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Round Barrow(s)

Also known as:
  • Gun's Church

Nearest Town:Warminster (5km NNW)
OS Ref (GB):   ST881403 / Sheet: 183
Latitude:51° 9' 40.53" N
Longitude:   2° 10' 12.71" W

Added by Rhiannon

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Just beyond the church [in Hill Deverill], and approached by a rough lane and a bridge over the stream, stands the remains of the Ludlow manor house - a very picturesque old stone house, with mullioned and transomed windows, standing neglected and dilapidated in the reedy marsh meadows. It is a Tudor building, with alterations of the eighteenth century. The Cokers, to whom it passed from the Ludlows, lived here until 1736.

A strange memory of the last of this family survives in the valley, "Old" Coker, as he is called - the adjective has the country significance of something at once fearful and familiar, as when we say Old Nick, or Old Harry. Villagers tell how he "walks" about the countryside; lovers in the moonlight would come upon him sitting on stiles; he is heard at midnight whipping his hounds round "Guns' Church," a barrow on the hill above, and galloping down to his house, with chains rattling and horn screaming on the wind. In the house itself his malevolent influence would pluck the bed-clothes off the sleeper, and play many pranks. He is said to haunt even the church itself.
From Ella Noyes's "Salisbury Plain" (1913).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th September 2016ce
Edited 14th September 2016ce

I'm assuming Gun's Church is this round barrow - but please, if you have local knowledge and it is a different barrow, do contradict me.

I read in Kathleen Wiltshire's 'Ghosts and Legends of Wiltshire' that the barrow is in the SE end of Hill Deverill parish. The local lords of the manor were the Coker family. The last in the line, Henry, died in 1730, but he haunts the district still. He's known as 'Old Coker'.

To me this sounds like another name for the devil - and when you hear what his ghost gets up to it rather sounds like the folklore isn't just about a local landowner.

Old Coker follows his hounds in a phantom hunt round the barrow. Kathleen reports from her informant in 1971, a Mr J Vyner, that 'sounds of horses galloping, chains rattling and horns blowing have lately been heard'. Does this not bring to mind tales of Odin / the Devil and his Wild Hunt with his hellhounds?

The name of the barrow is intriguing too - what does it mean?

So the stories were collected by Kathleen Wiltshire in the 1970s, but it seems they were doing the rounds nearly a hundred years before, too, when John U. Powell wrote them down.
The 'Spectral Hunt' is attached to the name of 'Old Coker' who drives his hounds round 'Gun's Church,' the name of a round barrow on a down at the south-east extremity of Hill [Deverill] parish, or through his 'grounds' by the house, 'horses galloping and chains rattling' and the horn sounding. (1889.)
Folklore Notes from South-West Wilts
John U. Powell
Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 1. (Mar., 1901), pp. 71-83.

one is almost tempted from the similarity of wording to suspect Ms Wiltshire of fibbing.

The whole parish seems to be awash in strange stories, and Kathleen collected tales of headless figures in the churchyard, buried treasure, and the appearance of dead inhabitants at Midsummer Eve. They seem to have long memories there too - redheads were locally referred to as 'Daners'.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
23rd October 2003ce
Edited 15th April 2007ce