Dudley Zoo was the venue for some spooky goings-on this Hallowe’en, with many Sedgley residents paying the popular tourist attraction a visit and getting into the spirit.
Six-year-old Eliza Lewis, a pupil at Cotwall End Primary School, was among the many youngsters who took part in a series of activities organised by the zoo for half term Hallowe’en fun.
Among the new arrivals at Dudley Zoo were a witch’s favourite – three giant smooth-sided toads (Bufo guttatus) – which are among the largest in the world.
Presenter, Langan Turner, says: “Toads have a fascinating history; they were traditional companions for witches in the Middle Ages when their proud owners dressed them in silk ribbons and silver bells, and on a literary note there is Paddock the toad in Macbeth, and Trevor, the pet toad owned by Neville Longbottom, in the Harry Potter stories.”
He added: “This species is found in the rainforests of South America and able to reach a body length of 25cm, so they are very much bigger than the common toads in the UK and rather more handsome.”
The new arrivals have been named Porthos, Athos and Aramis.
Hallowe’en half-term events included themed talks and feeds, ending with a Hocus Pocus evening on Monday, October 31.
For adults, there’s still a chance to join the spooks of Dudley Castle with this year’s Carnival of Darkness, due to an extra date being added on Friday, November 4. The carnival is suitable for 16-years and over and will run from 8pm to midnight, with last admissions at 9pm.
Local residents wondering what to do with all those specially carved pumpkins might also be interested to learn that these make ideal treats for the zoo’s lemurs, which have been enjoying Hallowe’en treats, thanks to kind supporters who donated pumpkins aplenty.
CEO, Peter Suddock, says: “Lots of people who attended Hallowe’en events throughout half term brought in pumpkins as enrichment for the animals, and most sections from small primates to pandas have been enjoying the gifts.”
Across the site keepers have been filling the hollowed-out vegetables with fruit and treats for the animals to seek out and encouraging them to use the decorative skin as a toy.
Baggeridge Country Park was the venue for some ghastly Halloween potions and witches’ brews this week, when a group of young people braved the wind and rain to learn about the medicinal uses and folklore of herbs.
The event was one of a series of activities held at the park in Gospel End Road, Sedgley, during half term, which aim to get local people involved with nature and the stunning countryside available on their doorstep. Other activities included making broomsticks from scratch using the natural materials available in abundance.
Park manager, Steve Gallis, says: “It was great to find that, despite it being a wet and pretty miserable afternoon, eight young people turned up for potions class. We looked at the ‘magical’ medical uses and folklore of wild herbs and brewed up some bubbling potions – nobody minded about the rain!
“The potions class involved the use of a variety of fun ‘ingredients’ such as badger dribble, slug bile, dragons blood and unicorn tears – all completely made up for effect with coloured water mixed with bicarbonate of soda which, when mixed with the ‘magic’ ingredient (vinegar), gives a very impressive bubbling potion.
“Before mixing our witches’ brews, we had a look at a range of plants and the folklore and medicinal uses. We looked at willow, the bark of which was used to cure headache – not surprising really, as it contains salicylic acid, which is basically Aspirin.
“Other plants, such as like Yew, are really quite poisonous, although this now has a modern medicinal use as the poison Taxine, which has been used as the basis for the cancer drug Taxol.
“The tree which is supposed to protect against poisoning is the oak – apparently a concoction of its bark protects you against poison. There may be some truth in this, as it would contain a lot of tannin which would probably stop the stomach from absorbing anything – never mind poison!
“We also looked at mugwort, which was believed to protect against magic spells. Another nice little tale about this plant says that if you bury a piece of coal under the mugwort, leave it a month then dig it up by the light of the full moon and then place it under your pillow, then that night you will dream of the person you are going to marry!
“A lot of people know St John’s wort, as it is widely used as a natural anti- depressant and was known back in the 1600’s as a ‘cure for the melancholy’.
“It also has an interesting bit of folklore about helping women who have difficulty getting pregnant. The tale suggests dancing naked around the St John’s wort plant. I can’t remember whether it was supposed to be by moonlight or at dawn, but either way, you can see how it might be effective!”
Steve is a mine of information and this event was no doubt helped by his regular informative updates on the country park’s Facebook page, which has shown how social media can become and invaluable tool for engaging the local community.
Since setting up the page earlier this year, Steve has seen increased interest in Baggeridge and its stunning landscape, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife.
Subscribers regularly upload photos of the park in all its glory, revealing the
He says: “Some people don’t realise they’ve got all this wonderful nature on their doorstep. The Facebook page is a great way of publicising it and getting them involved.”
Formally the Baggeridge Colliery and part of the original Himley Estate of the Earls of Dudley, the site has now been transformed into 150 acres of attractive country park.
Baggeridge has numerous facilities for outdoor pursuits including the exciting new Aerial Ropes course. The quality of the park and its range of events has resulted in Baggeridge winning a national Green Flag award for the 13th year in a row.
Witches’ companions and bringers of good or bad luck – for centuries, black cats have played a major role in folklore, mythology and superstition. And, perhaps because of this, many cat re-homing charities find it’s these unfortunate moggies which often get left behind.
But today, October 27, Cats Protection, which has branches near to Sedgley, has launched its Black Cat Awareness Day campaign, which it hopes will redress the balance for these forgotten felines.
According to the charity, black cats are often overlooked by would-be adopters and many of them remain in its care for longer than others.
And, to really get people’s attention, the charity is running a social media campaign, but needs the support of others to make it a success.
A spokesperson for Cats Protection says: “We want to see a show of solidarity for these misunderstood felines, so are inviting supporters to share pictures of their black cats now!”
Twitter users can tweet mentioning @CatsProtection or use the hashtag #CPBlackCats
Celebrities who own black cats have also got behind the campaign, including comic and actor David Schneider, author and journalist Jilly Cooper OBE, fashion icon Twiggy Lawson and Simon Tofield, creator of the hilarious internet sensation, Simon’s Cat.
Black cats are often associated with witches and Halloween. Here is a selection of popular myths about them:
Black Cats as witches’ companions. It was largely in the Middle Ages that the black cat became affiliated with evil. Because cats are nocturnal and roam at night, they were believed to be supernatural servants of witches, or even witches themselves.
Folklore has it that if a witch becomes human, her black cat will no longer reside in her house.
Some believe that black cats are witches in disguise, or witches reborn.
Others believe black cats are witches familiars (beings that aid witches in performing their craft). Not all familiars were black cats though – some were cats of other colours and dogs, pigs, and other animals were also subject to superstition and suspicion.
With the shadow of Halloween looming large, it’s time to delve into local history and uncover some ghostly tales and strange goings-on in Sedgley. And, fittingly for a village steeped in history, there is no shortage of spine-chilling stories and eye-witness accounts of apparitions….
The amazing photograph shown above seems to show a spectral figure emerging from the darkness on Turls Hill bridleway – a route which local historians believe dates back to before 1600 and has been the scene of several ghastly incidents.
Local photographer Mike, who posted this image on his Flickr page under his username, Derarfni, says: “It all started about 10 years ago, after hearing local stories and reading an article about the ‘Turls Hill Ghost’.
“We went down for a laugh, just with simple a ‘point and shoot’ digital camera and came back and noticed peculiar occurrences in the photos.
This became a bit of an obsession and we ended up spending many nights, taking photos – which amounted to many thousands, mostly pictures of nothing, but occasionally, say 1 in a 1,000, we had something unexplainable.”
Maybe it’s not so surprising Mike and his friends captured something unexplainable on camera. Turls Hill bridleway is said to be haunted by a veiled lady and her two suicidal sons, who shot themselves in the adjoining quarry on separate occasions. Also, a steelworks owner, who once lived in Turls Hill House, at the top of the lane which was also known as The Belgians (now demolished), apparently went bankrupt, building a wall around his estate and eventually shooting himself in the quarry.
Pubs are notorious sites for hauntings, so it comes as no surprise to discover that not all the spirits at Sedgley’s Beacon Hotel, home of the Sarah Hughes brewery, come in bottles.
Andrew, a former manager of the Beacon Hotel, tells this story:
“In the summer of 1994 when I was managing the Beacon I often used to stay overnight for security. I usually slept in the sitting room. In that room is a painting of Sarah Hughes in which the eyes seem to follow you around the room. I suppose you never sleep properly when you are on protection duty, and one night something awoke me.
“My alarm clock showed 3am. Opening my eyes, I took a quick glance around the room. In the corner by the door to the passage stood a figure. After a couple of seconds I realised they had not broken into the pub or the alarms would be shrieking.
“I don’t know how long I looked at the figure. It was a man in his 50s wearing Wellington boots, dark trousers and a grey or white shirt with an old-fashioned Grandad-style collar and a waistcoat. I have always thought that ghosts were transparent, but he looked quite solid. Suddenly grasping what I was seeing, my heart raced and I shut my eyes tight. When I looked again a few seconds later the figure had vanished. I told my father about the night visitor and described what he was wearing. He said it sounded like the father of the present owner who always liked to go about in old-fashioned clothes.”
Paul, another former manager of the Beacon, claims he has seen Sarah Hughes herself. He says: “She was walking across the smoke room and through a wall where there is now a conservatory. Fifty years ago there was a door at this point.
“If you stand in the corridor near the main server and listen carefully, you might hear bumps and bangs from upstairs and the noise of someone standing on a loose floorboard, though those rooms are used only for storage. Many regular customers claim to have heard the noises.”
Paul’s story is backed up by the fact that one of the book’s authors, Andrew Homer, heard similar noises when researching. He explains: “At first I took no notice of the sounds, though they were quite loud. It sounded as though someone was moving heavy barrels about upstairs.
“Later the same evening, a casual remark to Aidan, the barman, revealed the story and confirmed there had definitely been no living person upstairs at the time.”
Ghost stories also feature prominently in Gornal’s history, including a particularly shocking incident for a caretaker’s assistant at Ellowes Hall School – now a sports college.
This excerpt from local community website, Yampy, explains further:
“About 12 years ago, Clive Brookes, the school caretaker, left his assistant Phil to lock up the school on the 6pm-10pm shift. Clive is pretty certain that it was a Thursday and there was nothing on at school that evening. Phil had already worked at the school for around six months and so was used to the procedure.
“Before going home, (the caretaker’s house is on-site), Clive had taken a floor ‘buffer’ to Phil and asked him to take it down a flight of stairs to the cupboard where it was kept. As Phil started to wheel the buffer down the stairs, something attracted his attention down the corridor, so he lifted the buffer back to the top of the stairs.
“He went to check everything out and walked through some glass double-doors, down to the end of the corridor. The staffroom door was locked. He went back to the floor buffer.
“As he started down the stairs again, he ended up dropping the buffer down the stairs as a “bloke in overalls walked straight through the double doors and straight through the staff room door.”
“Phil rushed to the caretaker’s bungalow, and Clive says that, although he was a big fellow, he was extremely scared. It was a long time before he locked up alone again! ”
And, over at Upper Gornal Conservative Club, there have been several reports of a monk in a gown, which has apparently been seen by several people in the bar and cellar.
Do you have a ghost story to tell? Get in touch with us – we’d love to hear from you.