1801 Lent Assizes
Executed aged 40, Joshua Scamp, for stealing a horse the property of John Maish at Sevington.
This man was a gypsy and his fraternity made extraordinary efforts to save him from capital punishment in consequence of which he was respited till 2 - 3 weeks after the others named above.
At his execution he ascended the platform with firmness and looking around saw his wife and daughters, called them to him and asked if they were prepared to take away his body. On their answering to the affirmative he commended their care and then conversed with other persons. Turning to one of many gypsies present he said "You see what you have brought me to, live soberly and take care of your wife and your family."
He asserted his innocence to the last and behaved with undaunted courage, unmixed with indecent levity or stupid insensibility. Having stretched the rope tight and tried it with his own hand, he gave the signal and died almost immediately. He was a remarkable robust and powerful man. Some time after it became known that the gypsy whom he particularly addressed was his daughter's husband who being afterwards executed at
The Journal of Gypsy Law Society Third Series Vol IV p. 190
After his death, the relatives and friends of Joshua Scamp persuaded the rector to bury Joshua in the churchyard of St. Mary's in Odstock, Wiltshire. Felons were not usually permitted a burial in the churchyard but the burial entry in the Parish Register stated that: 'Joshua Scamp, a gypsy, hanged supposed wrongly.'
With this factual story about Joshua Scamp comes the legend of the gypsy curse. Due to Joshua being innocent, he became a martyr to his people. Upon the anniversary of his death, the gypsy community used to drink copious amounts of alcohol at the Yew Tree Inn at Odstock and then gather around Joshua's grave.
The rector and churchwardens became rather tired of this and they decided to try and halt the drunken celebrations of the gypsies. They locked the church door and uprooted a briar rose which the gypsies had planted upon Joshua's grave. This resulted in the gypsies cursing anyone who locked the church door in the future. Strangely, two churchwardens who defied the curse met with untimely deaths. It is said that the rector then threw the church key into the nearby River Ebble where it is thought to remain until this day.
Jacky, Dave, Melody and I decided to search for the grave of Joshua Scamp. We arrived at the small churchyard which was illuminated by a large waxing moon. We wandered around looking at the headstones. I did not feel too hopeful that we would find Joshua's grave but it was interesting reading the inscriptions on the headstones which were fascinating albeit often sad. Dave showed us how to read the worn inscriptions clearly with the angle of torchlight.
We continued looking around the churchyard and did not find the grave initially. Upon our second and more thorough search of the churchyard, Jacky found the grave. We all went to look and the first thing I noticed was the briar rose growing over the headstone. There is a small plaque at the bottom of the headstone which reads:
In memory of Joshua Scamp
Who died April 1st 1801
May his brave deed be remembered
To his credit here and hereafter
Afterwards we stood in the churchyard to see if we could sense anything. Dave sensed some movement. As we were outside it is difficult to ascertain if the movement was paranormal due to wildlife. Dave and Melody both felt that the temperature was dropping significantly and Melody sensed the presence of someone close by. She was drawn to a particular area. After a while Melody said "I feel calmer now." I was surprised by this statement as she had not been displaying signs of panic.
My left hand started to tingle which is usually a sign for me that spirits are entering my space. Dave said "We are being watched" and I must admit it certainly felt like it. Dave thought that the temperature had begun to plummet. Melody said "I am definitely not alone; I can feel someone around me." Jacky decided to try using the divining rods. Eventually, Melody said that she thought the spirit person had stepped back and Jacky agreed.
After a little while, Jacky said she felt someone behind her. Melody saw some lights in a bush just behind us. I looked over not expecting to see the lights but I could also see them. Dave could see them as well. At first they were pinpricks of light which were very bright before dimming and spreading into a strange glow. The light now started to take a shape. I was utterly shocked as I actually thought a spirit person was going to materialize and I felt as if my heart stopped for a second in anticipation and a little fear. I was rooted to the spot. Melody said that she was starting to feel a bit nervous. Jacky had her back to the light. None of us moved an inch. Jacky whispered that she could feel a presence behind her. She felt that the presence was the Graveyard Guardian. The divining rods started to move, one went to Jacky left side and the other pointed straight forward in the direction of Joshua's grave. We all heard movement towards the right. Suddenly both rods turned to Jacky's left side (our right).
Melody said that she could still feel someone behind her and that her heart rate had increased considerably. I thought I could hear footsteps. They were light and fast. I jokingly thought that it may have been Melody's heart beat.
We all felt that several people had joined us and were standing around us (us in the middle). All this time, Dave, Melody and I could see the light near the bush behind Jacky.
Suddenly the light disappeared. We remained where we were and out of the blue we could smell wood smoke very strongly. This was probably not paranormal but if it was, it may have been wood smoke from the gypsy fires long ago. There were odd little rustling noises (likely to be small animals). Dave and Melody had been seeing flashes of light and suddenly Jacky saw a flash. Some of the flashes seemed to emanate from the church door.
Dave and I noticed what looked like the head and shoulders of a figure a little way off standing behind a headstone. It looked really eerie. Dave went off to investigate and disappointingly it was the shadow of a cross shaped headstone.
While we were there we continually heard Rooks cawing from the church tower. The sound of them added to the spooky ambiance of the moon-lit churchyard. Dave reminded us of the significance of rooks to the dead. The crow family, Rooks, Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays are psychopomps as they escort the souls of the dead from the earth to the afterlife.
We eventually decided to end our investigation which we all enjoyed.
Written by: Maria Williams