The Ghost of Topcliffe Mill

The first page of the hand-written ghost poem
Provided by Kathryn Betts
The poem is written on the back of hand writing sheets like this one
Provided by Kathryn Betts
The final page of the hand-written poem
Provided by Kathryn Betts

This poem is believed to have been written by W M Palmer, possibly as hand-writing practise. William has signed and dated the original (see photograph on the far right, above) but unfortunately the year is not given.

It was first published in the Royston Crow on 9th November 1877. It was re-printed in the Crow on 10th January 1941 with a note that, “in the days when our grandparents and great grandparents were young, one of the most popular recitations at harvest homes, club suppers and concerts, was one which told the legend of Meldreth Mill”.

An article in the Crow on 3rd September 1965 mentions that this legend had been “depicted most amusingly in drawings some years ago by the late Gus Hale”.  It is not known whether these drawings still exist.

The original poem, some photographs of which are shown on this page, was found in a loft in Orwell, Cambridgeshire. It is said that members of the Palmer family used to dress up in sheets and recite the poem at family gatherings!

‘Tis just about 5 and 50 years ago I was only a bit of a chap
I remember father saying you may have heard the tale may hap
As how he heard when he was young a tale about Meldreth Mill
I mean that near the church you know.  Ah!  I fancy I hear him still
How the time does slip away don’t it – it seems but yesterday
That he and I and old Master Serle were in that close there making hay
And the boy was coming with our 11 o’clock from the Green Man over the way

So we sat down to have our beaver and the old gent began his say
They used to tell once upon a time but that was a good while ago
An old miller held that mill then and the garden and orchard too.
He’d got no money to signify when he took the old mill and land
Howsoever he’d saved a little and wasn’t quite a labouring man.
One night ’twas in the wintertime, when the miller had gone to bed
He heard a tap at the window.  “Bless my soul what’s that!”  He said
So he just slipped on a few of his clothes and went downstairs to see
And a spirit appeared when he opened the door, leastwise so father told me.

I tell you just as I had it for where there’s money hid
Folk often say they see things but bless ye I never did
But howsoever my father said he heard as a ghost appeared
And told the man to follow him and he did but was properly scared.
And the spirit showed him a place to dig over in the orchard mound
But never to tell any mortal of anything that might be found
And they say he found lots of money and he never was without
So long as he kept the secret but the fool at last let it out
For one day the miller was mellow leastwise had a drop too much
And told somebody in the public house about the money and such
So when he went to bed that night the tapping came as before
And so he put his clothes on again and went and opened the door
And the ghost that time answered, “the secret has been told
And dig again wherever you will you’ll never find any more gold
For all the rest of the money will be reserved until
A man to be named John Wallis shall hold the Meldreth Mill”.

Comments about this page

  • Gus Hale was my mother’s uncle on her father’s side (Preston Victor Bullen) and she has one of his original portraits of his sister who was a nurse. It’s beautiful.

    By Sonia Dynevor (08/02/2024)
  • Gus Hale was my husband’s great grand Uncle. It would be amazing to find these drawings.

    Apparently Gus was a talented artist – we still have some original artwork of his.

    By Christine Hale (13/01/2022)

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