Famous Ashfordians no.1 - James Goodacre

Tom Davies

A life beset by early trauma can be a source of sadness to all involved.

James Goodacre was born in Singleton in 1901 to Myra and Benjamin Goodacre of Six Acres Rd.

On a trip to Port Lympne Zoological Park at age seven, his parents lost sight of him near the recently opened aviary huts.

He was discovered thirty minutes later standing on a rise of ground adjoining the aviary, shaking uncontrollably.

One aviary cage had been ripped open by sharper tools than nature had provided to the finches previously contained within. Young James was oblivious to all enquiries, his attention fixed on the gloom of the nearby woods, and he was either unable or unwilling to explain the course of events which had impacted so deeply upon him. He held a bloodied penknife in his fist.

The boy repeatedly ran away from home, eventually, at the age of 17, establishing a sprawling, low-level tree house on the edges of the wood near the scene of his traumatic episode.

He lived here for the remainder of his life, foraging through hedges for food, and occasionally selling the odd rough-hewn wooden sculpture or rain-splattered painting of shadowy indistinct creatures with mouths where their heads should have been, teeth for fingers.

He surrounded himself with traps and cats and fires.

A public order notice was raised against him in 1963 for harassment of local children.

The contemporary newspaper report states that he was seen shouting at the youths words to the effect of "Keep away, they are still there. They only look like you".

James Goodacre died of pneumonia and complications in 1967.

His funeral was attended by the parish vicar, the postmistress and a brace of elderly local farmers.

It is the vicar's written report of the funeral which supplies us with the following account of events.

The warm spring weather withdrew as the coffin was lowered into the grave.

Low shreds of cloud settled overhead and a wind whipped up from nowhere carrying a heavy rain shower.

Above the rustling of leaves and the splashing of the rain, the mourners heard a harsh wailing from the woods.

A small crowd of 8 or 9 tiny but stocky figures came tottering out of the woods, making their way slowly across the churchyard towards the grave.

Each was no more than two feet tall at the very most, and all were shrouded in heavy, ragged, dirty cloaks of some thick cloth. Their gait was a rocking motion, from side to side, like someone trying to walk on a speeding train.

Through the obscuring grey sheets of rain, the mourners distinguished no facial features, and the sleeves and trails of the cloaks overhung and enveloped any arms or legs that might otherwise have been seen.

The figures made their slow, awkward way to the very side of the grave, rumbling and squeaking as they walked, raising their arms in swift and synchronized motions. One of them carried a small hessian sack.

They stopped at the grave and upended the sack onto the pine lid of the coffin. There was a dull drumming of tiny objects. Then all but one of the creatures turned on their hidden feet and waddled back through the astonished mourners, retracing their steps to the edge of the woods, giggling obscenely.

One remained, its cloak saggy and drenched and hanging heavy over its small, hunched frame.

It raised its arms and a screeching yell came from somewhere deep within the folds of its hood. The rasping voice was carried away into the swirls of the wind, but the vicar remembers what it shrieked as follows: thissiz arznow.

As it turned ponderously, the creature looked up for a moment at the curate. He noted a beady little eye, multicoloured rainbow streaks across the sharp, swollen nose, and a long, deep old scar across the brow. Then the folds of the hood swung back across the face and the figure swayed away through the grey mists of rain, making heavy work of the fifty yard walk to the treeline.

Upon the coffin lid lay the weathered bones of small birds, possibly finches.

Who the creatures were and their place in the fall of the city is well-documented elsewhere, and we shan't repeat those shameful facts here.

© Tom Davies 2013 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 16:52 Thu 07 Mar 2013
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