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The Ghosts Of the Farm

ghosts

Convalescing in bed a few days ago after a nasty cold I heard some unexplained noises in the kitchen downstairs. It’s a very old house and there are often creaks and groans, as if the weight of the past is sighing through the thick stone walls. We spent so long restoring it we had plenty of time to think about the people who lived and farmed here before, imagining them treading the slabs and floorboards through the centuries. We know that at one time the two rooms downstairs, now separated by a nineteenth century panelling hallway, were just used as one room and this is where the families would have cooked and lived.

Clome oven in fireplace www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clome oven in the fireplace, used for cooking and baking.

So, we get used to living with ghosts.

 I wonder if that’s Mr. Creeper, I thought, feeling comforted, as always, by the knowledge that the farms’ most recent resident, prior to our occupation, is possibly still with us. What a good name for a ghost, I hear you say. One friend swears she has seen him, a figure by the bottom of the stairs, not unfriendly.

William Creeper was a tenant farmer who moved here in 1922 as a boy of seven. In those days the farmyard was a rocky slope, a continuation of the bedrock on which the cottage stands. We have tried to recreate this unevenness by breaking up most of the slab of concrete which covered it, allowing the wildness back in, including digging a huge hole, the pond, which fluctuates in level with the water table – it has never dried out, so that gives you an idea of all the spring lines that run down the hill. In fact we didn’t realise how wet the place was until our first autumn when it rained solidly for month and water started gushing around the sides of the house and out of the front, veritable rivers UNDERNEATH the house. Digging out the soil from the back of the house and installing a drainage pipe solved most of the problem but the pond, by accident, was what really solved it in the end. Anyway, the concrete was far more practical and I completely understand why it must have been a joy to a farmer, but we’re in it for different reasons.

The Pond

The Pond

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See what happens with no concrete!

Mr. William Creeper used to have a herd of Ruby Reds (North Devons) which shrank to around to nine or ten cows as he got older and the land of the farm was gradually sold off, ending up eventually as the ten acres it is now. There are people in the village who knew him well and we have heard many stories about him. I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps with my small herd which I’m planning will eventually reach a similar number to his.

Herd of North Devon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Herd of North Devons

Right from the beginning his presence was felt very keenly. The house hadn’t been touched for years, possibly since 1922, and had no running water, rotten floors upstairs and a gaping hole in the roof of the lean to extension on the back, sending rain and wind howling into what is now the kitchen. He lived solely in the other downstairs room, while the rest of the cottage fell into disuse and ruin around him. There was an earth dunny in a little lean to on the side of the piggery.

The dunny www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The dunny

There were dark stories about the owners, relatives of his, who refused to do any work on the property because they wanted to sell, hoping to force him out, the sitting tenant, by making it so uninhabitable he would have to leave. Of course this is entirely possible, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the reason for the gradual delapidation, he stayed put.

He was eighty eight when he suddenly got ill and became very distressed at having to leave his beloved farm. However, according to the story, once in hospital he was incredibly impressed by the warmth and particularly by the bath and didn’t want to leave. Perhaps a revelation to a man who had washed every day in the farmyard in all weathers at the one and only cold tap, which was only installed in the 1980’s, before that it was the well. He died there just a couple of months later.

He was, by all accounts, rather stubbornly eccentric and loved his cows more than any thing or person. He never married, his cows were apparently the only company he required and they used to come up the front steps and into the house, as the front door was always open, whatever the month. He had abandoned cleaning long ago and when we arrived there was a tell tale area of dirt and grease beneath the door latch to his room, where he’d placed his hand so many times to open the door. We became fond of his traceries and I felt a sadness when about eight years later I finally got round to stripping the old paint off the doors, including his patch of ingrained life.

When we arrived, he had only recently left so there were lots of artefacts of his life around the place, which made him very real. He was a small man and his standard issue hospital style walking stick was propped up in a barn. We still have that. We also have the branding iron which is what farmers used in the old days before the more humane ear tags were deployed for identifying cattle. It is only the C for Creeper which remains, the W we never found, so there is a space where it should be. It is hanging by the front door, a constant reminder.

Old Branding iron by door www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Branding Iron www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBetter still, we have the prizes which he won for his cattle at the now defunct local Five Lanes and Camelford shows, which he proudly fixed to the joists in the shippen. I love to look at those.

Cattle prize 1952 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle Prize 1965 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It doesn’t seem important whether he is a real ghost or not. It is his presence which haunts us, and there is one thing at least I do know for sure – we will never forget William Creeper and his cows.

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34 Comments Post a comment
  1. Happy New Year! Couldn’t agree more – if energy cannot be created or destroyed only converted – why couldn’t the essence of the previous history be absorbed into the ancient walls?

    January 25, 2013
    • Happy New Year to you too! I see you’re travelling down the quantum road 😉 All very fascinating, that’s a very good point.

      January 26, 2013
  2. spabbygirl #

    How lovely!! I’m quite sure you’re right & Mr Creeper does visit. It’s lovely that you value his visits.

    January 25, 2013
    • Thanks spabbygirl. Hopefully one day he may stop and have a chat about the cows! 🙂

      January 26, 2013
  3. I love this. I love his branding iron. HOW interesting. x

    January 25, 2013
    • It’s pretty cool isn’t it? Thanks for making me cry btw with your latest post about love! I will be over for a proper comment soon.

      January 26, 2013
  4. fascinating and inspiring!

    January 25, 2013
  5. How wonderful to know so much about a chapter in your house’s history! Mr. Creeper IS a great name! :)))))

    January 25, 2013
    • Hi Melody, thanks for the comment I appreciate the visit. Yes, and it has got me thinking about the rest of its history…though I’m afraid I’m a little lazy when it comes to research! Otherwise you’d find me with my head in the local records…

      January 26, 2013
  6. This is a great story! How wonderful that you’ve preserved and revere this man’s memory.

    January 26, 2013
    • Thanks. I love the idea that the cows used to come in the house 🙂

      January 26, 2013
  7. I am sure that Mr Creeper is happy to share his home with you and I dare say it’s a lot more habitable and the water on tap is always hot…what more could an aparition want? 🙂 We don’t think of the people that lived in a house before we did when we move in and this post is a poignant reminder that we are the latest in a long line 🙂

    January 26, 2013
    • Haha maybe he likes to take a bath 🙂 Though it is a bit chilly in there…

      January 26, 2013
      • Might just like to sit in the bath in wonderment of the newfangledness of it all 😉

        January 27, 2013
  8. Fabulous story! Love the name and the branding iron, it almost seems fitting that ‘W’ has been lost to the land somewhere. Perhaps you’ll find it… my hopes are that the land will swallow it up! 🙂

    January 26, 2013
    • We did consider getting a W forged, but that would be tampering with history really. It’s unlikely that I’ll dig it up, now that I’ve given all that up!

      January 26, 2013
  9. What a fantastic story, beautifully told. It sounds as if Mr Creeper ( brilliant) is watching over you. I’m sure he’d approve of your apparent love of the house, land and cattle. It seems fitting that you should follow in his footsteps (apart from the washing in cold water part!)

    January 26, 2013
    • I have been in the pond, it was extemely cold! He must have been incredibly hardy. According to one story he had huge underpants…with a waistband which allowed him to pee into a ladle like cup. It makes you think doesn’t it…with no water, I guess he had to make his own plan! 🙂 I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to venture outside every time I wanted to go – and by that time he was quite an old man.

      January 26, 2013
      • Hehehe, yeah, you have to admire Mr Creeper. I guess he was doing what he had to do. I wonder if he’d be surrounded by mod cons if he were here today.

        January 27, 2013
  10. I do love the word “piggery”. I’m not sure I’ve heard it before. It’s one of those wonderful British-isms, I suppose – although we do have pigstye (what my mother often accused me of turning my room into!), pig-pen (also a Charlie Brown character) and pig-stile.

    The artifacts are wonderful, especially the prizes. The branding iron has the virtue of having been used,though – that bumps it up the “cool-ness” ladder a bit. I do love old, empty spaces. Even empty spaces will do in a pinch. Schoolhouses during vacation, hospitals at midnight, that sort of thing. Sometimes I think the sense of presence is more vivid then that at any other time.

    When my mother died, one of the great decisions was what to keep and what to let go. Some things that I sold or gave away my friends just couldn’t believe. But the things I kept – even an ordinary soup cup – were the things that are most imbued with memory. They help to keep her close, just as Mr. Creeper’s things help to keep him close around the new life you’re building on his property.

    January 26, 2013
    • It’s a lovely word isn’t it! I hadn’t heard of piggery until we got the deeds for the house and there it was on the plan. Maybe I’ll look it up, perhaps it’s a cornish thing.

      Haha I think all mothers have uttered those words 🙂 Without extensive retraining I’m afraid I’m prone to revert to pigstye style living…

      I love empty spaces too…not only in physical places but in painting and writing too, it’s that thing of what’s not there being equally important.

      Everyday objects perhaps have more personal associations, like your mums soup cup. I slightly wish we’d kept my dads duffle coat which he told us with some pride that Dylan Thomas had thrown a pint of beer over – not sure how this happened or how he came to be in the vicinity of DT!

      January 26, 2013
  11. Wow, that’s brilliant! I got so excited when we changed the carpet in the back bedroom of our 1930s semi beack in England, and I found an old cinema ticket circa 1950. If I lived in your house with all those memories I think I’d be too excited to ever sleep!

    January 26, 2013
    • There is something exciting about finding things from the past. We have a few other objects, maybe I should do a post about them one day. Your cinema ticket starts a whole story.

      January 27, 2013
  12. A lovely post and some beautiful photos. It looks like a little piece of paradise. Mr Creeper’s benevolent spirit must be protecting you like one of those bubbles at the Eden Project.

    January 27, 2013
  13. A beautifully well told story of days gone past. I think you’re lucky to be rejuvenating his residence and keeping alive his memory.

    March 22, 2013
  14. Rhonda Crowe #

    How lucky for you and Mr. Creeper that you have each other! I’m sure he knows how much you love your girls as he loved his cows. I never had a cow come into the house but I did chase a goat out of my kitchen once – my husband thought it was hilarious!

    March 27, 2013
    • Goats are extremely naughty…but that’s why they’re lovely too 😉

      April 3, 2013
  15. Wow, what a story. You live in an amazing house and that story of Mr Creeper is incredible. Funny how one knows that some ghosts aren’t creepy. We think we had one once too but it left us in v strange circumstances!

    July 1, 2014

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