Mer-chicken, UFOs and the Tarrant Gunville Vampire - five weird Dorset Legends you might not know

Rabbit: Portland's forbidden word,

Rabbit: Portland's forbidden word,

First published in News

Dorset is home to some weird and wonderful tales. Here are five you really should know.

1. Tarrant Gunville is home to a vampire

William Doggett was the steward of Eastbury House in Tarrant Gunville in 1786. As the story goes, he dismantled part of the house after his master moved abroad, sold the building materials then shot himself on hearing his master was returning to England - leaving, legend has it, a bloodstain that could not be removed.

Soon after stories began to circulate that Doggett had returned to stalk the village. His blood-covered face was seen after dark. Doors opend and closed by themselves. 

In 1907 Charles Harper wrote that: "Generally at the stroke of midnight, a coach with headless coachman and headless horses drives out and picks up Doggett, down the road."

"If you see an old-world figure at such a time, stepping into that horrid conveyance, you will recognise him as Doggett by his knee-breeches, tied with yellow silk ribbon. The headless coachman asks (out of his neck ?), "Where to, sir ?" and the ghost says, "Home"; whereupon the horses are whipped up, and they drive back to the house. The shade of Doggett, entering, proceeds to the panelled room where he shot himself a century and a half ago - and shoots himself again !"

In 1845, Tarrant Gunville church was demolished and rebuilt. Workmen exhuming Doggett's body found the workmen, exhuming his body, found his legs had been tied together with yellow silk ribbon and his body was not at all decomposed. His body was dealt with in the "accepted way" for a vampire, and he made no trouble for the village after that.

2. The mysterious Hover Cross of Moigne Down

UFO stories are common, and usually easily dismissed. But the 1967 sightings of a UFO over Moigne Down are extremely well documented.

The Dorset Echo ran a story on October 24 about two policemen who gave chase to a large, bright, cross-shaped object they saw flying through the sky at 80mph. It was 4am, but the officers were described as family men in their 30s, whose stories were corroborated by a motorist who also saw the object.

The next day, the Echo ran a second story, saying five police patrols in Sussex had also seen the object. Two days later, it was spotted in the sky over Moigne Down by a Mr Angus Brooks.

From the Echo's report:

He said, "I was walking across Moigne Down, near Holworth, with my dogs at 11.25 yesterday morning. The sky was clear and I saw a very fine 'con trail very high in the sky over the Portland area.

"This disappeared and then into view, descending at a very high rate from the same area came a craft which slowed to level out about a quarter of a mile to the south of me and at about 200-300ft."

Mr. Brooks added that the craft's shape on descent consisted of a central-circular chamber with a leading fuselage at the front and three separate fuselages together at the rear.

"On slowing to a Stop, two of the rear fuselages moved into position at, the side of the craft and formed four fuselages in the form of a cross at equidistant position around the centre chamber," he said.

The craft remained visible for 22 minutes. It made little noise, if any, and its hovering attitude seemed unaffected by the strong wind."

Said Mr. Brooks, "From my position the craft's construction appeared to be of a translucent material. It took on the colour of the sky above it and changed with clouds passing over it.

"There could have been a clear material top to the fuselages and centre chamber, but this could not be seen from my position. There appeared to be dark centre shadows down the floors of the fuselages and at the base of the centre chamber."

Mr Brooks did not believe the object was a UFO, simply aircraft refuelling.

But in 1975 and 1976, the Hover Cross showed up again in Gloucestershire, seen in Tewkesbury and Cheltenham.

And some experts have linked it to the notorious "space battle" said to have taken place over Germany in 1561. (No, really, that's a thing. Details here, including a picture.)

3. Don't mention the rabbit...

Say the word "rabbit" to a Portlander, and you might find them turning a little pale.

It's a superstition with a basis in reality, because rabbits (or their burrows) were the cause of lethal rock falls in Portland's quarries. Men who saw a rabbit on their way to work would turn back, and the word became syonymous with bad luck. So much so that when Wallace and Gromit's Curse of the Were Rabbit was released, posters on Portland did not use the title

Some islanders call them "underground mutton" instead.

4. The Shapwick Monster

On October 12th 1706, a live crab fell off a fishmonger's cart being wheeled through the lanes between Wimborne and Blandford.

The crab was found near East Farm in the village and the locals, having never seen such a beast before, immediately summoned a village elder who proclaimed it to be a devil or “monster”. The villagers armed themselves with pitchforks as protection and tried to drive the creature away.

How  the story leaked out to neighbouring towns and villages, isn't entirely clear (one version has it that the fishmonger came back for his crab to see the villagers armed with sticks) but ever afterwards the people of Shapwick were looked upon as rather simple.

The story was cemented in verse and pictures in 1841 by Buscall Fox (read it here) and today the legend is commemorated on a specially illustrated story on display at the Anchor Inn and in the name of Crab Farm, which has a weathervane showing the crab and villagers.

5. The Mer-Chicken

November, 1457, and according to Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,a giant chicken was seen coming out of the sea at Portland; "hauing a great crest vpon his head, and a great red beard, and legs of halfe a yard long : lie stood on the water & crowed foure times, and euerie time turned him about, and beckened with his head,toward the north, the south, and the west, and was of colour like a fesant, when he had crowed three times, he vanished awaie."

When published, the Chronicles were met with scepticism as "unacademic" - but Shakespeare used them as the source for Macbeth and Henry V, so they must be true. Right?

Do you know any weird and wonderful Dorset legends or superstitions? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments (4)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

11:35am Fri 11 Apr 14

wintonCheryl says...

I must say, I've been enjoying these top 5's over the last few weeks.
I must say, I've been enjoying these top 5's over the last few weeks. wintonCheryl
  • Score: 3

12:08pm Fri 11 Apr 14

elite50 says...

All of this may be true but all you have to do is to take a walk down Muscliff Lane and go to one of the "houses for heroes" (built after WW 1) and ask about the ghost that inhabits the back bedroom.
I was raised in that house and my sister went back 10 years ago and the tenant told her "I don't go upstairs, you know why".
True story.
All of this may be true but all you have to do is to take a walk down Muscliff Lane and go to one of the "houses for heroes" (built after WW 1) and ask about the ghost that inhabits the back bedroom. I was raised in that house and my sister went back 10 years ago and the tenant told her "I don't go upstairs, you know why". True story. elite50
  • Score: 5

12:16pm Fri 11 Apr 14

smhinto says...

What about the Screaming Helion Monster of Bournemouth - The reptile that attacked that poor girl with the heel of her shoe !!
What about the Screaming Helion Monster of Bournemouth - The reptile that attacked that poor girl with the heel of her shoe !! smhinto
  • Score: 3

9:04am Mon 14 Apr 14

pete woodley says...

What about the ghost at number 13 gresham rd
What about the ghost at number 13 gresham rd pete woodley
  • Score: 1

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree