The South Downs is not only known for its misty spooks and messages from beyond the grave, but also mythical creatures as a Pulborough resident recounts.
Parish councillor Martin Dale is a walking encyclopaedia of the village’s fascinating history and knows that Pulborough is not without its ghosts.
One particular tale that has been passed down through generations since the turn of the 20th century is not of a white lady or dark shadow, but that of a strange beast.
“This is perhaps one of the strangest cases for the Pulborough area, as well as perhaps the most compelling,” said Martin.
“The event happened around 1900 when Coombelands House was undergoing extensive rebuilding and refurbishment. One of the carpenters working there was a Stephen Hunt of Worthing, who was living in Pulborough for the duration of his employment at Coombelands.
“For several months he had walked the mile-long journey alone and at night from the House to Pulborough via the narrow country lane.
“At the end of the driveway to the House was a bridge over a pond (in fact, all these features still survive today) and on one night, at about 7.20pm, just as he approached the end of the bridge a creature, which he described was as large as an elephant, appeared from out of the shadows of the trees.
“The creature, with large fiery eyes, then shrank to the size of a fox and brushed past Mr Hunt with an horrendous groan.
“He thought that it was a person playing a joke and so gave chase in anger, only for the creature to completely disappear before his eyes before reaching the other side of the bridge.
“Stephen Hunt ran all the way back to Pulborough and burst in through the door of the Five Bells Inn (now Bell House) where, according to a contemporary newspaper report, he was shaking from head to toe, and as pale as a ghost himself with wide-open, staring eyes.
“The report states that he was a sober and hard-working man, not the sort to be taken in by ghost stories.
“Interestingly, some 14 months later, during the continuing works at Coombelands, several hidden passages and tunnels were uncovered and upon the removal of some oak panelling above one of the fireplaces a mass of human bones fell out of a void in the wall. The spooky happenings continued well after the House was completed, when the newly-appointed Housekeeper was forced to leave after constantly hearing odd noises during the day and mysterious human-sounding groans at nights that kept her awake.
“The former Five Bells Inn is also said to have been haunted by the spirit of a lady, though I have not heard of any unusual goings on there since the pub was converted into houses several years ago.”
Jumping forward in time to the 1970s, the famous comedian Norman Wisdom, who lived near Pulborough, spoke of a mysterious encounter that his mother had experienced in his 15th centry home.
Martin said: “Norman Wisdom owned Laker’s Farm near Pulborough - a 15th Century building in West Chiltington.
“In 1975 he stated in an interview that his mother had experienced a strong smell of apple blossom in her room one night, suddenly felt rather hot and so pushed back the sheets.
“She then felt a sense of a person leaning over her and blowing gently in her face accompanied by a gentle, non-menacing laugh.
“It is said that many previous occupants of the farmhouse had reported similar occurrences of a friendly apparition.”