The Ruskington Horror

It's very rare that you get the opportunity observe in real-time, the advent of a classic piece of British ghost-lore. But if you were watching ITV's daytime lifestyle programme This Morning on February 5th 1998, then you would have have had a front row seat for the birth of a modern day Lincolnshire legend, that of the The Ruskington Horror!

In this article I'll look at how this story arose from a bit of light hearted daytime TV and would go onto garner attention from national press. For complete transparency, a lot of what I write here will lean heavily on the work of Dr Rob Gandy, who has both written and given talks on this subject. And who in 2021, wrote an in-depth two part article for Fortean Times. I will link to this, along with other sources in the footnotes.

ITV's This Morning, in its first iteration, was a popular daytime magazine format programme fronted by husband and wife team of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan. Covering an eclectic spectrum of celebrity interviews, public interest stories and lifestyle slots. In 1998, the Thursday February the 5th episode included a short section entitled "Living with Ghosts" during which a panel of presenters, Richard Madeley, Julia Carling (who was standing in for Judy Finnegan) and the host of Fortean TV, The Rev Lionel Fanthorpe, had asked members of the public to phone in with their real life experiences of the paranormal. 

The panel: Richard Madeley, Julia Carling, The Rev Lionel Fanthorpe

One caller, Kevin Whelan called the phone-in line to describe a terrifying experience he'd had one night while driving back to his home in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. 
As Kevin explains, he was driving around 2am on the A15 from Lincoln to Sleaford. As he approached the turn-off on his left for Ruskington at about 60mph, he spotted something ‘floating’ in front of him and assumed it was a large white bin-bag. However as his car approached it, a human face suddenly appeared around the car’s front pillar on the top-right of the windscreen, with the left hand up! He described the face as Greek-looking, with dark hair and an olivey-green skin. It had a pitted complexion and the vision was clear enough that Kevin could see its teeth. Kevin in his account explains that the body had a white fluorescence, creating an appearance similar to a photographic exposure when the camera flash is too bright. This horrific visage stayed pressed against the upper windscreen, Kevin admits that he was so scared he carried on driving, until he came to a dip in the road and then this 'image' seemed to slide. and fade away to the side of the car.

A short while later a second person called into the show, this time a Rob Burkett who related to the panel that he'd had a similar experience at the same spot around October or November of 1984. Here's a transcription of the audio.

Richard Madeley - RM

Rob Burkett - RB

RM: Rob, hi, you on the line?

RB: Yeah, hello.

RM: You must have had goose bumps when you heard Kevin tell that story?

RB: You ain’t kidding.

RM: We both want to hear your story. What happened?

RB: It was about half-past eight at night. I used to deliver day-old chickens, because there are an awful lot of chicken farms down in Lincolnshire.

RM: Of course, yeah.

RB: And I'd finished a delivery. It was around about October-November time, about 14 years ago. I used to stay at a B&B in Ruskington - I can’t name the pub now, I don’t know what it was - I was going into Ruskington, as I say, about half-past eight/quarter to nine at night, and wallop, all of a sudden, this thing on the side of the road, with his hand up and he seemed to walk out. And I seen it -

RM: And this is on the A15, the Ruskington turn-off?

RB: Yep.

RM: Blimey.

RB: Yep. Yep. And I just broke the speed limit.

RM: To get away?

RB: Yep.

RM: And just like Kevin said, one hand was raised?

RB: Yep.

RM: What, as if in warning?

RB: Yep.

          [1] Transcription 

This seemed like an impressive corroboration and Richard Madeley appears to be genuinely interested at this turn of events, and as he explained in 2012 writing in the Express newspaper

" I appealed to anyone else who’d experienced something strange there to contact us. Well. Cue the avalanche!

Setting aside the obvious hoax calls, an impressive body of anecdotal evidence swiftly built up, from credible witnesses. " [2]

Wanting to identify the location, and confirm that both callers were really talking about the same spot, Richard is handed a road atlas, and asks Rob (the caller above) to confirm. This is the first time we get to see the junction on the A15, that leads to Ruskington.

The Ruskington turn off the A15. Witnesses describe the apparition appearing 
from the ditch and hedge on the west side of the road (left as you look at the
image above) and rushing into traffic.

By this point regular calls were coming through to the This Morning switchboard, from people who wanted to relay their story. Such as Sarah Martin, and her partner, who had been to the Cinema in Lincoln around 1997 and were driving back down the A15 towards Cranwell, and on the Brauncewell and Leadenham Turn-off a silhouette of a man ran out in front of their car. Logically they should have hit who ever it was - but there was no impact. Sarah described the experience as "horrid... really frightening".

The accounts continued to build up. A school bus driver passing the Ruskington turn‑off back in the in the 1960s was convinced someone in dark clothing had rushed out of the ditch and under the wheels of his coach. The poor man was sure he had just killed someone but no trace of any person or impact was to be found. A local man, when a small boy, was being driven from Sleaford to Lincoln and still vividly recalled his father’s sudden shout of fear and panic as “someone jumped out in front of our car”. Except that they hadn’t. The story passed into family legend. Then there was the milk delivery tanker driver certain he’d crushed someone under his wheels early one winter’s morning. “I thought it was a suicide.”

The interest generated by this phone-in section actually prompted the Richard and the producers of This Morning to revisit the story the following day, in this section they scrambled a TV crew to Lincolnshire to interview Kevin Whelan and Sarah Martin about their experiences. They recorded this piece in the Duke of Wellington Pub, a few miles south of the site in Leasingham. Here the evidence starts to get a bit muddled with the introduction of various researchers and experts in the paranormal casting about for reasons to explain what people had been experiencing. Presenting answers that ranged from the spirit of a dead motorcyclist, a phantom airman from a WII bomber that crashed nearby, to much more convoluted confections that introduced into the story, witches curses and the medieval order of the knights Templar! This second slot does however, give the opportunity to air some more witnesses who had come forward after the previous days broadcast. One being a Jenny Sellars, who explained she'd had her experience 9 or 10 years previously.

JS: It was about 9 / 10 years ago and I was driving from Sleaford to Lincoln, and I wasn’t driving particularly fast because its quite a dark stretch of road, and this white - I can only describe it as a sheet or a bit of plastic, which I thought it was -

RM: Just like Kevin said: he thought it was a plastic bin liner.

JS: Yes. It just came down in front of the windscreen and I just slammed on my brakes because I thought I’d hit something but knew I hadn’t because there was no impact or anything on the screen. I stopped the car, and as I stopped the car, it went round the side of the window. And I only sat there for not very long. I did actually open the door of the car because I was convinced I must have hit something although I didn’t actually feel that I’d hit anything, and there was just nothing, y’know, when I -

RM: stopped -

JS: Yeah, there was nothing on the ground, there was nothing. It was just black.

From the studio back in London, Richard Madeley points out that since the phone in the previous day 'We’ve probably had about 5 dozen calls' all from people experiencing something on that road over a progression of time. It's likely this is number is a slight exaggeration, some spoken hyperbole that was a product of the moment, but it's still clear there were multiple witness accounts that didn't make it to broadcast in the end. But this would not be the last of the Ruskington Horror.

Fortean Times #401, January, 2021

Dr Rob Gandy, visiting professor at Liverpool John Moores University, has repeatedly shrugged off descriptions such as paranormal expert and ghost hunter, but admits to a keen interest in folklore, unusual phenomena and particularly 'road ghosts' and has subsequently sought further testimonies covering the years following the This Morning reveal. His appeals for information have netted three sightings that predated the 1998 This Morning episode, from people who either were unaware of or simply hadn't submitted their accounts to the programme. Perhaps more interestingly, five more witnesses came forward to relate how they had experienced something while driving by the Ruskington turn-off in the years following 98. In fact, one just as recently as 2018.

In October 1999 a witness drove his Mini along the A15. They were being followed by their parents in their own car. The journey for the mini driver was uneventful, but on arriving at their home in Ruskington, the driver's mother rushed out of her car to tell him they had seen someone on the side of the road, and that they had then watched their son drive right through him. They initially thought he had hit someone, but realised as they reached the spot no one was there.

Around 9:30pm on a winter's night, another witness was returning home to Lincoln from a teaching assignment in Boston. She stated that the roads were quiet and mostly traffic free, and she was alone in her Toyota 4x4 listening to the radio as headed up the A15 approaching the Ruskington turn off. She says she crested the hill onto the straight stretch of road at a speed she estimates to be around 50mph when she caught sight of a figure on the left-hand verge.

It was a bareheaded man dressed in grey walking with his back to her. he had shaggy unkempt hair and was of medium build. After perceiving him to be safely off the road and out of harms way, she was shocked to suddenly findd him right next to the car - so close she feared she'd hit him. She swerved violently as apparently she said his face was right next to the passenger window. She slowed down, looking in her rear view mirrors, but couldn't see anyone there.

In 2004 a taxi driver was returning north along the A15 back to Lincoln around 1 am after dropping last her fare off in Sleaford. She had just passed the Ruskington turnoff when a figure ran out in front of her car. It looked straight at her with an open mouth, as if screaming, and then vanished under the vehicle, although she said she felt no impact whatsoever. Horrified, she stopped and looked around but could see nothing. Uncertain of what to do, she called her cab office, who then telephoned the police on her behalf. The Police arrived and could find no sign of a body or indeed any evidence of accident at all, the Taxi being undamaged. The driver was still so shocked the police drove her home, with the 2nd officer driving her taxi.

The similarities between eyewitness accounts are honestly startling, If not such consistency, then at least the overlaps between unrelated individual testimonies spanning a period of nearly 50 years, is suggestive of what ever the reason behind it, people are at least seeing something at this otherwise unremarkable Lincolnshire road junction. And while the purpose of this article was never to search for reasons behind the apparition. While browsing County Folklore (Vol 5) Examples of printed folklore concerning Lincolnshire, on page 49 we came across this entry which caught our eye.

" Gibson in his additions to Camden mentions a hall at Dunsby ‘ three miles north of Sleaford’; but all tradition of such a building is lost among the inhabitants of this district, except that the site had the reputation of being haunted, and the ghost was  designated by the familiar soubriquet of ‘Dicky 
Dunsby’  - from: County folklore (Volume V); Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning L
incolnshire. Page 49 " 

A quick look at maps of the area, indeed show the deserted medieval settlement of Dunsby only 250 meters south of the Ruskington turn off. In fact if you are driving North on the A15, this traces of this settlement are actually visible as low tussock covered lumps and bumps in a grass field on the right hand side of the road as you approach the hill rising to the Ruskington junction.

The site of the 'lost' Village of Dunsby, the Ruskington turn off is indicated.

The Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record (HER) also describes this site as once being location of a sixteenth century manor house. And gives the following information.

" The site of the sixteenth century manor house at Dunsby St Andrew is probably located to the east of the main road, in a field named Hall Close on an 1859 map. It was occupied by the Carre and Death families until the Civil War, when it was taken over by Parliamentary troops, who left it in a half-ruined condition. By the nineteenth century only portions of the garden wall remained. " [3]

Now this surely must be the haunted hall mentioned above? So maybe the Ruskington Horror isn't an any way a modern phenomena? Perhaps travellers along the route of the A15 have been experiencing strange things on this stretch of road for a lot longer than we imagined!

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you know of any other notable Lincolnshire road ghosts, I'd love to hear about them. And of course, if you have ever experienced anything while driving along the A15, or know anyone who has. Please email me:


Sources and further info:

I have referred throughout, to Dr Rob Gandy's two-part article on the Ruskington Horror.
You can find this in Fortean Times, issues: FT401 (January 2021) and FT402 (February 2021) 

[1] The interview transcriptions used here come from Sean Tudor's Road Ghosts website. Sadly this is no longer live as a site. But you can read an archived copy of the page via the Wayback Machine:

[3] Entry on Lincolnshire historic Environment Record (Heritage Gateway)


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