Guest Post: “The Wreckers” by C.M. Saunders

Posted: April 18, 2016 in Guest Posts, Uncategorized
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Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from C.M. Saunders, who is currently promoting his new novel Sker House, which is available now through DeadPixel Publications. I am excited to have Saunders on the site as I loved his novella Out of Time (review) and his riveting story of psychological horror “The Elementals and I” that appeared in Grey Matter Press’ Dark Visions – Volume Two. Saunders’ post takes a look at the practice of “wrecking” and the role it played in the history of the real-life Sker House. I love history, so I really enjoyed this post and learned a lot about the practice of wrecking, which is something I didn’t even know about. Wrecking plays a significant role in the novel and I look forward to reading how Saunders’ incorporates it into what sounds like a truly creepy haunted house story!

The Wreckers 

By C.M. Saunders, author of Sker House

SKER-OPTION3_SMALL

Every country has elements of its history it would rather forget. A black mark against Wales would be the unsavoury practice of ‘wrecking,’ deliberately luring passing ships to their doom, which was rife during the 17th and 18th Centuries. In fairness, it didn’t just happen in Wales. It was prevalent in most, of not all, coastal areas of Britain, and probably elsewhere in the world. However, one location in Wales that will be forever linked with wreckers is Sker House, a large, isolated mansion in Kenfig, Glamorgan.

sker house

During the Industrial Revolution, the Bristol Channel, the stretch of water Sker House overlooked, was one of the busiest waterways in the world, carrying a steady stream of vessels between Britain and the Continent. It was also one of the most perilous. As well as the strong currents and ever-shifting hidden sandbanks, the submerged bank of rocks known as Sker Point could literally tear ships to pieces. At that time, smuggling and looting were considered legitimate (if not lawful) enterprises, and shipwrecks were so common in the area that they were seldom investigated in any depth. Local landowners routinely claimed ‘Right of the Wreck’, whereby they were legally free to salvage whatever ‘lost’ cargo happened to wash up on their property. This is why some less scrupulous locals were said to engage in wrecking, which they usually achieved by tying lanterns to cattle or grazing sheep and leading them along the seafront at night. From a distance, especially to unfamiliar eyes in bad weather, the lights would look like those of ships lying safely at anchor. The captain would steer a course for the lights, only to run his ship aground. A cautionary tale often told is that of the Welsh wrecker who helped lure a passing ship onto rocks, killing everyone on board. While he busied himself looting the ship’s cargo, the bodies of the unfortunate passengers and crew were brought ashore for burial. Only then did the wrecker see the body of his own son who was returning home unexpectedly after a long voyage.

A pivotal event not just in the history of Sker, but in the practice of wrecking as a whole, occurred on December 17th 1753, when the French merchant ship Le Vainqueur was en route from Portugal when she struck Sker Point. It is generally held that then-owner of Sker House Isaac Williams and his cohorts were responsible for its untimely demise on Sker Point. No sooner had the ship hit the rocks, impoverished locals and respected nobility alike descended on the wreck like vultures and plundered it for all it was worth, stealing her cargo of fruit, rifling the bodies of dead sailors, and even setting fire to what was left of the ship in order to recover the iron nails that had once held it together.

Due to the delicate diplomatic relations between Britain and France at the time, the fate of Le Vainqueur was treated as a serious international incident. In the aftermath, no less than 17 people were arrested, including Isaac Williams himself, who was at the time an influential local magistrate. When questioned, he claimed to have stored goods from the wreck found in the cellar of Sker House there for safekeeping. Remarkably, he never went to trial, but his reputation was tainted forever and he died a ruined man. Of those who did go to trial, one wasn’t so lucky and was hanged by the Crown to set an example to others. In the years since wrecking was abolished, countless witnesses claim to have seen ghostly ships off Sker. Also frequently spotted is a solitary light hovering over Sker Point. Locally, this is taken to be a prelude to bad weather, but is eerily reminiscent of the Canwyll Corph, a well-known Welsh portent of death.

And that’s not all, whether connected to wrecking or not, over the years Sker House has gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted locations in Wales. It’s most famous ghost is the Maid of Sker, Isaac Williams’s daughter, who he allegedly imprisoned at the house until she agreed to marry the man of his choosing. Local legend insists that she never left. There have also been numerous reports of shadow figures, poltergeist activity, strange howls, and a crushing sensation of dread felt by visitors.

LINKS

C.M. Saunders’ Official Website

DeadPixel Publications Official Website

 Purchase Sker House on Amazon 

Sker House Synopsis

Dale and Lucy are two students with a fascination in the supernatural. One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn. They plan to write an article for their university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide. Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House. An air of oppression hangs over it, while misery, tragedy and ill-fortune are commonplace. Gradually, it becomes clear that the true depth of the mystery goes far beyond a mere historical haunting. This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks.

Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker’s dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the mysteries of the past, they realize that nothing stays buried forever.

Welcome to Sker House, a place where past and present collide.

About C.M. Saunders

cmsaunders

New Tredegar-born C.M. Saunders began writing in 1997, his early fiction appearing in several small-press titles. Following the publication of his first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales (2003), he worked extensively in the freelance market, contributing to over 50 international publications including Fortean Times, Loaded, Record Collector, Forever Sports and Nuts. In addition, he has written several novellas and had over thirty short stories published in various magazines, ezines and anthologies. He taught English and creative writing in China for five years, before settling in London where he works as a writer and editor in the sport, fitness and men’s lifestyle sectors. His latest release is the fact-based novel Sker House on DeadPixel Publications and he is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.

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Comments
  1. cmsaunders says:

    Reblogged this on cmsaunders and commented:
    Big thanks to the Horror Bookshelf for letting me stop by. Here I discuss one of the dark chapters of British history we seldom like to talk about…

  2. […] There is a lot of historical fact in Sker House. Every country has episodes in their past that they are not proud of. Wales had the Wreckers, which I discussed over at The Horror Bookshelf. […]

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