Viscountess Boudica’s Halloween Horror
Viscountess Boudica is the Queen of Halloween and I could not resist dusting the cobwebs off her spine-chilling tale of the headless horseman to give us all a seasonal thrill on the spookiest night of the year
Viscountess Boudica consults her crystal ball
Halloween is a very important festival for Viscountess Boudica, the trendsetter and wise woman of Bethnal Green. For days now, she has been hanging up her pumpkin decorations, arranging her spooky knick-knacks and organising her witchy outfits in preparation for the big day. “I like it because it is the celebration of the Pagan New Year,” she admitted to me, as one who identifies herself with the Ancient Britons and still adheres to the pre-Julian calendar which contains only ten months.
Yet Viscountess Boudica is also highly sensitive to the significance of Halloween as the time when the spiritual and temporal worlds become permeable. And so, when I visited her this week to take this new series of portraits recording her observation of the rituals and customs of the season, she confided to me this spine-chilling personal account of her first encounter with supernatural forces in the form of a Headless Horseman in Braintree.
“I saw the Headless Horseman for the first time on April 20th 1987 when I lived at Plains Field near Braintree. One night, my friend Ted and I, we walked to the Three Ashes which was down a dark lane full of ditches and hedges and no light. We played darts and there was no-one else there, so I said, ‘It’s getting late and we have to walk back down the lane.’ So we left the pub and walked back in the dark and, after we’d left the lights of the houses behind, this old black iron street lamp appeared in the lane. I said to Ted, ‘Have you heard that Braintee Council was putting lamps up here?’ There was no moon and you could tell this was no normal lamp because it burned with a red flame.
Then we heard the sound of horses’ hooves approaching and, all of a sudden, the clouds parted and it was a full moon and we stood under the lamp as the Horseman appeared, coming closer with his cloak billowing. His big black horse reared up with piercing eyes and foaming at the nostrils. And the rider had no head! But when he lifted his cloak, there was his head with blue eyes and a long grey beard. Then the wind picked up and blew the clouds across the moon, and he took off towards Braintree. I said to Ted, ‘What do you make of that?’ He said, ‘It must be for a film,’ so I said, ‘I didn’t see any cameras.’
I said, ‘What are we going to do? We can’t tell anyone, they wouldn’t believe us.’ Braintree is known for its ghosts and Coggeshall has all the ley lines, so I thought, ‘I’m going to sleep with the lights on,’ and I did for six months.
After five years, in 1992, we decided to go back. Ted said, ‘You’ve got to wear exactly what you wore in 1987,” and we went there on the same day, April 20th, and walked down the lane to the pub but I said to Ted, ‘There’s no chance of seeing him again.’ I took a Polaroid Instamatic camera with me in case I could get a picture. It was five to twelve by the time we returned down the lane and I said to Ted, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen.’
All of a sudden, the lamp appeared burning with the red flame and we heard the sound of hooves approaching. I said to Ted, ‘Your luck’s in.’ The beating of the hooves got louder but the Headless Horseman galloped past and he set off towards Braintree. Then he turned and came back and the great big horse reared over us and the cloak lifted up and I saw it had a red silk lining. The light grew brighter and I realised it was time, so I produced my camera and took a picture. Immediately, the light went out and he rode away, but when we reached the end of the lane the Headless Horseman was there waiting for us, blocking the path. So we turned and walked back the other way to the pub where we met an old lady.
We showed her the photograph, it was pitch black and all you could see was just the shape of the Horseman. Ted said, ‘I’ll take it to see if we can the resolution improved,’ and he said, ‘We’ll go back again in five years,’ but shortly afterwards he died and that was the end of it.”
Keeling the pot
Hanging the lanterns
Preparing the altar
Brandishing her besom
Working the broomstick
Mixing the brew
With her familiars, Keith & Paul
Consulting the Tarot
Cooking up a spell in the kitchen
Seeing the future in her looking glass
Setting out to bewitch Bethnal Green
Viscountess Boudica - “The only ghostly experience I ever had in Bethnal Green was in the Underground – as I was going down the escalator, someone tapped me on the shoulder but when I turned round there was no-one there. I remember talking to a friendly clairvoyant who told me, ‘There was a witch in your family and that’s why these things happen to you.’”
Drawings copyright © Viscountess Boudica
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