‘The 100 Best British Ghost Stories’ by Gillian Bennett (Amberley 2012) is one of those books I wish I’d written. It’s a collection of folk tales and historical records of ghostly encounters from across the UK. I’m guessing the ‘100 best’ concept was suggested by the publisher rather than the author but there’s no doubt Gillian Bennett has chosen her selection with great care.
The stories are listed chronologically, from the 17th to the 20th centuries, providing a loose narrative as the style and context of the ghost stories evolve. This approach also reflects the academic expertise employed in the work: the author is a former editor of the ‘Folklore’ journal. I note that, like me, Gillian lives in North Wales, and Welsh yarns are well represented. They include ‘The Golden King of Bryn-yr-Ellyllon’, from my home town of Mold, and one of my favourite ghost stories from anywhere, a weird tale Gillian has entitled ‘Colonel Bowen Visits His Wife’ but which for some reason I’ve come to think of as ‘The Demon Husband’. I’ve uploaded this eerie account of a frightening haunting in South Wales at: http://www.uncannyuk.com/1081/demon_husband_of_gower/
All the usual suspects are here: Silky, Tregeagle, Cock Lane, Cauld Lads, Boggarts, Padfoot and Co, crisis apparitions and prophecies. But there are a number of less well-known spooks, too, including a long section of previously unpublished accounts collected by a keen scholar of Lincolnshire folklore in the first half of the 20th century. The most recent accounts are also previously unrecorded in print: a selection of stories collected orally by the author herself. There are gems among both collections.
‘The 100 Best British Ghost Stories’ by Gillian Bennett is an expertly compiled collection of UK ghost-lore, and a handy and welcome addition to the bookshelf.