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The Highway Man

Pluckley Uncovered
We will now look at the Highwayman or otherwise known as The Screaming Man. 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 - Robert DuBois was a highwayman who operated in the Stuart area just outside of Pluckley. DuBois's routine was to hide behind a tree on the corner (known as "Fright Corner") and jump out at his intended victim, giving them a fright and stunning them. This proved rather successful but it also became predictable. Eventually, his run of terror came to an end when a Guard (some say other thieves) killed him with a spear when it was thrown through the oak tree where DuBois usually hid, piercing and pinning him to the tree. The tree has since disappeared but the ghost of Robert DuBois and the tree he was pinned to often appear. Some say that the ghost of DuBois still appears on the corner, jumping out at people traveling on the road much like he did in life.

Version 2 - At Fright Corner, an unknown highwayman was killed with a sword after a fight broke out between him and lawmen – who pinned him to an oak tree.
Legend has it that a ghostly re-enactment of the deadly battle is played out on the spot of the murder, thought to date back to the 18th century.

Version 3 - A large spectral tree has been seen here, together with a highwayman pinned to it by several swords.

Version 4 - One is a highwayman, who was pinned to a tree by a sword when his victim refused to stand and deliver

Version 5 - Frith Corner, now known fittingly as “Fright Corner”, is where the highwayman ghost is seen. It is said this unfortunate highwayman was ambushed. Some say by the law others say by other criminals. In the ensuing fight this highwayman was killed by a sword thrust through him. This sword not only went through him, it then lodged in a hollow tree behind where he stood--pinning him. This tree no longer stands. At this spot this ghost can be seen re-enacting the fight that took his life.

The Sightings

There are no traceable authenticated reports of a visible ghost at Fright Corner.

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 such as Fright Corner or a tree on a corner or junction.

The History

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 us ignore the first account initially – we'll come back to Richard Du Bois.

Let's look at the named location. There is no such place as Fright Corner. This is about as genuine as Screaming Woods and has never been an accepted title for a location in Pluckley or a piece of land.


So we are after a location with a tree on a corner. First take the word 'corner'. This does not necessarily mean the apex of a sharp bend. In these terms it is also used to describe a junction of roads or tracks as in 'corner shop'.

We are, in a way, fortunate here because a corruptible names has been used. Frith Corner is a junction at Frith Woods. In this way Frith became Fright.

Now we know where to look so where is the tree? It's a bare grassed island on a road junction now.

By studying old maps against current aerial views we can see that in 1890 there is clearly a large tree marked on this island.



So we can say that at that point, allowing for artists licence, there may well have been a large tree at Frith Corner.

So what do we know of a Highwayman from Pluckley of that period or earlier? Most highwaymen stories hail from the 18th Century, The punishment for being caught was invariably death by hanging. Captured highwaymen were tried at the local assizes, basically a regular meeting of the gentry and judges to pass sentence on all fellons kept in custody since the last event. It functioned a bit like today's courts but the judges traveled around the area. Most local ones were held at Penenden Heath in Maidstone and records survive for most cases.

No record has been found for tried highwayman in Pluckley. But wait – the story says he was killed at the location.

Assuming there to be some truth and set in the time period applicable then we would think it would be possible he was killed with either a pistol shot or sword. A spear? The English hadn't used spears as weapons, other than ceremonial, for hundreds of years by then.


The Historical Figures

If you search the internet now for The Pluckley Highwayman there are multiple entries where the name Richard Du Bois is attributed to this male.

This gives us something to go on, or does it? Most of these accounts fail to mention where the name came from. He isn't mentioned in the church records in the village. Odd if he was a villager.

We only have to go back to June 2007 to find the origins of the name Richard Du Bois. Living TV's show 'Most Haunted' went to investigate the Highwayman murder and this name was provided then without a shred of evidence and has passed into folklore so that many internet authors seem to believe it is fact now.

Exploring the Possibilties

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

Natural phenomena may be responsible for any original sighting although it hard to imagine what could be mistaken from such detailed alleged sightings.

The whole thing could be a story and nothing more.

Conclusions

The dilution, and embellishment 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 was killed by some means at a tree at Fright Corner.

We know that the location is Frith Corner in real life and that, maybe, there was a tree here in the 18th century when highway robbery was rife.

What contradicts this is that there is no substance to the story and if indeed it were true why would he hide behind a single tree exposed on all sides when a few metres away there is extensive woodland he could use to hide until a victim came along.

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. It is equally likely that the name Richard Du Bois was pure entertainment from a show that worked under that caveat for years and bears no factual substance at all.

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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