Ghost Story

The nun and a monk

Every good family history should have at least one ghost story and while this one is unlikely to be that of a relative, it is worth diverging to re-tell it. It involves a John Coomber who lived in Humberside County which is well to the north of the normal lands where you would expect to find someone with the name Coomber. However, as a monk, he would be more likely to travel widely than most in his era.

The story takes place in Hedon which is an ancient market town in Holderness, 10km east of Hull and approximately 2km from the River Humber which gives the country its name. Like every old English town, Hedon has its fair share of ghost stories, but the one involving John Coomber is one of the oldest. The story goes that John, a monk at the Hospital of the Holy Sepulchre, fell in love with an ambitious nun named Sr Alice who wanted to be Abbess and the only way to do this was to get rid of the Abbess Sr Ruth. Sr Alice persuade John to kill Sr Ruth. He stabbed her to death and threw her body into Hedon Fleet, and so Sr Alice become Abbess.

When the hospital was celebrating the Feast of St Stephen, Ruth’s ghost appeared and told what had happened. As punishment Sr Alice was bricked up in a cell with a hole just large enough for food to be passed in, and there she remained for the rest of her life. The legend tells that Sr Ruth’s ghost appeared to John and told him that, if he didn’t confess his sin to the rest of the monks, she would haunt him forever. This was too much for John so he took a rope and hanged himself from St Stephen’s Cross, one of the boundary markers of Hedon. The Ghosts of John, carrying a rope, and Sr Ruth are reputed to still wander and are said to appear near to the Hedon Station Crossing.

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