The Priory Church
Wednesday 28th March 2015
Having been made aware of your publication’s involvement in matters of a curious and inexplicable nature, I have seen fit to enclose some information which may be of interest to yourself and your readers. In order to impart this story in a readable and explicit manner, I will first need to detail my own negligible involvement in a tale which ostensibly stretches back to the nineteenth century.
Some months ago, I was engaged through my consultancy firm as Project Manager for some minor renovation work within Carthwaite Church in Cumbria. Some of the interior buttressing was in a state of extensive deterioration (dating as it did from the fifteenth century) and the Parish had accumulated enough money to pay for a programme of realignment and renovation; a form of masonic cosmetic surgery in which the features and façade of the original stone is maintained whilst the strength and durability of the structure is improved. My firm, Denham & Ledbetter, are renowned as specialists within the field of historic preservation work and so a division of English Heritage (as Principal Contractor to the Priory) sub-contracted the work out to us. The work was arduous and meticulous and necessitated the partial closure of the church for a period of three months during which the programme was successfully implemented and the buttressing renovated.
To cut a long story short, a few weeks after the initiation of the works, we were required to remove one of the tombstones built into the floor of the church. It was situated at the base of one of the pillars which was being renovated in the nave, and the tombstone had to be removed temporarily in order to avoid any damage caused by the erection of the scaffold. I could see that the slab itself was not quite flush with the base of the pillar – there was a narrow gap of maybe three-quarters of an inch (forgive the imperial usage – despite the ubiquity of metric measurements I was born and bred in the age of feet and inches, pounds and ounces, and am loathe to relinquish them) which was filled with a heavy layer of silty material, no doubt an accumulation over many years, possibly trod in on the undersides of parishioners’ shoes across the decades. I used a leaf trowel to scrape away a little of the sediment, and slid a few fingers into the gap in order to ascertain the weight and heft of the slab. However, my fingers hit something before they could gain a hold on the stone. I used the leaf-trowel to lever out what I initially thought to be a wooden chock of some description. However, when I had produced it and wiped through the layer of dust, I realised that it was a small book, probably A6 in size, and just wide enough to fit into the gap between the tombstone and the pillar. I was initially curious, but the programme being tight I slipped it into my pocket and continued with the removal of the tombstone so that work might progress on schedule.
Due to the constraints and stresses imposed on me by the project, the find was pushed from my mind for some weeks, and it was by chance on a weekend some month or so later that I actually re-discovered the book in the inner breast pocket of my high-viz jacket. As something of an amateur historian, I was surprised to have forgotten it for so long, as at the time the discovery greatly excited me. I sat down to browse through it, and the pertinent information is transcribed and relayed beneath, for your perusal. It quickly became apparent that the book was a blank-paged notebook, with handwritten entries inside. The date on the first page was given as 15th September 1879, and the last entry – some ten pages shy of the end of the book, the remainder being blank as 18th December 1880. Etched onto the front of the book were words rendered undecipherable by the wear of the years, however I feel that the information was repeated on the inner rear cover stating the name of the diarist to be a Mr Thomas Lloyd Peverell, and requesting the diary to be returned, if found, to himself care of Brasenose college, Oxford. After subsequent research I have been able to determine that Mr Peverell was an antiquarian and historian of some mild repute, who was an Associate Fellow of the aforementioned college and who would have been thirty four years old at the time the diary was written. The diary itself would be of little interest to the layman, as it mainly comprises notes, etchings and rubbings from ecclesiastical buildings which Mr Peverell had visited and researched in the course of his studies, some of which were employed in his publications. His second collection of ‘The Art and Architecture of Ecclesiastical Edifices within the County of Oxfordshire’ was, apparently, the leading book of its kind for many years.
As mentioned above, the diary contains little of interest to the casual reader, though as I read through it and appreciated the vast and exquisitely detailed information within – I realised that Mr Peverell must have been inconsolable when he learned of the loss of his notebook, presuming as I did that it must have come to rest between the tombstone and the pillar as a culmination of some extremely bad luck. However, when I reached the final four entries (and it is these entries which are transcribed below) I realised that the diary contained information of an unusual and extraordinary timbre, quite at odds with the nature of a man whom I since discovered to be, in the words of a contemporary, an ‘…odiously dry and irredeemably scholastic gentleman, devoid of any of the more favourable and preferable human characteristics, such as warmth, conviviality or humour…’.
Without further introduction, I will let Mr Thomas Peverell speak for himself:
December 16th 1880, Carthwaite, Lancs.
I sit and write this from a most cordial vantage point, explicitly at odds to yesterday’s discomfiture: I am sitting in front of a pleasantly loquacious log fire, with an agreeable hum of conversation around me and a thoroughly pillaged platter of comestibles in front of me. I have made it to the relative luxury of The Cavendish Arms coaching inn in Carthwaite, after a truly abysmal Hansom ride down from the station in Windermere. The tracks were base mud, rutted and frosted hard by the inclemency of the weather and as such, myself and my morose companion – whose name I cannot recall were tossed about like driftwood on an angry ocean. I have an army of miserable swellings and bruises about my body, and I relish the prospect of a relaxing bath as soon as I can gather the necessary strength of mind and body to heave myself from the comfort of my chair and scale the staircase between the bar and my chamber.
Being out-of-sorts following the cab-ride, I didn’t have the stomach to request the partridge from the innkeeper and instead frugally opted for bread and cheese. The bread arrived as a huge knot of crusted loaf flanked by a firm wedge of Red Leicester. The innkeeper – no doubt due to his delectation at serving a guest as esteemed and knowledgeable as I, as he profusely iterated – had provided a handsome cube of fresh butter, served on a delicate silver platter which had been warmed over the fire beforehand so as to render the food more malleable and yielding to both knife and bread. The combination was delectable and quite sufficient to invigorate me. Indeed there were times in the Hansom when the snow flurries bit through the carriage and the wind gusts threatened to upend us, I thought I would be laid up in bed with a fever or cold of the head and be unable to continue with these most essential researches into the Priory. During the lamentable journey, I had kept my senses about me enough to ask the driver to alert me when the church came into view, and this he duly did: I braved opening the window in time to see the huge and imposing mass float ethereally past through the dismal winter dusk with which these chilled and forsaken northern climes are cursed. Even as a silhouette the Priory was magnificent to behold, awesome in its size and gravity. As I write this, I fear that sleep will elude me in lieu of my child-like anticipation to venture into the building tomorrow.
I have just had quite an extraordinary and singular conversation with the innkeeper which necessitates transcription before the details and idiosyncrasies flee from my memory. I will try to set down the discourse verbatim, though of course I will be forgiven if the minutiae comprise more the essence of the words spoken, than the unerring utterances.
The innkeeper – one Erasmus Littleby – had sat opposite me as I loitered over the dregs of my ale and crumbs of cheese, and begging my pardon had begun to query me, most apologetically, as to the nature of my visit. His accent was dense and dark as the winter clouds across the bay and I set it down here in an approximation of acceptable English. Firstly, he asked whether it was the Priory which attracted so noble and distinguished et cetera a personage as my esteemed self to venture all the way to their unassuming village. I answered affirmatively.
“An’, beggin’ your pardon for the presumption, Sir, you have, I s’pose, heard tell o’ the rumers concernin’ t’Priory?”
He asked the question whilst scraping his grease-covered fingers against his smock and thumbing the bulbous protrusion of his nose with the same. He cast me slight watery glances but otherwise kept his view lowered to his own boots.
“And what rumours would those be?” I enquired.
“Why,” he answered, looking up at me, “the talk about t’hidden chamber an’ t’ noises…. Some ‘round ‘ere,” – he looked around us and gave his nose a conspiratorial tug, but there were no patrons closer than a good few yards – “aye, there be some ‘round ‘ere that talk ‘bout the secret vaults ‘neath the church–”
“Secret vaults? Hidden chambers?” I interrupted forcibly, or with words to that effect. “What are you on about, man?”
“Well, Sir, just as I said, there be some as talk about these things…’round the village…have done for many a year…prob’ly jus’ old wives’ tales or somesuch banter, but…we’ve ‘ad a few scholars such as your-good-self, beggin’ yer pardon, sir, as like’ve come to investigate, askin’ questions an’ such.”
“What sort of scholars?” I queried.
“Well, jus’ this last month gone there were a young gennelman, ‘round your age I’d say, sir. He’d come up to see t’ church.”
“Do you recall his name?”
“Well, now, there’s a question sir…Hanley, I’d say, or Healey….”
“Not Hislop, perchance?” I prompted, thinking of my rival from Cambridge.
“That’d be it, sir!” he said, snapping his fingers in the air between us. “That’d be it. A scholar like yerself, so he were.” He nodded his thick head and his heavy jowls rippled.
I held a finger up to silence his chatter whilst I pondered the implications of this piece of intelligence. Dilwyn Hislop had procured access to the church, no doubt with the same motives as myself, weeks ahead of me. Perhaps he was preparing for publication even now, and would sever my own endeavours before they had even been given a chance to emerge from these notebooks. The only insurance I could have against the ensured failure of my research – and simultaneously hobble the efforts of Hislop – would be to obtain access to any areas which Hislop had failed to breach.
“Tell me more of these hidden chambers,” I asked the innkeeper.
“Aye, sir, o’ course,’ he nodded eagerly, “there’s oways bin strange tales o’ that church, e’en since afore I were a lad – an’ that’s a good few years back, ‘tween me an’ yergoodself, sir! – jus’ a lot of nonsense about noises comin’ from inside in t’ middle of night an’ local kids scarin’ theyselves silly by loiterin’ an’ playin’ fool affer dark, but,” he slapped his fleshy palm against the table and made the dishes rattle – “these silly tales ‘ave ways o’…latchin’ ont’ a village, you know?”
“And the hidden chambers?” I persisted, allowing a soupçon of impatience to bolster my question.
“Aye, yes, well, there were talk of a locked chamber, Sir, one that has bin kept locked for many, many years on account o’ terrible noises an’ visions comin’ from within….”
“Indeed?” I said, imbuing the word with what I hoped was a brimful of the contempt the souse’s speech deserved. I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well,” he stammered, “jus’ thought I’d let you know, sir. Obvusly, I ant paid no heed t’ them stories, anymore’n t’ next level-headed gent, o’ course. Jus’ a brace o’ silly rot, but you needa watch out, sir, ‘cause there are them in t’village who believe such ramblins. Aye.” He nodded his head emphatically.
“I can assure you, Mr Littleby,” I impressed on him, “I am no such fellow and my work at the Priory has nothing at all to do with any such…rural fables as those. Ghost-stories and buried treasure, no doubt!” I laughed, and the innkeeper coughed out an unsteady chuckle in unison with my own. “No, indeed. My research is to do with the architectural and aesthetic attributes of your village’s Church, the bulwark of ecclesiastical worship in Lancashire for century upon century.”
Littleby muttered some assent intertwined with the usual obsequiousness. I told him I was to retire to my chambers and would appreciate being woken to break my fast on the seventh hour of the morning.
I write this now as I take a medicinal dram of imported French brandy to guard against the chill of the hostile northern air and the stresses imparted upon mind and body by the rambunctious and unsettling cab ride which I endured earlier. Tomorrow: the Priory church of Carthwaite. My stomach is writhing with excitement in a tempest which only another schooner of brandy and lovage will quench. I only hope that my faculty’s letter of introduction was received by the current Vicar, the Reverend Thomas Dinning, so that he is prepared to welcome me into his church and his confidence.
December 17th 1880, Carthwaite, Lancs.
My morning has passed without incident. I broke my fast with a sumptuous feast of spiced quail eggs and toasted bread, rinsing my palate with a pot of Assam (as the innkeeper had neglected to order another batch of Lapsang Souchong in time for my arrival) and I set forth for the Church, hoping for a dawn rendez-vous with the vicar. I wrapped up firmly with several layers of undershirts and my winter great-coat from Gieves and Hawkes, my throat swaddled in my heavy woollen scarf. The air was brittle with cold as the sun had not yet perforated the horizon, but mercifully the wind was feeble and infrequent, so my clothing was adequate to keep the wintriness from my flesh.
My perceived engagement with the vicar was not to be however, as I arrived into the churchyard only to find all the doors shut, and locked tight. I rapped hard on the timber slats for some five minutes, but to no avail. Slightly put out, I satisfied myself for the while by circumventing the church through the graveyard, studying the fantastic lithic technology employed by our ancestors some seven hundred years past. The church is a standard east-oriented cruciform structure, with some original transitional Norman masonry detectable in the north and south transepts and the handiwork of the seventeenth century restorations being very much visible in parts. The unique feature of the church tower (and the one which Dean de Beauvoir vociferously requested that I document) was prominent even in the dim light of the winter dawn: the building of the upper section at a forty-five degree angle to the lower. It is my supposition that this architectural device was employed in order to prevent excess strain on the interior arches, though this will only be attested by a thorough internal inspection.
[Note: there follow some six (6) pages of Peverell’s sketches of the church from different angles, along with a projected plan view indicating approximate scale and orientation relative to the village.]
After producing the studies the sun was very much above the grasping skeletal fingers of the yew trees in the grounds, and yet the vicar was still nowhere to be seen. I resolved to partake in a morning constitutional to gain a vantage point over the village and so returned to my inn to procure a knob of cheese and small loaf from Litteleby, and a solid surface and clement environment in which to make these notes and ink over these studies.
I have succeeded in conducting an interview with the Reverend Thomas Dinning and can only say that my encounter with such a priggish and ill-educated servant of the Lord has left me with more than a morsel of contempt for the good vicar of this parish. I see now I can barely write legibly from indignation! I will begin to recount from where I left off in the vain hope that the interim will serve to dampen the embers of exasperation charring my stomach.
I set off to ascend Hamp’s Fell, which swells up from Carthwaite village and undulates gently to a bleak and windswept promontory overlooking the bay of Morecambe and the river Kent. I attained the view after some little effort and exhaustion and felt the fresh and cleansing air sweep the last of yesterday’s rigours from my aching joints. The summit (marked by a crude pile of rocks and pebbles) was sparse, ragged trees straining against the gales howling in from the sea. The view was awesome, magnificent: the mighty brooding bulwarks of the Lakeland hills to the north and the endless majesty of the sea rolling infinitely towards a violet horizon. The sky was immolated by the midday sun which gleamed sublimely through the white snow-bearing clouds. To the north, just visible across the rump of the hill, was the quaint and fragile village of Carthwaite, punctuated in the centre by the imposing skewed tower of the Priory.
At the summit, the snow was a clear foot thick and the wind an incessant squall which knocked me asunder more than once. I took refuge behind a crumbling dry-stone wall and used my numbed fingers to devour my bread and cheese. After a brief prayer to the Lord for allowing me the privilege of witnessing such a demonstration of His miraculous creations, I hastened back down towards the village.
I returned at once to the church through a chill fresh snowfall, and found the south door swung wide, a dusting of precipitation encroaching into the porch. I entered quietly, but the church was largely empty (there being no Service in progress) and the only other figure was a swarthy and heavily wrapped gentleman genuflecting solemnly beside one of the pews. I was immediately struck by the spectacle of the interior: the church is cavernous and immediately intimidating, from the spacious narthex just to my left, to the mighty Norman pillars soaring lithely towards the beamed and vaulted roof of the nave. To the far right of me was the Great East Window. I walked over and made a sketch of the elaborate tracery, and then proceeded across to the northern and southern choirs noting the details of the Jesse window and the lancet windows built into the masonry above the original piscina. I was able to continue undisturbed with my researches for some time and so conducted a thorough study of the magnificent seventeenth century screen and the fifteenth century misericords beneath. These latter were a truly astounding sight with the carving betraying a level of craftsmanship the rival of the Flemish masters, or Grinling Gibbons’ work in St Pauls. I made detailed sketches of each of the misericord carvings: there were the usual foliate designs, and lion-heads, along with a more unusual bestiary of dragons, mermaids and demons combined with some pagan Green Man imagery. There were indications of Lombardic script and arabesques within the supporters, and I trained my attention upon a particular one which appeared to represent the Great Beast, or Satan replete with the usual appurtenances such as throne and crown, growling and sneering out at the observer. It was quite an horrific and singular piece of work. Also of note are the somewhat worn finials, and the quaint essence of a graffito etched into the seat-rests above the Prior misericord. Looking out, westwards from the choir and along the nave, was a quotation inscribed floridly into the facing frame of the screen:
‘I had rather be a doorkeeper/In the house of my GOD, then/To dwell in the Tabernacles of wickednesse. Psa, 84’
Noticing the recent presence of a reredos, and the immaculately preserved sedilia within the sanctuary, I moved ‘round the circumference of the church, and through the triforia, taking point of the exquisitely carved architraves on the perpendicular columns. I repeated the circuit and sketched out the locations of the disused and bricked-up doorways set within the masonry, which hinted at the original usage of the Priory and the connection to the monk’s chambers and outbuildings without.
[Note: there follow some twelve (12) pages of Peverell’s accomplished sketches of the various carvings and features referenced above.]
Opposite the recently installed Jardine three-manual organ was the exquisite fourteenth century Harington tomb, a tribute to the Lord John and his wife Joan. The tomb appears to have been sculpted elsewhere by a selection of masons and moved into an enlarged area within the choir. There were also evidences of possibly Dissolution-era vandalism, as indicated in Fig. 4b previous, with figures in the carving and on the facing tester having been obliterated.
Being satisfied with my day’s work, and having noticed that the light from outside was beginning to sombre as Hecate roused herself into the world, I attempted to seek out the vicar in order to request access to those areas locked to the public; namely, the vestry and the staircases leading to the upper levels and the tower. It was serendipitous that as I was about to leave through the north door in the direction of the Prior’s House, I encountered the Reverend as he was making a tally of hymnals within the porch-way.
“Do I have the pleasure of addressing the Reverend Thomas Dinning?” I enquired cordially, extending my hand.
The vicar was old and shrunken and tired, with thick spectacles raised upon his pate and watery green eyes. He shook my hand weakly and squinted inquisitively at me.
“You do,” he replied. “And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
I gave him my name and credentials and enquired as to whether he had received my institution’s letter of introduction, to which query he replied negatively. I informed him as to the nature of my expedition so far north and the great assistance he could proffer in association with my endeavours. His response was disagreeably cold and brittle:
“I’m afraid not, Mr Peverell,” he said, shaking his withered head slowly. “The only areas of my church available for public appreciation are those to which you currently have access. I’m afraid there has long been a policy of maintaining the church’s inner dignity, and it is a policy to which I – like my previous incumbents strictly adhere.”
He bent down to his hymnals and tally sheet.
“But Reverend,” I said to try and forestall his obvious reluctance to discuss the matter, “I act as an agent of Brasenose College in Oxford-“
“You are repeating yourself, Mr Peverell,” he interrupted somewhat rudely.
“-and it is in the interest of the wider community and in the interests of the preservation of this fantastic and sublime structure that such areas are recorded.”
“That decision is mine to make, Mr Peverell, and I would thank you to trespass no further on my time or courtesy.”
I decided to persevere with my interrogation from a different approach.
“Reverend,” I asked, “can you at least tell me whether you had the pleasure of receiving a colleague of mine, a matter of weeks ago? Dilwyn Hislop was the name, a scholar from Cambridge.”
“I remember the fellow, yes,” he replied. “He wanted the same as yourself, Mr Peverell, and he got the same response as you, as I should have no need to reiterate.”
“But, Reverend, surely-” I persisted, to no avail.
He stood up to his full height – the top of his head being barely at a level with my shoulder and glared up at me with his dim and truculent eyes.
“Mr Peverell,” he spat, “there are reasons for occurrences in this world, and sometimes only the Good Lord knows them.” He crossed himself solemnly. “But let me assure you, that I have very, very good reasons for adhering to the wishes of my predecessors, and that those reasons are of no business to anyone – especially to those from outside my Parish wishing to poke and pry into areas which are sacrosanct.”
“Are you talking about hidden passages, Reverend?” I asked with a smile. “Locked up rooms with ghostly wails and rattling chains?”
“This interview is terminated, Mr Peverell. Good day!”
With these words the Reverend Thomas Dinning strode past me and into the church itself, leaving me shivering in the north porch. I left, feeling the injustice and ignorance displayed by the vicar in his slighting, and retreated to my inn where I currently write these words and nurse my temper with a schooner of sherry. How the good people of this village tolerate their heavenly direction from such a character, I can only imagine Accius applies: oderint dum metuat!
December 18th 1880, Carthwaite, Lancs.
There is much to relate and so I will be concise in my transcription.
After my ill-fated meeting with the vicar, I returned to the Cavendish Arms to indulge a rather bleak cogitation about the day’s events. I arrived at the conclusion that the only way to ensure that my efforts with the church would be academically remunerated would be to supersede Hislop’s inevitable paper. And the only way of guaranteeing such a manoeuvre, I convinced myself, was to secure access to those areas of the church forbidden to my rival.
After a less-than-delectable tray of comestibles (including a pigeon and hog’s pudding drier than a Moor’s heel bone) which was accompanied by more liberal doses of a rather coarse Highland whisky than I should have liked, my resolution had settled and crystallized into the plan which I shall outline below:
I returned to the church earlier this evening and ostensibly set about my research, scouring the nooks and crannies of the edifice with a keen eye. The Reverend was there and pottering about the sanctuary, and though he caught my gaze but once, he did not return my somewhat terse nod of acknowledgement. In fact, I was searching for any areas which might prove sufficient as a hiding place, any dusty and darkened niches which might accommodate my frame with a modicum of comfort until the Reverend had deigned to lock up for the night. After some circuits – and endeavouring strenuously to render my deliberations as innocuous as possible – I discovered an ideal asylum within the recess between the Harington tomb and the sedilia of the Piper Choir. As the tomb had been inserted rather barbarically into the masonry, which had been roughly hewn apart in order to accommodate the same, there was a fairly large niche between the tomb and the wall; as the tomb was hollow, there was sufficient space to justify my surreptitious presence within.
Accordingly, I loitered around with my heart trilling excitedly in my breast until the church was almost devoid of people, and quietly – though with much scuffling and panting – I concealed myself within the niche. I had a limited view of the church, being able to see only a sliver of the Piper Choir on the one side and a suggestion of the main choir and sanctuary on the other, but I knew that I was all but invisible to the casual observer.
I waited, folded into the thick and claustrophobic nook, for what felt like hours upon end, until at last the lamps were extinguished and the final slow-moving footsteps of the Reverend echoed no more. Then there was the thud of the closing doors and the crunch of the heavy keys turning in the capacious metal locks. I waited in silence for a slow count of one hundred before delicately unfolding myself from my position and extracting myself from the niche beside the tomb.
In the words of the great Caesar: alea iacta est…!
I blinked a few times to allow my eyes to adjust to the light from the moon’s rays filtering in through the multitudinous windows. The church was even more stupendous in these conditions, with the magnitude and sombreness of the architecture exacerbated by the sullen timbre of the moonlight and the cavernous shadows draped across the interior.
I picked my way across to the vestry door and gingerly tried the handle, but it was locked. Only mildly irritated, I decided to make the best of my position and so went across to the votive candles. I took out the small vial of paraffin I had procured from the inn and dipped the wick of one of the candles. I struck it alight with a spark from the flint and tinderbox I had also acquired from Litteleby; my cigarette lighter sitting contentedly, no doubt, on my shelf in Brasenose whence I neglected to procure it for the expedition.
The explosion of light hurled manifold additional shadows into the nave, flickering and swaying as the flame guttered and leapt with my exhalations. I strode across to the other door at ground level which had caught my eye, one built into the wall of the south transept which breached a short internal wall – some six feet or so in height – and which, presuming a standard layout, led from there to a narrow winding staircase climbing the interior of the wall and up into the tower. This door too, however, was locked. I was about to consider my options with regard to scaling the intervening wall and thus gaining access to the steps without recourse to opening the door, when a dull noise caught my ears. Silent as the church was, the sound – though subtle and barely audible – carried in the still air and reverberated from the stone until it swelled to a level loud enough to make my heart leap into my throat for an instant. I feared that the Reverend had returned on some nocturnal investigation to retrieve a misplaced belonging; I immediately extinguished my candle with a dampened finger and sank to the ground beside a pew.
After waiting in a crouch for what felt like half an eternity – my legs screaming in complaint at sustaining my position – I finally exhaled (not realising I had been holding my breath) and rose to my feet. There were no other sounds and no other indications of any presence other than my own. I rallied myself and reminded my more timorous fancies that such an old building was innately susceptible to such peculiarities, with the old timber contracting in the cold temperatures and mice and bats no doubt rife in the rafters and belfry.
I gingerly walked across to the candles and lit another (dropping a farthing into the offertory as I did so) and noticed a most peculiar sight: through the silken light dripping through the lancet windows in the northern wall of the Piper Choir, I could just determine that the door to the vestry was cracked open slightly. Realising that my position, such as it was, was utterly untenable, I decided to stride towards the vestry with my candle ablaze and confront the vicar – if it was he – for having the discourtesy to lock me inside of the church. Whether or not he would believe such a fable aware as he was of my previous machinations – would be of no moment, and any such allegations I could of course refute most vociferously.
I walked boldly along the Piper Choir and up to the vestry – the door of which was indeed slightly ajar – and cleared my throat authoritatively.
There was no response.
Nor was there any light from inside the vestry itself.
I thrust my candle forward and used the toe of my sturdy shoe to force the door further open. The vestry was a small room, and quite empty.
I stood for a while, allowing my eyes to gorge themselves on the interior whilst a slight feather-touch of apprehension shivered down between my shoulder blades. I stood and considered this rather irregular occurrence. It was entirely possible – indeed the only feasible explanation – that my earlier efforts at the handle of the vestry had succeeded in loosening the door mechanism (which although stiff, had been unlocked) and the door had eventually, of its own bearing, swung inwards.
I walked inside and studied the interior of the chamber. There was a single table and chair in the centre of the room, with an assemblage of robes laid across the latter. Architecturally there was little of interest in the room at first glance, and my heart sank; this was my opportunity to acquire intelligence to which Hislop would not have been privy. However, upon closer inspection, a most singular piece of sculpture revealed itself built into the eastern wall.
It was an elaborate and ancient-looking bas-relief depicting a huge demonic creature – not entirely dissimilar from the carving on the misericord – enthroned, winged and crowned, attacking much smaller figures dressed in typical monks’ habits, or robes of some kind. At the base of the sculpture, beneath the bestial feet of the demon, were mounds of bodies. Beyond the creature was visible a church, possibly the Priory Church itself though in a form pre-dating even the original late Norman structure; there was no large and skewed tower, and the building was smaller as a whole, and decorated with ostensibly pagan (or late-Roman) ornamentation, more a temple than a church. It was surrounded by a conglomeration of apparently timber-built structures with thatched roofs – the Priory’s outbuildings, no doubt – some of which were ablaze. As I moved the candle closer I could just ascertain the grisly spectacle of lynched monks depending on thick nooses from the finials of the church. Above the carving was the inscription: ‘et cum spiritu tuo’. The manner and typology of the carving suggested to me a Saxon origin, or at least an indication that it pre-dated the original Priory Church.
The whole tableau – although carved with no little measure of skill and dedication – left a biliousness in my stomach and an uneasy feeling at the back of my cerebrum. I made a hasty sketch of it, as below, and then noticed that beneath the engraving was a small, rudimentary piscina, filled with a coarse, dark liquid of some description. I placed a tentative finger in the piscina and held it an inch from my nose: the aroma was musky, the texture oily. I frantically scrubbed my finger against my greatcoat, eager as I was to be rid of the ichorous substance.
I placed my candle – which now, as I write, is burned down to half its initial length – in a holder just beneath the piscine, and sat at the table to set down my findings.
[Note: there is a suggestion here that a page has been hastily torn from the notebook.]
I write this hastily in great fear and with enormous trepidation.
The hour I am unsure of, as I found my pocket-watch to have stopped at the hour indicated above. How much time has passed since, I am unable to estimate, as my nerves are frayed and I am in doubt of my own senses.
After finishing the previous entry, I admit I came over somewhat fatigued and rested my heavy head upon the table for a mere minute or so. The air seemed to thicken and congeal and loiter in my throat and my limbs seemed bound with lead. After a short repose, however, I was stirred by the sound of footsteps outside the vestry, the sound of bare feet on wood.
I at once sprang up and noticed that my candle had burned itself out within its holder. My thoughts reeling within my skull, I retained the presence of mind to remove the wax from the floor and the candle-stub from its present position and deposited these traces within my greatcoat pocket. I crept to the vestry door which I found had closed to behind me and placed my palm upon the handle ready to ease it open, fully expecting to see the apoplectic glare of Reverend Dinning.
I know not what premonition or lingering unease filled me at that point, but I was overwhelmed by a tide of reluctance and terror to open the door and gaze out upon the brooding stomach of the church. I fought down the fancy, remembered Virgil’s adage of audentis fortuna iuvat, and swung open the door and stepped out into the northern choir.
I was met by an utter silence and stillness which was all the more insidious in lieu of the footsteps which I had heard so brazenly just moments before.
‘Hello?’ I managed to utter, but it was a half whisper. The darkness and silence seemed to devour my voice.
I moved slowly along the choir and towards the west end of the church in order to procure another candle, yet as I moved the footsteps again started. The sound of flesh against wood was undeniable, and they appeared to be coming from above me. I looked upwards, but there was nothing except the roof beams spanning up into the murky darkness. My heart quickened and an amorphous fear rose up in my stomach and I quickened my pace, not looking about me until I reached the candle-stack, whereupon I struck one alight, though it took me some five or six attempts, as my hands were quivering so much.
I turned round and faced the entire might and awe of the church which loomed in front of me like the maw of Jonah’s whale, the Great East window a huge and accusatory eye in the centre, the stained glass figures staring their disapproval at me. The flickering candle sent shadows scurrying behind the pillars and pews and I confess again that my fancy bettered me and I dropped to the floor behind the stone font in the centre of the nave. My desire to pursue my research had disappeared by now and all I wished for was a release into the outside world; my chamber, my bed, brandy. Nothing on God’s earth could compel me to seek out the upper reaches of the tower, or the bowels of the vaults beneath me.
The footsteps had ceased and I strained my ears to make out a new sound, a guttural grunting, as a hog or a throttled man. It was an ugly and miserable sound and it made my stomach tighten into an iron knot. The noises echoed round the church and then stopped as immediately as they had commenced, replaced only by my own panting.
I steeled my nerves enough to cast a glance out beyond the font, but the church was still. Hot wax was dripping slowly onto my fist, and I noticed I had clenched my fingers so tightly that the candle had snapped in two. I looked across to the South Door and after gathering my strength, chanced a sprint across to it. I rattled the door and tried to squeeze the handles open, but the lock held fast. I spun ‘round, breathing heavily and the echoes of my exertions reverberated through the church. A new noise filled the air, so faint at first I almost had to strain to hear it, but which quickly became apparent as being that sinister creak of hemp rope against wood. There were silhouettes, shadows swinging ominously amongst the rafters, though the dark was so intense I was unable to discern any further details. The air suddenly became thick and warm and the entire church filled with a crazed flickering light, as of untamed flames leaping at the windows.
I threw my candle to the ground and tried the doors again, shouting and begging and hammering my fists against the oak until my hands and my throat were sore, but there was no indication of a response. I sank down beneath a pew and committed these occurrences to paper in an effort to suppress the wild imaginings cavorting through my head.
The noises have continued unabated for these last hours: shouts, howls of rage, screams of pain or anguish, grunts and wordless noises; chanting voices swelling from a murmur then rising to a fervid crescendo before ebbing again into a hum, or silence; voices whispering mad and obscene suggestions into my ear. Yet there is no-one close; I can see no-one, only crazed cacophonous shades flitting from pew to pillar.
I sit and wait for dawn, for a reprieve, for the good vicar to come and release me from these horrors, but the night is thick at the windows, broken only by flickers of red hell through the stained glass, which appears to be melting down from the tracery. At one quiet point I summoned the courage to rush for the vestry, remembering the narrow ground-level window within, ideas in my head of using the chair to break the glass and leap to freedom. However I found the door locked fast: a queer orangey light was permeating from within, washing out from underneath the door, and inside was the flicker and pounce of shadows, and the soft insidious tones of a voice, cracked and hideous and thus I fled to my niche within the Harington tomb, which is where I now cower and write by the wild leaping light of the flames beyond the walls.
I pray to the Good Lord, our Heavenly Saviour, that morning rises strong and dispels the evil which assails me within this place.
I have no idea of the time, but pray only that morning be close. The air outside is uncanny – red and vivid violet, it seems to make the windows pulse inwards with its pressure. I dared a look out from one of the windows in the Town Choir and saw a body jerking and writhing sickeningly at the end of a taut rope, swinging to and fro in silence beyond the glass, and then I could bear to look no more. The church is full of the unearthly noises again and-
[Note: the words which follow are a loose decipherment from the almost illegible handwriting which was scratched into the diary. The words have been reconstructed to form full sentences, but Peverell’s original entries are open to interpretation.. ]
A figure, a monk, a-
I can barely write from fear, my mind is feverish, I have no idea, the-
I saw a cowled figure at the altar, hunched and slouched, rasping noises and grunts emanating from him, from it. I cannot begin to describe the sheer heart-stopping terror which the very sight of this figure inspired within me. I was unable to tear my eyes from its back, yet I knew that should it turn and reveal the face within the cowl I would be struck with a madness and clutch out my own eyes from my very skull. I watched, rapt, as the figure conducted strange rituals, then shuffled across through the choir, prostrating itself in front of the misericord of the demon, and then continued moving through the nave until it reached the bell cord swinging loosely from the centre of the tower. I had never noticed it before, but it was there, as clear as these pages in front of me, and the figure reached up with hands that barely resembled human appendages and tugged hard on the rope and the bell pealed with an intense atonality and all of a sudden I was overcome with queasiness and faintness and a terrible consuming despondency and I must have fainted for I recall waking up to darkness and silence and this is the condition as I write this now….
I have just torn out the page containing the sketch I made of the carving in the vestry, for my notebook seemed to weigh heavier for its presence. I feel a little at ease now, as if there has been a palpable shift in the night, a fissure in the darkness through which a chink of light is cast.
I offer praise to God and believe that morning will be here soon. Indeed, I can hear the clunk of a key wrestling within the heavy lock of the South Door even as I write….
And that is where Mr Peverell’s terrifying and inexplicable entries terminate.
As for how the notebook came to lie where it did, between the pillar-base and tombstone in the nave, I have no clues. I did some amateurish research into the situation, based on Mr Peverell’s account, using archive copies of the local paper (the Westmoreland Gazette) along with assorted historical records for the Priory which I have been fortunate enough to locate on the internet.
The December 23rd 1880 edition of the gazette ran a brief story about the strange disappearance of a visiting scholar to Carthwaite, Mr Thomas Peverell, who was last seen setting out for ‘a day on the hills’ by his Innkeeper, Mr Littleby on the afternoon of the 18th. Littleby raised the alarm the following evening when Peverell failed to return and settle his bill. The local constabulary were involved to some extent, though there were no tangible leads for them to work with. A couple of weeks later in some of the national papers (including the Spectator and the Times) Mr Peverell’s family ran a Missing Persons advert (at what must have been considerable personal expense), requesting information as to his whereabouts. I have not been able to locate any suggestion of a satisfactory response to this request, and I have not been able to trace any indication as to what became of Mr Peverell. The only follow-up I could retrieve was an article in the Oxford Times from December 8th, 1882, which makes reference to Mr Peverell and his disappearance, though which sheds no light on the events. My petitions for more information from Brasenose college have, to date, been unanswered.
As there is no evidence that Mr Peverell has any living descendants, I will offer the original copy of the notebook to the British Library. As an incidental remark, I also discovered that Mr Dilwyn Hislop, of Queen’s College, Cambridge did indeed publish a paper on the Priory in the June 1881 issue of Notes & Queries, though his account was, needless to say, nowhere near as eventful as Peverell’s, and is limited to the areas which were available to Peverell, as well as the public.
As to the history of the Priory, the only information I can find, relating to Peverell’s strange accounts, is based on local legend. During the Dissolution a number of the monks are recorded to have been hung, although it is stated that this took place in Lancaster, not in the church grounds. Trawling further back, it would appear from recent magnetometrical surveys within the grounds that the foundations of an even earlier building lie beneath the current church, preceding the Norman phase of development. It was apparently common in the post-Roman/Early Christian period for the clergy to requisition pagan practices and sites such as temples, and re-use them as places of Christian worship. Whether or not this pre-Norman structure was the scene of lynchings, incinerations and occultism, is not recorded anywhere that I have been able to locate.
I can say that the rumours concerning Carthwaite’s church continue to this day, as fables concerning passages and haunted rooms are rife. I, for one, have no wish to be as bold as Mr Peverell was, and have no desire for any further first-hand knowledge of this mystery. And so, I submit this story for your interest, and that of your readers, should you decide to publish it.