The Wandering Horseman.
According to legend, the horseman is said to be one of the four evil spirits cast out of Heaven and condemned to wander the surface of the earth forever. All evidence of his existence is, however, anecdotal, and the best account of his blood chilling antics is to be found in John Sleigh’s History of the Ancient Parish of Leek, published in 1883.
Further references are to be found in volume one of Old Leek, written in 1891 by Leek Times founder Henry Miller and reprinted from that journal. The horseman’s activities are also reported in the written version of lectures given by William Challinor in Victorian times.
John Sleigh’s account is as follows: Ghostly legends and superstitions, some of them leading to curious psychological destructions, still retain their sway over the minds of the denizens of those moorland wilds; of one, more especially, the headless rider, who haunted the moors between Leek and Warslow, several authentic exploits are on record, attested by so many credible living witnesses, that to doubt then would be worse than heterodoxy.
On one occasion a man returning from Leek, perhaps somewhat “market fresh” sees before him, a little beyond Leek Edge, a neighbour on horseback, whom he hails for a request for a “lift” homewards. No sooner, however, has he mounted behind him than to his horror finds that his companion is the goblin horseman. The discovery comes to late for away springs the horse, covering at a bound, fields, trees, hedges and ditches – the luckless wight at one moment feeling his feet brushing through the topmost twigs, and the next borne with whirlwind swiftness over the heath.
In the upshot, he is found deposited at his own door, helpless and groaning, and so maimed and bruised that death in a few days puts an end to his sufferings.
Again a young swain from the neighbourhood of Waterhouses, visiting his sweetheart some three to four miles away, is so frequently joined in his expeditions with the phantom as to become familiarised with it to such a degree that, to adopt our informants expression, “they used to walk, agen’ one another”.
Mentioning to a friend what he was in the habit of encountering, he was induced to consent to his accompanying one night. By and by the horseman makes his appearance: “He’s there!” “Where?” whisper’s the friend, not having the gift of double sight. “Gi’s thee hand,” and as soon as palm touched palm, the young man shrank back, afrighted on perceiving the ghastly stranger at his side.
On another occasion, a rustic having to fetch the howdy wife from Warslow was unceremoniously joined on the road by the apparition. His horse trembled violently, the dog “yowled” and he himself broke out into such profuse perspiration that it settled in the shape of a heavy dew on the outside of his overcoat.
On his arrival, the woman perceiving by his wild and disordered looks that he had had no ordinary journey, closely questioned him as to the nature of it, which at first he was unwilling to admit. She, however, consented to return with him, and they reached home without further molestation.
On the following day the horse dropped down dead between the plough-sticks, and the dog, too, sickened and died.
Ultimately seven clergymen, headed by the Rev John Reed, an old “familiar,” were called in “to speak to and lay” this betenoir of the moors; when he confessed that he was one of the four evil spirits cast out of Heaven and condemned to roam over the face of the earth, until the crack of doom release him from his terrestrial wanderings. Henry Miller gave the following account: The wild and lonely moorlands about Leek abound with weird traditions and superstitions. The headless horseman dashes over stick and stone, and snatches up any unfortunate wight who may chance to come belated in his way; when, after a wild chase over hill and dale, the victim is left almost lifeless at his door