On a cold February night in 1983, a Weymouth woman called Sarah Miller was walking to her house in Franchise Street up on the heights of Chapelhay.
Just before reaching the safety of her home, she suddenly heard a lot of “heavy footsteps and laboured breathing”, as if a group of people were running up behind her”.
Somewhat startled, she turned and was about to step aside, when, to her surprise, the street behind her was completely empty.
The following February, a man who was resident in the same street, was awoken at about 3-30am by the sound of a “general disturbance and shouting”. And although he could not make out individual words, he remarked that the voices had a “definite angry and urgent edge to them.
He returned to bed, only to be woken twice more and the last time, the anguished voices were accompanied by distinctive drumming.
A few weeks later he was retelling the story to a friend who had lived up at Chapelhay as a child and the man told him that several times, he had also experienced the phenomenon of angry shouting, drumbeats and also gunfire.
Around 20 years ago, Long before I knew of the above accounts, I was talking to a Dutch lady in the Chapelhay Tavern who was also a resident of Franchise Street and she told me that she too had also heard these sounds and, that it was always in February and, she went on, it was always on the night of the 9th.
Obviously, this is of immense interest to me because at midnight of the 9th February 1645, sixty heavily armed Portlanders, royalist sympathisers, attacked the Chapel Fort of St Nicholas which stood where now stands, the old people’s flats at the top of Chapelhay steps. They were successful in achieving complete surprise and managed to overwhelm and kick out the Parliamentarian soldiers who held it.
But, a Parliamentarian officer who was billeted in Weymouth, kept his head when all others were panicking and organised a counter attack within the hour, leading his men back up the hill in an effort to retake what was formerly theirs.
That man was Major Francis Sydenham, an unsung (until recently) Dorset hero and a brother of the Governor, Colonel William Sydenham.
Sadly, Francis was mortally wounded in his attempt to recapture the fort and his stricken body was carried down into Weymouth by his ever-loyal men, where he finally succumbed to his wounds at around dawn.
It seems obvious to me, that with all of these different people hearing the same thing at the same time of year up there on the Chapelhay Heights, it would appear to be a ‘ghostly’ replaying of that fateful attack led by that brave son of Dorset, Francis Sydenham.