John Edward Trenchman - pirate and smuggler

John Edward Trenchman grew up in London’s 17th century dockland, and aged 12 he ran away to sea, joining the crew of Henry Morgan, the notorious Caribbean pirate.

On his return to England years later, he set up as a smuggler on the south-east coast. Business proved good and within a year he was bringing teams of pack-horses loaded with contraband up to Croydon every month.

In 1687, a member of Trenchman’s gang was arrested after a fight in an ale house, recognised as a smuggler and sent for trial. However he turned King’s evidence to save his neck from the noose, and gave detailed information of the secret routes used by the smugglers, plus the date of their next journey to Croydon.

Customs men, with soldiers, ambushed the smugglers at Tilburstow Hill. Trenchman, though fatally wounded, managed to make his escape through the surrounding dense undergrowth, into the Fox and Hounds inn, where he died from loss of blood some hours later. The villagers of nearby Godstone took pity on the pirate who had died so far from the sea and buried him in an unmarked grave at the south end of St Nicholas' churchyard. It was then that the haunting began.

One night shortly after Trenchman’s burial, two grave diggers were hotly pursued through the churchyard of St Nicholas, by a man in seaman’s clothing who had suddenly leapt up from behind a headstone. Other people began to report seeing a shadowy figure dressed in seaman’s clothing lurking among the graves at dusk. Uncanny, weird, and frightening things began to happen in and around Godstone’s church.

Finally the priest and churchwardens removed the pirate’s body and reburied him with a full Christian service, opposite the church doors. From then on nothing more was seen or heard of Godstone’s pirate ghost. At last he was at peace.

You will find a most unusual headstone only a few yards from the church doors of St Nicholas, the Parish Church of Godstone. Carved on it are the notorious skull and crossbones which mark the final resting place of a pirate and smuggler.


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