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Miscellaneous - Supernatural

Witchcraft was common place in Scotland between the 16th and 18th centuries, the practise of which was a criminal offence in Scotland until 1736. Between 1479 and 1722, 17,000 people, mostly women, were tortured and put to death. The estates of those convicted went to the Crown, and so witch hunting was a profitable business for those prosecuting. The last recorded burning of a suspected witch in Scotland was Janet Horne in 1727.

The legend of the Stonehouse witches is well known in the village. Neighbouring parishes were constantly attributing accidents and strange occurrences with local women. Traders and visitors when passing through the village would carry branches of Rowan tree, as a charm to protect them from the evil powers of the witches. At fairs many of those in competition with local opponents would carry potions of Rowan tree to keep the spirits at bay. Some say that the witches are unable to leave the parish, for it was known that witches are unable to cross running water. In the 1850’s a gentleman writing in the Hamilton Advertiser stated that many local people in the village, had in the past, planted Rowan trees in their gardens to ward off the powers of evil.

One elderly man was said to take advantage of other villages superstitions of Stonehouse folk. This happened when one day when he was making his way to Millholm dam where a curling match was being played. Watching them from a distance, the players were put off by his presence believing he had sinister connections with the witches. He played upon their suspicions and from a small box released what appeared to the curlers to be small white creatures running about. They were most probably white mice.

In the days when a bell tolled in the old jail, the bell ringer (known only by the initials J.C.) claimed that when he climbed the stairs to ring the bell at night, witches would grip his legs and pull.

Today witchcraft is still common place, practiced without the persecution of the 18th century. Nowadays we are more likely to be critical or dismissive of strange occurrences of the supernatural. Despite this there have been several ‘strange occurrences’ and superstitions that are present today. The most commonly known ‘ghost story’ is that of the eerie sounds of trains in the area of Whinriggs, on the West Mains estate. Although the line closed in the late 1960’s, many people, unknown to one another, have said they have heard the sound of a train passing in the night. Probably the best recording of this was by a woman from Whinriggs, who said her two year old son, cried out in the middle of the night claiming that a train was coming through his bedroom wall. His mother initially dismissed this as a nightmare, however several years later the boy still claimed to hear and see the train. It wasn’t until recently the woman found out that the railway line goes virtually past her house. It is rare for there to be apparitions of trains, as most ghostly appearances are in the form of living beings. It may be that the number of deaths on the line, may have caused this strange phenomenon to occur. There have been many accidents involving the shunting of trains. In August 1882 a woman released from an asylum committed suicide by laying her head on the line, placing a handkerchief over her face and waited the 5pm from Glasgow, which duly arrived on schedule and proceeded to sever her head from her lifeless body.

An area where there have been a number of ghost stories is the river Avon. Fishermen’s tales are famous all over, but the sheer number of unusual sightings cannot be disregarded in every case as imaginary. The river has been the scene of many deaths, either by drowning in its perilous pools, or mining on its banks. During the 18th century there were tidal floods, sweeping away bridges in their path. In recent years, a local fisherman who had been fishing on the Avon, claimed he noticed a man in old working clothes, watching him from the opposite bank of the river. At first the fisherman thought nothing of it, until the man began walking towards him. The unusual thing about this was, that he was said to have been walking on top of the water, then as he approached, simply disappeared.

Another case of disappearing ghosts was on Manse Road near the old kirk yard. In this case a woman was travelling into the village one morning when she noticed a horse with a woman riding side-saddle across the road. The woman on the horse was dressed in Victorian clothing and the horse’s legs were cut short as if it were walking through water on the road. Again the apparition disappeared without trace. Why this ghostly figure should appear is uncertain, but the horses legs being shorter, may be explained by the constantly changing levels in the ground. In the North of England for instance, Roman legions have been seen in similar circumstances, walking through moors, with their legs cut off, due possibly to agricultural land improvements and the level of the land altering with the ever changing environment.

Even today there are reports of unexplained apparitions, ‘poltergeists’ and eerie tales of terror. The story of the ‘bloodstone’ is one such tale, which on hearing for the first is simply regarded as yet another ‘old wives tale’ but in reality is based on a true occurrence, which can still be evidenced for all to experience today.

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