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Tarrant Gunville

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The Source:

Peter Underwood :
"The Vampire's Bedside Companion"
Leslie Frewin, London, 1975

The Case:

It is in Peter Underwood's book that I first read about this story. So let us start with giving you his version of the Doggett tale.

Peter Underwood tells us about the building of the magnificent mansion Eastbury House, in Tarrant Gunville, Dorset. And he mentions the story of William Doggett, the steward of Eastbury House, who borrowed money from his master and then shot himself when he could not pay it back. His suicide is said to have left a bloodstain on the marble floor that can not be removed.

According to Underwood, it did not take long before doors were opened by themselves, footsteps and other noises were heard, and let us quote Underwood: "Doggett's ghost was seen, his face a mass of blood."

"Then, in 1845, during the rebuilding of the church and reorganisation of the churchyard, Doggett's corpse was exhumed. When the coffin was opened the legs of the body were found tied together with yellow ribbon but, more frightening, the body was not in the least decomposed; in fact the face had a rosy complexion, although the course of the bullet that had killed him, from the jaw through the head, was clearly visible. Now the secret was out and after the 'vampire' was dealt with in the accepted way, there was no further trouble and there were no more reports of Doggett's bloodstained ghost."

It is not an awful lot, that Underwood has to offer, but at least we are given the impression that we are dealing with a genuine 'vampire'.

Let us see what others have to say about this case. There is a good well-researched article about the Doggett story in:

Roger Guttridge: "Ten Dorset Mysteries"
Ensign Publications, Southampton, 1989
(3rd edition 1991)

Let us quote Roger Guttridge:

"There is talk, too, of Doggett being a vampire come back to haunt the village, where his body is supposed to have been dug up sixty years after his death and found not to have decomposed."

Apart from that, Guttridge gives us a lot of further information and he has also found an entry in the local parish register for William Doggett's death : June 23, 1786.

Next, let us have a look at Rodney Legg's "Mysterious Dorset", which was published by Dorset Publishing Company in 1987.

"In the Bugle Horn they believed that Doggett was un-dead, who unworthy of burial in consecrated ground would live on as a vampire to emerge from his tomb at night to drink the blood of sleeping villagers. Their story in justification of this is that when the parish church at Tarrant Gunville was demolished in the nineteenth century Doggett's corpse was found not to have decomposed and the legs were bound together with a ribbon of yellow silk."

What have we got so far ?

". . . the legs of the body were found tied together with yellow ribbon . . ."

". . . the body was not in the least decomposed; in fact the face had a rosy complexion . . ."

" . . . they believed that Doggett was un-dead . . ."

" . . . Doggett's corpse was found not to have decomposed and the legs were bound together with a ribbon of yellow silk . . ."

". . . There is talk of Doggett being a vampire . . ."

". . . his body is supposed to have been dug up sixty years after his death and found not to have decomposed. . ."

Charles G Harper's story:

Let us go back a little further in time and see what else has been written about the Doggett case. Here is a version from:

Charles G. Harper: "Haunted Houses - Tales of the supernatural with some accounts of hereditary curses and family legends", Chapman & Hall, London, 1907.

"It is the ghost of Doggett, the fraudulent steward of that Earl Temple, which haunts the road and the long drive up from the park gates to the house. The neighbourhood knows Doggett very well indeed, and can tell you how, emulating the vaster frauds of him who built the place, he robbed his employer and oppressed the tenantry, and at last shot himself. Generally at the stroke of midnight, a coach with headless coachman and headless horses drives out and picks up Doggett, down the road."

"If you see an old-world figure at such a time, stepping into that horrid conveyance, you will recognise him as Doggett by his knee-breeches, tied with yellow silk ribbon. The headless coachman asks (out of his neck ?), "Where to, sir ?" and the ghost says, "Home"; whereupon the horses are whipped up, and they drive back to the house. The shade of Doggett, entering, proceeds to the panelled room where he shot himself a century and a half ago - and shoots himself again !"

"Doggett was buried in the neighbouring church of Tarrant Gunville. That building was demolished and rebuilt in 1845, when the workmen, exhuming his body, found the legs to have been tied together with yellow silk ribbon. The material was as fresh and bright as the day it had been tied, and the body was not decayed. The credulous country folk averred that he was a vampire."

John H Ingram's story:

But there is another book, which appears to be the source of all these stories:
John H Ingram: "The Haunted Homes and family traditions of Great Britain"
Gibbings & Company, London, 1897

If you want to read the complete chapter by John H Ingram, you can find it on our site, listed under Ingram's name, in our section of "Source Material".

Let us see what Ingram has to say:

". . . the troubled spirit has not yet served its term of earthly wanderings. . ."

If William Doggett was a vampire, it would be his corpse that would be doing the wandering, not his spirit.

". . . They found the body in fair preservation, and the course of the bullet from the jaw through the head was distinctly visible. The old man described him as 'a short ginger-haired man.' His legs had been tied together with a broad yellow ribbon, which was fresh and brightly coloured as when it was buried. . ."

I think that there is a world of difference between "a body in fair preservation" and Peter Underwood's "the body was not in the least decomposed; in fact the face had a rosy complexion."

Nowhere in his Doggett story does Ingram mention vampires. Maybe not so strange if we look at the date when Ingram's book was published: 1897, when vampires were almost forgotten.

Charles G. Harper seems to be the first author who wants to turn Doggett into a vampire. Let's look at the year of publication of his book: 1907, which means that Bram Stoker's Dracula had been wandering around for a decade. In 1907, thanks to the popularity of Stoker's work of fiction, there was a new interest in the undead.

The Date:

We have been given a couple of dates. There is the date of William Doggett's suicide: June 23, 1786. And we know that the church of Tarrant Gunville has been torn down and rebuilt, starting in 1844 and being finished in 1845.

The Place:

Tarrant Gunville and the remaining part of Eastbury House can be found in Dorset, somewhere towards the South East of Shaftesbury. On my rather detailed Ordnance Survey map (ST81/91 - Pathfinder 1281) Eastbury House and its surroundings are clearly marked.

Personal Comments:

The most interesting thing about the William Doggett case is the fact that it demonstrates us clearly how such a story can grow and change over the years. Therefore, before we can accept a story that has been retold, it is always necessary to go and check all the original sources.

2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed 19 November 2009
All photos from Tarrant Gunville - 1992 by Rob Brautigam

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