Do this guest story justice, read it at night with the lights dimmed. Better still, print it out, get a torch and head off down to the harecastle Tunnel. - Matt.
Many years ago when the canal system was still in its infancy a young lady was travelling from Liverpool to London on a journey to be re-united with her husband who had been earning his living in the docklands of the capital. He had sent his wife a guinea for what was in those days a very long and dangerous journey. She had packed up all she owned into two very large trunks and had somehow managed to travel all the way to Stoke-on-Trent on the back of a horse and cart which was carrying a load to the mill up at Hardingswood. It was at the Canal Tavern in Kidsgrove that this young lady made an error in judgement that would eventually lead to her untimely death.
A group of boatmen that had spent the day getting very much the worse for wear drinking at the popular public house had overheard her trying to arrange her further transportation south by road and on spotting her two large trunks that needed to go with her had decided on a most awful plan for both her and her and all that she owned.
They made her an offer she could not refuse, free transportation as far south as they could take her on their longboat. An offer that she gladly accepted with her guinea fast running out and the prospect of an extremely long and uncomfortable journey ahead on the back of a cart, so with a pint of porter in hand the three boatmen loaded her luggage and the four of them set off towards the Harecastle tunnel.
When they arrived at the mouth of the tunnel and the pony was led away along Boat-horse Road the ghastly plot would begin to unravel, and when the three remaining men were finally reunited at the other side the woman would be dead and nobody would be any the wiser. The two drunken boatmen told the young lady to make her self comfortable and they began the task of legging the longboat into the darkness of the longest canal tunnel in the country.
When the boat was far away from the sight of any witnesses and had reached the coal landing stage known as Gilbert's hole the two men brutally attacked their passenger so brutally she lost her life and after removing her head by hacking it from her torso with a large piece of slate they through the body into the culvert and went about their journey. The body was eventually discovered some days later by an unfortunate barge owner and when the men were finally found they were both hanged for this most terrible of crimes.
The story does not end there though and the legend of the Kidsgrove ghost has been handed down by colliers and boatmen for generations. There are tales of mismatches in the numbers of boats going in at one end of the tunnel when compared to the records of boats coming out of the tunnel and some barges will take extremely long detours to avoid the tunnel completely.
Local colliers tell the tale of a ghost that they call Kit Crewbucket; a female apparition that has fore-warned them of many pit explosions and therefore saved many a life in her time. There is also a legend of a headless woman that rides a white horse along the Boat-horse Road on the full moon at midnight.
Whatever you may believe; there is documented evidence of the death of Christina Collins in 1839, a young lady travelling from Liverpool to London whose body was found in the Trent and Mersey canal. Her gravestone can still be seen today in the churchyard of St Augustine's in Rugeley.
The story was also the inspiration for the Inspector Morse novel 'The wench is dead' by Colin Dexter.
Many thanks to Stephen for allowing his work to feature on My Tunstall. To find more of Stephen's work please visit http://stokepoet.blogspot.com/ or if you're interested in writing, Stephen is part of a local group of writers called Stoke-on-Writers