I've lived in the sprawling town of Bradley Stoke, near Bristol, for a few years now, and for as long as I can remember the area has been a hotbed of paranormal activity and ghost sightings, most notably the sinister "Crooked Fiddler".
The creepy stories have been shared in the playground of the eight local schools, and at the bars of pubs like The Three Brooks, Hollow Tree and The Orchard for decades. But if you're new in town, you might not be aware of Bradley Stoke's ghostly past and haunted reputation.
It all dates back to long before any of Bradley Stoke's 9,000 homes were built, back to the Iron Age when most of the area was covered in heavy forest. It wasn't until this period in history that larger tools allowed settlers to clear the land more easily and settle here.
Iron Age remains have been found near the Willow Brook Centre, and even spookier, human remains have been discovered in the area, mostly recently in 2007.
Due to the ground works carried out by these early settlers, by the end of the nineteenth century the area that is now Bradley Stoke was home to a collection of farms surrounded by several wooded areas. The largest of these being the sinister sounding Savage's Wood, which still remains as part of Bradley Stoke's nature reserve today.
But, to the east of the town, there was once a copse, which had a very dark history. Local legend tells of the story of an evil old man, or shadowy figure, who some believed lived in this area of woodland at the turn of the century. It was said that he would lure children in to the woods with the music of his fiddle. Children from the local farms who were unlucky enough to be ensnared by his ditty were never seen again.
No one knew the true identity of the man, who was often heard but rarely seen, but he was given the nickname the "Crooked Fiddler", and over time the woods became known as Fiddler's Woods. These woods no longer exist, they were cleared to make way for the M4 which passes through South Gloucestershire, but opposite Tesco Extra is Fiddlers Wood Lane, which heads off to the east in the direction of the former woodlands where dozen of local children went missing.
When road crews were working on the construction of the motorway in the mid-60s, it's said the work was frequently halted due to the sound of children. Worried that kids were playing on the construction site, the men downed tools and conducted a search, but no children were ever found.
Even with Fiddler's Wood completely gone by the time the M4 opened in 1966, the paranormal activity in the area didn't die down, if anything it got worse. The original plans for Bradley Stoke were drawn up in the 1970, and while most of the farms agreed to sell their land and make way for the new estate there was just on obstacle, Webb's Farm.
Webb's Farm was one of the original farms in Bradley Stoke and was the nearest to the former site of the haunted woods. Throughout the 70s and early 80s the Webb family stood their ground and refused to sell. However, the family were eventually driven out of their home by ghostly activity, allowing construction to finally start in 1986.
The Webbs spoke to the local news channel of the time, HTV, about their decision to leave the farm, which had been their family home for generations. Robert Webb said the spooky activity in the house started following the birth of their first daughter, and escalated, as her and her two younger sisters grew older.
The farmer said that they were often bothered by a faint musical sound coming from outside the house. The three girls, all of which were in their teens by the time they moved out of the farmhouse, often reported hearing children crying while they were alone in rooms, and most terrifyingly the youngest daughter once claimed to have seen the "Crocked Fiddler's" face peering through a window one evening. Despite a thorough search of the farm, no trespassers were found.
According to a Bristol Evening Post article from January 12th, 1986, it emerged after the television news report that the families living in pretty much all of the local farms experienced similar hauntings and strange goings on, these reports included sightings, the sound of music, and even poltergeist activity. And, it seems these odd happenings continue to this day.
With a population of close to 21,000, there's no shortage of people open to the paranormal in Bradley Stoke, so it's no surprise that even today residents report similar activity. Most commonly, people say they've heard eerie disembodied music on quiet nights, usually in the summer months when sleeping with their bedroom windows open.
Many sightings of an old man or dark figures have also been reported in homes, businesses and even some of the pubs in Bradley Stoke. Often he's seen out of the corner of the eye, or when approached simply vanishes. The most famous of these sightings was in 1998 when a group of colleagues from Watson Steelwork in nearby Patchway saw the figure while out for Christmas drinks at the Bailey's Court Inn.
The pub was once Baileys Court Farmhouse, the only original farm building that exists on the estate today. The group of workmates, wanting another round of drinks. had their attention fixed on the bar waiting for the barman to return from running an errand out back.
The group saw the dark shadow of a man pop up briefly from behind the bar, they assumed the barman had returned and was putting glasses away, but when their generous boss arrived at the bar to buy the drinks, there was no one to be seen. Moments later the actual barman returned.
There are still several ancient woodlands, which survived the building of Bradley Stoke, Sherbourne's Brake, Webb's Wood, and Savage's Wood. As recently as 2015, dog walkers have reported hearing the sound of a creepy fiddle music echoing through the woods. Many people still refuse to go into the woods alone, especially at night.