Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 37 – Wailing Well

Scouting Manual (1931)This episode Mike & Will pack their tents, pull up their socks and strap on their woggles (woggles are a scout thing, right?) as they explore M.R. James’s ‘Wailing Well’!

Big thanks to Debbie Wedge for providing the readings for this episode.

Show notes:

  • Worbarrow Bay
    This story was read to the Eton boy scout troop during a camping trip to Worbarrow Bay in Dorset. Today Worbarrow Bay is owned by the Ministry of Defense and is notable for being the location of the ghost village of Tyneham.
  • Characters
    This story features a veritable who’s-who of Eton staff members from the period, including Headmaster Cyril Alington, Vice-Project Hugh V. Macnaghten, James himself and most prominently Eton’s Maths teacher and Scout Master William Hope Jones, who is most famous for writing the humorous song ‘National Anthem of the Ancient Britons‘ aka ‘The Woad Song’.
  • The Scouts
    Will thinks that the antics of Stanley Judkins resemble those of Just William, but they remind Mike more of the scout troop in Moonrise Kingdom.
  • Three women and a man
    Who are the mysterious haunters of the wailing well field? It is never revealed, but if the location is Worbarrow Bay in Dorset, then it is possible that the local gaol records suggests they may have been smugglers.
  • The Wailing Well (short film)
    Film-makers Stephen Gray and David Lilley have committed this story to celluloid. You can watch it on Youtube in it’s entirety. Check out their other work at
  • Wayland Wood, Norfolk
    In his ‘Suffolk and Norfolk’ M.R. James mentions in passing that Wayland Wood near Thetford was known locally as ‘Wailing Wood’ on account of it’s supposedly dark past as the setting for the crimes which inspired ‘Babes in a Wood’.
  • Of Three Girls and of their Talk by Derek John
    This story, a highly enjoyable Wailing Well prequel, appears in the sadly hard-to-find Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows.
  • Dutch Oven
    The sort of ‘dutch oven’ referred to in the story is this and definitely not this.

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