his very heart within him, and after suffering this sensation for some time, the scene closed on his recollection.

What was the wonder and amazement of Cockeye when, on the dawn of the following morning, mine host of the Ball Inn awakened him on the brink of the rivulet which winds along the dell; there he had fallen dead drunk, and, in tossing about, his legs became immersed in the stream, and hence the fancied impression of the icy hands of the ghost.

Cockeye to the day of his death often related this adventure with the ghost of the dell - an adventure, however, which had a salutary influence over his future conduct - he became, from that time, a sober and worthy man.


[Ed: The Ball Inn itself is now in ruins. The Inn was abandoned, and the licence was transferred to The Royal Oak in Eyam. The shell of the building can still be seen at the junction of Stoney Middleton Dale with the B6521 to Eyam.]

Transcribed by Andrew McCann in February 2002.

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