The Stranger has a very similar history in Southampton, in that it dates back quite a considerable time and has had it’s fair amount of press over the years. As with the case of the Callous Heart, Southampton is similarly very proud of this “myth”, going as far as offering a ‘Stranger Walk’. I’ve been on the walk, and it’s pretty standard Touristy Ghost Walk stuff in its tacky style of presentation, but where it differs is that most of the locations are residential areas, and most notably the Southampton Docks – where the Titanic set sail from!!
Figure 1 - Scan of 'The SouthamptonStranger Walk' brochure
Most stories of The Stranger involve a visitation at night from an abnormally tall, cloaked character with a pale skeleton like face. People who have encountered him are normally lying paralysed in bed after being in a deep sleep and see him appear in the corner of the room. Though stories vary, sometimes he’s been known to speak in a very low tone, though his mouth is not known to move. It would seem that sightings of The Stranger are linked with fear and grief!!
One of the oldest reports I can find dates to 1850, where Soton resident Michael Bernard reported an intruder to his home in Shirley on Febuary 18th. His report read “I woke to find my whole body paralysed, it was as if someone had cast a spell over me. As I lay there in abject terror, I noticed a tall black figure in my hallway. He was unusually tall, so much so that as he slowly entered my bedroom he had to duck to get underneath the door frame. He didn’t say a word, he just stood there staring at me. His face was eggshell white with this horrible purple mouth, like nothing I’ve ever seen.“
Mrs Julia Benton reported a similar sighting in an article in ‘Soothsayer Magazine’ whilst staying down in Southampton with a friend over the summer of 1962: “So I’m in a sleeping bag on the sofa, just about to drift off to sleep when for some reason I glance toward to window. It’s then I see him, his face behind the blind. He’s staring straight at me. Familiar, yet terrifying. Suddenly my entire body is unable to move.” Over the years much has been written about The Stranger Of Southampton, a number of short fictional stories have been written for magazines. All describe him much in the same way, a very tall, genderless being in a long black cloak. The face is sometimes described as being painted like a mime, with pronounced features. Others describe it like a mask, similar to a Japanese Kabuki stage mask. What’s consistent in every report is how intensely terrifying “the Stranger” is.
During my own research I found mention of The Stranger in a book of Demonology, along with artist’s interpretations of the creature dating back over 100 years. I’ve included a scan of the main section of the book below. In case you can’t read the text on the scan, the text reads: “Within the sullen walls of the Bargate lurketh one of the most ardent and weather worn tales of Southampton: the tale of the “Stranger”. Mentions of a “robed watcher”, “strange voyeur” and “A black mass, seen o’er her bed” can be found in documents and etchings dating back as far as the sackings of the city by the pirate Grimaldi. In fact, many believe that the Ghoul, whose cloaked, masked form appears only to those in states of woe of distress, travelled to the southern British Isle shores aboard Grimaldi’s damned fleet; his alien presence in Southampton’s thriving merchant principality bringing forth the nomenclature of ‘The Stranger’. Truly a most confounding legend, word of ‘The Stranger’ has endured throughout historical lore, prevailing into latter day mythology despite very little evidence or academic confirmation.
Figure 2 - Scan of Stranger page from Demonology book
The most numerate instances of bonafide reports and accounts of a cloaked figure haunting and threatening Southampton townsfolk date to the Edwardian period and the sinking of the Titanic, which Demonologists and Scholars of dark folklore attribute to the substantial fog of grief which shrouded the city at the time of that most infamous of disasters, proposing that the shared suffering and shock of the events lead to mass hallucinations, as Southampton mourned its dead so soon after recovering from the Cholera epidemics of the late 19th Century.
Sightings and so-called eyewitness reports of “The Stranger” place his presence in spots all across the ceremonial county, though there are higher instances of sightings around the ports, the troubled Undercroft Vault, and the Tudor House”.
This idea that the Stranger appears to people in states of suffering is further supported by one of the short stories I found online in a forum, which involved him haunting a family after the death of a grandparent. So over the years you see him take more of a specific role, rather than just appearing fleetingly as he has seemingly been reported to do prior.
Figure 3 - Various children's drawings from multiple decades of similar Stranger images