Stroud Out Loud – Gloucestershire Ghost Tales launch event!

02 KirstyStorytelling clubs in Stroud have been many and located all over – in the time that Fire Springs members Anthony, me and Kevan have lived in Stroud there have been several iterations. First, we were at the Angel Café Bar (now JRool…), then The Bear at Rodborough, then Anthony and I, with our fellow Stroud storytellers Di Humphrey and Fiona Eadie founded Stroud Story Cabaret in 2011, featuring guest artists, storytellers and musicians, from around the region. That ran for a couple of years, and then Kevan took up the baton and started the Story Supper at Black Book Café. He now runs Stroud Out Loud at Mr Twitchett’s in the Subscription Rooms. Anthony and I were delighted to be invited to launch their Gloucestershire Ghost Tales book there!

And what a great evening it was!

Kevan couldn’t be there – the lucky fellow is on a writer’s retreat at Hawthornden Castle, near Edinburgh – but his singer/musician partner (and newest member of Fire Springs!) Chantelle Smith was our wonderful host for the evening, bringing everything together with warmth and sincerity – and dealing with any technical hiccups with aplomb!

09 AnthonyAnthony and I performed four stories from the book (there are twenty), topping and tailing each half with our stories. We wanted to show the real mix of tales we’ve tried to make in there, and my opening tale, ‘Molly the Dreamer’, is a grisly but comedic jaunt through the many, many fell things that lurk at the wonderfully named Woeful Danes Bottom, near Minchinhampton, which launched the evening with laughter. Anthony’s first tale was the heart warming ‘Save Me Tonight from Benhall’s Dreary Wood’ – though there is little left of the wood just outside Cheltenham these days to be dreary, as it is home to a housing estate and GCHQ…  Anthony began the second half with a chilling tale of Civil War royalist justice that takes places near what is now the Second Severn Crossing, and I ended the event with The Christmas Ghost, a seasonal tale from the little church of St Mary de Lode, just outside the cathedral precinct in Gloucester.

12 RobinThe rest of the evening was floor spots, and we had a wonderful set of tales, songs, poems and even stand up!  If you want to find out all the contributors, go to the Gloucestershire Ghost Tales facebook page and you’ll see everyone. Thank you all, you were all amazing! Highlights included Peter Adams stand up routine about getting older – with an emphasis on scatology! Who knew there was so much to look forward to? Fiona Eadie’s tale about St Nicholas acting Pied Piper to a plague of rats is a favourite of mine anyway, and it was such a treat to hear Glenn Smith telling his tale of what happens to the Good Folk at the day of judgement. Robin Collins, a Stroud Out Loud stalwart and true bard, shook us all up with the truth about sex – I will never be able to go out in the rain without thinking about his poem, I tell you! And Chantelle sang a beautiful variant of Bruton Town, a murdered lover song in which the dead man gets the last laugh, to an Appalachian tune I hadn’t heard before.  When I say highlights, though, it is so hard to choose as it really was a fantastic night of local – and not so local, as we had performers from Swindon and Newent – talent.

Kirsty Hartsiotis

  1. Kirsty performing The Christmas Ghost … see the book in the foreground (copyright: Chantelle Smith)
  2. Anthony performing The Royalist Ferryman (copyright: Kirsty Hartsiotis)
  3. Robin performing his poem about all natural sex… (copyright: Kirsty Hartsiotis)


Gloucestershire’s Ghost Tales live at The Wilson, Cheltenham

Anthony and KirstyGloucestershire’s hidden places are seething with spooks and some of them will be accompanying storytellers and writers Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis to The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum on Wednesday 9 December at 6pm. If you’d like to join us (and the spooks!), you can get your tickets here, or directly from The Wilson on 01242 237431 or

After all, it is the season for ghost tales, but we’ll be going one better than just telling ghost tales at Christmas – we’ll be sharing tales of the real Christmas ghosts of Gloucestershire alongside some of the county’s scariest spooks. Expect to be chilled, moved and amused as we imaginatively bring to life the county’s ghosts from the Severn Vale to the Upper Thames, from the Cotswolds to Cheltenham.

6367 Glos GT CVR.inddThe stories all come from our newly released book, Gloucestershire Ghost Tales (The History Press, 2015).  Having told stories up and down the country for many years, we have found that the ghost story is one of the most living of folktale genres. Often, when we’re telling local stories, audience members share their own tales with us … and they are nearly always ghost tales. Perhaps you too have had an experience you can’t explain – or know someone else who has. People are still fascinated by the ghosts of their locality, their family, even the building they live in. When you listen to ghost stories the world suddenly becomes a more unnerving place.

coverThere are many, many ghost tales in Gloucestershire, as we discovered when Anthony was researching his previous book for The History Press, Gloucestershire Folk Tales (2012) – and you’ll find a sprinkling of ghost tales in that book, as well as Cheltenham tale of Maude’s Elm. So how did we choose which tales to include in the new book – and to tell for our audiences? Ultimately, we chose those which most caught our imagination, though we’ve tried to provide a good spread of geography, theme,and of gloomier as well as more cheerful tales.  On 9 December you’ll hear just a sample – cheerful and gloomy – but the book will be available for sale if you are thirsting for more … or are looking for a local stocking filler (and there are lots more nice stocking fillers in The Wilson’s shop as well!)

And who are we? These days, we live in Stroud, but we met at the Bath Storytelling Circle that Anthony founded 16 years ago this December. We are members of Fire Springs, a storytelling company, and have  performed widely in Britain and beyond. For some years we ran Stroud Story Cabaret, and we remain active members of Gloucestershire’s storytelling scene. Anthony teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University and is also the author of Exotic Excursions, Storytelling and Ecology and Words of Re-enchantment, and his new novel Deep Time came out this year. He is also the co-editor of Storytelling for a Greener World. Kirsty is the author of Wiltshire Folk Tales and Suffolk Folk Tales and she also just happens to be the Curator of Decorative Art and Designated Collection at The Wilson – a different kind of storytelling!

Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson

Image of Kirsty and Anthony © Fire Springs

Images Gloucestershire Folk Tales and Gloucestershire Ghost Tales covers © The History Press


The Woman’s Wraith, a tale of the Thames and Severn Canal

DSC06795The story I submitted to Stroud Short Stories (see this blog to find out more about the night) was The Woman’s Wraith. This is, I think, one of the most spooky tales in the book, and is also one of the very first I chose to do.  The story of the woman and … what she meets by a lonely bridge stayed with me long after I read the snippet from which we gleaned the tale.

The story comes from a story collected by Adin Williams in his Lays and Legends of Gloucestershire, 1878, a delightful volume of, um, questionable verse capturing some of the south-east of the county’s folklore, history and art. For example, this is Oswyn from Hero Hengstan:

He was like a knotted oak,                                                                                                            White with years that time had seared,                                                                                               Strong to give and take the stroke,                                                                                               When the battle fiercely neared.

Adin Williams was from Lechlade, and was a school master in Kempsford and Lechlade.  He seems to have been a keen amateur historian and folklore collector, ‘the collection of curious local legends and histories, as far as old people can help to that end, has been the employment of his spare time’ , as it says in the preface to Lays and Legends. The Woman’s Wraith is one of a couple of collected tales in the end of the book from the ‘rich store of pathos and humour which is afloat in village gossip, but which,’ the publisher, CH Savory, says – and this is 1878, mark you! –  ‘is fast wearing out before the stride of education and newspapers.’  Though not from Williams’ own teaching it seems – he was severely criticised for the quality of his teaching in Kempsford, where the Lays and Legends was written!

Williams says The Woman’s Wraith is ‘literally true’ – and who are we to doubt him? – and occurred within living memory of his writing – pushing it back to the 1810s or 20s. It’s set on the canal, which in this case can only be the Thames and Severn Canal, which meets the Thames just along from Kempsford at Lechlade. The Thames and Severn was completed in 1789, but even by the time of the story was starting its long decline, with trade taken by the Kennet and Avon which ran directly to the mouth of the Avon. When Williams was writing it may have been a quiet place indeed, just the sort of place where lonely, scary things might happen…

Today, the canal is gone. You can see it at the basin at Lechlade, and Inglesham lock, and imagine what it was like, but there is nothing left at Kempsford save tell-tale strips of grass near the church where you can see the line of the canal. But some of the infrastructure still remains – there’s the wharf house at Kempsford, and, out of the village, and marooned all alone in the fields is Oatlands Bridge.


There is something surreal about a bridge all alone in a field with no hint of water anywhere around. Something slightly … spooky … in its forlorn and overgrown state. It’s all too easy to imagine something lurking there, isn’t it? Perhaps the story was ‘literally true’, after all?

Note: information about Adin Williams comes from David Vasiey’s ‘Connections: Gloucestershire, the Bodleian Library, and the Adventures of Roger Plowman’ in Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, vol. 111, 1993.


Ghostly Tales of Gloucestershire are coming to Stroud Out Loud!

Friday 27 November, Mr Twitchett’s, Subscription Rooms, Stroud, 7pm for 7.30pm.

From poltergeists to white ladies and spectral bears, Gloucestershire’s hidden places are seething with spooks!

Fire Springs storytellers Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis tell a spooky sample of the county’s creepiest ghost stories to launch their new book, Gloucestershire Ghost Tales.

There will also be spooky, ‘spoken’ word (poetry, song, storytelling, stand-up comedy, monologues etc.) floor spots so arrive at 7pm to be sure of a performance spot.
(10 minutes unread, 3 minutes for readings)

Licensed Bar. Fat Toni’s. Admission FREE Tel: 01453 840887

The Woman’s Wraith at Stroud Short Stories

EerieeveningIn just ten sessions, Stroud Short Stories (SSS) has become a Stroud institution. I’d never submitted a piece before, but when the organiser, John Holland, mentioned that the November session was going to be an Eerie Evening, and with Gloucestershire Ghost Tales recently off to the publisher, I knew I had to apply with a tale from the book. SSS often gets a huge number of submissions, so it was a great privilege to be selected – thank you John and Nimue Brown, the two selectors!

It was such a fun evening. These events sell out early; the last time Anthony and I tried to go we didn’t realise that, and were turned away! Doing a story seemed a good way of getting a guaranteed seat…  I was on first (thanks John!) with The Woman’s Wraith, and wanted to set a spooky tone.  I hope I did! Reading is very different from storytelling – I confess I prefer the freedom and intimacy of the latter, but there was a certain satisfying pleasure in reading what I wrote, rather than the usual extempore rendering of the tale.

I won’t mention all of the tales told that night, just to say that the quality of both tales and reading was very high, but I hope you will indulge me while I mention a few. My absolute favourite was Steven Connolly’s A Winter Wedding, capturing the delusion, the mind’s tricks of a dying man on the unhappy Franklin expedition. My Fire Springs colleague, David Metcalfe, sings a song about Franklin, so I felt a real leap of delight when I realised what the tale was about, and this tale was a sensitive and delicate account of what we know happened, and what might have occupied one man’s mind as the cold bit deeper and deeper…

Simon Piney’s The Ghastly Rolling was excellently performed in rich round tones – a classic ghost tale, in which the protagonist has a horrible tale to tell … and is a warning to the curious. Not liking crowds much, the cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill has never had a huge amount of appeal to me, and now I am even more wary! I would love to know, but didn’t get a chance to ask, if the tale had any actual folklore in it.

And Tony Stowell’s The Spirit is Willing was very funny – I can only hope that a ghostly afterlife doesn’t include such meetings, though the solution to the problems that ghosts face was ingenious!

Of course, for me, one of the best things was chatting to the other writers and the audience, and also performing under the artwork of the superb Tom Brown – featured here – whose poster reminds me of a ghost tale I heard in York Cemetery, and even experienced … but that’s another story!

And to find out about The Woman’s Wraith, come back to the blog as the next post tells the story of that tale, an ill-fated canal, and of one of Gloucestershire’s worst poets…  And of course, if you weren’t lucky enough to be there on the 15th, you can read the story itself in Gloucestershire Ghost Tales!

Image © Tom Brown