Sussex folk tales and myths reveal world of ghosts and fairies

Sunset over Mount caburn
Sunset over Mount caburn

If you’re ever in the vicinity of Clayton Tunnel on the South Downs don’t be surprised if you hear anguished screams of terror.

The tunnel is said to be haunted following a train crash on August 25, in 1861, when two trains collided.

A total of 176 people were injured and 23 people died in the disaster.

Most of the people who lost their lives were either burned or scalded to death by the steam from the approaching train.

It is said if you stand on top of the Downs you can still hear their screams from the tunnel beneath you.

This is just one of the fascinating but unsettling stories which features in a new book called Sussex Folk Tales, written by professional storyteller Michael O’Leary.

There is also riveting folk tale about a mouth organist called Charlie Winnick who was supposed to have been one of the best players during the interwar years.

But when he was young, he was a terrible player and bullied by some other children, who took his mouth organ and threw it into a field.

Having scrambled through the field to find his mouth organ, he goes to sit and enjoy a quiet moment of reflection, but sees a scarecrow in the field in front of him move its arms.

The scarecrow then flies him inside Mount Caburn, where the pharisees (Sussex dialect for fairies) teach him to play the mouth organ exquisitely.

When he returns home the next day, the boys who bullied him have been given a good thrashing and his parents are relieved to see him.

Of course they don’t believe his story about the pharisees but no one can deny his improved ability at the mouth organ.

It is true to say that Sussex is home to a treasure trove of mythical creatures, fantastic folk tales and legends, handed down by local storytellers.

The book takes in villages and towns around Sussex, including Lewes, Brighton, Arundel and Crawley.

It was published by History Press and is available from Amazon.