Updated: Jun 17
A short ghost story by Peter Marshall
It was an awful night, cold, drizzly and visibility was poor. I was tired and felt lonely. I had been driving for three hours, from York, on my way to Thetford.
Loneliness was inevitable in my job. I was part of a team involved with human geography and my work required me to be on the road all the time, going from town to town, collecting data. Each night, I dined alone, followed by a quiet drink in a bar wherein a knew nobody, I would then go to bed alone, wake up alone, and have breakfast alone, before getting into my car and driving to the next town, where I had to carry out some survey or other. Last night, I had stayed in a hotel in York, Europe’s most haunted city, they say. I didn’t normally believe in all that stuff, but every noise in the old hotel made the hairs on my neck rise a bit and I didn’t sleep very well at all.
My concentration was beginning to lapse and a couple of times I felt I was drifting off at the wheel. I even jammed my brakes on at one point, mistakenly thinking there was someone on the road, but it was only a shadow, so I thought I’d better find a place to stay the night, in Newmarket and carry on to Thetford in the morning.
I knew The Bedford Lodge would have a room available; I had stayed there more than once before and they were never full. I felt in need of some human contact, though; at The Bedford Lodge it would be just book in and bed.
I was passing The Rutland Arms Hotel, on my right-hand side, as I drove through the High Street. I saw it was all boarded up. I had heard about that place on a previous visit. It had been one of the homes of Charles II and he had had a cottage built, for his mistress, Nell Gwynne, on Palace Road, on the other side of the hotel. The building was widely reputed to be haunted.
For that matter, old Newmarket was well represented by rumoured ghosts and it wasn’t hard to understand why these legends persisted. On a dark and drizzly night like this, with deserted streets, it felt pretty spooky.
I saw The Wagon and Horses, on the left, had lights on and I parked my car in the car park and went in. The saloon bar was empty, except for a man sitting alone against the wall.
I went to the bar and asked the barmaid for a glass of red wine. She looked to be in her late twenties, slim with blonde hair.
“I see The Rutland Arms is all boarded up”, I said. “ How long has this been the case?”
“Couple of years, now“, she said.
She didn’t seem to be very talkative, so I tried to initiate conversation; that was what I had come in for.
“Is it true it’s rumoured to be haunted”, I asked. I knew the answer to my question; I didn’t need to ask. It was just a pathetically poor conversation starter.
“I‘ll tell you a story about a real ghost here”, said the man sitting alone against the wall.
I turned and smiled at him.
“Go on then”, I said, and I walked over and sat at his table.
He looked straight into my eyes and I felt a shudder for some reason. After taking a sip of his drink, he said,
“There was a small, grey, two-year-old filly in Fiddler Goodwill’s racing yard, back in 1962. Teterona was her name. She was a nasty creature – unpredictable, and uncompliant, who would cow-kick you, or bite you, if you let your concentration lapse. She was looked after by a thin and pasty man, taller than most racing staff and that was probably why he was so thin, struggling to keep his weight down, you see. That’s very important in racing. Claude was his name.
He was in a relationship with a stable girl in the same yard, by the name of Chrissie, but, in those days, staff didn’t have a place of their own; they all lived in digs - lodgings, that is. Consequently, they had to do their courting away from home. Very few had a car then and most lovers used the heath, beside the gallops, to do their courting.
Well, one day, Teterona unseated her rider in the yard and galloped out of the gate which had just been opened to let the string out for exercise. Off she went, so fast that nobody could get after her before she was out of sight. All that day the staff of the yard searched the town and those with vehicles searched the nearby villages, for it was not known which way she went. By nightfall, they ceased looking, for it was impossible in the dark.
That evening, Claude and his lover went, as usual, up the heath, for their canoodling. As they lay petting each other, Christie was suddenly distracted.
‘Can you hear that?’, she asked.
‘What?’ Claude asked.
‘It’s just a faint pounding, like a horse is galloping’, she said. Her ears were close to the ground, for it was a sound of an amplitude that wouldn’t have been discernible otherwise. Claude put his ear to the ground and confirmed he could hear it too.
‘It’s getting louder’, said Christie. They could both hear it now without having to bow their heads low. The noise became a definite thundering sound, which every equestrian recognises as galloping hooves.
‘It’s Teterona’, exclaimed Christie, with excitement. She sprang up and looked down the length of the heath, along the track that is used for gallops.
As the horse came closer, though, she saw it had a rider, crouching astride. It was not Teterona, after all. In the pale moonlight, she could discern a tall man aboard, painfully thin and pale. He didn’t look very old, perhaps late twenties, but what on earth was he doing exercising a horse at this time of the evening. It was highly dangerous.
Well, that was their lovemaking over for the night; the mystery was all that was in their minds now and they talked about it all the way down the Moulton Road, before parting their ways to go to their respective digs and bed, for, in Newmarket, people do not keep late hours, because of the early starts that their way of life requires.
The next day, the trainer, the travelling head lad and some people the former was able to drag in to help , spent the day looking for the lost horse, Teterona, but the others had to go about their normal work, for exercising had to go on. There were no sightings of the lost horse though and, that evening, Claude and Christie made their regular excursion up onto the heath, but, this time, wondering whether they would witness the lone rider again.
It was about the same time as the last night when they heard the thundering hooves again, at first faint, as before, but growing louder as they drew near. Before they had a chance to stand up the rider was upon them, quite close. They must have taken up a position closer to the gallops track than last night. As he passed, he turned his face towards Christie and looked straight at her. She could see the full, pale features of a sickly-looking man, so thin he looked almost skeletal, but he was not unattractive for all that, she thought. He had blue, staring eyes, but there was something odd about the whole appearance, something not quite right. The stare was brief, but definite, because he was travelling at quite a speed and soon was gone out of sight, in the mist that hung over the damp grass.
The next day Chrissie was telling the old yard man about it.
‘You’ve seen Fred Archer’s ghost’, he said.
This disturbed Chrissie. She, at first, thought it was a joke, but he assured her it wasn’t. Paddy, however, was an old Irishman, and she knew they believed in fairies over there. The yard man described Fred archer and her heart skipped a beat when she heard this. The description of Fred Archer matched, to a tee, the description of the rider she had seen.
‘From the photos available in the racing magazines, he looked much like Claude, so ‘e did’, said Paddy. Chrissie thought about this and her fear seemed to increase. There was, indeed, a resemblance; she hadn’t noticed it before.
‘He did a lot for racing’ he said. ‘He built Falmouth House Stables, but he was said to be cruel to the horses. In fact there’s a story that he beat a grey horse to within an inch of its life, before someone stopped him. The next day the same horse nearly killed him. Hearing a great deal of noise of hooves and high-pitched squeals, coming from the box, one of the stablemen opened the door and found the same grey horse kneeling on Archer’s chest and about to bite his face, or throat. If it hadn’t been for him hearing the noise and investigating Archer would have been a goner, there and then. Horses have memories.’
‘Was he married?’ she asked, thinking a man so starved as that must have been so weak that he could not perform as a husband.
‘Oh yes’, said Paddy. ‘But, unfortunately, she died giving birth.’
That settles that question, then, she thought, unless it wasn’t his child.
The next day, after morning stables, Chrissie went along to the town library, on Fitzroy Street and looked up newspaper and magazine articles about Fred Archer. She found a report on his Wedding. There was a picture. She froze at the sight of it. The woman he married was her double; she could have been looking at her own photograph.
Chrissie read on, working through all of the articles and came to an article about reported sightings of the jockey riding along Hamilton Stud Lane, on his favourite horse. She knew Hamilton Stud Lane and it was dark and silent, eerie without light from the moon, due to overhanging trees meeting in the middle, over the road. It was not a place anyone would want to go at night. Nevertheless, Chrissie was becoming obsessed by now and persuaded Claude to go with her that evening. Why she thought the apparition might appear that night is anyone’s guess, for it had appeared on the heath both of the previous two nights - if that was what it was, or who it was.
Well, that evening, they did make their way, on their bikes, to Hamilton Stud Lane and carried on until they were about a third of a mile from the junction with Exning Road. The night was dark and cold and a mist hung in the air. Chrissie looked back along the road and was astounded by what she saw. There, at the end of the road, facing her, was Teterona, the grey horse that had escaped and which had not been found.
‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’, she said.
‘What?’ asked Claud, turning around, himself, and then he saw it too. They stood in stunned amazement, completely discombobulated. Then they heard it, that same thundering that they had heard the night before, but this time it was louder, and rather crunchy, as if it was galloping on gravel.
‘It sounds like it’s on gravel’, said Claude. ‘But this road is tarmacked. If it’s a real live horseman, it would sound sharper.’
‘It wouldn’t have been tarmacked then, in Fred Archer’s time’, said Chrissie, shivering from fear, rather than cold as she spoke.
Soon the horseman came into sight, crouching high in the saddle.
‘Let’s get out of here’, said Claude and pulled her away from the road, towards the adjoining field, but Chrissie wouldn’t move.
‘He’s heading straight for Teterona’, said Claude. ‘We need to shew her away.’
‘No’, said Chrissie. ‘We need to let this play out. I feel it’s some sort of supernatural conflict that has remained unresolved.’ She was rigid and riveted to what was going on, feeling she was, in some way, connected to the event.
The horseman passed them, without a glance, as if they were not even there.
‘He’s going to run straight into Teterona’, said Claude, in despair.
‘No, I think Teterona is waiting for him’, said Chrissie. ‘To even up the score.’
The horseman grew nearer and, suddenly, Teterona reared up and lashed out. The horseman was thrown and Teterona, went down on her knees on his chest. Within a few minutes, he stopped wriggling; he was dead. A mist descended low and, all sound having silenced, they gingerly walked up to where the violence had taken place. But there was nothing there - no horse or rider, not even Teterona.
They looked, in disbelief, at each other, Chrissie was trembling. Claude felt numb and confused, not knowing how to react. It was like a waking dream.
‘What the hell has just happened here?’, asked Claude. He struggled to form the words, he was so frightened.
‘I don’t know, but I think a strange supernatural score was being settled’, said Chrissie, feeling the gravity of the situation, as she spoke.
They made their way back, in silence, both almost oblivious of the other, even though they were peddling their bikes side by side. Neither slept well that night; both had troubled dreams. In the morning, they did their best to snap out of their morbid preoccupation and convince themselves that the apparition that they had both witnessed was a case of mutual, intersubjective hysteria and when they met in the yard, they tried to convince each other of the same.
They mucked out their horses, tacked them up for exercise, led their charges out of the box and, after being legged up, by the yard man, joined the string, circling the yard, waiting until all the horses had joined it, before the gates could be opened to let them out onto the heath. The string being fully formed, the yard man was opening the gates. There, outside, waiting, was Teterona, the small grey two-year-old that had escaped two days beforehand. What was also unusual was her behaviour, for, unlike her feistiness, which, hitherto, characterised her, she just walked slowly into the yard and allowed the yard man to take hold of her bridle and lead her to her box.”
The man looked at me, full on, for a reaction. My glass was empty.
“Can I get you a refill”, I asked.
“No, thanks”, he said. “I’ve had my fill for tonight.”
I stood up and turned towards the bar.
“That’s an eerie tale”, I said. “I’m not sure I’m going to sleep well tonight. How is it that you know this?”
As I reached the bar, I turned around, but he was gone.
“Who was that man?” I asked the barmaid.
“What man?”, she asked. “There’s been nobody but you in here all evening.”
“The man that was sitting over there”, I said.
“There was only you sitting there”, She said. I was confused and completely discombobulated.
“I was sitting with him right there under that portrait”, I said. “A skinny, young man, pale and sickly looking.”
“What, like the man in the picture?” she replied.
“Who is the man in the picture?” I enquired.
“Fred archer”, She said.
There really was an unpredictable and bad-tempered two-year-old horse called Teterona, in Arthur Goodwill’s yard, in 1962. The Ghost of Fred Archer being seen on Newmarket Heath and in Hamilton Stud Lane is a well-documented, local legend. The fact that he was quite cruel to horses is well-documented, public knowledge, as is also the record of him treating a grey horse particularly cruelly and the horse attacking him in the way described in this story. Everything else in this tale is pure fiction.
2668 Words including the notes.
copyright Peter Marshall 2022