Thomas Vaughan ap Rosser was born in 1400, and nicknamed ‘Black’ Vaughan because of his black hair; or perhaps because of his black nature. No one knows which. His main residence was Hergest Court, near Kington in Herefordshire, and his wife was Ellen Gethin of Llanbister, Radnorshire. She was, from all accounts, a formidable woman, maybe even prepared to dress as a man in order to take part in an archery contest. Her purpose was not to aim at the target, but at the heart of the cousin who had killed her young brother. True? Who knows?
Thomas Vaughan had interests in the Stafford lordships of Huntington, Brecon and Hay, and in 1461 Edward IV appointed him receiver of Brecon, Hay, and Huntington during the minority of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Thomas supported Edward in the Wars of the Roses, but while marching toward Banbury in 1469, to aid the Yorkist cause at the Battle of Edgecote, he was captured by the Lancastrians.
The Lancastrians took Thomas to Pontefract and beheaded him. His body was returned to Kington, to the church of St Mary, on the hill above the village. In due course Ellen joined him there, and their alabaster effigies still adorn their tomb.
There is some doubt about which Thomas Vaughan is actually meant in this story. Maybe Black Vaughan died actually during the Battle of Edgecote, and wasn’t captured or executed in Pontefract. Indeed, some sources claim that the Thomas Vaughan of this story was the traitor, Sir Thomas, who in early 1483 turned upon the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the attempt by the Woodvilles to deny Richard his rights by seizing the person of the boy king, Edward V, and having him crowned. Thus they, not Richard, would be in charge of the realm. This Sir Thomas was indeed executed at Pontefract. And rightly so.
Death was not the end of Black Vaughan, for he began to make his presence felt again, overturning farm wagons in broad daylight, and frightening women as they rode to market. He could even take on the form of a huge fly in order to torment horses. Once, as a bull, he entered the church during a service.
In the 19th century, Kilvert was told the following story by a local man. “Twelve or thirteen ancient parsons assembled in the court of Hergest, and drew a circle, inside which they all stood with books and lighted candles, praying. The ghost was very resolute, and came among the parsons roaring like a bull. ‘Why so fierce, Mr Vaughan?’ asked one of the parsons mildly. ‘Fierce I was a man, fiercer still as a devil’, roared Vaughan, and all the candles were blown out except one, held by a very small, weak parson (also, says legend, named Vaughan). He hid the candle in his boots and so kept it alight, all the time praying hard until at length the violent spirit was quelled, and ‘brought down so small and humble that they shut him up in a snuff box’. The ghost made one humble petition—’Do not bury me beneath water’. But the parson immediately had him enclosed in a stone box, and buried him under the bed of the brooks and Hergest thenceforth was at peace.”
After that, so it is said, Hergest Court was haunted by a black dog that appeared every time a member of the Vaughan family was to die. (Don’t these entities always do that?) Conan Doyle visited the court, and used the black dog as a model for The Hound of the Baskervilles.