Over the past few weeks we have been discussing aspects of one particular ghost story, the tale of the Black Lady who allegedly haunts Bradley Woods in Grimsby. Now then, as we are concerned with this haunting as folklore, whether this particular spectre exists or not is an issue - for what we have been examining is how the stories about the Black Lady have changed over the years. Now given that folklore exists first and foremost as an oral tradition, and therefore it is impossible to date exactly when the eerie tale of the Black Lady first appeared. However certainly the story of the haunting and the tragic tale of its origin have been told in the local area throughout the 20th century and continue to this day. And last week we saw how in the 21st century, the story is still changing, now thanks to the tale being circulated on the internet, as weblore if you will.
It is the fact that this eerie story is still actually evolving that makes the tale of the Black Lady so intriguing. For in folklore we can roughly divide any old tales into two categories. Firstly there is what I would term 'preserved lore'. These are stories and legends that have been written down and recorded, but now more or less just exists as retellings of the exact same tale. Or to put it another way a standard version now exists, and it is a story that is read about in books rather than still being told by people. On the other hand however, we have the second tentative category of what I'd would dub 'living lore'. These items of folklore I would define as a local story that is not only still being told as part of a surviving oral tradition, but is also still being changed and added to as the years go by.
In the case of the Black Lady, we have clearly a more or less standard version of the story - the sad tale of her origin - that has been widely recorded. However, as we saw last week, when we investigated claims that she also haunts/or had haunted the nearby Nunthorpe estate, we discovered this was a somewhat recent addition to the legend, indicating that her tale is still being embroidered through retellings. Now this new element to the story appears to be a simple case of mistaken identity, with two separate but relatively nearby hauntings becoming confused. But while this might be just an error, it does demonstrate that the story is very much still alive. And what is more, there are further other elements in the lore of the Black Lady that appear to be recent additions too.
Traditionally the Black Lady is seen walking within Bradley Woods, or spotted near its edges. However while researching the legend, as well as finding several sightings of her walking in the woods being made by passing motorists, I also discovered that it is claimed that sometimes she will cross the road, causing passing cars to slow down before she melts away. Furthermore in my devling in the Bradley Woods stories, I discovered a first-hand account, dating from the 1960s, of a Black Lady encounter in which the car actually struck the soon-to-vanish figure with an audible bump.
Of course, if you are at all familiar with folkloric ghost stories, these accounts of the ghost causing phantom accidents will undoubtedly sound very familiar. And this is because there are many tales of local hauntings which have the spectre walking out in front of a car. In fact, this ghostly behaviour is so common it appears to be a modern variation of the well-known Vanishing Hitchhiker story and has been been "the Spectral Jaywalker". Many examples of it, and its elder sibling tradition, are detailed on Sean Tudor's excellent site Road Ghosts.
Quite how such tales end up being so common, occurring not just all over the British Isles but all over the world, is a question folklorists and researchers are still investigating. However in the case of the Black Lady, I did find some interesting possible clues to how they spread. In the lively comments section on local historian Rod Collins' article on the Black Lady, where I found the 1960s jaywalking report mentioned above, I came across several other mentions of the Black Lady haunting the road. Interestingly however, I also found references to what appears to be a sub-tradition that alleges that instead of a figure, mysterious lights are the cause of these phantom near-misses.
Now one plausible explanation for the spectral jaywalker phenomena is that they are optical illusions. The theory goes that thanks the bends in the road, direction of travel, and other natural effects of the local landscape on both light levels and visibility, some places generate an illusion or impression of a shape or a figure on the road. It is a well established fact that rapid changes between light and darkness can produce visual distortions - photically induced hallucinations are a good example of this - and it is thought natural features on specific stretches of road such as sunlight shining through trees can produce subtle strobing effects that generate these illusions. So then, given that many spectral jaywalkers are described as pale figures - often ladies in white - or as in the case of the Bradley Woods haunting, patches of light or mist, this may well be the scientific explanation for a real phenomena that underlies the folklore.
Sadly I've not been able to trace much further detail on these particular tales of hauntings on the Bradley Road, but it would seem that this section of road is a common spot for sightings of the Black Lady. But given that one commenter on the Rod Collins article mentions his father recounting a tale of a vanishing car on the Bradley Woods road, one cannot help but wonder if these tales of lights on the road were perhaps originally a separate road ghost story. As we saw last week, the Black Lady legend appears to have absorbed (or at least to be in the process of absorbing) a separate tale of a hooded figure that haunted Nunthorpe in 1980s, and therefore I suspect the haunting at Bradley Road may well have been unrelated to the Black Lady at first, but is now becoming part of her folklore.
I suspect this is often the case where one story is more active than others. And have no doubt the tale of the Black Lady is still very active - it is indeed living lore. For her eerie story continues to be told in the local area, and now her fame is spreading online too. Next time, we will examine a further example of the Black Lady legend becoming more elaborate in recent years, one that sees the Black Lady incorporating another sub genre of folklore...