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The Old Gypsy Woman

Pluckley Uncovered
The Old Gypsy Woman is also known as the Watercress Lady. 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

The original version has been slightly corrupted across the years but essentially involves a local gypsy who sold watercress at Pinnocks Bridge. She used to smoke a pipe and died after accidentally setting herself alight with her pipe.

Over the years she seems to have gained the name Abigail Nicholas.

The Sightings

There have been several reports of misty figures in the area of or seated upon the bridge.

The History

A simple tale with little detail to go on but we can explore some parts of this story.

A gypsy woman, well there have historically been gypsy settlements in this area of Kent and also travellers when the true meaning was applied to such people. Irish or Eastern European nomads living in horse drawn wagons earning honest money from trading every day items or working on the local farms. A slightly romantic image sadly not applied correctly today meaning the word gypsy has now been taken in vain and widely applied to those not truly following the original codes of the gypsy. We digress.

Smoking a pipe. There was a time when both men and women smoked a pipe.

Selling watercress. This makes a change from 'lucky heather' but in a sense is possibly more historically accurate for the area. The vale in which Pinnocks area of Pluckley is situtated is criss crossed by numerous streams of clear water. This is prime habitat for the wild growing watercress and whilst now widely available in mixed salad bags from the supermarket there was a time when it was bought on its own. The stream passing under Pinnocks Bridge is an ideal location to find the plant and be able to pick and sell it.

So in a nutshell the description of this spectre could well be accurate.

No time frame is given for the event described so this cannot be explored. One could hazard a guess at the early 1900's when such characters would be well known in the locality.

The Historical Figures

There is no record to be able to trace Abigail Nicholas or a local watercress seller who might be the origin of this story and there is certainly no account prior to 1955 of such a death in the locality.

Exploring the Possibilties
There are subsequent sightings since 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. It is possible that some low lying mist in the autumn months, reflections of the witnesses own car headlamps, shapes caused by flora and fauna's shadows has caused such sightings especially given the location over a water course.

Many 'white lady's' or similar have been sighted in mist prone areas.

Unless you know the area the bridge is easily missed. It is now a low wall set back from the road and a truly unremarkable location. Any figure would be noticeable.

The whole thing could be a story and nothing more.

Conclusions


Many stories get diluted and altered over time but this one seems to have had very little embellishment.

It could be a pure work of fiction based upon a local person who was known to the locals around the 1920's.

Any sightings could be an example of pareidolia based upon previous knowledge of the story whilst experiencing natural phenomena at the location.

 

Pinnocks Bridge today

Source
Pinnocks Bridge Photograph - http://ghostblooms-van-asten.blogspot.co.uk/2013_04_01_archive.html
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  By Dave Godden

 

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