By John Macklin
It was midnight and a gale sent dark clouds scudding across the moon and deepened the shadows in the stable yard. The wind moaned through the ancient buildings and twigs tapped insistently against window-panes.
Charles Collins left his bed and went to the window overlooking the yard. The wind, strange surroundings and a sense of unease had made it impossible for him to sleep. What happened next ensured that sleep was now out of the question…
It was October 1959, and Collins, then a traveller for an engineering firm, was on his way back to London after a West Country sales tour. By the time he reached the edge of Salisbury Plain it was dark and he was tired and hungry.
He had decided to break his journey overnight just as the Spread Eagle public house appeared in his headlights. It was a small 18th century coaching inn on the outskirts of a village. They had a single room and dinner was available.
After his meal and a couple of drinks at the bar, Charles retired to his room on the second floor of the inn, overlooking the large stable yard.
At the back of the yard, heavy doors sealed off an archway obviously once used by coaches. Now the archway was a store for beer-crates and barrels and these were piled in front of the closed doors.
At about 11pm, Charles got into bed and put out the light. A wind had risen and as he listened to it moaning around the inn he felt a strange sense of foreboding. Later he was to recall: “I had never seen the Spread Eagle before and knew nothing of its history.