Thomas Barrie, pillory, death and a ghost (part 1)

Nick Young
4 min readNov 12, 2017
Newbury Guildhall

I enjoy my history research, but have to confess at the outset I have no training or qualifications as a historian. I have published three history books, have others underway and give numerous local history talks. So it frustrates me to see others not double checking facts where possible. The story I am having issues with is that of “Thomas Barrie” from 1538.

Basic Story

The story goes that Thomas Barrie spread rumours that King Henry VIII was dead and that he had this on good authority, only it was not true. For spreading this rumour he was put in the pillory and his ears nailed to it. Some sources say this was for the whole day and on a market day. The pillory at this time was at the south end of the Guildhall which stood in the middle of the Market Place at Newbury (see thumbnail). To release him his ears were cut off.

Shock, death and a ghost

Some, not all, of those books add one or both of the following:

  • that Barrie died from shock; and
  • that his ghost still haunts the Market Place to this day.

So are these correct and where did they come from?

My findings

I have searched high and low to see where this story that he died from shock, or that of a ghost story, came from and I believe I know where the original source is and where these additions came from (details in a later post). Both seem to have suddenly appeared in the 1990s and none with a source reference. So what I have done is searched to try and find out what is going on, and this is documented below:

Supporting the “Basic Story” only:

  • Ditchfield P.H. and Page W., (1907), A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2, London: Victoria County History
  • Hadcock, R.N., (1979), The Story of Newbury, Newbury: Countryside Books
  • Millson, C., (1985), The history of Donnington Hospital, Newbury: Countryside Books
  • Hadcock, R.N. and Millson, C., (1990), The Story of Newbury, Newbury: Countryside Books
  • Millson, C., (1998), The history of Shaw-cum-Donnington, Newbury: Parochial Church Council
  • Higgott, T., (2001), The Story of Newbury, Newbury: Countryside Books
  • Long, R., (2010), A grim almanic of Berkshire, Stroud: The History Press
  • Peacock, D., (2011), The Story of Newbury, Newbury: Countryside Books

Supporting the “Shock and Ghost Story”

  • McLoughlin, I., (1995), Ghosts of Berkshire, Newbury: Countryside Books
  • Nash, D., (2001), Ghosts from Berkshire Places, last accessed 7/1/2014
  • BBC, (2003), Haunted West Berkshire, last accessed 7/1/2014
  • Andrew, M., (2006), Thames Valley County Memories, Salisbury: The Francis Frith Collection
  • Skinner, J., Did You Know? Newbury: A Miscellany, Salisbury: The Francis Frith Collection

Cannot find any mention (either there is none or I have missed it)

  • Grey, E., (1839), The History and Antiquities of Newbury and Its Environs, Newbury: Hall and Marsh
  • Money, W., (1878), Annals of the church of St Mary, Shaw-cum-Donnington, Newbury: Blacket
  • Money, W., (1887), The history of the ancient town and borough of Newbury in the county of Berks, London: Parker and co.
  • Garlick, V.F.M., (1970), The Newbury Scrap Book, Newbury, Garlick

It is worth noting that in Millson (1985) implies that he could have survived into 1539. Also that Long (2010) has an exact date of 12 September 1538 but no reference to where he got the date from. McLoughlin (1995) notes the ghost story but gets the basic fact of a pillory wrong instead putting it as stocks.


I have looked in other sources including the Berkshire Record Office and various other books not mentioned above. I believe I know where the original story came from and am still analysing it, will post details at a later date. The death and ghost story it would appear originated from McLoughlin (1995). Where he got it from is not known, it may have been an oral fact or some paper I do not know about.

So what I believe is that the basic story is correct. Thomas Barrie, if that was his name (and yes that is also an issue), may have died from shock or blood loss but I doubt it. Why? Why would you want to punish someone in this way and not have them walk about with these scars, it would deter others from making the same mistake. Also I believe the earlier sources would have mentioned it as it does make a better story. As for the ghost story, in my research I have found several other ghost stories such as the “Baby in the Belfry” at Thatcham that suddenly appear in the 1990s and later with a ghost story attached. I can not prove it and I may be wrong, but I believe a lot of the ghost stories were simply invented, or at least the facts bent, around this time.

I am still looking into this topic, I may add more to support my conclusion, or I may find evidence to show I am wrong, Whatever I find I will put an update(s) on my site,



Nick Young

I am a web developer and educator with several local history publications. In addition I am also a Heartstart (first aid) instructor.