Midnight Trysts with Juliet
By Fred Sole
This article was originally published in the December 1992 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
The woods where she wooed her lover are still there. So are the river in which she swam and the glades where she played as a girl. So, too, is the tree from which she hung herself, and, finally the cold, grey slab of granite which was her only gravestone.
They are all there at The Ferry Boat inn at Holywell. (Huntingdonshire)
The lady's name was Juliet Tewsley, and she lived at Holywell just over 900 years ago. Juliet found her idea of the perfect Romeo in a woodcutter a year or two older than herself, one Thomas Zoul of Holywell.
The story goes that until she met him she was a happy, gay girl, loved by everyone in the village. In fact she was the life and soul of every party and was nearly always crowned Queen of the May. But one day, as she was wandering through the woods picking wild spring flowers early in the morning, she caught a glimpse of Tom. the woodcutter, as he passed by on his way to work.
Tom was a broad shouldered, well built young man with a handsome face and curly dark hair. Juliet immediately fell deeply in love with him - and gone was the gay laughing girl that everyone loved.
Juliet kept daily early morning vigils in the woods, waiting to see her Romeo. Legend has it that one day, unable to remain silent any longer, Juliet picked a bunch of flowers for Tom and waited until he approached her hiding place behind the trees. When he came along the woodland track Juliet came out, trembling with maidenly emotion, and offered Tom her bunch of wild flowers.
Tom, who apparently preferred a game of ninepins and a glass of ale to the company of girls told her to go home to her mother, pushed her out of his way and walked away without looking back.
The flowers fell to the grass and Juliet collapsed beside them with a broken heart. She sobbed quietly for many hours and remained in the wood. When nightfall came she made up her mind that without the company of Tom she could live no longer. White-faced, but with a steady step, Juliet made her way to an outhouse behind her cottage home. She picked up a piece of hemp rope and walked slowly towards the trees near the river.
The date was March 17th, 1050 and at midnight she hung herself - to end her unrequited love. Every year on March 17, Juliet's ghost is said to return to the scene of her suicide.
Her body was found hanging the following morning, and the whole village mourned for Juliet. But in those days suicide was regarded as a terrible crime and, as was the custom, the magistrates ruled that her body should be buried near the cross-roads "as a warning to all."
The body was buried near The Ferry Boat inn at the cross-roads and, because she had taken her own life only a single slab of granite marked her grave.
BUILT OVER GRAVE
A few years later new cottages were being built and more ale was being consumed at The Ferry Boat. Another wing was built on to the inn and permission was granted to the innkeeper to build over Juliet's grave. Granite was expensive to buy, the gravestone was unmarked and the innkeeper was a thrifty man so he laid the rest of his taproom floor around the slab and left the gravestone untouched.
Today the gravestone is still in the bar of The Ferry Boat inn, noticeable because it is slightly larger than the other floor stones and it is raised an inch or so higher than the floor level. It is from beneath the stone that Juliet's ghost appears each year on St. Patrick's Day.
But this is no ordinary ghost story. Each year a team of psychic investigators, complete with all their usual ghost detecting equipment, reporters, photographers, thrill-hunters and tourists, join with the locals in keeping a midnight rendezvous with Juliet's ghost. And the ghost never lets them down. Many people claim to have seen the ghost and, should Juliet fail to appear, she never fails to "talk" to her audience through a lettered planchette- board.
Whether or not there is a ghost at The Ferry Boat, the fact remains that the inn is one of the most attractive and friendly in England. Records show that the inn was built as far back as 1068 and parts of the original building are still in use.
At one time there was a river ferry at the inn, and the landlords ferried customers across the Great Ouse together with farm stock and machinery. Hereward the Wake crossed the river at this point when he was fleeing from William the Conqueror.
Aidan Farwell (the landlord) is a little dubious about Juliet, however. " don't believe in ghosts myself, but there is definitely something strange about the place. The dogs bark and run from the room with the hair on their necks bristling. Doors bang at night and things are moved from their proper places".
Architecturally the inn can only be described as beautiful with it's thatched roof, woods on three sides and the river coming literally to the front door. The fourth side has been the background for many paintings and photographs. Visitors have come to the inn from all over the world - it is one of those places which are loved on first sight - but the busiest day of the year is March 17th!
Edited extracts from The Peterborough Citizen and Advertiser, Ist Feb. 1955 and reproduced with the kind permission of that newspaper.
Note: The car park is somewhat larger now, but the beer and the food are still excellent. Get there early at lunch time on summer Sundays!
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