For four years, the tall, veiled woman flitted through the darkened lanes of Curry Rivel, always silent, melting away into the blackness when anyone dared to lay eyes on her.

Rumours swirled - she was the ghost of a governess who had lost her charges, doomed to search the ditches and hedges for the children she had lost until the end of time.

Others believed that if she lifted her veil and her eyes met yours, she would instantly take your soul.

She was a bogeyman used to terrify children into behaving, the cause of locked doors and the streets emptying after darkness fell. No one wanted to walk in her path. 

It was September 1927, and the locals were discussing the ghost at the King William Inn. Frank Chorley, a village resident, told the regulars that he had seen the ghost stalking the streets that morning. William Weaver, the pub landlord, decided enough was enough - it was time to solve this mystery for once and for all.

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The pair lept on their bicycles and headed to Stony Lane, where Chorley claimed he last saw the spectre.

“I said ‘right’ and jumped off the machine,” Mr Weaver told Reynold’s Newspaper. “And caught hold of her wrists, thinking she probably had a revolver. When I looked at her, I had such a shock, for I thought she was a lady. Now you have to surrender, I said.”

Weaver told the paper that when the woman didn’t respond, he shone his bicycle light into her face and solved the mystery of the ghost of Curry Rivel forever.

The woman wore a small, tight-fitting hat, suggesting bobbed hair and a dark veil covering her face.

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She wore a red mackintosh that reached above her knees, black patent high-heel shoes and white stockings.  Her ears were pierced, and her face was powdered and made up. She held a red sunshade above her head, which she closed and lowered as Chorley began to speak to her.

Chorley recognised the woman - who turned out to be the Reverand Alfred Harold Read, a married man of ‘advancing years’ with several older children and the minister of the village Congregational Church.

When scolded for scaring women and children, the Reverand told the pair he had been researching a novel. By the following morning, his story had shifted, and he was telling people he had heard of women ‘getting into trouble’ and wanted to find out if it was true.

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In an impressive attempt at fire-fighting, the Reverand invited the public to meetings at Drayton and Curry Rivel to hear his explanation.

The invitations were headed ‘Talks by the Masquerader.’ Men and women would be allowed to attend, but anyone under 16 would be sent away.

The meetings in Drayton went ahead, but the one due to take place at Curry Rivel was cancelled when the Somerset Congregational Union authorities said they would carry out an inquiry into his actions.

In front of a packed hall, the reverend Read stood up and said about four years ago that he had become deeply depressed by the state of modern morals. The world was evolving degenerate, and he feared that once sincerely held values were being scrapped in favour of cheap and fickle hedonism.


He told the hall: “It was my intention to discover what was the attitude of the ordinary man to the ordinary woman going alone on country roads rather late at night making no advances — a woman who became absolutely silent when any sort advance or familiarity was made to her by a man.

“To my surprise and intense satisfaction, though I walked on many miles on various occasions, there was not one who became at all troublesome to me.

“Some will say it was because I was no engaging female. My only reply to that is that not a few opportunities would have opened out if I had given any sign.

“After having proved again and again all the local districts, as far as I could that men are far more chivalrous to women than I had imagined, I resolved to confirm and establish my convictions by visiting other populous areas.

"My experience was just the same, with one exception, at a place some distance away, where I sat on the seafront and suddenly felt a man leering at me. It was a terrible feeling, and I quickly moved away.

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“Men, I raise my hat to you. I can truly say that you never had as high a place in my esteem as now. The lurid Press, that give so much space in their columns to sensation, are not fair to you.

“The heart of English manhood seems sound as ever. I have confirmed by these experiences your loyalty to the instinct of manhood, your genuine chivalry towards women and your high respect for those who are most inaptly described as the weaker sex.
“Now that this strange, and perhaps foolish jaunt of mine is over, I have apologised to everyone and I trust that they will all be ready to forgive me this spasm of folly.”

While the meeting he held with the village women was described as ‘orderly’, the separate meeting he had with the men ended in uproar.

An angry crowd of around 100 people waited in the pouring rain for him, and only a police escort got him home safely.

After these meetings, Rev Read was found too unwell to hold any further discussions and ordered by his doctor to take complete rest.

But it seemed that some of the people of Curry Rivel were more than willing to forgive their pastor.


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The following day, the congregation released a statement voicing their support and compassion for their Pastor.

"We do hereby place on record our unqualified conviction that such behaviour was not due to any moral laxity, but is the result of a nervous disorder induced by anxiety and overwork.

"Further, we record our gratitude to God for our pastor's long and arduous ministry and affirm that our church has been most happy and successful during his four years as our leader.

"We have found him a helpful preacher and devoted friend and pastor, recklessly spending his strength in bringing the church through great difficulties to a place of honour in the community and the union."


But it was not a sentiment shared by everyone.  While the reverend recovered with family in Newton Abbott, discussion of the event that had taken him from the village was banned as ‘disturbances’ and disagreements broke out whenever the subject came up.

Interviewed by the Telegraph, the landlord who had unmasked him said it was ‘a wicked thing to do’ He held the whole village in a reign of terror’.

Another anonymous interviewee told the paper: “It was rest for him.

“He told me afterwards himself that however tired he was, he felt like a new man when he put on women’s clothes.”


The Reverend slipped gently from the news cycle, and for the most part, his story vanishes. We know that he resigned from the pastorate on November 29, 1927 - possibly to the relief of the villagers who had grown tired of the scandal.

His legacy remains in the village thanks to the labours of his ministry - he had been the figurehead of a vast fundraising campaign - known as the 1,000 Guineas Scheme (worth around £67,000 today), which had paid for the building, reconstruction and renovation of church buildings.

It was a considerable sum to raise in those days. As a result of his efforts, a new manse at Curry Rivel and a Mission Hall at Drayton was built, a pipe organ installed and additional choir seats added, gates and walls put up, and sundry repairs carried out.

To this day, the church at Curry Rivel has cause to be proud of his work, despite his masquerade as the mysterious phantom of Curry Rivel.