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The Hanging Man

Pluckley Uncovered

We will now look at the Hanging Man or otherwise known as The Schoolmaster or The Ghost Of Dickie Buss' Lane. We will examine the details of the story, any facts or witnesses, and determine their credibility, giving our thoughts on the likelihood of there being any truth in the stories.
The Story

There is more than one story.

Version 1 - Hanging body a schoolmaster that is suspected of having committed suicide after World War I. The hanging body of the schoolmaster from Smarden was found by Richard Buss a few weeks after he went missing.

Version 2 - Henry Turff was the headmaster of Pluckley School. He was very close friends with the Headmaster of the nearby village of Smarden, Who would travel to Pluckley every Sunday to visit Turff and discuss politics, However, one Sunday the Headmaster from Smarden went missing. He was later found on the land leading to the mills. he had hung himself in a tree, Bereaved by this, Henry Turff Decided to take his life only a few days later. He done so in the same place and in the same manner as his friend, Although the Smarden Headmasters ghost has never been seen, Turff's ghost has been seen on the lane. Hanging from the tree where he killed himself. This ghost was later seen by a newspaper journalist who said that the ghost was dressed in a green blazer and stripy trousers

Version 3 - In the 1920s, at the end of Dick Buss’s lane, a group of children on their way to school came upon the body of their teacher, hanging from the branch of a tree. The reason for his suicide was never discovered, but on certain nights, when a light breeze rustles the trees and a full moon sits high over the neighbourhood, his ghostly form is clearly seen, swinging back and forth, hanging from the branch where his living form breathed its anguished last.

Version 4 - The Hanging Headmaster. In life his name was Henry Turff, and he was the head of Smarden School. Every Sunday he would journey to Pluckley to meet his good friend Richard Buss – who supposedly became the phantom of the Pinnocks – and the pair would discuss politics and other topics of interest. One Sunday, however, the Headmaster did not appear. His body was later found hanging from a tree. Ever since his apparition has been spotted, still hanging from the very same tree which grows in the lane leading toward the old mill.

The Sightings

There are no traceable authenticated reports of a visible ghost at Dickie Buss' Lane.

Whilst we could take this a the end of the account let us also consider the reasons why this may be, as this may be pertinent. It may be as simple as there is no location given in the accounts other than a tree / orchard and the name of Dickie Buss' Lane.

One needs to delve deep into Pluckley history to shine a light on these possible locations and then, and only then, does the location become clear.

Let's look at the named location. Richard 'Dickie Buss was the last miller at Pluckley Windmill. The Mill stood on the rise of a slope above the valley and just off off the road to Egerton. Even today a public footpath runs through the site of the mill, which features in another story, and emerges on the hill below the Black Horse Public House in the village itself. It is this footpath that is known locally as Dickie Buss; Lane.

So now we have the location of the lane can we identify where the tree and / or orchard may have stood?

By studying old maps and aerial images we can see that the area behind the houses on the hill and on the way to the windmill was from at least the 1920's until sometime post World War II an area of trees above the escarpment.

Dickie Buss' Lane runs through the word 'Nursery' on the 1920's map (above left) and can be seen not to be so obvious on the modern map (above right).
In the 1946 aerial image (above left) the area can be seen to be densely covered by trees whereas in 2008 (above right) there are very few trees left on the edge of the hill.

This would tend to suggest that the nursery was in fact an orchard of mature planted trees and bordering the footpath certainly until 1946 it would feature in the memories of those around at the time but less obvious to people now.


The Historical Figures

There plenty of names in these stories which we can explore for historical accuracy not to mention the events described.

Pluckley's history is well recorded in local publications and Historical Society documents and can be easily researched.
The same can be said for Smarden with the villages own Historical Society being very forthcoming with information, or the lack of it.

Our investigations established that Richard Buss was the miller from 1874 until the mill ceased grinding in 1916. This much is true.

As can be seen there seems to be confusion among the versions of the story as to whether Henry Turff was the headmaster of Pluckley or Smarden schools or indeed if it were him that was The Hanging Man. We can settle this easily from the London Gazette of 19 July 1940.



So we can state, with all certainty, that Henry Turff did not commit suicide in the 1920's and neither was he the headmaster of Smarden School.

Historical records were checked for Smarden School and there is no supporting evidence for one of their headmasters committing suicide in Pluckley or anywhere else for that matter.

Exploring the Possibilties

There are no reports of a visible ghost here other than in the original published account of The Ghosts Of Pluckley from 1955 recounting childhood memories from the 1920's.

Natural phenomena may be responsible for any original sighting. Mist on the lea slope, around the trees in the early morning could give an appearance of such a hanging body but it is hard to imagine a physical form being mistaken.

The whole thing could be a story and nothing more.

Conclusions
  The dilution of the different stories over the years has led to varying versions of the same story. The basis of the story is that a man hanged himself in the trees at Dickie Buss' Lane in Pluckley in the 1920's.

It wasn't Henry Turff as he survived until 1940. It wasn't a headmaster of Smarden School either.

Dickie Buss was still using the, now derelict, mill as a store by 1920. It is an insular village even today and one can well believe that Henry Turff knew Dickie Buss very well. They probably met for a pint every now and then.

It is also possible that Henry met with his Smarden counterpart every so often. It is a fair trek from Smarden to Pluckley being 6km or 3.7 miles. A seven mile round trip for a pint or two is a fair old walk when there were at least two pubs in Smarden.

It is likely then that there is no such ghost ever sighted and it merely features in the 1955 publication and used names of familiar people to the writer being from Pluckley and being 1920's memoirs.

Source
Maps and Aerial views - http://webapps.kent.gov.uk/KCC.HeritageMaps.Web.Sites.Public/Default.aspx
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  By Dave Godden

 

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