Turning Through History: The Black Lady of Bradley Woods

Tucked away in Lincolnshire, England is the small village of Bradley. This village might at first seem obscure, when studying a map of England, but the surrounding woods boasts of an old legend.  A woman clothed in black; pale, stricken, her eyes teary. She’s young and pretty. Rather harmless, other than the fact that she is a ghost.

 

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Seventeenth century map of Lincolnshire. Can you find the village of Bradley on this map? (Britannica ImageQuest)

 

The Black Lady of Bradley Woods is viewed as a harmless apparition. Many have encountered her throughout the last few centuries. Many have seen the salt in her eyes, the flow of her black robes. However, who was the Black Lady when she was alive?

Several theories exist as to her identity. One theory states she was a nun at a nearby convent in Nunsthorpe. This explains her black clothing, but why would she be haunting the Bradley woods and not her convent? Why would she be so downcast in the afterlife?

Another theory states she was a spinster who lived in seclusion in a cottage in Bradley. Some even suggest she practiced witchcraft, which would explain her seclusion and grief. But, we’re missing a very important detail here. If the Black Lady is the ghost of a witch, where is the ghost of her black cat?

 

Black cat (Felis silvestris), thick velvety coat, looking at camera, side view
Every witch is supposed to have a black cat, right? (Britannica ImageQuest)

 

And lastly, the most famous and interesting of the stories includes more detail in the history of the Black Lady. During the War of the Roses, a woodsman, his wife, and child lived in a cottage in the woods outside Bradley. The woodsman was recruited as a soldier in the army of the Earl of Yarborough. Time passed as the wife waited, with her baby in hand, for her woodsman husband to return.

She waited in their lonely cottage in the woods, as so many damsels in so many fairytales, but this story was not to have a happy ending. The enemy army soon advanced onto the village. She tried to escape with her baby, but her flight was interrupted by three cavalrymen.

Do you see where this story is turning?

She was raped and abandoned in the woods, with the cavalrymen taking her baby from her. She was disgraced in the tragedy and went on to search for her family, even after her soul moved on into the afterlife. And, as the legend finishes, many people in Bradley believe that if you go into the woods on Christmas Eve you can summon the ghost of the Black Lady with a simple chant. Much like Bloody Mary, all you need to say to make her appear is, “Black lady, black lady, I’ve stolen your baby.” Repeat this line three times, and she will appear. (Also, is it me, or do conjuring ghosts require a snappy phrase and repetition with the magic three?)

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Bradley Woods, the haunting grounds of the Black Lady. Go out into these forests on Christmas Eve and utter three times, “Black lady, black lady, I’ve stolen your baby” to see if you meet the ghost herself. (Wikimedia Commons)

Other possibilities might exist, but these three theories stand as the most substantial. My question is: which one is correct? Any ideas? Comment below!

Sources:

“The Black Lady at Bradley Woods.” Lincolnshire Info, www.lincolnshireinfo.co.uk/north-east-lincolnshire/bradley/black-lady-bradley-woods/.

Mullins, Canon. “Bradley Village & Parish History.” Bradley Village, Bradley Village, www.bradleyvillage.co.uk/history/.

O’Neill, Susanna. (January 2012). Folklore of Lincolnshire. History Press Limited. pp. 132–133.

 

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