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Thursday, April 25, 2024
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The headless horsemen of Harrow

The countless tales of headless horsemen, from those of American, Irish and British folklore certainly tickle any reader’s imagination, so much so that they often permeate our popular culture. Several books, comic book franchises, television and movies, not to mention video games have profited from some depiction of this forlorn highwayman. One can’t help but picture how woefully miserable it must be for a soul damned to have to wander aimlessly, headless and humiliated, their last moments a permanent fixture for all to witness.

Though Harrow is no stranger to the gruesome and macabre, this particular myth is so pervasive that not even these streets are safe from the hauntings of highwaymen!
The earliest reported sighting of this misshapen apparition occurred back in the 14th century by the happenstance of one unfortunate bystander.

Allow me to set the scene: You’re a weary labourer, trudging your way through the dreariest of nights, the gruelling fog so thick it stains your already soiled workwear. You’re dragging your feet across the pavement, dreading to imagine that what awaits you at home after this tiresome day is yet another insubstantial meal accompanied by the glares of your nagging wife. When momentarily you’re pulled from your reverie- from out of the darkness steps a figure.

The headless horsemen of Harrow Harrow Online
Have you ever seen the ‘Headless Horsemen of Harrow’?

It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust, this enigmatic entity so obscured by the oppressive fog you’re left wondering whether your mind is playing a trick on you. Confused and bewildered you strain your eyes for a closer look. It takes you seconds to make sense of what lay before you but the moment you’re stricken with awareness, you pray had remained blissfully ignorant.

For if this ghastly figure weren’t entirely missing a head, you’d immediately recognise him as the late Simon Sudbury, Lord of Harrow, and Chancellor of England!

You step back in a frightful jolt. “But in what world?” You ask yourself how this could be possible when this same Archbishop was executed not long ago, you and your wife attended the beheading after all. And what a miserable sight it was to behold- if a public execution itself weren’t the epitome of ignominy itself, you’re forced to recollect the strenuous nature of this particular man’s disgrace.

You recount the numerous attempts the inept execution took at this poor man’s neck, how your own body juddered at each disordered lob, that vicarious agony so great you prayed for the moment they’d finally dislocate this man’s head from his body. In summary: it was an entire bloody mess!

Personally, I can only reimagine this onlooker’s shock and bewilderment at seeing the headless apparition of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, who suffered a poor execution in 1381 at Tower Hill for the introduction of a poll tax.

The headless horsemen of Harrow Harrow Online
St Mary’s Church, Harrow on the Hill.

And even though this encounter turned out to be fallacious, in the end, the poor fellow had merely been shaken by the sight of a somewhat short individual whose face was obscured by a hood, the author Patrick Pringle would not be so fast to dismiss the claim of paranormal goings on around Harrow.

The author of the book “Stand and deliver” identifies Harrow Hill as an adequate stomping ground for the ghost of the long-reigning highwayman Captain Richard Dudley. A Robin Hood-like figure, from 1635 to 1683, the “Galloping Dick” took a careful approach in only swindling those who could afford to be defrauded, whilst redistributing any surplus to the less fortunate.

As readers, we can only take guesses at how substantial these claims are, nevertheless, it’s fascinating to regale in the tales of the prospective paranormal. To imagine this forsaken soul’s only solace is found in the momentary hauntings, a disgraced Archbishop doomed to making a singular irregular appearance for an unfortunate onlooker, only to disappear just as fitfully.