Herefordshire folklore is full of interesting characters, witches, fairies, healers, performers and poisoners just to name but a few. One such character was an old woman who resided at the Cockyard in the Golden Valley and who went by the name of Nanny Gunter.
So who was Nanny Gunter?
She was by all accounts a formidable and scary character, known to many as the ‘witch’. There were many tales told about her. From all accounts she had spent time in service in her younger days. She had been in a relationship with the son of the house where she worked when she had become pregnant. Rejected by the son and not wanting to spend the rest of her days in the workhouse, it was told that she had killed her baby at birth and buried it in some nearby woods.
Why did she scare the children of Abbey Dore?
It was well known that Nanny Gunter had a real dislike of children and she would instil fear into every child at Abbey Dore school as she passed by. Children would be happily playing in the schoolyard. But once they heard the tap, tap tapping of Nanny Gunter’s stick as she walked up the road, the playground would be emptied in a flash. Just a look from Nanny Gunter would send a chill down any child’s spine and leave them feeling unnerved and fearful. The threat was so palpable that many of the children were distracted during lessons and consequently were difficult to teach which led to a high turnover of schoolmasters.
Strange occurrences at the School House
As the new schoolmaster moved into the school house with his two children he had one of the strangest experiences of his life. As the family settled down to sleep they heard this almighty thumping and tapping. All the windows began to rattle and the chairs were scraped across the floor. All which could not be explained and continued night after night. The family huddled together in one room, fearful of what might happened but nothing ever did. It didn’t take long for the schoolmaster to realise that the school was indeed a rather strange place. On his first day as schoolmaster he expected the children to misbehave and test his worth but they did not. Come break times they did not bound out to the playground as other children might but hung around with excuses not to go outside. Finally they told him about Nanny Gunter.
Time for Change
Knowing that he must sort the matter but not knowing how the schoolmaster considered his options. Until one day an opportunity presented itself. As he was teaching he spotted Nanny Gunter walking up towards the school and decided to go out and meet her. The children protested noisily and told him not to go but he went outside all the same. As she reached the school gates the schoolmaster addressed her. “Good Morning, lovely weather today” he said. In response Nanny Gunter shot him a look that sent chills down his spine. He continued to make conversation but the old woman just ignored him.
Next day in class he asked the children what they thought Nanny Gunter’s favourite food might be. After someone suggested ‘children’ which was quickly dismissed. This was due to Nanny Gunter not having the teeth for it cake was the choice of the day. So the children set about making the old woman a cake. The next day the schoolmaster waited for Nanny Gunter to pass by. As she did he offered her the cake that the children had made. The old woman stared at him for some time, muttered, drew her cloak around her and continued walking. However his persistence paid off the next day as she took the cake.
Not so scary now
From this point forward the schoolmaster would look out for her every day. The next time he saw her she was walking up the lane being battered by the rain and wind. So he asked her to come inside the school and warm herself by the fire. As Nanny Gunter stepped into the classroom there were gasps from the children. They appeared rooted to the spot. The schoolmaster then showed her the pictures that the children had drawn of her. Hoping that she would not notice the abundance of broomsticks on the pictures. He was sure he spotted the glimmer of a smile. Nanny Gunter no longer looked scary or ominous, she appeared more like a lonely old woman.
This was the start of many visits that Nanny Gunter would make to the school. Instead of running away from her the children clambered to see her. During her visits she would teach them about plants, herbs and healing. The children began to relax and learn and Nanny Gunter was no longer frightened of children. And if you were wondering, coincidentally the strange nightly rattling of windows and thumping at the schoolhouse ceased too.
We will never know if the stories about Nanny Gunter were true. Did she kill her child? Was she a witch? Was she responsible for the supernatural occurrences at the school house? But as you pass through the Cockyard remember to look out for the stretch of road called Nanny Gunter’s pitch and you may just hear the odd tap, tap, tap of her stick.
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