By Stuart Williams
The White Hart on Caldmore Green is one of Walsall’s most historic and attractive former public houses – but also one of the most mysterious. Originally a private residence, the building dates from the second half of the 1600s and was probably built by George Hawe (died1679), who is known to have improved the family estate in Caldmore. The site was previously occupied by a timber-framed house and apparently, these timbers were re-used in the new building. All of this makes the Victorian and later tales of spooky goings-on at The White Hart even more intriguing at this time of year…
The Hawe family supported the Royalists during the English Civil War – the opposite side from Walsall Corporation, who favoured Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarian ‘Roundhead’ followers. The direct family line died out in 1736, when the estates passed by marriage to Thomas Parker of Park Hall. The house was then, presumably, let or sold. Around 1817, the house became an inn and was known as ‘Ye Olde White Hart’. Since then, it has undergone some alteration and has become associated with tales of ghostly happenings, prosperity, decline and restoration.
It was during The White Hart’s time as a pub that a classic Victorian ghost story was born in 1870, when, during renovation work, the mummified arm of a small child was found hidden in the attic chimney, together with a Cromwellian sword. Superstitious local folk immediately drew a connection between this grisly relic and that of the old folk-tradition of the ‘Hand of Glory’. Smacking of witchcraft, this is the name given to a ‘charm’ allegedly used by burglars and sorcerers to stupefy their victims.
Supposedly, a ‘Hand of Glory’ would be made from a hand cut from the body of a dead criminal who was hanging on a gibbet, then pickled with various salts and dried until it became hard. The hand was used as a holder for a candle made from a gruesome mixture of fat from a hanged man, Lapland sesame and unused wax. Apparently some burglars believed that if they carried such a lighted candle in a Hand of Glory, it would prevent the occupants of the house which they were robbing from waking up while it remained lit. It was generally believed that the flames could not be blown out by any ordinary person and that milk was the only liquid able to extinguish the candle.
The hand and sword found in the attic soon became associated with the legend that The White Hart is haunted by the spectre of a young girl who killed herself there in the 1800s, and since then the story has been the inspiration for numerous spooky tales. More than one licensee reported eldritch happenings in the old pub during the 1950s. One James Moran claimed to have discovered a hand print on an attic table in 1955; supposedly that of a woman, yet he stated that as far as he knew, no-one had been in the loft.
A relief manager of the pub even told a local newspaper that he had been sitting in the living quarters (the floor below the attic) when he had heard a strange bumping sound from above and looked up to see his terrified Alsatian dog standing stiff and with its hackles up, staring up the stairs. Needless to say, he departed in haste!
The true story of this so-called ‘Hand of Glory’, however, appears to be more mundane, though also intriguing. In 1965 a pathologist’s report was obtained from the Birmingham University Medical School, which stated that it was the arm of an infant which had been skilfully dissected by a surgeon and injected with formalin to preserve it. It certainly does not date from when the house was first built, and there is no evidence to suggest that any local surgeon was planning a life of crime…
This is only one of many stories of ghostly happenings at the pub. They persist because they add a touch of colour to the bare bones of historical fact. They may be a little disturbing, even exciting, to local folk and their children around Halloween in particular, but there is no real evidence to support them – as far as we know!
In 1995, after a long campaign by The White Hart Restoration Committee, the White Hart was restored by Caldmore Area Housing Association who converted the building for use as flats, with the upper floor being used as a museum.
Although there is little truth in the spooky tales of The White Hart, whether you believe in ghosties and ghoulies or not, it still remains one of Walsall’s most attractive and historic buildings, and must be a fascinating place to live.