Saturday, 20 August 2016

The macabre, strange and uncanny ghost tales of Victorian Wales

The Fighting Ghost of Tondu and the grisly Fairwater Mystery are featured in Cardiff academic Jan Bondeson's new book Strange Victoriana.



Fascinating stories of strange, macabre and uncanny episodes of the Victorian era have been penned by a Cardiff academic.

Jan Bondeson’s Strange Victoriana describes eeries tales, myths and case studies from around the UK – with two from South Wales.

Senior lecturer in rheumatology Dr Bondeson researched the stories for his book using Illustrated Police News, one of the earliest British tabloids, as well as other newspapers and available documents.

The first Welsh account from the book, published on Monday, was called The Fighting Ghost of Tondu, which is said to have haunted the disused colliery at Ynysawdre in the village near Bridgend in 1904.

According to the story on an early September morning workmen in Felinfach saw a tall spectre shrouded in white which then reportedly glided towards them with a drawn out “Booh!”.

Not long after another man saw the same ghoul on a lonely narrow road near to the abandoned colliery.

It ran up to the terrified man before gripping him until he couldn’t breathe then toppling him over and running off with a “hollow laugh”.

According to Dr Bondeson after these strange happenings – which captured the imagination of the local and national press – the women and children in the village were kept indoors after nightfall.

Ghost stories in the district began to multiply as people began taking it upon themselves to go out and search for the Fighting Ghost and face it themselves.

The Cardiff University academic’s second Welsh tale, The Fairwater Mystery, documents reports of a murdered father called David Thomas who lived in a cottage near Ely, Cardiff, and worked at St Fagans Castle in 1896.

At the time of the killing many different theories were given – including that an unsuccessful applicant for his job at the castle killed him in revenge or that the carpenters’ trade union had murdered him as he had been earning less than the recommended union wage and they were setting an example about such matters.

Many attempts by journalists were made to uncover the truth, including an attempt by the Western Mail to get hold of a psychic detective.

After finding one they carried out a seance at the crime scene where the psychic claimed to see the murderer approaching before screaming and moaning in agony, reliving the murder.

Dr Bondeson, 53, has written a series of books on history and zoology, as well as some similar studies on other curious historical episodes.

He said: “I came upon the idea of making a book like this when looking for something else on the internet and I saw some of these illustrations and thought it would be a fun thing to do.”

He said he had greatly enjoyed researching and putting together the stories, particularly using the Illustrated Police News, which had a habit of featuring sensational and melodramatic reports and illustrations of murders and hangings.

He added: “I started working on this in 2010 and have completed around 90 stories for the book so it has been a lot of work.”

He said it was interesting to see how the Victoria era – “Britain’s most sober era” – produced such fantastical myths and case studies but “a seething underworld of urban legend and vice, accompanied by the shadow of unconscious nightmare, stalked Victorian life”.

He said he hoped the book would change the way people think about Victorian culture all together.

Dr Bondeson, originally from Sweden, said he had never been to Tondu but added: “I would very much like to go but I don’t think the Fighting Ghost will be around there anymore.”

The book, published by Amberley, costs £20 and is out now.

Story and source: Wales Online

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