Here’s another item from Tales of Old Berkshire. Sheep stealing was a big deal in the past – they were a good size, often left in open fields, but still moveable. But from the early 18th century theft risked a rope necklace. The first one is of the commmon sort, often put about to keep people indoors when smugglers were about, specially in the West Country. the second one makes less sense. Country people know how to handle rope, which suggests this man was not an agricultural person. The stone seems to come from another story that has been merged with it.
A rumour was set about in Bucklebury that a “ghostly procession” had been seen down one of the village’s many twisty lanes.
Four men in white carrying a coffin – it was enough to keep the timid within their doors. One man, however, was brave enough to investigate. Armed with a strong cudgel, he lay in wait for the apparition. It was with a beating heart that he saw it approaching but he stayed his ground and waited until the ghosts drew level with his hiding place.
Then out he rushed, waving his gnarled stick. He attacked the nearest white clad figure. Not only did that “ghost” take to his heels, but it was followed by the other 3. As they fled into the darkness their stalwart attacker turned to inspect the “coffin”; which they had left behind – a fat sheep, stolen from a nearby field.
Having stolen a sheep [a man] carried it off alive, its feet tied together with a stout cord. He slung it across his shoulders and passed the cord round his own neck. If extremely uncomfortable, for the poor animal, it was a safe enough procedure while the man kept the cord under control, but feeling weary, he sat down to rest on a large stone. This was his undoing, for he dozed off and was throttled by the rope which secured the struggling sheep.
At the corner of Hangman’s Stone Lane in the parish of Chaddleworth, the stone still stands, a grim reminder of the price paid by he thief for stealing and sleeping.